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A sold out reading of Academy Award-winning screenwriter Dustin Lance Black’s play 8 at the historic Wilshire Ebell Theater Saturday night not only filled both the stage and audience with a glittering constellation of Hollywood stars, but also demonstrated just how broad and deep the entertainment industry’s support for marriage equality has become.
The reading—whose all-star cast included George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Martin Sheen, Christine Lahti and Jamie Lee Curtis and was directed by Rob Reiner—raised more than $2 million to further the cause of securing full marriage equality at the federal level, more than double what it raised at its Sept. 19 New York premier.
VIDEO: George Clooney, Brad Pitt and More of Hollywood Perform Prop. 8 Play ‘8’
Black’s play, which might more accurately be described as a docu-drama, is based on the actual transcripts of the closing arguments in the federal lawsuit, which ultimately overturned Proposition 8, the California initiative that stripped gays and lesbians of their state constitutional right to marry.
The American Foundation for Equal Rights, which was co-founded by activist and political strategist Chad Griffin, brought the landmark suit and was a co-sponsor of “8” along with the New York-based Broadway Impact, which has organized the theater community on behalf of marriage equality.
Griffin recruited a bipartisan pair of legal superstars to argue against Prop. 8: former Republican Solicitor General Theodore Olson and Democrat David Boies, who represented Al Gore in Bush vs. Gore before the U.S. Supreme Court.
In Saturday’s reading, Sheen played Olson and Clooney portrayed Boies—who was in the audience—while Pitt filled the role of U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn R. Walker, whose decision to overturn Prop. 8 recently was upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal. John C. Riley played David Blankenhorn, a key pro-Prop. 8 witness in the case, while Jane Lynch portrayed Maggie Gallagher, who as former chairwoman of the National Organization for Marriage also testified for the initiative. Kevin Bacon played Charles J. Cooper, the lawyer representing the anti-marriage equality case.
Entertainment industry attendees included Bryan Lourd, Kevin Huvane, Barry Meyer, Michael Lombardo, Rich Ross, Alan and Cindy Horn, Norman Lear, Carl Reiner, Steve Bing and Chris Albrecht.
Following Saturday’s performance, Clooney told The Hollywood Reporter that he has embraced the cause of marriage equality because “it’s important to be on the right side of history. In 20 years, I don’t want anyone to wonder where I stood. At some point people are going to look back and wonder why this was ever an issue.”
Clooney recalled that “eight years ago, when my dad (television journalist Nick Clooney) was running for Congress in Kentucky, this was used as a wedge issue to help defeat him. It’s not a wedge issue anymore.”
The actor/director described the preparation for Saturday’s reading as “unnerving. We began rehearsal at 12:30 this afternoon. There wasn’t a lot of time for preparation.” There was added pressure, he said, because many of the principals in the case—including Boies and the gay and lesbian couples on whose behalf the suit was brought—were in the audience.
PHOTOS: Hollywood’s ‘8’ Reading: Red Carpet Arrivals and Inside the Rehearsal
Even so, nerves didn’t deter the legendary levity that accompanies every Clooney-Pitt collaboration. There was lots of laughing and joking backstage, Clooney said. “After all, I only see him a couple times a year.”
One of the highlights of the post-play celebration was the conversation between Clooney and Boies, who talked in rapid fire about the play, Sheen and the British House of Commons.
“Martin was the right guy for the part ,” Clooney observed of his co-star Sheen, who played the part of Olsen. “He’s had 30 years of preparation,” he said. “He’s been an activist all that time. You could imagine him chaining himself to a bridge.” (In fact, Sheen, a longtime supporter of the pacifist Catholic Worker Movement, once chained himself to the gates of a defense contractor’s headquarters as part of a protest.)
“Martin would say the lines tonight and his face would get red. He was perfect,” Clooney said.
Asked whether he thought Black’s play gave his Boies character most of the night’s best lines, Clooney quipped, “Since we’re not actually in court, I can say ‘no comment.’ Otherwise I would have to take the 5th.”
Clooney and Boies skipped to the next subject: Their love of watching CSPAN. “I’m not talking about watching it constantly on a loop, because that would put you to sleep,” Clooney said. “You have to pick your spots.”
“Like the House of Commons,” Boies interjected, provoking Clooney’s pitch-perfect take on a posh English accent: “My good man, order!”
“CSPAN is fun,” he added, cementing his reputation as political junkie.
Boies smiled broadly. He’d started the party by talking politics with Barbra Streisand and there he was ending a memorable day in the company of the world famous actor who’d just portrayed him. He clearly enjoyed the moment—and who wouldn’t.
As Clooney and Boies were talking, former deputy L.A. Police Chief, George Gascón, the new City Attorney of San Francisco, pushed his way though the throng of people (mostly women with cell-phone cameras) to shake Clooney’s hand.
“You did a really great job,” he said.
Clooney thanked him, posed for a few more photos and then informed Boies and his crowd of admirers that he needed to leave. After 11-hours at the theater, the activist actor was ready to call it a day—a very lucrative day in the fight for marriage equality.
(Saturday’s reading of “8” was streamed live on the web, and you can watch it in full here.)
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