Scarlett Johansson was by no means alone when she walked into Toronto’s Arcane nightclub for the Jojo Rabbit afterparty on September 8, but in a city jam-packed with stars she still stood out.
It’s a surreal experience seeing someone as famous as Johansson slide into a bar and settle an arm’s length away, minus the red velvet rope cordon when you’ve seen her face on countless big screens over the decades and blown up huge on Avengers: Endgame billboards.
Red carpets, you expect stars. But having her and a gang of towering men in tailored grey suits brush past on her way to grab a drink doesn’t happen every day.
If you’ve never been to an international film festival, Toronto is a great place to start.
Immediately following Venice and holding its own with Cannes and Sundance, TIFF is an influential cinematic platform that draws megastars keen to cash in as the Oscars race heats up.
That’s technical speak for: You’re going to rub shoulders with the biggest celebrities on the planet and, thanks to largesse and PR machines smoothing their egos and paths, they’ll be in fabulous party moods.
My Scarlett experience kicked off at the world premiere of her film Jojo Rabbit, a darkly comic and emotionally devastating fable from in-demand New Zealand director Taika Waititi.
I had a ticket to the Princess of Wales Theatre, with its towering box seats decked in red velvet, and coincidentally arrived at the same time as Waititi (Thor: Ragnarok, Hunt for the Wilderpeople).
The after party was a block away, down a cobbled laneway.
I headed deep into Arcane’s baroque, maze-like space, all exposed brick and solid wood floodlit in red with a sparkling sea of disco balls above the main dance floor.
Sandwiched near a back bar and central leaning spot with a wall of banquette seating, my star spotting expectations were low. They would be being famous in a private room.
But then Johansson walked in wearing a draped silver dress that showed off her floral back tattoos.
Her arrival opened the fame floodgates.
In strolled Saturday Night Live star Kate McKinnon in a black tux teamed with platinum hair. She and Johansson chatted away madly before they were joined by JoJo Rabbit‘s Sam Rockwell (Three Billboards) and Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen.
Then The Punisher himself, Jon Bernthal, showed up.
By 3am, after a few too many wines, I made like a behind-schedule Cinderella and split. There were films to see.
Many of TIFF’s biggest movies have their press-only screenings first thing in the morning. I saw Renée Zellweger’s Oscar tilt as Garland in Judy at 8.45am, too early for that level of high (brilliant) camp.
Working at a festival is a whirlwind. With over 400 movies screening, requests for interview are often cleared with nary an hour to spare. I was staying with an old friend in the quaint Distillery District, and he gasped at the list of who’s who in Toronto.
“Christian Bale, Antonio Banderas, Javier Bardem and Annette Bening. And that’s just the Bs!”
Hardly B-list though. Toronto was all about heavy hitters, like Riz Ahmed (Star Wars: Rogue One, Venom), with whom I sipped sparkling water at rooftop pool bar Lavelle.
Ahmed talked his turn as a former addict drummer who loses his hearing in Darius Marder’s Sound of Metal, (his co-star Olivia Cooke, in baby pink silk, was also on hand) and trying to find a place in two worlds while growing up as a British Pakistani.
I broke my own professional protocol and asked for a selfie.
Sitting near Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam in the candlelit backroom at stylish Coffee Oysters Champagne, I spoke to Australian director Justin Kurzel (Snowtown, Macbeth) about his staggeringly good Peter Carey adaptation True History of the Kelly Gang.
At a festival, stand still long enough on the street and you’re sure to spot a celebrity. My very first day tramping up closed-off King Street West I saw a hubbub outside a burger joint.
Willem Dafoe was gamely offering his autograph to the masses.