Superstition would dictate that it's not the best idea to step into a packed elevator and joke, "This is overloaded. We might die tonight," particularly four days before Halloween. Of course, no one ever believes said elevator will then plummet four stories and get stuck. Until it does. Which is exactly what happened to a merry band of revelers, including Josh Charles and Alessandro Nivola, exiting last night's premiere party of Tribeca Films Janie Jones, which was hosted by American Express on the sixteenth-floor rooftop terrace of the Gramercy Park Hotel.
Around midnight, as director David M. Rosenthal describes it, "We've all had a couple of drinks and they closed up shop at the Gramercy, and we're just piling into the elevator." Just as Rosenthal was thinking, "Oh God, this is getting too full," British actor Guy Burnet jumped in with one other person, bringing the total to twelve rowdy and tipsy people onboard, including Nivola, Charles, British actress Rosie Fellner, and Seth Herzog. The elevator stopped a few flights down, and when the doors opened, the inhabitants gave a welcoming yell to a rather hefty older gentleman from the Netherlands who was waiting there with his girlfriend. "Everyone is yelling and hooting," says Rosenthal, "and the guy I'm sure was drunk and thinks it's a party. So they decide to jump in, and as soon as they jump in, the thing starts plummeting down. His girlfriend is lucky she didn't get killed because her foot was barely inside the door when the elevator dropped." The door remained partially open, and they could see floors rushing by through the gap. "I think we fell eight stories before the emergency brake went off," says Rosenthal. "We initially thought we'd gone all the way to the basement and bounced on the springs."
They were actually stuck below the second floor. At first everyone was laughing; then people started getting claustrophobic and panicky. Friends who'd taken other elevators and were waiting in the lobby thought maybe the actors had gone into Rose Bar, though, naturally, given the door policy at that place, they couldn't go inside to look around. After five minutes of confusion, Nivola's younger brother, Adrian, a painter, started getting suspicious — it would be weird for Alessandro to leave without saying good-bye. So he gave him a call and was the one who alerted the hotel staff, who hadn't noticed that anything was amiss.
Herzog tried to keep the mood light by cracking jokes, like, "So, who are we going to eat first?" And "We should decide how we're going to repopulate." (The crowd of fourteen only had three women.) He says he was also secretly panicking that he didn't want to die in an elevator with people more famous than he is: "I was very concerned because I knew I wouldn't get top billing." After a while, hotel staffers managed to pry open the elevator doors, which Josh Charles, et al. had been unable to open from the inside. The trapped fourteen could see into the hallway through a two-foot-tall gap at the top of the doors, but, says Charles, "all we saw were legs. We kept asking them what was going on and nobody said anything. I started getting really pissed off because no one would talk to us and no one would show us their face."
Says Rosenthal, "Josh was getting very frustrated. It was pretty funny. He was like, 'Somebody put their face in front of the fucking thing and tell us what the fuck is going on!'" Tensions rose. Nivola, along with Rosenthal and film producer Celine Rattray, tried to be the sane voices of reason, though Nivola says he was freaking out on the inside. The hotel staff finally answered Charles and asked everyone to stay where they were. Then a drunk guy in a suit whom no one knew, says Rosenthal, "decided he just wanted out of there, so he dropped his glass, which broke on the floor, and climbed through the gap." Then, says Herzog, "He turned around and stuck out his hand and was like, 'Okay, who's next?'"
Eventually, they all climbed out on their own, despite fears that the elevator might start moving in the middle of the rescue, crushing someone in the process. The only thing their worried friends in the lobby could hear was a loud clank again and again, which sounded like the elevator dropping, then stopping, but was really the sound of a person being pulled out. The stuck ones say the hotel staff was of little help, and neither was the FDNY, who had marched into the lobby about a minute before everyone from the elevator poured out of the stairwell and into the lobby. One of the girls cheerily took a photo with the firemen while another was so freaked out she immediately went home. Josh Charles, says Rosenthal, "wouldn't leave until he gave the hotel staff a serious tongue-lashing."
They all fled to Knickerbocker for some much-needed drinks. This morning, Gramercy manager Elizabeth Mao sent Vulture the following statement: "Yes, last night, there was an elevator malfunction as guests departed from an event at the Gramercy Terrace. Our security team responded to the incident immediately and within minutes had alerted both he New York Fire Department and the elevator company. All guests were safely evacuated. As the safety of our guests is always a paramount concern, we are ensuring the elevator car in question undergoes a thorough inspection by our maintenance provider, as well as the New York Fire Department, before placing it back in service. We anticipate the elevator car will be fully operational by this afternoon." But last night at Knickerbocker, Josh Charles, laughing finally as he enthusiastically relived the experience, said, "Here's my quote: If anyone stays at the Gramercy, take out insurance before you ride the elevator. If you go to the Gramercy, try not to die. Use the stairs."