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Ten Tips for Rockin’ the Red Carpet

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Like many actors, I’d always dreamed about walking a major Hollywood red carpet. 2012 was the year it happened.  I’m writing this piece to let you in on the tips and tricks that I used to remain calm, cool, and collected, and able to enjoy every moment of what had the potential to be a very surreal and overwhelming experience. My hope is that by sharing this with you, you can start the research now for when you also have this opportunity for the first time. And I really do mean research.

But first, here’s the backstory.

I have a small part in “American Reunion,” which is the fourth theatrical installment in the “American Pie” franchise from Universal. It’s a dream come true for me because not only am I now a part of one of my favorite comedic franchises of all time, but I also had the incredible opportunity to work with Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg (“Harold and Kumar”), whose work I’ve admired for years and have blogged about on a number of occasions. In addition to being a small part of this film, what totally blew my mind was attending the premiere at the Grauman’s Chinese Theater and walking the red carpet. It was definitely a “top life moment” for me.

Now, back to doing my research.

Something that I don’t think actors do enough is study the art and technique of public relations and celebrity. We tend to think that once we are a series regular, or are starring in a studio feature, that that will be the time to learn about press junkets, red carpets, and interviewing from the publicist we hire or the one that the studio or network has hired for the show. But I challenge you to start thinking and acting like you are in that position now, that you are a top-earning movie star or a series lead, and be your own A-List publicist and stylist.

What does this mean?

I’ve always paid very close attention to what celebrities are doing, whether walking the red carpet, being photographed by paparazzi, or interviewed in press junkets. I’ve done my best to try and school myself in the dos, don’ts, and everything in between.

US Weekly and In Touch are like textbooks for me, and shows like eTalk are short, little, easily digestible lesson plans. I am also frequently seeking words of wisdom from industry professionals whose experience with red carpets is as normal as walking through a grocery store. In fact, I used my vlog as a jumping off point to my own course in Public Relations 101.

For example, for a segment I did called “Walking the Walk,” I originally interviewed Lisa Jey Davis (publicist/owner of Jey Associates) in 2010 asking her advice about PR for actors. I then had the opportunity to work with her off and on over the past year. Where my “self-taught trashy mag and eTalk lessons” left off, her expertise began. I was able to walk a number of smaller red carpets during the 2011 awards season and be interviewed by a few press outlets, which prepared me greatly for the “American Reunion” premiere.

In addition to what I learned from Lisa, I also interviewed a number of actor friends of mine who have been, or currently are, series regulars. One of those people is Kevin Alejandro (“True Blood,” “Southland”), whose videos I find myself watching over and over again to help me stay on track. Also, my brilliant friend Zain Meghji was a correspondent with eTalk in Canada and I’ve learned a great deal from him about the art of celebrity and what it’s like for a host standing on the other side of the velvet rope.

I thought that I would distill down all of the lessons I’ve learned from these awesome people into easily digestible parts for you all, and mix those lessons in with my own tips.

DISCLAIMER: Before I get to the goods, it’s important to note that in no way do I claim to be an expert. I’m just a fellow actor figuring it all out one step at a time since we aren’t given a handbook when opportunity knocks. Unless you know of one, and in that case, I’d love to borrow it from you!

The act of walking the red carpet has a very specific purpose. The modern red carpet is used as an advertising vehicle to “sell” and showcase whatever it is that needs exposure. That sale could be associated with a film, a TV show, an event, or the actors themselves. As my husband Barry says, “It’s show business, not show art. Essentially, ticket sales and commercials pay our wages, and the red carpet is a very special kind of vehicle for marketing.”

One could also say that the red carpet is designed to take a person from the status of “mere mortal” to the land of the gods, AKA “celebrity.” After all, as stated in the good ol’ Wikipedia, it’s in Agamemnon by Aeschylus, written in 458 BC, that the title character is presented with a red carpet to walk on by his wife Clytemnestra after his arrival from Troy and until that point, a “red carpet arrival” was something reserved for gods and not mortals. But I digress. “Celebrity,” with its magnified reality and potential pitfalls, is a whole other topic that I’ll probably end up blogging about at some point, but back to the topic at hand.

My suggestion is to embrace the experience of red carpets, press junkets, and interviews and enjoy every single second and every call of your name. That’s part of what you’ve worked so hard for, after all. And also, a lot of these tips and tricks don’t have to just apply to red carpets. They have a ton of applications for the actors’ life. So here are “Ten Tips for Rockin’ the Red Carpet.”

1. Study Red Carpets

When possible, watch coverage of red carpets and take mental notes like you are a novice athlete learning from a pro player. A number of years ago, “Get Him to the Greek” was live streaming the film’s red carpet for the premiere, showing all sorts of angles of the event online. This was an awesome way to get an inside look at all of the things that the audience typically doesn’t see when watching press coverage.

2. Educate Yourself about the Event

Be knowledgeable not only about your own past, current, and upcoming projects, but make sure that you also know details about the film, charity, etc., for the premiere or event that you are attending. As Lisa says in her interview, “Your best way of making sure you’re prepared is to show up knowing everything about the cast and crew, who directed that film, what it’s about. Is there anything that you can speak to about that subject matter that is something about your life? [The same press people] show up at all of the events, so you want these people to remember you and you want them to respect you and feel like they are going to get a decent soundbite out of you.”

3. Learn To Speak in Soundbites

All of the entertainment shows–whether they are online or on TV–are all about pulling the best quick and concise piece of footage for their segment. Your interview may be chosen to air over someone else’s simply because you gave the best soundbite.

4. Trends

Pay attention to and consider keeping a scrapbook of current fashion trends. Whether this is a literal scrapbook or via a virtual board like Pinterest, make sure you are up to date on the colors and cuts that are currently hitting red carpets, runways, and magazine spreads. “Trashy mags” are particularly good for this. This way you will look like a trendsetter when you hit the step and repeat.

5. Discount Shopping

Shop at stores like Payless Shoes, H&M, Forever 21, etc., for up-to-date fashion finds that aren’t going to cost a zillion dollars. Also, frequent vintage shops and consignment stores for designer outfits at a fraction of the cost. In fact, the shoes I wore to the “American Reunion” premiere were $20 and apparently interesting enough to have two of their own photos on my Wire Image page for the event. If someone says, “Who are you wearing?” you can always say, “It’s vintage!” or that your stylist picked it up for you last-minute and you forgot to ask.

Also…make sure to check out Stephanie Thorpe’s ongoing articles here at Ms. In The Biz where she breaks down red carpet looks outfit by outfit!

6. Posing

Practice posing in the outfit you plan to wear. This goes for guys and girls. Not every outfit is going to look good from every angle, or with the same pose. You have to think 360 degrees and/or cheating so that you are photographed from the best angle. I have a photo of Jessica Alba that I cut out of a magazine about six years ago that shows how she uses the lines of her body with the dress that she’s wearing. She strikes a perfect pose to create the most flattering photo possible. Also, there was a recent Letterman interview with Jennifer Lawrence that I loved where she talked about feeling like a troll when she does red carpets, and that halfway through, she’s always reminded to “suck in” her tummy. Yes, unfortunately tiny things like this matter. My husband is always reminding me not to slouch.

7. Practice Photos

Take pictures in your house. After listening to Emily Rose’s interview on the “Inside Acting Podcast,” I take pictures and video of every outfit I intend to wear for an audition. She suggests doing this because what looks good in person may not look as good on the other side on camera. This is also great advice for red carpets and interviews. Make sure you like the way the outfit looks not just in person, but in a still frame as well.

8. Learn from Past Pictures

There are definitely tons of photos online that I don’t love. My makeup was weird, the wind was blowing, my outfit choice might not have been great. But instead of feeling like a dork, I’ve been taking each one of these “bad photos” as a learning lesson. Until I can afford a stylist, I’ll just keep trying to do my best.

9. Anticipate Questions and Practice with a Friend

If you are interviewed on a red carpet, you will inevitably be asked a question that you are unprepared to answer. Case in point, there was an interview I did at a “Teen Choice Awards afterparty” last year where I found myself talking about lipstick colors. I was definitely not prepared for a discussion about makeup, but I think I did a good job. Practicing for things like this should be less about the questions your friend asks you, and more about how you answer the question. It’s great practice for thinking on your feet and still trying to give them a good soundbite.

10. Stay Connected

As Kevin Alejandro stated in the interview I did with him, “Try to stay connected to where you’re at because it’s so surreal. Be aware and take it all in because it comes and it goes; it’s here one day and gone the next. Stay true to who you are and just really enjoy it.”

And lastly, I would definitely suggest reading Kristyn Burtt’s “Red Carpet Closet” blog. Kristyn is a host who documents a lot of the hosting jobs she does and red carpet events she goes to. It’s a great inside look into the red carpet world from a different perspective.

So, best of luck fellow actors, and I’ll see you on the red carpet!

Do you have any great tips and tricks for going to events or walking the red carpet?  Make sure to comment below! 

HelennaSantos-LevyAmericanReunion

originally published in: “The Actors Voice: POV” April 1, 2012


Helenna Santos

About Helenna Santos

Helenna Santos is the Founder and Editor-In-Chief of Ms. In The Biz. She is also an actor and producer with Mighty Pharaoh Films and can often be found on panels at conventions such as San Diego Comic-Con, and has been interviewed by major press outlets including CNN. Her work as a contributing writer has been featured in MovieMaker Magazine, Backstage Magazine, IndieWire and BUST Magazine. She has produced numerous award winning short films, digital series, and feature films. As an actor, she can be seen most recently in CW's "The Flash," as well as ABC's "A Million Little Things" and "The Good Doctor", and the highly anticipated Netflix limited series "The Baby-Sitters Club".