Until the release of “The Hurricane” our lives had been pretty normal: get up, go to work, long hours at the office, stacks of papers and legal cases that demanded immediate attention. All that changed in September, 1999.
We were thrilled to attend the Toronto Film Festival showing of the movie.That showing unleashed an unexpected whirlwind of travel, red carpets, talk shows, and meeting celebrities.
Soon after, on a cool, December 14, 1999 evening, our limo rolled up to the curb in front of the famed Mann Chinese Theatre for the U.S. premier of the “The Hurricane”. Next to me, I could feel Cheryl trembling as she took in the scene: as far as the eye could see, hordes of screaming spectators and paparazzi jammed the sidewalks in front of the theatre. Brilliant, penetrating lights from television cameras shone in our faces as camera crews jostled each other toe to toe for the best shot. The moment was both exhilarating and unnerving.
I helped steady Cheryl as she climbed out of the limo and we took our “walk” down the red carpet. A P.R. person briskly strode ahead, loudly calling out “Lesra Martin”. Cued by the P.R. man, reporters shouted to catch my attention and throngs of people began yelling “Lesra!” “Lesra!” even if they didn’t know who I was. Catching our breaths, we nearly made it to the doors when we were pulled back for a joint interview with Vicellous Reon Shannon, the actor who played me in the movie. Nearby, a young boy from YTV caught our attention as he asked for an interview. He brought a smile to my face with his unbelievable confidence as he expertly interviewed me and several passing stars.
Two amazing things stood out that night. I met Judge H. Lee Sarokin for the first time. We shook hands and he asked how I was doing. Being a good D.A. is an important aspect of the criminal justice system, he reminded me when he learned that I had become a lawyer. Meeting him was touching and poignant–his remarkable skills as a judge had changed all of our lives.
Celebrities swelled the ranks of the premier: Evander Holyfield, Jasmine Guy, LL Cool J, Angela Bassett, and others, but for me, the best moment came afterwards at the reception for the movie. A lithe, attractive woman glided past and I said “Hi.”
“That’s Debbie Allen!” Cheryl gasped, nudging me in the ribs.
I turned to introduce myself. “I know who you are!” she said, beaming. She gave me a big hug. “When we saw at the end of the movie that you became an attorney, we were so proud of you–we all felt like your momma!”
It was a wonderful, magical moment–one that meant a lot to me and one that still keeps me going to this day.
It’s rumoured that on Oscar night, some fifteen hundred limos jam the streets at any given time.
I had to laugh as Cheryl popped through our limo’s sun roof, snapping photos like crazy as we neared the Shrine Auditorium. Just like the December premier of “The Hurricane”, throngs of screaming fans lined the streets, revelling in the glittering, star studded event. There really is nothing to prepare you for the shock of the moment, the realization that you are actually a guest at the Oscars.
Everything leading up to the Oscars had been exciting—even the crisp, white envelope bearing the Oscars 2000 logo that arrived in our mail. In L.A., we toasted with champagne friends John Ketcham, one of the movie’s producers, his wife Leah, Michael Jewison, son of director Norman Jewison, and Anita Camarata. We left for the ceremony in a terrific mood.
But reality soon came crashing down. I needed a bathroom. Fast! I eyed the port-a-potties set up for the crowds, but Cheryl just couldn’t picture me dashing into one in my tuxedo. It took our limo an hour and half to crawl three blocks. By then, I was in deep trouble.
All night, I had been looking forward to doing the Oscars “red carpet walk.” When we finally hit the red carpet, reporters with cameras were waiting to talk to us and take photos. It was either that or the bathrooms and once you’re inside, they don’t let you out again. I left Cheryl on her own, to face the deafening roar that accompanied anyone who walked down the red carpet.
She later recounted the sights and sounds to me: brushing past stars like Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. Samuel L. Jackson clad in a purple velvet Armani ensemble. Feeling dwarfed by the huge, golden Oscar statues that appeared to rise up into the heavens. At one point, she arched her neck, taking in the whump, whump of half a dozen choppers buzzing overhead.
“How’d we get here?” she asked herself, awestruck as she gazed around. The moment was surreal.
Afterwards, we counted ourselves lucky that we had tickets to The Elton John “In Style” Aids Benefit,one of the hottest parties in town. We glimpsed more stars and celebrities: Tony Robbins, Holly Robinson Peete, and LL Cool Jand shook hands with Elton John. We walked in just as the winner of the raffle ticket draw was announced. Her prize: a new $35,000 Lexus IS 300 and a $10,000 gift certificate to Neiman Marcus. Definitely not your average, everyday raffle!
Our exhausting, fantasy night ended when we finally left the party. Everyone heading out the door received huge gifts bags stuffed with fragrant candles, t-shirts, perfume, sunglasses, magazines, and full-size bottles and tubes of various products.
Two days later, I was back at work in Kamloops, British Columbia, my feet firmly planted in reality.