One thing you learn about junkets, roundtable interviews, and interviews in general after over a decade ~in the game~ is that they're, more often than not, suffused with a deep and crushing sense of boredom.
There's a lot of hurry up and wait (you get to the venue at 8am and sign in, and things don't get cracking until 9:30am), and a lot of just plain waiting (multiple hours between interviews), before you get to the good stuff.
Indeed it's not unusual to see another member of the foreign press - note: not the Foreign Press Association; they have their own buses and don't like to mix with us jobbing plebs - having a quiet snore in the corner of the holding room.
(That's not sour grapes, mind you - there's also a vague sense of excitement that has maintained throughout all these years in the job, and it's probably amped up since I moved to Los Angeles and have far more frequent access to these sorts of press events.)
However, if it's dull for journalists, it pays to imagine - or just ask - how devastatingly boring it must be for the "talent" themselves, who ship in to the Four Seasons or what have you at 5am (sometimes earlier), get gussied up, and then begin a Sisyphean press regime that will typically involve radio, television, and print interviews. Yes, you could say their pay packets sweeten the deal somewhat, but it's a grind to be sure.
That's why most journos learn early on that it's good to bring something to the table that allows a bit of an ice-breaker; I watch all my fellow stringers and they'll all do the same thing. Some people do their research and ask about an actor's favourite sports team's performance that weekend (etc), others bring in some horrifying relic of the actor's past, action figures, blah blah.
As the (usually) sole Australian accent in a room full of international press, that's typically my "in"; play the 'laconic Aussie' card and lighten the mood a bit by taking the piss out of myself for whatever reason. The Brits seem fond of that method, too. (The Russians and the Italians seem to have been in the game for an eternity and need no gimmicks as they appear to be best mates with just about every actor and director in town.)
What doesn't ordinarily happen, however, is for the tables to be turned. Here's a wee insight into how I accidentally derailed a roundtable interview with Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto ahead of the release of Star Trek Into Darkness.
Firstly it's worth noting that Quinto and Pine seem to approach the junket circuit armed with all manner of in-jokes and dares. Even J.J. Abrams apparently gave the castmembers a list of words to try to drop in every interview. Indeed, they've been doing it since the last Star Trek dropped.
So the first hint that we were in for a ride with this particular roundtable came when one earnest journo asked if the pair understood why people get so "crazy" about Star Trek, and Quinto responded, "I was obsessed with Jodie Foster in Nell and the fact that she created her own language"; the table erupts, some knowingly, some baffled, and Pine joins in with a spirited "Tay in the wiiiiind!"
Now: interviews are a weird, charged space. You find yourself wondering if you might just, given the chance, be best friends with these people - but then remember that it's all a show, and you come back down to earth. So, when Pine seemed to be keenly eyeing my tatts, I brushed it off as an exit-light stare after a morning of press. But instead he points at me, just as another journo begins to ask a question, and announces: "I want to talk about your tattoos and your necklace. What is the tattoo on your right arm?"
Both Pine and Quinto lean in, intrigued.
(Context: I have Challenger inked on my right arm, and was wearing my Space Shuttle Columbia mission medallion.)
At that point, the rest of the journos winced a litte - we only get 20 minutes per roundtable, so time is of the essence, and every minute spent shooting the breeze means fewer usable quotes.
"So, that's Columbia, and that's Challenger," I explain, pointing out the various bits of space ephemera on my person. But then I can't resist the opportunity, given I'm in the presence of space pals themselves, and push my luck: "...But do you remember Galaxy Quest?"
(I have "NEVER GIVE UP" on my left forearm, and "NEVER SURRENDER" on my right.)
Galaxy Quest, you may recall, was an affectionate send up of the original Star Trek; George Takei said, upon seeing the film, "I think it's a chillingly realistic documentary. The details in it, I recognized every one of them. It is a powerful piece of documentary filmmaking."
So, Captain Kirk and Mr Spock, do you remember Galaxy Quest?
"I fucking love Galaxy Quest," Pine says reverentially. They take a moment, and then like the true space buddies they are, both actors offer a genuine (or possibly horrified) "Wow."
Pine: "So have you always been into..."
Pine: "Well, not, beyond sci-fi but like... space shuttles?"
I explain, as I do to everyone who asks, that I never got to see one launched, so decided to carry the notion with me at all times on my arm.
Pine: "What is the necklace again?"
Me: "It's the original commemorative launch medallion for Columbia."
Quinto: "So cool."
With the clock ticking ominously in the background, at that point it's time to get back on target, and Pine turns back to the earnest question about crazy fans (he wanted to be a baseball player growing up), and that's the end of our little detour into outer space. It was a nice little break in the monotony of press, for both journalist and actor (and a damn sight more enjoyable than when one of my English peers decides to surprise Benedict Cumberbatch with a photo of his wife and a request for a birthday video message).
Plus ever since then, I make a point of wearing my Columbia medallion to every interview.
And that's how I spent December 11th, 2012, by Clem Bastow, age 30.