Award Season is in full swing leading up to the 86th annual Academy Awards on March 2nd. Recently, the Writers Guild of America held its own award show honoring outstanding achievement in writing for screen, television and a slew of other media. Bestowed with an All Access badge and a headset, I was able to roam through every nook and cranny of the JW Marriott at L.A. LIVE in downtown Los Angeles at the show.
Truth be told, this wasn't part of any scam, nor did I win some contest; and I'm certainly not any sort of VIP that is entitled to such privilege. I'm a journalist who happened to be working the award show -- escorting talent along the red carpet before the show and walking winners to the press room during the program.
Assigned to escort presenters, including the always affable Walton Goggins of Justified and TV icon Henry Winkler, known as the nicest man in show business (depending whom you talk to -- some say the same about Tom Hanks), it was fascinating to get such an insider's view to the whole smoothly run three-ring circus.
Goggins actually attended solo as his wife, filmmaker and screenwriter Nadia Conners, was unable to attend. Without an entourage or PR flack at his side, he unassumingly worked his way down the red carpet by himself, walking casually past several reporters and came out the other end in record time. Asked if he wanted to swing by the presenters' gifting suite (where the rich get kick ass free swag, including watches, Cuisinart, and a free vacation), he confessed that kind of thing makes him uneasy and instead preferred to run through his lines in advance of presenting the documentary screenplay award, which went to Sarah Polley for Stories We Tell. Along the way he stopped and had a mutually genuine and appreciative conversation with Breaking Bad creator, Vince Gilligan -- both of whom are big fans of the other.
Later, trying to find the appropriate time to interrupt Henry Winkler in conversation to introduce myself and explain that I had his ticket and would be escorting him proved difficult. One, you don't want to come off as rude, and two, everyone else wants to talk to him and they don't have any trouble introducing themselves at inopportune times. One of TV's biggest stars, Winkler also came by himself and didn't have a publicist leading his way. Funny enough, he made it pass security without his ticket, which I had, but then again, who is going to stop Henry Winkler, there to honor Garry Marshall who was presented with the Guild's Paddy Chayefsky Laurel Award for Television Writing, at an award show?
In between shaking hands like a politician, taking photos and offering a quick hello to just about everyone whom he came across, Winkler softly confessed he didn't know anyone in attendance, which wasn't exactly true, but everyone sure knew him. Backstage, introducing himself to a fellow presenter, he said, "Hi, my name is Henry." Who doesn't know Henry Winkler? Especially among actors! But then again, it's that refreshing humbleness that earns him the moniker of nicest man in showbiz.
During the actual awards show, in between escorting winners such Billy Ray (Best Adapted Screenplay for Captain Phillips), Joel Cohen (best animated episode for The Simpsons' "A Test Before Trying"), and the writing staff of Jeopardy! (winners for Quiz and Audience Participation), as well as honoree Garry Marshall, it was fascinating to see the respect, or at least authoritative role, that wearing a cumbersome headset affords you -- not just by celebrities but hotel staff and guests too. Have a badge and a headset and people will get out of your way, open a door for you, call you sir and even look to you as an authority figure.
Other highlights of the night included taking in just how hot actress Jennifer Tilly still is. I swear she doesn't age. At 55-years-old, she looks better than ever; sporting some of the evening's sexiest gams. She was there to present the Guild's Valentine Davies Award to The Simpsons co-developer and philanthropist Sam Simon (recently diagnosed with terminal colon cancer) for his community service and humanitarian efforts.
Perhaps a precursor to Oscar Night, filmmaker Spike Jonze won best Original Screenplay for Her. Other winners included best Drama Series of course for Breaking Bad and the New Series award went to House of Cards.
Perhaps the most uncomfortable moment of the night for me anyways was standing next to True Blood's Joe Manganiello -- a perfect specimen if there ever was one. That was probably karmic payback for making fun of the height disparity between Henry Winkler when he stood next to awards show host Brad Garrett. I really paid the price standing next to the 6'5" wolf stud in his form fitting suit. I couldn't get away from the fit and towering guy fast enough! Badge and headset didn't mean anything then -- not standing next to the buff beast.
Later, still with badge and headset on, I asked writer and actor B.J. Novak, best known for The Office, if he'd like me to take him to the gifting suite and he shyly said, "I'm really not a gifting kind of guy." God I love that refreshing attitude. Not that there's anything wrong with celebrities enjoying the perks for their trade and soaking up free loot. After the final award was handed out, I escorted actor Bruce Dern (an Oscar hopeful for Best Actor for Nebraska) into the gifting suite, but honestly, I think he would have followed me wherever I led him. But I don't begrudge him anything for it, with his impressive career he's definitely entitled to recognition and a bag or two of swag. I guess even with an All Access badge and a headset all I could do was stand in front of the presenters' gifts. I don't carry the prestige to take home award show swag.