I’m A Publicist Who Babysits A-List Celebs During TIFF — Here’s What That’s Like

Photographed by Franey Miller
For many of us, the Toronto International Film Festival is a chance to enjoy a night on the town, check out some buzzy movies, and hopefully have a meet-cute with Michael B. Jordan. But for the celebs, publicists, makeup artists, hair stylists, and hundreds of others hustling behind-the-scenes, the festival is a grind (albeit a fun one). We asked some of TIFF's insiders to spill on how they spent their busiest hours.
Today: a publicist talks about hand-holding celebrities through TIFF.
I’ve been in publicity for six years and in film for 12. I work for a film-distribution company; we buy a movie and then we do publicity for it. This year we have a handful of TIFF films that we’re hosting junkets for; junkets include interviews, premieres, and parties.
I’m responsible for making sure the festival runs as smoothly as possible: I make sure the talent (the film's stars or director) is happy while they are under our responsibility so that in turn they do the press. Sometimes it’s as simple as approving a $400 manicure and pedicure (we paid) for a high-profile actress whose team requested it (this happened this weekend). Another time, talent asked me for a B12 shot because he was feeling sick — so I had to track down a doctor and approve the $200 addition to our budget. I call myself a glorified babysitter because my team of 20 and I have to schedule everything, even when talent go to the bathroom, in order to make sure a junket day goes smoothly. Every second counts. The other day I was literally picking up plates from a talent’s lunch. At the same time, I’m like, "Hi, I’m the publicist."
Generally, a celebrity will do a day of press and the premiere at night. Some actors will say, "I’m only doing four hours of press. So, fit in what you can, but I’m not going to work outside that window." You would think that the Mark Wahlbergs and J.Los of the world would be the most demanding but, A-list talent like them know their job and know what they are there for. The C-listers are new and so excited to do whatever you need and they don’t question anything. They’re great. The problem, in general, is the B-listers. They are about to launch, but they also know they aren't nobodies so they push [boundaries] with you. Some will demand, "Well, Julia Roberts got that why don’t I get that?" And you’re like, "Because you’re not Julia Roberts?"
I worked with one actress when she was in town for TIFF for an indie film. She was amazing and did everything she could to promote the movie. The next year we had her again for another film. In the meantime, she had been signed to a blockbuster franchise and won some awards, and it was a completely different experience. We went from literally hugging at the end of the press junket to her saying, "I’m not doing this photo in front of that step-and-repeat. It’s not what I want to do."
How much a celebrity wants to promote a movie also depends on the status of the film (whether it's been picked up for distribution or already has a release date). For example, Hustlers is coming out on Friday. The reason why J.Lo did everything and was willing to do it all — the interviews, the studios, the Instagramming — is because this was her premiere before the release on Friday and what she captures here is going to help her with its success.
Some stars just do what they want. Last year, one person smoked in his hotel room. He didn’t listen when we asked him not to. We ended up paying the bill to clean it. It was $2,500. Sometimes you get surprises, like "I’m bringing my dog" and we have to reach out to the airline and then tell the hotel and then pay for the hotel cleanup fee because the dog has to come, and god forbid we say no and all of sudden the actor won’t do press with us. Change happens constantly. We've had to change so many flights because people can’t decide whether they want to leave today or tomorrow. Maybe Shia LaBeouf, for example, invites them to a party or to see his movie, and they decide to stay.
On a typical day, interviews will usually wrap by 3 p.m and then talent gets a break from before they head to the premiere. Every celebrity has his or her own car (we hire a fleet of 12 drivers). You can't put them in the same car even though they’re often going to the same place.
When celebrities are on their afternoon break, it's time for me to change for the premiere. I prep all of my outfits before TIFF because I never have time during the festival. Every day has a hanger with a day outfit and a night outfit. Publicists' rule is you generally wear black all the time for anything — even on the red carpet. In the past, I’ve had a stylist. I’m not in the limelight but I’m in the same space so you have to look put together a little bit.
I went for a blow-dry on Wednesday knowing I probably won’t be washing my hair the next three days. As for makeup, the celebrity groomers are usually on their break in the afternoon and hanging around so they’ll touch me up. I’ll sit at my computer answering last-minute premiere ticket and party requests (everyone comes crawling out of the woodwork) while getting my hair and makeup done.
When it's time for the premiere, I have to be on the red carpet to help put out fires, and receive talent and executives, but once the movie starts, I have a little break. (Most talent won't stay to watch the movie. They come back to do the Q&A.) At this point, if the premiere is near Roy Thomson Hall, us publicists head over to Elephant & Castle pub for a quick dinner. Then, it’s back to the premiere and the after-party. My TIFF rule is: one drink per party. Mind you, if you asked me that three years ago, that wouldn’t have been the case. Now, I can’t function with too much alcohol.
I generally stay at a party until the talent leaves. Saturday night I was out until 2:30 a.m, but the latest I’ve stayed at a party is until 4 a.m. only to be in the office by 8 a.m. the next day.

More from News