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How to survive a press tour

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By the time this issue of EW hits the streets, I should be done with an Around the World Tour promoting Larry Crowne, which opens July 1. The itinerary calls for 13 cities, 30 days, crossing all 24 time zones and the international date line. This sort of Celebrity Mule Train is familiar in every branch of showbiz: a grueling combination of political campaign, global race, exotic vacation, and vision quest marked by exhaustion, jet lag, and introductions to far more people than your brain can recall. Like most travel, there can be high points, and if you like the movie you are promoting (and I do), it doesn’t have to feel like the contractual obligation it is.

Keeping one’s sanity on the long haul requires a master plan and some due diligence. Here are a few things I’ve learned from 25 years of hitting the road to hawk a film. (Splash was in 1984, and not only was it the first time I had been out of the USA, it was also a free supersonic ride on the Concorde.)

1. Know your schedule, but don’t memorize the thing.
You’ll be spending all day talking about the film to what will seem like a million people — hard-hitting journalists (who have done this a million times), crack publicity experts (who do this for a living), and room-service waiters who are astonished by how exhausted your face appears. Don’t cloud your pre-fogged head with all the arcane entries on the agenda, such as this one: 10 June — 8:30 p.m. Delegation escorted to VIP Holding Area. Green Room, Level 6. Am I a VIP? Who makes up my Delegation? Why are we being held? Is the Green Room on Level 6 better than the Orange Room on Level 13? Never mind.

2. Prepare the obvious answers and vary all anecdotes.
Certain queries will be asked again and again by the fourth estate — What are you trying to say with Larry Crowne? What is Julia Roberts like? How much are you like Larry Crowne? What is the secret to your happy marriage? Thirty times a day is the average for such questions. For the record, my first-time answers are: To illustrate a fight against cynicism; Julia is a vision and wonder; I only look just like Larry; and I was smart enough to marry Rita Wilson. Variations on those answers will be forthcoming.

3. Survive the hotel room.
Even the most rational of travelers (actors? rational?) are sometimes driven mad by the 10th change of hotel rooms in a few hundred hours. Dirty laundry takes over all your luggage, used room-service dishes become as familiar as furniture, and the ceiling appears to be creeping down onto you — slowly, slowly — soon to crush whatever life force you still possess at a sleepless 4 a.m. What to do? Fight back against the rented room! Do not seek solace in the TV, for all you will find are business programs, news channels, Law & Order: SVU in Swedish, and game shows from Italy with four people talking at once. Instead, listen to your own music on your ubiquitous device — thank you, Jambox! Never, ever eat alone in your room, not even for breakfast. Go to early breakfast in the lobby or make some of your Delegation sit with you as you wolf down a bun, some fruit, and three pots of coffee. In what little downtime you have, occupy yourself by keeping an old-school scrapbook with glue, a notebook, and scissors from your manicure kit. Mount those ticket stubs, premiere clippings, notes to self (“Psyllium Husks!”) and from others (“Dude! Mavs/Heat? 3 AM?”). Read good books — not scripts or the local papers (you will know nothing about the big local story), and not just before the Ambien kicks in. I will finish Pete Hamill’s Tabloid City while drying off from a shower.

4. Be a tourist, but for no more than 30 minutes a day.
Don’t linger, since there are places you have to be (see: “contractual obligation”), but indulge in some wanderlust on what resembles a free Package Tour. You don’t have to go to the Eiffel Tower with the rest of the world, but a saunter through the Rodin Museum will make you feel like a talentless doofus and spur your imagination. Hyde Park should be crossed on foot, and a cup of tea at the Serpentine is only one pound 50, however much that is. Get an iPhoto straddling the marker that once was the Berlin Wall and wonder, “What were those Communists thinking?” Never be satisfied with photos taken through the window of your hired car, but make the driver (whose name you cannot recall) stop. Then step out, pose next to the sign with the funny word on it (Flugplatz!), and snap away.

5. Put all vices on hold, and not just those that are illegal/illicit in most countries.
On the Thousand-Miles-of-Chat Road, even the most harmless of vices can run away with your soul. Chinese-food takeout may become the only thing your appetite can stand. Frozen yogurt can become the bane of your publicist’s existence (“Tom is insisting! Where do I get frozen yogurt in Singapore???”). I have bought more stationery from cities around the world than I will ever use because I love notebooks and just gotta have ’em! Come the end of a long day spent talking about me, me, me!, I enjoy a pint of the local stout. But one pint can quickly become a quart — or a half liter can become six liters — and one of two things will be in your future: a day lost because you’ve been found comatose on the couch in your hotel room, or an Internet photo of you in a punch-up with the doorman of the best restaurant in Greater London.

6. Do not look at the calendar or ask what day of the week it is.
Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, Thursday? The 8th or the 14th? It doesn’t matter, because guess what? You’re doing press this morning, then leaving this hotel for another, and you must pack a special change of clothes for tonight’s appearance on the No. 1 TV show in the Ruhr Valley. Stay loose, tell the truth through the voice of the translator in your earpiece, and do not assume any of your jokes will translate. You can do it for a few more days, can’t you? Whatever meal is due to you will be placed in front of you soon — the hotel’s Club Sandwich or the restaurant’s Poulet Rôti — and your Delegation will warn you of any possible gaffes you made, and any necessary public apology can be composed then and there.

One day when you can’t recall which world capital you were in just 18 hours before, a car will deliver you to an airport and a plane will take you to the next stop on the tour. Your passport will have new stamps from destinations you never thought you would see, and you will have laughed hard and long with members of your Delegation as you tried to identify just what that smell was in the Green Room on Level 6. After a few hours of groggy half sleep, a glance out the window of the plane will show daylight over a familiar cityscape. You’ll spot landmarks you recognize and see traffic patterns you’ve driven yourself, and a realization will hit you: The tour is over. Welcome home!

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