Believe it or not, Aaron Eckhart—the strapping, strong-chinned actor—was actually raised Mormon in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As an undergrad at Brigham Young University, Eckhart met playwright Neil LaBute, who cast him in several of his original plays. After graduating from BYU in 1994 and serving his required two-year mission in France and Switzerland, Eckhart spent a couple of years as a struggling, unemployed actor in New York City. Then, LaBute called, casting Eckhart as, oddly enough, a sadistic, misogynistic womanizer in his 1997 film, In the Company of Men. The film–and Eckhart–received critical raves.
Since his stunning debut, Eckhart’s appeared in a wide variety of roles. He earned critical acclaim as Julia Roberts’ nice guy boyfriend in Steven Soderbergh’s 2000 film Erin Brockovich, and earned a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor for his performance as a smooth-talking tobacco lobbyist in Jason Reitman’s underrated 2006 film, Thank You For Smoking. He’s also played a pedophile in the controversial 2007 film Towelhead, Gotham D.A.-cum-supervillain Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight, and a grieving husband opposite Nicole Kidman in the 2010 film, Rabbit Hole.
Battle: Los Angeles sees Eckhart return to Batman blockbuster territory, except this time he’s not the fallen white knight, but rather Staff Sergeant Michael Nantz, the leader of an elite platoon of U.S. Marines that digs in and fights invading aliens in modern day Los Angeles. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman, the film is like a cross between Black Hawk Down and War of the Worlds, and also stars Michelle Rodriguez, Michael Peña, Ne-Yo, Ramon Rodriguez and Bridget Moynahan.
MMM sat down with Aaron Eckhart to chat about his method approach to playing a Marine in the sci-fi action film, how he broke his arm during a take but soldiered through, what real-life Marines thought of the film, and what he learned acting alongside Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: So were you hanging out with a lot of Marines to get yourself in a mental state for the movie?
AARON ECKHART: Yeah, you know Jonathan and I talked about this movie pretty much almost, I guess, a year before we started. So I started right away training with Marines, going through the tactical strategies, psychology, shooting a lot. I started training really early for it and then as you guys probably heard we did a three-week boot camp before. We had a sergeant major, a master sergeant and a gunny who took us through three weeks. We put up the tent, every bunk had to be meticulous in the same order, all that sort of stuff. We showered, slept, did everything in rank, so the PFCs got to do the shit work and I yelled at them a lot and the lieutenant yelled at me [laughs].
MMM: What was the hardest part about it?
ECKHART: The hardest part is getting 12 actors to line up on a straight line on a daily basis. I almost killed myself. I’m like, “Sergeant Major, how do you get people to line up on a straight line? Because…” I’m joking, obviously, but it’s really getting people to do things on a timely basis in the right manner. For example, Marines have to look a certain way, they have to wear the right equipment, they have to say the right words, they have to be ready and no back talk. And so just to watch 12 actors then transform into Marines was an interesting exercise. And who took it on wholeheartedly and who resisted and, you know, there were guys crying. It was tough.
MMM: Has your perception of the military changed after filming this?
ECKHART: It’s only been augmented. I was always in their corner. I’ve [had] a total respect for those guys. I went on a USO tour and visited them in Afghanistan. And, great guys. I’m too old to be a Marine. They told me I can’t join.
MMM: Would you if you had the chance?
ECKHART: No. No, I have too much fun being, you know… That’s the great thing about the movie business, is like right now my next movie’s a CIA [film] so I’ve been hanging out with CIAs or spooks and all that sort of stuff.
MMM: What is it?
ECKHART: It’s called “The Expatriate.” It’s about a father and daughter on the run.
MMM: Anything that surprised you as you were filming?
ECKHART: I was ambivalent about doing an alien movie because alien movies have a certain stigma — the quality or how real are they or whatever it is, right? I talked to Jonathan about that — the director — and I said if we’re going to do this movie, I’m going to be 100 percent USDA. It’s as if Denzel were going to do a movie, you know what I mean? When I see something he does, or… he’s really the guy that I look to in this sort of a movie because you never question whether or not he takes it seriously. We were up against aliens and that in itself is difficult so I wanted it to be very real, and as an actor I wanted to be like, you know… When you see “Black Hawk Down,” I’m like, “Why wasn’t I in that movie?” or “I want to make a real movie.” And I felt like we did it. It felt like from the second I put on that uniform, or started thinking about it, I was too into it.
MMM: What do you mean [“too into it”]?
ECKHART: I was into it. I was… you know, into it.
MMM: Did you find that even though there’s a green screen and aliens that you don’t really see, except for maybe a tennis ball or whatnot, that in fact it was more like a classic war movie, so you didn’t have that problem?
ECKHART: Absolutely. I didn’t feel like we’re fighting an alien force. I felt we could be fighting anybody that was coming into Los Angeles. Everything was practical on the set. So it wasn’t like that car wasn’t there or that Helo wasn’t crashed or that smoke wasn’t there or these rounds didn’t have any powder in them. We were shooting 20,000 rounds a day sometimes. I was with a 50 cal on a Humvee going through at 3 in the morning, blasting hundreds of rounds. So when you’re doing that you can’t help but feel that you’re in a war situation. Obviously we had to look up into the sky, and Jonathan coached us through that, but all you had to do is then look at the people around you too, look at the other Marines, how tired they were, how hot, how uncomfortable they were, how hurt they were, and then you had all that experience from the boot camp. I know I sound way too into this movie, but I had a lot of fun making it.
MMM: Did the Marines give your performance their seal of approval?
ECKHART: I did show it to about 2,500 marines when I went to Pendleton, Quantico, and they didn’t laugh me off the base. I was quite worried about that, actually. I tried to get all the terminology right and that sort of stuff. We trained pretty hard for that. Plus the Marines sanctioned the movie. They gave us all the Ospreys, all the Helos, they gave us the personnel. In defense of actors being wussies: I remember on several occasions Marines coming up to me and going, “Damn, you guys work hard.” I was like [big smile] because we’re working 12 hours a day every day, and so that was a compliment.
MMM: Did I also hear correctly that you broke your arm while shooting?
ECKHART: Yes sir.
MMM: And then you didn’t have it treated or bandaged or something like that? You just kind of toughed it out?
ECKHART: When the mother ship was rising I tried to get fancy. There was a beautiful orange-red fireball that I wanted to do an Air Jordan through. And so the cameraman was down here and the fireball was here and I thought I’d just run up this concrete slab that would fall and then jump off. Problem was I landed on my head and I landed on my arm. And it was [snaps finger] I heard it snap, break here and that was that. And yeah, I mean, you know, you can’t give the other guys an excuse to stop so I didn’t feel like I could do that.
MMM: Did you get the shot?
ECKHART: The shot’s in the movie, I believe. [laughs] Yeah. It’s when… I don’t know. I need to see the movie again.
MMM: Could you talk about that one very emotional scene that you have with one of the men in your command.?
ECKHART: Yeah, that scene was a big scene. Ever since we started boot camp I was on these dudes. I was in character, so anything that they said about Staff Sergeant Nantz they were saying for real and I geared it that way. You know what I’m saying? I pushed them, so when we were doing that scene, Lockett, the way he was feeling about me, he was feeling about me. So that scene was charged. I don’t think Lockett was acting. I felt like he had a lot of issues with me and I feel like he’s a good actor and he really took that seriously and he knew what I was doing. So when I had… Lockett and I went through a lot together during the movie. A lot. In terms of in boot camp and stuff, picking him up, a lot of heart-to-hearts, that kind of stuff. So by the time we got to that scene it was very loaded, very charged, and I thought a pretty good scene.
MMM: What are your favorite alien invasion films?
ECKHART: The ones that I like are like… When I saw “Star Wars,” that impressed me. “Close Encounters.”
MMM: You had two pretty demanding films back to back between this and “Rabbit Hole.” It’s interesting to see you do two very different performances. Did you feel the same way, that it would be good to have those two very contrasting experiences out there?
ECKHART: I had an interesting year. I did “The Rum Diary” before both of those. I went from “Rum Diary,” got to New York, next day started “Rabbit Hole,” drove across the country after “Rabbit Hole,” ’cause I needed to, and started this movie. I’m an actor so that’s just what I do. I like it. I like it and once the juices are flowing… But it’s funny because people say, “Well, were you more serious about Rabbit Hole?” And no, I wasn’t. A death in “Battle: L.A.” is like a death in “Rabbit Hole.” And people think it’s nuts and it’s a popcorn movie. It’s my job. They are equally important to me, so I don’t see that I need to try harder in one movie or another. I think Heath [Ledger] was — forget all the other performances that came before us in cinematic history — but Heath is the epitome of that mentality. He was brilliant. He was brilliant to watch, he was brilliant to see on a daily basis, on set in the makeup trailer, when we were putting on our makeup together. I was doing Harvey’s and he was doing the Joker’s and trying to figure it out. If you would have said to Heath, “Hey dude, this is a superhero movie, why don’t you chill?” You just wouldn’t say that to him. And I don’t think that the movie would be as special if he did, so I think we all have to strive to those standards.
MMM: I’m curious with that method approach in a film like this, how interesting does that make the wrap party, and the relationships that you guys have as actors when that’s all done and now you’re just actors together?
ECKHART: I don’t go to wrap parties. The reason why is for that reason. For those guys, they were best friends. Those guys hung out. They knew each other intimately. Michelle, everybody. Even Bridget, everybody. I didn’t. It’s not my job. I was staff sergeant; I’m not their best friend. So I have my experiences with them. I had more fatherly experiences with them, heart-to-hearts, that kind of thing. So it would be interesting to hear. But those guys really, like Ne-Yo? Totally into it. But also, like Ne-Yo, the sweetest guy in the world. Always had good stories, never ever an attitude. He impressed the hell out of me, that guy. His humility and his willingness, I was very impressed.
MMM: Can you talk about the experience you had after doing this movie, coming out of it? Because you can still see the passion that you feel about this movie and how much it affected you. So what was your next project after this?
ECKHART: I haven’t worked. It took me a long time to get over the movie. I know it sounds weird, because it’s too much, but it took me a long time to get over the movie. I took a long break after that. I’m ready for the sequel. I wear khakis, keep my hair short, stay by the phone.
MMM: Have they talked about a sequel?
ECKHART: Well, I don’t know. It all depends on how the movie performs, if people like it or not. I know Sony hasn’t said anything to me about it. But I think just in the poster, for me hopefully, just as an actor, it says — what’s the poster title like? Something like, “This isn’t the only place.” I don’t know what it is, but — [taking note of Sony PR person in the room], am I saying something bad? — I would very much look forward to doing another one.
BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is now playing in theaters nationwide.
All over New York City, a shadowy image of a man in a fedora and trench coat is plastered on subway station walls and the sides of buses, with a message: YOUR FUTURE HAS BEEN ADJUSTED.
No, you have not fallen down the rabbit hole and into an Orwellian society. Rather, it’s a clever promotional tool for the latest Hollywood adaptation of a Philip K. Dick story, writer-director George Nolfi’s THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU. The sci-fi romance marks the directorial debut of Nolfi, who penned the hyperkinetic action-thriller The Bourne Supremacy, and stars Jason Bourne himself, Matt Damon. Damon plays David Norris, a young, charismatic politician running for U.S. Senate. Unfortunately, he finds himself the subject of a scandal on election night, and, right before he’s to deliver his conciliatory speech, crosses the fetching Elise (Emily Blunt), a contemporary dancer. Sparks immediately fly, but Norris soon learns that forces–men in the aforementioned fedoras and trench coasts known as The Adjustment Bureau–are conspiring to keep the two apart. Norris must ultimately choose between his career, or potentially missing out on the love of his life. “As it turns out, romance for grown-ups isn’t dead in Hollywood,” wrote The New York Times in its glowing review of the film.
Fresh off his role as a dimwitted lawman in the Coen Bros. comedy-western True Grit, as well as narrating this year’s Best Documentary Oscar winner Inside Job, Damon is arguably the most reliable–and immensely likeable–actor in Hollywood right now. He’s also an avowed Democrat and father of four young children with his wife of nearly six years, Luciana Barroso.
MMM sat down with Damon to chat politics—including the situation in the Middle East, married life, his own twists of fate, and his upcoming thriller with Steven Soderbergh, Contagion.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: What did you do over the holidays?
MATT DAMON: We went to Miami, and we were down there and then I started a job soon after, like January 4.
MMM: What movie were you shooting?
DAMON: The Cameron Crowe movie, “We Bought A Zoo,” and we are about four weeks into shooting. It’s really good, it’s going really well, so we are about a third of the way through.
MMM: What is the need would you say for so much work? Because you are a family guy, you have a lot of kids, at the same time you said to us a bunch of times you are having the best years of your life and I get it, but you seem to be going and going and going.
DAMON: I think it seems like that more than it is. Like, last year for instance, I had a bunch of movies come out, but “Hereafter” for instance, I shot in three weeks, because Clint is just Clint. [Laughs] So I shot that in 3 weeks, and then I did the Coen Brothers movie, I did “True Grit,” but I worked 25 days and my deal with them was just I was never going to be away from my family for more than a week. So my family was here and they cut my schedule up so it was like two days a week of work, so I would commute to Texas, I’d fly, land in Austin, go shoot for two days, and turn around and catch a flight and come home. And so I felt like a traveling salesman or something. [Laughs]
MMM: Like you’re in “Up in the Air?”
DAMON: Yeah, George Clooney. [Laughs] But then I was off for six months. So I had six months off, and we spent the summer on vacation with my family and then all Fall was just here in New York, taking the kids to school and just doing daily stuff. And then I did a two-week job in December, with Steven Soderbergh, but again, that’s a job that would have been six weeks with another director, but it’s Soderbergh, so it’s two weeks.
MMM: So what’s your idea of fate and when do you think it’s played a part in your life?
DAMON: Well, I certainly think that looking back, I mean, I remember wondering whether or not I was going to do this Farrelly Brothers movie…
MMM: “Stuck on You?”
DAMON: Yeah, “Stuck on You,” and they wanted to shoot it in Hawaii, and I remember talking to my mother, and she said, why don’t you, you can have fun when you go work, because at this time, Werner Herzog and I were talking about something, and Werner’s questions were like, “Would you ever eat a live snake? Would you lose 40 pounds?” And I said, “Yeah, I will. I’ll do that.”
MMM: That was “Rescue Dawn?”
DAMON: It was “Rescue Dawn.” Christian (Bale) did it, and it was great. But then, I was trying to decide between that and “Stuck on You” with the Farrelly Brothers, and I remember my mother saying, “You know, Matt, you can have fun in your work, it doesn’t always have to be this rigorous grind.” And then I met Peter and Bobby Farrelly and I really liked those guys, and I decided to do the Farrelly Brothers movie. And they ended up not shooting it in Hawaii, they shot it in Miami, and down in Miami I went into a bar with some of the crew one night, and saw my wife. And now I have four kids [Laughs] and so that seems like a real twist of fate, or some real incredible luck that we found each other.
MMM: Is being pregnant fate or so? At what point do you have to twist the fate and say enough is enough?
DAMON: No, I think enough is enough for us. Four is plenty. I think that’s it, yeah. [Laughs] That’s it. If you have a number for a good doctor, please let me know. [Laughs]
MMM: “Hereafter” was also about spiritual issues. Are you in a spiritual phase right now?
DAMON: No, I don’t think so. When Clint Eastwood calls and says I have a part in my movie, I don’t really care what it’s about. [Laughs] I’ll do it, you know?
MMM: What do you think about how it was received?
DAMON: “Hereafter?” It was interesting you know, I wish more people saw it, but the reviews, if they were good, they were extremely good. And if they were negative, they were extremely negative. And I thought that was really interesting, and people were completely divided by the movie, and I just thought that was very interesting, because obviously you can go on Rotten Tomatoes now and you can see how everybody reacts and that’s a very atypical way for people to react to a movie and I wondered if it was the subject matter, or that some people were just like allergic to it, and could just not go there, and wouldn’t, and were pissed off that a movie was trying to. And then other people were really moved by it, and I mean, some of the reviews like, the big reviews in The New York Times and The L.A. Times and USA Today were fantastic. Like really great reviews, and then some of the other were just scathing, just brutal, ripping it to shreds, like taking it personally, like when there is that level of vitriol for a movie that’s, whatever you want to say about it, it’s still that level of craft, right? I always wonder what that is, it’s like, some people reviewed that like we took their lunch money. [Laughs]
MMM: What do you like about this movies?
DAMON: About this one, the love story. I think to me that’s what it always was. Tonally it’s very unique and that was all down to George, that’s a very ambitious thing to do, to make a movie you are kind of cross pollinating these genres, you know? But the whole thing is anchored in the relationship with me and Emily and Anthony too and so that was what my kind of favorite part of the movie is, those scenes with us.
MMM: Do you feel that you are living in a free country, or is there an Adjustment Bureau that is controlling your life?
DAMON: Well I think that’s what he wrote it out of, he wrote it at a time I think when he felt he had that paranoia, and he had that question. But no, I feel like we are certainly living in a free country, yes.
MMM: Isn’t that element a bit downplayed in this film, the political context, because it was in the book…
DAMON: It’s certainly changed, yeah, so I don’t know what George ever saw it as. I think George literally saw it as a higher power, not necessarily Big Brother, but an actual higher power. He was a philosophy major at Princeton and Oxford and I think his whole thing is about the fate versus free will. Like that to him is the interesting question, and I think that’s rooted in his decision to be a screenwriter. Coming from that background, there were a lot of jobs he could have taken that would have been more stable. But he opted to do what everybody in our business did opt to do, which is take a road that’s very unstable and promises a lot of insecurity down the line. So to him I think this movie is a celebration of that kind of choice, of taking the road less travelled, and embracing your freedom to choose a life that isn’t the life that’s kind of laid out for you, but rather one that might be a little tougher.
MMM: If you didn’t go into the movie business, would you have gone in politics, because you are pretty convincing.
DAMON: Thanks. No, I don’t think so, but that’s not a life that I would…
MMM: Maybe baseball? [Laughs]
DAMON: Yeah, if I was about four inches taller and threw a fastball about 20 miles an hour faster.
MMM: What changed your view about politics? You’ve always been pretty vocal about Africa and stuff that matters to you. You always say that you don’t want to be into politics, but you have a voice.
DAMON: It’s not that I’m not interested in politics, I’m very interested in politics. I’m just not interested in being a politician. I just wouldn’t want that job. But I think it’s all of our responsibility to be actively engaged, to be an engaged citizen, and to push back and voice our opinions about the things that we want and are important to us. I mean, any great movement started from people, not from politicians. Politicians follow, they are not leaders, they are followers.
MMM: Give me your opinion about Egypt and what’s happening there?
DAMON: I think it’s great, I think it’s amazing. It’s obviously, we’ll see where it goes from here, but I think it’s really incredible, and my friend Khalid Abdullah, who was in “Green Zone,” he played Freddy, has been in Tahrir Square for 19 days now, and I’m really proud to know him.
MMM: Have you been in touch with him through e-mail?
DAMON: No, he doesn’t get e-mail right now, his phone has been busy, and I’ve been trying to call him. Paul Greengrass has talked to him, and just said it was deeply, deeply affecting, we are very proud of him.
MMM: I want to ask you about the Soderbergh movie that might go to Cannes for the festival in a few months. What can you tell me about it, what’s your part?
DAMON: “Contagion?” Oh, I didn’t know they were thinking of taking it to Cannes. I hope you are right. It’s a pandemic movie, but a real, like Scott Burns, who wrote “The Informant,” researched in depth what would really happen if there was an outbreak of a real bad virus, and what the response would be, kind of around the world, and so, like “Traffic,” it follows different storylines: one in Hong Kong, one in Minnesota, one in Chicago, and it bounces all over the world, and follows all these different characters. I represent probably the most human of them, because Gwyneth plays my wife, and she buys it in like the first five minutes of the movie, and I’m trying to kind of, my storyline is about this guy just trying to keep it together. He loses his wife and his stepson, but he’s still got his daughter. I think this is the most realistic pandemic movie that’s ever been made. I think it’s an adult horror movie really.
MMM: So what about you? Are you romantic, and what are you ready to do for love?
DAMON: I’m the kind of guy who will go to a premiere on Valentine’s Day. [Laughs] Believe me, I know how to win points. [Laughs] My wife, who has had four children, is the greatest woman on earth, and I won’t even be with her on Valentine’s Day. No, I don’t think I’ve ever been a very romantic person. I don’t think I’ve been good at romance, big kind of sweeping gestures of my love, l walk it more than I talk it.
MMM: What are you going to do to make up for that? Will she be getting flowers?
DAMON: Yeah, but don’t print that now. Yeah, I’m sending flowers, but Flowers.com doesn’t really, [Laughs] 1-800-Flowers, yeah, thanks a lot honey! [Laughs] I pushed out four kids for you, thanks for the flowers! [Laughs]
THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU is now playing in theaters nationwide.
In today’s Hollywood, many of the finest young actors and actresses have graduated from television sitcoms – logging a Gladwellian amount of acting time – to become “serious” actors. Ryan Gosling (“Young Hercules”), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (“Third Rock From the Sun”), Mila Kunis (“That 70’s Show”), Michelle Williams (“Dawson’s Creek”), the list goes on.
However, members of casts of the TV series’ “Gossip Girl” and “Friday Night Lights” have, despite the palpable talent exhibited on their respective shows, had a difficult time cracking Hollywood. “Gossip Girl” star Penn Badgley’s first lead role was in the critically-mauled remake, “The Stepfather”; his well-coiffed accomplice, Chace Crawford, starred in the critical and box office bomb, “Twelve”; and trailers for “The Green Lantern,” Karl Lagerfeld’s new muse Blake Lively’s first juicy film role, look awful.
On the “Friday Night Lights” side, Zach Gilford led the cast of one of the worst films of 2009, “Post Grad”; Adrianne Palicki appeared in the disappointing, machine-gun-wielding angels flick, “Legion”; and Taylor Kitsch’s performance, replete with mangled Cajun accent, was downright embarrassing in “X-Men Origins: Wolverine.”
Will “Gossip Girl” starlet Leighton Meester and “Friday Night Lights” knockout Minka Kelly – better known as “Derek Jeter’s fiancée” – follow down the same dreary path?
THE ROOMMATE isn’t likely to win any critic’s hearts, but will provide some undeniable fun when you stumble across it at 2 a.m. on HBO. A reimagining of “Single White Female,” the film centers on Sara (Kelly), a college freshman who gets assigned to be the dorm roommate of Rebecca (Meester). The two initially become friends, until her Rebecca turns out to be a jealous schizo.
MMM sat down with Leighton Meester and Esquire’s ‘sexiest woman alive,’ Minka Kelly, to chat about The Roommate, their own psychotic tendencies, whether they compete for the same roles, and breaking Hollywood.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: Are there seeds of insanity within you?
LEIGHTON MEESTER: Yeah. No, I mean I like to joke at least and say it’s a little bit of column A, a little bit of column B, but no. I think everyone is a little bit, like they could at least fantasize about “Well what if I took that extra step and did something a little crazy?” But I have a pretty firm grip on sanity for the most part, but during this time I got to totally let it go, which was a little scary.
MMM: I think I read that the writer said that you have the ability to turn the creepiness on and off. Is that just an easy switch for you? Can I ask you to turn on the creepy right now?
MEESTER: No, and I think that’s a really funny compliment.
MINKA KELLY: She can be really creepy.
MMM: Minka, you had a tough job here in that you’re kind of the straight character. What was the challenge of playing the less cuckoo one?
KELLY: Sure, there are challenges throughout the entire thing in making sure that I’m not creeped out by her in the beginning, and make sure that I don’t start out knowing that she has a problem or a chemical imbalance, and giving her the benefit of the doubt for the most part of the movie until I’m actually proven wrong. For everyone else, for people watching the movie, for everyone else around me in the scenario in the movie, it’s easier to see her crazy. And also, in real life, when you’re in a situation with someone it’s harder for you to see them doing anything odd or wrong or acting in a certain way. Just like if you had a best friend or a boyfriend or a girlfriend doing something wrong or treating you in a bad way, you make excuses for them, you justify their actions because you want to believe in the best in them. And so I had to make sure that I kept that, just make it believable so that there weren’t any moments where it’s like how could she not see that she’s crazy and really make it true to where if you were in that situation, it would be harder for you to see than it is for everyone else.
MMM: Would you say you’re a naturally trusting person in your life?
KELLY: In my real life? No, I’m pretty guarded.
MMM: Did that develop over time or was that always the case?
KELLY: I mean you don’t come out of the womb guarded, but it’s hard for me to let people in unfortunately.
MEESTER: No, I think you’re a real sweetheart.
KELLY: You know what, I do my best.
MEESTER: She’s complex.
KELLY: I think I have a good instinct so certain people I let in easier than others.
MEESTER: But your character does toughen up though.
KELLY: Oh yeah, as soon as she knows it’s time to fight back she fights back.
MMM: For your character Leighton, it’s kind of a slow burn for a little while. All the cards aren’t out on the table early on in the film. Is it more fun for you to play those scenes without giving anything away? Or is the more extreme part more fun?
MEESTER: Honestly, it was more uncomfortable, especially watching afterwards, the scenes where she’s trying to be normal and just playing it straight. I think that it’s just really honestly a very thin façade and she always has wheels turning and you can tell that she might be a little bit off. It slowly progresses but I think that’s what happens, if you want to know kind of chemically what it is, is that she is taking an antipsychotic medication and when you take the medication you don’t feel like you’re crazy so then you stop taking it. And when you stop taking antipsychotics you become psychotic again, so that’s basically what happens.
MMM: It’s obviously a popcorn kind movie but I would think you don’t treat your work any less seriously on a film like that. Does research go hand in hand with something like this?
KELLY: I just am such a champion of hers in the work that she did and the research that she did do. I would hate the idea of this movie being a popcorn movie taking away from the work that both of us – but especially that she – did on this movie.
MEESTER: I know what he means though, I do. I think that this movie, as scary and thrilling and really honestly creepy as it is, it is fun and sexy and filled with action. It’s entertainment too, so it’s both. For me, when I was watching it, it was really uncomfortable because I think I had amnesia about doing the movie to be honest. I was just a total terror on set to everybody I’m sure.
MMM: Obviously another part of the novelty of the film is in the vein of “Single White Female” there are similarities between you two physically and you kind of accentuate that throughout the film as it goes. Have you guys found yourself in the course of your career interacting a lot, competing for the same roles? Do you feel like you’ve been traveling on similar paths and had you interacted much before this?
MEESTER: No. I met her, I was 16 I think and we traveled to South Africa together. We were doing this pair of commercials and by the end we went out on this little pier and we were like, “Can we be friends forever?” And I didn’t even really think like “oh we kind of look like each other,” and I saw her mom and she kind of looked like my mom and it was very sort of strange. And then over the years people have been like “Minka! Oh wait,” and so I think it’s just really interesting that this is the movie that we ended up being in together.
MMM: Do you always correct the person or are there fake autographs?
MEESTER: Probably somewhere. I think it’s a lovely compliment.
KELLY: I agree. I think it’s flattering that anyone would even know my name in front of you because I feel like so many people are like “Blair!” and I’m like “No, Minka! Minka, dammit!”
MMM: I alluded to earlier the physical aspect of this film and how it kind of increases as it goes along. Is that something you look forward to, the stunts and physical action that come especially towards the end of this film?
MEESTER: Yeah, it was like the last week of work and it was pretty intense. Well she’s really tough. The entire time I’m kind of like trying to be physical with her and then just apologizing the whole time and it’s really, really messed up because I still think that I can salvage the friendship. But it’s still pretty heavy duty. And I have a gun, which was terrifying because I don’t like them, but I actually kind of started to get good at it.
MMM: You guys both have very interesting points in your career. Minka, you’ve done “Friday Night Lights,” which most people know you from, one of the most critical acclaimed and beloved shows on the air the last few years, and you haven’t done a lot of film yet.
KELLY: This is my first.
MMM: So I’m curious about your thought process. Was it trepidation, was it waiting for the right material?
KELLY: Really it was, “Oh my god; I got a job.” You get offered things but not really the things you really want to do, so for me I just felt really lucky that I got offered to do a job with a friend of mine for my first experience. I just felt like it was a really safe thing to do and it would be a really fun thing to do. And also I thought what a great idea to bring back the story of “Single White Female” again. There’s a whole generation of kids who haven’t seen that or even know about it. In no way at all are we trying to recreate it because it’s genius on it own, it’s just sort of bringing that idea back and setting it in college.
MMM: Leighton, especially in the last year or so you’ve been very active in film and a lot of different kinds of films. How calculated do you feel you have to be in terms of approaching the film work, in terms of picking and choosing different kinds of movies?
MEESTER: It’s weird. I do my show for like nine or 10 months out of the year and then there are a couple months there to do a film, and if there is one that’s shooting just at the right time that’s the right thing, that’s cool. I mean we shot this two years ago. This was actually a couple of hiatuses ago for me, so I’ve been really lucky that there have been movies that I’ve wanted to do and that are right for me during that time. And then there are other movies, like I did that movie “Country Strong” during production and I was like, “Well, I need to do this movie so we’re just going to have to work it out.” But I think it’s very much a compulsive thing when you read a script or you hear about a project. It’s like you have to play the character, and weirdly enough, a lot of the time when you feel that way it actually works out.
MMM: How did you both feel when you read the script? I’m sure it’s different from anything you’ve ever done.
MEESTER: I read the script at a really early stage and the character was really fleshed out and written in a way that spoke to me because I always think if I’m not an actor I would love to be a psychiatrist because I like helping people with their problems. I don’t know how to deal with my own, but other people’s are good.
MMM: For those of us who don’t go to movies that much anymore and have kind of lost faith in a good horror movie, why should I go to see the movie in theaters?
MEESTER: I saw it in a theater and I brought a few of my friends and none of them sat next to me. They sat one seat away so I didn’t even get to grab on to anybody. At one point I fully get punched in the face and everyone cheered. That says something. It’s very much an experience and it’s scary but it’s not like jump out and scare you. It really does make you think.
KELLY: It doesn’t make you want to close your eyes and not look. It’s not grotesque in any way. It’s like, what’s going to happen next? What is she capable of? What is she doing? How could she do that? What is she going to do next? It’s suspenseful and you really leave talking about it.
MMM: For the research for your character you had to actually meet with people that had the same mentality as your character?
MEESTER: I was lucky enough to be able to have a lot of time beforehand. I was fully involved throughout the whole thing, which was great, and I’ve also been lucky enough to know a lot of crazy people, so that’s great. But also I did meet with a psychiatrist who has even gone to court to defend people who are mentally unfit to go to prison for their crimes, and they were some pretty intense, scary crimes. But it really gave me a lot of insight into why this person does what she does and why she would be the way that she is. I think it’s maybe a lack of love and attention and it’s definitely a chemical imbalance, but it also spelled out the path of why I would be doing those things, because in my life I would never do those things. I would never be jealous of a friend’s boyfriend or other friends, or be nosy to the point of snooping or that type of thing. But one of the doctors really spelled it out for me and said Sarah’s love for Rebecca means life to her. That’s how she feels she can live, so when anybody or anything gets in the way she feels indirectly somehow that that person or thing is threatening her life. Which sounds crazy, and it is, but it somehow made me understand why she was doing what she was doing.
MMM: Leighton, I know the characters in “Gossip Girl” are now in college. How would Blaire react if this character was her roommate?
MEESTER: Oh wow. That’s a good question. She’d probably bitch slap her.
MMM: As young actors how are you going to go about improving your craft? Do you take classes, do you have a mentor, are there actors that inspire you? How are you going to go forward from here?
MEESTER: From my point of view I think time, experience, goals, maybe being not content is what drives me at least. And I think always trying to be smarter and I think never doing the same thing twice. I think it just takes time and you grow much more comfortable with who you are as a person and then eventually with your work too, hopefully.
MMM: Can I ask what some of the goals are?
MEESTER: I really don’t know. I know that what’s important to me in my life is my work and my family and my friends, and that being my complete identity. I don’t want any of the exterior things that might cushion it or make it seem any different from anyone else’s life. All I want for myself is to grow as a person and as an actor, and whether that means making a movie like this or whatever comes next, just as long as I’m content and I maintain my own identity and I can understand my inner workings, I think that’s important. But there are goals. This is a really great job. We’re big kids playing make believe and you get to change and work with the most amazing people and travel.
KELLY: Get out of your own boring reality and be someone else.
MMM: The “Friday Night Lights” experience has been so good to you and not something that happens every day. Would you say that that sets a really high bar for you? Does it make it more difficult for you when you’re looking at future jobs?
KELLY: I’ll always aim to do things that I’m afraid of, that don’t seem easy, like as you might assume that maybe this role would have been easy but there were certainly challenges in it. With “Friday Night Lights” I just got really, really lucky. At that stage when you’re just auditioning for hundreds of pilots and you land one you’re just like, “Yes! I can say I’m an actor. I’m getting paid as an actor, this is amazing.” We did that pilot and we never thought it would go anywhere. The guy broke his neck, where are we going to go from here? I just got so lucky, I got so, so lucky. I would have taken anything and to have gotten something so special and so unique and to have been surrounded by such talented people I could never compare it to anything else. And I would never look at another job and say “Well it’s not as special as ‘Friday Night Lights,’” because I never knew “Friday Night Lights” was so special. Neither did anyone else really until as of late. So yes of course I would love to keep that integrity and do things that I think are as special.
MMM: I would like to know as an actress what’s the biggest difference between working on a movie and a TV show?
KELLY: I think with TV your character is ever evolving and you’re growing with your character and you’re always learning with your character, about your character. And with a movie you know the entire arc, where it begins and where it ends.
MEESTER: You can sort of create a back story and what happens after for yourself and everything between. But with a show you really can’t do that because you might say oh, this is the character’s middle name, and then two years later they’re like “It’s Theodora.” So you can’t make it up; they sort of decide for you. And also the schedule, that’s a big difference. A movie goes for a few months usually and a show goes for years.
MMM: As actors, what would be your ideal role?
MEESTER: I don’t know. I think every role is ideal because it’s different from the last one and it challenges you in a different way, and I think variety is really important. It’s what keeps us from being bored or stagnant. I would say a role like this that I got to play in this movie is ideal because I got to completely explore myself, a character, the mind. It was really thrilling. Would I do it again? Probably not.
KELLY: I second that.
THE ROOMMATE is now playing in theaters nationwide.
Arguably the biggest surprise of the 2011 Golden Globe Awards on Jan. 16 – aside from host Ricky Gervais’ acerbic wit and Natalie Portman’s maniacal cackle – came courtesy of a schlubby, balding, bespectacled actor. Paul Giamatti stunned the crowd with his upset win for Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Comedy or Musical, for his performance as foulmouthed screw-up Barney Panofsky in BARNEY’S VERSION.
Giamatti is no stranger to the Golden Globes, having won in 2008 for the HBO television miniseries, “John Adams.” However, his win at the 2011 Globes – over more ballyhooed stars like Johnny Depp and Kevin Spacey – was poetic justice given his shunning by the Academy. Yes, Giamatti received his first – and only – Oscar nod for Best Supporting Actor in 2005 as Russell Crowe’s dedicated trainer, Joe Gould, in “Cinderella Man,” but it was a empty gesture considering his snub the previous year in the Best Actor category for arguably his best performance to date as troubled oenophile Miles Raymond in Alexander Payne’s brilliant road comedy, “Sideways.”
It remains to be seen if the Academy will follow in the Globes’ footsteps and recognize Giamatti’s performance in Barney’s Version, but there’s no denying it’s one helluva acting job. Adapted from Mordecai Richler’s novel of the same name and marking the directorial debut of “C.S.I.” director-producer Richard J. Lewis, Giamatti stars at Barney Panofsky, a crude, 65-year-old alcoholic who reflects on his life’s hits and misses, including meeting the love of his life, Miriam Grant (Rosamund Pike) at the wedding reception to his 2nd wife, played by Minnie Driver. Dustin Hoffman also stars as Barney’s eccentric father, Izzy.
MMM sat down with Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike (“Pride & Prejudice,” “Die Another Day”) to chat about Barney’s Version, and the rules of attraction.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: Paul, do you really know how to make a girl cry?
PAUL GIAMATTI: Yeah, that’s me man. I know how to make women cry, that’s for sure. Now I’ve just got to make them smile and laugh.
MMM: How does it feel being a stud?
GIAMATTI: It suits me. Am I a stud in this movie? I guess the guy does alright.
MMM: Even though he does some horrible things he’s such a lovable character. How did you make it a lovable character?
GIAMATTI: I think it’s just sort of built into the character, I think it’s just there; it’s the idea in a lot of ways. If he wasn’t likeable or lovable he would be unbearable. It’s kind of there and there are so many wonderful relationships; the relationship I have with her and the father and the fact that he has this sort of…
MMM: The character’s only really there by what someone does usually. He does lots of nice things.
GIAMATTI: Yeah, there’s a kind of care he takes with these sort of wounded people. With his friend Boogie and that French-Canadian actress and his father in a sense is this kind of vulnerable figure that he’s very protective of. He’s got a decent side to him. I just tried to not screw up the screenplay, which sort of laid out all these characteristics.
MMM: Did you both read the book? Talk about research you did.
ROSAMUND PIKE: It depends who we’re talking to. Sometimes we tell people we’ve read it.
GIAMATTI: I know. You’ve noticed that haven’t you? You amazingly called me out on that. I sort of read the book. I read it afterwards, really read it, but sort of. I stayed away from it.
PIKE: The script is pretty different. The script is brilliant in its own right.
GIAMATTI: The script is really good is the thing.
PIKE: Often when you the resource to a novel you go there because you’re looking for the things that the script leaves out. This script has deviated from the book and somehow remained incredibly faithful to the spirit of it.
GIAMATTI: It’s really well written.
PIKE: You start talking about one aspect of the film and you start thinking that’s what the film’s about and then you realize you’ve forgotten a whole other aspect, like there’s a sort of murder mystery at the center of it all.
MMM: How do you walk a fine line between making your character sympathetic and also a villain?
GIAMATTI: That’s what I mean. I don’t know that it was so much me. I mean maybe I bring something to it, I don’t know. I don’t think he was a villain exactly. He can be a bad guy but I don’t think he’s a bad guy.
MMM: Is it necessarily a bad thing if a man feels like he hasn’t found true love but gives it a shot a few times before he really does?
GIAMATTI: I don’t necessarily think it is. I don’t know that this guy thinks he has found it the first two times. I don’t think he’s in any way thinking he found true love with those two wackos. The first woman, certainly not. It’s unfortunate, there’s much more to that whole relationship in the book that I wish could have been in there because it’s a fantastic character in the book, Clara and the crazy relationship that they have. He’s marrying her for all the wrong reasons. I don’t think he loves her, truly loves her. And the second woman he’s making a big mistake and he knows it, which is why the second he sees the person strikes him blind with love like that he goes after her, because he knows he’s making a mistake with the other woman. This is the woman he truly loves and the one time he actually finds it.
MMM: What I got from your reaction in that situation was that he never thought that existed until he saw her?
GIAMATTI: No, I think you’re absolutely right. He didn’t. And that’s why it’s absolutely the impulse to grab it while its there is so powerful that he can’t stop himself.
PIKE: And it’s very powerful to be told that. For someone to sit on a train and say, “Look, I really thought this thing never happens and it does, it really is happening to me now right here.”
GIAMATTI: It’s utterly sincere, and it’s not just about getting tail or something. He actually truly, truly realizes, “Oh my god; that just happened, and I can’t let it pass by.”
MMM: Is that your version of love? What is your version of love?
GIAMATTI: A bit of comedy, some laughs.
PIKE: A few tears.
GIAMATTI: Yeah, a few tears. The idea of being struck by love like that, I think it’s certainly possible. I don’t know how many people actually pursue it. I’ve been struck with lust. Frequently, many times a day. I don’t know about love, per se. I’ve felt that kind of unbelievably impelling power, but whether it was something immediate I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s a real thing.
MMM: Well Miriam’s interesting too because she doesn’t work and she’s not happy about the fact that he’s sending flowers because he’s married.
PIKE: I know, I think she behaves very respectably early on. There was a journalist next door, we just had a big fight because he said that Miriam screwed the whole relationship up by setting Barney up. Because I think she knows him so well at that point that she goes to New York, and knowing she’s going to see Blair. But I really don’t think she went to see Blair. I think she genuinely went to see the son and Blair happened to be there, because Blair is pursuing her like a kind of madman.
GIAMATTI: There’s clearly an attraction between her and Blair.
PIKE: I don’t think she fancies Blair. I couldn’t fancy Bruce Greenwood over him.
MMM: What was so attractive about a man like Barney?
PIKE: The previous one about her being non-flirtatious, it was very interesting actually to play the love interest in a film and not be flirtatious. Because in every romantic comedy or every big romance we see that first scene where there’s definite flirtation going on and it was sort of interesting to hold back and not do all the things that you’re told the romantic lead in a film has to do, sort of do everything against that. I kind of enjoyed that.
MMM: And it’s her being grounded I think.
GIAMATTI: It is, it totally is.
PIKE: And surprisingly men seem to respond to it.
GIAMATTI: Very attractive. Actually, it is.
MMM: We want what we cannot have, that’s why.
GIAMATTI: Well there’s that. But there is something actually very attractive about it, this kind of no bullshit thing.
MMM: When you have the scene after the first lunch meeting, after all that time and you’re with a man who gets so drunk that he vomits and then he passes out and you have to sit there and wait for him to come to, to finally get a slice of pizza because you’re starving. In playing that scene where do you find the motivation for what is keeping her there and what it is about this man who has just done these things that are pretty much all the wrong things to do on a date that keeps her there?
PIKE: She could be about to walk. I think it is really disrespectful to turn up drunk to a date. But then I think it’s when she goes into the room and she sort of sees you have a total new insight into somebody. You have an insight into the fact that he brought however many suits and shirts and ties that he laid out and obviously really thought about this. And then this sort of absurd thing of this Champagne and roses came, which is on one level terribly insulting, and on another level so inappropriately endearing that it’s kind of charming. And then she finds these crib notes of conversation topics and I think whereas she could have thought, “Is this guy just an arrogant asshole?” I think she sees that this is someone who’s so desperate for this meeting to go well that he blows it, and I think that makes her stay. And then that they walk all the way from Central Park to Queens when they actually kiss, like when is this guy going to get on with it?
MMM: Could you talk about the collaboration of working with Dustin? He plays such a funny father.
GIAMATTI: He’s fantastic. He establishes immediate intense intimacy with you as a person and as an actor. But he’s a lot of fun. He’s a fun guy and the process of working with him is kind of nuts. He’ll dig right down into the thing. There were several times when he turned to the director while the camera was rolling and said, “Can we go back to the beginning of this and throw the script out completely? Paul and I will just do this scene in our own words and make it up as we go along,” which we did a couple of times, and then he would suddenly click back in. You had to chase after the guy and keep up with him, but then he’d suddenly click back into the dialog. It was fantastic. It was great. I’ve never worked with somebody doing this kind of mad thing that he was doing but it was highly effective because it just breaks down. He’s getting everything out on camera, he doesn’t believe about doing any rehearsal off camera. You’re going to do it all on camera. You’re going to get your nerves out, you’re going to get all the kinks out, you’re going to work it out all on camera because something great might happen while the cameras are rolling. That’s the way he is.
MMM: How hard was it for him to play the scene when he couldn’t move at the end when he’s dead? Did he keep popping up?
GIAMATTI: He had a fart machine with him, first of all. He had a farting thing with him, which was really hilarious. Very funny. Big laughs as he would hit the fart machine while I was trying to do my big serious scene. For a 75-year-old man he stayed remarkably still. He was pretty amazing because he did have to lie there that whole time and not breathe. He did well actually; he did very well. It was shot really fast because we had to get out because it was a real massage parlor and they had to open for the night so they were like, “Get out, because we’ve got to open.” So the whole thing actually had to go very fast so he didn’t have to lie there too long.
MMM: How would you describe the love story between your two characters? Beautiful, tragic, true?
GIAMATTI: True is a good word for it I think.
PIKE: And I think it’s a really nicely matched relationship. I really admire Miriam because guys like Barney are incredibly fun to be around. The selfish narcissists are also the people who live in such an exciting way. You have to be the kind of woman who can tolerate it, and Miriam is, so she gets the benefit of it and she’s able to nurture him and be totally selfless herself. I think they’re perfectly balanced.
MMM: How is the experience of working with Richard? He has a TV background from “CSI,” so I was wondering if there were any spontaneous things on set?
PIKE: There was a scene where he wanted like at the moment of Barney seeing Miriam he wanted to go right inside his heart and do this whole intravenous journey into Barney’s heart to see it kind of pulse.
GIAMATTI: That’s very funny. That’s very good. That would have been great. What’s great about I think the TV thing is there wasn’t a whole lot of screwing around. He really knew what he wanted to do. He was great.
PIKE: He loved the story. I don’t think his TV background had any bearing on it. He had been passionate about this book for years, like 12 years, and hounded the producer to let him direct it. I think he knew a lot of how he wanted to shoot it. I think he’d had these scenes living in his head.
GIAMATTI: Yeah, he definitely did. When we rehearsed he knew down the line how he was going to shoot something and he would tell us, which was good. It was nice to be able to know that when he got to a scene.
MMM: What’s next for the two of you?
PIKE: Children. No I’m just kidding.
GIAMATTI: I’m doing a movie that George Clooney is directing called “The Ides of March,” which is about a political campaign, a very dirty political campaign. I play a dirty political campaign manager, and that starts in February. Mid-February.
BARNEY’S VERSION is now playing in select theaters nationwide.
Seth Rogen is no Christian Bale. A scruffy, mild-mannered Canadian whose voice is laced in sarcasm, with seemingly every statement punctuated by a “Huh-Huh-Huh” chuckle, Rogen is best known for his stoner-slacker roles in films like “Knocked Up” and “Pineapple Express.” Even his bodily transformation for his role as billionaire playboy-cum-masked vigilante Britt Reid in THE GREEN HORNET wasn’t nearly as drastic as Bale’s – Rogen merely went from pudgy to out-of-shape. He is, in many ways, the anti-superhero.
First conceived as a radio program in 1936, then a comic, then a short-lived TV series in the 1960s – most notable for the first stateside appearance of martial artist Bruce Lee as the ass-kicking chauffeur, Kato – Britt Reid (a.k.a. The Green Hornet) is the original billionaire playboy (sorry, Bruce Wayne). Unlike Batman, however, The Green Hornet suffered a far more arduous journey to the big screen. The property was first being shopped around in 1992 with George Clooney attached in the title role, until he left to film “Batman and Robin.” Then, in 1997, Michel Gondry signed on to make his directorial debut with Mark Wahlberg in the lead, but it was stuck in development hell, and all parties left. In 2000, Jet Li was attached to play Kato, but again things fizzled. Then, in 2004, Miramax president Harvey Weinstein hired cult filmmaker and comic book writer Kevin Smith to write and direct the film, and Smith approached Jake Gyllenhaal for the lead, but by 2006, Smith left the project.
Finally, in 2007, producer Neal Moritz (“The Fast and the Furious” films) obtained the rights, optioned them to Columbia Pictures, and hired Seth Rogen to star as Reid and co-write the screenplay with his writing partner, Evan Goldberg (the duo wrote “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express” together). Stephen Chow (“Kung Fu Hustle”) signed on to direct and star as Kato, and Nicolas Cage was in talks to play the villain, but Chow soon left, and Cage reportedly wanted to play the villain, Chudnofsky, with a Jamaican accent, and left the project over creative differences.
So, over a decade later, Michel Gondry (“Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”) was brought back to direct THE GREEN HORNET, with Taiwanese pop star Jay Chou cast as Kato, and Cameron Diaz in the role of love interest Lenore Case. The film concerns billionaire playboy Reid, heir to a newspaper publishing fortune, whose father (Tom Wilkinson) dies mysteriously. Reid must reassess his life, and eventually assumes the identity of a masked vigilante, The Green Hornet, who, along with his Kung Fu fighting chauffeur, Kato, cruise around in their souped-up ride Black Beauty, ridding the streets of crime. Their main target in Benjamin Chudnosky (“Inglorious Basterds’” Christoph Waltz), a Russian mobster who controls the Los Angeles criminal underworld.
MMM sat down with Seth Rogen to chat about how this project finally came to fruition – including the hilarious opening scene featuring James Franco, why it’s in 3-D, and finding the right mixture of action and comedy.
MMM: Can you talk about how Gondry and Cameron Diaz came into play?
ROGEN: After Stephen Chow left we were really just charged with finding a new director. We met with tons of people and Gondry was really passionate about it. He had been attached to a version of it fifteen years ago. It was the first movie that he was ever attached to as a director. He really just oddly seemed to get what we were trying to do. He really wins the award for being the most different than you think he’s going to be. You picture him for being this very pretentious kind of artsy fartsy guy, but he’s not. He’s really funny and he’s in no way pretentious. He’s incredibly sloppy in his appearance and disorganized seeming, but when he came in and met with us he really just seemed to get what we were going for. It was clear that he’d be able to do the action in a way that was really original and to us that was really important because we were pretty sure we’d be able to make an interesting story and we’d make it funny, but we knew that in order for it to stand up against these other superhero movies that the action had to be something exceptional. We wanted to make sure that we had a director who could do that and he definitely could.
MMM: And Cameron Diaz?
ROGEN: Cameron. It’s funny. We didn’t know if we were going to get enough money to hire a big actress or a little actress or what. The studio was in a good mood that day, I guess, and they were like, “You can get a big actress,” and we were like, “How about Cameron Diaz?” And they were like, “All right.” I mean, sometimes things just work out well. We called her and I think it was like a few hours from when we called her to when she said yes to doing it. I don’t think she even read the script fully before she committed to it. She just liked the idea of me and she liked mine and Evan’s movie. She loves ‘Pineapple Express’ and she likes Gondry, and so she was just like, ‘Sure, yes. Why not,’ which was amazing. She’s really cool.
MMM: Can you talk about how long it took to do that scene with James Franco and if it was improvised?
ROGEN: A day, and it was great. Again, sometimes you just ask someone to do something and they say yes. That was one of those things. He had some free time and it just worked out really well. We had this funny idea for the scene of how to introduce Christoph [Waltz] and we really wanted to give it something to kind of add some importance to it, I guess. Franco is one of the funniest dudes that I know and so we asked him and he said yes and it worked out well.
MMM: Was it your idea or Evan’s [Goldberg] idea or both, coming up with this unorthodox idea of the superhero and the sidekick getting into major brawls as part of the story?
ROGEN: It was me and Evan, definitely. I mean, from the first conversation we had about whether or not we should do this movie, that was really the only idea that we had. It was really the only reason that we had to do it, that we just started thinking, “It’d be funny if we did ‘The Green Hornet’ and it’s all about how him and Kato don’t get along well and they don’t feel like they appreciate each other in the right way.” That was really all we had initially and I think because the idea was so simple it’s the only reason that it actually kept going. With all the weird ups and downs that the movie had the fact that you could always look back to that idea, like, “Oh, it’s just about a hero and a sidekick and they don’t get along well,” I think that’s what always kept it moving forward. At its core it was just this really simple idea that everyone understood and liked and could picture what was funny about it.
MMM: Did you have any hesitation in making this a comedy since it’s sort of small, but vociferous fan base is loyal to the serious tone of the ’60’s version?
ROGEN: Not really. We just wanted to go for it. I view comic book movies and comic books themselves as two completely different things. As cool as ‘The Dark Knight’ is that’s not really how Batman is portrayed in a lot of comic books. If you’re a comic book purist then you probably wouldn’t make the argument today because you’d look stupid because the movie is so awesome, but you could make the argument that ‘The Dark Knight’ is actually completely unrepresentative of how Batman is often portrayed in the comic books. And so that was never really a fear of ours, or a consideration. We wanted to make the best movie possible, but at the same time include all the stuff that you expected from a ‘Green Hornet’ movie whether you were really familiar with it or completely unfamiliar with it. I think if you’re really familiar with it there are a hundred references that we put in that you should be able to find. And if you’re completely unfamiliar with it then hopefully every time one of those things happen you don’t think, ‘Oh, it must be something from the TV show. That’s why I don’t understand it.’ We really wanted to try to have it so if you knew nothing it all seemed funny and interesting and original, and if you knew everything it seemed like we were kind of honoring the source.
MMM: Regarding references, did you have a map of all the things that you wanted in the script? How did you decide that?
ROGEN: We went through the radio show and we watched all the episodes of the show and just every once in a while a thing, like, the Pony Room. There’s an episode in a Pony Room. We were like, “Oh, that’s a good name for a bar. If there’s a bar in the movie we should call it the Pony Room,” and there were things like that. The Zephyr was the original Black Beauty and so we thought, like, “Oh, if we can get a zephyr in there somewhere that would be cool.” Literally, the whole end action idea from the movie is actually from an episode of the TV show wherein I’m trying to conceal this bullet wound that I’ve gotten. So we tried to take it all out. We really went through everything and thought, “Yeah, that could be cool. That could be cool,” but again the first priority was to make a good movie and if possible include as much of this stuff as we could. And we got a lot of it in there.
MMM: Whose idea was it to Bruce Lee in it?
ROGEN: I think that was actually [Michel] Gondry’s idea, to put the Bruce Lee drawing in it. Me and Evan were honestly very cautious about drawing any attention to the Bruce Lee thing in any way, shape or form, but Gondry was right. He was like, “Everyone likes Bruce Lee. We should acknowledge it.” He thought it was a cool idea if this guy likes Bruce Lee, that the character himself is a fan of Bruce Lee’s. What you say to that is what all smart filmmakers say. “We’ll shoot it and decide later.” So that’s what we did and we tried versions without it and then we put it in one day and everyone was like, “That’s awesome.” We were like, “I guess we were wrong.”
MMM: How did you come up with the features for the car? Obviously it’s a character in the movie.
ROGEN: There was some stuff that we just knew we wanted because it was cool like machine guns and missiles and all of that stuff. Gondry just really got into what original things we could add. He had the idea for the doors that swing out with the machine guns hidden inside of them. I mean, we really just started to get into the fun of looking at this car. There was one sitting in the parking lot at Sony. We’d literally just go out and look at it and be like, “Oh, you could hide a flamethrower there. You could do this thing.” Our production designer, Owen Patterson, who’s awesome and did all ‘The Matrix’ movies was very helpful in coming up with a lot of stuff for it. He had a big play in designing the car, also. But then we also wanted to make sure that as the car did stuff it did in some way feel like it was a part of the story itself, especially in the third act. So, in the design of the final car chase we really wanted to have all these weapons tell a small story of what the car could do, like, at first it only shoots straight, but then it has the missiles and then it has the doors that open and can shoot and then it gets cut in half and it can still drive and it has the seats. We got into the idea of giving this car its own little story as it gets reduced down to nothing as the big end action sequence goes on which turned out, again, really cool.
MMM: Are you a car guy?
ROGEN: No. I’m not really a car guy at all.
MMM: What do you drive?
ROGEN: I drive a Toyota Highlander hybrid which since I got I’ve noticed is a car that’s marketed towards fathers in their thirties. I’m like, “Oh, man, I bought a family car.”
MMM: I really saw ‘48 Hours’ in the relationship between you and Kato –
ROGEN: I love ‘48 Hours.’ I think it’s amazing and that movie really goes for it a lot harder than ours does in a lot of ways. I mean, Nick Nolte’s character is very salty in that movie. But those were the types of movies that we talked about, these like buddy-action comedies. I think there have been a lot of those that have worked very successfully. So to us adding masks to the guys didn’t destroy this legacy of action comedies. Although in some people’s heads it would’ve, but we just thought that you could take this type of movie and tell it in this way and it wouldn’t destroy the universe.
MMM: Jay Chou came on very last minute to the film. He’s got a very different energy than Stephen Chow, who was supposed to have been Kato. What was it like to work with this guy who was making his first Hollywood film and what did his persona change in the character’s relationship?
ROGEN: We had quite a bit of time to re-imagine it, I would say. Me and Evan write pretty fast. So that’s helpful. The age difference was the biggest thing. Stephen is almost fifty years old and Jay is around my age. So that was actually really helpful, we thought, because it made the relationship much more like a brother relationship rather than like a father-son relationship which isn’t really what we wanted. So it made us much more like peers, which was very helpful. I would say that Jay did not know much English when we started this, and it’s funny, while we were filming, I’ll be honest, everyday would be like, “I understood that. Did you understand that?” “Yeah, I understood.” It was one of the most unbelievable relief’s of my life, the first time that we showed the movie to people and the lady asked the audience, “Who here understood Jay Chou,” and everyone raised their hand. So that was a huge relief because when we first met him he literally spoke no English whatsoever. I think we kind of saw the evolution and it’s hard to make the judgment when you’re there all the time. He’s just unbelievably cool and funny and by the end he was able to fully improvise and add tons of stuff into the movie. A lot of the funny stuff he says in the movie he totally made up on his own.
MMM: Can you talk about the 3-D version of this?
ROGEN: Well, 3-D was something that we were passionate about from the get go. Honestly, the first conversation that me and Evan and Gondry ever had about the movie was that we thought we were going to be filming it in 3-D, but so many things happened leading up to filming that kind of made us look insane that I think the idea of giving us a giant chunk of money and an incredibly logistically complicated filming method was just the last thing the studio wanted to do right before we started filming. It was more like, “You guys make your movie. If it turns out good we’ll let you make it into 3-D, and otherwise we’ll spend as little money as we can.” Luckily they liked it and we had enough time to really do the 3-D well, which was something that I’m happy about because it was a real pain in the ass.
MMM: What’s the most important thing you’ve learned as a filmmaker in terms of this experience and what advice would you give to anyone who’s going to go through this?
ROGEN: I’d say don’t make a really expensive movie unless it’s an idea that you really like because it’s harder. It’s really difficult to make a really big movie. I didn’t realize how much we were flying under the radar until we did this. I’m convinced that Sony never even read ‘Pineapple Express.’ We really got a lot of freedom in the past to do things and with literally no conversation, and ultimately with ‘Green Hornet’ we got everything we wanted. It was just a lot harder to get it, basically. The amount of scrutiny that a movie like this goes under is just exponentially more than anything than we’ve experienced before, both internally and externally. The fact that you meet with an actor and then you go online and read that that actor is the star of your movie and you’re like, “What the hell happened?” It was crazy to see the amount of attention that it was getting and to see how really things were happening on this movie that happened on every movie that we’d ever done, but just because of the perception of the type of movie it was all getting blown into this crazy proportion. The only reason that we kept with it was that we liked the movie and we liked the idea and it would’ve been really easy to bail. I mean, we could’ve made ten ‘Superbad’s’ in the amount of time that we made this. So we knew that we’d only get one opportunity to make a superhero-type movie.
THE GREEN HORNET is out now in theaters nationwide.
Tags: Bruce Lee, Cameron Diaz, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, George Clooney, Harvey Weinstein, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jay Chou, Kevin Smith, Knocked Up, Mark Wahlberg, michel gondry, Neal Moritz, Nicolas Cage, Pineapple Express, Seth Rogen, Stephen Chow, Superbad, The Green Hornet
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Granted, both of these thesps heaping praise on Javier Bardem’s quietly devastating performance in BIUTIFUL are more than a little biased – Penn starred in director Alejandro González Iñárritu’s “21 Grams,” and Affleck just wrapped a new Terrence Malick film with Bardem in Paris – but many are calling Bardem’s performance in “Biutiful” the best of his career. Unfortunately, its been shut out of the awards so far due to the heavy-handedness of the film.
Bardem plays Uxbal, a hustler and devoted single father in the latter stages of prostate cancer, who, as death draws closer, attempts to mend fences with a former love and build a future for his own children. The film is directed by acclaimed filmmaker Iñárritu (“21 Grams”) and is his first film since 2006’s “Babel,” and his first in the English language since his riveting debut feature, 2000’s “Amores Perros.” However, during the interim, he was responsible for one of the best commercials in recent memory – Nike’s ‘Write the Future’ soccer ads that aired during the 2010 World Cup.
The film also marks Bardem’s long-awaited return to Spanish language cinema – his first since 2004’s “The Sea Inside” – after a foray into Hollywood that was very hit (his Oscar-winning turn as killer Anton Chigurh in the Coen Bros. “No Country For Old Men”, as a suave painter in Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” or miss (“Goya’s Ghosts,” “Love in the Time of Cholera”).
MMM sat down with Javier Bardem to chat about his powerful performance in BIUTIFUL, which he calls his most difficult one to date, how his characters stay with him, and his upcoming projects.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: I understand this role affected you deeply. Can you talk about how?
JAVIER BARDEM: In many ways, I guess, it was a long shoot. It was five months. I think on a movie set you have to be always in tension; you have to create something yourself where you are totally aware, but also create relaxation in that awareness, otherwise, you’ll be a very tense actor, but you can’t ever lose the track because you never know when they are ready to shoot. To be in that state for so long with such heavy material is exhausting. It’s not that I lost certain things. Although, I lost myself in very dramatic things at all, but it’s just that you feel that, like, you see yourself disappearing more and more from what you know you are and becoming more the person that you created. That’s not to say that I was suffering what he suffered. I’m not him. But it is to say that there is no room for something else. There is no room for anything else other than being him and because you’re portraying somebody in a movie like this, like him who goes through so many personal journeys, emotional, heavy ones, there’s no way that you can escape, to be honest. So the transformation was from being an actor and trying to pretend to be someone else to becoming that person for a good three months.
MMM: So you related to the character pretty strongly?
BARDEM: I’m not him. Thank God I’m not him. But there is no way or I don’t know the way to portray that without putting yourself in that place. But that’s what we do. That’s our job. Some characters are easier. “Eat, Pray, Love” you go there and you have fun and you do a tone, the tone of the movie and some others are different. Some others are the ones that really left some marks on your skin and this is one. It’s for sure the hardest that I’ve done.
MMM: Were there parts of the city that you went into that enhanced the character for you?
BARDEM: Yeah. I live in Spain. I live in Madrid. Barcelona is like Madrid, London, Paris, New York. I mean it’s not only in Barcelona these things happen. They happen all around, but I have awareness. I had awareness of how the world is going on in those cities — about immigration and all these illegal factories that are treating people like modern slaves, but that’s intellectual. Somehow you hear it. You see it from a distance. You read about it. In this case you are obliged to live with it and so I spent, like, a good month in those places with those people, talking to them, and what’s more important listening to them. Then the experience becomes personal, becomes an emotional experience rather than an intellectual experience. That’s the difference between having comprehension about an issue or really being affected by that issue. So after the movie, of course, my awareness of the whole ambiance of those worlds is much more powerful. I wasn’t surprised because there’s a lot of things going on in the backyard of any big town and Barcelona is no different from that.
MMM: Afterwards did you want to get more involved with these people and perhaps help them in their fight?
BARDEM: Yeah, well, that’s not that easy. I mean how do you help people that are really in the middle of…no, in the bottom of their existence because we don’t allow them to have sometimes even the rights to express. So it’s not something…you can do things, but it’s about putting, for example, this movie out there and making people realize that there is something that we have to pay attention to which is the world that we create. I think our very comfortable way of life has constructed or is based in the misery of a lot of people. Just the awareness of it means a lot to them and this movie is important for that among many other things. For me, it’s important to put this out there. For example, people in Barcelona or in Spain, in the world, will see that behind those numbers that show up in the paper are people. There are people with needs and it’s important for them to say Uxbal, a Spanish person, goes through the same problem of necessity as a person from Senegal. So in the end they are both the same. So it’s not about color or race or origin. It’s about people.
MMM: Iñárritu said he wrote this material for you. Did he tell you that?
BARDEM: He told me that, but he’s also a very wise man. He said, ‘I wrote this with you in my mind, but you are free to decline it.’ There is a lot of pressure when they tell you that they wrote this with you in mind. I’m like, ‘Oh, I cannot say no to this.’ But he’s wise and he said, ‘You can do it and somebody else can do it also. I would like you to do it.’ I read it and I’m a huge fan of his work and some of the greatest actors of all time have worked with him and have done some of their best work with him. So as an actor I was really interested in the process of how this man brings out some of the best performances of some of the best actors. I know why. It’s working really hard and putting you against the wall, in a good way. He works hard. He doesn’t stop. The material and what he proposes to you is a life journey. It’s not a performance.
MMM: Can you talk about shooting chronologically and the length of the shoot, what that took out of you all?
BARDEM: Alejandro told me in the very beginning that it was going to be chronological and I thank him for that because it would be a mess otherwise. It would be impossible. There’s an arc very well described that has to happen and it sustains little details. There’s something big which is the disease going on and the effect that it has in the mind, the body, the soul, but also little details of behavior that have to do with the chronological order of being affected by that. It’s a great luxury for any actor, but I couldn’t imagine doing this any other way. I don’t know if it would’ve been impossible, but it would’ve been extremely difficult for everybody.
MMM: And working for that long a period of time? It seems like an exhausting thing, five months –
BARDEM: Yeah, it is. It’s the longest movie I’ve done so far. It has to be this one.
MMM: How do you get out of that role after being with it for so long?
BARDEM: You don’t. They say, ‘Okay. Wrap it up,’ and you say, ‘Okay. What do I do with this now?’ You have to go there and let it go out by time. There are certain roles, like, when I did ‘Before Night Falls’ or ‘The Sea Inside’, based on real people, great real people, great human beings, both of them in different ways, but great people. They sacrificed their lives in order to say something to somebody, to all of us actually, and when they say wrap it up you have to do a process of letting go. In a way you’ve been calling them towards you, like, in spirit and they show up. Beyond your belief or not, it’s about that. It’s about something that you feel, like, ‘Okay, he’s here and he allows me to do it.’ Sometimes you feel like, ‘What would he think?’ And when those things are going and you’re in love with them for what they represent it’s hard to say goodbye, but it’s also a nice thing because it’s like, ‘Thank you for allowing me to be you.’ In this case it was different. It was like we created this out of nothing, out of nowhere and it’s difficult to detach from something that you have created because it has a lot of you in there. When you do ‘Before Night Falls’ or ‘The Sea Inside’ there’s him in there. It’s a different process.
MMM: Did you physically transform throughout this movie or did you take time off to lose the weight?
BARDEM: It was a lot of diet, a lot of exercise, but also a lot of shooting that really makes you feel like losing weight.
MMM: Can you talk about working with those two kids?
BARDEM: Well, that was the first time that they were on a movie set. Alejandro and I talked very seriously. One of the most serious things that we took in this movie was, ‘We have to protect those kids. We want to make sure that those kids know in every moment that we’re doing fiction,’ because they’re going to see things. They’re going to have images like their parents having a fight with one son in the middle being pulled off. That’s very hard for a six year old. So that was exhausting because the director and I, we tried to give a lot of attention to that, but the director is directing which is a lot of things. That’s why I’m not a director. He has to answer so many questions. I was with the kids and I was trying to be there, playing with them, doing kid things, throwing balls, and then he would say action and we would get into the fiction. They would do it so easily and so well it made me think, ‘That’s the way to go.’ That’s the way that it should be, but it was hard for me because I had to be on both sides. There’s going to be a fight with my wife. It’s going to be a fucking hard scene and I have the feeling here that it’s going to be…but you have to create that fiction. And at the same time you’re doing this for them. That was very exhausting and so when I saw the kids on set I was like, ‘Oh, God.’ But at the same time it was very rewarding because – I don’t know – the purity of them, the purity of how they played the game without any weight on it. It was like, ‘Thank you,’ because they taught you how to do it.
MMM: What do you have coming up next?
BARDEM: I did a Terrence Malick movie, but I cannot speak a lot about it because I’m not allowed. And second of all, because I don’t really know, but I have to say that it was an amazing, extraordinary experience, a unique experience.
MMM: I bet you slept for a year after this film –
BARDEM: Yeah, I did. [Laughs]
BIUTIFUL is now playing in select theaters.
Whether or not you believe Ryan Gosling, the brooding, wounded 30-year-old actor, is the next Brando, he is undoubtedly one of the most exciting actors of his generation.
The native of London, Ontario, Canada got his start as a cast member on “The Mickey Mouse Club” alongside cast mates Justin Timberlake, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and others. He dropped out of high school at 17 to shoot “Young Hercules” in New Zealand, and received his big break as a racially intolerant young cornerback in the 2000 film “Remember the Titans,” starring Denzel Washington. But it was his role as Danny Balint, a cerebral Jewish Nazi in the 2001 indie film “The Believer,” that established him as an actor to watch out for. The film won the Grand Jury Prize at the 2001 Sundance Film Festival, and Gosling was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award.
He achieved pinup status after starring in the tearjerker “The Notebook” alongside Rachel McAdams, who he ended up romancing offscreen – much to fans of the film’s delight –from 2004-2007. As Dan Dunne, a crackhead teacher who tries to alter a young girl’s life path in the 2006 film “Half Nelson,” Gosling delivered one of the finest performances of the decade, earning him an Oscar nomination for Best Actor, immediately making him one of the most respected young actors in the industry. The following year, he proved it wasn’t a fluke with his heartfelt turn in “Lars and the Real Girl,” about a lonely soul who strikes up a relationship with a rubber doll.
It took Gosling three years to star in his next film. The hiatus wasn’t self-imposed. Rather, he showed up to the set of Peter Jackson’s “The Lovely Bones” with an extra sixty pounds, which he gained by heating up containers of ice cream and guzzling them. Jackson had a different interpretation of the character, and he was replaced by Mark Wahlberg.
But Gosling is back in the critically-acclaimed indie film BLUE VALENTINE. The film took writer-director Derek Cianfrance 12 years to develop, and stars Gosling and Michelle Williams as a couple whose relationship gradually unravels. The film initially garnered an NC-17 rating, but finally was awarded an R-rating after a lengthy appeals process. The film garnered Golden Globe nominations for its two stars – Gosling and Williams – and is “a work so beautifully acted and emotionally honest it is my choice for best movie of the year,” said The New York Post.
MMM sat down with the talented Ryan Gosling to chat about his heartbreaking film, his method acting approach, and his upcoming action role opposite Carey Mulligan.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: What do you think this film says about relationships?
RYAN GOSLING: What I like about this film is that it asks questions. It is not pretending to know everything. It doesn’t have a philosophy about happens in a relationship. It really wants to know what you think. Where does love go? Why does it go away?
MMM: It is interesting to see you in this movie compared to the one about Durst [“All Good Things”], and see you play two very different characters. What do you do that allows you to inhabit these characters in such distinct ways?
GOSLING: It is different for every character. I am sure that with people that you interview, you have to use a different approach, depending on who they are. That is what keeps it interesting.
MMM: And what was interesting about these particular two roles
GOSLING: “All Good Things” was an interesting opportunity to analyze – homicide started as domestic abuse cases, and guys aren’t just abusive physically. It starts as a slow process of a man dismantling a woman’s identity, and then controlling her self-esteem, and then ultimately controlling her so that she can’t make a decision on her own, and then he starts to control her physically and it escalates. The idea was to kind of analyze that. So, someone could watch the film and think if they were in the early stages of that they could recognize it and potentially get out before it gets worse. Also, I think it was fascinating as a character study. He was a very interesting character.
MMM: And this one?
GOSLING: It is like a murder mystery in its own right, but it is this beautiful couple’s love is shot down in cold blood, and we are trying to find out whodunit. For the whole film, you are retracing the steps of their love to figure out who killed it. Was it him? Was it her? Was it the kids? Was it money? Was it time? Was it their jobs?
MMM: The amount of prep that you did for this was really interesting, in terms of living in the house with Michelle, living on the budget that they were living on, etc. Would you work that way again in terms of that kind of immersion, and do you think that there are any dangers to going in so deeply?
GOSLING: I would rather not work any other way. I don’t know how to. There aren’t many filmmakers that work that will work way. Derek is rare in that degree. On most films you are constantly aware that you are making a film with booms, and people have sides, and there are trailers, and there are monitors, and you are trying to forget that you are trying to make a film all of the time. But when you work with Derek here you are trying to remember that it is a movie.
MMM: Do you leave your roles at the end of the day — or do you even want to leave a role like this at the end of the day?
GOSLING: I didn’t have to. Michelle had to and that is what I think is even more incredible about her side of this story. She would do the same, she was just as committed as I was, and yet she would go home at night and be a mom and go back to being Michelle.
MMM: I would love to know what you think about the fact that your character has no ambition or desire to advance himself, in the usual sense of the work world out there, and what that was saying about the culture because a woman could do the same thing, and not lose the love of her husband because of it.
GOSLING: That is an interesting point. We all know this kind of guy, I think. The guy that everyone likes but kind of secretly doesn’t respect — that has all of this potential but no drive or ambition
MMM: But isn’t that okay?
GOSLING: Yeah, sure. There is not a judgment of it in the film. I think that little girls are raised to think that all they should aspire to is to have a man that loves them and is good for them and won’t leave. But what if that is not enough? What if [he] is the greatest guy in the world but you don’t love him? You can try all you want to make yourself love somebody, but good luck. I think it is a very interesting and daring character for Michelle to play because you risk being unpopular by playing that kind of a person. But those women exist and are they supposed to force themselves to love somebody when they’re not?
MMM: People talk about the motel scene as being the most painful to watch. I think the most painful to watch is when you keep asking, “Well, what can I do? I’ll do anything you ask me to do.” You are desperate, and she doesn’t have a response. It’s over.
GOSLING: It’s not fun to be rejected over and over again. I understand both points of view, and that is what I think makes the film so special — it is not slanted one way or the other. It’s a really objective portrait of a book about these people’s perspective, and what is interesting to me is after the movie is over and you talk to people they are all split, and they are all sure of it. There is no doubt in their minds. It is one way or the other — and then they fight it out.
MMM: Grizzly Bear did the soundtrack and you have some contributions. How important was that to telling the story?
GOSLING: I think it was. The idea, just in general, of only having music in the past was a great idea because it does tend to romanticize our memories, and so I thought that was a great choice. In terms of having Grizzly Bear, it is a very cinematic kind of [music]. There is something orchestral, and almost like a movie from…it has “Gone With The Wind”-type moments in its score and then they dismantle it; that is kind of what the movie is doing, it builds something beautiful and then tears it down.
MMM: And your performance? It was impressive.
GOSLING: I tell you what. If I had known they were going to make a trailer out of that I would have worked harder. You know what is funny is that now on YouTube there’re these guys trying to play the song the way that I played it. Because I am not good enough to play it the way that it is supposed to be played, I just made up my own really simple way of doing it. And those guys are so good that they can’t figure out how to play it as badly as I did.
MMM: Did you like that scene? I think it is such a charming scene and you get a great sense of your character.
GOSLING: Yeah, I liked the way that it came about. I think that is what is interesting about Derek, that he said, “From sun up to sundown I am going to film whatever you do, and you can do whatever you want.” And we shot all night and the only thing that made it into the movie were those two minutes.
MMM: We are coming to the end of the year and I just wanted to ask you what your favorite movie this year was and why?
GOSLING: “Enter the Void.”
MMM: I loved it too. What struck you about it?
GOSLING: I never saw anything like it. I just think it is completely new. I just couldn’t compare it to anything. As much as you could recreate the experience of dying and being dead, outside of actually doing it, he did it. That is as close as you can come.
MMM: When you were on the bridge railing, how aware were you of the hazards or were you totally into the scene?
GOSLING: I think that at that point I thought that I was in a movie, and that even if I fell off that bridge nothing would have happened to me. I wasn’t thinking obviously or I wouldn’t have done it. I was stupid. It must be one of the stupidest things I have ever done.
MMM: Did you feel a lot of pressure to improvise or did it energize you?
GOSLING: I can’t remember my lines anyway. That’s the truth. I have a really hard time with it. Every time I say my lines as they are written they sound totally unnatural. So, for me it was a relief because I am always trying to explain why I can’t remember my lines, and here I was encouraged not to.
MMM: So what is this next movie that you couldn’t remember the lines to?
MMM: Aren’t you working with Albert Brooks on that one? He is another…
GOSLING: It’s funny. I took out all my lines and I had to do a scene with Albert Brooks where he did this whole scene and he is asking me questions: “You want some wine?” And I don’t want to talk and he knows that and he just keeps asking me questions to make me talk. And when the scene is over he goes, “You’ll say something. I’ll ask you if you want wine and you will say ‘no’ or you will say ‘yes’ or you will shake your head but this not talking is not working. You’ll say something. It’s weird when I ask you a question and you don’t talk.”
BLUE VALENTINE is now playing in select theaters.
Skeptics: it’s time to come to grips with the fact that Sofia Coppola is a gifted filmmaker. Yes, her father is 5-time Oscar winner Francis Ford Coppola, who cast her in “The Godfather Part III” where she stunk up the screen, and she’s cousins with Nicolas Cage and Jason Schwartzman. Yes, longtime friend and short-time paramour Quentin Tarantino was head of the 2010 Venice Film Festival Jury that awarded SOMEWHERE the Golden Lion. Sure, her filmmaking style, with its long takes, spare plot and dialogue, and central characters who suffer from materialism-based ennui, is more than a little reminiscent of Antonioni. But all that nonsense aside, Coppola’s pictures are at once subtle, atmospheric, and ethereal; like Edward Hopper meets Iggy Pop’s The Idiot.
Her last film, the divisive “Marie Antoinette,” had many critics labeling it a self-indulgent exercise in superficiality – with many drawing unfair comparisons between privileged auteur and naïve queen – as opposed to a capriciously fun pop art confection.
SOMEWHERE is Coppola’s latest. It concerns Johnny Marco (Stephen Dorff), a jaded, thirty-something Hollywood bad boy who wastes his life away in the hedonistic Chateau Marmont, punctuated – or not – by a revolving door of strippers, groupies, and sycophants. When he receives an unexpected visit from his 11-year-old daughter, Cleo (Elle Fanning), Marco starts to reevaluate his meaningless existence. The film is poetic, minor-keyed brilliance. Of Coppola’s latest, The New York Times said, “What happens is something marvelous: a film that never raises its voice (its loudest and most assertive sound is that Ferrari) or panders to your emotions, but that nonetheless has the power to refresh your perceptions and deepen your sympathies.”
MMM sat down with the talented Sofia Coppola at, fittingly, New York City’s trendy Standard Hotel – run by Marmont owner Andre Balazs – to chat about the making of “Somewhere,” her avant-garde filmmaking style, her musical influences, and much more.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: Stylistically, you like to stretch scenes, and early on in the film there’s an interesting scene of two blondes dancing that goes for almost five minutes. What kind of effect were you trying to get across to your audience?
SOFIA COPPOLA: I was trying to just start the movie in his state of mind and his point of view, so to try to be in his state of mind and what he’s feeling and that, you know, it should be exciting to have these girls in your room, these twins, performing, but it’s not the first time. They’ve probably come every week for months and he’s on painkillers. I didn’t want it to feel exciting and really feel like he’s kind of stuck and you’re alone with someone in their private moments.
MMM: Where did you get the idea for those synchronized twin strippers?
COPPOLA: [Smiles] I don’t know. I just felt like he wouldn’t have one pole dancer, he’d have twins and it still wouldn’t be exciting. I just made it up, but I feel like you can call room service in a hotel and you can get anything.
MMM: Can you talk about the casting of Stephen Dorff? He’s known as more of a character actor but you cast him in this big role.
COPPOLA: I just think that he’s always been a really great actor and we haven’t seen him in this kind of role, and I just thought he was the right guy for it. I knew him in life. I just think he’s very sweet and genuine and I thought it would bring a lot to the part because the character’s not that likable so I thought you needed someone sweet.
MMM: Is it true that you listen to music when you’re writing?
COPPOLA: Yeah, that doesn’t seem that far out. I think it’s kind of helpful to get yourself in an atmosphere and move away from the rest of the world. It seems natural to me.
MMM: What sort of music were you listening to when you wrote “Somewhere?” Lo-fi stuff?
COPPOLA: What was I listening to? Like the Brian Ferry song that’s at the end of the movie and Phoenix and Sebastian Tellier – and instrumental stuff too because I think when you’re writing it’s distracting to have too much going on.
MMM: Speaking of Phoenix, I saw them with Daft Punk at Madison Square Garden, and they totally blew me away. What’s it like collaborating on film scores with your partner [Phoenix lead singer Thomas Mars]? And I’m curious – since you’re with the singer of this amazing band, as a fan of Phoenix, does the music still resonate the same way or is it different given your unique perspective and how close to the artist you are?
COPPOLA: Oh, I always liked their music for a long time and Thomas did a song for “The Virgin Suicides,” my first film, and he had a song in “Lost in Translation,” so, yeah, I always liked their music and when I was trying to figure out the music, I knew it was something they could do because Thomas and I have similar taste. He gets my sensibility. I thought it would be nice to work together. It was great. I would send them clips and they would send me music. And I’m still a fan of Phoenix. [Laughs]
MMM: Stephen Dorff mentioned you had a list of films for him to see prior to rehearsals.
COPPOLA: There was “Paper Moon.” I love the relationship of father-daughter so I asked him to watch that just to kind of see that dynamic because it feels like a buddy movie. And there’s a French movie, a Chantal Akerman movie [“Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles”] that Harris Savides told me about which is a woman alone in her apartment. It seems like it should be boring because it’s these very long takes of her washing her dishes and doing these mundane things, but it’s really fascinating because the actress [Delphine Seyrig] is so great. She’s so natural. So it’s really important to me that when he’s alone to really feel that he’s not acting.
MMM: How do you prepare for a film like this where the dialogue is so sparse and so much is told through the camerawork? Is it very well-planned in terms of a storyboard and a shot list or do you kind of feel it out as you go along?
COPPOLA: It’s clear to me when I write the script and have an idea in my mind of what I want it all to look like, but then on the day it’s more intuitive-looking with the cameraman about how we’re actually going to do it.
MMM: Stephen said the script was like forty pages?
COPPOLA: Yeah, about 48 pages.
MMM: Wow. So when you write these scenes with little to no dialogue, how do you structure that so that then you can put in that improvisation?
COPPOLA: I just describe it how I see it. There are scenes that are improvised like when they’re playing Guitar Hero, it just says: “Johnny and Cleo play Guitar Hero,” but the other ones are written out. To me, even though it’s not dialogue, it’s clear to me what you’re trying to convey with those moments. It doesn’t seem to hurt to put in a scene with no dialogue. The actors can express a lot with a look or a gesture.
MMM: Since this film is somewhat autobiographical, was it necessary for your father to see the finished product or were you looking for some approval from him?
COPPOLA: No, I just showed it to him. I just think it’s, you know, necessary working with our family company to include him. I showed him the movie and it was done and I was happy to show my parents like any kid who has work to show their parents. I haven’t talked to him about it. He just liked the movie. All I can say is that my dad’s not like Johnny Marco and my childhood wasn’t like that, but definitely I tried to put in personal memories just to make it real and things that characters could do like I remember him teaching me about craps in a casino and that’s something that was fun that kids don’t usually get to do. So that aspect of the kind of fun, bigger-than-life father I tried to put in the story.
MMM: So he didn’t give you any notes?
COPPOLA: No. He just appreciated that I was doing my thing.
MMM: How did you come to the decision of having the opening scene with Johnny in the Ferrari driving around in circles repeatedly?
COPPOLA: When I started the script, I thought about this character in a Ferrari and I imagine those guys with their car collections can’t drive them in L.A., so they have to go to some track out in the middle of nowhere, so I was just imagining that. Also, you know, to have a visual metaphor so you know right away who the character is and what his state is and that he’s going in circles.
MMM: Did you ride in the Ferrari?
COPPOLA: Yeah, I drove it around the track. I wish I got to keep it. [Laughs]
MMM: Was the character of Johnny based on any actor in particular?
COPPOLA: I had a dozen different people in mind when I was writing the character that I put little things from them in there, but it wasn’t based on one person; I wanted him to be his own guy based on folklore.
MMM: Was it difficult for you to juggle your time between the work and taking care of your kids?
COPPOLA: Yeah. The first time I made a movie, I only had one at that point, so it was a little bit more manageable. I think being in movies is really intense for a short period of time and then you get longer breaks, so it was a short shoot—6 weeks, and 1 week in Italy—and she would come and visit our set.
MMM: Did you think about other people’s recollections of father/daughter relationships?
COPPOLA: Just because I have a daughter I thought about how that changes your perspective and I kind of imagined a guy like that, in that lifestyle, what it would be like. So I was taking on what I was finding out about it. I had just read the book “The Descendants,” which I’m excited about. So I was thinking about that in my own life about just becoming a parent.
MMM: So do you have a favorite story from the Chateau Marmont? And was there any particular reason you picked 59 to be Johnny Marco’s room?
COPPOLA: No. I had stayed in the room, but it was more for the light and that it overlooked Sunset, and Helmut Newton stayed in 49 and he’s a hero of mine and I looked at his photos. But yeah, it’s hard to pick one. There are so many stories I – yeah, there are so many legendary stories, so there wasn’t one that stands out in my mind. I feel like that hotel, there is a sort of decadent side to it and I don’t know if people staying there have that in mind. It just feels like it brings out people’s naughtiness or something about it that – Andre [Balazs], the owner, was saying they tried to make it a safe haven where things could go wrong.
MMM: Certainly Andre knows celebrity.
COPPOLA: Yeah, he knows how to set up a place where it can have that. I remember Andre telling me some story, he didn’t say who, but some rock band was staying there and one of the guys was out on the balcony, it set the alarm off – or on a fire escape – but he was having an affair with his bandmate so he had to sneak through. It’s just all these kind of – it has a decadent side with lots of stories.
MMM: How’d you wind up casting Chris Pontius? He’s great in “Jackass,” but I wouldn’t expect him to be in one of your films.
COPPOLA: Yeah, it’s funny, I just knew him from real life and I’ve seen him with my friend’s kids and he’s always really sweet with kids and I figured from “Jackass” he’d be a good improviser, but I’ve always thought he was funny and I hoped that his real personality would come through, and I was really glad it did.
MMM: Stephen told us the story about Baz Luhrmann passing by the set one day and saying, “How did you guys do this?” How did you pull off shooting in this hedonistic hotel?
COPPOLA: Oh, that’s funny. Yeah, I felt lucky there. I’ve known the manager and Andre the owner for many years, since my early 20s, so when I approached them he read the script and they trusted that I would portray it accurately.
MMM: Stephen was saying in the final scenes when Johnny walks away, he’s primarily thinking he’s going to get away from it all, go to his daughter, and change his life. Was that your purpose also?
COPPOLA: I wanted it to feel like the end was the beginning. He’s leaving a certain life behind and starting a new life, and I hope by the expression on his face you can see that he was hopeful and positive and starting a new thing. Yeah, I don’t want to say exactly what he’s doing, but yeah, I think he’s now going to be more involved.
SOMEWHERE is now playing in select theaters nationwide.
Based on the 2005 Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, Rabbit Hole marks a major comeback for it’s star, Nicole Kidman, after the visually-splendid big-budget bombs “Nine,” “Australia,” and “The Golden Compass,” which contributed to the untimely demise of it’s distributor, New Line Cinema.
In fact, since “Moulin Rouge!” made her a bona fide star in 2001, Kidman’s Hollywood dalliances have been disappointing, to say the least. Remember “The Stepford Wives?” “Bewitched?” “The Invasion?” Didn’t think so. Of course, some of the blame may fall on Kidman’s impossibly rigid countenance, besieged by a bevy of Botox. New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis described Kidman’s evil sorceress character in the aforementioned “Golden Compass” as “a goddess of icy perfection” who looks “exotically alien” with her “alabaster skin” and “for once, the smooth planes of her face, untroubled by visible lines, serve the character.”
Well, as Vulture pointed out, Kidman’s forehead lines are back, and better than ever in RABBIT HOLE.
Directed by John Cameron Mitchell (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”), and adapted for the screen by the play’s writer, David Lindsay-Abaire, “Rabbit Hole” centers on a married couple – Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie (Aaron Eckhart) – whose life is turned upside down when their young son is killed in a car accident. The couple chooses different paths of grief, with Becca striking up a flirtation with a troubled young comic-book artist, Jason (Miles Teller), the driver of the car that killed Danny, and Howie losing himself in his past. Dianne Wiest also stars as Becca’s mother. Time called Kidman’s powerful performance her “career-best,” and the turn garnered her a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama. Thankfully, the role takes Kidman back to the edgier, challenging territory she explored in films like “Birth,” “Dogville,” and “Margot at the Wedding.”
MMM attended the New York press conference with “Rabbit Hole” stars Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart, as they chatted about how they prepared for the role, their own experiences dealing with grief, and playing house.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: Nicole, this Project probably wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for your involvement. Can you talk about what struck you about this story, made you option it, and get it going as film?
NICOLE KIDMAN: I think just I immediately connected with the subject matter, obviously. It was interesting to me from the review and then when I actually read the play the character, the whole story I thought was so available. I could just immediately just jump in and feel. We were saying, John [Cameron Mitchell] and I did an interview yesterday, that this whole film, we didn’t approach it from an analytical point of view. We did it from a sort of visceral place and that’s sort of what it’s been.
MMM: This is a lot about the process of grief and dealing with grief, and I thought you guys could talk about what you learned about that process and maybe if there were any experiences that you had that you were able to connect this to that made it easier for you as actors or in terms of translating it as a director, how you dealt with the process of grief and analyzing the experience of dealing with coming out of it.
AARON ECKHART: I’ve never had any serious loss in my life yet, so I just had to empathize and just did research. It’s all in the script really, the script is so beautifully written, and just hanging on to Nicole that takes you through it.
KIDMAN: I think for me, it’s something that I’ve always wanted to explore. I’ve explored it in other films in different ways. I explored it in a film called ‘Birth’ which was in a whole different way. So I feel like it’s territory that I would even explore again because it’s so much a part of our journey; what we love, what we lose, the fear of that. And those emotions are so palpable and so powerful that I’m just drawn to exploring them and expressing them. But I think that with this film it’s very much about a family as well and it’s about how a family works through it together, about how you can help people and how in some ways, you’re just so isolated. I think that’s what Howie and Becca are, completely isolated, and yet they are reaching out and they don’t know how to connect. I find that so touching and it was something that was beautifully, beautifully rendered in the screenplay. It’s a very difficult place to exist in, but also the words came easily and the emotions. Actually, a lot of it was how to keep them in because they were available I think to all of us and all the actors in the film. A lot of it is restraint because as actors those areas are mined quite a lot.
MMM: Nicole, did you attend any counseling situations with Aaron?
KIDMAN: We both had different experiences. I tried to and I was told, ‘Unless you’ve actually lost a child or a loved one you’re not to come into the room.’ I completely respected that because they said, ‘It’s just too raw and it’s too dangerous and it’s a very sacred place and we can’t let you in to observe.’ I’m glad that they didn’t now, when I look back because the way that the emotions came to me in the character were through just my own, the way that I vibrate and the rawness of loving my children. I was able to leap there very quickly. I was amazed at how deep that well is and how available it is. It’s probably as David [Lindsay-Abaire] said, that he wrote about this thing that terrifies him the most and as an actor I played the thing that terrifies me the most. Aaron has a different story.
ECKHART: I did attend one of those, it was a grief-counseling group like we had in the film, and like Nicole said, it was raw. People had just lost their child the day before, two days, three days, a week before, and there was a lot of emotion in it. I gave my story in the character and all that stuff, which was interesting. I only went once and that was it; I didn’t feel like I needed to go back. I thought it was a little unethical and somehow duplicitous.
MMM: Can you talk about how being a parent helped you play this role?
KIDMAN: I mean it’s one of those that for me I could go right back into the place that we existed in so quickly. So that it means that the strengths of that love, I mean it’s profound. I think from the minute that you have a child or the minute that I’ve experienced taking care of a child, being the caretaker of a little one, the power of that and the responsibility of that and so therefore the fear of the loss of that child is extraordinary. I still can’t even watch some of the scenes because they affect me so deeply and I’ve never had that with a film. I’ve seen this film because I’m a producer a number of times. I probably won’t see the film again, if that makes any sense. I watch two scenes and I’m like, ‘Ugghhh,’ because it still affects me so deeply. So I think that’s the power of parenting and playing this role.
MMM: How did you end up picking John Cameron Mitchell to direct the movie? Since you’re the producer I’m sure you had a lot of input.
KIDMAN: Yeah, and I just think that I work by my gut and Per Saari, he and I optioned the material and we worked on the script with David, when we heard that John had worked on the script we were like, ‘Wow,’ that he was really interested in it I thought, ‘How unusual because of what he’d done and that he was interested in it.’ That’s what piqued my interest. Then I spoke to him on the phone and I just really liked him. I mean, it’s that quick. We shared things, but we didn’t have any extremely deep conversation. I just liked him and I’ve made most of my career decisions based on very quick, spontaneous things. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. And I like bold directors. I like directors that go against the norm in a way, and I thought mixed with this material and his heart, which he has a big heart, was a good combo.
MMM: How was it you were able to build that sort of relationship where you’re two people fractured by a very traumatic event and kind of walking on eggshells around each other?
ECKHART: Again, I’d have to go back to the writer first of all, and the director. John created an atmosphere of trust on the set, first of all. I think Nicole said it really is the restraint of having feelings and not being able to say them or knowing how you say them or doubting any relationship you’ve had, questioning your love, questioning god, questioning life, doubting yourself, hearing everything you’re saying as if it’s being said by somebody else; that kind of stuff. Not being able to touch a partner that you’ve been best friends with for 20 years or 10 years, 15 years. So all five senses then have to be revisited and reintroduced into your life, and I think for me in terms or approaching this role was how do I touch my wife? How do I talk to her? How do we survive this? It was all in the script really; you didn’t really have to go any further than that. It was only just really playing it. And then John, having gone through this before and being such a good actor himself and being very sensitive to this sort of stuff really guided us and shepherded us through this. He would whisper in our ears adjustments and that sort of thing. And then for me watching the other actors and watching Nicole approach her craft as an actor was extraordinary. The attention to detail, the adjustments that she would make were insane and very challenging and very true. So it was pretty easy.
MMM: Do you feel that your character is wishing for her husband to have an emotional outburst even more than she wanted to be going to Counseling and talking about the tragedy?
KIDMAN: That I needed to have an emotional outburst? He did? No. I mean it’s eight months down the road. This is something that answers the other question about how we prepared to play the role — we rehearsed. We talked. Part of the preparation that I do as an actor is that I create from birth through now, which is sort of like my homework, of where we met, how we got married, all of those things, what happened to my father, because you never see my father, just all the details of the performance. Then you come to the rehearsal period and then you do scenes and then you sort of slowly layer the performance. So, no, I don’t think it’s an emotional outburst. I’m not saying that didn’t happen in the period of eight months prior that you don’t see. That’s what I find very beautiful about this film, that this is not about five days after. This isn’t the day of the loss. This is eight months. This is life. This is how do you stay alive, how do you choose life when you feel like everything to live for has been taken away. How do you then live? That’s the subtlety of the film. How do you live with someone that you used to have moments of great joy with and a normal life with when suddenly you’ve been completely destroyed? That’s why I wanted to make the film; because there are so many people in the world existing in those places. I’ve certainly been in a place of extreme depression and pain where choosing life everyday is a choice, if that makes sense.
MMM: When you’re shooting such dark material what’s the atmosphere off camera? Is there joking or are you trying to maintain that level of emotion at all times?
KIDMAN: Well, with someone like Miles [Teller] I purposely didn’t have any conversations. I didn’t want to rehearse the scenes. John and I talked about it and you sort of want to keep the tension and the way in which we were relating which was through some nervousness and those things. That’s good for the performance, and I think that I probably stay a little bit in character for the whole film. I’m kind of half aware and half not aware. For this sort of film it’s not like you have to be called by the name of the character, but certainly something, there’s the presence of the character at all times. Aaron and I would talk, but a lot of our conversations were about our lives. That was good because there was an intimacy to the conversations that I probably wouldn’t have had with him if we weren’t in a deeply intimate film together. That’ll always remain secret. We had a lot of interns and stuff on the film, which is nice because you have people that just absolutely want to be around that are new to filmmaking and so they have an enormous amount of enthusiasm and energy and curiosity. That’s a good energy.
ECKHART: We also lived in a little neighborhood, a beautiful bay. We took walks around. Nicole one time was in her pajamas walking around the neighborhood.
KIDMAN: [laughs] Not my pajamas. My Ugg boots. And the other thing is that when you have the writer on the set you can be very nervous because the idea of not pleasing him holds…it’s like, ‘David is here!’ But he was so supportive and encouraging and he came to some initial rehearsals as well. I’m always asking questions of the writer. I just love it because they have the key. They usually have the key.
MMM: I think you did an extraordinary thing here especially considering that you had the toughest job?
KIDMAN: I don’t know if it was the toughest job, but in terms of, she’s in so much pain and so unable to let it out and trying desperately to move on and cannot move on. So that’s why she lashes out at herself and then hurts other people and then there’s regret. I mean it’s so complicated, each little [aspect] and that’s why I wanted to make it a really sort of detailed performance. So, I hope that it makes people feel not so alone. That’s the point of it.
RABBIT HOLE is now playing in select theaters.
The film directorial debut of E.R. creator John Wells, The Company Men studies the effects of corporate downsizing on middle-class families in rural Boston suburbs. The story centers on a year in the life of three men, played by Ben Affleck, Tommy Lee Jones and Chris Cooper, trying to survive unemployment. Ben Affleck’s character is offered a job installing drywall by his blue collar brother-in-law, played by Kevin Costner. Affleck’s wife is played by Rosemarie DeWitt (Rachel Getting Married), and the film also features supporting roles by Maria Bello and Craig T. Nelson and lensing by famed cinematographer Roger Deakins.
In years past, it would’ve been rare for a film with such a star-studded cast and timely subject matter – even in the wake of Reitman/Clooney’s Up in the Air – to have to go to the 2010 Sundance Film Festival seeking distribution, but such is that state of the independent film industry.
The film’s stars Ben Affleck and Rosemarie DeWitt sat down with MMM to chat about their downsizing drama The Company Men, the downsizing of independent film distributors, their own ‘getting fired’ tales and their intriguing recent/upcoming film projects, including Ben Affleck’s sophomore directorial effort, the gritty police drama The Town, currently vying for Oscars, and Rosemarie DeWitt’s upcoming romantic drama Earthbound, alongside Michelle Williams and Gael Garcia Bernal.
MANHATTAN MOVIE MAGAZINE: You both must have lost jobs at some point in your lives, right?
BEN AFFLECK: I did lose jobs. Nothing on the scale of what happened to the folks in this movie or people in the real world who’ve worked for twenty years. I lost jobs when I was a kid. I got fired from a movie theater when I was 17 and got fired from a restaurant when I was 19.
MMM: Why did you get fired?
AFFLECK: I was late a couple times at the movie theater and one time at the restaurant. My manager at the restaurant was like a vindictive marijuana dealer that wanted to hire one of his friends who was also selling marijuana, and he fired me.
ROSEMARIE DEWITT: Not yet! I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. I think I’ve had a harder time getting jobs then losing them, so maybe that’s what it was.
MMM: When you’re an actor is there that constant anxiety of what your next role’s going to be?
AFFLECK: I think being an actor or being in the arts – whether it’s dance, a painter, etc. – is a different way of making a living than regular, corporate America, where you have a contract that says, “I’m going to do this sort of job, and it may not be creatively fulfilling, but at least the job will be there for me. I’ll go to work every day from 9-5, punch the clock.” In the arts, you don’t have that same deal but you get to do, I think, more interesting stuff. But, a job’s a job. You have one audition, you may get that part, and then you have no guarantee that you’ll work again for the rest of your life. There’s no guarantee that anyone will buy your paintings, that you’ll get hired as a dancer or that anyone will buy your music and that’s really scary. The one thing about the arts is you internalize that reality, and you learn it.
MMM: What are your thoughts on the state of the film industry? It’s experienced a great deal of downsizing itself with all the studio reshuffling and closings of independent studios.
AFFLECK: I think it’s having a really dramatic effect on the industry. The arms of studios who previously made movies like this and movies you’ll see out at Sundance have all basically closed. The conventional wisdom is that those kinds of movies can’t make money, or they’re at least not worth enough money to be financed within a studio system. There’s still Fox Searchlight. Miramax is greatly diminished.
DEWITT: I feel like it’s going to affect the storytelling, too. I keep reading scripts that feel like they were meant to be big studio movies but they’re going to be made on a little budget. It’s sort of like the intention of what it came out of is different, and it feels awkward. There’s nothing wrong with it, it’s just, as an actor, like putting your foot into a shoe that doesn’t fit. You see these big production values but you know it’s going to be made on a much lesser scale, and possibly a much lesser story.
AFFLECK: I watched “To Kill a Mockingbird” the other night, and it occurred to me that it would be a Sundance movie right now. That’s not the type of movie that people would be willing to make today on a studio level. I ran into Harvey Weinstein the other night and I had the same kind of question that you had. I asked him, “Why aren’t people making as many of these kinds of movies?” And he said, “It’s hard to make money because the DVD market has been cut back so dramatically. You basically make half as much money on DVDs now so the profit margins are less, and people are going to less movies like this in theaters. Without studios making movies like the ones you’ll see here, Sundance is basically the only venue making interesting, different kinds of American cinema. And the studios themselves are making a very narrow brand of movies. I like studio movies, but there needs to be other kinds of movies too.
DEWITT: And people were really depressed after “Avatar,” because they couldn’t get back to Pandora. [Laughs]
MMM: Ben, the fact that “State of Play” didn’t connect with audiences… how did that effect you? And what did that say about the studio system?
AFFLECK: I just wept. [Laughs] Universal had a tough time there. They had some struggles and eventually “shuffled” management. I liked the movie. I think the movie was pretty good, got good reviews and, for whatever reason, it didn’t do so well. It’s hard to know. Movies are interesting because you judge success and failure of a movie based on what kinds of standards you put on them. A movie succeeds at Sundance if it costs $5 million to make and does $20 million. But if it costs $100 million then it certainly has to make a lot more than that. I’m not sure how much “State of Play” cost, but it may have been a victim of undue expectations in some ways. And audiences just haven’t been going to see dramas a lot in the last couple of years. I thought “The Road” was a great movie. “The Road’s” made eight million bucks! I think audiences go in cycles and I think dramas are due for a comeback.
MMM: Ben, you’re from Boston. The film takes place in Boston. Was it a more personal experience for you?
AFFLECK: It made it very easy to prepare and much more specific, which was great. I went to Framingham – I actually know some people from that area – and it keyed into it in a really specific way. It made it really easy for me to contextualize and understand the story and add detail to it than if it was in Milwaukee, because I just wouldn’t have known the lay of the land as well. And I was really happy because a lot of Boston stories – “Good Will Hunting” is certainly one of them – show that Boston is salty and Irish and that’s all it is. That’s the cliché of Boston right now – not that it isn’t Irish or urban in parts, but some people think that’s all you ever see in Boston. Regular, suburban middle-class – [Route] 128 – is really what’s going on there, and I really liked that that’s what was presented. It’s not a bunch of guys whipping out knives on each other all the time.
MMM: You guys made a very believable squabbling couple.
DEWITT: We were squabbling! [Laughs] No, we weren’t. We had a good time. It was one of those ones where it seemed more useful to goof around in between and hear each other’s rhythms, as opposed to rehearse it.
AFFLECK: It’s hard to just show up with someone you don’t know and your characters have this whole history and life together—
DEWITT: —It’s such an interesting pressure for actors. It’s gotta be believable and there’s no way to do that, necessarily, it just comes together.
MMM: Could you guys talk about your respective upcoming projects? Ben, you’ve been directing and starring in “The Town,” and Rosemarie, you just signed up for a cool-sounding movie…
DEWITT: “Earthbound!” Yeah. Kate Hudson’s character gets cancer and it’s a love story between her and Gael Garcia Bernal. It’s sort of this young woman’s struggle about having to learn to love somebody.
MMM: Any more “Mad Men?”
DEWITT: I don’t know! There’s plenty more of the 60s to go, so I’d love to see Midge return in some go-go boots!
AFFLECK: I just finished shooting “The Town” at the end of November and I’m editing now. It’s really exciting. I’m just starting to look at all the footage and go through it. I’ll probably have a cut sometime at the end of March.
MMM: You really lucked out casting Jeremy Renner, didn’t you?
AFFLECK: I did! I knew he was great, but he did kind of blow up as soon as I put him in the movie. He was in “Assassination of Jesse James” with my brother Casey, and somebody was like, “He’s got this Iraq movie coming out and it’s going to be really good,” and I was like, “Well, nobody sees Iraq war movies.” And then I saw it, and I was like, “You are really good in this movie!” And it was successful beyond what I thought. I lucked out with Jeremy Renner in a major way.
MMM: Are you and Matt ever going to work together again? There’s always chatter…
AFFLECK: We’re in the process of setting up a production company together. It’s not finalized, so I can’t give you any details. That may in fact happen now, which is cool. Both of us are kind of slowing down a little bit on craziness because of kids and stuff. Matt also never stops acting. He’s just non-stop. [Laughs]
MMM: Since you’re a family man now, how did that inform this family-oriented role?
AFFLECK: Yeah. Obviously, having a marriage – I think it would be very hard for me to play somebody in a real marriage or a real relationship without having one, or being in one and understanding it. When I was younger and not understanding what that was about, it would’ve been difficult for me to understand the pressures, the nuances, the love, the whole thing. That’s what I liked about this couple and this movie – they seemed real to me. It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t bickering… It was just real.
MMM: It’s no “Chasing Amy.”
AFFLECK: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s no “Chasing Amy” for sure. We didn’t try to have a three-way with Tommy! [Laughs]
THE COMPANY MEN premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival and was finally released on December 10 in select theaters nationwide.