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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, September 9, 2002

Celebrities remember the day that changed so many lives

 •  Artists use their media to deal with 9/11 grief
 •  Attacks inspired outpouring of musical dreck

By Marshall Fine
Westchester (N.Y.) Journal News

Everyone has a story about Sept. 11, 2001. Even your favorite celebrity. Over the past year, as I interviewed actors and filmmakers in the course of my job, I asked them all about their experience on Sept. 11. I put a note to myself on the wall of my cubicle at work: "Ask the 9/11 Question," underlined twice for emphasis.

The question I asked was, "What is your most vivid memory of Sept. 11?" That allowed for reminiscence, but also for impressions, for those shards of the past that cut most deeply into the memory. This is what I heard:

Terry Gross, host, NPR's 'Fresh Air'

"I had the TV on right after it happened, and so I was watching when the second plane hit. And I had two thoughts simultaneously. I was terrorized knowing the country was under attack. And my more immediate thought was, 'What the hell are we going to do for a show today?' We had three hours to get a show ready, and the show we had planned was interviews with Edie Falco ("The Sopranos") and Jane Kaczmarek ("Malcolm in the Middle"). We had to think of something relevant to the calamity we were facing, and I wasn't sure how we were going to pull that off."

Harrison Ford

"I was asleep in a hotel 20 blocks away when the first plane went over much too low and woke me up. It was one of those things, where something wakes you up but you don't know what it is. So I went into the shower — and then I realized it was a plane. But the windows of my hotel faced north, so I couldn't see anything. I turned on the TV, thinking it might have been something big enough to make the news — and saw what we all saw, just moments after the first cameras were trained on the World Trade Center."

Jeffrey Katzenberg, producer-co-founder, DreamWorks SKG

"In a way I've never experienced in my life, I could not leave the TV set. It felt unreal. I was riveted. What I was looking at on TV is what we do in make-believe. But I knew it wasn't. The incongruity of trying to sort through the fact that this wasn't special-effects was bizarre. When they showed the plane hitting the second tower, it looked like one of those computer-generated re-creations. But it was actually the second plane going into the building."

Steven Soderbergh, writer-director ('Traffic')

"Like most people, what I remember is the profound sense of helplessness that just kept dragging you down. To see a tragedy of that size and realize there really wasn't anything that could be done except watch it happen. It made me just feel ill. Yet, watching it on TV had a very weird abstract quality that was incredibly disconcerting. I was so aware of the human tragedy of it but the (movie special-effects) aspect of it was very disturbing. I kept watching and thinking about what must be going on in that building and thinking that, yeah, they get that stuff right in the movies."

Jennifer Aniston, actress

"I remember the first visual when the TV came on and I remember seeing the plane hit. I didn't know if I was watching a Bruce Willis movie or what. I remember thinking, 'This is like 'Die Hard'.' It was just so surreal. I remember this feeling of wanting to go toward it, to help, even as people were running from it. I felt so paralyzed and helpless."

Spike Lee

"That morning was my son's first day of school, but I was not in New York City; I'd flown to Los Angeles the day before. So I'd made a point to wake up early to call and wish him good luck. I called my wife and she said a plane had hit the World Trade Center. I turned on the TV and when I saw the second plane hit, I was crazy. Right away, I started making arrangements to get home to my family. I think I got on the last train leaving Los Angeles ... on September 11. I left L.A. I took Amtrak across the United States and arrived in Penn Station on Friday afternoon. It was a real interesting train ride. People just wanted to get home to their loved ones."

Mel Gibson, actor

"I wasn't instantly affected by it. It took about a week. There was a numbness right after. I kept thinking, 'What's wrong with me?' because it was manifesting itself in odd ways. There was a real sense of insecurity that manifested itself in other forms, like tipping too big in restaurants. Or a feeling of wanting to associate more closely with other people. And my cigarette intake went way up. Or I'd be watching TV and suddenly start bawling. It just silently crept in and manifested itself in a myriad of ways."

Ice Cube, rapper and actor

"What I remember most was the second plane hitting and people jumping out of the building holding hands. That image sticks in my mind: a photograph that captured two people jumping off the tower and holding hands. I remember thinking how unbelievable it was. I couldn't believe the state of shock I was in. The last thing that shook me up like that was the riots in '92 in L.A."

Ben Affleck, actor

"I was in Los Angeles and what I remember most vividly is seeing the World Trade Center on fire on TV and calling New York, trying to know if my brother was OK. My mind kept telling me this was a fantasy; it was just too unreal. I kept trying to reconcile that all day. Just being on the phone with people, trying to figure out what to do. I remember feeling a lot of fear, having the sense that it wasn't over — who knew what horrible thing was coming next? I thought I was going to come back to New York and take time off and just enjoy the city. Instead, I wound up bearing witness to history and looking at my own life through this tragedy."

Paul Sorvino, actor

"I remember crying and screaming at the TV and for the next three days being able to do nothing. I was hollering at the top of my voice, and weeping at the tragedy. I remember singing the national anthem and 'America the Beautiful' every time it came on TV, alone in my hotel in L.A."

Al Pacino

"My most vivid memory is of being woken up at 6 a.m. in the morning by Beverly (D'Angelo, his companion) saying to me, 'My mother called and told me they blew up the Trade Center.' I remember thinking her mother had gone mad. That's how far away we were from that kind of reality. It was inconceivable; I was sure she got it wrong. And then there it was. I was in Los Angeles; I'd left on September 10. I wanted to go back. But there it was."

John Woo, director

"When the building collapsed, I was extremely shocked and I cried. I felt so extremely sad at all this death. But when I saw all the people come together and work together, it made me feel the true spirit of being an American."

Steven Spielberg, director

"My most vivid memory is the rescue work, the firemen and the cops, running to the scene while the survivors were running away. People were fleeing for their lives — and others were running to help."

Tom Hanks, actor

"What I remember most vividly is the looks on my family's faces. We got up late that morning and got a phone call and soon realized what was going on and realized that no one was going to school that day. We went to church the next day and it was packed to overflowing. And I felt that this was a new beginning."