‘Amistad’ sails into L.A. on starry night

From a few feet away, Jeffrey Katzenberg beamed like a proud father. His partner Steven Spielberg was gathering some of the “Amistad” cast around him for a group picture at the film’s L.A. premiere. They waved Katzenberg over, but he modestly declined to be included.

“Those are the movie makers there,” he said as cameras snapped Monday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. “That’s what it’s all about.”

That “Amistad” was showing at all was a big relief. Only hours earlier, a federal judge had rejected an author’s request that its release be halted on grounds of alleged plagiarism.

With wife Kate Capshaw nearby, Spielberg was smiling from ear to ear. “This is the first time I’ve been to an L.A. premiere in I don’t know how long,” he said. “The last time we tried, we were in a wreck, on the way to ‘The Peacemaker.’ So this time we put our seatbelts on and drove very slowly.”

‘Gloriously honorable’

After the screening, co-star Matthew McConaughey gave “ER” star Julianna Margulies a big hug and stopped to ponder his lawyer role. “It was gloriously honorable,” he said. “You’re trying to tell the truth; if you’re having a difficult time, you just look at the blueprint. It’s all there, a wonderfully written character. You just say it — you don’t put it on stilts.”

For rising star Djimon Hounsou, the premiere was one more in a series of unforgettable experiences that included meeting Bill Clinton last week. “I’m speechless,” he said, surveying the high-powered crowd, which included DreamWorks partner David Geffen. “From the president to tonight, all the people from Hollywood, the whole making of the movie — it’s amazing, an unbelievable dream.”

Denzel Washington came to pay his respects and embraced Hounsou. “This boy was so beautiful,” Washington said, adding, with a wink, “And that Hopkins guy was not so bad either.”

Anthony Hopkins wasn’t present, but most of the main players were, including producer Debbie Allen and cast members Morgan Freeman, Pete Postlethwaite and David Paymer. “It’s always colorful to play the bad guy,” said Paymer, cast as the venal secretary of state. “He really was despicable. I’ve played a lot of nice guys, so it was time to be bad. My mother was here, and she was hissing at me.”

Also on hand were Arnold Schwarzenegger, Maria Shriver, Antonio Banderas, Samuel L. Jackson, Jim Carrey, Quincy Jones, John Lithgow, Holly Hunter, Laurence Fishburne, Sherry Lansing and Jacqueline Bisset.

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