Did you know that in Rio I'm known as the guy who made Christina Hendricks laugh? Well, I am. Sort of. OK, so I'm stretching it a little, but it's close enough to factual that I can get away with saying it. More or less.
I mean, it's not like she and I were hanging out drinking caipirinhas on the Copacabana beach. In fact, if you want to know the truth, my total up-close-and-personal time with Ms. Hendricks lasted a grand total of less than 10 minutes. Long story short, I was in Rio to cover the Diageo Reserve World Class global bartending final. She was in Rio to promote Johnnie Walker's high-end Blue Label whisky, for which she is the spokeswoman -- in addition, of course, to being a star of the small screen on Mad Men, not to mention one of the preeminent sex symbols of our time. A couple of publicists and a promise of a writeup later, I'd scored an interview with her -- a five-minute interview, but an interview nonetheless.
At the appointed time and place, I found myself in the hallway of a hotel with a bunch of other journalists and bloggers and a female publicist whose job it was to keep us from mobbing the Hendricks suite en masse. We looked like we were sitting in a waiting room outside a doctor's office. We felt like nervous kids about to go to our first middle school dance.
I was the first to go in. The publicist ushered me through a room liberally and decoratively festooned with Blue Label bottles. We turned a corner, and there was Christina Hendricks in the flesh, flanked by handlers, seated on a couch and looking stunning in a conservative black dress, with her hair down and immaculately tousled. My synapses misfiring wildly, brain-to-mouth editing non-functional, I babbled the first thing I could think of: "Wow, that's a lot of Scotch out there! Would you like some?" And by golly, she laughed. I know she's an actress and all, but it sounded pretty genuine to me. So far, so good.
My plan of attack, interview-wise, was this: I had five minutes. Edward Murrow I am not. I wasn't going to get journalistic gold out of this thing. So I'd talk to her about Scotch -- which is what she was there to talk about, after all. The only important nugget of information I was after was what Johnnie Walker's "Ultimate Game Changer Experience" was all about. You see, the night before, I'd spent the entire evening at a Johnnie Walker function with the promise of having my game changed. I drank several glasses of Blue Label. I saw an impassioned speech by global brand ambassador Jonathan Driver. And I got to watch Christina Hendricks drink Blue Label cocktails crafted for her by the three previous winners of Diageo Reserve World Class (none of which the media got to taste). Somehow, my game felt strangely unchanged. Had I done something wrong? Or was the transformation so subtle as to go unnoticed by the less sensitive among us?
I sat, turned on my digital voice recorder, and got down to business. "I know I've got five minutes, so I'm going to talk really fast...." And she laughed again, the kind of laugh that indicated, "I do not think you're an idiot." I know this because, believe me, I've gotten the "what kind of idiot are you?" laugh enough in my life to know the difference. I relaxed. A little.
* * * * *
So how did you get involved with Johnnie Walker?
Oh, gosh, it's been nearly two years now, I think. I had done an interview for Esquire magazine, and in the interview Esquire asked me what I liked a man to order as a drink, and I said that I thought it was sexy when a man ordered Scotch, and that my husband orders Scotch. And then it became a relationship with Johnnie Walker.
Did you know a lot about Scotch whisky going into this relationship?
I didn't. And I have to say, it's helped me enjoy it even more. I already liked it; I really like the smell of it, and the color of it, and, you know, all of that. But now, learning about the technique of blending, and matching that same flavor year after year after year, it sort of makes you fall in love with it more.
What are your duties as the face of Blue Label? What kind of stuff do you have to do?
Well, our relationship thus far has been sort of, uh, attending and learning about whisky and meeting with their whisky master and doing tastings, and... recently, we decided to expand our relationship a little bit, so we just started doing some advertising. It's been a lot about educating myself about it and going to tastings and helping other people learn about it.
So you're like Professor Hendricks now!
[Laughing.] Exactly! Professor of whisky!
* * * * *
And so it went. Not exactly the kind of hard-hitting journalism I learned about in college, but I did achieve two very important goals. First, I didn't sweat profusely. Second, weak though my questions may have been, at no point did I even come close to blurting out, "Gosh, you're purty. What's it like to be so purty?"
I sensed my time was running short, so I brought out the heavy artillery and, channeling my inner Woodward and Bernstein as best I could, asked the Big Question: "So what is the Ultimate Game Changer?"
Speaking quickly, as if she'd been waiting to hear this question for the whole twentieth of an hour we'd been talking, she replied:
Well, I think the idea is that this whole process is to find one of the best bartenders in the world, and we had all these people bring in these wonderful new ways to drink the Blue Label. I think a lot of people, when they drink Blue Label, it's a very special occasion, they drink it neat or with a water back, and this was game-changing because it was: Here, you can enjoy the Blue Label, but in these special ways, and you're not gonna lose that flavor. So it was kind of trying to introduce more interesting or different ways of enjoying it.
Hmm. OK. Well, not quite the headline-grabbing answer I wanted, but it'll do. And I guess my time is... It's not up? I stared at Christina, my mind racing, trying desperately to come up with anything, regardless of how mundane, to help us kill whatever time we had left. And -- nothing. I stared. She stared. The pause officially hit awkward length.
Finally, she broke the silence: "You'd think five minutes would fly by!" We both laughed loudly.
"I know!" I cried. "But I mean, really, you answered it so succinctly!" She laughed again. "I'm like, no, no, tell me more about it!"
But wait, it gets better! I quickly regained my composure enough to ask, "Have you gotten to try all the other brands as well, and are you going to work with the other brands, or are you sticking with Blue Label?"
She replied, "Oh, no, we've definitely done tastings with all the different labels, and" -- to the Johnnie Walker flaks in the room -- "I guess we're gonna try the new one. Am I allowed to say that?"
Whoa, a scoop! I did not see that coming. "Oh, do tell, I want to hear about the new one!" I said.
At that very instant, the PR woman who'd ushered me in came back and said, "That's it, I'm afraid."
Well, need I tell you that mass hilarity ensued? Laughing. Roaring. Possibly even a bit of chortling. All while I was packing up my notepad and swiftly being shown the door. To her eternal credit, Christina yelled, "It's the Platinum!" as I exited. That's right, you read it here first: Christina Hendricks has tried Johnnie Walker's new Platinum brand, to be released to the Scotch-swilling public at large later this year.
Later that afternoon I ran into a journalist from a men's magazine who'd interviewed her after I did. With a cold, emotionless gaze, he asked, "So what did you say to make her laugh?" I paused, trying to figure out how to spin my answer to make me seem as cool as possible. "We all heard you out in the hallway."
"You mean she didn't laugh with you guys?"
"Not the way she did with you."
Damn, I thought. Maybe the interview went better than I'd suspected.
The Diageo Reserve World Class winners were announced that night. The afterparties went on until dawn. At the height of the festivities, around 3 a.m., who should walk into the bar at the Copacabana Palace Hotel, where I'd been enjoying several celebratory libations, but Christina, along with her husband, Geoffrey Arend. I wasn't three sheets to the wind quite yet, but I was tipsy enough to decide that she and I were old buddies by now. And as The Guy Who Made Her Laugh, it would be downright rude to not go over and say hello. I tapped her on the shoulder.
"Hey, I remember you from this morning!"
She remembered me! How could she not, after all that laughing?
"So apparently I'm known among your other interviewers as the guy who made you laugh."
And wouldn't you know it, she laughed again! "What were we laughing about, anyway?" she queried. I was drunk. I was tired. I was, frankly, a little starstruck. And in a noisy bar at 3 in the morning, it seemed pointless to try to explain what we'd been so darned jolly about all those hours ago. "You know, I don't really remember."
"Me either!" Which set off still more laughter. I'll tell you, if I had a nickel for every time I made that woman laugh, I'd have about 50 cents, give or take a few.
The next morning, I ran into the men's-mag journalist again. "Hey," I said as nonchalantly as I could. "I saw Christina at the afterparty last night. Made her laugh again."
He looked at me with just a smidgen of disdain and, lip curling into the hint of a sneer, said, "Well, you're obviously the funniest fucking person she's ever met, aren't you?"
Why yes, I suppose I am.