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Monday, May 17, 2010

MOVERS AND SHAKERS: James Grant, Vice President of The Michael Russell Group

James Grant is Vice President of MRG – The Michael Russell Group, heading up its New York office. He has worked as West Coast Publicity Director of Orion Pictures where he strategized publicity campaigns for several films including the directorial debut of Jodie Foster in “Little Man Tate" and was part of the studio's publicity team which oversaw the successful Oscar campaign for "The Silence of The Lambs."

During his years at Orion Pictures, he worked with Kevin Costner, Michelle Pfeiffer, Cher and Jodie Foster -- they all had development deals at the studio at that time. He also worked with Brad Pitt on “The Favor” and on the successful Best Actress Oscar® campaign for Jessica Lange for “Blue Sky” as well as publicity for Miramax’s “A Rage in Harlem” starring Forest Whitaker, Robin Givens, Danny Glover & Gregory Hines.

He also worked in television as a segment producer and then co-producer of Fox Television Network’s “The Late Show.”

This past year, he was part of the marketing team that helped get the acclaimed documentary “Under Our Skin” to make the official short-list for an Oscar® nomination.

Grant also worked for years with heiress Aileen Getty overseeing her philanthropic work to bring increased awareness to women with AIDS. In that capacity, Grant generated international media attention for Getty by orchestrating several key media gets including major features in “Vanity Fair," “People” and appearances on Oprah and CNN among other shows.

A former journalist, Grant worked for four Time/Warner publications – “People,” “In Style,” “Entertainment Weekly” and as West Coast Bureau Chief of “Life” magazine. He has discussed the entertainment industry as a featured guest on “Entertainment Tonight,” “Larry King Live,” “CNN Showbiz Today,” “The E! Network,” “The John McLaughlin Report,” “A.M. Los Angeles” and in “The New York Times,” “USA Today” and other publications.

He began his career at Davidson & Choy publicizing "Dreamgirls," "Little Shop of Horrors", "Extremities," "Private Lives" with Elizabeth Taylor & Richard Burton and the Royal Opera, Covent Garden. He subsequently worked in marketing for the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation.

In the past two years, Grant has worked on the following projects: The 66th & The 67th Golden Globe Awards as part of the team that oversaw all press and publicity for the Hollywood Foreign Press Association;
Variety’s The Power of Women at the Beverly Wilshire Four Seasons:  Honorees (all attending) were Sigourney Weaver (introduced director James Cameron), Christina Aguilera, Anne Hathaway, Christina Applegate, Sherry Lansing, Maria Bello and “Mad Men” star January Jones; Worked on an event at the United Nations commemorating the 21st Anniversary of the Halabja genocide in Iraq generating worldwide media coverage; In May, 2009, oversaw publicity and promotion for The 34th Annual One Show Gala (the Oscars® of advertising) at Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York; Worked on press for The 2010 Hollywood Foreign Press Association’s Charity Luncheon at The Beverly Hills Hotel with Celebrity Presenters Chris Pine, Eva Longoria, Warren Beatty & other stars; and he publicized Irena’s Vow playwright Dan Gordon for his Broadway debut as well as his book “Postcards From Heaven” & upcoming film based on “Irena’s Vow” starring Scarlett Johansson. 

This past week, he completed overseeing Celebrity Outreach & Press for The 9th Annual Women Who Care Luncheon benefitting United Cerebral Palsy in New York where Celebrity Presenters included Cynthia Nixon, Jimmy Smits, Alan Rickman, Dr. Oz, Tinsley Mortimer, Robin Givens, Meredith Vieira, Bryan Batt, Mike Woods, Paula Zahn, Timothy Mandala, Tamara Tunie & other stars. 

James currently oversees press for the launch of The Loreen Arbus Focus on Disability Scholarship in a joint partnership with The Loreen Arbus Foundation, The Academy of Television, Arts & Sciences and The Alliance for Women in Media. In that capacity, he worked last month on The 31st College Television Awards in Los Angeles and will also work on the upcoming 35th Annual Gracie Awards in Beverly Hills.  James also is currently handling all New York press for the feature film Iron Cross starring Roy Scheider (in his last starring role) as a Holocaust survivor. We are so pleased to present him as our latest Mover and Shaker!
Peachy Deegan interviewed James Grant for Whom You Know.

Peachy Deegan: What is the first movie you remember watching and what impact did it have on you?
James Grant: My earliest memory is watching the Swedish film “Elvira Madigan.” I still recall the haunting beauty of Pia Degermark wandering through the stunning Swedish countryside while on the soundtrack Geza Anda performed Mozart’s Piano Concerto #21’s Andante second movement. I think that’s when I fell in love with cinema.

We have profiled very few in pr and you can imagine how many people we work with. What makes you the best of the best in your opinion?  

Well, that is very kind of you to say I am best of the best. I’m not sure I feel comfortable with that because I have many very talented colleagues who I think are also truly amazing – many are close friends and we help each other out. I think to do entertainment and/or philanthropic public relations, there has to be an ability to strategize in a fresh and creative but realistic way new approaches to achieve results for each client. Once that is established, you have to have the connections to execute the plan and make it actually happen. I also think public relations requires a very delicate balance between aggressively going after what you need for the client and respecting the needs of the media.

What people have been the most interesting to work with throughout your career and what made them so?  
As a child, I fell in love with classic old movies. When I was very young and starting out in the business, the last of those surviving classic movie stars were still alive. There are five legends that I worked with at different times who I adored equally - Audrey Hepburn, Bette Davis (I worked with her twice and my assistant was scared to death of her), Cary Grant, Gregory Peck and Elizabeth Taylor (who I’ve also worked with twice). What made them interesting? Audrey was devastatingly charming and just a tad high strung. Bette Davis was still indomitable and sharp as a tack even at the very end of her life when I worked with her. Cary Grant was surprisingly modest and self-deprecating. Gregory Peck was a sweet gentle soul. Elizabeth Taylor was a total riot – wisecracking and the most fun of all.

Of today’s stars, Brad Pitt is extremely bright and savvy in terms of the business and has been from a very early age when we first met over a three hour dinner with a close mutual friend, Robin Givens, whom he was in love with at the time. Oprah Winfrey has an intensity up close that is practically electric in nature. Kate Winslet is a total doll – with an infectious laugh and a wicked sense of humor. Taylor Lautner is painfully, excruciatingly shy.

Years ago, my partner, the novelist Alan Graison, was subletting our West Hollywood apartment. First, a broker sent someone by for some movie star. Then a personal assistant came by to view the place but he wouldn’t say who he worked for. No one would say who the apartment was for. The third time around, there was a knock at the door and there stood Leonardo DiCaprio. He liked the apartment very much and was utterly delightful and down to earth. He had just completed a movie he hoped would do well – it was called “Titanic” and, after the film came out, he was able to buy a house and didn’t need to sublet an apartment.

When I worked again on “The Golden Globes” this past year, it was fascinating to watch DiCaprio and Robert DeNiro rehearse their tribute to Martin Scorsese. Scorsese actually directed them. DeNiro was very loquacious, bandying about several ideas he had that he wanted to try out. Leo was totally the opposite – he stood there completely silent listening to the director. He was deeply reverential as if he was listening to an oracle.

What makes a successful philanthropic endeavor?  

A client who is major executive in the non-profit world once said to me that people want to be involved with a charity – not only because of the cause – but because they view the organization as a successful venture. That’s an interesting concept – the idea that people get involved with a cause because of factors other than simply the merits of the organization. It surprised me at the time but I have turned that into something positive that I can help with - to shine a light through the media on the good work that an organization is doing. And I take great pride in that.

What did you enjoy most about being a journalist?  
My favorite times in journalism were always related to having the privilege to spend extended time with celebrities of our day and really getting to know them.

What do you bring to pr from journalism that makes you so successful?  
I think I have credibility with the media because they know I have a clear understanding about what their needs are – how it works and specifically what they need to make a story work.

What events have you enjoyed promoting the most and why?  
I like working on events that have an ambitious approach to them. There are two recent events which I’ve gotten the most satisfaction out of. The first was just two weeks ago -- The 9th Annual Women Who Care Luncheon benefitting United Cerebral Palsy of New York City at Cipriani 42nd Street. It was a magical day and we generated worldwide publicity for the event.

I also was proud to be part of the publicity team headed up by Stephen LoCascio for the big United Nations event last year commemorating the 21st Anniversary of the Halabja Genocide in Iraq. I also enjoy working on film premieres and screenings – most recently I’ve worked on two film screenings for “Variety’s” prestigious screening series in New York.

What was it like interviewing Lisa Marie Presley?
My negotiations on that Life Magazine cover exclusive took over a year. It was Lisa’s (she hates to be called Lisa Marie) first interview ever and she was scared to death. The press had always harassed her. She told me that they went through her garbage cans. That was her view of the press going into our meeting. I went up to Priscilla Presley’s estate in Bel Air. Priscilla sat in on the interview. Lisa came into the room and as I shook her hand, I joked: “Well, here I am, the enemy – and you’ve invited me into your home.” She got the funniest look on her face, as if that was precisely how she felt, and then she smiled. I spent several weeks with her on and off and liked her enormously.

What or who has had the most influence on your pursuit of excellence?
My mother was an opera singer and my father was Asst. Attorney General of Oregon for over 20 years. I think I saw in both of them a tremendous discipline to achieve and the exacting way in which they approached a particular objective. That was instilled in me from an early age.

What are you proudest of and why?
There have been two points in my life that have been the proudest and found the most fulfilling. The first is right now – working with Producer/Philanthropist/Disability Rights Activist Loreen Arbus on her many initiatives worldwide to help people living with disabilities. My other most fulfilling work was been with another extraordinary woman, heiress Aileen Getty, working for years with her to increase awareness and funding for children and women living with HIV.

What would you like to do professionally that you have not yet had the opportunity to do?
I’d like to do publicity for the Oscars & The Emmys. I have had the great honor of working as part of the team that oversaw press for The Golden Globes the past two years. Heading up that team was Michael Russell, who is President of MRG – The Michael Russell Group. He was also my boss at Orion Pictures and I have learned so much from him over the years – not only working on The Golden Globes two years in a row – but on the over dozen movies we’ve worked on together over the years. If I have a question, he’s my “Go-To” guy because he will have the answer. He’s like a legend in the biz.

What honors and awards have you received in your profession?
Publicity is not a business that presents a lot of awards to itself. I haven’t won an award since I was in college and was awarded The Order of Troy at The University of Southern California for distinguished campus achievement.

What is your favorite place to be in Manhattan?
The Atrium garden at The Frick Collection Museum. It’s so beautiful and tranquil.

What is your favorite shop in Manhattan?
I’m crazy about Zara, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman Men and, yes, Banana Republic and Century 21! I have a couple Armani Blazers I wear continually and a black leather Hugo Boss belt that is my absolute favorite. I have over 50 ties but I always end up wearing the same one - it’s by Ferragamo and has become my good luck charm. Why tempt fate?

What is your favorite drink?
A generous glass of a rich full bodied red vino – Chateau Margaux from pretty much any year will do! I am not a big drinker yet I really love meeting my friends and contacts at the great bars of Manhattan – like The Temple Bar in SoHo and Pravda right down the street from Temple Bar. It’s funny that my two favorite bars in New York are within two blocks of each other.

What is your favorite restaurant in Manhattan? 
I’m very fond of Bar Boulud and also the Double Crown. I am a cheeseburger fanatic so Alan and I are semi-regulars at Shake Shack and the Black Iron Burger Shop on East 5th Street. When we go there, we then take a walk through Tompkins Square to see the dogs playing in the dog park. Then over to Abraco, on East 7th Street which has the best coffee in New York. I also enjoy popping into the Corner Bistro and sitting at the bar with their legendary cheeseburger, extra pickles on the side.

What is your favorite Manhattan book?
“Metropolitan Life” by Fran Leibovitz.

If you could have anything in Manhattan named after you what would it be and why?
A wing of a major hospital that helps children and adults living with disabilities.

What has been your best Manhattan athletic experience?
I really think that that Equinox Fitness in Soho is the best gym in Manhattan. And the staff is always so gracious.

What is your favorite thing to do in Manhattan that you can do nowhere else?
My ideal New York day I don’t get to do very often. It’s nothing grand. I start out going to the gym in SoHo followed by grabbing a salad or a sandwich and a double espresso at Dean & DeLuca, Wichcraft, my favorite little taco place called Pinche Taqueria on Lafayette Street or Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches on East 2nd Street. Then I walk over to a movie – and only in New York do I have within walking distance – The Angelika, Film Forum, IFC and Sunshine Cinemas. That’s the ideal day for me – gym, great food and a film.

My other ideal day is to meet my partner or a friend at either the SoHo Grand or Tribeca Grand, have a drink, and then walk down to Chinatown and go to New York Noodletown for salt-baked soft-shell crabs and their buttery sautéed pea-shoots. I also love beginning my mornings in Central Park walking Farfel, my soft-coated Wheaton terrier.

What has been your best Manhattan art or music experience?

I’m a huge ballet and opera fanatic. This city has given me so many extraordinary artistic experiences over the years; a wildly exciting performance of “Swan Lake” with Nina Aniashvilli and Jose Manuel Carreno; The Paul Taylor Dance Company at City Center dancing “Airs” a couple months ago with my dear friends Annmaria Mazzini and Robert Kleinendorst. Other incredible experiences include Dimtri Hvorostovsky in concert at Carnegie Hall; Natalie Dessay’s Zerbinetta in “Ariadne auf Naxos” at The Met; An Evgeny Kissin piano recital at Avery Fisher Hall. A Jessye Norman recital at Alice Tully Hall; Joshua Bell performing The Beethoven Violin Concerto at The Mostly Mozart Festival.

What do you think is most underrated and overrated here?
Underrated - the generosity of New Yorkers. Overrated? New Yorkers misperception that being consistently over-scheduled and always in a hurry is a good thing.

Other than Movers and Shakers of course, what is your favorite Whom You Know column and what do you like about it?
I enjoy several columns including “Eat, Drink & Be Healthy -- it’s very insightful in terms of both heath & nutrition. I also love “Holiday Peachy” and all those fantastic photos. And of course "Small Screen Scenes" which recently wrote an excellent column on "The Loreen Arbus Focus on Disability Scholarship" launch.

What else should Whom You Know readers know about you? 
That my life is really not glamorous at all. Well, maybe a little glamorous. But what people don’t see is that my fellow publicists and I all work intensely for our clients and often that includes seven day work weeks and virtually no vacation. But I love it all the same.

How would you like to be contacted by Whom You Know readers? 
They are welcome to email me at

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