Premieres for studio tentpoles are no big deal in Hollywood. But this afterparty was out of the ordinary. 2,325 words. Illustration by John Mann.
“Amazing. Truly amazing,” publicist Roxane Silver praised as she stood in the vastness of the Barker Hangar at the Santa Monica Airport. “It really does look like a 19th Century Siamese palace.”
The premiere’s afterparty for the fall release of The Lady And The Prime Minister was intended as the most elaborate ever put on by a major studio. Everything was replica, from the Royal Barges to the Temple of Dawn to the Grand Palace, including the Coronation Hall. A young Asian woman wearing a Kheynorey costume depicting a mythical half-bird/half-human from heaven danced in a Thai crown mokot around the film executives, her arms outstretched and fingers gracefully curled. Another dancer had on an elephantine mask called a Ravana of a frightening creature with wild eyes and tusks protruding from its mouth. Two men in boxing trunks engaged in Muay Thai whose bouts in ancient times often ended in death.
At least 1,000 guests were expected tonight to celebrate the Oscar-buzzed tentpole and the recreation of the Wat Phra Kaeo temple complete with ornate golden spires that gleamed under the overhead lights. Throngs of partygoers were starting to arrive, and all gawked at the enthroned Emerald Buddha, protector of the kingdom and identical to the one built during the reign of King Rama, founder of the Chakri Dynasty.
As Roxane moved through the crowd, she was told that the film’s director Barry Monk was so nervous anticipating the reviews that all morning at the Bel-Air Hotel he’d been downing shots of J&B and slices of mango. “I’m surprised he hasn’t collapsed into the arms of the Emerald Buddha over there,” his assistant confided to her.
“A Bloody Siam,” Roxane told the bartender. “Make it strong.”
Surveying the hangar, she caught sight of her boyfriend Robert Dodge making his way to her side. Thankfully, the film critic had given the movie a rave and now was clumsily trying to balance a glass of champagne in one hand and a plate of Pad Thai noodles in the other. “I’ve never seen anything like this,” he remarked. “How much did this set back the studio?”
Roxane smiled cryptically. She was on the clock, after all.
“So you really leave for Europe tomorrow morning?” Robert asked.
“Yes, and what of it?”
“You don’t have to bite my head off.”
“I wasn’t. I was asserting myself. Besides, maybe I’m dreading the trip. I hate these overseas publicity tours because the actors constantly bitch and moan about everything even though we’re spending the equivalent of a third world country’s GNP to keep them comfortable.”
Robert threaded his arm through hers and said protectively, “You’ll call me when you arrive?”
Roxane unentangled herself, deciding to remain a little distant at the moment because she didn’t want him to take her for granted.
“I’ll try. But I’ll be sure and email.”
Roxane thought she wouldn’t object if at that moment Robert were to lean over and kiss her passionately. Instead he said, “Can we text later?”
Deflated, Roxane simply nodded.
Across the hangar, she spotted her client and the film’s volatile leading lady, Samoyan, already seated at a table marked Reserved For Monk Party. The actress was in deep conversation with the director, an intense man with lidded blue eyes and blond spiked hair who had his elbows on the table, a swizzle stick drooping from his lips, and fingers clasped around a drink glass.
It was obvious he was drunk. Usually, Monk scorned publicists, calling them pieces of shit and worse. But right then he motioned to Roxane to sit down. He needed her to run interference. Because Samoyan was launching a tirade aimed at him. “Why did you cut out the scene of the Buddhist priest and my vagina?” Samoyan wanted to know. “As you remember, it took me three days to work up the nerve to have him even get close to me, but I finally allowed him to finger my clit and you edit it out! How do you think that makes me feel?”
“The ratings board wouldn’t allow it, Sam,” he said quietly.
Samoyan flashed anger. “Don’t you believe in artistic freedom? Don’t you have any spine? The best scene I’ve ever done, the one that could have won me an Oscar nomination, and you cave in to a panel filled with schoolteachers from Calabasas? I don’t think I can ever forgive you!”
“Oh, for crissakes, Sam. I have a contract with the studio to deliver them an R-rated picture, not NC-17. They didn’t like it that a Buddhist priest was fingering you."
“It’s not just my vagina. It’s what it says about me as an actress. Three days I sat in my trailer staring at my pussy and telling myself not to get nervous, that he was just a character in a movie who would do his thing and then leave. But I humiliated myself."
"What could I say?" Monk shot back. "That this is fucking art?”
"And that’s not all. I had to get up close and personal with an elephant in the jungles of Malaysia. And fight you tooth and nail to insist you had people from the American Humane Society on set at all times to protect the pachyderms and ensure that none were struck or injured during filming. It even may surprise you to learn that the trainer was so impressed with my handling technique that he wants me to do a PSA so that animal trainers throughout the world can learn that kindness counts. And –“
Roxane stared down at her empty glass and left Samoyan mid-rant in search of another drink. She ordered a Tum Yum Thai this time, nodded hello to several talent agents cramming their faces with food, then meandered until she wound up in front of the Emerald Buddha. The alcohol was making her slightly flushed and fully melancholy.
“Buddha, what’s my future?” Roxane asked, drawing closer to the silent figure. “Buddha? Please answer. Does Robert really love me?”
The serenity of the Emerald Buddha’s gaze unnerved her. But she continued. “I was thinking, Buddha, Robert never actually uses the word love when we talk. And we’ve been dating for some time. Is that a bad sign?” She took another sip of her drink and could have sworn the Buddha blinked.
"Buddha,” she said, now looking jealously at Samoyan, the object of everyone’s attention. “What does it feel like to be adored by millions? Does it change your life for the better? Does it make you new friends? And are they even worth having?” With that, Roxane finished her cocktail.
She was drowning in self-pity when suddenly trumpets blared. She looked up to see an elephant draped in red and gold ceremonial regalia enter the hangar with an Asian man holding a long crop astride. The elephant stood on its hind legs and raised its trunk as the crowd began applauding. Then the partygoers parted as the animal paraded toward the center of the hangar and came to a stop, its ears swinging slowly from side to side.
Barry Monk took the microphone and motioned for everyone to be quiet. He now seemed sober enough. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have for you tonight a special entertainment. The elephant you see before you comes from Jock’s Jungle Kingdom and is one of the actual elephants used in The Lady And The Prime Minister which I directed and which you just screened this evening. Her name is Buffy and she led the famous stampede scene that in the film killed hundreds of people. But I want to assure you that she is a gentle beast trained especially for the movie by very humane trainers.”
Unfortunately, Monk continued. “Her appearance had to be kept secret tonight or there would have been hundreds of PETA members picketing the party. They think Buffy is just another tortured circus animal. Which she’s not. I and Samoyan and Jock’s Jungle Kingdom have created a star.”
The crowd, many of them animal-lovers and more than a few PETA members, murmured in disapproval at Monk’s heartless aside. Roxane recognized a potential problem arising so made her way to the bar again and ordered her third cocktail, this time a Bangkok Collins. “Can you make it a double?” she asked the bartender, who was looking past her at the elephant and a man in a safari outfit who was introducing himself as Jock. He rambled on about how grueling the jungle shoot had been for the humans.
“Buffy, can you bow and let the people know you appreciate the applause?” Jock said, finally addressing the animal.
Roxane was irritated that the bartender wasn’t giving her his undivided attention. “Say, did I ever tell you of the time my father had me ride an elephant in the Hollywood Christmas Parade? He’s this publicist, see, and I was just a tiny girl and I stared up at this long trunk and I was so scared that I had nightmares for months.”
The bartender gave Roxane a look of annoyance. “Lady, I’m trying to hear the man about the elephant, OK?” Roxane turned and faced the show to watch Buffy rocking back and forth on stump-like legs. Jock was still talking.
“Barry wanted me to teach the elephant to charge into the village on command and, of course, stop on command. We worked four months training her—“
Roxane thought there was nothing more boring than listening to animal trainers explain their training techniques. She spotted Robert about to leave the hangar and waved goodbye. Soon she would be winging her way to London, then Paris, then Rome, then Berlin, and then on to the Far East. Which she was experiencing right now in a Santa Monica Airport hangar. Ah, the absurdity of a film publicist’s unreal reality, she thought.
Roxane turned to the bartender again. “Did I ever tell you about the time I wrestled an ocelot?”
The bartender was now staring at her. “Lady, I don’t think you should have any more to drink.” He removed the empty glass from in front of her and patted her wrist and asked softly, “Did you drive here tonight?”
Roxane noticed that Buffy seemed impatient. The camera flashes didn’t help. Jock was still talking. “We devised some hand and voice commands that worked quite well. The trainer would raise a large stick in the air with both hands and Barry would yell ‘Hatari!’ — after that John Wayne movie.”
Buffy raised her trunk. The handler struck the elephant with a stick and ordered the rocking creature to remain still. But Buffy angrily shook her head. Jock tried to calm the animal but it was too late. She spotted several men wearing Thai costumes walking past carrying trays. With a loud roar, she charged headlong at them as people began screaming and scattering.
Jock tried to grab the elephant but was hurled to one side, crashing to the floor and losing consciousness. Then Buffy stormed her way across the hangar and bulldozed the catering tables and cowering crowds.
The bartender bolted for the exit. Roxane became instantly sober as Buffy came charging directly at her. The publicist found herself wedged between the bar and a surging mass of frightened partygoers. Several women fainted. Terrified men kicked and slugged their way to the doors.
“Everyone, get outside! Run! Run!” Barry Monk directed.
Roxane frantically looked for Samoyan, fearing the actress would get trampled at her own premiere. The entire hangar was now bedlam. Buffy was in a blind rage, striking out at anything and everything that moved. Then Buffy stopped, shook her massive head, and barreled directly at the Emerald Buddha across the hangar. With a deafening roar, the elephant smashed into the shrine with a crunching thud and rammed the statue again and again.
“Samoyan! Samoyan! Samoyan!” Roxane kept shouting.
One of Jock’s people was holding a gun.
“Don’t shoot! You might hit Samoyan!” Roxane warned.
She saw that Barry Monk was curled in a fetal position on the floor. She yanked the director to his feet and pleaded, “Where the hell is Samoyan?”
“How the fuck do I know! We’ve got to get out or we’ll be killed!”
Then they spotted Samoyan and couldn’t believe what they saw. The actress was perched atop Buffy and riding her in circles. The trainer with the gun kept the barrel pointed directly between Buffy’s eyes. “Get down off that animal!” he shouted up to Samoyan. “I’ve got a bead on it!”
Roxane stopped in her tracks, frozen in place. “Don’t shoot. Get down, Sam!” Roxane yelled.
The actress held up her hands as she spoke to them. “Put down the gun! I know this elephant. I rode her every day on the set. This is Buffy. She loves me. She loves me! Stay back.” The man slowly lowered the revolver.
Samoyan was leaning down, talking into Buffy’s ear. “Baby Buffy. Good Baby Buffy. It’s Mommy. You remember Mommy, don’t you? I gave you jelly beans for lunch every day, remember? You’re a good girl.”
Slowly, the elephant began to calm. In a few moments, the hangar was eerily silent and empty. Sirens wailed in the distance as Samoyan carefully descended the elephant and gently caressed Buffy’s trunk. The actress had known the publicity cameras were on her the whole time and, while Hollywood didn’t give out Academy Awards for real life performances, she knew the news footage would go viral and replace the deleted vagina scenes she had so wanted everyone to see so she could finally receive that elusive Best Actress Oscar nomination.
At the same time, Roxane fought a desire to collapse on the floor and sob uncontrollably. Because despite the trampling nightmare that had engulfed the afterparty, she knew this was a PR opportunity. Now no one, repeat no one, would ever forget this movie.
The first thing Roxane had to do tomorrow was get Buffy a Hollywood agent.