Imagine if you will: You have done something, and now you are required to sit in a claustrophobic room for hours on end to respond to questions about that something you’ve done. Friendly questions. Probing questions. Personal questions. Uncomfortable questions. Identical questions from many different questioners. And always the same answers required of you, with a smile. Over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. Ad nauseam.
Now you have a small understanding of what artists and actors must endure to promote their latest product during a “junket.” Sure, it can be fun. For a time. But it can also devolve into a touch of psychological torture, a dark tunnel of repetition with no end in sight. And you’re not really allowed to talk about that aspect. The laborious side of these junkets is something actors dare not discuss, lest they come across to John Q. Public as ungrateful swine who take their star status and VIP opportunities for granted. Still, it’s a brutal process.
The first junket I ever covered was for David Spade’s JOE DIRT for ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT. I should have seen the writing on the wall there and then. It was towards the end of the day when my turn came about. Spade had already spoken to easily 50 journalists, on and off-camera, before I stepped into the stuffy hotel room suite for a one-on-one to talk about his new comedy. Rather than find him sitting in his director’s chair waiting for me to have a lively discussion, I saw him in a dark corner of the room, cartoonishly banging his head against the wall. He was emotionally spent, if not going a tad insane.
Some call it “junket fatigue.” I call it “junket psychological torture.” I’ve discussed the concept with many actors in the years since I witnessed Spade’s head-banging therapy, either on-site or behind the scenes. If I have the time before a junket interview, I make it a point to ask the actors and filmmakers how they are “surviving” the day, to let them know that I at least understand what they are going through. I may not be able to empathize, but I can sympathize.
I’ve shared a laugh about the process with the likes of Benedict Cumberbatch, who told me of a conversation he had with Sean Penn, who suggested that there should be some protections and limitations regarding film promotion requirements built into their contracts. I’ve witnessed Jennifer Aniston declare to herself, like a mantra, “This is new, this is new, this is new,” before she turned on her signature smile for probably the 500th time that day. And I’ve witnessed stars giving each other late-afternoon pep talks to each other between journalists’ interviews, if not burying their faces in their hands.
I’m so aware of this unspoken element of the junket process that I once bought the entire cast of MAD MEN a drink (a mini bottle of Canadian Club for each, naturally) to “help” them get through the day’s junket. An amusing side note: No one in the cast was allowed to reveal any details about the show’s Season 6 storyline, or what their character was up to, so they had to not only endure a long junket day talking about MAD MEN, but their hands were tied; they had to navigate shark-infested mental waters in order to keep the show’s secrets safe. Pretty exhausting if you think about having to watch what you say all day.
Most actors are diplomatic about the process and say that it’s no big deal; junkets are a great platform to promote their new show or movie or what have you. It’s part of the job, and they make it look easy as if every interview they give is the only one they’re having that day. Some get plain silly or punch-drunk by the end of a day or exhaustive publicity tour. Some see the process as a necessary evil, but it’s clear on their faces that they are experiencing mental anguish or absolute boredom. Classic examples of this type of junket fatigue include transparent performances by the likes of Harrison Ford, Robert De Niro, and Tommy Lee Jones, who usually look like they’d rather be anywhere but at a junket. Getting a pulse out of these gents is a Herculean task, and most interviewers also equally dread having to sit down with these guys for a talk because of their reputations for being unforthcoming, awkward, taciturn, and sometimes even combative during junket interviews.
I sat down to talk with Harrison Ford for the Jackie Robinson baseball drama 42 for ET. Despite his reputation for being an infamously grumpy interview, I personally saw our one-on-one as a challenge: My goal was to simply make him smile or laugh. I told him that his character’s bushy eyebrows in the film deserved top billing, which got a chuckle from him, and got an even more unique response when I asked him to confirm whether or not he would be in STAR WARS VII (at that point, no cast or title had been announced). He amusingly zipped his lips, shook his head and went, “Mmmm hmmm mmm hmmm mmmm.”
One of my all-time favorite moments in junket fatigue lore comes from a sit-down between Mila Kunis and a novice BBC reporter who was excited yet “petrified” just to be in the presence of the OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL star. Tongue-tied and all over the map with his questions, he was gleefully guided through the process by Kunis who was pleased to get a break from her autopilot interviews. After veering into topics like having “Jager bombs” with his fellow lads at the pub and inviting her to join them for a drink, he realized he should get back on track, and she pleaded, “Why? This is way more fun for me, I have to tell you. Please!” He veered into topics like his favorite soccer team and chicken, and she declared, “This is the best interview I’ve had today.” And when the studio publicist jumped in to tell them to stay on point with questions about the film, Kunis delivered a litany of detailed-yet-generic answers — and he asked her to be his date at a friend’s wedding. Needless to say, the video went viral.
So, the next time you watch a star or filmmaker in a junket setting answering questions about their latest project, try to give them a little extra credit for the rigorous process they must endure to make their answers sound fresh, informative and enjoyable. Don’t take it for granted that it’s such an easy task. And if they get a bit testy or loopy, don’t be so quick to judge. How would you respond to similar psychological torture?
For more IT CAME FROM… coolness, try my ENTERTAINMENT TONIGHT-related tales and interviews, or there’s plenty of STAR WARS musings, Famous Monsters fun, cool vintage movie lobby cards, etc.