Wednesday, November 27, 2013


 Who'd have thought it? It turns out that Mike Tyson, who once bit Lennox Lewis in the leg and chewed off Evander Holyfield's ear, is now a warm, funny and friendly human being.
  The former world heavyweight champion-turned-entertainer, talks frankly of his past misdeeds and his hopes for the future and proudly tells me when we talk that he has been off drink and drugs for exactly 100 days. "I'm doing really well and I hope I don't fall off the wagon but I'm only human and anything is possible," he says. "It's a strong and baffling disease I have.
"I did the drugs, I did the disgusting women, I was drinking, I was living the life, I was out all night just living in a den of iniquity. I was very lucky I had a good woman by my side and a lot of good friends."
   And he told me how, in his fighting days, he used a fake penis he called a Whizzo to fool the drugs test inspectors.
   "I would collect urine from someone who didn't smoke or anything and pray to God that when I got it from my wife she wasn't pregnant," he laughs. "I'd pull my penis out quick in front of the inspector who was watching me so he'd be offended and turn his back and then I would clip it on and start peeing."
  Mike, who has been married for four years to Lakiha Spicer and has two children with her, is clearly enjoying his new career as an entertainer and his one-man stage show, Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth has been filmed by Spike Lee and is being shown around the world. In it he candidly recounts his life’s highs and lows and talks about his troubled youth, landmark boxing career, key people in his life, controversies. time in prison, self-examination, family and new beginnings.
 As part of his new life he is forging a movie career for himself and has a cameo role in the soon-to-be-released Grudge Match as well as several other projects lined up.
“I was born to be an entertainer,” he laughs.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013


The normally happy and bubbly Emma Thompson was in sombre mood the other day as she told me about an incident in her childhood which she still
remembers vividly.

    It happened 45 years ago but the sexual advances and unwanted kisses of the elderly magician at her eighth birthday party still burn
in her memory.

   “My parents brought a magician to the house for my birthday party,” she recalled, talking at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills. “He
was an old man with gray hair and he took me behind a door and said,
‘Would you like a sweetie?’ I said, ‘Oh yes please,’
but I had a funny feeling. He gave me the sweet and said, ‘Will you
give me a kiss?’ and I said, ‘Yes.’

  “So I went up to kiss him on the cheek and he planted his mouth on
mine and stuck his tongue in my mouth and wiggled it about.

   “And I thought it was my fault; children always think it is their fault.”

   The Oscar winner was telling the story to illustrate the perils
children face, which, she said, are so much more prevalent today with
the onset of social media.  It is something she feels so strongly
about that she has written a handbook for her 13-year-old daughter
Gaia advising her on sex and emotions.

   “It has changed so much since we were young and there are so much
more pressures. The sort of sexual questions being put to young kids
is horrifying to me, but we’ve all got to deal with it because that’s
what’s out there----boys and girls watching pornography, boys showing
girls hardcore porn on their iPhones. A young kid will watch and not
know what to do with those images.

 “I’m in a constant state of anxiety but I know these kids have to
negotiate these thickets by themselves. We can only help by listening,
by being aware, by not turning away and by not saying, ‘Oh, that’s all
so disgusting I can’t even think about it.’

  “So I wrote my daughter a handbook about emotions, about where
emotions are felt in the body, about sexual feelings and about the
connection between sex and emotions. And I drew pictures and said,
‘You know, you can sometimes feel things in you loins you don’t feel
in your heart, and you need to look at that. Look at your body and
think of it as a map and if you really listen to what’s going on
inside your body, your emotional language, then you will be able to
negotiate your own life and keep the sexual activities safe. Because
if you're emotionally safe, then  you're OK."

   Thompson and her husband of ten years, actor Greg Wise, have two
children, Gaia and Tindy, a former Rwandan boy soldier they adopted
when he was 16. Now 26, he is a human rights lawyer, and, said
Thompson with a laugh, ‘He is the only one in our family who knows how
to clean and load an AK-47 which is something I’m quite relieved about
because I feel sure we’ll need it at some point.”

  She rarely gives interviews nowadays but has been lured away from
home to  talk about Saving Mr. Banks, the movie in which she portrays
P.L. Travers, the author of Mary Poppins who had a bitter creative
struggle with Walt Disney (played by Tom Hanks) over bringing the book
to the screen.

   When she travelled to Hollywood in 1961 to discuss the filming, she
had massive clashes with Disney, the writer and the composers, and
according to the movie, the movie while there she reflected on her
childhood in 1906 Australia, that inspired the characters in Mary
Poppins. Colin Farrell plays her alcoholic banker father, who was the
basis for Mr. Banks, the father in Mary Poppins.

   “I didn’t know anything about her until I started research for the
movie and she was an extraordinary woman,” said Emma Thompson. “For the era she
was born into, she got a lot done. She never married, never had anyone
to look after her and she was a difficult and troubled person, but
groundbreaking in many ways."

Thursday, November 14, 2013


Oscar Isaac on stage with the Punch Brothers
  As the awards season gets under way, so do the cocktail parties and receptions. And they nearly all take the same format-----open bar (which is always good), hors d'oeuvres and appetisers (sometimes not so good) and stars of whatever movie the party is for on hand to pose for pictures, smile a lot, be pleasant to everyone and hope it will result in a Golden Globe or an Oscar.
  For me, one of the best and most unusual events so far. has been the one thrown by super-producer Scott Rudin at Santa Monica's trendy Buffalo Club in support of the movie Inside Llewyn Davis.
The club was turned into a concert venue for the evening and a series of folk singers, groups and blues artists, introduced by T.Bone Burnett, performed for a packed, star-studded audience which included Barbra Streisand and her hubby James Brolin (who left at the interval), Moby, Ted Danson and Mary Steenburgen, Norman Lear, Thora Birch, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Joel and Ethan Coen, John Goodman, Roseanne Arquette and Ileanna Douglas.
  A surprise performer was Steve Martin who joined the Punch Brothers on stage with his banjo while Oscar Isaac, who has the title role in Inside Llewyn Davis, performed songs from the movie.
The role could be a star-making one for the New York actor, who has temporarily relocated to the West Coast to promote the movie and seems to have a healthy sense of humour and scepticism about the whole awards palaver.
steve martin
Steve Martin waits to go on stage
Pictures: Armando Gallo

Sunday, November 10, 2013


Sacha, cane and wheelchair-bound woman

    The Brits really know how to throw a party! The British film community in Los Angeles kicked off this year’s awards season with BAFTA-LA’s Britannia Awards on Saturday night at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, featuring some of Britain and America’s leading stars.
    Hosted by Rob Brydon---who boosted his chances of a Hollywood career by having 1,500 guests at the Beverly Hilton Hotel roaring with laughter----and televised on BBC America, the light-hearted Britannia Awards have established themselves as one of the foremost award shows before the Golden Globes in January and the Oscars in March.
  The emphasis was on comedy and fun as wine flowed throughout the evening, which started with a 90-minute VIP party and reception. The comic tone of the night was set by Brydon with impersonations of how Richard Burton, Anthony Hopkins and Michael Caine would have handled the George Clooney role in Gravity.
    The top award, the Stanley Kubrick Britannia Award for excellence in film, went to George Clooney, who was introduced by Julia Roberts. She said she was chosen for the job because a) Brad Pitt was out of town and b)  Matt Damon was in town but unavailable. She described Clooney, with whom she co-starred in the Oceans Eleven films, as “one helluva guy.”
   Sacha Baron Cohen, awarded the Charlie Chaplin Britannia Award for Excellence in Comedy was the undisputed star of the evening. He accepted a Chaplin-like cane from a wheelchair-bound woman introduced as having appeared with Chaplin in the movie City Lights, broke into a tap dance, tripped and sent the woman flying.
  Judd Apatow, paying tongue-in-cheek tribute to Cohen, said the comic actor had done absolutely nothing in 2013: “He’s done zero films which means he had the same amount of output as Don Knotts, who has been dead since 2006.”
 Sean Penn made a moving tribute to the charity work done by Idris Elba for the Prince’s Trust, and Nelson Mandela’s daughter Zindzi praised Elba’s portrayal of her father in Mandela: The Long Walk to Freedom.
 Chiwetel Ejiofor, who co-stars with Benedict Cumberbatch in 12 Years A Slave, and his Starter for Ten and Star Trek co-star, the lovely Alice Eve, both praised Cumberbatch’s talents and presented him with the Britannia Award for British Artist of the Year while Sigourney Weaver introduced Ben Kingsley who gave a serious and somewhat pompous meditation on young actors of the future before accepting the Albert R. Broccoli Britannia Award for Excellence in Film.

Monday, November 4, 2013


Dame Judi and Philomena Lee
  While I was in London I had a fascinating talk with Dame Judi Dench and an Irish lady named Philomena Lee whom the actress portrays in the movie Philomena.

 Photographers gathered as the two elderly ladies sat together on a couch at the May Fair Hotel, sipping coffee, chatting, laughing and occasionally holding hands.

  Anyone seeing them would assume they were old friends with so much
to talk about.

   “It certainly feels as if we’re old friends,” says Dame Judi Dench,
clutching the older woman’s hand.  “This is an extraordinary woman and
I’m privileged to know her.”

   Philomena Lee smiles shyly as a photographer takes a picture of
them both. “I never expected or wanted all this but I’ve always said
that everything happens for a reason,” she says in a strong Irish

    At the age of 78 Philomena is gradually becoming accustomed to
being the centre of attention, a situation which will grow to new
heights when Philomena, the movie named after her, opens soon.

   Judi Dench is being tipped for Oscar recognition for her role in the heartbreaking but often humourous story of Philomena’s 50-year search for the son who was taken from her
by nuns at an Irish convent and sold for adoption to a wealthy American family.

    “To have Judi Dench playing you---what more could a woman ask
for?” says Philomena. “She’s a treasure, an absolute treasure and a
perfect lady. We got to know one another before she started the film
because she said she’d never played anyone who is still alive and she
had to get to know me. We are kind of the same age group and she put
me totally at my ease. Such a lovely, gentle lady.”

   Philomena, Dame Judi and Steve Coogan, who optioned the rights to
the story and co-stars as journalist Martin Sixsmith, who embarks with
Philomena on the search for her son, were talking over a breakfast
reunion at the hotel.

  The two stars confess to having been emotionally moved by
Philomena’s long and determined search for the son who was snatched
from her when he was three years old.

    Unbeknownst to Philomena, her son spent decades looking for her,
too, but because of the nuns’ refusal to divulge any information to
either of them, they never met.

    But with the help of Sixsmith, Philomena eventually discovered the
surprising details of her son’s high-flying life as a White House
lawyer and aide to George Bush Snr.

   She learned that he was gay and had died of AIDS and that his
partner, fulfilling his dying wish, took his ashes to Ireland and they
were buried in the grounds of the convent where Philomena gave birth
to him.

   “The awful part I get so upset about is that he died thinking I had
abandoned him at birth, but there was nothing else I could do but let
him go,” said Philomena. “I had nobody to help me and I asked the nuns
several times to help find me a job in Ireland so I could take him
with me but they said he had to be adopted into a good home.

    “I remember how much I cried when he was taken away from me and I
still think of him every day. But I’m not angry. I didn’t tell anyone
for so many years but I’m glad I did and eventually found out all
about him, even though it took most of my life to do so. Imagine
little old me having a son who was in the White House!”

   Philomena’s dogged determination, inner fortitude and her capacity
for forgiveness have made a big impression on Dame Judi and Steve

    “There are very, very few people of Philomena’s magnitude and
strength who are able to turn around at the end of the journey and
forgive the nuns for what they did,” says Dame Judi fondly. “She
didn’t want to be angry and I know I couldn’t live with that and be
able to do that.”

    Coogan, who is half-Irish and describes himself as “a lapsed
Catholic” is full of admiration for Philomena’s ability to laugh and
see the funny side of things. “Lots of people are angry and saddened
when they hear what she went through but what intrigued me was how she
could laugh at having gone through such a dark, sad, tragic
experience,” he says. “I felt a connection and familiarity with her
because I know lots of elderly Irish ladies like Philomena and I grew
up around them.”

   Philomena’s remarkable story began when she entered convent school
in Ireland at the age of six after her mother died. She left when she
was 18, knowing little or nothing of the world and met a boy who
bought her a toffee apple on a warm evening at the county fair. “I
didn’t know a thing about the facts of life and I didn’t know where
babies came from…” she said.

   When her pregnancy became obvious, her family disowned her and had
her "put away" with the nuns at Roscrea convent in County Tipperary,
one of thousands of Irish women taken from their homes and sent to
convents in the 1950s and 60s because the Catholic church said single
mothers were moral degenerates who could not be allowed to keep their

   After her baby, Anthony, was born, the Mother Superior threatened
Philomena with damnation if ever she breathed a word about her "guilty
secret". Terrified, she kept it quiet for more than half a century.
“It was such a sin,” she said. “It was an awful thing to have a baby
out of wedlock. It was so ingrained deep down in my heart that I
mustn't tell anybody."

   She was put to work in the convent laundry and while caring for
Anthony she was made to sign a terrible document agreeing to give up
her son and relinquishing all claims to him. “I begged them to please
let me keep him but they told me I had to sign the papers,” she says.

   Anthony was taken from her at Christmas 1955 when he was three
years old. She wasn’t allowed to say goodbye to him but she saw him
being bundled into the back of a big black car and driven away.

   “I cried and cried,” she says. “I was heartbroken. I missed him so
much. I’d raised him for three and a half years. I was bitter and I
lost my religion because of my heartbreak. I didn’t know how they
could have done it.”

  She was sent to work in one of the convent’s homes for delinquent
boys in Liverpool, got married in 1959 and had two more children. For
30 years she worked as a nurse, mainly with psychiatric patients.

  “Over the years I stopped going to confession and communion but I
always prayed for everybody, even the nuns,” she says. “Within my
heart I never really lost my faith. I began to mellow because the
patients had so many problems worse than I had so I went back to my
religion and there I have stayed.”

  Saying nothing to anybody she returned to the convent several times
in desperate attempts to trace her son but the nuns refused to help
her, merely showing her the document she had signed giving up all
rights to him.

    Then, just before Christmas 2004, tipsy on sherry, she blurted out
to her daughter the secret she had kept for 50 years. The daughter
told a friend who contacted Martin Sixsmith, who had worked for the
BBC as a foreign correspondent and had recently lost his job as a
government communications officer.

    Intrigued by the story, Sixsmith set out to help Philomena in her
search, following a trail which led to America and to the inner
sanctum of the White House. The hunt took him through U.S.newspaper
obituary columns, state and church archives,  adoption agencies,
American university records and Republican party sources before it led
to the end of the trail and the story's poignant, unexpected

        Sixsmith wrote a book about Philomena and her search; Coogan
happened to see a newspaper article about it and optioned the rights
to the book without reading it. He went to Judi Dench’s home, told her
the story and she instantly agreed to portray Philomena.

   “I was slightly daunted about sharing the screen with her because
she’s so incredibly charismatic and iconic but she made me feel very
comfortable,” says Coogan. “We laughed and joked and talked in between
takes and I felt I was spending the day with a little old Irish lady.
It was only at the end of the day when she was transformed back into
Judi Dench that I suddenly became intimidated again.”

  Philomena, who now lives in St. Albans, originally wanted the book
and film to use a different name to keep her identity hidden but now
she is happy that everything is out in the open and she has no more
secrets to keep.

   “I talk to Anthony every day and I have done all my life,” she
said. “I prayed and prayed that one day I would find him and I know
that somewhere up there he has found me. His partner gave me his
Celtic ring which I wear all the time and every time I look at it I
can say a little prayer for him.

   “I’m a great believer that every single thing happens for a reason.
We can’t see it but our life has been marked out for us from the day
we are born until the day we die.

  “There was a reason for everything that has happened.”


  It's always a pleasure seeing Nicole Kidman, whom I first met 21 years ago on Batman Forever. A lot of water under the bridge si...