My first time walking the red carpet

NEED TO KNOW
  • James Liebman is an aspiring actor in Los Angeles
  • He recalls what it's really like to walk the red carpet for celebs
My first time walking the red carpet
James Liebman

Editor’s note: James Liebman is an aspiring actor living in Los Angeles. He walked the red carpet at  the 40th annual Daytime Emmy Awards for the first time this year. He is on Twitter.

Giada! Hey Giada! Look up! Bobby! Here please! Look over here! Kathy! Rachael! Rachael! Up top!! Bethany!! Kris!! Over here! BOB! KRIS! SARA! KHAAAAAN! KHAAAAAAAN!! Over here!

Are you wincing at all the CAPS and exclamation marks above!!!???!? ARE YOU?! Of course you are. It’s loud. It’s rude. It’s a little obscene. It’s also one-hundredth of the effect you get when you walk a red carpet.

I had the opportunity to witness the red carpet at the 40th Annual Daytime Emmy Awards as an unknown in the presence of knowns, hoping-to-be-better-knowns, and OH-MY-GOD IS THAT OZZY OSBOURNE?! OZZY! OZZY! Over here!

A little background: I’m an actor who just moved from New York City to Planet Los Angeles, engaged in the hustle known as the biz: Audition, network, create projects, learn, work, hope, pray. Wash, rinse, repeat.

I am presently, in the eye of the camera, a nobody. This is not news to me (sits, cries, eats pint of ice cream, recovers). Thankfully, if I or any celebs are ever unsure of our status in the fame game, there is a group of men and women with lenses and microphones only too ready to inform us. Loudly, and with extreme prejudice.

Award shows have an elegant sheen and polish when seen on television from the comfort of a couch. And that impression is due, in large part, to the red carpet. The origin I discovered (to the delight of my Greek mother) goes all the way back to the tale of Agamemnon in the Aeschylus 5th century BCE play, in which our hero states that only the gods deserve that kind of pomp.

He walked on it anyway and set in motion our present tradition of hubris — I mean, glamour. It always seemed to me as if stars just float through these affairs, wistfully pausing to smile and pose for a photo or two, joyfully quipping with a journalist, waving a generous hand to the fans in attendance and sailing away on a breeze of loveliness.

In person, it’s very different. There’s a crush of hyper-sequined dresses and hyper-pressed tuxedoes waiting on one side of the velvet rope, bunched together, cued a mile long, for a turn on the carpet. On the other side is the media, watching the celebs mill about like pandas at a zoo. It looks positively sweaty and downright unpleasant.

But, the reality is that if you want a career that keeps advancing, in an industry where your face, body, presence, and personality are currency (talent’s in there somewhere too, I swear), you will, at some point, have to walk the plank known as the red carpet. And it is brutal.

Would you like an instant review of your success, your worth, your looks, and your fashion sense? Walk the plank. Would you like to be waiting on a line where any celebrity with a “-list” attached (A-list, B-list, Craigslist) more elevated than yours can jump in front of you at any time and loiter while you stew? Walk the plank. Would you like to have roughly 20 photographers barking orders at you while you stand with your back against a wall, execution-style, a mere foot away from them? Walk. The. Plank.

Giada, Rachael, Kathy, Kris, Sharon and Ozzy trumped most everybody else in the room, skipping ahead and eliciting sounds akin to a pack of German shepherds spotting a bunny rabbit. The nominees and presenters, of course, have direct access to just about anyone they want. They are, after all, the show. And then, there was George Lucas. Oh my. Suffice to say, I thought the building was on fire before I realized it was just the man who made “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” (love ya, George!).

Below them on the status wheel is a more complicated hierarchy of celebrity. There is a slew of actors, hosts and famous-ish people also waiting for their turn in front of the camera, many with high anxiety. I noticed a fair amount of impatient glances from star to publicist. Eyes that said: “Why am I waiting? Do your #_$ing job! Get me up there!” and “Where’s the fire?”

But then there were a select few who seemed to plug into an alternate energy source. They waited their turn with an alien patience, confidence and grace that emanated beyond the crush of flash and flesh around them. Wherever they lingered, smiled, posed, and whatever their rank, they owned their space, even if only in their minds.

Despite the intensity of the plank, it is a necessary evil. Celebs know it. Photogs know it. TV interviewers know it. Fashion designers know it. Everyone needs everyone else. There is an ecosystem beneath “the scene.” An intricate, often sweaty and chaotic, system of dependent relationships, hype, and hustle that keeps the whole thing running.

So, the next time you sit on your couch to watch an awards show, chomping popcorn and making "hot mess," "Botoxinator!" or "spray tan" jokes, take a moment to think of all the innocent, hyper-sequined bunny rabbits bunched up and waiting to be fed to a pack of snarling dogs. 

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