OK, you’re looking at one of the highlights of my professional career. Back in the 80s, my friend Nigel and I formed an unofficial Mickey Rourke fan club. We loved his work in Angel Heart and Diner and Year Of The Dragon and Barfly, and duly rented everything else of his we could find, from the excellent Pope Of Greenwich Village and Body Heat to The Rideout Case, a ropey TV movie. Nigel was a medical student at St George’s, and we even put on our own Mickey Rourke double bill at the film society there. (I drew a poster for it, which I have somewhere in my archives.) So who knew that 20 years on, not only would Mickey have passed through the eye of a storm of his own making and hit rock bottom, but risen again to award-winning prowess, thanks to The Wrestler – and, after winning the Leading Actor Bafta on Sunday February 8, 2009, he would offer me a glug from his bottle of champagne. “Here, have a drink.” This would be mind-blowing enough (you know how much of a kick I get out of meeting famous people whom I respect and I will take this child-like awe with me to my grave), but it’s also captured on film. You can watch it, along with 37 further Bafta interviews I did, here.
So, yesterday was the culmination of all my recent work with Bafta. We’ve made three 15-minute Essential Guides, which are all still up on the Bafta website. But joining them, as of last night, are 38 individual interviews we conducted in the foyer of the Royal Opera House as the stars stepped off the red carpet, improperly attired for the freezing cold and light, sleety drizzle, and backstage, in a specially convened Bafta bunker/studio in a staff and artists’ cafe, where pretty much every winner was ushered after coming off stage and passing through a photo call. It was full on.
- 12.30: arrive at Stage Door of Royal Opera House, with much of London’s Covent Garden closed off to traffic, in my black suit, black shirt, black shoes and with a choice of black tie and black bow tie about my person. I am nervous about the work ahead of me, but not as nervous as I was when I went to bed last night. We have a job to do. Let’s do it. Production meeting in the canteen with the Bafta Web Team, as we are called on our Access All Areas laminates, swinging off orange lanyards, of course. Exec producer David, producers Diane and Ben (who had the sometimes unenvious job of hovering at our end of the red carpet and relaying back via headsets information on who was approaching, and then steering them politely but firmly in our direction, or, worse, urging them to wait, in the cold, while I finished up the previous interview), edit liaison Glenn, cameraman Guy, soundman Andy, and runner Jo, whose job it was to relay the tapes, as and when they were full of superstar interview footage, to two couriers, James and Robert, who shuttled them to the edit suite, where Ian, Elaine and various others would make them website-ready using all their powers and all their skills. (I know, that was a bit like an acceptance speech, but hey, it’s a team effort.) All I had to do was talk, be nice, keep the Bafta-branded mic at just the right distance from celebrity mouths, and remember everything about everybody, so that I didn’t need to hold any notes.
- 15.15: rehearse winner interview, with Diane sitting in for Kate Winslet, so that the Broadcast News-style tape relay can be checked for speed and efficiency. (In any downtime, I am to be found sitting with my notes, reading up on every single expected nominee and presenter.)
- 15.45: change into awards outfits – in the same rooms in the bowels of the Opera House where the stand-ins for famous people get changed – the ones who fill seats while winners are onstage. I am already in my costume, but the others have theirs in suit bags etc. Even though we are “crew” we must dress according to the awards dress code (“black tie”), and that includes everybody. We look very nice. I go for tie over bow tie. I know that actors do this, so who’s going to mind?
- 16.15: repair to ROH foyer to soak up the atmosphere and do a reccy of our special Bafta spot inside the doors. At this point, it is not raining. Crowds and film crews line the red carpet. It’s a familiar sight, but, not having been the Bafta Film Awards before, ever, only one I have seen on the telly. It’s quite breathtaking to be here, in amongst it.
- 16.30: record (or “RX” as it says in the call-sheet) Arrivals Intro, which is me, walking down a bit of the red carpet and getting anybody clicking onto the Bafta website enthused about what’s to come: 2,000 people, 23 awards, etc. This goes off without a hitch, despite Alesha Dixon doing the same thing for some broadcaster or other, whose warm-up man keeps getting the crowd to cheer on cue. We kindly ask a large security man to move out of shot, and he complains that he’s only standing there because Alesha Dixon’s people have asked him to move out of her shot. Welcome to showbiz. It starts to rain.
- 16.45: people start to arrive, in the reasonably gentle rain. According to the strict schedule, this bit lasts until 18.15 (the length of a Woody Allen or Ingmar Bergman film), for a prompt 18.45 ceremony start. In rain-soaked reality, it goes on until 18.45, when the final stragglers, ie. the really, really famous ones, finally cross the threshold. Thus, our great-laid plan is made exponentially tricky by the fact that, in hour one, pretty much only Eddie Redmayne (handsome young actor here to present an award that they don’t even both showing on telly) and Nick Park arrive, dutifully interviewed, after which it’s a bottleneck, with Stephen Daldry coming in just as Penelope Cruz arrives. You can’t rush the director of The Reader off in order to grab the star of Vicky Cristina Barcelona! But there she is, sashaying straight past us! Ah well, this is a foretaste of how the final hour will play out. (David manfully chased her through the foyer, but she wouldn’t come back out into the cold, oddly. Freida Pinto, star of Slumdog, refused to stop and speak to us too.)
For the record, we managed to interview the following dignitaries. Unless otherwise stated, these were admittedly fairly perfunctory grillings, with the interviewee polite and practised, and the interviewer full of bonhomie, but in the finished clips you do get a sense of the mad atmosphere, with people coming in the whole time, and flashbulbs popping: Dominic Cooper, Toby Kebbell, Noel Clarke, Sharon Stone, Michael Sheen, Matthew MacFadyen, Thandie Newton, Patrick Stewart, Sir David Frost, Ron Howard, Amy Adams, Jason Isaacs, Anil Kapoor (the host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire on Slumdog Millionaire: he was brilliant, he just came through door and introduced himself to us, virtually demanding to be interviewed – I don’t think he made the final edit, though), Amy Adams, Danny Boyle, Meryl Streep, Dev Patel (whom we were talking to when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie swept through, very keen indeed not to talk to us, or anyone else – still, at least I breathed in their regal air), Brendan Gleeson, Robert Downey Jr (genius – he was with his wife, and forced me into a group hug, mugging all the time for the camera: see pic), Mickey Rourke, and, finally, Kate Winslet.
- 18.55 approx: ceremony actually begins, by which time the team have reconvened in the backstage area, ready to accept the winners. All of us are frozen to the bone. Even though we were inside the Opera House, the doors were wide open and the wind was whistling through. It’s marvelous to be inside. But very little time to relax on our laurels. The raw show is shown on a monitor (it will, of course, be edited for broadcast, with some of the less sexy “craft” awards shunted to the end credits, and Mickey Rourke’s “fuck” carefully excised), and Ben sits beside it, calling out the winners as they are announced, while we get into a rhythm of interviewing them, holding their heavy Baftas, with just enough vital seconds in between each to do “cutaways” of me asking some of the questions again, to help with editing. It’s a tough gig. Again, no notes on my lap, and barely time to glance at them before the winner is ushered in, beaming, ready for their close-up, whether it’s the visual effects supervisors of Benjamin Button, the writer and director of Best Short Film, September, or the writer and director of Best Foreign Film, Philippe Claudel, who was literally sat down next to me when our camera rolled and I didn’t know who he was or what he had won for! (It’s worth watching that particular clip, as you will see a true professional at work, deducing who he was and what he had done almost imperceptibly, and you’ll sense the relief in my voice when it dawns on me that it is I’ve Loved You So Long, which I really admired. Phew. There is a hoof; we were on it.)
I must confess, I was really pleased when Wallace & Gromit won Best Animated Short, as at least I knew who the filmmakers were without looking them up! Highlights for me, personally, included meeting Simon Beaufoy, telling Steve McQueen how much I loved Hunger, and meeting Fellowship-winning Terry Gilliam again. (I had interviewed him onstage at the NFT for Brothers Grimm in 2005, and he rather brilliantly signed a Monty Python book for my Dad’s 60th birthday at the same time, and I was able to thank him, on camera!)
Oh, and we got Penelope Cruz. I’m afraid I told her, to her face, that she “lit up the screen” in Vicky Cristina Barcelona. Oh dear. By the way, I must lose some weight.
- 21.30 approx: ceremony long since over but our interviews are only just coming to a conclusion. We’ve had to drag Danny Boyle out of the post-ceremony love-in in the auditorium, but it was worth it, as Slumdog won seven out of 11 and he is the man of the night. (I first met him around the time of Trainspotting at the very first, and very low-key, non-televised, lunchtime Empire awards. We repaired to a pub and enthused about Apocalypse Now for many hours. He hasn’t changed a jot.) We are unable, even using our own muscle, to persuade Kate Winslet to come back and see us. Still, we got her on the way in. And frankly, I’m ready to pass out. David and some of the others are off to the edit suite to finish the work we have started. I am allowed to clock off and go to the awards dinner. I am bloody starving, and dying for a drink, having only had a swig of Mickey Rourke’s champagne all day. Did I mention that? Sorry.
- 21.58: the courtesy coach, the last one to leave the Opera House, pulls away through the police barriers, containing just me, three security guards and a team from Bafta who look like they might have only just finished their GCSEs. I’m texting like mad. Imagine if I was on Twitter!
- 22.15: arrive at Grosvenor House Hotel, where dinner is about to be served (and where all awards dinners are held, by law). I meet my agent and we eat some food on a Bafta table, which is up on the balcony and frustratingly not down where all the stars are eating. Having said that, I have spent most of the day talking to stars. It’s nice to talk to real people, actually. I missed the free champagne on the way in, and don’t fancy the wine that is on the table. I yearn for a beer. Instead, I drink water. It’s fine.
- 23.01: the bottle of beer I ordered from a waiter arrives. It looks good. Even though it’s Beck’s. It costs £5.75. That’s £5.75. I drink it in two seconds and start on another, which also costs £5.75. That’s five pounds and 75p for a bottle of Beck’s. I decide instead not to drink tonight.
- Midnight: I walk out of the Grosvenor House Hotel and into a black cab, absolutely exhausted. My agent and I took a spin of the main eating area after the dessert and spotted Brendan Gleeson and David Fincher and Armanda Ianucci and Mark Kermode, but I was too tired to schmooze.
A tremendous working Sunday, full of surprises, and perhaps more demanding and draining than any other working day I can remember since Sainsbury’s. It’s fun to watch the footage. It seems like it was weeks ago.