A Short Story By Tom Hanks (Yeah, That One)
An extract from his new book 'Uncommon Type: Some Stories'.
A Junket in the City of Light
What brown fox jumped quickly over dogs that are lazy?
Hey, this writing machine actually works!
What the hell has happened? Who am I today? Still Rory Thorpe, I guess, but who is he?
Last night—just hours ago—I was the guy in a huge movie that everyone was talking about, the guy who made out with a glamorous beauty, a guy with a fine ass. In the capitals of Europe—and America—I was hustled around like a politician, into cars and into ballrooms filled with camera-totin', question-hollerin' reporters. I waved to seas of people, many of whom waved back, even though no one knew who I am, even though I am, in fact, a no one. Although, I have in my possession...certain documents... that reveal Willa Sax's TOP-SECRET CODE NAME(it's Eleanor Flintstone!).
I was 2 Days into taking the City of Paris by storm, with a 3rd to go, and Day 3 was going to have FIREWORKS! I had all my expenses paid. I was wearing free clothes. I could ask for a sandwich whenever I wanted, even though I was kept so busy I didn't have time for much more than a few bites.
But this morning all that is over. I have to be out of my room at checkout time. Too bad. This is a nice hotel. The Nazis stayed here. A good rule of thumb when traveling in Europe—stay in places with a Nazi past. The place in Rome had been Gestapo headquarters during the war. Big rooms. High ceilings. A beautiful garden. In Berlin, the hotel had been leveled when the Russians clobbered the Nazis who were hiding in it. To rub in their victory, the Commies never bothered to rebuild it or much of anything else in that part of East Berlin. When the wall came down, the hotel went back up and now the joint has a special room just for smoking cigars. In London, the old lady of a grand hotel had been bombed by the Luftwaffe sometime between the Nazi glories of Rome and the ass kicking they took from the Reds a few years later. The Queen has had dinner there twice since 1973.
Finally, this Parisian hotel had been the headquarters of the German Occupation Staff. They say Hitler had a cup of coffee on one of the balconies before he drove around to take in the sights of his conquered City of Light.
All this has been free of cost for me, including the hotels in LA and Chicago and New York, on the studio's dime, because I play Caleb Jackson in Cassandra Rampart 3: Destiny at Hand.(Cassandra Rampart aka Willa Sax aka Eleanor Flintstone!)
Day 3 of my junket—sorry, my Press Tour—would have been another wild ride of a day. Instead, I have to pack my bags and check out by 1:00 p.m.—I'm sorry, by 13:00...
1:10 (approx)—Arrive Charles de Gaulle Airport from London—Transport to Hotel.
7:10—Grooming in Room 4114.
7:40–8:00—Live appearance on "¡Nosotros Cacauates!" This is the most popular Young Adult morning show in Spain with a strong On-Line presence (4.1 million views). They have come to Paris especially for CR3:DAH.
8:05—Transfer to Media Center on 3rd Floor.
8:15–8:45—Print Media Round Table #1 (approx 16 outlets. List available).
8:50–9:20—Print Media Round Table #2 (approx 16 outlets. List available).
9:25–9:55—Print Media Round Table #3 (approx 16 outlets. List available).
10:00–10:30—Print Media Round Table #4 (approx 16 outlets. List available).
10:35–11:05—Print Media Round Table #5 (approx 16 outlets. List available).
11:10–11:40—Print Media Round Table #6 (approx 16 outlets. List available).
11:45–11:50—Reddit A.M. Session (for US).
12:00–13:00—Social Influencers Mini-Interviews (3 to 5 minutes each). The Social Influencers have at least 1.5 million followers. Each will have a specific request for their postings. Some will be very quick; others will be limited to 5 minutes.
13:05–14:00—Photo Shoot on Hotel Roof (Note: Eleanor Flintstone will join you for last 10 minutes.)
14:05–14:45—Lunch/Interview with PARIS MATCH. (Note: A photographer will be present.)
14:50–15:00—Radio interview with TSR-1.
15:05–15:15—Radio interview with RTF-3.
15:20–15:30—Radio interview with FRT-2.
15:40–16:00—Informal Coffee with approved Social Media Outlets (approx 20) with minimum of 3.5 million followers. (List on request).
16:15–16:45—Live TV remote from Balcony for Belgian TV "PM TODAY." (Note: Eleanor Flintstone will be joining you at 16:30.)
17:00—Proceed by car to Studio du Roi for Air France promotional shoot. This will play on all Air France International flights to support CR3:DAH opening. Shoot will take approx 3 hours.
20:00 (approx)—Proceed by car to Restaurant Le Chat. Dinner hosted by UPIC. (Note: A photographer will be present.) After dinner you are free to stay or return to hotel.
Rory Thorpe thanked his lucky stars for Irene Burton; those stars had been mighty benevolent over the last two years. He'd been in a movie with none other than Willa Sax—Cassandra Rampart herself! He had money in the bank for the first time in his life! And he was getting a free trip to Europe out of the deal! All he had to do was give some interviews over there! His enthusiasm had Irene Burton mutely laughing her ass off.
Irene was sixty-six years old, had worked in marketing for every one of the six major film studios, and now lived in semi-retirement in a beach house in Oxnard—far enough away from Hollywood to avoid the daily stresses of showbiz yet close enough to pop in when she was needed to clean up the occasional PR flameout. Eleven years ago, she escorted a young, talented, and beautiful actress through the press tour for a horrible movie called Dementia 40, which did lousy business but is now legendary for introducing audiences to the young, talented, and beautiful Willa Sax. The press called her Willa Sex for a few years—a fitting moniker—but now Willa was Cassandra Rampart, a one-woman industry who had her own line of exercise clothes, a home for orphaned pets, and a foundation that promoted literacy in third world nations. The first two Cassandra Rampart movies had grossed $1.75 billion worldwide. Willa Sax didn't just command $21 million a movie plus profits, she commanded respect.
"Irene," Willa told her on the phone. "You gotta help me."
"S'up, punkin'?" Irene called all her young actors punkin'.
"Rory Thorpe is as dumb as a box of hair."
"Who is Rory Thorpe?"
"The guy in my latest thing. I just saw his EPK." The electronic press kit is a house-controlled interview given to the press as background for a movie. "Most of his answers start with 'Well, um. It's like, you know...' We have the junket coming up and I can't go around the world with Doofus McGillicuddy as my costar. He needs to be told what the fuck not to do."
"I can do that."
So Irene did. She took Rory shopping at Fred Segal and Tom Ford for the clothes he'd need—casual-look outfits for interviews and black-tie tuxes for premiere galas. No charge. She took him luggage shopping at T Anthony for the right trunks and suitcases—at a steep discount the studio covered—so those outfits would be ready to don at a moment's notice. He'd be photographed in two-shots with one of the most beautiful women in the world and needed to look like he rated the position. He'd be answering the same questions a thousand times over, so she drilled into him the talking point memos the studio had provided: CR3—DAH brings the C Rampart universe its most compelling & sophisticated film, for she is not just a heroine for our times but a woman for the ages. Please use "woman for the ages" whenever describing Cassandra.
Irene had perfected her ability to keep her laughter to herself when one of her clients said something really stupid or naïve—in Rory's case, his thinking his first ever trip to Europe was going to be free.
"Oh, punkin'," she told him. "You'll be working your ass off."
The junket began in Los Angeles: three days jammed with interviews, photo shoots, video conferences, Q and A sessions, forums with fan bases, and as many talk show appearances as possible, each needing an hour of preinterviews with the segment producers. Irene saw to it that Rory was well dressed, well groomed, and well versed in what the fuck not to do. And there was the trip to the Comic-Con convention in San Diego. Willa Sax needed a team of bodyguards to keep the fans at bay; many of them were costumed as Cassandra, the former Secret Service agent with computer chips implanted in her brain, formula-enhanced, superstrong sinews, able to communicate subconsciously with the Seven, the extraterrestrials who live among us, aliens who may be good guys, may be bad guys, and who et cetera et cetera et cetera you get the idea. Many Comic-Coners were costumed as the Seven. No one was dressed as Caleb Jackson, pro surfer/software whiz, because no one had seen the movie yet. The fans seemed thrilled at the screening of a twenty-minute teaser of the movie, making it a trending topic for most of the day on both Twitter and Poppit!
Two days later in Chicago, the teaser was screened on the campus of Northwestern University, the alma mater of Willa Sax herself. Her old dorm was renamed in her honor. Irene steered Rory through two days of interviews, a parade, a charity volleyball match, the dropping of the puck at a Blackhawks hockey game, and a screening of the movie to benefit literacy in Africa that was held at the same theater where the gangster John Dillinger had been gunned down.
Four days of junket were held in New York City, starting with a press conference staged in the ballroom of the Waldorf Astoria, attended by 152 media outlets. Rory did not get a question until Willa had talked for thirty minutes, mostly of the challenges of shooting with the new FLIT-cam digital process and the new SPFX system called DIGI-MAX. She was a producer on the film, after all, having optioned the rights to the Cassandra Rampart graphic novel in 2007 for a mere ten thousand dollars.
She laughed off questions about her husband's investment genius and his supposed bedroom prowess. "Guys!" Willa protested. "Bobby is a banker!" Bobby was her husband, and he was worth $1.2 billion. Willa told the press that he really was a regular dude who had to be told to take out the trash.
That led to Rory being asked, "How does it feel for a guy like you to kiss the most beautiful woman in the world?"
"It's a kiss for the ages," he said. Irene smiled, knowing she'd done her work well. The crammed room remained silent, save the clicking of camera shutters. When the press conference ended, Willa was whisked away as more questions were shouted at her. Irene escorted Rory into a smaller ballroom set up with multiple round tables, each crowded with journalists and their microphones. Rory spent twenty minutes at each table, one after another, with no break, answering versions of the same three questions.
What is it like working with Willa Sax?
What is it like kissing Willa Sax?
Is that really your ass in the hurricane scene?
Irene took him to the Media Center on the eighth floor, to sit through a total of fifty-seven television interviews, lasting no more than six minutes each, all held in the same room, Rory seated in the same chair with a one-sheet of the movie behind him. In the poster, Willa was staring off into space, a look of ferocious concentration on her beautiful face, her torso clad in a tight sweater, a rip exposing her shoulder and the top sphere of her left breast. Behind her was a mosaic of images from the movie—an explosion, dark figures running in a tunnel, a massive, cresting wave, and Rory wearing a headset and looking at a computer, serious as all hell. WILLA SAX IS BACK AS CASSANDRA RAMPART was printed in big letters. Rory's name was in the cluttered billing block at the bottom of the poster, in typeface the same size as that of the film's editor. Irene kept him plied with green tea, protein bars, and small bowls of blueberries.
The movie was promoted on CBS This Morning the entire week. Every morning at 7:40 and 8:10, Rory reported the national weather in front of a green-screen map. Willa Sax was a guest host with Kelly Ripa on Live with Kelly. The two women did Pilates on the air.
The premiere of the film was supposed to take place on one of the piers on the Hudson—special facilities had been constructed with seating for five thousand people, but a predicted thunderstorm put the kibosh on that. Instead, cinema screens all over the city were booked for simultaneous digital projections of the movie. Rory and Irene were delivered to every one of them by SUV—a total of twenty-nine personal appearances. Willa Sax attended only the special screening held at the Museum of Natural History to raise money for its Programs for Young Scientists.
At the end of the nine days of the domestic press junket, Rory was exhausted, talked out, dizzy; he had seen little more than cars and rooms and cameras. Worst of all, the questions had been the same for four-hundred-plus interviews.
What is it like working with Willa Sax?
What is it like kissing Willa Sax?
Is that really your butt in the hurricane scene?
Rory now felt that working with Willa Sax was like eating a peanut butter sandwich on a motorcycle, kissing Willa Sax was like Christmas in July, and the butt in the hurricane was that of a talking horse named Britches.
"Welcome to the big leagues, punkin'," Irene told him. "Tomorrow, Rome."
Willa Sax flew to Italy on a chartered plane, along with her team, her posse, and her handlers. The studio plane took the other five producers, all the executives, and the marketing heads. With no seats available for either Rory or Irene, they flew business class on TraxJet Airways, changing planes in Frankfurt.
Three days of press were held in Rome, each as busy as those in the US. On the last night the teaser was shown outside at the Circo Máximo—where the chariot races were held in ancient times. To Rory it looked like just a big field. Scenes from the movie were projected onto a huge temporary screen, but not until after a local soccer team was presented with the trophy they had won in some championship. The crowd was estimated at 21,000. When Rory appeared onstage to wave to the Romans, nothing happened. When Willa appeared to do the same, fistfights broke out as a tide of fans in soccer jerseys rushed the barricades to get to her. The Italian carabinieri got into a melee with the thugs as Willa was hustled into an armored car and whisked away to the airport. The next morning, Rory and Irene took a commercial flight—Air Flugplatz—to Berlin, where another three days of press were on tap.
In Berlin, Rory's body clock was so jet-lagged that he found himself flush with energy at 3:00 a.m., so he went out for a run. Leaving the hotel, he was ignored by the dozens of fervent German Cassandra Rampart fans who'd lingered all night and would continue to do so all morning, hoping for a glimpse of her. He jogged along the dark paths of the Tiergarten, stopping to do push-ups on the steps of a monument to the Russian Army, complete with actual tanks, that crushed Berlin in 1945. At noon the next day he was so tired he felt like a sleepwalker. He talked like one, too, telling the entire staff of Bild, the national newspaper, that as both a fan of the movies and the latest costar of Willa Sex (he actually said "Sex" instead of "Sax"), he felt that "Sandra Caspart was the most complimental and sophisticationed of any and all films, for Willa Sex is heroin for our times, and a woman of the four ages." Then came the questions.
What is it like working with Willa Sex?
What is it like kissing Willa Sex?
Is that really your butt in the hurricane scene?
"Try not to call her Willa Sex," Irene told him in the car back to the hotel.
"When did I do that?" Rory asked.
"Just now. To Germany's largest daily newspaper."
"Sorry," he said. "I'm no longer sure what the words are that come out of my mouth."
The German screening of the teaser took place later that night, projected onto the Brandenburg Gate to six thousand fans. When she appeared at the balcony of the hotel to wave to them, Willa Sax was disappointed there were no fistfights.
"I guess I'm no Willa Sex tonight," she said at the gala dinner afterward, held in the same museum that displays Nefertiti's bust.
By the time Rory and Irene had flown to London (CompuAir into Gatwick), the international press junket had turned Rory into blabbering toast.
Extracted from Tom Hanks' Uncommon Type: Some Stories (William Heinemann) out now
From: Esquire UK