Leicester Square Premieres: Behind The Glitter

As the limo drew closer to Leicester Square, his heart pounded inside his chest and beads of sweat spread themselves expectantly across his forehead. It was now only a matter of minutes until his fate would swing into view, until his dream would either materialize or crumble into an embarrassing nightmare. As the car crawled towards the front of the ‘Odeon’ cinema, he could hear the mumble of excitement outside. A woman screamed. He clutched at the tight suit the stylist had stuffed him into that morning. ‘No, not at all darling, it looks great on you, perfect’! He imagined the ‘hoop of horror’ which might surround his crotch area in tomorrow’s tabloids. The windows were tinted, but he could make out a mass of bodies only metres away, throbbing to and fro like an unforgiving beast. ‘Ready’, his agent asked, more of an assertion than a genuine question. He nodded with mock confidence and choked out something that sounded like ‘ready’. The handle of the limo clicked downwards from outside and the door tore open. The flashes blinded him as he touched his first foot down onto the red carpet.

Too much? This is how I like to imagine that the stars feel as they make their way towards a film premiere. The hysteria which surrounded Leonardo Dicaprio at Leicester Square last week for his Inception debut certainly indulges my vision. But is this really the case or are premieres just another night in an actor’s sparkling schedule? With the help of an inside source, I aim to expose of truth behind these glamorous events and discover what goes on behind the scenes.

The Venue

The Odeon cinema in Leicester Square makes for a perfect premiere location. The building towers 120 feet in the air and dominates the square with its huge, black, polished facade. It is the largest single screen cinema in the UK with many of its historical features still intact. The cinema is fully equipped to show films in 35mm, 70mm and digital on a large screen, as well as extensive stage facilities for live shows or guest speakers. The neon blue lights which illuminate the building at night are a distinctive feature of this dramatic venue.

When a film premieres at the Odeon, there is an agreement that it can’t be shown at any of the other rival cinemas in the area. However, while the cinema has priority to hold the debut event, they often do not have the rights to screen the movie straight afterwards. This was the case with Sex And The City 2 and the latest in the Twilight saga, Eclipse. The films show for one night only, followed by a frustrating few days of hesitation before they can be opened to the public at large. My insider commented on the annoying problem that this creates – ‘ the public see that the premiere is at our cinema, so naturally they think they can see it here. When we have to turn people away we feel like we are disappointing the customers’. Lower your pitchforks people, it’s not their fault!

Paper mache…PVA glue…Do I sense a Big Art Attack coming on?

I was fascinated to learn that for every premiere, Leicester Square is transformed into a visual simulation of the film featured. Up to two days prior to the event and up to three days after, they must close off the area to install or take down equipment. For the premiere of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), the square became a sweet tooth’s paradise, overtaken by giant lollipops, smothered in chocolate and with a plentiful supply of free ‘Wonka bars’ (where the hell was I?). When Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen premiered (2009), the area became host to a giant robot, which greeted delighted fans and celebrities. More recently, Leicester Square was turned into a swampy, forest setting for the Eclipse movie. Artificial trees formed a canopy over the crowds, vine leaves hung down from everywhere and the Shakespeare fountain was dyed a mould-green colour. My insider excitedly reports that there was even a group of gymnasts dressed up as the werewolf clan, swinging from the vines and doing various impressive ‘back-flippy’ moves around the guests as they entered. I imagine that, inside this magical space, London disappears. The only down side here is that, for the sake of a display which is only intact for a matter of hours, the city loses one of its favorite spaces for the public to sit and relax.

Do I have to go?

Anyway, back to the crux of my investigation. We all want to know what it is like for the film stars and if there is any dirt on their behavior at these huge, public events. The premieres are very well organized and the movements of the celebs are choreographed down to every beaming smile and hair swish. As soon as the actor emerges from the car, they are handed a marker and sent over to the screaming fans. After the allocated signing time, they then move to a section where disabled fans are situated. The Odeon works in partnership with the Make A Wish foundation, which works to grant the wishes of young people fighting life-threatening illnesses. The actors take a couple of minutes to chat to each of them, taking photos and signing memorabilia. After this is over, they must enter the red carpet – EEK!

There is normally a section of about ten metres where the stars will sign for the fans lucky enough to get this close to the action. They will then hit a point where they must stop and pose for a mass of photographers. This process is repeated until their interview just before entering the cinema. There is a specification for how long the celeb must stand and where they should direct their attention. My insider laughs that this makes the whole thing seem very fake – ‘Most actors look like they don’t want to be there and, although they usually have energy with the fans, there is always a look of relief when they are told they can move on to the next section’. For many of the stars, it is part of their contract to attend the film premiere, so often they do not appear out of choice. I managed to dig up some gossip about the recent Inception premiere – ‘Marion Cottilard was so over it. You could see Leo begging her to be in some of the photos and trying desperately to make her laugh’. I wonder, can it really be so painful for them? I’m sure having heaps of fans waving ‘I love you’ banners must do wonders for your ego.

So, maybe my magical musing about the stars’ experience of a film premiere wasn’t wholly accurate. The necessary organization of such a huge event forces it to become more staged than spontaneous. Still, I am hoping that I will soon get the chance to go to a big premiere, just to sneak a peek at a real life celeb and marvel at the design as Leicester Square is creatively transformed. And let’s face it, wherever there’s the chance of a free chocolate bar, I’m there!

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