WASHINGTON — As D.C. insiders fanned out at more than a dozen parties in advance to this year’s White House Correspondents Assn. dinner, the talk has been of who isn’t here — the unending parade of celebrities who usually help produce any number of surreal moments, scrambles for selfies and some awkward encounters.
Rather, the connections between Hollywood and D.C. are a little less tenuous: The stars of Washington-based “Scandal,” “Veep” and “House of Cards” have a heavy presence. There’s a smattering of reality stars, but the kitschy excitement has given way to something slightly more serious.
At the annual Garden Brunch on Saturday afternoon, held at the historic Beall-Washington Home in Georgetown, heads turned to catch a glimpse of recent Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, where in years past it may have been the novelty of seeing a Kardashian.
“How great it is we are actually at a Hollywood meets Washington moment talking about something important,” Steve Clemons, editor-at-large of The Atlantic, said on Saturday morning at the Grand Hyatt as he emceed a panel about LGBT issues. He was interviewed Dan Bucatinsky, just off of ABC’s “Scandal,” who talked about how the show featured his character’s “really messed up” same-sex marriage. Somehow, he said, viewers could relate to a union that wasn’t all hunky dorey, even if it was a bit dramatic.
“A romantic day on ‘Scandal’ is when your husband calls off the hit on you,” Bucatinsky quipped.
At Google and Netflix’s party on Friday evening at the Institute of Peace, a massive atrium building in Foggy Bottom that would give The Getty a run for its money for its white-hued splendor, Robin Wright of “House of Cards” posed for photos, but some news media types admitted they were hesitant in doing the “ask” for a selfie, given the sharpness of her character on the show.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi posed with some cast members, and an eclectic mix of other guests like Republican National Committee chairman Reince Preibus, director Spike Jonze and actor Patrick Stewart walked the red carpet.
On a terrace outside, overlooking the Lincoln Memorial, two members of Pussy Riot were laser-focused on their message about expanding sanctions against Russian President Vladimir Putin and the plight of some 30 political prisoners.
Theories abound at why the showbiz presence of this weekend is slightly more muted this year than years past: President Obama’s poll numbers are down, the novelty of interacting with D.C. has faded in the sixth year of his term, or the event itself had become just too much of a circus. In fact, the White House Correspondents Assn. has been trying to return the focus a bit to itself and the Saturday evening dinner, with the organization celebrating its 100th anniversary.
That’s not to say there isn’t a crush of people: The Garden Brunch, a fundraiser for Dog Tag Bakery and Blue Star Mothers, was just as packed, with White House senior adviser Valerie Jarrett, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter mixing in a crowd that included Julia Louis Dreyfus, Katherine McPhee and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
Co-host Tammy Haddad thanked all the presidents and vice presidents on the room — a reference to the dueling on-screen administrations now represented on TV.
The Time-People reception on Friday night drew director Steve McQueen, Joe Manganiello, Jeff Goldblum, Armie Hammer and Scott Foley, along with news personalities that included Savannah Guthrie, Thomas Roberts, Norah O’Donnell, Ronan Farrow and Kelly O’Donnell.
Moreover, the sheer number of parties that surround Saturday night’s dinner, highlighted by a monologue by President Obama and entertainment by Joel McHale, don’t appear to have taken the coverage away from the event.
“Honestly, it doesn’t feel as though it has changed much at all,” Jon Lovett, the former White House speechwriter-turned-writer-producer, told Variety on Saturday at the LGBT panel.
“It does appear that in the past few years, maybe the past 10 years, that more and more people are aware of the dinner so maybe more people pay more attention to it. It has become more celebritized, and also it has become more focused on the speeches. So it has become a much bigger event, but I don’t know if it has become a better event, or if it has fulfilled the purpose it may have once played between the press and the powerful.”
Photo: Dan Bucatinsky, Lupita Nyong’o and Bellamy Young at the Time-People party.