A large throng of Sydney's showbiz-journalism elite were dressed to the nines in anticipation of the arrival of Jake Gyllenhaal, in town to promote his romantic drama Love And Other Drugs. Despite the high ceilings and good ventilation at the Sydney Theatre Company offices overlooking Walsh Bay, the well-peopled press conference smelt very sweet, the modern-day Hedda Hoppers no doubt hoping that extra squirt from their favourite fragrance would get Jake's attention.
The men – mostly shutter-bugs, network cameramen and me – were no less excited (though far less focused on personal hygiene) about the presence of the fetching Anne Hathaway, who co-stars in Edward Zwick's sexed-up film about a pharmaceutical sales rep who falls hard for a woman with early-stage Parkinson's Disease. He, rogueishly handsome, and she, rakishly thin, held court for close to an hour at the airy venue as the gathered papps captured the photogenic pair against the Harbourside skyline.
When they settled into question time, it didn't take very long at all for the questioning to turn to the bold sexual antics Jake and Anne enjoy in the film and the key role that the discovery of a certain blue pill plays in the narrative (the film is loosely based on the life of Pfizer sales-master Jamie Reidy's '90s-set autobiographical bestseller Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman). The puns were obvious and cringe-worthy: “Were the sex scenes hard?” asked one wit, to which Jake replied “What do you mean by 'hard'?” The room tittered when one innocent asked, “Were the sex scenes scripted or were things sprung on you?”
Jake, by all accounts a very intelligent young man, was left with no opportunity than to state the obvious when asked about pretend-sex with Anne: “Yes, it is much easier to film sex scenes with someone you find attractive.” Anne, who took some convincing that the part was right for her, said the terror of filming a sex scene is two-fold. The on-set mood is tough enough, but “watching it with an audience for the first time is the most scary part.”
Gyllenhaal and Hathaway played along – the film has been sold on the sex-drug connection and the star's on-screen nudity (their recent cover of magazine Entertainment Weekly outraged America's easily-offended moral minority), so to deny the Australian media the same smutty indulgences would have been unfair. But Gyllenhaal appeared tired and struggled to answer with much mirth; Hathaway giggled and flicked her hair, but one got the feeling that country-after-country of stiffy jokes was wearing on the pair.
The stars came to life when asked about their performances. Hathaway, in particular, related some very moving moments about her meetings with Parkinson's sufferers. “I wanted to understand the anxiety of the disease,” said the actress. “The openness and courage with which people shared their stories with me (was remarkable). I remember speaking to one man who said that he missed being able to crumple paper.”
However, such openness only goes so far in the world of the promotional press conference. Having played along with the “stars sexy antics on-screen” angle and given them ample moments to reflect on their craft, a tabloid journo's rather innocent enquiry as to Jake's and Anne's off-screen romances brought the gathering to a grinding halt. The MC, a network television showbiz reporter not above such invasive questioning, shut the event down before the stars could respond, obviously instructed to should there be any mention of real-life loves.