The Oprah effect: The press conference-turned-talk show taping
“It’s like the president is coming,” said one photographer looking back at the burly security guards at the entrance of the room.
“It’s bigger than that,” replied another. “It’s Oprah.”
With our cameras slung over our shoulders, painfully weighed down by the giant lenses and flashes attached to them, 15 or so photographers negotiated spots and angles with each other so we all would have a clear shot at the mighty O behind the table she’d be sitting at for the morning press conference of the movie she co-produced: Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire. (To see all photos from the Precious press conference, click here.)
Never mind that there will be 11 other people sitting at the panel inside the Four Seasons. No one seemed to know (or care) that Mariah Carey (actor), Tyler Perry (co-producer) or Mary J. Blige (she wrote a song for the soundtrack) are also involved. All anyone wanted Ms. Winfrey.
The announcement of her entrance triggered the scrum of a lifetime. The camera flashes made a strobe light look like a car blinker by comparison, but Oprah remained calm and became giddy from the excitement.
With her hair pulled back and wearing head-to-toe purple (her favourite colour, natch) she smiled at every photographer and mouthed her famous Oprah yell. It’s the same woman we watch on TV who gives away cars and decides what everyone’s favourite things will be.
Once we got our photographs, we traversed to the back of the room to listen to the rest of the conference, but what happened in the next 40 minutes was nothing like the typical presser.
For one thing, it was being taped for a future episode of Oprah, no doubt an entire hour devoted to the film that Oprah co-produced (best friend Gayle King did red carpet interviews that night). Secondly—and this was truly bizarre—people clapped each time Oprah said something.
We were at a taping of Oprah.
But to be fair to the film, it does have a rather tear-jerking, uplifting message. It’s about a poor, overweight, illiterate and pregnant teenager named Precious (played by Gabourey Sidibe) who is trying to get an education and has to overcome an abusive mother, played by comedian Mo’Nique, who didn’t come to Toronto but already has Oscar buzz surrounding her performance. (To see all red carpet photos from the Precious premiere, click here.)
“When I finished watching this movie, I really had to breathe…I recognized myself in that character and I have seen the Precious girls of the world and they have been invisible to me,” said Oprah on why she got involved with the film. “The message of this film is that none of us who sees that movie can walk in the world and allow the Preciouses of the world be invisible to us again.”
Cheers, whistle and applause ensue.
“We take so much for granted, I take so much for granted. I take the fact that I can breathe for granted. I take the fact that I can read for granted. I take the fact that I’m healthy for granted, and I’m grateful,” said director Lee Daniels. “Precious’ story makes me grateful to be alive because so many people don’t have what I have and I’m always complaining about what I don’t have.”
He also revealed some interesting casting tidbits. He originally envisioned Oprah to play the mother (“I didn’t know nothing about that,” she interjects in her charming colloquial tone she can turn to on a dime) and Helen Mirren was supposed to play the guidance counsellor role that eventually went to Mariah. Mirren dropped out due to scheduling conflicts and Daniels had Mariah in mind after just working with her on another project.
And like the end of the show, the press conference turned to more of a banter between guests as the subject of Carey’s and Sherri Shepherd’s unrecognizable onscreen looks came up. Carey’s character had dark brown hair and no makeup while Shepherd had cornrows.
“I brought in all my wigs for the character and [Lee Daniels] was like, no it isn’t happening,” said Shepherd.
“I don’t believe in makeup,” said Daniels.
“Oh come on, you put makeup under my eyes. And the overhead lighting was not my friend,” said Carey. “And you knew what you were doing to me and you loved it.”
“Not an eyelash curler to be found,” added Shepherd.
Lee revealed, “We were in a scene and I’m doing my directing thing and I’m looking at Mariah in my peripheral vision and I see her putting on blush.”
She interrupted, “It was a little bit…”
Lee continued, “…and I said, ‘What is this? What are you doing?’ She said ‘Nothing. What? Precious has makeup on.’”
With that the press conference was over with a final round of applause and a standing O for the standing O.
Unfortunately, she didn’t give away any cars.