Monday, February 03, 2014

Farewell Phil

About seven years ago, when I was still living in Sydney, I received a phone call at work from a lovely American woman, who said she needed to book some tickets for her boss.  He wanted to see the play that was on in the larger of our theatres, as he was potentially casting one of the actors for a play he would soon be directing.

Her boss's name? Philip Seymour Hoffman.

The usual ticketing practice at our theatre company, for directors wanting to see potential actors, was to give them comp tickets and sit them in house seats. There was a slight issue, in that this particular show had been massively popular and was close to sold out most nights and every celeb/faux celeb in town wanted to see it.  Of course, the only night PSH was able to see the show (he was on a tight schedule), all the house seats had been taken. For any other actor (I'm looking in particular at one ginger-haired, botoxed, birthday twin of mine, who I'll rant about later*), this would've been an issue. But not for PSH. He was happy to sit "wherever there's a free spot". 

First high-five to the big guy.

Then, his PA proceeded to absolutely floor me.

"Do you take Amex? Let me know when you're ready for me to give you the card number."

After picking my jaw up off the floor (you may think it odd, but it's an extremely rare thing for an actor of pretty much any calibre, let alone his, to volunteer to pay for their tickets), I explained that we could offer him comps - it was our usual practice for directors. Her response?

"Oh no. Phil has a policy of always paying for his tickets. He figures it would be rude not to - he likes to give back to theatre."

Second high-five to the big guy. Plus, 'Phil'? Awesome. Most PAs to celebs have to call them 'Mr He-Scares-The-Shit-Out-Of-Me' or 'Ms Her-Moods-Change-Faster-Than-Sound'. Nope. This guy clearly had a level-head and didn't think he was above his assistant.

So, I took the card details and offered to have the tickets sent over to where he was working so he didn't need to queue up at box office, although I suspected at that point, queuing at the box office was something he probably wasn't adverse to (again, looking at you ginger botox). As expected, that offer was politely declined and a few nights later, I looked along the line of people in the queue at box office (yes, I'd rostered myself on that night - wouldn't you?!) and there he was, quietly and patiently awaiting his turn.

I damn near ran out there and hugged him for exemplary behaviour from a famous actor. But I restrained myself (just) and waited until he got to the head of the queue. After wishing me "Good Evening", he followed up with "I have tickets booked under the name of Hoffman?"

Third, fourth, fifth and endless high-fives for the big guy. 

Of course I know who you are, and I know you probably realise from the excited gleam in my eye that I know who you are, but you haven't presumed that and you've acted like any other ordinary theatre patron and given your name so I can find your tickets. 

(Trust me, with many actors not even a quarter as famous as PSH, their standard assumption is that you know who they are and they don't even have to mention their name, because, you know, they're too cool for that. Wankers.)

So I handed over his tickets, gave him the usual spiel (running time, lockout period, yes there's an interval, etc, etc) and he looked me in the eye, smiled, thanked me and wished me a great night.

(Oh, big guy. You have no idea how great that night was for me. To have an actor I've long admired behave in such a stellar manner, had me bouncing off the walls.)

Anyway, the following day, I received another phone call from his PA. Firstly, on behalf of PSH, she wanted to thank me for all my assistance. Secondly, he'd noticed a poster for one of the indie plays that was showing in our smaller theatre - it was a production he'd directed in New York and he thought it would be fun to see it done here. Again, happy to pay for his ticket (full price - wouldn't even take industry discount) and again, happy to pick it up at box office.

This time it was coincidental that I happened to be working the night he came to see the show (and you can bet if I wasn't, I would've been changing the roster again). Once again, he waited patiently in the queue, however this time when he got to the front, in addition to the usual "Good Evening", he said: "Hey! You're the lovely girl who assisted me last time! I've got tickets booked under Hoffman".

I'm pretty sure the grin I gave him nearly split my face in two.

What an absolute sweetheart.  He rocketed firmly up to number one on the list of award-winning actors I met during my years working in box office (and it's a pretty impressive list - Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, Toni Collette, Hugo Weaving, Rachel Griffiths, Keanu Reeves, Nicole Kidman, Michelle Williams - and that's just the ones that come immediately to mind) and has stayed there ever since.

* * *

This morning, I woke up to the news that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died. It's still not confirmed how he died, but a suspected heroin overdose is sadly, the likely cause. Clearly, the man battled many demons and it breaks my heart that he left the world in such an awful way.  I know a lot of people will write him off as just another "junkie celebrity" death, but I just can't. In the brief time I came into contact him, he was sweet, polite, generous and warm. And that is how I will choose to remember him.

Vale, Phil. You were a great among men.

(I do wish I'd given you that big hug though. I suspect now that you could've done with a few more hugs in your life.)

* You've probably figured out who the ginger, botoxed birthday twin of mine is, but just to give you the background on that particular story: she holds the dubious honour of being at the very top of my Comp Ticket Blacklist. Why? Well, for starters, by making her PA (and me) jump through hoops to get her house seats (must be on the aisle) to show after show after show, because it was VITAL she see it (she was always great friends with whomever happened to be the lead), so I'd have to shift people around to accommodate her demands.

That in itself, is not such an unforgivable thing. Annoying, certainly, but you know, it happens. Even the fact that she would never even offer to pay wasn't unheard of. No, what cemented her firmly at the top of my blacklist was that on all but one occasion, SHE DIDN'T EVEN BOTHER TO SHOW UP OR RING AHEAD AND CANCEL. That's just (excuse my language) fucking rude.

When she became a no-show for the fifth time, I spat the proverbial dummy. The next time she had her PA (a different one every time - I suspect she went through them on a regular basis) ring to arrange tickets, I demanded payment up front, which really sent the poor lackey into a tailspin. "Oh. Oh. Oh, Ms Ginger-Botox doesn't pay for tickets. She has them offered to her". Huh. Sorry sweetie, that line wasn't ever going to work on me again. So I stood strong, and she eventually rattled off a card number.  She still didn't turn up for the show though... but at least I wasn't lamenting the loss of two empty, unpaid seats in an otherwise sold-out show.

1 comment:

Chai said...

RIP Phil.

When I think of him, it is his role
on Punch Drunk Love.

Not his most prominent role, but
that's what I most associate him with.