On a sweltering summer night on July 4, 2010, Jill Riley, Toronto-based actor, award-winning filmmaker, and Terroni server, won the lottery: She was assigned a section inside which was, mercifully, air conditioned. But her lucky streak was far from over. Somehow, over the course of one shift, two bigtime celebrities (a Hollywood A-Lister and another with serious indie cred) were seated at two different tables in her section at the Queen West pizzeria and pasta hotspot. They blended in like regular folk but Riley's internal dialogue was on fire, and, years later, it's a night she'll never forget.
The first table I remember serving was a middle-aged couple and their quiet, sullen teenaged boy. The tension at table 10 was palpable. But while I was taking their drink order I realized that it was Martin Donovan, the actor and indie filmmaker Hal Hartley's favourite leading man. My boyfriend, Ron, is such a massive fan. In fact, Hartley's quirky, oddball movies had been pretty much required viewing when we first started dating.
I immediately called Ron (Toronto musician Ron Hawkins) to tell him, to which he replied: "Did you tell him I wrote a song about him?" Truthfully, he hadn't exactly written a song about the actor – it was inspired by Arthur Rimbaud but included the line: "I tried so hard to look like Martin Donovan." I would try to work it into the conversation, though, at the moment, they were clearly all in pretty wretched moods. Donovan's wife had even sent her meal back: People rarely send stuff back at Terroni; it just doesn't happen – the food's too consistently good.
My section was starting to fill up quickly and I braced myself for a busy rush – when, out of my peripheral vision, I did an internal double take: Was that Julia Roberts?!
Sure enough, it was. Julia and her husband, Danny Moder, were sitting at table 14 and I attempted to act natural. She wasn't wearing a lot of makeup – if any – and was dressed in a kind of nondescript denim shirt: She was just a real, genuine beauty. And I was pretty floored by her utter loveliness. When I asked them how they were, Roberts replied instantly with a: "But how are you? I guess hot and busy, huh?" I was describing a red wine having "depth and complexity" and she came back with: "Oh, it's like me". Later, as we went over the menu, she asked to make some changes to a pasta – Terroni is famous for never ever allowing modifications but when I asked the MOD (Manager On Duty, Cosimo Pagliacolo – featured here) with the impossible request, he sort of stared off in her direction, clearly smitten or star-struck - or both – and, without hesitation, said: "I'll do anything for her. I love her."
Julia and Danny were very cute with each other, geniunely romantic; holding hands and gazing into each other's eyes. Julia told me they were celebrating their anniversary and that he was in town working. She and I talked and talked – about our kids, about having more (me, not them). I remember how she laughed at all my jokes – clearly the A-lister's blessed with a terrific sense of humour – and she even touched my arm a few times. At one point, near the end of the evening she told me (and I quote) that I "was a dream." I realize how cheesy that sounds now – just the worst kind of Hollywood B.S. – but, in the moment, it seemed genuinely sincere. Of course, I realize she's a consummate actor, but to this day I feel a weird connection to her; that, in a way, Julia and I became sorta temporary besties that night – even if it was only for an hour or two.
Of course, I never once mentioned who she was, and I even managed to refrain from handing her a compilation of my short films. I was proud of my town that night – no one approached them, no one bothered them for an autograph, nothing. Everyone was cool and nonchallant, letting Julia and her fella have a nice, quiet evening at Terroni, like they were just ordinary folks.
I did, by the way, after billing table 10, tell Mr. Donovan what a fan I was of his work. Of course, I also told him about Ron's song that mentioned him, making sure to mention where he could find the song online. This moment of fandom, I've a feeling, came as a surprise. It was, also, the cheeriest I'd seen him, or his family, all evening.— Jill Riley