Leonardo DiCaprio shrugs his shoulders after being taught some Chinese phrases at a press conference for The Revenant in Beijing on Sunday. Photo: CFP
As a film reporter, I've been to dozens of press conferences for films and seen numerous Hollywood superstars, but the conference for The Revenant's China debut attended by Leonardo DiCaprio on Sunday was one of the toughest press conferences I've ever attended.
The chaos of the day actually started long before the press conference even began. It pretty much kicked off as soon as DiCaprio stepped off the plane.
Early morning start
The Chinese mainland's infamous paparazzi team - Quanmingxingtan, which has exposed the secrets of several major celebrities in China over the past few years - was waiting for the star at the airport at 6 am on Sunday. According to the team, a cavalcade of black cars were lined up outside the airport gates where they could block the media's view of the actor.
About a dozen cars full of journalists tailed DiCaprio's car as he was escorted to his hotel. According to Quanmingxingtan, it was at this point that DiCaprio suddenly changed his plans. Instead of going to the Rosewood Hotel where he was supposed to stay, his car took him to the Park Hyatt Hotel where the conference was being held.
At the Park Hyatt, bodyguards assigned to DiCaprio went ahead to lock down the parking lot and ensure no one could get in.
The media was finally allowed into the venue at 1 pm.
However, unlike other press conferences I've attended where press normally checks in at a reception desk, journalists were kept waiting outside the meeting hall on the third floor of Park Hyatt as security blocked the door and shouted for reporters to get in line. Staff was on hand to check each reporter's name and credentials and allow us entry one at a time.
It felt like I was at a train station during the Spring Festival holidays, the busiest time of the year for railways as millions of people try to make their way home.
After we entered the hall, we had to go through a metal detector and no liquids were permitted to be brought inside. It felt pretty much like heading through security at the airport. I began to wonder if perhaps it was US President Obama who had arrived instead of a Hollywood actor.
Going off script
The conference finally began at 2:30 pm, yet the entire conference felt incredibly awkward.
The host wanted to teach the Oscar winner some Chinese, so he taught DiCaprio how to say ni hao (hello). For some reason however, the host didn't feel that was enough and continued to have DiCaprio repeat phrases in Chinese - wo ai Beijing (I love Beijing) and wo ai zhongguo (I love China), without explaining what he was having the actor say. Apparently a good sport, DiCaprio parroted the host for a bit and then just shrugged his shoulders as if to say "whatever."
DiCaprio was also presented with a piece of Chinese calligraphy that read tiandao chouqin (Heaven rewards the diligent), surely a reference to DiCaprio finally winning an Oscar after years of waiting.
Another gift presented to the actor consisted of a giant human-sized Oscar made from thousands of roses painted in gold. Apparently made by fans, it was on display during the entire conference.
To be honest though, the trophy was really creepy… like the wicker statue from the movie The Wicker Man. The same one in which Nicolas Cage is burned alive.
The host said DiCaprio would take it back to the US, but I doubt that's where it will end up.
The Q&A section was chaos. Although there were apparently headsets provided for simultaneous interpretation they must have neglected to tell DiCaprio about them because he didn't put one on. This led to journalists asking their questions to a baffled DiCaprio, who of course had no idea what they were saying. For some reason the bilingual host chose not to translate even though things were getting increasingly awkward for everyone involved.
Finally, an interpreter was found but this ended up using up most of the time for the Q&A session. In the end, there was only enough time to ask around five questions.
Considering DiCaprio's record on environmental issues one of these questions was about environmental protection. In answer the actor revealed he has confidence in China's ability to lead the pack when it comes to environmental protection.
"I really think that China can be the hero of the environmental movement, they can be the hero of the climate change movement," he said.
Of course the lack of time wasn't the only drama involved in the Q&A session.
Like many conferences, who were allowed to ask questions and what they could ask had been approved ahead of time. Yet apparently one reporter decided to go off script and ask a question that wasn't on the list. According to Quanmingxingtan, this extra question upset the Chinese distributors of the film so much that they canceled the reporter's invitation to the red carpet premiere of The Revenant in Beijing as well as his one-to-one interview with DiCaprio.
The offending question?
"Leo, what do you think about the weather in Beijing today?"
Leo, if you don't feel like to coming to China again, I understand…