We’re not sure exactly when last night’s annual Celebrity Charades benefit for LAByrinth Theater Company, sponsored by Entertainment Weekly and Duracell, devolved into complete chaos, but we’d say it was inevitable from the moment Julia Roberts took the stage.
The night was part live auction, part charades playing, all set on a battle-ready stage that cleaved the St. Paul of the Apostle Church Hall in two. First, John Patrick Shanley auctioned off a bunch of stuff using the standard technique of reminding the audience that they were all going to die — “and soon!” — so why save up their money. Then the game’s referee, Eric Bogosian, announced four teams of about six celebrities each, as well as the annual auction for a slot on LAB co-founder Philip Seymour Hoffman’s team. He was about $7,000 into the auction when Roberts decided he wasn’t raising money fast enough.
“Wait! Wait!” she cried, running forward and grabbing the mike. (She would continue to do this a lot over the next several hours.) She then made the high bidder stand up. “Oh, my, you are so handsome!” she said, then pointed to his competition. “What about you, Cleavage? $7,500?” Roberts eventually got both bidders to pony up $13,500 each (for two slots) by using the following exhortations: “All right, people, let’s have order! I only have THREE kids!”; “My pants are SO tight, come on! I wore these tight pants just for you”; “Handsome guy is on my team. Someone rich and not so smart on the other team”; and “Why don’t you want to give us more money? I am so CUTE!”
During the game, Sam Rockwell, who’d worked with Roberts on Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, became Roberts’s minder, holding her back as she tried to sabotage the other team by hanging onto Bob Balaban’s ears, grabbing Julia Stiles’s ass, staring up Kristen Wiig’s sweater dress, and shouting out their names repeatedly as they tried to act out their clues. At one point, Bogosian stated he would have to deduct points for interference, then amended the rule when the audience booed. “Okay, I take it back. Julia Roberts can interfere with as many people as she wants since she just raised $30 million for the company.” (Exaggeration, by the way. But the LAB did surpass all their fund-raising goals.)
As a player, Roberts was equally distracting to her own team. Screaming out “Vagina!” at random, or becoming fixated on certain wrong answers. “M.A.S.H.! M.A.S.H.! M.A.S.H.!” she screamed out as her teammate tried to act out Damages. Another favorite of Roberts’s? “Driving Miss Daisy! Driving Miss Daisy!” which seemed to be the answer for every other clue she couldn’t get. When Roberts’s team lost “because we’re just a bunch of drunk guys,” and she ran out of time acting out In the Heat of the Night, she grabbed the mike from Bogosian and demanded, “a teeny, tiny, little more time ... I bought a ticket for Talk Radio, back off!”
During the second half of the live auction before the charades finale, Roberts once again stole the mike to goad the audience into spending way too much for a dinner for six at Rao’s, explaining to the crowd she was up past her bedtime. “I go to bed, truly, at 8:17. What time is it? 9:17? Oh, let’s have fun!” she continued. There was a lot of running back and forth across the stage, and somehow she eventually started calling one side of the room “Manhattan,” and other side “New Jersey,” as in “Come on, New Jersey, you have five seconds to not be shit over here!” She sold the reservation for $6,500, then sold a second for $5,000, for a grand total of fifteen minutes of mike-hogging. There was an audible groan when the crowd realized that that was just the first of three lots that had to be auctioned before charades could resume. Luckily, the deceptively strong Sam Rockwell strode up, threw Roberts over his shoulder, and carried her offstage.
Roberts came onstage only one more time, to help Hoffman’s team lose to Cynthia Rowley’s. In the free-for-all the event had become, Rockwell by that point had switched sides, so there was no one minding Hurricane Julia as she shouted out wrong answers and ate up the clock, futilely acting out her clues. But, it seems winning wasn’t really foremost on Roberts’s mind. Even as her team shuffled off in defeat, she grabbed the mike for old time’s sake, and waxed poetic about the final clue. “The other day I put on a fuchsia dress, and my son said, ‘Mommy, you look just like a High School Musical girl. Now, isn’t that worth some money?”
Even though Roberts had hijacked his event and all hopes of victory for his team, Hoffman said she had an open invitation to come back anytime. “She was outstanding! She raised so much money!” he said. Not only did Roberts get two people to buy their way into playing the game for $37,000, and sell two reservations at Rao’s for $11,500, but it turns out that the biggest purchase of the night, a Smart car that sold for $10,000, was made by her husband. “My husband bought me my Smart car,” said Roberts, fake-furrowing her brow, then flashing a huge grin. “Now what am I going to do with that thing?”
See more celebrities from last night in our Party Lines slideshow.