Sometimes, what makes Hollywood so confusing but also fascinating is how simultaneously surreal and mundane it can be, and how those two realities can coexist in such tight juxtaposition. Case in point: this year’s Emmy Awards, where one minute Sean Spicer turns up as a surprise guest on stage, eliciting a collective gasp in the audience, and the next, Keri Russell gallops into the bathroom, hiking up the hem of her dress so as not to get it dirty while waiting for an empty stall, and exclaims to nobody in particular, “Holy moly, this is nuts!”
What Russell was referring to is anybody’s guess — perhaps just the overwhelming stimuli present at any awards show — but there were a few not-televised, behind-the-scenes moments that might have been deemed “nuts” by any account.
When Spicer first popped onstage during host Stephen Colbert’s opening monologue, some Emmy guests rolled their eyes, a lot of people laughed — mostly out of sheer nerves and incredulity, the way one would at a funeral — but after the initial shock wore off, the general consensus seemed to be: Was it OK to laugh at that? Was that actually funny?
Dee Dee Myers, former White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton and current executive vice president of corporate communications and pubic affairs for Warner Bros., seemed to think it was a joke that worked.
“He was a very good sport about it,” said Myers, milling about the lobby of the Microsoft Theater. “He was very brave to do it and I thought the audience responded warmly. I would love to meet him. I hope he’ll be at the Governor’s Ball.”
It was an unexpected and rather sanguine response given Myers’ association with the Clintons — and Spicer’s disastrous affiliation with Donald Trump — but, then again, Washington D.C. can be just as strange a place as Hollywood.
“People not in politics might not know this, but Sean Spicer had a good reputation before Trump,” she said. “He was really well-liked and was known about town as a really good guy.”
The onslaught of Trump jokes during Colbert’s opener drew tepid, if in some cases, blasé reactions. “I’m so sick of hearing about Trump,” one audience member sighed. “There’s nothing fresh about these jokes anymore,” yawned another. “And I hate Trump more than anything. Can’t we just ever get away from him?”
Throughout the night bored (or just hungry) celebrities and civilians alike took to the lobby—that is, if they were able to finagle their way out of their row, which was especially difficult if you were seated up front. “The problem is if I get up a seat filler takes my seat, and then it’s awkward trying to get them up again since we are in the middle of the row,” said Kira Lewis, whose husband is Brian Morewitz, senior vice president of drama development at ABC. “I need champagne and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.” (Seats in the back presented their own fair share of setbacks. “Even though I’m at the Emmys I still feel like I’m watching it at home on TV because I’m still watching it on the monitor,” said one invited guest.)
During one commercial break, Kathryn Hahn, nominated for her supporting role in “Transparent,” was hanging out by the concession stand while husband, actor-producer Ethan Sandler, placed an order for drinks, including three glasses of white wine. “I’m so dehydrated,” she said. “I can’t believe there’s no water in [the theater.]” Soon after, Russell joined the line, along with on-and off-screen husband Matthew Rhys. An enthusiastic fan of the critically touted series “The Americans” approached the couple and they happily posed for photos. Nearby, “Beverly Hills 90210” alumna and SAG-AFTRA president Gabrielle Carteris posed for selfies with fans. Then at one point, “Better Call Saul” star Bob Odenkirk somehow became trapped inside the concession stand’s security rope stanchions. “How do you exit this thing?” he asked. (Pro tip: when the line for drinks at the Emmys gets too long, just use the soda machine like some guests eventually did.)
Back in the theater, audience members went absolutely gaga over many of the night’s awards, including Lena Waithe’s and Aziz Ansari’s historic joint win for outstanding writing for a comedy series. When Waithe, the first African-American woman to win the award, delivered her speech — during which she quoted Maxine Waters’ infectiously viral “reclaiming my time” line — several audience members fist-bumped. When cinematographer-cum-helmer Reed Morano took home the award for best director for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” women in the audience cheered and raised their fists into the air, the hailed Hulu series, and Morano’s landmark win, a clarion call for female empowerment.
Later, a jittery silence spread wide across the theater as legendary “Roots” actress Cicely Tyson struggled to form the words when presenting the award for best limited series — “I’m so nervous, I don’t know why,” she said to co-presenter Anika Noni Rose. But that couldn’t keep the entire theater, including Oprah, from leaping to their feet and giving Tyson an emotion-filled standing ovation.
Moments later, women and men in the audience ate up Reese Witherspoon’s plug for gender diversity in the biz during her acceptance speech for “Big Little Lies.” They also loved Nicole Kidman’s passionate speech about the challenges of being a working mom. When Kidman thanked her two young daughters, Sunday and Faith, and relayed plans to display her Emmy in their room so they could see it everyday and be inspired even though “mummy” isn’t always them it tuck them in at night, a few women in the audience quipped they, too, would follow suit, but with workplace items such as staplers and pens.
Similarly, people in the audience seemed genuinely thrilled for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, whose record-breaking win for best actress in a comedy series further cements her position as one of the most formidable actors — male or female — working today.
During the In Memoriam segment, which is usually everybody’s favorite bit at awards shows, there was the expected applause for such adored industry favorites as Bill Paxton, Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, and Mary Tyler Moore — but there was not a clap to be had for Fox News founder Roger Ailes. For several minutes following the In Memoriam slideshow, an odd, eerie silence settled over the crowd, ostensibly because watching these things one can’t help but acknowledge the fact that someday we’re all going to die.
The mood was lifted as soon as presenter Sarah Paulson took the stage, even though the general consensus among the women in the audience was, per the words of one loud woman, shaking her head repeatedly, “Her dress is not good.”
Following another commercial break during which dancers decked out in fringed 1920s flapper dresses entertained the crowd, Sterling K. Brown took home the Emmy for his lead role on monster hit “This is Us.” There was wild applause for the Stanford-and NYU-educated actor and, when the music played him off mid-speech, a succession of Boos erupted in the audience. “Let him finish!” said one Emmy guest. “We want more!” hollered another. As the music continued to play, audience members drowned it out with even more applause for Brown.
The zeal for best drama series “The Handmaid’s Tale” was likewise palpable, especially when world-renowned Canadian writer Margaret Atwood joined the cast and crew to accept their award for best drama series. “Oh, they’re bringing more handmaids up on stage!” squealed a fan. “I love that. I love the show so much!” “Have you read the book?” asked another. “No,” said the squealing fan. “But I can’t imagine it’s better than the TV series!”
And on that Hollywood note, they exited the theater for the Governors Ball.