Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

Agent Duped, but Not Victimized by Brüno

Some of the press surrounding Brüno (#1 at the box office this weekend with est. $30.4 mil) has questioned the authenticity of the reactions of those shown getting punk’d by Sacha Baron Cohen. After the smash hit Borat, how can anyone not recognize the actor and his stunts, right?

lloydWell, Lloyd Robinson didn’t and here, he explains why. Robinson, agent/founder of Suite A Management, is the agent in the movie solicited by Brüno to make him a star. I spoke with Robinson and found that, unlike some other unwitting participants, he bears no ill will towards Cohen, even deeming him “brilliant.”

Robinson was approached as a result of his shopping around a celebrity interview show to German television. The concept of the show, which he’d developed with a writer client, was celebrities being interviewed in a hot tub in the back of a limousine traveling to different places. Robinson felt it would sell in the European market since “they have a fixation on all things celebrity.” I’ll let him take it from here.

Lloyd Robinson: I contacted a German producer, George Hohbach…I told them we needed an interviewer, kind of an over-the-top personality, like Cojo [fashion critic Steven Cojocaru]. They’d have to be fluent in German and English.

About a month later, I got a call from German TV, saying, “We got a guy. He fancies himself a celebrity who wants to become a star in Hollywood. We’re going to underwrite [his endeavor] since we’re distributing his show. We’ve got a production company [in L.A.] called Cold Stream Productions.” The way I understood it, the guy was doing a promo/teaser because he was a celebrity in Vienna.

So I got a call…The producer and director said, “We’re gonna shoot this thing and think it’d be interesting if one of the scenes is an interview with an agent.” I said, “Fine, bring him in.”

[Brüno] showed up…in this silver lamé outfit with a red spangled jock strap and kinda burst into my office. I’m pitching him [the celebrity interview show] Tub Talk, “You might be perfect for this!” I came to the conclusion he was over the top. “I don’t think you’d back off enough to let the star shine, but maybe someday…you can be a star.” He said, “No! I want to be a star now!” I said, “No, you can’t be a star now. Get out of my office.”

Four or five weeks later, I got another call from Todd [Schulman, the producer, though he’d introduced himself as Todd Lewis]. “[Brüno] is coming back into town. He’s prepared some sides to show you he can act.” I said, “Well, okay.”

So they made an appointment and showed up in the office. [Brüno] was very humbled and complimentary, nice. He was going to show me a sample of his acting ability. It was the worst thing I’ve seen in my life and I’ve been in the biz forty years. [I said] “You need some acting lessons, someone to coach you on how to do this. If I’m still looking and you’re still looking, we can talk another time.”

A month or two later, Larry [Charles, the movie’s director] called me again. This time, they’ve completed the teaser and scheduled a focus group. [I said] “Why a focus group?”

“Because we want to take him directly to producers and studios and we’re being paid to do this.”

I said, “But no one’s paying me.”

“What if we paid you $500?”

So I drive out into the Valley…There’s an NBC exec there…and they walk in the focus group. I take one look and say, “This is not gonna work” because people were all in their 40s, they’re not gonna get this guy’s humor. If you have a focus group of [people aged] 16-24, it might work.

**Mild Spoilers**

They start the thing and two minutes later, [the NBC exec]’s out the door! Brüno said, “Please stay! Have some champagne!”

…I stayed. They were paying me. But I said, “Todd, what are you doing? The scene with him waving his schlong all over the place—that’s gotta go. You’ve got to tell him to mind his manners and watch his words.”

…About a month or so later, I get another call: “He’s back in town.”

[I said] “What do you want now? What? He’s singing a song in a recording studio? He sings?!”

“Will you come? We’ll pay you  $500.”

“Throw in lunch at the Formosa Café and we’ve got a deal.”

I drove to the recording studio down on Santa Monica Boulevard…He’s singing a duet with Elton John! And it wasn’t half bad! Every time I’ve seen him, he’s been bad.

**End Spoilers**

[Brüno] comes out and says, “What do you think?”

“I think you might be on to something!…But this isn’t going to work for Tub Talk.” So we parted and Todd thanked me again for coming out… [Then Todd  said] “By the way, would you sign a release?” I didn’t care what the hell they were going to do with the teaser. I know what I said, I hadn’t done anything offensive and [Brüno] hadn’t done anything to me that was offensive.

About four weeks ago [Ed. note: This conversation took place July 8], I was driving on Sunset Boulevard. I came up Doheny, I looked up and there’s this building-scape. It’s Brüno! [I said to my wife] “That’s the guy that’s been in my office! He’s in a movie!”

My wife said, “Really?”

“Yes, I know that face! I know that outfit!”

I never saw Borat; it wouldn’t have been worth my time. I never saw [Da] Ali G [Show] on HBO. I found all that out later.

PCN: Did you ever feel betrayed once it all came out?

LR: No, that was really interesting. I look at things more analytically so I thought, “This guy is brilliant.” He’s a socio-political satirist. If you’ve got a sacred topic, he’ll throw dung at it.

I came to it for a reason. I was pitching…my client’s project, Tub Talk. [I needed] a German-English host, someone who could get starlets to hop in the tub…someone who can have fun with them. In a lot of ways, the guy fit the bill.

PCN: Would you hire him for Tub Talk now?

LR: Sure.

PCN: As Brüno or Cohen?

LR: Somewhere in between Borat and Brüno…somewhere between that would be an interesting innocence.

PCN: Have you seen the movie?

LR: I have not. I had two opportunities to see it but wanted to sit back and maintain my innocence until more of my friends call me…

A well-known reality-show producer saw the movie at a press screening and called me. “Lloyd, what would you think about doing a reality show about an older, eccentric agent with weird clients?”…I’m meeting with him next week. So, interesting things come from weird things. That’s what keeps me young and excited and involved in the business.

Inside Michael Jackson’s Memorial Service

mj billboard

This morning, the world watched and celebrated Michael Jackson’s life with a memorial service that took place in Los Angeles at the Staples Center, where Jackson had been rehearsing his “This Is It” tour. Police warned people to avoid the downtown area if they didn’t have tickets so I stayed in front of my TV like a dutiful citizen.

CHARLENEBut a friend of mine, actress-singer Charlene Modeste, won tickets in a lottery to attend the service. I spoke to her afterwards about her emotional experience and she shared some details we didn’t get to see on TV, along with these photos she took.

PCN: What was it like getting there this morning?

Charlene Modeste: I was up around six, turned on the news, saw people were already waiting to get in. I didn’t leave my house until 7:30-ish [the service was scheduled for 10 a.m. PT] so there was traffic and I had to redirect myself and get a secret back way on the 2 [freeway]. Usually takes me 15 minutes but it took me half an hour.

ticket wristbandMy friend lives downtown so I parked at my friend’s lot and we walked over…There were all these people selling Michael Jackson T-shirts, buttons, posters. Parking lots were $40. Everyone was really calm and respectful, there were cameras pretty much all over the place. Police were checking for wristbands and tickets. There were a lot of people but everyone was really subdued.

PCN: Was that because it was early and people were still waking up or was it because of the occasion?

CM: I think it just hit everybody. To hear about him passing away is one thing; it didn’t really register until the memorial started. There were people there for different reasons—for the spectacle, to celebrate, to pay respect. Some were there just for the community, to share in something we all had in common. There were some who were there for the party, you know, Whoo hoo! I thought it was strange, but you have to take into consideration whose funeral it is. People react to things in different ways.

The overall feeling of the crowd…I wouldn’t say it was somber but people were very quiet. I was in the overflow in the Nokia [Theatre] but [my friend and I] were texting someone who was in the Staples Center.

Smokey [Robinson] came up first and read letters from Diana Ross and Nelson Mandela. We thought someone would come up right after him but no one came for a really long time. If that happened at a rock concert, people would’ve reacted but no one made a sound. Everyone was so patient, anticipatory for sure, but very respectful.

When we walked in they were playing Frank Sinatra, whom I adore, but someone behind me started playing Michael Jackson songs on his mp3 player. I said, “Can you turn that up?” He said, “This is as loud as it can go but maybe if I hold it up higher, you can hear it better.” I started thinking, “Why aren’t they playing Michael Jackson songs?” I mean, no disrespect to Frank Sinatra. I asked one of the ushers to say something to someone in the booth to start playing Michael Jackson songs and two minutes later, they started playing his songs.

PCN: So you wanna be startin’ somethin’! Sorry, couldn’t resist. Anyway, what were the most emotional moments for you?

CM: There were so many! There was Paris [Jackson’s daughter], of course. There was Marlon; the first words out of his mouth that I could hear were “I hurt.” That was definitely a moment.

mj insideI didn’t know what to expect. I got these tickets as a fluke. As far as I knew, it was gonna be a concert. From the beginning, when they were singing the hymn, setting the tone, that was the hymn I grew up with in church. And they rolled out the casket, which I didn’t expect at all. So that knocked the wind out of me. It hit me—I’m at a memorial service, it’s gonna be an emotional service.

Usher was another [emotional moment], Brooke Shields, anyone who shed tears, Jermaine. Paris broke my heart. That’s not her dad, it’s her Daddy. She’s still a little girl.

I wasn’t expecting to be moved as much. I shed so many tears this morning, which was definitely a surprise because it wasn’t someone I knew personally.

PCN: Did anything special happen that wasn’t televised?

CM: Absolutely. When the telecast was over, we were just gonna leave. But they brought mikes, floral arrangements onto the stage. Someone said, “The family’s coming!” Everyone who was making their way to the door turned around, found a seat. Everyone squeezed in to make room for everyone else. We sat and waited quietly for a while.

Then the three sisters came out—LaToya, Janet and Rebbie—to specifically thank us all for being there. Amidst losing their brother, they came out to say thanks. They didn’t have to; we were on our way out. I think that was absolutely great.

LaToya, Janet and Rebbie Jackson

LaToya, Janet and Rebbie Jackson

PCN: That’s very classy. So, was the whole process worth it?

CM: It was so worth it; I’m so glad I went. It was a great experience which really put things in perspective for me, the influence he had in my life and the influence he had on the world, the possibility of what one person can achieve in their life and what’s possible for those of us who are still here can achieve as we move forward. It definitely had a huge impact on me. Even with his passing, he’s continuing to inspire.

MJ dates

Mystery and Mirth Mingle at Malice Domestic 2009

Malice Domestic is a mystery convention that takes place every year in the D.C. area., honoring the traditional mystery (no explicit sex or violence). The organization hands out the Agatha Awards, named for Agatha Christie. This year’s convention took place May 1 – 3 in Arlington, VA and author Elizabeth J. Duncan (The Cold Light of Mourning, which I reviewed here) attended as a panelist. She generously sent me the following insider account and photos of the festivities, which included an interview with Anne Perry. Thank you, Elizabeth!


This was my fourth Malice. In 2006, I was a prize winner (William F. Deeck – Malice Domestic grant); in 2007, I was nobody in particular; in 2008, I was a prize winner again (St. Martin’s Press/Malice Domestic contest) and this year, I attended as a published author.

with bookOf course my book, The Cold Light of Mourning, had only been out for five minutes (published April 28). There was a stack of 12 of them in the dealers’ room on Friday. I walked by every now and then. Yep, still 12.

On Saturday morning I attended the new authors breakfast, sponsored by Kate Stine and Brian Skupin, publishers of Mystery Scene magazine. Talking to facilitator Cindy Silberblatt, we got a chance to promote our books to a very targeted audience. Then it was on to my first panel as an author. Imagine how thrilling it was for me to share a platform with Katherine Neville, Ann Cleeves, Hannah Dennison, Maria Hudgins–-all authors of wonderful novels–-to discuss mysteries set in foreign places. Mine is set in North Wales, where every hillside is dotted with sheep. We were up against stiff competition, as the nominees for the best novel were having their panel at the same time, so we were especially pleased that attendance in our salon was rather good!

signingThen it was on to the group author signing session. This was my first signing as an author. I wasn’t nervous about the signing part-–I was afraid no one would show up as I was signing at the same time as Carolyn Hart, Anne Perry, Louise Penny, Rhys Bowen and other heavy hitters in the traditional mystery world. Remember those 12 copies of The Cold Light of Mourning stacked up in the dealers’ room? Not anymore! I was delighted to be kept rather busy signing copies for readers and, bless their hearts, I hope they enjoy the book.

The banquet menu was standard three-course fare for this sort of event at a hotel like the Marriott: salad, pecan-crusted chicken breast (yum!) with pureed sweet potatoes and sautéed green beans. Dessert, or pudding, as we say in Wales, was a triple chocolate Charlotte–-a richly layered mousse.

The awards presentation started during dessert and I was touched when Harriette Sackler, who is a lovely, gracious woman, acknowledged me and G.M. Malliet, two previous winners, before she named this year’s winner of the William F. Deeck – Malice Domestic Grant: Kimberly Gray.

And in case you haven’t heard yet, here are this year’s Agatha Award winners:

Best novel – The Cruelest Month, Louise Penny, St. Martin’s Press
Best first novel – Death of a Cozy Writer, G.M. Malliet, Midnight Ink
Best non-fiction – How to Write Killer Mysteries – Kathy Lynn Emerson, Perseverance Press
Best Short Story – “The Night Things Changed” – Dana Cameron, Wolfsbane & Mistletoe, Penguin Group
Best Children’s/Young Adult – The Crossroads, Chris Grabenstein, Random House

One of the convention’s best-attended events was a sit-down chat between Anne Perry and Don Maas, her New York literary agent. Here are some highlights:

perryMaas began by describing Perry’s prolific volume of work: 25 novels in the Pitt series, 17 in the Monk series, seven Christmas novellas, and six in the World War I series, to name the most popular. Her books have continuously been in print for 30 years.

Composed and self-assured, Perry answered his questions with warmth and honesty.

Maas: What drives you?

Perry: I think I’m finally beginning to get the hang of it! I always think the best book is the next one. I feel I am writing stronger, more complex books now that go deeper and push characters into more dilemmas. There are always more things to learn and I enjoy that.

Maas: How to you develop your characters?

Perry: I imagine them at the end of the world overlooking an abyss. What would he do now? I think about all the things I see and hear. How would they deal with certain situations, like disillusionment.

Maas: Can you describe your writing process?

Perry: I live on the east coast of Scotland, about three hours north of Edinburgh in a small fishing village. I have a secretary who comes in three days a week and my brother, a retired physician, is my researcher and he comes in four days a week. I do write on the road. A hotel room with the door closed can be a fine and private place. I outline my work pretty tightly and the less familiar I am with the material, the more I outline. The outline for a book of 12 chapters will be about 24 pages.

Mass: Do things happen in your stories that surprise you?

Perry: Occasionally. Once I discovered I liked the culprit too much so I had to give that role to someone else.

Maas: Is it true that a single copy of the first edition of Cater Street Hangman (first in the Pitt series, 1979) now sells for more than the advance you received for the book?

Perry: That’s true!

Maas: You bring the Victorian world vividly alive. How do you call out all that detail and still keep things fresh and interesting?

Perry: I am getting better at cutting things out and I keep reminding myself that the detail has to serve the story.

Backstage Oscars Scoop!

After the ceremony, I received a call from a source who attended the show and had lots of scoop to share. Here’s our conversation: [She also took the photo below]

PCN: Spill! Tell me your favorite moments.

A: I’m so overwhelmed that the Slumdog kids won, and by the grand symbolism of the acting awards, just the way the new winners were welcomed into the club by previous winners, some who are legends. That feeling must have been like, Wow.

PCN: That was really cool how they had 5 winners come out for each acting award. I gasped when Eva Marie Saint came out to present Best Supporting Actress.

A: Me, too! I actually walked up to her and told her how starstruck I was by her. She won an Oscar for On the Waterfront

PCN: Who else were you starstruck by?

A: Sophia Loren. They just don’t make ’em like her anymore.  And Daniel Craig. He usually looks kinda weathered on screen but he walked by me a couple times and was very debonair, the epitome of a British gentleman. 

PCN: I need to shove you down the stairs, I’m so envious. I loooove him. Did you ask him if you could take a photo of him holding up a sign saying he loved me back?

A: Yeah, right.

PCN:  OK, let’s go back to the way the acting awards were presented. When the first group of five came out, that was a nice surprise. But then I caught on. I’d seen Kevin Kline walk the red carpet so I thought, “A ha! I’ll bet he’s one of the five presenting Best Supporting Actor!” They also kept cutting to reaction shots of Sir Anthony Hopkins and Sir Ben Kingsley so I figured those were two Best Actor presenters right there.

A: That makes me mad! Did they really show them on TV before they presented?

PCN:  Yes. In closeups. 

A: That makes me mad, because the coordinators worked so hard to keep everyone a secret by having them not walk the red carpet, going in through the back entrance, seated far away from the front row. Joel Grey was practically in the mezzanine so that you couldn’t see him. That’s really sh*tty that you could see them from home before we could reveal them.

PCN:  Well, I never saw Christopher Walken or Robert DeNiro so those were nice surprises for me. Speaking of being seated far from the front row, where were all those adorable little Slumdog babies placed?

A: In the mezzanine. But that’s standard for non-nominated cast members who are in nominated films.

PCN:  What were they like?

A: I don’t even know how to describe them. It’s very touching because it’s been such a long road for them to be at the show. The Oscars, for me, were heightened by the joy they exuded. I’ve never been as excited for a bunch of people I don’t know to win an award as I was for these children. They were glowing, on top of the world, overjoyed. It was pure. And the littlest Salim [Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail] was asked to carry the Oscar all night. It was so cute.


PCN:  All right, I have to ask because people want to know. Was someone assigned to keep Brad & Angelina and Jennifer Aniston apart?

A: Not that I know of, but there was a close call. Brad and Angelina had left during a commercial break. They went out to the lobby, they were just hanging out, having wine when Jennifer came walking towards them from the other direction. People gasped and freaked out, “Oh no! What’s gonna happen? What’s gonna happen?!” But then Jennifer just turned and went backstage before she got to them. I don’t know if she saw them or someone warned her but she was only a few feet away from them.

PCN:  It probably would’ve been okay. I think the whole Jen vs. Angie thing is stupid. They probably all moved on years ago.

A: Jennifer was a social butterfly. She was very cute. At one point, when she was coming out of the bathroom, she saw Sophia Loren and was like, “Hi!” but then her dress got caught in the bathroom door. She was, like, “This is not a good time for my dress to be caught in the door.” It was a very Rachel moment. 

At another moment, my jaw just dropped because in this one small room, Jennifer, Reese Witherspoon, Sophia Loren, Halle Berry, Marion Cotillard and Nicole Kidman were all getting their makeup done. I just could not handle it. 

PCN: That’s really something. Now, I know things look different on TV so who was best dressed in person? 

A: Miley Cyrus. 

PCN:  What?! Ugh.

A: You don’t like her?

PCN: She kept telling everyone on the red carpet she hopes to be back at the Oscars next year and get something for The Hannah Montana Movie. I mean, Dream on, honey. 

A: That is gross.

PCN: So, who else looked good?

A: Marion Cotillard looked really good. Diane Lane—I love her. Nicole Kidman and Penelope were very “them,” wearing what we normally expect of them so there were no fashion risks. Robert Downey Jr. looked like he did in The Pick-Up Artist [his 1987 comedy with Molly Ringwald].

PCN:  He did look like he aged backwards! How about worst dressed?

A: Shirley MacLaine. What was that?! For males, Mickey Rourke and Adrien Brody. 

PCN:  Adrien Brody could’ve done the Joaquin impersonation with that beard instead of Ben Stiller. 

A: Really.

PCN:  Overall, did everything go as planned?

A: I would say so. I thought it went really well. 


Backstage at the Grammys 2009

With all the talk regarding the Chris Brown scandal that came to light at last night’s Grammys, I contacted one of my sources who worked the show to see if she had any interesting inside tidbits. Here’s our conversation (she wished to remain anonymous).

Q: When did you first hear Chris Brown and Rihanna had dropped out as performers?

A: At about 2:30 or 2:40. [The show started at 5 p.m. PT]

Q: What happened?

A: There was mad scrambling. One of the stage managers had to revamp the listing of performers for the day. They had to move talent around. Someone had said [Brown and Rihanna] were in a car accident; that was a rumor that was going around early in the day. It wasn’t ’til the end of the night when a member of the press told a production person what happened that we were like, “Oh my gosh, is that really what happened?!”

Q: After the mad scrambling and revamping of talent lineup, was there another quick run-through?

A: There wasn’t time because the red carpet opened at 3 p.m.

Q: Were people nervous about whether things would go well?

A: They were pretty indifferent. Awards shows are generally always high stress and high pressure.  Whether it be a presenter being late or canceling last minute, there is pretty much always some sort of last-minute change. Changes are not as extreme as what happened Sunday but the main focus of awards show people is to adapt.

Q: OK, let’s talk about other things. Did you have a plan in place if M.I.A. had gone into labor at the show?

A: There was a gurney in the back. I wasn’t sure what/whom it was for but we’ve never had one there during past shows.

Q: Any backstage scoop you want to share about anything?

A: Miley Cyrus and Taylor Swift were adorable. They were joined at the hip, went everywhere together. Miley got starstruck when Gwyneth walked by. By the way, the announcer should’ve said “Grammy-nominee Gwyneth Paltrow” [in the Best Spoken Word Album for Children category for her reading of Brown Bear and Friends] when she came out to introduce Radiohead.

Justin Timberlake’s people were so pretentious. All the talent had signs on their dressing room door with their names on it and someone from Timberlake’s team took it off as soon as he got inside, like they were afraid people would know where Justin was and rush his room or something. But he was in the same hallway as U2, Sir Paul (McCartney), John Mayer, Miley, Coldplay, Stevie Wonder, Jay-Z and all their signs were still up! It just made my colleagues’ jobs harder when they had to locate Justin and do it quickly.

Q: That does sound annoying. If I were walking down that hallway, I’d be rushing U2’s, Coldplay’s, and Sir Paul’s dressing rooms, not JT’s!

Now, I gotta ask the inevitable fashion question. Who looked the best?

A: Fran Drescher looked really good, Katy Perry’s dress was gorgeous, and Sheryl Crow was flawless.

They Said What?! Stars’ Quotes Not Televised During 2009 Golden Globes Ceremony

These tidbits were heard during press, on the red carpet and at after-parties.

  • “Beer, but I think someone put a little bit of crack in it.” — Ricky Gervais explaining what was in the glass he was drinking from on stage while presenting the Happy-Go-Lucky clip.
  • “I had my first sober blackout, can’t remember a thing.” — Colin Farrell describing what it was like to win the best comedic movie actor award.
  • “I want to learn how to read.” — John Krasinski discussing his new year’s resolution.
  • “I want Salma Hayek’s boobs.” — Megan Fox talking about her insecurities and poor body image.
  • “Don’t worry, I won’t have to stand up again.” — Kate Winslet to someone who spilled a bottle of water all over her dress after she won her first Globe of the evening.elyse3
  • “Kate Winslet is my girl crush.” — Angela Kinsey talking about the Globes’ new poster girl.
  • “I’d call Jack Nicholson.” — Slumdog Millionaire‘s Freida Pinto saying who she’d call if she could use the Call a Friend lifeline as a Who Wants to be a Millionaire? contestant.
  • “He was kind of a pain in the ass so that’s why he was so fun to play.” — Paul Giamatti describing John Adams.
  • “I decided to be rude, push him around, and it worked…He respected that.” — Evan Rachel Wood explaining how she dealt with Mickey Rourke on the set of The Wrestler so she wouldn’t be intimidated by him.
  • “I haven’t seen the movie.” — Rourke saying he never watches anything he’s in until 4-5 years later because he’s too critical of his performances.drew-mickey