Standing in the elevator, I was thinking up some questions for interviews later that day, when a bright voice broke my thoughts. “Going to any TIFF events?” asked the man standing in the elevator next to me, who I had acknowledged with a “Hi” and a smile when I walked in, but expected nothing more. “Yes, I’m working there,” I replied, “You?” “Oh no, I wish!” he said, “I want to see some of the stars who are here! Have you seen any?” After some gentle persuading on his part I explained my job as best as I could. “I’m a journalist, but a friend once introduced me as, ‘Alicia who hugs movie stars for a living’ and that sounds about right.” His eyes were wide as we left the elevator, and he wished me a good day. As did the concierge at the front desk at the apartment I’m staying in, and the deliveryman who I held the door open for. On the street, I got a few smiles from strangers. The TIFF volunteers at the Bell Lightbox building opened the door for me, smiled and said a cheery “Good morning!” The guys at the café laughed and joked. I bumped into someone, and she said sorry. Alex, my amazing Air BnB host leaves snacks and wine for me and Nadia.
This is one of the many reasons I love TIFF. Yes the film selection is perfect and the interview opportunities exciting, but it’s the people who make the experience. I know Aussies are friendly, but Canadians? They are next level lovely. As polite as the British but with an Aussie sense of humor. I’m yet to meet one I didn’t like.
Speaking of polite Brits, my first interview of the day was with Colin Firth, here in Toronto to promote two movies – Aussie film ‘The Railway Man’ and American film ‘The Devil’s Knot’. I’ve long wondered what he would be like to interview, whether he would be serious or fun. When I walked through the door his wide smile told me thankfully, it would be the latter. He thoughtfully answered questions about ‘The Devil’s Knot’, based on the West Memphis Three case, and joked about how he’d never get used to seeing the words ‘Academy Award Winner’ on top of his name on movie posters. When it came time to end I asked for a hug, and he was quite delighted by the prospect, saying “Now this is a perk of my job!” I left the room buzzing on his charm. He’ll always be Mr Darcy to me.
Next interviews on my list were with the cast of ‘Rush’, Ron Howard’s story of two car racing rivals. Daniel Bruhl (who also stars in ‘The Fifth Estate’) was very sweet and humble, Ron Howard was so familiar and friendly that it felt like I’d known him for years. He gave me his best fist bump explosion at the end. Olivia Wilde remembered the last time I had seen her, at JFK airport where she had walked over to tell me she loved my ‘Jaws’ t-shirt, “And I remember those eyes of yours,” she said, which was quite nice coming from someone with THOSE eyes. She really is beautiful and so sweet in real life. I told her how I want to see her write and direct a feature film (watch her short ‘Free Hugs’ if you can) and she said she’d love to do an Irish story or an improvised comedy like her recent ‘Drinking Buddies’.
Of course the big star of ‘Rush’ and the one I was most excited to talk to, was the lovely Aussie Chris Hemsworth. He’s fantastic as the flashy James Hunt, a man who could not be more different than he is. Chris is hardworking, so nice, and yep, an incredible hunk of a man. I remember years and years ago when I was doing a summer TV course at NIDA, seeing Chris taking the acting course, even though he was at the height of his ‘Home and Away’ fame. Most people in his position would thin they didn’t need to keep learning, but his dedication has pushed him all the way here to TIFF. He spoke about getting the chance to show a different side of himself in ‘Rush’, and gave me a lovely hug at my request. “Can I have a Hemsworth hug?” I had asked.
Later that night, I was gifted a ticket to the premiere of ‘Gravity’ from my good friend Scott Mantz, aka the nicest film geek in the world. He had already seen it, and knew I was dying to check out what all the buzz has been about. Now, I totally get it. ‘Gravity’ is an insanely intense and incredibly beautiful thrill ride of a film. The premise is simple – American astronauts (Sandra Bullock and George Clooney) working on the space station get hit by flying debris, and end up stranded, low on oxygen and doing everything they can to save themselves. It’s a series of catastrophic events, with one thing going wrong after another, and afterwards, while listening to the Q&A with Sandra and director Alfonso Cuaron, my jaw hurt from all the clenching I was doing. I really appreciate that the lead role was female, and Sandra is pretty spectacular in it. I won’t be surprised if she, and the movie get nominated for Oscars.
After a nice dinner with fellow reporter mates Ben and Josh, we headed to the after party for ‘Rush’. Inside Chris Hemsworth was being mobbed with adoration, but took a second to say hi to us, requesting from me “another Hemsworth hug!” I was all too glad to give it.