To outsiders, press junkets probably seem pretty glamorous: Journalists get to hang out at four-star hotels, enjoy a neverending smorgasbord of high-end food, receive piles of movie swag and — most notably — get one-on-one face-time with movie stars like Jennifer Lawrence, Charlize Theron and Josh Duhamel.
But the reality is these unique — and frankly bizarre — media events are high-dollar cattle calls intended to squeeze the absolute maximum amount of press coverage for a film out of the shortest amount of time possible.
“Actors sit in a chair for four to eight hours and talk to 100 outlets,” explained junket veteran Josh Horowitz of MTV. “It’s not designed for thoughtful conversation.”
With dozens of press members streaming in and out of a celebrity’s assigned hotel room-turned interview space — outfitted with cameras, lighting, backdrop and movie posters — junkets are practically designed to fray the nerves of those involved.
But, according to multiple insiders who spoke to TheWrap, they’re a necessary evil as a key part of Hollywood’s promotion engine. And while junkets are constantly changing shape, pressure-packed movie press days aren’t going away anytime soon.
Television personality Ben Lyons recalled one — albeit extreme — example of a junket gone awry. “During one interview, a very well-known actor asked to use the restroom. A half an hour later screams were heard from the bathroom. The actor had urinated everywhere except for the toilet… He just wasn’t happy to be there.”
While Lyons declined to share the actor’s name, he added: “I’ve seen it all.”
Junket veterans Lyons and Horowitz are the creators of a new show called “Junkateers,” which launched recently on Comedy Central’s YouTube channel. The show features actors playing journalists, as well as real stars Chloë Grace Moretz, Duhamel and Eli Roth as themselves. It’s based on the often outlandish things the series creators have witnessed over the years at real-life junkets.
Moretz’s involvement in the show makes perfect sense. She had a whopping six films to promote in 2014 alone, some of which required multiple junkets and premieres — which usually require a busy actor to fly in and spend a grueling day or three in Los Angeles, New York or London to talk to roughly 100 reporters from all over the world.
Among the so-called junketeers are print journalists, bloggers, YouTube stars, televisions hosts and international press. There are also local affiliate station reporters who get flown in on a studio’s dime from places like Detroit, Houston and Miami.
Several insiders who spoke with TheWrap said the money spent on free hotels, airfare and food have been significantly tapered back. That also goes for high-dollar destination junkets held in exotic places like Rio de Janiero (for Universal’s “Fast Five”), Santa Fe, New Mexico (for Disney’s “The Lone Ranger”), Hawaii (for “Lost”) and Edinburgh (for Disney’s “Brave”).
But as junkets have evolved to conform to the SnapChat and Twitter era, there is added pressure to create a viral moment. “Anyone who forces that on someone — it can be off-putting,” Lyons told TheWrap. “When a star is taken off guard, it’s unsettling.”
Some actors, including Tom Cruise, Emma Stone, Leonardo DiCaprio, George Clooney and Will Smith, are considered experts at working with press outlets in high-volume. In fact, junket veteran Sasha Perl-Raver says, “Even if Clooney shows up late to a press line, he’ll stop and give everyone one question and make everybody feel like they’re important.”
Then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Tommy Lee Jones, whose reputation has risen to a level of infamy on the junket circuit, is said to have once gloated over bringing a journalist to tears. Known to be extremely difficult, often refusing to answer questions, his contentious junket interviews — including this one from 2012 — have gone viral. (He was reported to have bowed out of at least one “Jason Bourne” junket, probably a smart move on the part of Universal decision makers.)
Junkets also facilitate a whole lot of awkward exchanges — some of which have become news fodder, like the time Samuel L. Jackson tried to goad a reporter into saying the N-word while promoting “Django Unchained.”
One junket mishap involving Tom Hardy‘s unexpected absence from a “Revenant” interview prompted HitFix journalist and critic Drew McWeeny to declare that he’s done with the pressure-packed press events altogether. After McWeeny took out his frustration with Hardy in a Twitter rant, the star wrote an open letter directed back at the journalist, which included, “Resisting the urge to dare you to say what you ‘rant tweeted’ so publicly, to my face next time we meet, which I doubt you have the balls to do; I want to apologise.”
Then there’s the time Nick Nolte showed up to the “Warrior” junket red-faced and wearing a food-covered bathrobe, socks and slippers. “Every single person who came out of interviews with him were like, ‘Oh my God. He was horrible. I can’t use anything,'” recalled Perl-Raver. “Imagine your drunk uncle while you’re trying to get a soundbite.”
One time, Lyons recalled, a very famous actor at a film festival left in the middle of a press day. “He invited all of the actors to go with him to a restaurant an hour away from the junket for a meal and never returned. That left 50 people, including me, waiting for interviews that never happened.”
Now, do you want to go to a “glamorous” press junket?