August 28, 2001

McKellen's Grey Book: Cannes Do
Sir Ian McKellen

In all standard film contracts, amidst the verbiage that surrounds the interesting paragraph about remuneration, there nestles a commitment that, I suspect, few actors read before signing. Only when the filming is done and the release date approaches comes the realisation of what, months before, was agreed to -- a promise, if free of other professional work, to participate in the business of publicising the movie.

How much of this is actually required will depend upon the actor's individual status. To a junior, unknown actor, for instance, attending a "junket" (i.e. meeting the media en masse over a day or two or three) can seem the very stuff of glamour; and television, radio and press interviews, the enviable terrain of stardom. But when I found myself in Berlin one weekend in 1996 publicising Richard III, a film which I had instigated and starred in, I experienced the reality -- 75 interviews, short and long, over three days, and a subsequent headache that lasted for a week. When I was then despatched alone on a 13-city (sometimes two in a day) tour across the United States talking to the local media, you might think I would have learned that glamour and publicity don't belong in the same sentence. Junkets are events to be avoided -- but there is always that contractual obligation.

Yet when New Line "invited" me to the annual Cannes Film Festival in May, I was happy to accept. Apart from anything else, it would be fun to reunite with the Fellowship and the Jacksons, who were having a rare separation from their kids. I had been to Cannes only once before, again on Richard III business, in a fruitless quest for finance. Despite the competition and the new films, Cannes is more a market than a festival. Hotel rooms are transformed into displays peddling unmade films that need funds, and completed ones that need a buyer. Business transactions go on late into the night in hotel bars and pricey restaurants out of sight of the public.

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