HFPA at 75: Meet the Foreign Press

As the voters behind the annual Golden Globes, members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. exert an enormous influence on award season. But who are they? Variety asked five HFPA members to discuss their home territories, and lives on the circuit.

Tina Jøhnk Christensen
(Denmark, member since 2013)

Biggest surprise hit in home territory
The French film “The Intouchables” and the German film “Toni Erdmann” were huge successes in Denmark — both surprisingly so. Also, recently, “Get Out” became a surprising hit in Denmark.

Biggest Hollywood star
The Danes watch a lot of Hollywood films and the biggest Hollywood stars are Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence, as well as Scarlett Johansson and Viggo Mortensen, who have Danish heritage. But Danes are probably even more interested in Danish stars. Denmark is a very small nation of around five million people, so when Mads Mikkelsen, Ulrich Thomsen, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Connie Nielsen and Sidse Babett-Knudsen make it internationally, it becomes part of the national pride. We follow them and their success fondly.

The biggest difference in cinemagoing/film culture
The main difference between the film culture in the U.S. and Denmark is that in Hollywood it is mainly a business and in Denmark it is also considered a very important means to preserve and enrich our culture. Thus, our film industry is partly funded by government institutions such as The Danish Film Institute. The Danes are also usually very supportive of films made locally; however, local box office for Danish movies hit a low of 2.8 million ticket sales in 2016, a 33% year-on-year drop, according to the Danish Film Institute.

The National Film School of Denmark is a state school, which is financially supported by the Danish Ministry of Cultural Affairs, and it creates a lot of great filmmakers. Thus, comparable to its size, Denmark has many very talented directors such as Lars von Trier, Thomas Vinterberg, Susanne Bier, Lone Scherfig, Nikolaj Arcel, Bille August, Anders Thomas Jensen, Per Fly, Niels Arden Oplev, Ole Bornedal and Nikolaj Winding Refn. Denmark is also often represented in the foreign-language category at the Golden Globes and Oscars.

Denmark might be a small nation, but it has a long and proud history of movie making. Nordisk Film was founded by Ole Olsen in 1906 and Denmark created very popular silent films worldwide (there was no language barrier because they were silent films) and the first international movie star ever — Asta Nielsen.

What’s your best/worst junket experience?
There have been so many good as well as great junket experiences. A good junket is obviously always one in which you have great material to work with for your articles. Maybe one of the most memorable junkets/set visits was being on the set of “Casino Royale” (which was before I was a member of the HFPA), where we were introduced to the new James Bond — Daniel Craig. There had been so much debate in the media at the time whether he would be a suitable Bond or not and everyone was excited seeing the result of that film. The set visit was in the Bahamas and we would watch a very buff Daniel Craig in several action scenes. In the evening, we did interviews poolside (which was one of the locations in the movie) with the stars of the film — including a then very pleasant Daniel Craig —and those of us who were smart enough would learn how to play baccarat.

The worst junket experiences are few and far between, but junkets usually become bad experiences when the stars don’t understand that we are all there to do a job and we might as well do it as pleasantly and cordially as possible. I have interviewed a few rude actors who did not understand this.

Gabriel Lerman

(Spain, member since 2004)

Biggest surprise hit in home territory
“The Impossible.” What surprised me is that this amazing film was not a big hit in the United States as it should have been. In Spain people really appreciated the wonderful work of J.A. Bayona, the acting of Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor and a promising young actor named Tom Holland. The film made only $19 million in the U.S., while in Spain scored $54 million and stayed on in cinemas for seven months.

Biggest Hollywood star
Woody Allen. He still has a big following in Spain and any interview he grants the HFPA is widely celebrated by my outlets and by their readers.

The biggest difference in cinemagoing/film culture
I’d say people in Spain really celebrate quality
and the work of the directors they love. They would go to see a film just because Christopher Nolan directed it and filmmakers are as big as the actors who work in their movies. In fact, I represent one of the few magazines in the world that is solely devoted to film directors, Dirigido Por, which has been publishing continuously since 1972.

What’s your best/worst junket experience?
My best junket experience was my first. When I just became managing editor of a local magazine in Los Angeles in 1991, I was invited by Disney to fly to Orlando to cover the junkets for “Beauty and the Beast,” “Father of the Bride” and “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.” The studio knew they had three hits in their hands and they did an amazing celebration that lasted three days. I met Angela Lansbury, Roy O. Disney and a young upcoming actress I never heard of before. Her name was Julianne Moore. It was also her first junket. My worst was in New York in the ’90s. I had been doing roundtables nonstop since 9 a.m. and by 5 p.m. Sigourney Weaver showed up. Everyone was so exhausted that we basically asked her what she wanted to talk about and let her talk.

H.J. Park
(South Korea, joined in 2006, member of foreign language film committee)

Biggest surprise hit in home territory
“La La Land,” “Mummy,” “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” “The Intern”

Biggest Hollywood stars
Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon

The biggest difference in cinemagoing/film culture
Koreans love blockbusters more than Americans. The highest per-capita films viewed in the world. Koreans go to movies more often than others in this whole wide world.

What’s your best/worst junket experience?
There are a few very arrogant stars who think they are Zeuses. But there are also nice actors who act like real people. They are very down-to-earth human beings that I can’t help but liking them.
Top of the list is Matt Damon and always happy, jolly Tom Hanks. And Nicole Kidman, too.

Lorenzo Soria
(Italy, member since 1989, past president)

Biggest Hollywood star
It’s still George Clooney. Women still believe he is so good looking and suave and charming, although now that he’s married and has children they lost their hope. And men would love to have a drink with him.

The biggest difference in cinemagoing/film culture
Italians love Hollywood blockbusters and films that make you escape, but they value as well films that make you think and deal with reality and the human experience.

What’s your best/worst junket experience?

I had a major, major movie star telling me “f…. you” at a press conference, in response to a pretty innocuous question that had to do with his own life. But I’m not going to name him.

Katherine Tulich

(Australia, member since 2010)

Biggest surprise hit in home territory
Australian audiences can be the toughest crowd to please when it comes to home grown stories, but thankfully there have been a continuing run of local box office hits in the past few years like Russell Crowe-directed Gallipoli drama “The Water Diviner,” the heart-warming canine lead tales, “Red Dog” and “Oddball,” Jocelyn Moorhouse’s “The Dressmaker” and last year’s “Lion,” which now rates as the fifth most-watched Australian film of all time.

Biggest Hollywood star

The biggest stars in the U.S. are also big in Australia: Cate Blanchett, Hugh Jackman, Chris Hemsworth.

What’s your best/worst junket experience?
One of my first assignments for a Sunday newspaper after relocating from Sydney to L.A. was to venture to Skywalker ranch to interview George Lucas. As a certified “Star Wars” geek it was the Holy Grail. I stayed overnight at the Skywalker Ranch Inn, in the Lillian Gish room, and toured the ranch and spent time with Lucas. I still drink the same brand of coffee they served there, and it always makes me think of that magical experience.

It’s always a thrill to meet a childhood idol, and my pinch-me moment was meeting and interviewing Al Pacino. I remember sneaking into a theater when I was way too young to watch “The Godfather” and was mesmerized. Would never have dreamed that one day I would be in the same room interviewing him. He was quirky, charming, cheeky and funny. A delight.

The biggest difference in cinemagoing/film culture
With the symbiotic cross-pollination of Australian directors and actors in the U.S., it seems our film cultures are pretty parallel, but Australians have a unique attitude and voice that can be off-kilter hilarious (“Strictly Ballroom,” “Muriel’s Wedding”) or creepily menacing when delving into the underbelly of suburbia (like “Animal Kingdom”).

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