Olivia Cole

The staircase too scary for Bruce Willis, and other Oscar party stories

The staircase too scary for Bruce Willis, and other Oscar party stories
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From a wedding to an awards ceremony, no self-respecting Los Angeles beano can take place without endless fixtures around the main event. The Oscars barely get a look in between a clutch of warm-ups and afterparties. The Friday night (Oscar night being Sunday) is traditionally the preserve of the agents, the most high-profile of whom throw open the doors of their Hollywood homes to their clients — and no one else. It was a rarity, then, that at the party given by the super-agent Ari Emanuel, stars (‘Talent’, in the argot) schmoozed and ate macaroni cheese with a certain number of the not-so-famous (‘civilians’). Marooned somewhere between Dustin Hoffman and Wales’s most glamorous export, Catherine Zeta-Jones, I felt horribly conspicuous. Every level of Emanuel’s garden, including the swimming pool, had been reconfigured as party space. There was a huge sign to the last floor reading simply ‘MORE’ — always an apt slogan in Hollywood, unless you’re trying to get into a dress.

Even with constant blue skies and sunshine, Los Angeles still finds ways to make its inhabitants neurotic. I’d only been here a matter of hours when, at my hotel, I took delivery of a large bag full of modern-day corsetry: pants, vests and bras designed to suck everything in (breathing is for suckers). It had been sent as a slightly disturbing promotional stunt by an American brand called Maidenform. It wasn’t so much underwear as non-surgical liposuction. No need to ask whether your bum looks big in this — if you’re female and you might be seen near a red carpet, the town has already decided you need help.

In search of a more enlightened frame of mind, early one morning I joined a class led by Tej, a specialist in Kundalini yoga. We hoped for health, prosperity and, this being LA, good vibes for our ‘projects’ (meaning films, or perhaps diets). Around here, it turns out, even a spiritual leader needs an agent and a lawyer — and perhaps a little help from the Talent. One of Tej’s more unlikely students, Russell Brand, recently led a breakaway faction of yoga bunnies so that she could be liberated from an objectionable contract. As a result, her current teaching space is a large tent next to the studio where the reality TV show Judge Judy is filmed. The noise of nearly a hundred yogis making the floor vibrate is an ongoing issue for the show’s producers. Tej, meanwhile, expressed the hope that our collective energy could waft over to the studio and help the reality TV victims. Any ‘realtor’ who can find the troupe a permanent home is in line for some seriously good karma.

Returning, as is compulsory in LA, to the parties, the most important slot on the Oscars dance card is ‘the night before’. The producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein had plenty to celebrate — nominations for Tarantino’s Django Unchained and David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook as well as the Scientology film The Master — and half of Hollywood seemed determined to celebrate with them. On the door at Soho House, a demented would-be guest waved a phone around uttering the immortal line, ‘Can you speak to Desiree in Naomi Campbell’s office?’ Desiree’s role in proceedings, and that of Campbell, never became clear.

To anyone wearing heels after a couple of cocktails, Soho House’s marble staircase is a potential death trap. And it’s risky even if you’re not in heels, to judge by the behaviour of Bruce Willis’s entourage. In the early hours, spotting the Talent holding court a couple of steps up, an assistant screamed, ‘Get him off the stairs! Get him off the stairs!’ They must need sedation when he is called upon to do actual stunts.

No one walks in Hollywood. So in the absence of a black Cadillac Escalade, there was a peculiar pleasure in strolling the 75 yards from my hotel, the Mondrian, to the Vanity Fair party. While other parties rely on private security, the magazine’s editor Graydon Carter goes the whole hog and effectively brings in the National Guard. Anyone relying on a quick call to Desiree will not get anywhere near the door. The only exception is if you turn up with an Oscar. Doubtless some hustler has tried pitching up with a fake.

Inside this most famous of parties, red velvet cupcakes were circulating, decorated with the names of nominees. It seemed a shame to polish off ‘De Niro’ but there is no good way to preserve a cupcake as a souvenir. ‘Go on, eat it,’ purred Bret Easton Ellis. ‘It’ll be delicious.’ The screen incarnation of Abraham Lincoln’s wife was having the same problem with her memento. ‘I dropped it,’ she said, ruefully examining a slightly squished ‘Sally Field’.

Civilian-to-Talent communication can be tricky. Finding myself at the bar with Steven Spielberg, I struggled to think of a good opening gambit. ‘ET phone home’ wasn’t going to cut it. ‘I’m thrilled for Daniel and thrilled for everyone,’ said Spielberg. ‘I love the way he started with a joke. Did you see Meryl behind him? She was cracking up.’ (I shall continue to have to call them Day-Lewis and Streep.) As I walked back along Sunset at 3 a.m., the ring of steel was already being dismantled, this year’s production wrapped. Forget about the movies — party season in LA may be the greatest show on earth.

Olivia Cole edits Spectator Life.