As is usual with these things, the least famous man in the room is always the richest, most influential and with decisions at his fingertips that can make or break hundreds of others' careers and fortunes. I was reminded of the recent Pirates 4 press conference when Jerry Bruckheimer sat quietly at the end of the row, being happily outshone by the combined star wattage of Johnny Depp, Penelope Cruz, Geoffrey Rush and even Ian McShane. Everybody in the room was completely aware of who the lion in that particular jungle was, and he knew we knew, there was no breast-beating required.
It was the same this week when John Lasseter, replete in his Hawaiian shirt, joined his more recognisable stars for his latest big-budget animation, Cars 2, and calmly explained, I doubt for the first time, how he juggles channelling his own genius into Toy Story, Cars and A Bug's Life, while executing his executive responsibilities at the helm of Pixar, overseeing such multimillion-dollar projects such as WALLE, Ratatouille and Up.
"Well, it's busy, but there are a lot of people to help," he almost visibly waved away the subject, reserving his enthusiasm to describe, in the most precise and technical of terms, the challenge of creating an animated wonder-world. His eyes adopted a childish glee and he seemed to forget his junket surrounds as he charted the process, the hours in the voicing studio, the nights in the editing suite, in all its minutiae. It was as though he'd forgotten the critical praise, position on the Board of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and billions of dollars that all this attention to detail has brought him. When he said, "It's all about the story," I believed him.
Meanwhile, the other corridor was a military invasion of activity - stunning girls on walkie-talkies, security men patrolling the corridors, attendants talking in hushed tones - you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd stumbled into a G8 summit. As my turn approached, as I got nearer and nearer the inner sanctum, I was suddenly between the ladies with their cosmetic powder brushes, with a voice you'd recognise anywhere coming through the door.
But here's the thing with these shenanigans. By the time you're in the holiest of holy chambers, you realise how it's the diametric opposite of what is intended, ie the recreation of a chat with a good mate on a subject dear to both of you. The publicists do a great job of keeping everything frantically on schedule, and with everyone wanting a piece of the "talent" there just is no other way of doing it democratically. But the white-hot lights in our faces and the "two minutes left" in our ears are not entirely conducive to the swapping of film-set anecdotes, let alone the more intimate confessions that we're all after.
With the makeup artists, camera crew and managers frantically buzzing around them while they sit still, the actors look like Apollo astronauts being strapped in for their next astral mission, or heart-surgeons being dressed for theatre, when I'm sure they'd really rather be in the pub.
Nobody not saving the world, or flying above it, should be treated like this - it seems unseemly and very far away, paradoxically, from the intimacy of watching someone acting their chops off in a big-screen close-up. For the actors, I guess this whole publicity end of the business is just an extension of work on the film-set itself, with today's roles happening to be print-friendly versions of themselves.
Michael Caine admitted he wouldn't do any of this for toffee if he didn't believe in the film, and his co-star Jason Isaacs was evidently concerned about his sick wife at home, but both were able to turn on the charm tap when required. They both seem to have found a way through the nonsense - maybe, just as for John Lasseter, they can remember it's just always about the story. Because, for all their efforts on screen, remaining interested, approachable, well-mannered and human in this most bizarre of environments must remain their greatest achievement.