SXSW 2015: Hollywood Heads to Austin for Annual Festivities

Hollywood headed down south for the 2015 SXSW film, interactive and music festival in Austin, Texas, for the annual 10-day event, which wraps up on March 22.

SXSW kicked off on Friday the 13th, very fittingly with a haunted house party, hosted by WGN America’s supernatural thriller “Salem.”

“No one wants to go up those flights of stairs over and over and over again. Once you’re up, you kind of just stay here,” star Shane West joked about the jam-packed rooftop soireé, which was complete with aerialists (a.k.a. levitating enchantresses) and apothecaries — better known as multiple bars — as he sipped on a cocktail.

“It’s funky-town,” new cast member Lucy Lawless told Variety, hours after arriving at SXSW with her co-stars (the entire “Salem” cast took a six-hour road trip together from their Shreveport, La., set to Austin, thanks to their flights being canceled at the last minute). “[Austin] has got so much character. We’re in skunkytown at this moment!” Lawless added, as a skunk-like scent wafted over the scene.

During the witching hour, star Janet Montgomery was surprised to be good-heartedly, yet inappropriately, passed at by a male fan at the Season 2 party, to whom she quite wittingly jabbed back at, as a barrel of vodka was wheeled by her and her hopeful suitor.

The “Salem” cast and creators (Brannon Braga and Adam Simon, who both predict SXSW will be as big as Comic-Con in a few years) weren’t the only stars jumpstarting their SXSW weekend.

Malin Akerman, who was on site to debut her film “The Final Girls,” was sipping on a comped glass of champagne as she checked into her downtown Austin hotel room and chatted with the front desk staff in the lobby Friday evening.

Saturday at the Austin Convention Center, which was swarming with food trucks, Steve Carell and his wife, Nancy, presented their upcoming TBS series, “Angie Tribeca,” starring Rashida Jones, and surprised the audience with not one, but two episodes at the screening. The husband-and-wife team are co-creators and exec producers on the slapstick comedy.

Festival-goers enjoyed the 70-plus-degree weather on the streets downtown, where hotels — and bars — were bustling with out-of-town visitors and locals, some who were spotted drinking Coronas outdoors at noon. One bar in the center of town very clearly expressed that it is always happy hour in Austin: “stiff drinks, loose morals,” their chalkboard signage read.

The overcrowded “Game of Thrones” installation, #SXSWesteros, served up an exclusive, and hefty, sample of the series’ newest beer. Fans waiting in a line to participate in the virtual sword training art activity sipped on the “GOT” ale as they waited their turn.

Also bringing television to life at SXSW was a Bates Motel activation, which was literally, well, the Bates Motel. The full-functioning motel, set up for the festival by the A&E series’ set designers, had running water and invited contest winners and press to stay the night — and yes, fake blood was splattered in the shower of Room 1.

Over at the Four Seasons on Saturday afternoon, an unlikely trio, Busta Rhymes, Sally Fields and Max Greenfield (who co-star in SXSW breakout film “Hello, My Name Is Doris”), were lunching together.

Aside from panels, screenings and activations, SXSW nightlife brought festival-goers out on a major party circuit.

Comcast Ventures hosted a Saturday daytime party at indoor/outdoor venue the Belmont where margaritas and Moscow Mules were flowing and barbecue fare was on the buffet line. The fete lasted through the night, and welcomed T.I. to the outdoor stage for a lengthy set, which included a post-trial shoutout to Robin Thicke and Pharrell, as the rapper performed “Blurred Lines,” among his own hits.

Saturday evening, new CW series “iZombie” kicked off its debut with a premiere party, hosted with Buzzfeed, at Whislers bar on the east side of downtown Austin. Zombie face-painted bartenders served thematic “brain appétit” libations to partygoers — who were also offered their own face-painting sessions — and enjoyed Thai-Southern fusion eats from local food truck East Side Kings.

That same night, “Community” celebrated their Season 6 Yahoo Screen premiere with a “Greendale School Dance” party that lasted until 1 a.m. at Brazos Hall in the center of town.

Yahoo CMO Kathy Savitt introduced the cast, Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Jim Rash, Alison Brie, Ken Jeong, new cast members Keith David and Paget Brewster, plus creator Dan Harmon and exec producer Chris McKenna, who were in attendance at the event, which included a sneak preview of the first episode. Danny Pudi was the only cast member not able to attend, but he sent a mobile robot in his place.

The Greendale gang took photos and chatted on the red carpet, before entering the loud soirée where they schmoozed in the VIP area to the sounds of local cover band Skyrocket. Harmon recorded a live podcast in front of the audience, and did the yodel for “Commuuuuuunity” with the fans.

The morning after, the cast joined together again for a fun-filled panel, moderated by Harmon, where he dropped many F-bombs and teased a “Community” movie.

Also paneling on Sunday was “The Comedians,” FX’s upcoming comedy starring Billy Crystal and Josh Gad, who hit up the Funny or Die all-day event at the Belmont afterword to hang out with Cookie Monster, who was serving up — what else? — milk and cookies.

Funny or Die also brought out Judd Apatow, Colin Hanks, Nick Kroll, NBA player Baron Davis, filmmaker Robert Rodriguez who performed with his band, and comedians Tig Notaro and Hannibal Buress who took the stage for some standup. “Get Hard” co-stars Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart celebrated their film’s premiere party with Funny or Die during the first SXSW weekend.

For those who weren’t partying — or rather, needed a deep cleanse the morning after their celebrations — Radius, NBCUniversal’s new fitness video service, offered workout classes and activities to keep SXSW-ers in shape. The Radius trainers also hit the Austin streets for a jump rope challenge.

Spotted around town on Sunday afternoon was Adrien Brody who walked past a bar, as the bouncer yelled, “Hey, Adrien Brody!” and asking the actor to come inside. Brody smiled and waved, but declined the invite.

YouTube phenom Tyler Oakley sat in on a panel at the Roc Nation and Live Nation Raptor House, along with fellow panelists YouTuber Meredith Foster, Yahoo Style’s Joe Zee, Amanda de Cadenet and moderator Moj Mahdara of BeautyCon. The “Creating A Career” panel discussed what it’s like to be able to reach millions of people with the click of a button.

“Being able to connect with other people who have the same interests or challenges is so powerful,” said de Cadenet. Oakley added, “The level of intimacy between creators and consumers is huge.”

That night, rapper Big Sean took the stage at Raptor House, along with Nick Jonas, who showed up for a surprise performance.

Throughout the weekend, Elijah Wood, Jason Schwartzman, Rainn Wilson, Nicholas Hoult, Spike Jonze and Nina Dobrev also showed up at the fourth annual Raptor House.

During the first weekend of SXSW, Dobrev was on hand to promote her film “Final Girls,” along with Akerman and Taissa Farmiga. “The Vampire Diaries” star was having fun taking selfies with tickets to her premiere at STK’s Supper Suite.

Also on March 15, the cast of NBC’s “Undateable” kicked off their second annual multi-city comedy tour. Co-creator and exec producer Bill Lawrence, plus the series’ stars Chris D’Elia, Brent Morin, Ron Funches and Rick Glassman, brought the laughs to the stage at Esther’s Follies.

“Even if this weren’t attached to our TV show, it would still be one of the best comedy shows you could see this year,” Lawrence said.

The Flaming Lips headlined Spredfast’s Sunday night concert at Austin City Limits. The psychedelic band was welcomed by a packed house who took in their signature wild set, complete with electric lights, confetti, numerous costume changes, inflatable animals, and the lead singer floating atop the audience in a see-through sphere. “Thank you for being such freaks at our show,” the band announced to the crowd, which was bouncing around colorful balloons at the start of the set.

During the concert, which was attended by producer Brian Grazer and Google’s Eric Schmidt, the fire alarm went off, causing a 20-minute hiatus. The Flaming Lips joked the alarm was prompted by “too much marijuana.”

During the entirety of SXSW, Spredfast — which is headquartered in Austin and won an “innovation and social television” Emmy in 2014 — also hosted their Social Suite, which welcomed festival-goers to relax, work and network. A rep for the social marketing company told Variety that not having to rent out a space, like many SXSW vendors, was a bonus for the “getting away from it all” experience: “people are able to live our brand in our backyard, have great food, great drink and feel comfortable to come back again and again at a place that’s more than just a charging station.”

Every day, the Social Suite offered back massages, manicures, a buffet breakfast (which served up Texas favorites chicken and waffles and breakfast tacos), a “social sweet” candy bar, a make-your-own Bloody Mary bar, which was very popular, as was the daily 4 p.m. happy hour, plus breakout rooms, in which tech and media folk talked strategy.

After the jam-packed night of Sunday events, a casually dressed Dobrev was enjoying herself into the wee hours of the morning — a typical time to be awake at SXSW — entering a packed lobby lounge (at the same hotel her co-star Akerman was staying at) with friends around 1:30 a.m.

Monday afternoon, “iZombie” had its worldwide premiere screening and panel. After, the actors and creators gathered for an intimate cocktail and appetizer hour at Mexican restaurant La Condesa where this Variety reporter snacked on tortilla chips, guacamole and ceviche snacks, alongside Rose McIver and her cast members.

Jimmy Kimmel brought his late-night talk show down South for the week, kicking off “Jimmy Kimmel Live” Monday in front of an audience of 2,400 at the Long Center for Performing Arts. Brad Paisley was the first musical guest of the week.

That night — at the same time as Tumblr’s “Entourage” party, which brought in soon-to-be-movie-stars Adrian Grenier, Jeremy Piven, Kevin Connolly, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Dillon, and creator Doug Ellin — Kimmel celebrated his weeklong Austin stay with a star-studded invite-only party at the Samsung Studio.

Kimmel, dressed in Western wear, entered his event just minutes before 10 p.m. and stayed all night. The late-night host was joined by his wife and “Live” sidekick Guillermo, who went straight for the open bar when he arrived.

Also at the fete, playing arcade basketball, was the “iZombie” bunch, Robert Buckley, David Anders, Rahul Kohli, Malcolm Goodwin, plus exec producers Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero-Wright. Given that the Kimmel party was the night before the series debut, Variety asked Kohli if he was ready to step into CW super-fandom, and the British actor humbly replied he was simply excited to have locked down his first major acting gig.

Paisley was the party’s inhouse musician, entertaining the crowd — including Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Constance Zimmer and “Orange Is the New Black” actress Danielle Brooks — with music for hours. At one point, Kimmel and Guillermo even joined the country superstar for a song with Kimmel showing off his harmonica skills (check out a sampling of their surprise performance here).

On stage, Kimmel joked, “Guillermo, you’re drunk. Relax. You’re going to get deported.”

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