Richard Curtis Reflects on the Making of ‘About Time’

WRITER’S NOTE: This is from a press day which took place in 2013.

With “About Time,” writer/director Richard Curtis once again proves that he is the master of making romantic movies. While romantic films are currently a dying breed in America, Curtis gives the genre a much-needed re-invigoration. This is the same man who wrote the screenplays for “Four Weddings and a Funeral,” “Notting Hill” and “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and he also wrote and directed “Love Actually” which has become everyone’s favorite movie to watch at Christmastime. Curtis populates his films with characters we can all relate to, and he shows us how the simplest things in life can be so wonderful.

I got to meet up with Curtis when he appeared for the “About Time” press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, California, and he proved to be as charming and funny as many of the characters who inhabit his films. During the roundtable interview he talked about “About Time” differs from other romantic films, how he came to cast Domhnall Gleeson and Rachel McAdams, and why this will be his last movie as a director.

While these questions came from several reporters, I did take the time to put my name to the questions I asked Richard. You will find them eventually.

Question: Why did you not tear Tim (Domhnall Gleeson) and Mary (Rachel McAdams) apart in the middle of the movie only to bring them back together?

Richard Curtis: Well, I quite liked the idea in the film. There is a kind of habit in romantic films of getting people who hate each other when they meet; he’s a Nazi and she’s a member of the Socialist Worker’s Party (laughs), however will they fall in love? But most of us, when we bump into the people we are going to spend the rest of our life with, quite like them when we first meet them. I quite liked the idea that you could do something where people like each other, and then there was the time travel and then they liked each other again. I’m interested in if you can do it. I was writing about sort of a happiness in a funny way and writing about the interesting business of how things work rather than being really interested in the way things don’t work.

Q: Speaking of the time travel aspect, it’s something that people keep watching these movies for. They’re always keeping an eye out for the loophole or plot holes. Did that make it harder writing the script?

Richard Curtis: Look, you know you’re gonna fail, that’s the thing. I know where I failed in this so you just do your best and the people and the production keep you up to it, and anybody who spots anything that’s wrong will always say it to you because it’s a fun thing to spot when they’re reading the script. So, you know you’re getting closer to true without actually getting there, and it was fun to play with it. It’s also a thing where when you decide you’re going to do a time travel movie, it is something that is in your head as you’re walking around. The thing about not being able to go past the birth of your child was definitely the result of another conversation I was having with someone about how weird it is that you commit your entire life to people who you have no ability to choose, and then I thought that’s so true. And not only that, if I had sex four seconds later, I’d have a different child and then immediately I thought that would become a key plot point.

Q: This movie has two love stories in it. It has the father and son and it has the man and the woman. How were you able to find the balance so that one didn’t overshadow the other?

Richard Curtis: On the whole you try and rig films to make sure they turn out as you want them to turn out, but I think it seems as though perhaps the strength of the Bill Nighy story is more than I expected. It’s turned out to be more emotional than I expected, and I think that’s all down to the way Bill chose to play it. He chose to play it in such a sort of gentle way that I think, when you see the film, you can insert your own father into the space that Bill creates. Oddly enough, this film is in some ways less manipulative. If you’re doing a movie that ends in a big kiss and a romance, your kind of playing the cards all the way through to try and get the maximum emotion at the end. In this one I always knew that I was always aiming for this bizarrely simple final moment which was just gonna be a guy doing the most banal things in the course of an ordinary day. So, I didn’t think so much about the dynamics of the film, perhaps I have in others. But one of the ways of doing it was by getting them to get married halfway through, so that film’s done and there’s another film to rely on.

Q: Has it affected sort of the carpe diem qualities, or is that something you practiced before you started writing the script?

Richard Curtis: No. Oddly enough I think, and Bill and I talk about, because I’ve done the movie, I am thinking about that a lot more, I really am. My girlfriend, who never makes any concessions to me, says I always work far too hard and I always think that I’m not working as hard as I used to and always am. But even she is saying that she’s noticed that I seem to be creating more space and enjoying things a little bit more and making more time for normal things. So that’s why I have said I am not going to direct another film because I think that directing a movie is not a good way to have a happy life.

Q: Is that a Steven Soderbergh promise or are you just gonna keep coming back?

Richard Curtis: Anyone who says that, Steven is their hero because it means you can change your mind. It is becoming a great tradition; the great heroes like Jay-Z, doesn’t he resign? If I come back, I’m part of a noble tradition, but that is my intention at the moment.

Q: Can you talk about Comic Relief and how that came to you at a young age?

Richard Curtis: Wow, do other people know about that side of my life? Well, it started off by an almost comical mistake in that a girl I know asked if I would like to go with her to Africa, and I just said I would go to keep her company and then the charities decided to send us to different countries. They said we would cover more ground, so that was a mistake. So, I was in Ethiopia at a very bad time and that could not but change my life. That’s something I have to carry. We did a stage show and then we did a TV show, and the TV show made so much more money than was expected that I couldn’t not do it again, and I have just gone on doing it. Every time we do it, we make more money than I will earn in my entire career. I think of it as my difficult child, it takes exactly half my time, it changes its nature so I now, and after doing it now for 25 years I got a feeling that the money we’ve raised might be less important than the education or part of it. Kids in England have always grown up knowing a lot about poverty in Africa and problems at home, and that educational thing may have actually turned out to be the function of it. The next thing I’m doing is doing a year and a half trying to be part of making the new declaration by the United Nations in 2015 to end poverty, so it’s a never-ending big subject. I think the way it’s bounced off on my career is that I haven’t written my seven bad films. I do think a lot of times when people, when they finish the thing, say have I got any other ideas whereas I’m always a year behind. I thought of this film in 2005, and then I chose to do the pirate movie (“Pirate Radio”) because I wanted to be a bit older by the time I made it. It’s actually given me breathing time and let things stew longer, so I always believe quite a lot in the projects I do by the time I get to them.

Q: Fighting poverty seems like an even bigger challenge now with the gap between the rich and poor growing bigger and bigger. Do you feel sometimes like it’s a never-ending battle and how we are going to do this?

Richard Curtis: Well, you have to be realistic about that. Actually, statistically speaking, the lives of the very poorest people on the planet have never gotten better quicker than in the last 15 years. It’s been extraordinary so I’m paying more attention to that. But the rich and poor inside countries, I’d just think it increases your responsibility to try and make sure that people like me who do live in the bubble of comfort are really aware of how peoples’ lives are at the other end of the scale. I made all my children watch a documentary called “Poor Kids” the other day. It’s just a really brilliant, very sweet-natured documentary about four really poor kids in the UK, and they literally could not believe what they saw and that increases the desire to communicate this.

Q: You also focus a lot on the joy of real people like with the Heathrow Airport scenes in “Love Actually,” and then there are scenes in “About Time” that look like they had regular people in them. Where did you find those people?

Richard Curtis: Well with “Love Actually” we put up a little black box with curtains in Heathrow and just filmed and then sent assistants rushing around and saying do you mind signing this release. It’s very weird, you haven’t seen your mom for 17 years and somebody’s saying we’ve just filmed you crying embarrassingly. The strange thing is when we edited that, over half of what I wanted in that sequence I couldn’t use because it turned out we hadn’t got the permissions. The bit at the end of this one was sort of the same thing. Quite a lot of it was sort of staged. There are some things that weren’t. Most of that was directed by my girlfriend. That was the weird thing. It was the final day of the shoot. I woke up and I was in the most astonishing pain. I thought I had kidney stones or whatever, and she leapt out of bed in the highest of spirits and said she would ring a doctor on the way to the set (laughs). Some of the loveliest images there were got by her which I think sort of shows because she is full of an energy and joy about her. It was interesting how ordinary those images had to be. I didn’t shoot them at the beginning, so I didn’t quite know how it was going to end. When I thought that I would end with a series of just normal images, I took a film by a friend of mine called Kevin McDonald called “Life in a Day” which is a movie he made about YouTube, and I cut like ten favorite images from that in and showed that to friends and it was a disaster because they were good. They were so definitive, so beautiful, so picturesque, and everyone said the movie’s all been about ordinariness and you can’t then say that every day is a beautiful sunset and every day is an astonishing child framed perfectly in a window in Milan. So, I did try and keep those end bits as sort of banal as they could be, but still joyful.

Ben Kenber: “Love Actually” is my family’s favorite movie to watch every Christmas Eve. I love it too but I’m always hoping we can add “Bad Santa” as a double feature though.

Richard Curtis: Lauren Graham’s in “Bad Santa!” I love her!

Ben Kenber: I’m not usually a big fan of romantic movies, but what I love about your movies is that the people and what they go through feels so real and relatable. A lot of American romantic films are manipulative but your films never feel like they are. Your movies touch on issues that most other filmmakers don’t really take seriously.

Richard Curtis: Well, thank you very much. I don’t have an answer for that, but don’t down American filmmakers because I think there’s a kind of feeling that romantic films may not be in a good place at the moment. “(500) Days of Summer” I thought was an incredible movie, “Like Crazy” is an amazing movie about love, and “Lost in Translation” is the greatest ever romantic comedy even though it’s not a romantic comedy. I’ve been looking back because I’m thinking about finishing and thinking why did I write all these films on this subject and then suddenly realizing it is because it is the context of my life and what matters to me. How your family treats you, who you love, how you get on with your kids and your friends are what fills most of your emotional time, and I’m just trying to hang on to that and write about normal things because I never, never bump into serial killers.

Q: A lot of people don’t seem to realize that “Love Actually” is a Christmas movie because the holiday gets so pushed into the background.

Richard Curtis: I think the funny thing about “Love Actually” is the casting is now out of whack. Originally it was 50% well known and 50% not, and now the naked guy is in “The Hobbit,” January Jones is Betty Draper on “Mad Men,” and even the boy is now in “Game of Thrones.” Liam Neeson is the greatest action hero in the world and Andrew Lincoln is on “The Walking Dead,” so it’s a hell of a cast now.

Q: You are obviously a believer in love. Do you have thoughts on marriage?

Richard Curtis: Well in a way “Four Weddings and a Funeral” was a long way of explaining to my mum why I wasn’t married. She always found it hard to accept. I haven’t gotten married for particular, peculiar reasons, but I’m sure that marriage is a wonderful thing.

Q: You make great use of music and songs in your movies. Can you give us an insight into what your playlists are?

Richard Curtis: Well, the insight I would say is that I really do have to use music in order to get through the process of writing. It really is part of me learning what I’m trying to do, and sometimes that takes very specific forms. When I handed this movie in, it said on the front cover “About Time” or “The Luckiest” or “Golden Lapels.” I thought about those two so much and was so sure I was going to use them, and I thought I might even name the movie after them. So, in this movie, all the cues were there as I was writing and helped me write the right scenes and work out what I wanted to say. There’s a version of “Downtown Train,” a Tom Waits song, by Everything But The Girl, an English group which was all I listened to while I was writing “Notting Hill.” That was all I was trying to do in the whole of that movie was reproduce the emotional temperature of that song which I knew could not be in the movie, but it was my sort of guide. And then I just use pop music to cheer me up, so I got different playlists on my computer. I’m trying to make my tastes more modern. My sons are pushing me hard in that direction. My 16-year-old says he can’t listen to traditional pop music anymore because the lyrics of the songs he listens to by people like Jay-Z are so much better than normal pop songs. Normal pop songs are so thin and so repetitive, he says, that he can’t listen to them anymore.

Q: The scene in the underground subway station is one of the best in this movie. Your use of music in all your movies is great.

Richard Curtis: Well, thank you. That was a really interesting day because sometimes you hope something works but you don’t know how. I couldn’t work out as I was shooting it how it was going to be possible to edit it because he’s always going to be singing the wrong words of the song. It was never going to be correctly timed so I just shot all night and hoped the editor could work it out, and the editor said there was no problem when we got to it.

Q: Can you talk about casting the two main parts? How did that come about?

Richard Curtis: There are completely different ways that casting works. My friend, Mike Newell, said to me, “When the movie is cast, the movie is made.” He was extraordinary when we were casting Vicar #3 in “Four Weddings and a Funeral.” The guy came in and Mike said, “So tell him about Vicar #3,” and I said, “Well the leading character is trying to decide whether to get married and the vicar comes in and…” And Mike said, “No, no, tell me why did he join the church” (laughs). That level of detail and three dimensionality, I think that casting is hugely important. Rachel, having always loved her work and having picked up a sort of vibe about her as a human being and being very interested in this part about sort of contentment and in the idea of going from someone you meet on the first date and, by the end of the film, she is the mother of three, was based on trust and faith and things that she had seen and things I had also heard about her from the people who had worked with her. Domhnall on the other hand was seen as one of the top 25 young actors in the country, and I saw lots of them as often happens when I audition. Unless it’s the right actor, there doesn’t seem to be anything there at all. That was very much the case with the sister’s part until we found Lydia Wilson. It seemed as though there wasn’t anything there, and then we got Lydia with all her complicated emotions and Domhnall instantly made it funny which is absolutely key because he’s actually interested in comedy. So many young actors, you know, aren’t. They’re actually trying not to be funny and they’re trying to make people take them more seriously and think them cool or attractive, and he was really happy to be stupid and loving. He’s a lovely actor and a very sweet man. It was complicated because he was wearing his “Anna Karenina” beard so he looked like he’d stumbled out of the woods in “Deliverance” (laughs). The beard looked great if you’re wearing a military uniform, but if you’re wearing a t-shirt and jeans you look like you’re too fond of farmyard animals. It was a real act of faith, and then I made him do a whole day on camera, still with the beard, actually acting out the part and stuff. So, he worked very hard for it and was then sort of perfect.

Q: There’s a lot of Hugh Grant in Domhnall’s role, sort of like the younger version of him in “Notting Hill.” Was there any kind of connection made there?

Richard Curtis: I wasn’t aiming for Hugh at all. It’s obviously a voice that comes out when I write that part. I actually voted against Hugh in “Four Weddings and a Funeral” when it came down to it and I was, thank God, defeated 2 to 1 because Hugh was brilliant. But I think there’s something about Domhnall that’s much closer to my original inspiration when I started writing films. I was really inspired by “Gregory’s Girl,” “Breaking Away,” “Diner” and the guys in that except Mickey Rourke, and Woody Allen really. I was always looking for awkward, normal people, and I think when you first sit down with him at the party you don’t think that he’s the guy. You think he’ll be lucky to ever get a girlfriend. I like that side of him whereas with Hugh, girls would like him.

“About Time” is available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital. Please feel free to check out some other “About Time” interviews I covered for the website We Got This Covered by clicking on the names below:

Bill Nighy

Rachel McAdams

Tilda Swinton on Playing a Vampire in ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’

This image released by Sony Pictures Classics shows Tilda Swinton in a scene from “Only Lovers Left Alive.” (AP Photo/Sony Pictures Classics, Sandro Kopp)

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is in regards to a press day which took place back in 2014.

Scottish actress Tilda Swinton is not just an excellent actress but a unique one as well. She doesn’t invite easy comparisons amongst her peers because she stands out in a way few other actresses do. She is lovely in the way she portrays a character, lovely in the way she moves onscreen, and, as we learned when she appeared at the Four Seasons Hotel for the press conference on “Only Lovers Left Alive,” she speaks lovely about her work and of the vampire she portrays in this film.

Written and directed by acclaimed independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, “Only Lovers Left Alive” tells the tale of two vampires who have lived through countless centuries and, as the movie starts, have reunited after being apart on different continents. Swinton plays Eve who remains optimistic about the world’s future even after all she has seen, and her lover Adam is played by Tom Hiddleston (Loki of “Thor” fame) who is more pessimistic about where things are heading. You might mistakenly dismiss Jarmusch’s film as just another vampire film, but it proves to be much more than that as it deals with love and death in equal measure.

Everyone was understandably interested in what attracted Swinton to the role of Eve, and she went out of her to explain what her favorite characteristic of Eve was.

Tilda Swinton: She has this perspective, that she doesn’t sweat the small, the medium or the big stuff, and that she’s full of wonder. She’s always looking up which feels to me pretty much the prerogative of people who have lived that length of time.

This film also marks the third time collaboration between Swinton and Jarmusch. She previously appeared in “Broken Flowers” and “The Limits of Control,” and off-screen she is really good friends with the filmmaker as well. We all wondered what kind of direction Jarmusch gave Swinton on this particular movie. This led Swinton to discuss the number of years it took to get “Only Lovers Left Alive” made, and how this length of time benefited both her and Jarmusch.

TS: We talk all the time. Whether we talk about anything that’s pertinent to the making of the movie, I don’t know. We’re friends now and part of the reason that I love to work with him is it means that I get to hang out with my pal for longer than if I wasn’t shooting with him. This one was another long gestation. It was seven or eight years since now when he first rang me up and said, Hey there, let’s make a vampire film. So that means a lot of conjuring, many breakfasts when I was flying through New York saying so where are we, many moments on the phone and many conversations in dark corners about where we were going to go next over the years. When we came to shoot, the lovely thing about those long developments is that when you come to shoot, it’s just grace. You’re so relieved to finally be putting it down and you’ve also had that length of time to talk about it. You really don’t need to talk about that much.

One truly unforgettable thing about Swinton in this role, or in any other role she has played thus far, is how beautifully she moves. The physicality she shows off from moment to moment is incredible, and we all wanted to know how she came up with it. The fact she’s playing a vampire here makes her performance all the more fascinating as a result.

TS: We talked a lot about what it would be if you were that unsocialized because they’ve kind of been lifted out of human society, and very quickly we started to talk about them as lone wolves so we talked about them as animals. When we were putting together the look, we ended up filling those wigs with yaks’ hair and wolves’ hair, and there’s a heartbeat in the film that comes up and down in the soundtrack which is actually a wolf’s heart. So, I thought a lot about wolves when we were thinking about how Eve would walk about. If you’re not in the pack, if you’re alone at night, you can take your time. You can pick your rhythm. The music is very important life blood, but also the camera, the move and the feeling of the movement is always very important to Jim, and this one particularly because of this passage through these two different wildernesses.

After watching “Only Lovers Left Alive,” many wondered about the relationship between Adam and Eve and how they have lasted so long as a couple. At the start, they reside on different continents before they reunite. We asked Swinton what she did to create the really comfortable long-term bond between Eve and Adam. In the process, she brought up one of Jarmusch’s main inspirations.

TS: One of the first bits of sand in the oyster for Jim, which he immediately told me about on that telephone call eight years ago, was this book by Mark Twain, “The Diaries of Adam and Eve,” which is so delightful and playful. It’s sort of fictional or maybe not diaries of the original Adam and Eve which spells out very clearly that this is an enormous love affair between two opposites. That was a foundation in stone for us that they would be in it for the long haul, but completely different. That I find really enticing, to show two people really loving each other, but not being like each other at all. So, we talked a lot about that and that was fun because that feels really human, playing with that. Also, as you notice, we wanted it to be about a marriage in which they talk as long relationships do. There’s a sort of tradition of showing people coming together and then the end, and you never really see them actually living it out and living the ups and the downs and talking it through. We really spent a lot of time wanting to get that tone of two people who were family. It’s a long, long marriage. They are family, and that’s why they still dig each other even though they are so different and he is so tricky to live with and she is such a space cadet. They have this communication thing going and they really like talking about stuff. We really wanted to show that it felt like it was something we haven’t necessarily seen before.

Another big relationship Eve has is with playwright Christopher Marlowe, played here by John Hurt. In the universe this film takes place in, Marlowe has been proven to be the real writer of William Shakespeare’s plays, and he at one point ends up calling Shakespeare an illiterate at best. When Swinton asked about how she and Hurt established the rhythm of their characters’ relationship, she pointed how this relationship differed between the one Eve has with Adam.

TS: The relationship with Marlowe is a very precious part of the film for me. Honestly, partly because it felt very close to my own experience having a very close relationship with, in particular, Derek Jarman whose disappearance from the building I had to witness. But him being a partner, a different kind of partner for her, he’s her neighbor and he’s her companion in a way that Adam isn’t. It just felt completely alive and fresh. I just know that relationship inside out, and John does too and he was the perfect dance partner to play that out with. Our references are kind of similar. He feels like family and we just put that into the film.

One of the great joys of watching “Only Lovers Left Alive” is realizing it is not a “Twilight” wannabe. Then again, we should know Jarmusch is the last kind of filmmaker to follow current trends. The characters of Adam and Eve are unlike any vampires we have seen, and their love affair is proof of how opposites attract. While Eve is more optimistic and lives to celebrate each and every period of Earth’s history, Adam is far more cynical about the present day. We all wondered how Eve could stay so upbeat even when in Adam’s company, and her explanation of why was both fascinating and amusing.

TS: Well, he’s very young. He has yet to learn. He’s only 500 years old. She’s 3,000 years old. She seen it all and she knows that survival is possible if one keeps one’s eyes open and takes it all in. It’s not like she’s recommending a journey one space away. She talks about witnessing the Inquisition and the Middle Ages. She’s witnessed all the holocausts there have been, and yet she’s still seen humanity and spirit and nature survive those things. So, she knows that as long as one keeps looking up and as long as one keeps breathing and keeps one’s perspective, survival is possible. She’s got her priorities right. I love the fact that what Jim’s looking at here is how one goes on living, how one goes on loving, how one goes on renewing and, as they say, rebooting one’s sense of wonder and engagement. It feels strangely radical and unfashionable; the very fact that they are trying not to be young, but instead they are trying to survive youth.

Another thing that stood out to me is how the fact Adam and Eve were vampires really became secondary to the story. After a while, you don’t see them as vampires but more as a loving couple dealing with the trials and tribulations of life. Also, Adam has a heartbeat which is something we usually don’t expect vampires to have. Swinton explained this was done intentionally.

TS: We were slightly messing with the form. We’ve all seen a lot of vampire films and we like the idea of disconnecting some of the myths, some of the tropes and then also inventing some new ones. So, we’re hoping that all the vampire films from now on would involve these gloves that we actually put out there in the first place. I think we all felt the same that being vampires, very evolved vampires, very humane, virtually vegetarian vampires is secondary I would say to the idea of them being immortal and being lovers in a way that only lovers can really be immortal because they live on in each other’s spirits.

Another big question was why Detroit and Tangier were chosen as the main locations. Both prove to be major characters as they come to inform Adam’s and Eve’s individual worldviews. Detroit, which is better known these days for its problems more than anything else, suits Adam’s sensibilities perfectly while Tangier appeals to Eve in a whole other way.

TS: Detroit was always going to be a very important character in the film. My sense is that Detroit was like the Emerald City for Jim, so for him it’s really a love story to make a film there. Tangier was a kind of newer idea. There was a moment where we were going to make it Rome, and for all sorts of reasons Rome sort of detached. And then we wanted very much to making a home on the African continent, and then it became Tangier. Tangier seems to be such a natural home for her. It’s a different kind of wilderness. It’s packed full of people from all corners of this particular planet and probably others and from all particular centuries. It’s got that sense of all corners of time and space, end and start in Tangier, and you can also walk around Tangier at night and cause absolutely no ripples at all even with a massive, great wolf’s hair wig on and fantastic pants. It’s just a sort of hot spot of spirit, and it felt like a very nice partner to this relatively unpopulated Detroit where people are rare and relative to empty windows and grass and wolves. Once we settled on Tangier that really felt like the right place for her.

Tilda Swinton remains one of the best and most fascinating actresses working today, and she will continue to be as long as filmmakers are smart enough to give her free reign. She has been able to go from making independent films to studio movies with relative ease, and she still has an endless number of great performances to give. Some actors might get stifled when going from the indies to a film with an enormous budget, but this doesn’t look like it will happen to Swinton anytime soon.

TS: It’s all endlessly fascinating. It’s just a different caliber. It’s like getting a finer tooth to it. It’s only relatively rare because I come from a kind of cinema that grew out of the art world. Working with a sort of naturalistic grain is something I’ve rarely done, but when I have done it, I’ve really enjoyed it and found it just a special atmosphere. For example, in something like “Michael Clayton” or even “We Need to Talk about Kevin,” that sort of realism, just trying to spin the realism, has been really interesting. Maybe I’d always want to spin it, but to spin it with that kind of naturalistic grain like deep cover. It has been very interesting although I’ve done it very seldomly. It’s all fun to me. It’s all dressing up and playing whether it’s dressing up as a corporate lawyer or dressing up as someone of 96.

More power to you Tilda!

PLEASE CHECK OUT THE EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW I DID WITH TILDA SWINTON FOR WE GOT THIS COVERED DOWN BELOW:

WHILE WE ARE AT IT, CHECK OUT TILDA’S REACTION TO ME COMPLETING THE 2014 LOS ANGELES MARATHON THE DAY BEFORE THIS INTERVIEW:

‘Mandibles’ is Not Your Usually Hollywood Fare, Thank Goodness

I came out of Quentin Dupieux’s “Mandibles” (French title: “Mandibules”) not sure what to think of it right away. Part of me was expecting an uproarious comedy, but while there are some good laughs to be had, this is not a laugh riot like “Airplane” or “The Naked Gun.” Moreover, the screenplay is a bit flimsy to where the film really shouldn’t work. But even if “Mandibles” is not quite what I expected, it is certainly never boring, and I cannot deny that I enjoyed it.

We are introduced to the main character of Manu (Grégoire Ludig) when an acquaintance spots him sleeping on the beach even as the water washes over him. This acquaintance offers Manu a job; pick up a suitcase and deliver it to a mystery man for a nice big wad of cash. Manu, who has just been recently rendered homeless, jumps at the opportunity, steals a beat-up car which happens to be unlocked, and he brings his longtime friend Jean-Gab (David Marsais) with him for backup. On their way down the road, however, they hear a buzzing coming from the rear. Upon opening up the trunk, they discover there is a housefly the size of a suitcase residing there, and it is the kind you have to check in because it will not fit in the overhead bin.

Now in any other movie, the characters would be wondering where this fly came from and how it got so big, but Manu and Jean-Gab are as interested in asking these questions as Dupieux is in answering them for the audience. Instead, they look at this oversized creature as something they can train for their own benefit to where they can get it to steal food and money for them. From there, we watch as these two characters, who are far too simple-minded for their own good, fumble about in training their new pet fly (Jean-Gab eventually calls it Dominique) while stumbling into various situations they have no business being in.

Dupieux is working with absurdist comedy here as he gives us two male characters whose collective IQs are not very high to put it mildly. They end up kicking an old man out of his trailer so they can train the fly in it, but Manu accidentally burns it to the ground. Seriously, these two are the kind who jump at any get rich scheme in a heartbeat to where their unbridled enthusiasm overwhelms any real thoughts or plans they could possibly put together. They would have been over the moon had they found that advertisement which promised 11 records for a penny, and I take great pleasure in knowing their SAT scores are far worse than mine ever were.

“Mandibles” then shifts into high gear when Manu is met by a beautiful blonde named Cécile (India Hair) who mistakes him for someone she went to school and eventually made out with. Manu cheerfully plays along, and he and Jean-Gab find themselves as guests at a beach house which comes with great vistas, a nice swimming pool and tons of food for the starving duo. Of course, they still have to keep the fly a secret from their hosts, but we know their cover will eventually be blown and their pet discovered. Or will it?

Watching Ludig and Marsais here is endlessly entertaining as they try to stay one step ahead of their suspecting hosts. That they are able to do so speaks more of dumb luck than anything else. They also have their characters saying “toro” to one another in the same way Johnny Depp kept saying “forget about it” in “Donnie Brasco.” “Toro” takes on different meanings for Manu and Jean-Gab as they explain to others how it works for them, and this helps to cement the strong connection they have with one another even as they insult one another, pretending they are brighter than the other.

Another performance worth noting is the one from Adèle Exarchopoulos. She portrays Agnès, a young woman who cannot help but speak at an ear-splitting volume due to a skiing accident she endured which left her with brain damage. Basically, she is like a certain character Will Ferrell played on “Saturday Night Live” who suffered from Voice Immodulation Syndrome, and every word she utters is magnified to an alarming extent. While this threatens to be a one-joke character, and this is a hit and miss comedy, I have to give Exarchopoulos credit for not making Agnes too broad. She could have easily fallen into an acting trap but does not, and the realization when she makes a certain discovery (you will know it when it comes) is worth the price of admission.

I also have to say the fly itself is wonderfully realized by the filmmakers. It looks real without ever coming across as some chintzy special effect. Kudos to actor and puppeteer Dave Chapman for portraying the fly as he makes this creature more than just something which could have easily turned into a wisecracking sidekick. As much as I would have loved for this fly to have down to earth conversations with Manu and Jean-Gab, it’s just as well it did not happen here.

When it comes to Dupieux, he is best known for his film “Rubber” which is about a tire which comes to life and kills people with psychokinetic powers. I have not seen that one, but I did watch his film “Wrong Cops,” a black comedy I could not quite get on the same wavelength with even when I wanted to as its cast gave their material their all. With “Mandibles,” however, I found myself appreciating the conflicts he gleefully subjected these characters to throughout.

“Mandibles” isn’t quite what I hoped it would be, but what unfolded before my eyes on the silver screen, and it was very nice to see this or any other movie on the silver screen in this age of pandemic, proved to be entertaining from start to finish. Some may enjoy it more than others, but there is more to a movie like this than many of the summer blockbusters currently inhabiting the local multiplexes around the world. When all is said and done, it is always welcome to have a piece of cinema which does not conform to Hollywood formulaic standards.

* * * out of * * * *

Underseen Movie: ‘State and Main’ – A Ralph Report Video Vault Selection

One of my favorite parts of “The Ralph Report” podcast has been the Video Vault segment in which Ralph Garman, Steve Ashton and Eddie Pence recommend movies to watch that people may not be particularly familiar with. One episode had the three recommending movies about filmmaking, and Ralph picked David Mamet’s comedy “State and Main.” While listening to him describe this film, it suddenly occurred to me I had rescued a DVD copy of it from a Blockbuster Video store which was about to close forever. It has stood proudly on my shelf for many years, but therein lies the problem; I never took the time to watch the movie, and it was written and directed by Mamet for crying out loud!

So, the question is this, do I put “State and Main” in the “Underseen Movies” category as it was not a huge hit upon its release in 2000, or do I instead put it the one I lovingly titled “No, I Haven’t Seen It Until Now?” Come to think of it, maybe I should create a new category entitled “No Longer Gathering Dust on My Shelf” as there are many DVDs and Blu-rays I own which I promised myself to view one day, and yet they still remain unseen by me. So, what are my excuses regarding this? That was a rhetorical question.

Anyway, “State and Main” starts off with a Hollywood film crew invading the small New England town of Waterford, Vermont to make a movie called “The Old Mill.” We quickly learn this crew had been kicked out of New Hampshire as the movie’s star, Bob Barrenger (Alec Baldwin), has a penchant for underage girls, something many do not take kindly to (need I say why?). Once the director, Walt Price (William H. Macy) arrives, he thinks he has found the perfect location as the town does indeed have an old mill which the film’s writer, Joseph Turner White (Philip Seymour Hoffman), has centered his screenplay around. They quickly find out, however, that the town’s mill has long since burned down to the ground, so several things, among others, need to be changed in the screenplay even if it goes against the writer’s original intentions.

Part of the fun “State and Main” is watching how Hollywood succeeds in bringing out the worst impulses in everyone. Whether it’s the film crew, the cast or the townspeople, everyone is out to get their piece of the pie, and everyone is a player. A plethora of chaos ensues, and this all happens even before a single frame of footage for “The Old Mill” is shot.

When it comes to Mamet, his plays and screenplays cut really deep when it comes to the real world, and his take on Hollywood players can be quite scathing. Just look at “Speed-the-Plow” in which three movie studio employees engage in a power struggle to get a certain movie made while moving up the corporate ladder to become rich beyond their wildest dreams. Then there was the political satire “Wag the Dog” in which Robert De Niro and Anne Heche and fabricate a war in Albania to distract Americans from a Presidential sex scandal, and they enlist Dustin Hoffman, playing a famous Hollywood producer clearly modeled on Robert Evans. Both projects leave a bitter aftertaste whether you enjoy them or not as Mamet acknowledges how brutal and competitive Hollywood can be when it comes to what gets made and how much truth gets revealed to the world at large.

With “State and Main,” however, Mamet gives us something lighter than he usually does as he revels in the various problems and complexities the characters are forced to deal with. Moreover, while he revels in exposing the Hollywood players for the selfish schmucks they can be, the townspeople prove to be every bit as devious in their own unique ways.

Watching William H. Macy here makes one realize why he and Mamet have had such a fruitful working relationship for so many years. Macy is well versed in the rhythm of Mamet’s dialogue, and he does an excellent job of making his character of Walt Price into a filmmaking veteran who has directed more motion pictures than we are quick to realize. Walt is a pro at handling every and all problems which come his way, and he only loses so much of his cool when one of his assistants tells him his wife has gone into labor. While some directors may be understanding, Macy makes you see why Walt treats the impending birth of a baby as an annoying inconvenience.

Is tempting to say Alec Baldwin was in his prime when he played movie star Bob Barrenger here, but he is still quite the actor after all these years and not just because of his work on “Saturday Night Live.” Baldwin makes Bob into the kind of star whom filmmakers work with against their own best interests as he wants to change the dialogue in the script because it doesn’t sound like something he would say in real life. You want to berate him for his selfishness and remind him he is playing a character and not himself, but Baldwin reminds you of how actors like this one are on an island with themselves to where their egos get the best of them before they could ever realize it.   

Philip Seymour Hoffman left the land of the living a few years ago, and watching him in “State and Main” is a bittersweet reminder of the amazing talent we lost all too soon. As screenwriter Joseph Turner White, the actor gives us the perfect portrait of a man struggling for truth amongst a film crew whom sees the truth as a major inconvenience in the large scheme of things. Even as Joseph is forced to navigate a realm of endless cynicism and casual indifference, Hoffman renders this character as someone whom you believe is determined to remain noble to his beliefs even as many around him have long since given up on morality as a concept.

But seriously, my favorite performance comes from Rebecca Pidgeon as Ann, a local bookseller who helps to lift Joseph out of his latest bout of writer’s block. Right from the start, Pidgeon is so charming and fetching as she delivers Mamet’s dialogue like a true pro and makes Ann into one of the cleverest characters a movie like this could ever hope to have. She is just so much fun to watch here, and I could not help but root for her throughout.

And, with this screenplay written by Mamet, you can sure bet there are many lines of dialogue which sound like something only he could have come up with. Here’s a few worth noting:

“Everybody makes their own fun. If you don’t make it yourself, it isn’t fun. It’s entertainment.”

“What’s an associate producer credit?

“It’s what you give to your secretary instead of a raise.”

“It’s not a lie. It’s a gift for fiction.”

“I’m going to rip your heart out, then I’m going to piss on your lungs through the hole in your chest! And the best to Marian…”

But my favorite piece of dialogue, and it has always stood out to me even from the film’s trailer, comes from an exchange between Joseph and Ann:

“But it’s absurd.”

“So is our electoral process. But we still vote.”

Now that line remains as true now as it did back when this movie was released, and I can’t help but still laugh at it loudly as the electoral process is being scrutinized today in ways both sound and utterly ridiculous. By the way, Biden won and Trump lost. That is all.

I am not sure where to rate “State and Main” in regards to the other many works of Mamet. At times I wondered if this material might be a little too light for him, but this was clearly not designed to be as emotionally brutal as “Glengarry Glen Ross.” In the end, I think this was a movie everyone in front of and behind the camera had a lot of fun making, and not just because Mamet’s name was on it. A lot of times, movie sets can be nightmarish places regardless of whether or not Scott Rudin is wandering around on them, but the love everyone had for the material is clearly on display here.  

Big thanks to Ralph Garman for giving me and others a reason to check “State and Main” out. Here’s hoping his recommendation will give this film a stronger shelf life than it already has.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

Ronald Krauss and Kathy DiFiore on the Making of ‘Gimme Shelter’

WRITER’S NOTE: This interview took place in 2014.

Gimme Shelter” gives audiences one of the most intimate looks at life inside a shelter for those in need they could ever hope to see. It stars Vanessa Hudgens who turns in an astonishing performance as Apple Bailey, the child of an abusive and drug addicted mother. At the film’s beginning, Apple runs away from home and seeks out her biological father, a Wall Street banker named Tom Fitzpatrick (played by Brendan Fraser) who does what he can to help her out, but she ends up running away upon discovering she’s pregnant, and because Tom isn’t excited about her wanting to keep the baby. After a couple of nights on the streets and a nasty car accident, Apple finds her way to a shelter for young pregnant women run which is run by a spiritual woman, and it is there that she begins to feel a sense of hope for the first time in her life.

“Gimme Shelter” was written and directed by Ronald Krauss who actually spent some time in an actual women’s shelter run by Kathy DiFiore, a once homeless woman who eventually turned her life around and founded Several Sources Shelters which is dedicated to helping women in need. Krauss’ original plan was to make a documentary out of all the interviews he did with residents of the shelter, but in an attempt to show the world of the importance of the work DiFiore has done and to keep her legacy going, he decided to make a feature length movie instead.

I got to meet with Krauss and DiFiore during a roundtable interview at the “Gimme Shelter’s” press day held at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. It was especially nice to see DiFiore there as she does not do a lot of publicity. DiFiore talked about why she decided to let Krauss make this movie which was inspired by her work. Krauss went into detail about his experiences at the shelter, and he also explained how he came to cast Hudgens in the lead role.

Question: How are you?

Kathy DiFiore: Good but a little tired. I’ve never been to so many interviews (everyone laughs).

Question: Welcome to our world. So, what did you think when this guy (Ronald Krauss) shows up on your doorstep? I guess you’re used to having people show up on your doorstep, but this guy…

Kathy DiFiore: Usually they’re pregnant women (laughs).

Question: Yeah right. This guy shows up and I doubt it went like, “Uh, can I stay here because I’m doing research for a movie.” But how did you feel when he proposes the idea of doing a movie based on your thing?

Kathy DiFiore: Well, it didn’t happen that way. It happened more like he was visiting his brother who happens to live a mile and a half from the shelter, and he had heard about my work through a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend, and he volunteered. It was Christmas time and I let people come in to volunteer all the time, especially someone that has the talents he has. He eventually said, “Maybe I could film some of what you’re doing” which I wasn’t fond of because of the $10,000 fine. I didn’t want any publicity. I thought, let me just go quietly. No public relations. Over the course of time, and it took several months as he was doing the work speaking with the young mothers and they got to know him, they would come to me and tell me how much they respected him and how much he respected them. He felt they were giving him private information, but he was treating them with such dignity. You don’t hear those types of words coming out of the women that come to me. They’ve been abused and abandoned and are really confused by so many, particularly men, in their lives. And then I heard a little voice inside my head, I’m a very prayerful woman and I was asking God for guidance, and I heard, “Trust him.” And when I heard “trust him,” it kept going on. Trust him, trust him, trust him. I thought, okay holy spirit, okay, and then he and I talked about some of the things he looked at.

Ronald Krauss: I didn’t really have any sort of agenda when I met Kathy. I wasn’t really setting out to make a film. It just so happened that her shelter was a mile from my brother’s house and it was at Christmas time. Usually during the holidays I’m, like a lot of people, at food banks or something or shelters just reaching out to people who are less fortunate. I remember the first time I was there visiting Kathy and walked into that shelter for the first time and saw mothers and children walking around and it was really fascinating. It’s exactly what you see in the film because we shot the film at the real place. I had learned that Kathy had not done any publicity in her work. For the last 30 years she remained anonymous other than when she started with the $10,000 fine, and that was news of a woman who was homeless and was trying to give back to society by turning her own home into a shelter. The state came down on her, and that’s a whole other story. She reached out to Mother Teresa, and Mother Teresa came by her side and together they changed the laws in the state of New Jersey, and she was honored in the White House with Ronald Reagan. I learned all of this which was fascinating and I was sort of intrigued by her, but I was more intrigued by… the young women that struggled and were finding their way in life and the woman that was sort of selflessly helping them with her work in this shelter and five shelters she has now; some just for homeless women and some for teenagers and different things. My first thing was to sort of really help her organize so that her legacy and her work would continue. I didn’t realize that I was planting the seeds for a film that I was really trying to say that people need to learn about your work. I was thinking at first that I was going to document her work just for her own purpose so people could find out later. With any device that I found there, and I actually borrowed her camera, I started to interview the girls and record the girls and go through her boxes and look at all her old videotapes. It was a lot of stuff. I started filming one girl after the next, one after the next, interview and asking where they were from, how they ended up here, where’s their parents, where’s all these things and the tapes started piling up. I would put them in Kathy’s office in the back, and before I know it there was a whole stack of tapes of these girls and their stories and they were all very similar. They were all stories of abuse and neglect and abandonment. It was both something like a bad mother, bad father, nobody cared and the thing they had in common is that they didn’t pick this life. They didn’t pick these parents. They didn’t pick up parent who was a drug addict or an alcoholic, it just happened. And what do people do when these things happen? They just get abused and they struggle in life, and they think there’s no hope. A lot of times the will of the parents and the people who are bad, it gets thrown onto the kids and they become angry and bitter and they fight and rebel and they run away and become homeless, and so it’s a vicious cycle. I think the turning point of the whole thing for me was I kept going back and back and weeks were passing and peoples’ lives were passing through my life, and they were touching me but I was sort of a little bit removed in a sense. Then one day I showed up at the shelter at about 7 o’clock at night and there was a young girl standing there in front of the shelter; an African American girl about 18 years old. It was about 15 degrees out, she had no jacket on and she was just standing there and I said, “Can I help you? Why don’t you come inside? What are you doing out here?” I thought she lived in the shelter but she didn’t and she thought I worked there and I didn’t obviously work there, so we were kind of misleading each other. Then Kathy shows up and I’m standing in the living room with this girl and Kathy says, “Who’s this girl?” And I said, “I don’t know. She was in front of the shelter.” And she comes over and says, “Never let anybody in the shelter. These are the rules here.” She kind of dug into me a little bit, you know? And I was like, “Okay but this girl, she didn’t have a place to go. She’s by herself, she doesn’t have a jacket, she has nothing.” And she says, “Let me talk to her.” Kathy’s very seasoned obviously and knows what to look for in these people because they could be deceiving, and she interviewed her and she came back to me and said, “It just so happens that we have one bed left in the shelter. Why don’t you tell this girl that she could stay here.” And so I went up to her, her name was Darlecia, and I said, “Hey Darlecia, they have an extra bed here for you to stay. You can stay here” and this girl… I’m sorry (Ronald started to get teary eyed) … Anyway, this girl, she hugged me so hard that she almost knocked me over.

Question: Is she the one that you based Vanessa Hudgens’ character on?

Ronald Krauss: Yeah. It was a jolt into my heart about that there were many young girls like this out there and that could use help. That’s what inspired me and made me think if I was to make a film it could create awareness for other people. I asked Kathy about it and she said absolutely not, of course. And then time went on and she came to me and said, “You know the girls really respect you and trust you in terms of the care of what you’ve been doing, and perhaps you’re right. Maybe some sort of film could really help to spread the word that shelters like this exist and that other people can be kind, and maybe someone will open a shelter if they see a film like this.” But no one ever anticipated it would be a film like this.

Question: What made you choose Vanessa Hudgens for the role of Apple Bailey and what was it like to work with her?

Ronald Krauss: I never thought that a Hollywood actress could really play the role like this after living there for like a year. I lived there for a year writing this script. And there are a lot of famous actors that wanted to do it and had auditioned and some of them were really well known, and then someone mentioned Vanessa Hudgens and I didn’t really know who she was. I met with her and she was very passionate to play this role. She believed in herself that she could really do it. There was something inside of her. She turned in a great audition, she was persistent, and the turning point was that I had taken all the auditions, there was about seven or eight that I liked, and I sent them to the shelter. I didn’t tell them who I was thinking about. And when they saw the link of the girls, they unanimously picked Vanessa. They said this is the girl who should play this part, and that was the confirmation. She dove into this thing, she lived in the shelter, cut her hair off, she gained 15 pounds and besides the physical transformation, she transformed inside and she bonded with Kathy and the girls and they trusted her and they opened up to her.

Question: Kathy, what did you think of the final film?

Kathy DiFiore: (It’s) perfect. It still makes me cry when I watch it. There are women who have left Several Sources that want to come and see it and I can’t wait for that. It’s a legacy for us.

“Gimme Shelter” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray and Digital.

Max Thieriot on Playing Ryan in ‘House at the End of the Street’

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2012.

Max Thieriot’s acting career has been on the rise ever since his film debut in “Catch that Kid,” and now he gets one of his biggest roles to date in the horror movie “House at the End of the Street.” In it, he plays Ryan Jacobson, a sole survivor of a vicious attack which claimed the lives of his immediate family. Thieriot talked about how he prepared for the role and of what it was like working with Jennifer Lawrence who co-stars as the new girl in town, Elissa.

Thieriot got really excited about playing Ryan after he read the script, finding him very complex and full of many layers which get peeled back as the screenplay unfolds. The challenge of the role for him was to find a way to make this soft spoken and quiet character more unique than the ones which usually inhabit horror movies.

“I watched a lot of videos, and all sorts of stuff on people with different issues, and tried to find some common ground and similarity between them and their actions, and Ryan,” Thieriot said. “I put together a lot of stuff, and came up with what I did.”

Like many horror and thriller movies, “House at the End of the Street” contains endless twists and turns as filmmakers love to keep audiences guessing. Thieriot said it is actually rare for him to find a script like this one which has twists he did not see coming. The trick became to not reveal too much as it can be ridiculously easy to give a lot of things away.

“One of the hardest parts is when you’re playing a character and you know what’s going on with the character, it’s easier to not show it,” said Thieriot. “In this film, there are moments where you reveal little secrets without telling people that it’s happening – whether it’s a look and being able to have them noticeable enough that when you finish the movie, you go, ‘Oh!'”

Of course, many people have asked Thierlot what it was like working with Jennifer Lawrence whose career has gone into hyper drive thanks to the success of “The Hunger Games.” He spoke very highly of Lawrence and described her as really cool and that he had a lot of fun playing off her and working with her. What also made them work so well together in “House at the End of the Street” is they have similar backgrounds in regards to how they grew up.

“Immediately, I could tell she was a fantastic actress. It was always very real with her. It made it so much easier for me to come off like that,” Thieriot said. “She was a down-to-earth, small-town girl. I’m from a small town in Northern California. We understood each other. It (this movie) was before any of her success. Nobody in the industry knew her. That’s how it always is – you’re unknown until you get that one chance to show it.”

Up next for Max Thieriot is playing Norman Bates’ older brother Dylan in the upcoming A&E drama series “Bates Motel.” He has previously only been in one horror movie before “House at the End of the Street” (Wes Craven’s underappreciated “My Soul to Take”), but he is certainly making his presence felt in this genre. It will benefit from actors like Thieriot who are out to give audiences something that’s not just the same old thing.

SOURCES:

Christina Radish, “Max Thieriot Talks HOUSE AT THE END OF THE STREET, PSYCHO Series BATES MOTEL, and DISCONNECT,” Collider, September 20, 2012.

Joel D. Amos, “The House at the End of the Street: Max Thieriot Explores His Dark Side,” Movie Fanatic, September 20, 2012.

Michael Pena on Getting Real in David Ayer’s ‘End of Watch’

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2012.

Actor Michael Peña has already played a few cops in his career, but in David Ayer’s “End of Watch” he gets to play his most realistic one yet. It also marks the biggest role Peña has had so far in a career which has seen him give excellent performances in “Crash,” “World Trade Center” and “Observe and Report.” Taking on the role of LAPD officer Mike Zavala reminded Peña of his days growing up in Chicago, and his preparation proved to be far more intense than he ever expected it to be.

Peña grew up in a particularly rough area of Chicago where the lure of gang life was always strong. The actor, however, said he “never wanted to be in a gang” and that he “didn’t want to follow anybody’s orders” as he always thought of himself as an individual even when he was really little. Still, playing Mike Zavala brought up a lot of memories of those days:

“I grew up in the ghetto, and the thing is when there were problems, I knew when to get away. But police go to the problems,” said Peña. “I didn’t do that growing up. Seeing it through Jake (Gyllenhaal’s) eyes, it re-ignited what I always knew, but I guess I had buried it. I’ve been living in Hollywood for the past 15 years. And reality just smacks you in the face – that feeling of potential danger everywhere.”

Like his co-star Jake Gyllenhaal, Peña spent five months training with the Los Angeles Police Department which included ride-alongs which lasted 12 hours a day. There was also a good dose of weapons training, martial arts, boxing workouts, and lugging around chest cameras which were also called body cams.

“We did so many damn ride-alongs, dude,” said Peña. “At first it’s brand new, it’s awesome, and it’s amazing. You almost glamorize it in a way. Then you do ten more, and you start getting a little bored. Then ten more after that, you really get into the spirit of it. It was almost like a sport. We really wanted to get into the mindset of what it’s like to be a police officer.”

As for the body cams, Peña remembered them being “so heavy” and “gnarly.” It turned out though that some of the hardest things he had to do in “End of Watch” were not actually physical.

“I was driving a whole bunch,” Peña said. “Then you have the director (David Ayer) in back, which can be pretty nerve-wracking. Sometimes I didn’t know where life began and where the acting started.”

Pena and Gyllenhaal had never worked together before making “End of Watch,” and it apparently took some time to get the sense of brotherhood two cops can have.

“It took three months to click,” said Peña. “There’s a lot of pressure to play like brothers. We had to spend a lot of time together to opening up to each other as well as tactical training, rehearsing. Three months later we had a good rapport and we put that in the movie.”

It was also all the hard-hitting dialogue which Ayer came up with that made the working relationship between Peña’s and Gyllenhaal’s characters feels like a real brotherhood. Peña also admitted he and Gyllenhaal did very little in the way of improvisation on the set as neither of them wanted to mess with the director’s script.

“Nine times out of 10, you aren’t going to come up with something better,” Peña said.

Peña has certainly earned his moment in the spotlight, having given one memorable performance after another. His terrific work in “End of Watch” is not only a major step forward for him, but it also allows him to break through certain barriers which have been placed upon actors throughout the years:

“The script was written for actors like Jake Gyllenhaal and me – a Latin dude. It had to be a Latin dude, there is so much Latin (material) in it. Ten years ago, I don’t know if that would have been the case. I don’t know if it would have been so easy to do.”

SOURCES:

Brian Brooks, “‘End of Watch’ Star Michael Peña Sees Racial Barriers Coming Down in Hollywood,” Movieline.com, September 19, 2012.

Chris Vognar, “Michael Peña on ‘End of Watch:’ ‘We did so many damn ride-alongs,’” The Dallas Morning News, September 21, 2012.

Madeleine Marr, “Talking to ‘End of Watch’ star Michael Peña,” The Miami Herald, September 20, 2012.

Sam Rockwell on Playing Billy Bickle in ‘Seven Psychopaths’

It is so much fun watching Sam Rockwell in Martin McDonagh’sSeven Psychopaths.” In the movie he plays Billy Bickle, an unemployed actor and friend to alcoholic screenwriter Marty Faranan (Colin Farrell). In addition, Billy is also a part-time dog thief who, along with his partner Hans (Christopher Walken), kidnaps dogs and then returns them to their owners who offer them a generous reward for their return. But Billy’s criminal deeds come back to haunt him when he steals a Shih Tzu which belongs to the vicious gangster Charlie Costello (Woody Harrelson), and Charlie will stop at nothing to get his beloved dog back.

Rockwell described the screenplay for “Seven Psychopaths” as great and said the part of Billy was “amazing.” You couldn’t agree with him more as this role gave him the opportunity to really chew up the scenery. Throughout, Billy fools around with his friend, unveils parts of his psyche which we do not see coming, and he eventually comes up with what he believes to be the mother of all action movie climaxes.

It’s also no mistake how Billy Bickle shares the same last name with Robert De Niro’s famous character of Travis Bickle from Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.” However, it was another De Niro character which came to inform Billy more for Rockwell.

“Johnny Boy (from ‘Mean Streets’) is definitely a template for Billy, probably more than Travis Bickle I think,” said Rockwell. That kind of flamboyance that De Niro has in that and also in ‘New York, New York’ and ‘Midnight Run.’ He has a kind of flamboyance that is particular to those films.”

Other characters which inspired Rockwell’s performance in “Seven Psychopaths” were Annie Wilkes (played by Kathy Bates) in “Misery,” and Timothy Treadwell who was the subject of Werner Herzog’s brilliant documentary “Grizzly Man.”

In regards to the friendship between Billy and Marty, Rockwell remarked he found inspiration through the performances of Jeff Bridges and Robin Williams in “The Fisher King” as well as the work of Kevin Spacey and Sean Penn in “Hurlyburly.”

“There are many examples of that kind of codependent, male-bonding relationship. Alpha-beta and beta-alpha switching,” Rockwell said of the above movies.

When it came to fleshing out the relationships of the characters played by Rockwell, Farrell and Walken, Rockwell said they all took the time to form a bond before shooting began. To that effect, they rented a house near Joshua Tree Park which is where the last half of “Seven Psychopaths” takes place. As for the bear hat Rockwell wears, Farrell ended up picking it out after finding it at a rest stop.

Many will come out of “Seven Psychopaths” saying Rockwell’s best scene comes when he discusses his idea for an action movie climax in a cemetery. In his best roles, Rockwell has such an unpredictable energy which continually makes him so fascinating to watch. It makes one wonder how much of this scene was scripted and what parts of it were improvised. Hearing Rockwell explain it is very interesting.

“It has to be in the writing or you can’t do it,” Rockwell said. “But certainly, all actors want to be spontaneous that’s the trick of acting, to be truthful under imaginary circumstances. You want it to be truthful, meaning it has to be fresh, it has to be spontaneous, so you have to trick yourself that it’s happening for the first time and trust this actor’s faith, so to speak.”

“I think that’s the little kid part of acting. Being with a kid is like hanging out with a drunken person or schizophrenic,” Rockwell continued. “One moment they’re crying and they’re sad, then they’re like hitting things, and that’s what actors have to do. They have to manipulate their emotions. You just got to really go back to that place of spontaneity and no boundaries.”

Watching “Seven Psychopaths” makes you realize just how much fun these actors had playing their roles. This is especially the case when you watch Sam Rockwell here, and his performance as Billy Bickle is another reminder of just how endlessly creative he is. To hear him talk about it, this was clearly one of his best experiences he has had so far in his career.

“What’s memorable for me is the experience that we had on the film. It was such a great experience,” Rockwell said. “We took our jobs very seriously, but we also had a lot of fun, and that’s what is really memorable for me. Of course, we want the movie to be a smash hit, but who knows what’s going to happen. I have memories of films that nobody ever saw, that I was very proud of, and those are still great memories. It would be great, if people saw this movie. It’s a cool movie.”

SOURCES:

Steven M. Paquin, “Exclusive Interview: Martin McDonagh and Sam Rockwell talk ‘Seven Psychopaths’ and Writing for Women, Psychos, and More,” Just Press Play, October 12, 2012.

Christina Radish, “Sam Rockwell and Christopher Walken Talk ‘Seven Psychopaths,’ What Inspired Their Performances, Memorable Moments, and More,” Collider, October 11, 2012.

‘Halloween Kills’ Trailer Promises a Brutal Follow-Up

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is one of the many films we had to wait an extra year for. But with the pandemic reaching its tail end (or so we have been told), we can look forward to “Halloween Kills,” the sequel to David Gordon Green’s highly successful “Halloween” reboot, arriving in theaters this October of 2021. John Carpenter, who returns as Executive, has told us the following about it:

“It’s brilliant. It’s the ultimate slasher. I mean, there’s nothing more than this one. Wow! Man.”

After watching the first trailer for “Halloween Kills” which was unleashed this past week, I believe Carpenter is a man of his word as what unfolds here is truly brutal. As I watched this preview, I wondered if this was a red band trailer or one which was approved for all audiences by the infamous MPAA.

When we last left this franchise, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) had left Michael Myers to burn to death in her house. But as she escaped alongside her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) in the back of a truck, they watched in horror as fire trucks rushed their way over to Laurie’s residence which had since turned into a burning inferno. But as one firefighter reaches out to another who has fallen through the floor, we know the hand he takes in his is indeed Michael’s.

Watching as Michael stepped out of the house while it was still engulfed in flames, and holding a rather sharp firefighter tool in his hands, I was quickly reminded of what Steve Rogers said to a bunch of mercenaries while stuck in an elevator with them in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier:”

“Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?”

Seeing Michael lay waste to these firefighters with their own tools, one of them a power saw, it is clear this will be an exceptionally bloody follow-up as we see the “essence of evil,” as Laurie describes him, lay waste to helpless victims with an assortment of tools, one of them a broken fluorescent light tube.

 “Halloween Kills” looks to start mere seconds after the previous film ended, and it looks like the mob is out in full force as the town of Haddonfield is out for vengeance in the wake of so many murders. It feels like blood will be flowing endlessly this time around as we watch Anthony Michael Hall as Tommy Doyle, the young boy who took way too long to open the door for Laurie in the original “Halloween,” walking around town with a baseball bat. Not just any bat mind you, but one made out of metal. That’s right folks, Tommy is out to hit some balls!

There are several unforgettable images to be found here. Among them is the visual of three kids wearing those Silver Shamrock masks from “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” whose bodies lay lifeless and bloodied in a playground. Of course, part of me wonders if they got lucky. I mean, Michael got to them before they had any opportunity to “watch the magic pumpkin” on television. If they just missed Michael, their heads would have crumbled and turned to mush, releasing all sorts of pesky bugs and poisonous snakes. Haddonfield may have a solid police department, but how are they with animal control?

Also, Michael is once again unmasked in the franchise, this time by Karen who dares him to get his altered William Shatner “Star Trek” mask back. But we have been down this road before as Michael, as an adult, has had some opportunities to show us the face behind the mask, and it resulted in being nothing more than a tease (particularly in “Halloween 5”). Will the filmmakers here tease us yet again?

And yes, Jamie Lee Curtis is back in action, looking every bit as lethal as Michael does. Even after getting stabbed in the belly, you believe her fully when she tells her daughter that evil will die tonight. Regardless of how this film turns out, you can always count on Curtis giving a top-notch performance as she never disappoints.

“Halloween Kills” arrives at a theater near you on October 15, 2021. I look forward as I do to its soundtrack which will again be composed by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies. I am so excited to where I am reminding myself to keep my expectations in check. It is too easy to be disappointed in a film and for all the wrong reasons, and I want this one to live up to the hype.

Check out the trailer below:

Karl Urban on Playing Judge Dredd in ‘Dredd’

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written back in 2012.

With “Dredd” now out in theaters, people can now see what fans and critics are so excited about. Distancing itself from the 1995 misfire “Judge Dredd” which starred Sylvester Stallone, this film hews more closely to the character’s comic book origins and aims to be more serious than campy. But what everyone should be especially excited about is that the filmmakers chose the right actor to play the famous Judge, Karl Urban. Having made such memorable appearances in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, “The Bourne Supremacy” and giving a pitch-perfect performance as Dr. McCoy in “Star Trek,” Urban looks to be the only actor to give this character the cinematic respect he deserves.

In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, Urban said he was first introduced to the comic books of “Judge Dredd” when he was 16 years old. Recalling a pizza parlor he worked at in Wellington, New Zealand, the manager there told him all about the character.

“It was kind of ironic at the time because most teenagers do rebel against everything to do with authority and the law and all that sort of stuff,” Urban said. “I really gravitated towards this ultra-brutal representative of the law. I just loved it. I’ve always had a passion for science fiction.”

In preparing to play Judge Dredd, Urban said he spent more than three months “lifting heavy things” in order to get the character’s physique down. When it came to wearing the costume, he wore it every day for three weeks before shooting began. Urban did this so he could get used to what the Judge wore and to learn how to move in it and discover its limitations. Of course, the biggest challenge was wearing the costume while filming in South Africa during a blazingly hot summer.

Many have asked Urban what it was like to wear the helmet Dredd is famous for wearing, and he described it as being “a bitch to wear” but that he liked in a “sado-masochistic way.” Regardless of the discomfort, Urban stayed very true to Judge Dredd’s refusal to ever take it off.

“To me, that’s (the helmet) essential,” Urban told MTV. “That’s part of his enigma. That’s part of who he is. To do something contradictory to the way the character was originally created… it was certainly a choice that was never considered by myself or anyone else on this production.”

Of course, acting with a helmet forced Urban to convey emotions without the use of his eyes. When it comes to film acting, the eyes can speak louder than words ever can, but he was forced to use other tools to show what Dredd was going through. The one tool which became especially important was the character’s voice, and Urban spoke with Matthew Jackson of the Blastr website about how he came up with it:

“The voice isn’t out of any attempt to emulate or copy anything that has come before,” said Urban. “It’s purely and simply a fact that in my research of the comic book I discovered a description of Dredd’s voice and it said that it sounded like a saw cutting though bone. The voice is my interpretation of what that is. I didn’t want to play this character as a bellowing, posturing Dredd, shouting out lines. For me, it’s far more interesting to have the character contain the rage and the violence. Without the use of my eyes, I had to figure out where that voice was going to sit to maximize the opportunity to express in any given moment.”

Many were worried it might be too soon for a cinematic reboot of Judge Dredd, but it looks like the filmmakers got the details right this time around. As for Karl Urban, getting to play this role must be a dream come true for him. Hearing him talk about his preparation is a great reminder of how much fun it is to hear actors explain their process of portraying a character, and he looks to deliver the goods as this brutal enforcer of justice.

SOURCES:

Clark Collis, “Karl Urban talks ‘Dredd 3D,'” Entertainment Weekly, September 16, 2012.

Ryan Turek, “Fantastic Fest Interview: Karl Urban on Dredd, Returning to Riddick,” Shock Till You Drop, September 20, 2012.

Kevin P. Sullivan, “Keeping ‘Dredd’ Helmet on Was ‘Essential’ For Karl Urban,” MTV.com, September 20, 2012.

Matthew Jackson, “Karl Urban explains how he came up with that gritty Dredd voice,” Blastr, September 6, 2012.