Lois and Simon on the red carpet. (Contributed by Lois Cahall)
Special to The Palm Beach Post
West Palm Beach, Fla.
For all you mean girls…the ones stuck-in-high-school-bully-mentality, those-ladies-who-lunch with their Berkins, in Bentleys, with Botox and Boobs, who snubbed me at your high society social events – maybe you should have thought twice.
Here’s the life little-ole-me led before moving to South Florida in self-imposed witness protection, to write my next novel, ride my bike, and to be as far away from “society” as possible. Except at my little event — The Academy Awards — this once valedictorian-nerd appeared in a shiny little publication, too: “Vanity Fair.”
I had been dividing my life between New York and England with my boyfriend, Simon Beaufoy, before moving cross-pond to Palm Beach in April of 2011. I chose Florida to escape to a “gentle” place to write my third book. (My first, “Plan C,” from Bloomsbury Press, was an international best seller. My second, “Court of the Myrtles,” is due out Mother’s Day.)
I remember the sheer look of terror on Simon’s face the morning they announced he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Screenplay for “127 Hours.” (Simon had previously swept every award for writing “Slumdog Millionaire.”) This was an honor, sure, but he knew what his tour-of-duty would entail, and it wasn’t sipping champagne in the trenches.
Up until now, his previous awards had been used as doorstoppers. A Golden Globe weighs 5.5 pounds, a WGA Award 7, an Oscar 8.5 pounds, and, well, just the right amount of weight and amount of statuettes to hold our 17 doors into the swing-open position at our Oxford England townhouse.
The promotions began with the BFI London Film Festival closing-night gala, with long red carpet, screaming and fainting women — you’d think Simon, director Danny Boyle (who directed the Olympics last summer, too) and actor James Franco were the Beatles! But when the premiere ended, it carried on. And I was right by his side.
There were constant flights — London to Los Angeles — that seemed 127 hours long! First the People’s Choice awards, then the 16th annual Critics Choice awards then the 68th Golden Globes, the 23rd Scripters, the 62nd WGA Awards, and back to London for the 35th BAFTA. Turn around to LA for the 26th Spirit Awards. And, well, you get my point.
Finally: The 83rd Academy Awards. That’s about when my super-sexy boyfriend turned into Oscar the Grouch. And the Oscars turned into “Occupy Sesame Street!”
For those who will never walk the mother of all carpets, here are 10 things you don’t know about the Oscars, from a nominee’s girlfriend who did.
1. “He makes so much money!” You’re not paid for the Oscars. For months you’re involved in a promotional tour.
Colin Firth summed it best: “Open your calendar and put a big red X through your life.” While all of you think you want to be there, “there” means counting the moments until you can wipe off the makeup, rip off the gown, put on your robe and order room service. Instead, you will be hugged, kissed, groped and photographed for the public to marvel at like some exotic pet. Every PR itinerary begins with these words: “We appreciate your publicity commitment on behalf of ‘X’ film. Below please find your current schedule.” Five pages on how your life will run. Not a second to pee. Not even in the privacy of your room, because there are constant ringing phones, and notes slipped under your door.
There are awards luncheons, dinners, photo shoots, tea parties, cocktail parties and Q & A’s. Mark Wahlberg was at a dinner/screening for “The Fighter” when an audience member raised her hand. Mark said, “I know you have a lot of questions, but “I’m going to have a heart attack if I don’t get some sleep.” And then, “Where’s the men’s room?”
2.“You get all those free clothes!” Unless you’re Natalie Portman, you often buy your own gowns, tuxes and shoes. Though they might throw accessories at you. And then you’ll pay for your own psychiatrist, too. Upon arriving at an event, you wait inside your Escalade in long security lines so they can check under your hood for bombs. By the time you step onto the red carpet, your bladder is bursting through the sequins, so you can no longer fit into that expensive gown. Btw, probably a good time to mention you get these zany gift bags for being a nominee, sans Chanel inside, but full of teeth-whitening strips, faux-diamond-studded cowboy belts and even a neon pink thong.
3. “You get to be on the red carpet!” Actually there are TWO parallel red carpets. One to the right for VIP guests (some producers) sipping champagne and star gazing at the carpet to the left – the real one — where “Yippee, you’re a nominee!” I got to be on that red carpet. That carpet means no cells, no drinks, hot melting lights, and no peeing. Simon told me during Slumdog he attempted to leave the red carpet to find a bathroom and security refused him back in. I wasn’t about to miss his special moment…I remember thinking I could just tinkle right here…literally on the red carpet, right down my leg, concealed under my gown, step away from the puddle and let Penelope Cruz – just behind me — take the blame. Harvey Weinstein shared my sentiment aloud: “Where can a guy take a F*@K-ing leak?”
In the meantime, while performing kegel exercises, the chain-gang of nominees moves slowly down a line that wraps for miles as microphones pick up every peep… like Tom Hooper addressing me, “You’re gorgeous, sweetheart,” and Simon saying, “don’t be flirting with the hot director, Poppet.” Colin mouthed me the word “hangover” from all our late night martinis. That man should have won an award for holding his liquor sans bathroom.
4. And never text. I was texting Andres Heinz (the Academy-neglected nominee who wrote “Black Swan”): “Why the F*&*K! aren’t you here?!” Ryan Seacrest had his cameraman zoom in on my screen. Seconds later I received a text from a friend in Boston: “Stop texting! I can see what you’re texting! On national TV!”
5. With all of America watching you, you don’t have to prove anything. You’ve already proved it, wrote it, acted it, directed it. But here, in Palm Beach, the definition of proving means something else since so many PB women don’t have talent, they have jewelry. The question between the nominees isn’t “what label is she wearing?” or “Is she skinnier than me?” Quite the contrary the Oscars are “God, she did a better acting job. I wonder if she’ll take the gold. Because as soon as this is over. I can go back to the hotel and get some sleep.”
6. Starvation diet. By the time you’ve wrapped the red carpet, the courtesy bar has been shut. After a day that began at 11 a.m. sans lunch, dehydrated and starving, it’s now 5 p.m. — time to take your seat. We sat in row four from the stage, parched for water, and pasting on a happy face. Our cameraman squatted inches from director Danny Boyle (next to me), shoving a camera up his nose for two hours. Danny, a master at this, clapped and smiled while I scratched, shifted, fixed and fidgeted about like a toddler.
7. “Which awards are most fun?” The Golden Globes. Round tables of luscious food and wine. But if you’re a suspected winner, you shouldn’t drink. Colin Firth couldn’t drink. Paul Giamatti thought he could. He and I sat next to each other sharing a few good bottles of red. And when they announced him as the unexpected winner for “Barney’s Version,” he spit his chocolate into my napkin, walked shockingly to the stage with an unprepared opening line of “How ‘bout them Godivas?”
8. “Do you know you’ll win ahead of time?” No. But after a few awards you suspect who the front runner is. On a flight to L.A., Simon and I had just reclined our seats when this woman dressed in black – like she stepped out of “Sweeney Todd” — approached us down the darkened aisle: Helena Bonham Carter. She explained she planned to sew her acceptance speech inside her gown — either Vivienne Westwood or Colleen Atwood, she hadn’t decided. Helena proceeded to plop down on the airplane floor to discuss. This was all fine except we had just popped an Ambien with a glass of champagne. Airplanes are the only place you can drink, sleep and pee.
9. “Are the other stars nice?” Yes. You bond like “summer camp for grownups” except instead of roasted marshmallows, flashlights and ghost stories, you’re huddled into late-night gossip at the bar. There’s the “elevator exhale,” where celebrities discussed Natalie’s baby bump or how Aaron Sorkin’s fake tan turned more orange with each award. Or how poor (“Black Swan” director) Darren Aronofsky’s girlfriend left him. For James Bond! The elevator ‘dings’ and some person enters all thrilled to ride with a star. They exit and we go back to our inside talks with Ca-ca-Colin (we always did the “Kings” stutter) and joked he was on the “Weinstein churn.”
10. “What’s it like when it’s over?” You go home. Back to the life you lost six months ago. The end is the “Vanity Fair” party. There was a very emotional moment when our nominee friends all stood in a small circle amidst the explosion of stars and paparazzo. Writer Michael Arndt (“Toy Story 3”), joined our hands, and everything went bubble-incubated silent. And like Slinky, Big Baby, Mr. Potato Head, Barbie and Ken, we saw that incinerator of reality just ahead. Our gig was up.
Would we do it all again? Sure. Every miserable Grouchy Oscar moment. But first, where can we find a loo?