Do You Recognise This Man?

Wednesday, 2 February 2011 He's a famous actor who's twice been nominated for an Oscar.  He has several BAFTAs and a Golden Globe.  He also has a CBE.  He certainly seems popular with the ladies, although the rather effete manner in which he's holding his cigarette, might suggest otherwise.  Perhaps this is a clue?  Maybe not.

I took this photograph on the pier in front of the Carlton Hotel, Cannes during the Film Festival, I think in '92.   The film the actors were promoting was called, apparently, Starlet.   

I was at the Cannes Film Festival that year for no particular reason other than I thought it was an opportunity to have a good time, go to a few film industry parties and take some photos.

And, for some reason, the film party I decided that I most most wanted to go to that year was the one being held for the aforementioned film.  There was a lot of pre-publicity for the party and it was being written about daily in all the festival free sheets.  It would be THE party of the Festival, we were told, and it was to be held in a beautiful villa, high up in the hills overlooking Cannes.  I could hardly wait.

At the appointed date, I got myself into the smartest clothes I'd brought with me (still not particularly smart) and got a cab to take me up there.   I didn't have an invite but gate crashing film industry parties is very much a tradition at Cannes.  All the best parties have plenty of security and they're almost always very hard to get into.  But if you have a press pass or Film Festival accreditation, that will sometimes work.  Not always mind.  Sometimes one has to be more creative or pretend to be someone one isn't.  But that's seen as all part of the Festival fun.

(I once gate crashed a very high powered party at Cannes with the journalist Martin Deeson.  We went as the Troma film maker Lloyd Kaufman.  Both of us.  I should add, on his specific recommendation.  Lloyd is a bit of a comedian. And since he himself had an invite but had decided not to go, he told both of us to just “say we were him”.  Neither of us look remotely like Lloyd Kaufman and, since most of the film industry know him very well, I thought it was a ridiculous plan.  But, perhaps emboldened by a drink or two, we strode past the people at the door of the party without any sort of challenge whatsoever.)

But... one of the golden rules to gate crashing parties is that you must arrive at an appropriate time.  Not too early, when the security will be at their sharpest and your credentials liable to be checked more thoroughly.  And not too late, after the party's peaked and all the people one might wish to run into have left.

When I got out of the cab at the address I'd been given, I immediately wondered if I'd made a mistake or I'd got the wrong night.  The wide gravel drive down to the villa was completely devoid of limos and indeed any people at all.  There was also no visible security, which was a bit of a worry.  There were no lights on anywhere in the house and everything was quiet.  There was obviously no party.

Since my cab had already left and it would have been a long walk back to town, I walked up to the door of the villa and rang the bell.  Several times.  After a bit, a very attractive young woman opened the door. I thought I recognised her as one of the actors from the photo op on the pier.  She said nothing, she simply smiled, stood back and indicated that I enter.  She didn't ask me who I was or where I was from, she silently led me through the house into a large virtually empty lounge.  It had a huge picture window through which I could see the villa's lawns, the sun setting over the Mediterranean and the lights of Cannes twinkling below.

The woman poured me a drink, handed it to me and walked out of the room.  There was, at that time, only one other person in the room.  It was the actor John Hurt.  This time without the crazy wig or false moustache he'd worn for the photo opportunity on the pier.

He was laying on the couch, one foot up, talking animatedly into a phone.  He ignored me completely.  He didn't look at me or acknowledge my presence in the room at all. Not once.  He simply continued to have this loud telephone conversation.  It didn't sound like an argument but he certainly wasn't happy about something.  There was no music and the rest of the place was completely quiet.  There appeared to be no other guests at this party other than John Hurt, me and the woman.  I stood there sipping my drink, staring out of the window and trying not to listen to John Hurt's conversation, which was impossible. John Hurt has a wonderful voice and it's much in demand for voiceovers and commercials even now.  But back then it had begun to irritate me.  It was a very beautiful view but after about half an hour, it too began to pale.

I must say that I have seldom been quite so embarrassed. It was before the days when I owned a mobile phone or I would have simply called another cab and left.  I guess it served me right for turning up without an invite.  But it had been so heavily publicised that I though all the Brit media pack would be there.

After a while, the young lady who'd let me into the house, came back and freshened my drink.  Two or three other people came into the room.  They seemed very charming and friendly and, with someone to actually talk to, I started to relax a bit.  John Hurt finished his conversation, walked out of the room and I didn’t see him again.  Then someone put on some music.

After I'd been there about an hour, the whole place started to fill up.  Eventually I found myself in the kitchen talking to a group of actors from the film.  They told me that it was supposed to be a private party just for the crew and cast of the film.  But, strangely one might think, at no time did anybody ask me who I was or why I was there.  They could hardly have been more welcoming and friendly.  Maybe they thought I was one of the extras?

I spent a long time talking to a large, American actor who had a very familiar face.  He did tell me his name but I never wrote it down and in the intervening years I've forgotten it completely.  I knew I'd seen him in plenty of films but never as the star.

He was one of those actors who only ever seem to play mafia heavies.  He was an extremely talkative, amiable fellow and he told me that all his friends from school had grown up to become real life gangsters, so he was able to play those kind of roles very easily.

Eventually, after about three or four hours, I made my excuses and left.  I was slightly drunk and it was getting late.  By that time, the driveway was full of limos and the Brit media pack had started to arrive.  Another photographer I knew very well from England was just arriving and I was able to get his cab back into town.

I ended up having a great time.  I met some very nice, very amusing people and I didn't take one photo.

But I'm still slightly traumatised by the memory of that first, extremely embarrassing, half hour I'd spent listening to one side of John Hurt’s telephone conversation.

I’d love to know what happened to the film though?  I spent the best part of an hour on Google looking for mention of it, without success.  There’s no Starlet listed on John Hurt’s IMDB entry.  Maybe it was some sort of tax loss or maybe the producers ran off with all the money?

If you know, send me an email.