For the record, I am firmly with Jesse Eisenberg with respect this ridiculous dustup, and I don't think what he did to the fluffy little Romina Puga falls under the category of "berating" at all. I also think Puga's response to it was repellently opportunistic. My advice to any self-described entertainment journalist who does "schtick" is, when in the cattle call situation of the movie-promoting video junket, to give a little heads-up to the publicist or the talent before you start rolling, so the talent at least has the benefit of some knowledge and hence the opportunity to play along if he or she wishes. Eisenberg is clearly caught off-guard by Puga's arguably ostentatiously breezy style right off the bat, and registers more trying-to-regain-balance bemusement than actual hostility for the rest of the encounter. For Puga to try and turn this around and act as if Eisenberg maliciously ripped her a new one is utter bullshit.
And yet. I understand, in a sense, her pain. In spring of last year, I was assigned by my MSN editors to do a round of video junket interviews for 21 Jump Street. I don't consider myself particularly telegenic, and the video junket format isn't my favorite way to conduct interviews. But as Hyman Roth says in The Godfather Part 2, this is the business we've chosen, and as an aging white male ostensible film critic in the twilight of print and all that my feeling is that maybe I ought to take every available opportunity to diversify my skill set and earn income. Although, like I said, in my gut I pretty much know I'll never be an entirely acceptable on-camera presence until I at least get my horribly dingy teeth replaced. And maybe grow some fucking hair.
I enjoyed the movie version of 21 Jump Street, and I was particularly amused by the way it toggled between coarse homoerotic male bonding jokes and relatively sophisticated meta humor. This suggested, in my mind, a question, that I mentally filed away prior to the day of the junket. The actual day of said junket was not an auspicious one, generally speaking. It was a gray and chilly and rainy day in early March, a Saturday at that, and my call to show up at the swanky hotel where the interviews were being staged was nine in the morning. To top all that off, I was starting to get a cold.
Arguably, 21 Jump Street costars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum might have had it a little worse. For their interviews, they dressed in costumes they wear to comic effect in the film, that is, the black shorts worn by police officers who patrol on bicycles. The joke in the movie being, they go through all this training and think they're gonna be totally badass and their first gig out of the academy is bike patrol in a local park. Ar ar ar. So here these two guys are at nine in the morning on a Saturday in silly outfits. Maybe it was their idea. I don't know. I choose, for some reason, to believe that it was not.
Perhaps that reason is their demeanor as I was brought in to begin my interview. In addition to the shorts and clingy shirts, Hill and Tatum wore dark wraparound sunglasses. We exchanged greetings that struck me as extra-perfunctory before I sat down.
As it happens, I'm friendly with both a director and an actor who've worked with Hill in kind of notable contexts, and I'm also on terms with a director with whom Tatum has profitably collaborated. My relations with these other people are arguably not intimate, but they're also on a level higher than that of cordial acquaintance. So I thought about dropping a name or two, if it could get things off on the right foot. And then I thought better of it. Because I didn't want to be that guy. (Even now, I worry that I'm being that guy just by mentioning it. God, no wonder I drank.)
Would that I had. Maybe it would have been worse. Anyway, as we began rolling I asked Hill, "As both a star and producer on this movie, did you keep tabs on the ratio of homoerotic male-bonding jokes to self-reflexive ones?" Or something along those lines. Delivered in what I hoped was my best hail-fellow-well-met jocular tones. And even from behind the shades, I could see Hill's genuinely withering contempt as he answered, "I assume that was some kind of attempt at humor, and I'm going to ignore it and just say I had a great time making the movie."
Now what the viewer is not privy to while watching these manufactured snippets is that each journalist doing these interviews is allotted a very specific time limit, and that time limit doesn't allow for reshoots. And when I say specific, I mean very—two minutes to the second, in some instances. So when my admitedly silly—but then again I mean what the hell, THEY were the guys sitting down in biking shorts—question got that response, my strong burning sense of humiliation mingled with a kind of panic. I had unwittingly wasted maybe thirty seconds of time, which means I had to scramble to get anything usable in my remaining minute and a half with the fellows. Even in the best of situations with these things, in which the talent is genuinely enjoying the exchange and you're actually able to get good stuff, there's a publicist off to the side giving you the throat-cutting sign. And yes, the talent has to sit there for the better part of an entire working day doing the same thing in two-to-five minute patches. How badly do you want to be famous? Badly enough to be cool with doing that? Because maybe you should try it some time.
I couldn't call to restart the session so I just switched to automatic inane innocuous pilot, and salvaged the encounter, but as anyone who looks at the footage will note, nobody involved in the exchange is particularly interested in simulating even a simulation of chumminess.
Was I angry? Fuck yeah. I was furious. I got up and showered and shaved and dressed and schlepped to Manhattan on a rainy miserable Saturday morning when I could have been sleeping in with My Lovely Wife so I could be insulted by Jonah Hill? Seriously? When the video posted, I put up a blog post here and I alluded to the shutting-down and I remember feeling as if I was being incredibly restrained while so doing. One of the professional associates of Hill with whom I am friendly sent me an e-mail which in effect said, that's too bad. Which it was. And the point is: that's all it was. Too bad. It wasn't the end of the world, it wasn't cause for me to nurse a grudge against Jonah Hill (for all the good that would do). It's just a minor anecdote concerning an interaction that took place in a context that in most respects has very little to do with what constitutes the real world for either Hill and myself. Puga's reaction to the Eisenberg incident only has validity if one accepts the idea that she and Eisenberg have some sort of gnuine relationship to each other. They do not. Similarly, my day-to-day life has nothing to do with Jonah Hill's. All any of this means is that if one wants respect within the context of one's profession, one ought to conduct oneself professionally. That's not a guarantee that respect will be given, but at least it gives you a leg to stand on. Be an entertainmnent journalist, or be Rupert Pupkin. You can't have it both ways.
And finally, as "Freeman" put it in Bonfire of the Vanities, "be decent to each other." And Romina Puga, buy a goddamn paper notebook or something.