Before thousands of invited guests break bread in the same ballroom as President Obama, just about everyone at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner — from government officials to Game of Thrones cast members — gathers on the basement-level concourse of the Washington Hilton to either hit one of the predinner receptions or enter the ballroom. Which is how, for a brief 45 minutes or so, this otherwise nondescript hotel hallway becomes the greatest equalizer in America (sort of), a place where average cell-phone photo-snapping D.C. worker bees are jammed into the same bottle-necked space as the extraordinarily famous, with no hope for immediate escape. There are a lot of Ps in here, and not all of them are VI.
“Look!” shouts one woman to her friend, as she wildly attempts to shoot a picture of Kyle MacLachlan. “There’s the guy from The Avengers!”
MacLachlan is, um, not the guy from The Avengers; it’s possible the woman is referring to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., the Marvel series on which MacLachlan actually has appeared. But in the crush and bedlam, the details almost seem beside the point. She gets her photo of a famous actor, and that is all that matters.
Former House speaker Newt Gingrich comes down the escalators and breezes into the hallway, where he also starts getting requests for photos. (This is D.C., after all.) Two seconds later, Chrissy Teigen follows but quickly gets swept into the mass of Hilton humanity to parts unknown.
Neil deGrasse Tyson tries to make his way through the gauntlet so he can put in some time at the Bloomberg predinner reception, but he keeps getting stopped by the subset of nerd prom attendees who also are science nerds. (Note: There are a lot of them!) It’s impossible to get close enough to Tyson to actually speak to him, but one can faintly overhear his conversation with an admirer. The word organism is used repeatedly.
“I live in Los Angeles and New Orleans and I see all these people here that you would never see in those towns,” says Jennifer Coolidge, Stifler’s mom from American Pie, among other things, who’s standing in a corner and observing the crush. “Madeleine [Albright] just walked by.”
It’s true. She just did.
Daily Intelligencer is able to briefly buttonhole Alan Rickman — that’s Severus Snape to you, Potterrrr — while he’s stuck waiting in line to pass through ballroom security and enter the dinner. The actor says he’s not here to answer any media questions, a more common than usual WHCD refrain from celebs and their handlers this year, and one steeped in irony since they are attending an event that supposedly celebrates the press’s freedoms. But when asked if he’s excited about the dinner, Rickman says, quite happily, “I’m like a kid.” He smiles. He seems totally sincere. Or maybe, because he’s standing next to his hostess for the evening — Katharine Viner, editor-in-chief of the U.S. edition of The Guardian — he’s just acting. Again: What does it matter, really?