Ever wonder what it’s like to be Canada’s biggest entertainment reporter during Hollywood’s most important weekend of the year? After more than a decade hosting eTalk at the Oscars, CTV’s annual pre-Academy Awards show, live from the red carpet, anchor Ben Mulroney knows he has to be ready for anything and everything. This year, that includes a bomb scare that has shut down access to his hotel, leaving his production team stranded with only a few days left to prepare for the big night. And where are his suspenders? Has anyone seen his suspenders?
In the meantime, there are (and this is not a misprint) 18-hour days to contend with, LA traffic to wrestle and a dizzying amount of research and technical preparation to be done—all with a crew that’s just a fraction of a size of his colleagues south of the border. But from the second we meet him, it’s clear that Mulroney loves every second of it.
Here’s what it’s like to be Ben Mulroney on the days leading up to Oscar Sunday:
12 p.m. PT
Mulroney is running on a treadmill at the Loews Hollywood Hotel. It’s one of those shiny hotels that pumps perfume through the lobby. It’s also where Mulroney’s production team is based, just steps from the Dolby Theater, which will host the Oscars on Sunday.
Mulroney’s treadmill is five floors up and overlooks Highland Avenue, one of the two streets that intersects at Oscars ground zero.
As he’s running, he spots something odd down on the street.
“I see this parking-enforcement lady, and she’s acting erratic,” Mulroney recalls later. “And then a cop car shows up. And then a private security guard rushes up to the cop. Something’s goin’ on here, so I take a picture of it and I tweet it.”
Something going on in Hollywood at Highland Liquor involving parking enforcement, pvt security and lapd. pic.twitter.com/xgVp18cMMY
— Ben Mulroney (@BenMulroney) February 19, 2015
A few minutes later, Mulroney goes back to his hotel room and peeks out the window again.
“They’ve cordoned off Highland,” he recalls. “You can’t get into the complex of the Loews Hotel. Firefighters are there.”
Turns out, it’s a bomb scare. Welcome to America!
“So, every member of our team who’s coming in from the airport can’t get into the hotel,” Mulroney recalls.
At 38, Mulroney has lived through plenty of Oscar-week hiccups, and this one doesn’t phase him a bit. This afternoon, he has a friend to meet and then shoe-shopping to do for his wife, Jessica, and he’s not deviating from the plan. He gets on the elevator, trots around the corner, picks up an Uber ride and takes off.
“I know how to live through this week,” he tells us later. “I’ve done it before.” (12 times, to be exact.)
5:09 p.m. PT
Mulroney is all suited up and making his way through the rear of the elegant Four Seasons Los Angeles at Beverly Hills. He’s here to host Telefilm Canada‘s annual Oscar-week celebration of Canuck talent, Canada Stars in Awards Season.
Caterers are passing flutes of champagne for folks like Will and Grace-alum Eric McCormack and Canadian Consul General James Villeneuve. Ridiculously sexy actresses are everywhere—Sandra Oh, Tricia Helfer—but Mulroney is forsaking the bubbly and babes; instead he’s Facetiming with Jessica, who is back home in Canada and thrilled to see him on the hotel’s VIP carpet.
“I gotta go host!” he says, all boyish enthusiasm. “Can I call you back?”
At this point, Mulroney has only a few minutes to go over his cue cards. But that consul general would like a minute. The producer of the gala would like a minute. The Loop would like a minute. Everyone wants a little sliver of Mulroney, and he’s more than fine with that. You get he feeling that he sees the invisible rhythm of these gigs and he rides it like a California surfer.
As for what Mulroney himself wants at the moment, it’s meatballs. The hotel staff is passing them around, and they are, apparently, delicious. Mulroney takes two. He sounds precisely as thrilled about the meatballs as he does about addressing a roomful of stars. He’s been powering through The Paleo Diet, he tells us, cutting out refined sugars, carbs and dairy. He’s lost 22 pounds since New Year’s Day.
“If anybody’s in there judging my performance I don’t care,” he says. “People are here to have fun.”
6:12 p.m. PT
Mulroney’s up on stage at the gala, greeting the crowd. The guests have a few drinks in them—tonight’s signature cocktail is a very boozy “eTalk Shooting Star” pomegranate martini—and Mulroney is charged with commanding their attention. It’s a little like herding cats.
“You’ve gotta shush ’em, shush ’em hard,” Mulroney had explained to us minutes before. “You’ve just gotta treat ’em like children. You just take the microphone and you go, ‘SHHHHHHHH.’ It works with children and big crowds.”
And that’s exactly what he does. Many of the guests have watched Mulroney grow up; as the the second of four children born to former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, Ben falls somewhere between the Ryan Seacrest and John F. Kennedy Jr. of Canada. He’s famous. They’re famous. Everybody’s famous. Everybody’s comfortable with each other. He makes a joke comparing Canadian actors with American ones, and it elicits equal parts laughs and groans.
“Have another drink!” he says.
After the gala, it’s dinner with VIPs—pork belly! steak!—and then he’s off to bed by 11 p.m.
3:30 a.m. PT
Mulroney is up and at it in his hotel room. For folks like him, Oscar weekend isn’t just about being a member of the press; it’s about talking to other members of the press. Mulroney has not one but three shows to promote: the live Oscar red carpet show (February 22 at 6:30 p.m. ET on CTV and CTV Go), Friday’s edition of eTalk and eTalk’s post-Oscar follow-up on Monday (February 23 at 7 p.m. ET on CTV and CTV Go). That means getting the word out: early and often.
“I stay on east-coast time when I’m out here,” he explains. “Because I’m doing east-coast press first thing in the morning.”
7 a.m. PT
Thanks to 10 back-to-back interviews, Canada—from the east coast to Vancouver—is now well aware of Mulroney’s upcoming Oscars coverage. He has also managed to wedge in some time in the makeup chair; right after he’s finished here, he’ll have to shoot footage for tonight’s eTalk. Then, there’s voice-over work to do—all before 10 a.m. rolls around.
He’ll also squeeze in a light workout, which, to the rest of us, is kind of a heavy workout.
“I love running on a treadmill,” he’ll tell us later. “I listen to my music, and nobody bugs me. If somebody calls, I just disregard the call. I’ll probably do three to five miles a day, depending on how I feel, and then some weights, crunches and stretching. The whole thing takes just over or just under an hour.
“But that’s not a great workout. That’s just a routine.”
Speaking of routines, Mulroney’s goal is to be in bed by 10 p.m. tonight. But there’s no guarantee of that, because now, the real planning begins.
3:15 p.m. PT
On the 14th floor of the Loews, Mulroney is meeting with his research team. He’s got a stack of maybe 20 pages of notes in front of him, and they’re dotted with famous names: Chloe Grace Moretz, Chris Evans, Chris Pratt, David Oyelowo, Chris Pine.
For the next couple of hours, Mulroney’s team will sift through every possible interview they might get on Sunday, go through everything they might ask and cut the queries that don’t make sense. Bad questions can kill the mood on an Oscar red carpet. Good questions, fueled by decent research, can elicit golden sound bites that echo through weeks of coverage.
“He’s one of those guys who knows how to wear a tux, so we’re gonna lead with that,” Mulroney says of Pine. “If we had Channing Tatum followed by Chris Pine, that’s a lotta good tux! Tuxocity? Yeah.”
The team mulls asking Pratt about his upcoming movie Jurassic World.
“I’ve heard rumors that his character is, like, a velociraptor whisperer,” Mulroney says. “Wow. Try saying that five times fast.”
The next name comes up: “Dakota Johnson,” Mulroney reads, tapping his pen against his paper stack. There’s about 20 seconds of silence in the room.
5 p.m. PT
Same room, but it’s packed now; it’s time for the big production meeting, when Mulroney and his entire team go over every detail of how the live show will run. The room is relaxed, happy. A network exec even suggests that everyone introduce themselves, like the first day of school.
“This like summer camp for us,” Mulroney tells us later. “We go down the carpet together. We split off into teams. We get to see the sun. It’s great. We love it.”
— JESSI CRUICKSHANK (@JESSI) February 21, 2015
There are a few changes in the format this year, scheduling to go over, but, Mulroney says, the team will purposely avoid too much planning.
“A few years ago, my executive producer [Morley Nirenberg] and I came up with a plan: Let’s try being a little less prepared and a little more enthusiastic. Because if you arm yourself with too much knowledge, then you just feel the need to tell people what you know. You become the eager kid at the front of the class, and that’s not what the Oscar red carpet experience is supposed to be. You have to let those moments breathe and let the actors speak for themselves.
“We realized it worked really well. So, we see these movies all year long, we read a lot of articles, we come up with some good questions, and that’s our preparation.”
9 a.m. PT
Mulroney actually got to sleep in today though he seems precisely as rested as he’s been on the days he’s awoken at 3:30 a.m. He’s breakfasting on the Loews’ mezzanine now, sitting a couple of tables over from American powerhouse-journalist Robin Roberts, who will be hosting ABC’s official red carpet special on Sunday.
“If you were to turn the cameras around, you would see Ryan Seacrest, who’s the tops in terms of skill, but he’s got a team around him that’s around four times the size of ours.”
Over a protein-heavy buffet breakfast, Mulroney dishes on how he feels about the handful of other networks who will host live red carpet shows on Oscar Sunday:
“If you were to turn the cameras around on that red carpet, you would see Ryan Seacrest, who’s the tops in terms of skill on the carpet, but he’s got a team around him that’s around four times the size of ours. For us, it’s me, a cameraman and a producer. He’s got two or three cameras, seven people, maybe eight, in a space that’s maybe just a little bit bigger than ours. It would be really funny for people to just turn the cameras around and see the difference in resources and what we do with it.”
10:30 a.m. PT
Mulroney reports to his spot on the red carpet for a technical run-through. He practises his intro, plus what he might do if, say, Eddie Redmayne walks up to him at the wrong time or if Julianne Moore hijacks a conversation with Gwyneth Paltrow. Team members stand in as the celebrities.
— CTV Communications (@CTV_PR) February 21, 2015
It’s a long, long, long, long day, and he’s finally through at…
6 p.m. PT
But again, the work is not over: There will be another production meeting at 8 p.m., where Mulroney will go over how things went that day and address any glitches they had to wrestle with.
It’s worth it, though.
“I get to talk to a lot of people on the best day of their life, Oscar Sunday,” Mulroney says. “For everyone walking on that carpet, that’s a career highlight for them. To be able to pick their brain on that day is a great thing…and that’s an accomplishment for me.”
Catch Ben Mulroney and the eTalk crew live on the Oscars red carpet on February 22, starting at 6:30 p.m. ET with eTalk at the Oscars followed by Oscars Opening Ceremony: Live from the Red Carpet at 7 p.m. ET before the big show starts at 8:30 p.m. ET, all on CTV and CTV Go.