It was a few weeks ago when the news broke that Ben Affleck and Jennifer Lopez had reunited. I shouldn’t have cared. But in a weird way, I confess, it felt as if I had a stake in that relationship.
Back in 2002, I was in New York City representing the Winnipeg Free Press at a press junket for a movie titled Maid in Manhattan. Lopez starred in the rom-com, and she was also freshly connected to Affleck romantically.
Round-table interviews allowed journalists to choose one of a number of rooms where the talent circulated to each table in a marathon of interviews. I typically gravitated to rooms with the fewest people, so it would be easy to get questions out without competing with other reporters.
I found a room at the Waldorf with just two other reporters. So I settled in, took out my microcassette recorder, my notebook and my press kit and waited.
Just before Lopez landed in the room, Affleck strolled in and asked if anyone would mind if he sat in. Of course, we did not object. For her part, Lopez was surprised but she went along with good humour. Bizarrely, I was the only one who broached the subject of the relationship, because I couldn’t let that opportunity slide.
But here’s the thing: I wasn’t especially excited about this deal. Many of my colleagues at the time would have sacrificed a kidney to have been in my place. That’s because a lot of junketeers at the time were very interested in the gossip side of the gig, who is hooking up with whom, all that.
"Relationships come and go. Movies are forever. Even if that movie is Maid in Manhattan." ‐ Randall King
After the round tables, I mentioned Affleck’s intrusion to a colleague from a Boston paper who typically gravitated towards the dishy side of the beat. When I told him Affleck had come to our room, he simply did not believe me. A month or two later, on another junket, I actually brought a copy of the story with me to convince him.
As I am now announcing my retirement, I can now reveal that I never really cared about that stuff.
The truth is that I came to the junkets with a guiding principle that we would talk about the movies themselves. Relationships come and go. Movies are forever. Even if that movie is Maid in Manhattan.
When Bennifer showed up in Winnipeg in the summer of the following year while Lopez was shooting Shall We Dance? with Richard Gere, I admit I participated in trying to get access to Lopez, Gere and Affleck because the story was suddenly local. I helped photographers sneak some on-set pictures, including allowing one photog sneak into the upper floor of a building in the Exchange across the street from the location to get shots of Lopez and Gere at work. I confess: Getting a photograph stirred the thrill of the hunt. But if I had run into Bennifer on the street, I doubt I would have had much to say beyond: "Have a nice stay in Winnipeg."
I have been covering movies, off and on, for 31 years now, the first 10 years at the Winnipeg Sun. (Yes, the Sun did have its own arts department once upon a time; it was referred to as "the patch," which is short for the derogatory term "pansy patch," once commonly used in newsrooms.) I was removed from the movie beat around 1999 when Sun Media decided movie coverage should be centralized out of Toronto. But I returned to the movie ranks in 2001, when I got hired by the Free Press.
At that time, the job still entailed frequent travel, at the studio’s expense, for junkets. I spent many weekends out of town while my wife took care of our two kids. (Love you, Wendy.)
The junkets have often had memorable moments going back to my first ever trip to L.A. in 1990 for the action movie Navy SEALs, wherein Charlie Sheen showed up dressed like a carnival barker, exuberantly intoxicated. (He was far more entertaining than the movie, truth be told.) More bad behaviour: In 2002, I was invited to an after-party for the Paul Thomas Anderson movie Punch-Drunk Love, screening at the Toronto International Film Festival. Anderson came around with Adam Sandler, never a critic’s darling, introducing him to various critics. I had a glass of red wine in my hand, and Sandler shook my hand so vigorously, I spilled the wine all over my shirt. It was a childish passive-aggressive stunt, but even I had to admit: It was pretty funny.
Funnier than Grown-Ups, at any rate.
I have only been starstruck a few times, generally with actors who I grew up seeing on the big screen, such as Sean Connery. (The folks in the sports department probably collected football and baseball cards. I collected James Bond cards.) I was admittedly awed in the presence of actors like Michael Caine or Richard Harris. (The latter seemed to view press interviews as a performance opportunity, and treated them as such.)
I once found myself in an unexpected one-on-one interview with Julie Christie for the movie Away From Her, courtesy of a publicist friend, and while I got a story out of it, I wondered later if I didn’t come off like a stammering fanboy.
I have surprised some of my younger colleagues by talking about sitting at the same table with the likes of Beyoncé or Lady Gaga. For me, Christie was cause for major excitement.
I had always felt those free rides necessitated extra effort to make use of the opportunity; I often used them to get in touch with expat Winnipeggers making a go of it stateside, such as writers Collin Friesen and Johanna Stein or producer Rachel Shane (The Eyes of Tammy Faye, Motherless Brooklyn).
I was also keen to find local angles when I could, such as asking Keanu Reeves about playing Hamlet at RMTC in 1995 during the course of a junket for the forgettable 1996 movie Chain Reaction. He said it was like throwing himself in front of a truck with the word "Hamlet" emblazoned on the front.
In 2015, I took over the theatre beat from the retiring Kevin Prokosh, and while I could never quite quit the movie beat entirely, this felt like the right move. I had been around theatre folk a long time: My brother David, who died in January of this year, was an actor and playwright. In his company, I developed an abiding love for artists, a lucky thing, since my daughter is an actor and my son is a musician.
For that reason, I frequently tell people that when it comes to the arts, I have skin in the game.
I hope, in my 31 years of arts reporting, I never lost the feeling that I had a stake in the folks I was writing about, whether a major movie star or a first-time fringe performer.
It’s our culture, after all. We should all feel like we have a stake.
Randall King can’t entirely give up writing about the arts, and will continue to do so for the Free Press on a freelance basis.
In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.