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They may govern the free world’s leading nation and regulate the globe’s biggest economy, but when it comes to celebrities, Washingtonians are as starstruck as folks from Des Moines. That’s why the annual White House Correspondents’ dinner has assumed an outsized importance on the capitol social calendar and one of the reasons many locals are feeling let down by this year’s dearth of A-list actors and film figures.
Apart from Robert De Niro, who is promoting a documentary on his artist father, there will only be a smattering of high-wattage names at Saturday night’s edition of the annual event. A number of those involved with the dinner told the Washington Post this week that reduction in the number of celebrity guests is deliberate, reflecting a desire to put the evening’s focus back on the journalists who cover the White House.
However, one Hollywood insider, who asked not to be identified, tells The Hollywood Reporter that the lack of swoon-worthy A-list movie stars shows that the lure of the event “has faded dramatically.”
According to the source, “there are way too many A-listers who have had pretty weird experiences at the dinner. A lot of the people who have gone say they’ll never do it again. The room is so crowded. It’s uncontrolled. There’s no limit to the number of people trying to get photos and autographs — and there’s no way to hide from it. It’s like the stars are animals in a cage. People go crazy when they see them. They act like a bunch of kids at the Kids’ Choice Awards.”
Publicists tell their clients that it’s OK to attend the dinner — especially if they want publicity for a project — but that they should be wary. This is a crowd that gropes and grabs. A few years ago, one drunken guest actually bared her breasts to Ben Affleck as he was walking to the men’s restroom. (That was the last time he attended the dinner.) And it’s not just the megastars who get the unwanted attention, which often comes from the correspondents’ dates.
“They’re infatuated with anyone who is sort of famous,” according to one previous attendee. “People on reality TV shows are walking around like they’re the secretary of state — and they’re actually getting their pictures taken with the real secretary.”
With selfies currently en vogue, moreover, half a stars’ tablemates are likely to behave like paparazzi outside the Ivy.
The Post noted this week that “some say this year’s festivities may finally reflect a collective chastening brought on by years of backlash” against the way the Hollywood guests attract an outsized share of the evening’s attention. “I think this year the celebrity focus will dim slightly,” NPR media watcher Bob Garfield told the paper. “It’s embarrassing to continually be embarrassed. … The year that Lindsay Lohan was sitting next to a Kardashian spawn — I think at the FOX table — pretty much represented not just the nadir of the White House Correspondents’ dinner, but the nadir of American culture,” Garfield added.
One longtime DC political consultant, who also declined to be named, told THR that there’s probably less celebrity enthusiasm for this year’s dinner as opposed to the 2013 event because President Barack Obama was fresh from his re-election victory, and many of those who attended that star-studded evening had raised funds for the president.
Among the celebrities willing to brave the crowd to attend this Saturday’s dinner are: director Steve McQueen and actress Lupita Nyong’o, director Alfonso Cuaron, Armie Hammer, Elizabeth Chambers and Patrick Duffy, all of whom will be sitting at Time‘s table. Other entertainment industry guests include Kristen Bell, Dax Shepard, Anna Kendrick, musicians will.i.am and Questlove, Jack O’Connell, Darren Criss, Kevin Hart, Madeleine Stowe, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, director Spike Jonze, Julianna Margulies, David McCallum, musician Brad Paisley, Tony Goldwyn, Bellamy Young, Darby Stanchfield, Hayden Panettiere, Chip Esten, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet, and Sofia Vergara. For the most part, the TV stars are sitting at the tables obtained by their networks.
Netflix content honcho Ted Sarandos will have a big selection of castmembers from House of Cards, including Robin Wright, though not Kevin Spacey, who attended last year.
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