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The red carpet is like celebrity flypaper - lay it down somewhere and sure enough, A-listers will eventually flutter by and get stuck to its crimson surface, dazzled by the lights. So to see one laid across Cary Street, right smack in front of the Byrd Theatre, well it just seems a little weird.
But then sure enough, on this Sunday afternoon, black cars begin rolling up and ejecting famous people: Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David McCullough, Oscar-nominee Paul Giamatti, Tom Hanks, Gov. Tim Kaine. How they are drawn to the carpet is a mystery; scientists only know that where celebrities are, there too are media, and fans.
Or anyway it seems that way when something as surreal as this, a premiere, drops into the middle of a mostly unsuspecting Richmond. People still strolled through Carytown, oblivious to the fact of the red carpet's powers. But the premiere, right, was for "John Adams," the seven-part, nine-hour HBO miniseries filmed over the first half of last year (not counting the year-plus of pre-production) in Mechanicsville and Williamsburg. The series, produced by Hanks's Playtone Company and based on McCullough's book, is finally coming to small screens March 16. So this is the launch party for the $80 million production, a bittersweet event considering "John Adams" was one of the last productions to come to the Commonwealth. (More on this in the March 12 issue of Style Weekly).
"John Adams," with Giamatti as the title character, takes us through a half-century of the life of the iconoclastic Adams, who touched off the American Revolution, forged a new nation, served as the second President and found time to exchange some 1,100 letters with his wife, Abigail.
And it was a big project, even by Playtone standards, which produced the HBO series "Band of Brothers" and "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," among other things. The size of it required the services of a major portion of Virginia's production talent, many of whom were represented this afternoon in the Byrd audience for the screening of one of the episodes. "John Adams" used a crew of 471, not including the 4200 extras. So chances are, if you know someone who's, say, a grip, or, say, a not-terrible actor, they had something to do with this production.
But many of those folks were at a reception for the invite-only premiere while the celebrities were unrolled before us outside. First to duck into the media tent over the red carpet was McCullough, white-haired, impeccably suited, whose goal with this book was to impress how difficult were the choices that led to war - he will let modern-day parallels reveal themselves.
Then came Giamatti, who with thick glasses and no beard had clearly reverted to a previous, more comfortable form. Though you couldn't call it entirely comfortable; while he was gracious, he bowed his head and moved down the line of questions and looked, to this corn-fed paparazzo, like he'd rather be cursing merlot or rocking the powdered wig than connecting the dots. I can't blame him. The guy does some brilliant work; selling it can't be as much fun.
Writer and co-producer Kirk Ellis came next, praising Virginia and suggesting a return trip: "I would love to be back here for '1776' [McCullough's book on George Washington]."
Then director Tom Hooper, a British actor who slogged through the 180 days of shooting in Virginia and Hungary and seemed pleased to have achieved an unprecedented level of accuracy: "We were so obsessed with being authentic."
In another burst of cheers, on came Tom. Tom Hanks. I call him "Tom" because, I don't know, I felt like we really connected. Like I could've thrust my screenplay under his nose, my musical that's part "Saving Private Ryan" and part "Mrs. Doubtfire," and he would've called me for tea. Hanks is affable, impossibly so I'd think, for someone who must do this kind of thing all the time, answering questions and joshing with the audience of media folk, at one point throwing an arm around Governor Kaine's neck and naming him the next Vice President of the United States. Oh, that Tom.
On the production, he was more than enthusiastic. "I think we have something that is more illuminating of the present than anything we could've expected," Hanks said. Then all went onward, into the Byrd.
The Mighty Wurlitzer was going and the film community was settling for the introductory comments and screening when the power went out. Great, I thought. Now Tom will never come back. But power was restored and introductions were made.
Tom encouraged everyone to come to the Byrd twice a month, catch a double bill of, say, "Charlie Wilson's War," which happens to be playing now. Tom, that kidder, introduced McCullough thusly: "David McCullough does not want to be called a national treasure, but he is. David McCullough does not want to be called a natural resource, but he is. David McCullough shies from being called a sex symbol."
"But he is."