"HONEY, IF you don't win the Oscar, I'll give you mine!" That's what Liza Minnelli, the hostess with the mostest, said to Matthew McConaughey at the luncheon she presided over at the Monkey Bar, early this week.
Liza was so blown away by "Dallas Buyers Club" she up and decided Matthew and his co-star Jared Leto needed a good meal, a few drinks and some lavish praise. Of the movie, which deals with the agonies of the AIDS crisis, when diagnosis meant almost certain death, Liza said: "It is not necessarily a comfortable film. But it draws you in whether you want to go there or not. And that's magic, that's real movie-making."
PEGGY Siegal (who else?) put the event together. She was vitality itself, as usual. She shushed the crowd after they were seated, and said: "Can you all hear me?" One wiseacre said: "In Brussels they can hear you!" (Trained in the show biz corral, Peggy knows how to rope 'em in and calm 'em down.) Then she gave a little intro, and every time she paused to take a breath, she exclaimed, "I'm not finished!" Very funny.
I had the pleasure of being seated between Jared Leto and a cherubic young composer/singer/songwriter Josh Ralph. (We had a good time joking about his having two first names.)
Mr. Leto doesn't appear to be a day older than when he was interviewed by this office in Cannes while promoting "Requiem for a Dream" a few years back. Now, however, he is sporting shoulder-length hair and a slight abundance of facial hair. ("No, it's not for a role, I just got lazy!") Jared was also wearing a very long red plaid shirt. "It's not kilts!" he laughed, because that's exactly what it looked like. ("I wondered why people kept asking if I was Scottish!")
"DALLAS Buyers Club" is Jared's first film in six years. He spends a good deal of time on the road with his band, "30 Seconds to Mars." This is a world where many of his fans don't even know he's an actor! He said, "I think it's funny and it is refreshing. It certainly makes it easier for me and for the audience to embrace the music." He was modest about his brilliant "Buyers Club" performance as the transvestite who joins up with redneck heterosexual McConaughey to transport and distribute AIDS drugs that the pharmaceutical companies had yet to declare as legal, leaving hundreds to die. (Like Matthew, Jared lost weight for his role. He says, however: "It's easier to lose than gain. I had to gain a lot to play Mark David Chapman. I don't think I'd do that again!") Despite current raves, Jared has no further movie plans. He'll be back on the road soon.
MY OTHER tablemate, Josh Ralph (or J. Ralph, as he is sometimes called) wore a great big fuzzy Daniel Boone hat, which made him look 12 years old. He also manages to carry a walking stick without appearing pretentious.
Josh can't read music or write it. He is totally self-taught. He began at age 22 and now heads his own production company The Rumor Mill. He received an Oscar nomination for his song "Before My Time," performed by Scarlett Johansson and Joshua Bell. Of the luscious Miss Scarlett, Josh says, "She is one of the most talented singers I've ever worked with, period. She blew me away. She doesn't particularly want to be a singer, but if she wanted another career, that's waiting for her. As far as I'm concerned she's up there with Norah Jones and Judy Collins."
Josh also commented on hostess Minnelli. "People say she drags her history onstage with her, and that's undeniable. That's inevitable. But I love how she sings, what she brings to her interpretation." I mentioned to Josh that Liza herself always says, "I'm not really a singer, I'm a storyteller." Josh nodded: "Yes, that's true, but she's a real singer, too -- the tone, the quality, the choices she makes as an artist. I'd love to work with her!" Josh invited me to see his Manhattan studio. I agreed, even though he didn't add, "I also have some etchings to show you." You have to trust a boy in a Daniel Boone hat!
PEGGY SIEGAL, ever diligent, suddenly brought over the stunning Mr. McConaughey, wearing a snugly tailored three-piece suit. Matthew is still pretty slender, coming off the vast amount of weight he lost for "Dallas Buyer Club." But the star is no longer cadaverous. He's just not the paparazzi bait of yore -- a robust, shirtless golden god, running on beaches the world over, though he did have a nice tan.
It's impossible to be with Matthew and A.) Not act like a schoolgirl. B.) Fail to tell him how remarkable his recent renaissance has been. And he is well aware and grateful for the trajectory of his career. He said, "Some of the things I did I liked and were popular. Some were not. But I felt a few years ago that it was time to step back and re-think my direction. But I honestly couldn't have anticipated that I'd do four films in a row that would change the industry perception of me, and possibly my own perception of myself." The movies were "Killer Joe" (he doesn't object when I say it was an Oscar-caliber performance), "Mud" ("an American classic, I think"), "Magic Mike" ("that was a Barnum and Bailey character -- anything to make a success, to make a noise, to make a buck") and now, of course, "Dallas Buyers Club," in which he offers the most complex performance of his career. Forget the weight loss. Even Matthew admitted that losing some weight was necessary, but makeup and lighting could have achieved the rest. But, he felt he had to inhabit the character fully. And he does! "I'm fine as soon as I find the rhythm of the man I'm playing. With 'Dallas Buyers Club' it was as if I had a lightning rod. I found it and wham!"
Wham is right! If this guy isn't at least nominated, well ... I'll riot in the streets. Ditto for Jared Leto.
Oh, one last thing. Jared revealed that long ago he had been rejected by NYU's Tisch School of the Arts. "As an actor?" I asked. He chuckled, "Actor, singer, the arts. I think they assumed I'd make an excellent waiter!"
(E-mail Liz Smith at MES3838@aol.com.)
(c)2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.
Liza Minnelli fetes 'Dallas Buyers Club' stars in New York City
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