Natalie Portman is standing off to the side at the People/Time magazine pre-party on Saturday, looking diminutive and beautiful, but going somewhat unnoticed. She seems excited about her table for dinner that night. "My table is pretty good," she says "It's Geithner, Gates and Valerie Jarrett. I'm looking forward to that."
This year’s White House Correspondents Association dinner was more celeb-packed than Washington has seen for a long time. Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, Samuel L. Jackson, Jon Bon Jovi, Forrest Whitaker and Sting were all at the Washington Hilton for the annual mingling of L.A. stars and D.C. wonks. Only this year, whether it was due to the new President or the A-list crowd he drew, there was a bit more spring in everyone’s step.
The parties preceding the dinner are always well-stocked with stars. The scene everywhere is the same: Hundreds of people, all in black tie, roaming around a basement, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever visiting celebrity is walking by. Passerbys exchange rumors, like “is that Jon Bon Jovi at the Atlantic Media party?”
Minority Whip Eric Cantor is there, mobbed. We hear Owen Wilson will be seated at his dinner table, and ask Cantor, do you have anything to talk to him about?
“I’m just going to call him Drillbit,” he laughs.
Cantor's happy, he says, that his wife was able to catch a glimpse of TomKat. Later, Cantor is overheard telling Arianna Huffington, whose site has been bashing him for days, “I can’t say we enjoy being on your site, but we seem to be on there a lot.”
Barbara Walters is chatting in the Atlantic Media party, and over in the corner is country singer Brad Paisley and his wife, Kimberly Williams Paisley. The best part of the night, Paisley says, “being in the same room with—”
“—me!” his wife jokingly interjects.
“My wife, yes, and some of the most powerful people in the country.”
His wife is just excited to get out of the house. “I just had a baby three weeks ago," she says, "and I’ve gone to the grocery and here.”
Someone runs up to brag, “I just saw the back of Sting’s head!”
Walking past is Alicia Keys, being dragged by her hand by a friend, and Donatella Versace is hanging out with Jonathan Rhys Meyers. RNC Chair Michael Steele rides the down escalator right into Democratic pundit Donna Brazille’s open arms. They hug and kiss like old friends. Somewhere else in the hotel, people are trampling over Demi Moore’s long dress. Political pundit Craig Crawford asks Jason Bateman a question. The actor, clearly a fan, replies, “Shouldn’t I be asking you a question?
Later inside the dinner, people are handing over their wallets to Warren Buffet to snap shots of him holding it, as Glenn Close walks around by herself. Attorney General Eric Holder turns to someone, and says, “this is the only time I’ve seen you since the beginning of the administration and not in the Situation Room! You look so different!” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and Special Envoy Richard Holbrooke are practically falling over themselves while talking to Natalie Portman.
We ask Jason Bateman, who's with Will Arnett, is this your first dinner?
“No,” Bateman replies, “We eat dinner all the time. Lunch, too.”
Sting, are you having fun? He sticks his tongue as a good-natured reply. Rumor is, Val Kilmer, who was at Tammy Haddad's brunch, bailed on the dinner at the last minute. But Stevie Wonder is here, with a murmur of oohs and aahs following him everywhere he goes. Kal Penn is being told that his decision to quit acting and work in the Administration was admirable. Football player Reggie Bush is walking around. As is POTUS body guy Reggie Love.
Actor Dule Hill, formerly of the West Wing, gets on his cell to call Gene Sperling, a consultant for the show who's now helping out Sec. Tim Geithner at Treasury, but Sperling can't hear him.
And then, Cruise and Holmes start making their way through the tables, stopping for picture but no interviews, alas. She is at least a half a foot taller than he is.
Rashida Jones, sitting next to POTUS speechwriter Jon Favreau, gamely admits that Favreau is her favorite administration member. Bon Jovi is in deep conversation with Susan Axelrod, while Ludacris, who was quite the social butterfly, went over to Bill O’Reilly’s table and had a long talk with the TV host.. The two, of course, have feuded before. Luda wouldn't say what about but told someone, “I can’t talk about it until O’Reilly lives up this part of the deal.”
O’Reilly is seated next to Matthew Modine, who tells us, “this is the biggest prom I’ve ever been to." And No one here seems worried about swine flu – they’re hugging and kissing each other.” Newt Gingrich is also at their table.
Rahm Emanuel is seated next to Barbara Walters. Joe Scarborough sits next to Colin Firth and the two remain in deep conversation. Eva Longoria Parker is having a grand time, it appears, talking to Forrest Whitaker.
Whitaker later gets mobbed for pictures, including one for “Gossip Girl’s” Ed Westwick.
Mad Men starr Jon Hamm is with his longtime girlfriend Jennifer Westfeldt, whose sister works for the AP. Hamm says the dinner "is like a really big wedding where you kind of tertiarily know the bride and groom, but you have to come.” Still, “it’s fun.”
Chase Crawford, from “Gossip Girl” is sitting over at the Fox News tables. When asked if he made it in safely past the shrieking teenage girls, he laughs, and says “I’m in one piece.”
Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is still in awe of the Rose Garden walk to the Oval Office he saw during his White House tour. “That’s a fantastic walk” he says, with hand gestures, and right then, he sounds like just like Obama.
Gordon Ramsay is overheard complaining about the hotel ballroom food.
After Obama delivered a fully entertaining speech and Wanda Sykes lived up to her “entertainment” title, who best to judge how they did than “American Idol” judge Kara DioGuardi? “I didn’t know that Obama was that funny,” she said, but adds, "He has great comedic timing. Great pacing. Good eye contact. Pretty impressive performance overall. I think he’s a rock star.”
And Sykes? “She’s just brilliant. I liked that she pushed the envelope, taking risks on stage.” Said like a true AI judge.
After the dinner, 300 of the dinner’s most elite attendees walked a few blocks to the VanityFair/Bloomberg News party, while everyone else headed to Capitol File’s party at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Owen Wilson was there for a minute, but left – not that friendly apparently. Whittaker soon arrived. “I like that I didn’t have to work hard to get into this party,” said GOP Hollywooder Andrew Breitbart, adding, “If you have to work, it’s not fun.”
Valerie Jarrett and Desiree Rogers showed up – and were the stars of the night. Greta Van Susteren appeared with Todd Palin. Someone was overheard saying, “I’m wearing Oscar de la Renta with a belt – it’s very Michelle.” Later, Sykes showed up, and a Saudi prince was seen in the crowd, as was Ludacris.
And then, as the night was wearing down for some, Rahm walked into the party with his wife, and headed straight upstairs, where he stayed until after 2 a.m., signing autographs and taking pictures.