09 April, 2009

The Cult of Fame

Yesterday I had one of those moments that teenagers and twenty-somethings might call a life defining event. Personally I thought that I was too jaded to really feel this way before such an event occurred, but now I've had 24 hours to look back on it and reflect, it was pretty cool. Certainly not life-defining, earth-shattering or paradigm shifting (well actually, maybe the last one isn't too far out, my cynicism has definitely wavered...)

I won tickets to an exclusive preview screening of excerpts from the movie "X-Men origins: Wolverine", it was a part of a radio promotion.

I got to see the breakfast radio team "Merrick and Rosso and Kate Richie", and given that I've been a fan of Merrick and Rosso for a few years this was a bit of a treat. It was an early start, waking up at 4.30am to get into the city by 5.30am for a trip across Sydney Harbour to Cockatoo Island (where a few key sequences of the Wolverine movie were shot).

The radio crew were pretty laid back, some of them allowing photos to be taken with audience members, and despite the relaxed attitude and comedic atmosphere you'd get from listening on air, they seemed very professional. It almost reinforced my cynicism that "it's all just an act". They spoke via phone to our prime minister Kevin Rudd, and a few audience members were allowed to briefly speak to him also (I couldn't think of anything witty or insightful at that hour of the morning, so I didn't chat with the PM.)

Then Hugh Jackman arrived, hanging from a helicopter, then swooping down to the crowd on a flying fox (a zipline for my American readers). If that wasn't just an act and publicity stunt, then I don't know what is...

Cynicism still intact, I saw the swarming crowds of teenage and twenty-something girls flocking to the front of the public area, screaming and swooning.

This was followed by another hour of radio interview. But what struck me is that Hugh was more than happy to work the crowd. (It feels a bit too formal to call him Mr. Jackman...but more about that later.)

During every ad break that he could get away from the podium where the show was being broadcast, he was pushing away from the security minders and really getting close to his fans. Getting photos with the girls, chatting with the guys about the movies he's done, flirting, joking...

...I sound like I've got a man crush, but I actually started to develop a bit of respect for him.

He wasn't putting himself on a pedestal, he was literally doing the opposite by getting down off the podium and making himself comfortable with the crowd.

By the end of the interview, he just seemed like a regular guy. Like an old friend of the family, a world-renowned friend of the family who has just hosted the Oscars and has starred in several blockbuster movies...but he really felt approachable.

I didn't get close enough to actually chat to him at this time, because the crowd was so fanatical to get close to him. I think I got to a point where there were two people between me and him. I had some stuff I wanted signed, and I really didn't want them ruined, so that was close enough. I took plenty of photos and waited for the crowds to subside.

I basically thought I'd lost my chance at an autograph.

With the Radio Show over, everyone started heading over to the area where the screening would occur. I held back and tried to get a picture of the radio team signed. They weren't signing anything, but when they saw my picture I was told by Merrick, "That's bloody awesome". He signed it, and it was only a matter of time before Rosso did likewise.

I guess I'm a victim to the cult of fame as much as anyone else, I just express it a bit differently. I draw pictures of the people I admire, then I get those people to sign their images. I figure it's a bit more personal than just coming up to someone and saying "I love you...you're the best."

I'd have been happy walking away with a pair of autographs.

Then came the preview screening. Like millions of other people, a friend had shown me parts of the leaked version, so I knew most of what I'd be seeing. Security to get into the screening was tight, with all bags, cameras and phones requiring cloaking before entry into the screening hall. I took in my picture to be signed, just in case.

The hall was an old factory set up with a screen at one end, really industrial and grungy. Awesome. A barricade five metres from the screen, a raised platform between the screen and barricade. It seemed odd that the closest that people were standing to the barricade was about ten metres away. It was a decent distance to get a good full view of the screen, but I had expected people to be cramming in.

A few people started carefully weaving forward, sitting on the floor in front of those who had been standing first. I followed. Moving across to one side, I'd seen most of the shots that would be on display (albeit without special effects), so that wasn't my point of interest. I just wanted to get up close to the barricade, in the hope that I might possibly get a picture signed. There was a seat on the other side of the barricade, but this didn't mean much to me at the time.

Hugh gave an opening spiel about the movie then moved across to where I was waiting, he sat in the seat no more than a metre from me. Sitting on the edge of the seat as he anticipated the audiences responses to the comedic lines and the the adrenaline packed action scenes.

He really cared about this film and the response it generated from it's audience. He is a fan, and he really wants to make sure the film does justice to the characters portrayed.

That's when it struck me. There are people out there who really do want to make a difference and bring something artistic and positive into the world through the mainstream.

You don't have to be indie to have passion, and you don't have to be a completely mindless drone if you're going to work within the corporate system. I went into the event thinking that everything I'd heard about Hugh Jackman was probably a load of crap. I'd heard numerous stories about him being "a nice guy", "really down to earth", "a great Aussie"...but my time in the corporate world had made me really jaded to this type of talk. I figured that maybe he was just a little bit nicer than a lot of other corporate types, and in the narrow perspective of the corporate world this made him seem great. But it honestly surprised me to find out, he really was a friendly person.

There were a few scenes shown from the movie and between a pair of scenes Hugh would stand up and talk a bit about the issues in the filming of the previous scene, and what the following scene meant to him. As he came down from one speech, I asked if he would sign my picture.

He said no.

But he followed this up by saying that if he signed one thing for me while the scenes were still being screened, then everyone would rush for autographs rather than focusing on the movie. This had been his labour of love for the past few months. He wanted to make sure that the attention was focused there. But he did promise me that I'd be the first person to get an autograph at the end of the presentation.

It was a reasonable request, and a good rationale. I had to respect that.

At the end of the presentation he followed through. He even asked what I thought of the scenes I had just viewed, and started chatting to the immediate group about their reactions and who they were.

Maybe he's just really good at what he does. Maybe it was just an act, but isn't that what friendliness often is...putting on a show of affection for someone because that's what a friendly person is meant to do. If you care enough to put on the show, then it actually shows that you care enough about the person you're showing it to.

Maybe I'm reading too much into it.

Either way, it was a really great day. and I now have a new found respect for someone who is admired and adored by millions.

It's really depressing to have your cynicism shattered in that way.
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