The Marquesa ballroom at the Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills is like any other ballroom in any other high-end hotel you've ever been in. Kinda fancy, with ornate wood cornices and delicate chandeliers, and about 200 chairs facing a dais, the room today looks like it's set up for a meeting. The six or seven cameras — including one on a giant crane — at the back of the ballroom are a little bit out of the ordinary.
And the massive black curtain with the Avengers "A" on it is a bit of a tipoff.
This is the press junket for the 19th Marvel Cinematic Universe flick, Avengers: Infinity War. And it's a bit of a thing.
A press junket — if you're not familiar and you don't remember too much of what happened in Notting Hill — is the second-to-last phase in the promotion of a major motion picture. (The last being the world premiere screening.) The movie studio, in this case Disney, will fly the cast and filmmakers of a big release to a big city. Given the global nature of Hollywood, junkets happen in almost every major market, but domestic junkets are almost always in Los Angeles, occasionally in New York. They'll book out a ballroom and a whole mess of suites in a hotel, usually in Beverly Hills. And then they'll make that cast and crew available to members of the press. Every 10-15 minutes another journalist is paraded into a suite, sat down opposite a piece of talent who will smile and answers a handful of questions, then sent on their merry way. Rinse and repeat almost all day long.
When movie stars say that promoting a film is exhausting work, this is what they mean. Flying around the globe, appearing at global premieres, and answering slight variations on the same 10 questions can be, or so I've heard, a particular kind of torture. Champagne torture, but still torture nonetheless.
Because Avengers: Infinity War is the biggest thing ever, Marvel Studios and Disney did more than just fly a few stars in for the junket. They got — deep breath, and if you can say this before taking another one you are either a wicked free-diver or a bobbing-for-apples ringer — Dave Bautista, Paul Bettany, Chadwick Boseman, Josh Brolin, Don Cheadle, Benedict Cumberbatch, Robert Downey Jr., Winston Duke, Danai Gurira, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Tom Holland, Scarlett Johansson, Pom Klementieff, Anthony Mackie, Elizabeth Olsen, Chris Pratt, Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Sebastian Stan, Letitia Wright, directors Anthony and Joe Russo, and producer Kevin Feige to wait behind that aforementioned black curtain for a press conference to begin.
When the curtain dropped, and the flashes faded and the whoops dissipated, the conference's moderator — or "grandmaster" of ceremonies, as it were — Thor: Ragnarok star Jeff Goldblum, started funneling questions to the assembled stars, using a bingo-style ball cage to make it snappy. (And, honestly, if you can get Jeff to spread his Goldblum over a public gathering you should, spare no expense.) Not that any of those questions, culled from the journalists, could be answered in a way that revealed anything. Even if the cast had seen the movie (most claimed they hadn't and wouldn't until the premiere the following evening), they were sworn to secrecy lest they get iced quicker than Hawkeye.
The assembled egos mostly played well with each other — under the watchful eyes of Marvel brass and a phalanx of personal publicists, all holding up the walls of that ballroom. Gentle ribbing and playful banter abounded: Chris Pratt, rather than reveal anything about the film itself, chose to talk for about a minute about bass fishing in such a way that made it clear that he don't play when it comes to bass fishing. Zoë Saldana explained why opening the doors of diversity in the Marvel Cinematic Universe was so important to the next generation of viewers and storytellers. Josh Brolin talked about performing his entire role in the nude. Sure.
And Scarlett Johannson tried to roll with the punch of having her first and only question be about Black Widow's fashion — not about her steady presence as a spy and warrior in the MCU since Iron Man 2, but about what she wears. "I've been wearing a black leather unitard for six movies now," she not-so-playfully chided. "Maybe I'll get a vest."
After Goldblum winged his last ping-pong ball at his last movie star (no, seriously, he nailed Downey Jr. in the forehead once), the famous people all made nicey-nice smile-faces for some pictures and then vanished. Well, were spirited away by their publicists and handlers for Phase 2 of the junket: The Interviewening. Like the Quickening, but with questions.
Here's something you should know about me: I don't particularly like interviewing actors. It has less to do with them than it has to do with me: I am not all that interested in the actor's process. I am WAY more interested in the writer/director's process. I'm a story guy, not a performance guy. (Plus, I hate the dumb, fake laugh I tend to give celebrities to shift from one question to another. And when I listen to the tape to transcribe the interview my voice and that horribly insincere giggle are like fingernails made of Styrofoam on a chalkboard also made of Styrofoam.)
So when I volunteered to cover the Avengers: Infinity War junket for SYFY WIRE, I was like, "Nah, I don't want to talk to any of the Avengers or the Guardians or the Wakandans. I wanna talk to the screenwriters." For they are my people. I wanted Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, who've written every Captain America movie as well as Infinity War and Avengers 4. And then I was like, "Yeah, I guess I'll talk to the directors, Joe and Anthony Russo — but I'm only gonna talk to them about story." I was going to have 10 minutes with each pair.
Upon leaving the Marquesa Ballroom, I made my way up to the hospitality suite, which was manned by a bunch of publicists and too many goddamned baby cheesecakes. I was to wait there until one of the publicists fetched me, amongst all the cheesecakes. I had three cheesecakes. Whatever. And a sun-kissed turkey club. Fine.
I watched a few other journalists come from one interview or another while waiting for my turn, either talking loudly about their just-concluded chat ("Kevin Feige told me something he shouldn't have!") or clammed up tight, saving whatever goods they got for whatever story they were writing. Then a publicist called my name and led me to one of a dozen or so suites on the floor. Inside were Markus and McFeely. (Full disclosure: I'd met the two before, a few San Diego Comic-Cons ago, at a bar. I might've been a little tipsy. They were absolutely a little tired. But we talked for about an hour — until the booze dried up and one of them was snoring. Disclosure over.)
As I pass another writer in the vestibule, I get into the suite — which is tan on tan, with tan highlights. One chair is sitting in the bed-less room, facing another two. There's a publicist sitting off in a corner. And my subjects, Markus and McFeely, sitting, waiting for me. The same exact thing happened when I went to go talk to the Russos — same kind of suite, same setup.
Ten minutes in each room, pestering them with questions about story — about endings and assumptions, about hurdles and telling a narrative with eleventybillion characters — and then I was done. Junkets can kinda be like that. You spend the better part of a day obsessing over how to conduct an interview with someone who has spent the better part of a month being interviewed. You aim for a moment of relevance, of special, of the new. Sometimes you get it. Sometimes you don't.
It ends quickly and without ceremony. Thanks for coming. Next interview. All that's left is a hollow exhaustion and a line at the valet stand waiting for your car, Earth's Mightiest Heroes nowhere to be seen.
[Editor's note: Here is Marc's story. It turned out really well!]