That time when Sir Anthony Hopkins called
And I had no idea it was him
It was day one of the 2005 Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) – a prestigious annual event and one of the world’s most influential film festivals. Back then, we (Alliance Films) typically represented anywhere from 15-25 films during the 10-day period, and it was always a stressful and overwhelmingly busy time of the year for us.
As I manoeuvred my way through a sea of film festival executives, actors, directors, media and publicists at the super crowded opening night cocktail party, a colleague nudged me and said, “Susan, your phone is ringing." As someone who is hearing impaired, it was a prompt that I was quite used to hearing. And while I always appreciated the flag - it embarrassed me every time as I had yet to accept the fact that I needed a hearing aid.
I answered my phone as I tried in vain to find a quieter spot, “Hello, Susan speaking," I said as I elbowed my way through the boisterous crowd. On the other end of the line, I could barely hear the soft-spoken male voice who responded back with, “Hello, Susan. It’s Tony." My mind raced. “Tony, Tony whooooo?” I could only think of one Tony that I knew (my old boss who I adored) but I hadn’t talked to him in ages and his timing was weird. I wondered why on earth is was calling me now?
So, I responded with, “Hey Tony, long time no speak - how are you? I’m having trouble hearing you - what can I do for you?” He went on to say, “Well, I’m wondering if you could help me out, I have a little bit of a security issue" and then I paused as my mind raced even faster wondering why he was calling ME of all people to pick my brains about some kind of security issue, like, I’m some kind of security expert?
So, I asked him patiently, “what kind of security issue are you having, Tony?” as I finally was able to navigate to a slightly quieter spot. He responded with, “Well – every time I leave the hotel, I’m swarmed by fairly aggressive people who are asking me for my autograph."
I paused for a VERY brief second and then immediately clued in and started tripping over my words, “ANTHONY! I mean Tony! Oh my GAAAAWD, I am so sorry. I thought you were someone else, I’ve never known you as a “Tony”, I am so sorry. OF COURSE we can get you security!!
Much earlier that week, I picked up Sir Anthony Hopkins (AKA Tony!!) and his lovely wife Stella at the airport in Toronto. He was starring in two films at the festival that year - PROOF, which we were handling, and THE WORLD'S FASTEST INDIAN. When it came to TIFF, we typically arranged for talent to arrive a day or two before their premiere so we could do media interviews with them while they were here. But in this case - he asked to come in a few days earlier so he could spend time on his own studying/learning a script before it was time for us to work with him.
I think I should be doing mostly Canadian interviews while I’m here, right?!?
He really was such a lovely man (I’m sure he still is! His Instagram feed is really fun) and we had an interesting chat in the car on the way to the hotel. I briefly went over his general itinerary for the days leading up to the premiere of PROOF and that’s when he asked me, “So - how much Canadian press am I doing? I think I should be doing mostly Canadian interviews while I’m here, right?!?”
His question really caught me off guard - I actually didn’t know how to respond. What I WANTED to say was, “YES, you absolutely should be doing a lot of Canadian interviews considering your film is screening at a Canadian festival!!” But in reality, his publicist had only approved a couple - not even close to mostly. Leading up to TIFF we tried really hard to negotiate for more (OK, we begged) but to no avail - clearly he had not been aware of that dialogue. I cautiously replied with, “Well, that would be awesome, however, your publicist has only approved a few for us” and then Stella quickly intervened by saying, “let’s leave that to your publicist to decide” and the subject was dropped fairly abruptly.
One of the HUGE frustrations that we all share (Canadian publicists and the Canadian entertainment media in general) is the dwindling number of Canadian interviews that actors and some directors are willing to do when they are in Toronto for TIFF. In earlier days, talent would come here to work. They were really excited and passionate about their projects and they wanted to help to get the word out.
Back then, we typically would split the talent’s time evenly with our US partner (we worked with New Line Cinema and The Weinstein Company as well as other independents). So, for example – if an actor was in for two days – we would take one day and set up a full press schedule and our US partner would take the other day and do the same. We could typically get in about 12-15 interviews and manage to hit all of the key Canadian outlets and be guaranteed blanket coverage across Canada for the opening of the film.
I think it was around this time, in the early 2000s, that we were starting to see the erosion of interview time for our Canuck press, and it has become SOOOOO. Much. Worse.
TIFF is considered a campaign launch pad for the award season, and there are outlets, mostly US, that are a major priority to cover off. I totally get that. I also appreciate that international media need to have access to talent during this time to justify the exorbitant expense of travel and accommodation to cover the festival.
The problem now is that talent will often only offer two to four hours of their time for interviews during the festival PERIOD, and that time has to be split between Canada, the US and the world.
Why even bother?!?
It's a shame too because our Canadian journalists, for the most part, are VERY good at what they do. It’s pretty common for talent to praise our media at the end of their press days. They often feel happily challenged with the thoughtful line of questioning and they find our journalists to be very well-researched and refreshing (most of them!). We used to hear that all of the time, and I always loved hearing it – it made me feel proud.
“I love that you still care”
A few years ago, we said farewell to a beloved fellow publicist, Nancy Yu, who lost her battle with cancer - I still cannot believe she is gone, she was such a wonderful force and is terribly missed by us all. Nancy timed her exit PERFECTLY, just a few days before TIFF back in 2019. After her funeral, a few of us gathered for a drink to collect ourselves and joked that it was her way of getting out of having to work the festival 😊.
With TIFF still on our minds, the conversation eventually came around to our collective frustration over the limited access to talent that we had for our press, and it really triggered me. I was visibly frustrated and went off on a tirade about how ridiculous it had all become.
While I was lamenting on - out of the corner of my eye I could see a smirk on the face of my former colleague, Carrie Wolfe, who was seated next to me. I turned to her and defensively said, “What?!?” She paused, and then looked at me incredulously and replied, “I love that you still care,” which immediately took the edge off and we all burst into laughter.
I will always care…
I’ve often thought of that moment and still laugh, but it also made me realize that I always will care. The screen-based industry is a challenging business to work in and I am happy to have stepped away from it, it was time. While there were many, many exhausting and frustrating experiences for sure, there were many good ones too. I’ll never lose my passion for filmed entertainment and for some of the truly amazing artists, media and colleagues that I got to work with over the span of my career, many who are still some of my closest friends. My passion(s) fuelled me then, they are what keep me going now and I am most grateful.
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