Oscars 2014 / The night I got hugged by Bill Murray at the Vanity Fair party
Matthew McConaughey, Cate Blanchett, Lupita Nyong'o and Jared Leto Oscars 2014
Oscars 2014: the night I got hugged by Bill Murray at the Vanity Fair party
How I beat the dress code, took selfies on the red carpet and watched Jane Fonda dance to Chic
by Harley Freeman The Guardian, Monday 3 March 2014
Amy Adams and Spike Jonze at the Vanity Fair party. Photograph: WireImage
'Will I be arrested if I take this photo?" the journalist asked me as we stood in the rain on the red carpet, wet, miserable and yet desperate to record the moment. On the surface, this seemed a ridiculous question: to our right, photographers were snapping away with such ferocity that they sounded like deranged crickets. In front of us, and in front of the cameras, celebrities were taking selfies so as to tweet and Instagram images of themselves, capturing a tenth of a second of their lives that might otherwise have gone unrecorded.
And yet, the journalist's anxiety was understandable. Only four days earlier, we had gone on guided tours of the venue during which we informed in the strongest of terms that any photos taken without the Academy's express permission would result in us being thrown out of the event (nightmare) and having our phones confiscated (UNTHINKABLE). We had also been strictly informed that all women would have to wear full-length gowns.
"But I only brought a knee-length dress," I told the woman with the clipboard.
"Well, you'll have to get a new dress," she replied.
"I am not buying a new dress," I said.
"Fine," she replied with an exaggerated sigh. "Just wear tights. We don't want to see any knees on TV."
"How about if I get a burqa?" I asked. This question was described as "unhelpful".
Ultimately, though, my knees proved to be of less concern to the officials than the celebrities and it took only about five minutes for all of the journalists to decide that taking selfies, with the red carpet, giant golden Oscars and selfie-snapping celebrities in the background, was worth risking livelihoods and phones for. When the rain cleared, the entire press bank was filled with journalists grinning inanely into their own phones, like some deranged sequel to the film Her. Even leaving Ellen DeGeneres's sponsored selfie-ing aside, Oscars 2014 was truly the Oscars of the Selfie.
Los Angeles, 2014
I'm not quite sure what I expected the Oscars red carpet to be like, but I know I didn't expect what it was like. For a start, the red carpet itself is tiny (the camera does indeed make everything look bigger), and the journalists on it, far from being cynical hacks, were more hysterical than the fans. When the celebrities turned up after three hours of waiting, the press pen was less like a professional venue and more like an evangelical church during a revival meeting.
"Brad! BRAD! Please look this way! Brad!"
"Meryl! You look amazing! Smile at me! MERYL!"
I was the only one who seemed to find this behaviour odd (Leonardo DiCaprio didn't even seem to notice the keening that greeted his arrival) and I swore that I would never be like this. What must it be like to spend your life being begged to turn around and acknowledge someone else's existence? No wonder celebrities all take selfies of themselves all day long, admiring and capturing their specialness for themselves.
Actor Bill Murray "photobombs" singer Selena Gomez as they arrive for the 2014 Vanity Fair Oscars Party Photograph: Danny Moloshok/Reuters
Once Brangelina had gone past, there was a rush from the press pen to the press room inside as it was generally decided that there would be no one else worth seeing outside (actually, Matthew McConaughey and Julia Roberts had yet to come, but did either of them break Jennifer Aniston's heart? Ergo, not interested). So we headed up through the prosaic environs of a strip mall around the back of the theatre and into the press room, which was filled with hacks all desperately trying to find the Wi-Fi while at the same time eating enormous quantities of the free buffet food.
"Have you got Wi-Fi?"
"Where's the cheeseboard?"
"Is there any more shrimp?"
"Where's the Wi-Fi?"
All around the room giant screens showed the ceremony, but we hardly got to watch any of it because winners kept being ushered backstage to stand on a podium in front of us, like cattle up for auction, and endure that grand Oscars tradition of torture-by-inane-journalist-question. Each journalist wanted a special message to their country ("Will you ever work with a Chinese crew?" "Do you have a message to the Hispanic people?") and it was the rare question that didn't begin with the suggestion that the winner should somehow remember them ("Hi Cate, we met seven years ago at the Telluride festival …"). Invariably, all the winners were delightful – not least Jared Leto, who passed his Oscar round for all of us to hold – whereas the journalists all came across as faintly unhinged. Less surprisingly, Lupita Nyong'o stole the evening.
Give us a kiss … Steve Tyler. Photograph: Danny Moloshok
"How much of your triumph belongs to Mexico?" a Mexican journalist asked the Mexican-born actor.
"Er, I think it belongs to me!" Nyong'o replied.
After the Governor's Ball, it was time for the Vanity Fair party, which is, on the one hand, possibly the greatest branding achievement ever pulled off by a magazine, and, on the other, the only genuinely fun celebrity party I have ever attended. This year it doubled in size from the years before and as a result felt far more raucous. As I walked in, Jane Fonda (looking amazing) was dancing on her own to Chic's Le Freak, while, on my other side, a slew of celebrities who shall go unnamed were standing in packs beneath a heavy fog of marijuana smoke. Dazed from the fumes, I walked smack into an older gentleman only to realise it was, in fact, Bill Murray.
"Oh! Mr Murray – I'm sorry. I'm Hadley from the Guardian and – " I stammered pathetically.
"Oh, there, there. Nobody's perfect," he said, giving me a bear hug for a good (very good) 30 seconds.
Released from Peter Venkman's embrace, I headed towards the bar where I encountered possibly my favourite interviewee of all time, Steven Tyler.
"Um, Mr Tyler, I interviewed you last year –" I began, sounding just like all those journalists trying to remind Brad Pitt of that meaningful moment they had at Sundance.
"Of course you did," he croaked, leaning in to give me a massive kiss.
At this point I felt for my own well-being it was time to go home, only to trip over something on the floor. Turned out to be a bunch of Oscars for The Great Gatsby. Did I selfie myself with an Oscar? You bet your ass I did.