"Stars - they're just like us," mutters Sofia Vergara at one point in Garry Marshall's upcoming mutant rom-com "New Year's Eve", a follow-up of sorts to the director's hugely-successful 2010 "portmanteau film" (Marshall's preferred term ) "Valentine's Day". And it's true, you know.
Case in point: "High School Musical" dreamboat Zac Efron. Sure, he may be handsome, famous and wealthy and have amazing hair, but like any average twenty-something-year-old young man he's also got a thing for MILFs. Specifically, in this case, the still-beautiful 53-year-old movie star Michelle Pfeiffer.
"I met Michelle a few years ago during 'Hairspray' and had a huge crush on her, always, from day one," said Efron, speaking about his last collaboration with the triple-Oscar nominee. "And back then I was very, very young and very bashful, and around her I tended to put my foot in my mouth a lot. I didn't really know what to say to her, and everything just came out wrong...I didn't know what to do. But then I got to talk on the phone with [her] about this part, and she said, 'I think we should take this to the next level. We should...get a kiss in there.' And I was like, 'I'm in! I'm in this movie! Sign me up! Let's do it!'...It was awesome."
And then, to Michelle: "Every second with you was amazing."
"Aww!" cried a chorus of female voices, resounding in the rarified air of the swanky Beverly Hilton ballroom where the film's press conference was currently being held.
"We didn't really talk that much before at all, until we showed up. And I think he was a little disappointed when he opened my trailer door and there sat 'Ingrid'," said Pfeiffer, referring to her mousy character, a repressed executive secretary. "And his little face just kind of fell. I felt really bad. But I think probably the sweetest thing about him was that he never let on, and he still won't admit how disappointed he was!"
"She looked stunning, absolutely stunning," Efron responded adoringly.
And so it went.
The entire press conference, really, functioned essentially as a love-fest between the assembled panelists, made up of director Marshall, screenwriter Katherine Fugate and a little less than half the film's bevy of (mostly) bold-faced names: Efron, Pfeiffer, Abigail Breslin, Josh Duhamel
, Hector Elizondo, Lea Michele
, Hilary Swank
and Jake T. Austin
To demonstrate, here are a few of the gushing responses elicited from the assembled cast following a question regarding the best and worst moments of working with their respective co-stars:
"There wasn't anything awkward...nothing out of place," said Austin, a dark-haired teen actor who recently wrapped a run on The Disney Channel's "Wizards of Waverly Place". "It was just a really cool environment. Like [my] storyline, it was all kids...our age. My cousin was in the film. It was a party, basically."
"It was fun, I had a lot of fun," said Breslin shortly afterward. "It was all good."
"I got to work with Ashton [Kutcher]," said Michele of her absent co-star. "I got to be stuck in an elevator with him for two weeks, which was awesome...He was hilarious, and I got punk'd a couple times. He's also really smart, and he'd talk about everything that's going on in the world, which I had absolutely no idea half the stuff that he was talking about, so I would go home and Google everything and try and brush up on everything that's going on in our world to come in the next day and try and have a conversation!"
Oh, Lea! Now, about getting punk'd...
"He opened the door with a towel on," she laughed. "He was supposed to have all of his clothes on!"
Oh, Ashton! We all had a good long laugh together over that one.
"I got to work with Robert De Niro," said Swank, instantly one-upping all of her other co-stars. She went on to highlight her favorite on-set moment with the legendary actor (who plays a man dying in a hospital), which occurred her very first day on set.
"I walk in and Robert's in the bed, and he's kinda laying there, and I hear he's Method. You hear all this stuff about Robert De Niro, he's Method, and this is a comedy, but he's dying," she began. "So he's laying there, and he sees me and he goes [she mimes De Niro squinting]. ...I'm like 'Wow', and he kinda shuts his eyes. And then he's going like this [squints her eyes], and I'm thinking 'Wow! He's giving it to me! Like we're connected here! We are connected! Me and De Niro, Method! And I start getting a little emotional...and the camera's not on me, but we're just getting into the mood, of father daughter, father dying, kind of thing. And I'm feeling it, I'm going deep with De Niro, and then the next thing I know...[mimes De Niro's 'waking up' sounds] 'You ever get that coffee?' And I'm like, 'Oh my god, he was sleeping.'"
The entire room erupted into laughter. Oh, that Bobby D!
"He took a nap once in awhile," conceded Marshall.
Speaking of "going deep", Swank did just that in another moment later on - one that made all of us sitting inside that conference room realize once again that, at the end of the day, flawless, incredibly wealthy famous people really are "just like us". The moment came when she spoke about learning that screenwriter Fugate - also a dear friend of hers - had written the part of Claire Morgan, the frazzled producer of the Times Square New Year's Eve show, specifically for her.
"That's such an honor to have a screenwriter say that, that 'I saw you when I was writing this'," said Swank, going on to not at all intentionally or unintentionally allude to a recent controversy she was embroiled in. "It's so touching to be thought of in that way. And when I read it, I fell in love with Claire and the idea that you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. ...The idea that this is a woman who really takes her job seriously, and is responsible. I mean, I felt very in touch with that. I take a lot of things pretty seriously. ...That speech that I have [near the middle of the film], it's certainly so universal. I can't imagine one person not thinking, the year that just passed...the idea of being able to have another chance, have a second chance, to be a better person, and to love more, and to forgive."
"Hilary and I are very good friends...so I know the words that I gave her were her belief system," gushed Fugate. "And I was really proud of enabling people to see Hilary as clearly as [they saw] Claire, because that's my girl."
"Aww!" went the chorus of voices again, coalescing in endeared unison as Swank simultaneously mouthed "thank you" to Fugate with an expression like melted, deeply touched butter.
But enough of all that. Efron and Pfeiffer - by far the day's most captivating duo - continued to charm us with their playful repartee, the former hell-bent on painting himself as a "playa" or whatever by continuing to flirt shamelessly. Here's an exchange that begins with Michelle describing a day during which they were required to ride on a scooter together through the streets of New York City:
Michelle: "The elements were a bit challenging. ...The paparazzi were out in full force, in the scene, in the shot, and Gary was constantly talking Zac and I off a ledge." [Laughs]
Zac: "It was basically just us snuggling very close."
Michelle: [playing along] "Yeah, that was nice."
Zac: "That was a turn-on. I felt very comforted."
That Zac Efron, such a charmer!
Speaking of man's-men, I realize I've been unfairly neglecting Josh Duhamel, the studly hunk who has starred in such varied films as "Transformers 1-3", "Life As We Know It" and "Ramona and Beezus" opposite Bridget Moynihan and Sandra Oh. In "New Year's Eve" Duhamel plays Sam Ricker, a business executive trying to make it to the city in time to give an important New Year's Eve speech. Unfortunately, he crashes his car into a snowbank en route and is forced to hitch a ride in a motorhome with a kindly Christian pastor and his family, one of whom (the wife) is played by Yeardley Smith, a.k.a. the voice of Lisa Simpson.
"I kept thinking 'This is Lisa Simpson'," recalled Duhamel, who - it should be noted - practically high-fived Efron across the table during one of the latter's Michelle Pfeiffer come-ons. "And she's playing the pastor's wife. And there was a few takes where she was playing...where she was really kinda frisky. Cause I would tell her a story about this girl that I'd met the year before [in the film], and she started playing like she was getting all hot and bothered. And I kept thinking, 'I'm making Lisa Simpson all hot and bothered!' There's something really wrong about that."
Back in Lea Michele's world (believe me, this is sort of what watching the movie is like), the actress was later asked whether she'd still be interested in taking on the role of Fanny Brice in the currently-postponed Broadway revival of "Funny Girl".
"Of course! I would do that show for an empty room by myself!" she laughed gaily, before transitioning back into "New Year's Eve" promotion mode: "I didn't really intend on doing a film where I sang. I sing so much on ['Glee'] that I sort of thought like maybe I would start looking into things that didn't involve me singing, but when I read the script, the songs were already in there, they didn't add them for me, and I just felt that it was such a perfect part for me to play for my first film, just to really transition from 'Glee'. ...I got to be a backup singer for Bon Jovi, which was awesome."
Here she's referring to the occupation of her character Elise, a struggling singer with dreams of stardom who gets trapped in an elevator with Kutcher's character on her way to a gig singing with the rock star (known as the world-famous "Jensen" in the universe of the movie) at his Times Square concert.
Alright, so at this point you may just be asking yourself: Gee Chris, what super-famous person isn't in "New Year's Eve"? And moreover, how did beloved cinematic auteur Garry Marshall manage to corral all of these hard-to-get talents for yet another holiday-themed romantic comedy? Garry?
"They all work, so they're not all available," said Marshall, who directed the radiant and amazing Julia Roberts to a star-making turn in the 1990 blockbuster hit "Pretty Woman". "So we do have to make the whole schedule around when they can, when they can't. And sometimes somebody is not available in the middle of the day when you're shooting them! ...There's one scene in the kitchen where Sofia Vergara had another job and so she left in the middle. ...I said 'Go, I'm from television, we know how to do everything.' So you'll notice there's one scene where she's voiceover through a walkie."
In the interest of being all-inclusive, here's a quote from Hector Elizondo, who spoke about being thrown for a loop when he realized that the role of Kominsky - an electrician who's called in by Hilary Swank's character when the famous New Year's Eve ball stalls on its ascent to the top of the One Times Square building - would require him to actually perch on top of the actual ball 40 stories up during a brutally-cold winter:
"The [original] perk was, 'You don't have to go to New York and go on the ball, we're gonna do it on the green screen at Warner Bros.!'" recalled Elizondo. "I said 'That's good because it's March'...and then of course the phone call came, [and Garry] said, 'Guess what? We're going to New York, you're gonna be on the ball!'" Funny, right?
"What the heck does 'Old Ang Zi' mean?"
That's Hilary Swank, who posed the question upon someone else mentioning the time-honored New Year's Eve tune.
Old Ang Zi.
Someone in the press corps responded by telling her the origin of the phrase.
"Thank you very much," she replied, before turning to the rest of us: "For those of you who couldn't hear, it's saying goodbye to the old, and hello to the new. 'Auld Lang Syne'. What language?...Dutch! You learn something new every day!"
Someone pointed out then that the term is actually Scottish, not Dutch.
"Scottish!" she exclaimed.
And so on.
"How am I like my character?" asked Zac Efron, responding to a query from the room near the end of the Q&A. "At the beginning he's a bit douchey I think, and a little self-absorbed."
"Narcissistic," chimed in Pfeiffer.
"Yes, narcissistic," replied Efron, suddenly realizing the corner he'd backed himself into. "I don't know, I guess I'm digging a hole here...I guess I'm a narcissist."
"You're actually fun-loving like [your character] Paul, I would not call you a narcissist," she offered.
Anyway, what about that kiss between the unlikely would-be couple, which in the film happens just at the stroke of midnight as confetti is unleashed upon the Times Square revelers?
"I remember in my hotel room, the night before, imagining how I was gonna kiss you, and it was awesome!" said Efron. "I was the man in every way - glorious...[with] the wind...newspapers started coming up, and electricity, and a big dip...and I went to execute on the day and right when I got to the crucial moment, a huge piece of confetti flew right in my mouth." (This moment, in case you're interested, is in the finished film).
"Yeah, it wasn't sexy," said Pfeiffer.
Protested Efron: "Yes, it was."
"New Year's Eve" hits theaters this Friday, December 9th.