I haven’t done a press junket since George of the Jungle (yes, I realize I have just aged myself), so being included in the mix for the Manila stop of Aquaman’s Asian tour meant getting re-acquainted with a strange world where one is allowed to be within ten feet of A-list Hollywood celebrities.
The day began in the Grand Park Hyatt in BGC, where you could immediately feel a fidgety hush descend as you entered the holding area for local press, the muffled electricity of journalists and bloggers silently admonishing themselves to play it cool. At exactly 2:30 pm, we are escorted into a ballroom. Oddly, everything still feels hushed—although I can’t be sure if the gathered media people had admirable self-discipline, or if I was floating in my own bubble, too preoccupied with the idea that I was about to meet in the flesh Khal Drogo, Johnny Depp’s tabloid fodder of an ex-wife, and the man responsible for my worst movie-induced nightmares.
The theme of the press conference emerges pretty quickly: representation and inclusion. Heard earnestly launches into a mini-speech about redressing “the lack of roles that are offered or that are available to women to paint a fuller, larger, bolder, stronger, more accurate depiction of the female experience.” Momoa referred to his Hawaiian and German-by-way-of-Iowa background as the reason why he was uniquely prepared to tackle Aquaman’s dual heritage: “I can identify with [coming from two cultures]. I love both places very much. I understand average people who love their home and never want to leave their home, [but] I just wanted to wander.”
(Quick Takeaway # 1: We as members of the press really need to up the quality of our questions. How do you expect a star to answer a query about pooping while in costume? Momoa: “Yeah, I can go to the bathroom. There’s no problem with going to the bathroom.” And enough already with trying to insert the Filipino experience into the conversation. Momoa again: “I didn’t really have enough encounters with the Filipino community in Hawaii.” Would it have hurt to ask Momoa which director he would so want to work with that he would gladly cut his hair? Or ask James Wan, the director who solidified his career directing the Saw and Conjuring movies, for an impromptu romantic-comedy pitch? Sure, we write fluff. But the fluff can always get fluffier!)
After an all-too-brief 30 minutes, the press con is over, and we shlepp our equipment to the SM Mall of Asia performance hall, a semi-circular space facing Manila Bay, for an event with the fans. It is just past 4 in the afternoon, and already the place is bursting. Any cooling breeze from the bay is blocked by a massive video wall playing Aquaman trailers and behind-the-scenes featurettes, and only the frantic propellers of a drone hovering overhead provide temporary relief. It is hot, it is noisy, and the thrum of anticipation we felt back in the Grand Hyatt’s air-conditioned ballroom has been multiplied a gajillion times.
A dour woman leads us to an enclosure right smack in the middle of the blue-carpeted space, the designated place for local press. Entering it, we feel like tributes in the Hunger Games. Unfortunately, we have arrived at the next itinerary of our Aquaman tour too early. Standing for more than three hours in humidity on an empty stomach has a way of dulling one’s excitement, and not even an aerial silks performance by two acrobats dressed as Heard’s character Princess Mera can take the edge off the crowd’s growing impatience.
And then, at a quarter past 7 and 30 minutes past schedule, the principals appear. The crowd erupts. Hand-drawn artwork, Funko Pop action figures, and comic books flutter in the air, all vying for the celebrities’ prized attention. Heard is overdressed in a strapless black, shimmery gown that reveals her figure once the lights hit it. Momoa is underdressed in a beige Henley. Wan splits the difference in a red-checked, long-sleeved shirt and jeans. Heard does a round of the U-shaped blue carpet, signing autographs and taking selfies. But Momoa runs like an overgrown kid through the carpet, slapping high-fives with the fanboys behind the guardrails.
Click on the image below for slideshow
(Quick Takeaway # 2: It’s a bit disheartening to see celebrities being more open and engaging with a screaming fan than a well-behaved journalist. Deep inside, we’re blubbering disciples too—don’t let TMZ mislead you!)
After an hour, Momoa, Heard and Wan ascend the stage, where they get framed paintings of themselves by a local comic-book artist as a gift. Momoa is so overcome by the adulation from the screaming crowd that he demolishes the plastic trident he was holding as a prop.
(Quick Takeaway # 3: Never put anything fragile or flimsy in Momoa’s hands because he’s liable to break it. That includes Aquaman merchandise, ice sculptures—as evidenced by his Instagram videos—and maybe your hand for an innocent handshake.)
Manila might be a blip as a destination for international press tours, but maybe the Aquaman experience in Asia will change that. This parting declaration from Jason Momoa should serve as an endorsement to the next Hollywood studio mounting a global tour for their next effects-driven tentpole: “I am so overwhelmed…and thank you, Manila! I have never received this much love in my life!”