Sitting in front of the TV discussing the red carpet is always fun, but didn't compare to the year I actually attended the Academy Awards.
I hadn't been nominated, as such. I hadn't actually even been invited. But I managed to score every out-of-work actor in Los Angeles's dream job to be an Oscar night seat filler.
READ MORE: UP-TO-DATE OSCARS COVERAGE 2011
Theatres around the world employ fillers for televised events, so that when the camera captures an audience shot, there's a bum in every chair. It just wouldn't do for those at home to see a half-filled venue. But who's going to tell Russell Crowe he can't step outside for a smoke or Halle Berry she can't reapply mascara during the Achievements in Film Editing montage? Hence the filler, and this year my behind was to have the distinction of warming chairs while the glitterati powdered their noses.
Lights, camera, action
At last the big day arrived. Brimming with excitement in my borrowed tuxedo, I took the stairs of the Kodak Theatre
two at a time and bounded inside to attend my "seat filler briefing". The first few rows from the stage were filled with several dozen similarly excited young people dressed in high school formal attire. "This is amazing!" one girl gushed. "I'm going to die when I see Tom Cruise
!" We were so star-struck, we failed to notice a tiny, severe-looking woman in bright yellow taffeta take to the stage.
Enter shrew, stage left
"That's enough!" Throwing her clipboard to the floor, the woman glowered. "I'm Francine and I'm in charge of butts in chairs. There is to be a butt in every chair at all times tonight. And your butts," she leered, "are mine." Francine placed hands on hips for emphasis, taffeta engulfing her little fists. "Your job is to always be ready. If Harrison Ford even thinks about having a bowel movement, you need to be in his lap."
Though only five feet tall, I was convinced Francine could kill me instantly, and without breaking a single one of her press-on nails. "You are not to speak to anyone unless spoken to. Don't smile, don't talk, don't look anyone in the eye. As far as the attendees are concerned, you aren't even here. Break these rules and I call security. Now, melt into the wallpaper." Fully briefed and slightly terrified, I assumed my position in the wings.
At long last every seat was filled with an attendee and it was time to get to work. All eyes were on Whoopi Goldberg
as she opened the ceremony all eyes apart from mine, which were firmly trained on Ethan Hawke
's furrowing brow (is that an "I've got to pee" face? Or is he just gassy?). I took a sprinter's stance, ready to leap at any moment. The ball boys at Wimbledon
had nothing on me.
Ethan must've used the loo before arriving at the theatre, as he never required my services. The same was true for most of the gentlemen in attendance (though the women were a different story entirely Kate Winslet's seat filler had a full-blown cardio workout dashing back and forth each time Winslet wee'd). I managed to fill a few seats of the vaguely famous, but the night would have been a celeb-meeting non-event had I not required the men's room myself.
Fancy meeting you here
Hours of standing and dashing in and out of crowded aisles had taken their toll and I couldn't hold it any longer. Francine hadn't said anything about what to do if we had to go (did seat-fillers have seat-fillers?) so I slunk from my spot on the wallpaper to the restroom, stage right. I walked up to a urinal and, mid-stream, a pleasant-looking guy about my age stepped up to the porcelain next to me.
"Good night so far?" he asked.
"Yeah, you know," I replied. "Just another night at the Oscars. How about you?"
"Oh, it's been pretty good. I'm tired of all the getting up and down, though!" he said with a conspiratorial chuckle.
Now this is where I made a serious miscalculation. I assumed that my bathroom buddy was speaking of his role as seat filler, not as an attendee whose ups and downs were direct responses to Oscar handouts. He was just a 20-something dude in an ill-fitting tux like me.
"Yup," I sighed, "gets old after a while. But that's why they pay us the big bucks."
"Exactly," he grinned.
"Gotten any good ones so far?" I asked him.
"Oh, one or two," he chuckled, doing up his trousers.
"It's been a bit of a slow one for me," I said. "I did Will Smith's sister, then I almost got to do Nicole Kidman before she changed her mind at the last minute. But the person I really, really want to do tonight is Orlando Bloom."
"Um," my buddy managed. "Orlando is a pretty great guy."
At this point I got my first full-frontal look at my assumed colleague in the mirror. The shock. The horror. "Oh. My. God." I stood slack-jawed for a moment, looking at Elijiah Wood. "You're not a seat filler. You're a hobbit!" The words were out of my mouth before I realised it.
Oh, the shame
"Right…" said Elijah as he made his way back to his seat, presumably occupied by one of my peers.
I stood there for a few eternal moments, imagining the gleeful hobbits as they told Francine of my indiscretion. She'd blacklist me from the industry! As a failed seat filler, I'd never work in this town again. At that point on Hollywood's night of nights, I slunk into an empty toilet stall, locked the door and hid until I was positive Elijah would have left the building, thus forfeiting the chance to relieve Orlando so he could relieve himself.
On second thoughts, watching the Academy Awards in front of the telly wasn't so bad this year after all…
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