Now that the world's gone to hell in a handbasket, who's protecting Hollywood?

By Rebecca Ascher-Walsh
Updated April 25, 2003 at 04:00 AM EDT

We may be living in dangerous times, but the entertainment industry has been taking extra precautions to protect its own for almost three decades. When talent goes abroad, chances are good there are some guns behind the fun, thanks to covert and well-compensated companies like the 28-year-old Control Risks Group based in London, the 3-year-old International Risk Ltd. in Hong Kong, and 12-year-old Corporate Risk International, which operates out of Fairfax, Va. When the show has to go on, threats of kidnappings and political unrest be damned, these are the groups Hollywood quickly, if quietly, calls upon.

All three organizations — whose services are retained by such insurance companies as Lloyd’s of London — can also provide political-risk reports, on-site protection, advice on kidnapping negotiations and ransom payment, and, should the going get extremely tough, evacuation plans. ”In most situations, we advocate that business can continue,” says Andreas Carleton-Smith, the North American president of Control Risks Group, which consulted for Castle Rock on Proof of Life and CBS’ globetrotting reality show The Amazing Race. ”But there are some considerations that have to be taken into account.” To that end, cast and crew members may be briefed before even leaving home, despite the protection offered by on-site security experts.

International Risk’s Steve Vickers, who spent 18 years as a high-ranking member of the Royal Hong Kong Police and is so mum on security matters that he makes James Bond seem like a blabbermouth, won’t discuss the rumor that Universal contacted him about Hugh Jackman’s Van Helsing, which shot in Prague, but he will cop to helping out the Rolling Stones on their planned tour through Thailand. And Corporate Risk International (run by FBI vet Sean McWeeney with the help of 22 full-time employees and 350 freelancers — mostly ex-law-enforcement officials) offers reports that allow studios to monitor events in Chechnya, as well as customized in-depth files on any country.

So what’s with all the secrecy surrounding these organizations? Vickers, for one, thinks he understands Hollywood’s reticence. ”The world is a difficult place today,” he says. ”The studios want you to know that the movies are exciting, but you don’t need to know what’s behind that.” If, on the other hand, you’re a little bit curious, here’s a look at some of the Hollywood world’s more troubled spots….

TORONTO So far Canada has recorded 13 SARS-related deaths, yet any fears that the virus might keep Hollywood south of the border have not yet been borne out. A spokesperson for the Toronto International Film Festival says there are currently no plans to cancel this September’s event. At least one star (Jennifer Esposito, who just shot the CBS pilot Violent Crime) reportedly resorted to wearing a mask.


FRANCE Anti-American sentiment won’t keep director Nancy Meyers (What Women Want) away from the City of Light, where she’s scheduled to film key scenes for her untitled romantic comedy with Jack Nicholson and Diane Keaton. But come May, Hollywood’s presence on the Riviera could hit an all-time low due to frayed Franco-American relations. Warner Bros.’ The Matrix Reloaded is one of the few major-studio pics expected to screen at Cannes this year.