Sure, she’s stunning and statuesque, but what makes Irena Medavoy truly stand out is her disarming sense of authenticity, passion, and compassion—traits that she puts to use regularly as one of the nation’s most gracious and skilled party hosts. Whether it’s a small gathering for friends or her big annual Golden Globes bash, Medavoy’s ability to leverage the power of parties to celebrate others and raise awareness and funds for important causes is as legendary as her guest lists. That’s because she and her husband, film producer Mike Medavoy (All the King’s Men, Black Swan, and Shutter Island, to name a few), are really good friends—not just “L.A. friends”—with the country’s most interesting artists, activists, scientists, philanthropists, and humanitarians. Listen in as Medavoy reveals everything from how to create a great guest list and her favorite party resources to the one big no-no that will get you knocked off her invitation list.
Describe your entertaining style.
Warm. Very warm. Because we go to so many black-tie events, I like my parties to be the opposite—down-to-earth, comfortable, and organic. I love to connect people. I’ve loved putting people together since I was 18 years old.
Medavoy and Rosana Arquette at the Medavoy’s 2018 Golden Globes party
What’s your favorite way to entertain and how often do you entertain?
In addition to hosting dinners for friends, we do about six large parties a year, including our annual Golden Globes party. I love giving book parties because they’re about celebrating people’s work. We just did Anjelica Huston’s book party—she’s like family. I also like holding salons and discussing the French and American revolutions, with invited scholars leading the conversations. And of course, I enjoy hosting parties for charities that matter to us. I just hosted a lunch with Town & Country for A Sense of Home, an organization that supports foster youth.
Medavoy dances with Sting at one of her legendary Golden Globes parties
Tell us about your Golden Globes pre-party, which has become one of the most coveted invitations in town. How did it start?
We hosted our first one in 1997. Mike had just started Phoenix Pictures, and we were nominated for The People vs. Larry Flynt. We invited everybody who’d been nominated, and it was great fun. Woody Harrelson was doing handstands in the living room. Over the years, we’ve had Queen Latifah singing, Helmut Newton photographing, Sting dancing around with all the girls, and Dennis Quaid playing music with his band—all moments of love. That’s what I love about hosting parties at home—spontaneous things happen.
You always have the most fascinating mix of guests at your dinner parties. How do you go about creating a guest list?
We always put together an interesting group of artists and business people; that’s what we love to do, mix things up. It’s about connecting people and getting a real conversation started. At one of our dinner parties, we had Pamela Harriman, when she was Ambassador to France, and the French actress Jeanne Moreau. That was the most interesting dinner of my life—the stories told will go to my grave. I never invite members of the press to my parties unless there’s something to promote, like a charity or someone’s book.
Hosts Irena and Mike Medavoy toast Angelica Huston at a party celebrating the publication of her latest book.
How do you go about seating your guests?
I like to seat people next to somebody they’ll find fascinating so they’ll think, “Wow, I learned something.” And I like to do the unexpected. For example, I just met the first female head of engineering at Caltech, so I invited her to a dinner party I hosted for The Beggruen Institute where we screened and discussed the documentary, Better Angels, which examines American-Chinese relations. I mixed in a Caltech trustee along with some of our Hollywood friends.
What about seating guests at fundraising events? How do you handle that?
That is really difficult and very important. You have to figure out who’s cool and chill and can be seated in the back even though they gave $75,000 and where to seat the guest who gave less and isn’t as chill.
Flowers by Eric Buterbaugh
What are your three top party must-haves?
Great wines and spirits; flowers by Eric Buterbaugh; and a great guest list.
And your three biggest party pet-peeves?
I hate last-minute cancellations, and I won’t tolerate women who hit on my friends’ husbands. I say, “That doesn’t fly here” and ask them to leave. And I won’t invite them back. My third is people who don’t have pet peeves. I say come to my party with a pet peeve. And make it interesting! I want people to be REAL at our dinner parties.
What other advice do you have for guests? What makes a great guest?
Be a good listener and be present. And don’t feel like you always have to be the one telling a story. But if you do have something to say, bring your game. You’re there for a reason, and the reason is to share who you are. Be interesting and have a sense of humor.
Medavoy chats with party guests Matthew McConaughey and Jon Bon Jovi
What do you like to talk about at your dinner parties?
Everything! That includes all the topics my parents said never to talk about, including politics. We had a great dinner party recently with our friends John Phillips, the ambassador to Italy, and his wife Linda Douglas, who is a journalist. We could NOT stop talking about the political situation, and it was amazing because everyone was so well-informed.
What’s your greatest party victory?
Probably our first Golden Globes party, which we hosted back when there were no party sponsors. We did everything ourselves. We did it out of love for our community, and there was such a feeling of camaraderie.
Who is the most fascinating person you’ve ever met at a party?
We did a fundraiser at our home for President Obama before he was elected. He was so extraordinary. And we’ve hosted President Clinton, as well. It’s such an honor knowing that we’ve hosted people who have led and loved our country and were great presidents.
Whose parties do you enjoy attending? Who are some of your favorite L.A. hosts?
Bui Simon is a great hostess. She just gave a party, and the surprise guest was Bruno Mars. Kelly Gores, who just made a documentary about healing, also throws great parties. She had the best Super Bowl party! And Roma Downey gives wonderful parties in Malibu. With them, everything’s from the heart. That’s what I try to emulate.
Candice Bergen at Truman Capote’s Black and White Ball in New York City, 1966
What party do you wish you could go back in time and attend?
Truman Capote’s Black & White Ball. I have dreams about it.
In your view, why do parties matter?
Parties make people feel better. We have a responsibility to each other to be kind. Kindness is good for all of us, and many parties are important because they honor people and the work they do. Holiday parties matter because they keep traditions alive.
Playing Favorites with Irena Medavoy
Eric Buterbaugh is one of the greatest florists of all time. I’ll say, “This is what I’m seeing,” and off he goes. I did Barbra Streisand’s birthday lunch two years ago. She loves roses, and Eric knew the specific rose that is her favorite.
Peonies in various hues
Peonies, but what’s in season takes priority.
Kathleen Sacchi of the Fine Art of Catering.
Favorite valet company?
Crystal Valet. Greg Gee, the owner, is incredible and knows everyone.
Favorite party drinks?
I’m a huge fan of Casamigos tequila. I’ve been serving it at my parties since they launched five years ago. Their new mezcal tequila is wonderful. I’m also a Champagne and sparkling wine girl. I love Bellissima sparkling rosé—it’s delicious and organic—as well as Laurent Perrier Rosé and Dom Perignon. My go-to red wine is Justin Isosceles, which is a really nice Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Merlot blend. Justin’s Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier are also great.
Favorite party dessert?
Vegan peanut-butter ice cream from Craig’s in Los Angeles. I served it at Roma Downey’s book party, and I’m addicted. It’s good for you, and I haven’t gained any weight.
Hermès’ Balcon du Guadalquivir china pattern was inspired by the ironwork found in the towns of Andalusia.
Hermès Balcon du Guadalquivir mixed with White Strawberry & Vine by Wedgwood
Capri, Provence, and Harmonie, all by Baccarat
Rubans by Christofle
Favorite powder room soap?
Molton Brown and Williams Sonoma French Lavender
Favorite invitation source?
Paperless Post because I’m eco-conscious
And here are a few more stories that we think you’ll enjoy:
Valerie Von Sobel shares her thoughts about the art of conversation
Experts reveal their tips for creating a great guest list
A profile of Elsa Maxwell, one of the greatest party hosts of all time
Photo sources: Genlux, Getty, Eric Buterbaugh, Pinterest