Interview with the Cast and Director of ‘The Menu’

The Menu” is an inspired black comedy featuring an incredibly talented cast of actors who play characters invited to a remote island where celebrity chef, Julian Slowik, is preparing quite the cuisine for them. As the night goes on, however, the guests come to see that Chef Slowik’s intentions are anything but gracious as he looks to punish those who cannot take enough time to taste the food they are eating. In this day and age when we are too busy shoving food into our mouths as life moves by fast, this motion picture reminds you of the importance of savoring every bite.

I got to sit in on a press conference for “The Menu” which was moderated by Rolling Stone magazine’s senior editor, David Fear. It featured actors Nicholas Hoult, Anya Taylor-Joy, John Leguizamo, Aimee Carrero, Judith Light and Hong Chau, and they were joined by then movie’s director, Mark Mylod, who is best known for helming episodes of “Succession” and “Shameless.”

When it comes to black comedies, I always wonder how they are conceived and put together. Making a comedy movie is hard enough, but putting a black comedy has got to be even harder as you are trying to get the audience to laugh as things no one would laugh at in real life. On top of that, this movie could be described as many different things such as, as Fear put it, “a broad social satire, it’s a Grand Guignol horror film, it’s a very dry comedy, and it’s a high tragedy.” Taking all this into account, one has to wonder how Mylod managed to find the right balance for everything.

Mark Mylod:   First of all, instinctive in reading the script, I think one of the things that drew us all to the project was that lovely mashup of tones that I think as quite a small target to hit. But we were all attracted to how specific that was. And then I think for me it was the few days or the week that we spent doing our version of rehearsals, which was basically to sit together or in smaller groups in a room and just talk about issues that interested us in the script and in our story and about our characters. And in doing so, it was perhaps less about what we were actually saying and more about us all tuning in by osmosis, perhaps unconsciously to get on the same level. I think it’s a Sydney Pollack quote about everybody making the same movie, so that by the time we were on set, we all tuned in together and we continued to do so with the huge benefit of shooting the film almost entirely chronologically.

One of my favorite performances in “The Menu” comes from Hong Chau who portrays the right-hand person to celebrity chef Julian Slowik (played by Ralph Fiennes), Elsa. Considering how the screenplay only gives her so much to work with, I couldn’t help but wonder how Chau managed to give us such a fascinating character in the process. Her answer to this helps illuminate the way she creates a character.

Hong Chau: I signed on not really being able to picture what the final product would look like. That was exciting to me, because I was curious to see how it would turn out and I knew that the people involved were great collaborators to take that leap of faith with. I was a huge fan of Succession and I knew that Mark (Mylod) would be able to take these characters who are unlikable for so many reasons, and somehow weave together a story where you cared about what happened, not necessarily to them, but cared about the situation. It was just surprising that I felt even some sort of heartbreak for some of the characters, and that’s just a special gift that Mark has.

Another big question I had was for John Leguizamo who plays a movie star who is washed-up, past his prime and, most importantly, has no name. This movie star could be any we know from when we were growing up or from today’s world which is filled with an endless variety of actors playing superheroes and comic-book characters. Leguizamo wrote a book back in 2007 entitled “Pimps, Hos, Playa Hatas, and All the Rest of My Hollywood Friends: My Life,” and he was more than honest about the many actors and movie stars he has worked with. When it came to his nameless character, I had to wonder which actor/movie star he based him on.

John Leguizamo: I’m not being typecast here, so because I’m not washed up and I’m not an action star, so I’m not a washed-up action star. But I’ve worked with a lot of action stars who became washed up and I modeled it after one person in particular who was a bit of an a-hole and a bully. Okay, Steven Seagal. I modeled after Steven Seagal because I did a movie with him and in rehearsals, he knocked me out and he didn’t care.

The movie Leguizamo is referring to is “Executive Decision,” an action film from 1996 directed by Stuart Baird. Leguizamo played US Army Special Forces officer, Captain Carlos “Rat” Lopez, and Seagal played his superior, Lieutenant Colonel Austin Travis. There are many stories about what happened behind the scenes on “Executive Decision,” and they all describe how Seagal slammed Leguizamo against a wall when he laughed at him for taking himself far too seriously.

John Leguizamo: (Seagal) hit me with an elbow in my solar plexus and knocked me against the wall, because I was laughing at him. I forgot to mention that part. I was a bit of a dick then. Sorry, I had to give that fact. So that’s who I was modeling after. I’d seen these privileged guys, and these guys who come into a room with so much narcissism and self, it’s like they suck the oxygen out of the room because they want all the attention and everything’s got to be on them, otherwise they turn negative. So that’s what I was trying to create, because it doesn’t naturally come to me.

And when it comes to these characters in general, what I admired most was how each actor inhabited them. These characters could have been portrayed broadly, but they were not which I thought was great. When it came to character descriptions, one of my favorites came from actress Judith Light who played Anne, a longtime fan of Chef Slowik’s who often visits his restaurant along with her husband Richard (played by Reed Birney).

Judith Light: When you watch a woman who has lived her life giving up her soul and herself in order to have the privilege that she so desperately wants, and begins to realize through the course of the film is that you think it’s one way and it’s not that way. It turns into something else and you begin to see that she wakes up as she realizes that her life is not what she wanted it to be. She’s not who she wants to be and she’s not living the way that she wants to live. And so, there is this bubbling, this cauldron that’s underneath all the time within the dynamic. And where that begins to shift and play out is in relation to Anya’s character. You begin to see that there’s a uniting of these two women in a very simple-I think maybe we say three words to each other in the entire film-but you can see the process of what’s happening within the heart and soul of this person. You don’t really see it until things begin to unfold in the most powerful, painful kinds of ways. So, between the two of us, between Reed and myself, I felt a very special and deep kind of rehearsal. Mark was saying in the beginning we all had these rehearsals with each other, and we improvised something between the two of us that was so moving and poignant and powerful because you know you walk into a restaurant and you see those two people. They’re not talking to each other; they never talk to each other. And you say to your partner, “I’m never going to be that person. I’m never going to be the person in that relationship.” And there you are, and one day you wake up and there you are and you are that person. And so, we were discovering all those things all of the time. So, Mark really gave us the depth and the breadth within the creativity of those rehearsals, and being on the set as well, our reactions to other people that really illuminated, and you begin to see this character; you see her transformation over time.

“The Menu” comes to us courtesy of Searchlight Pictures, and it opens in theaters on November 18, 2022. I highly recommend you check it out!

Paul Williams and Stephen Kessler Discuss ‘Paul Williams Still Alive’ at the Nuart

WRITER’S NOTE: As the opening paragraph indicates, this article was originally written ten years ago.

On June 27, 2012, singer and songwriter Paul Williams along with filmmaker Stephen Kessler appeared at the Nuart Theatre in support of their documentary “Paul Williams Still Alive.” After its conclusion, both men were greeted by a packed audience that had been deeply moved by what they just witnessed. The documentary follows up with Williams years after his enormous success back in the 1970s, and it finds him experiencing happiness and fulfillment in life he didn’t have back then.

Kessler has described making this documentary as “a labor of love,” but Williams quickly pointed out that it didn’t start that way. Their relationship when filming began was an uncomfortable one, but Williams eventually warmed up to Kessler, and their strong friendship proved to be very authentic as they talked with the audience at the Nuart. Kessler even went out of his way to say the following:

“I’ve never said this in front of people before, but you (Williams) were brave to do this movie.”

No one in the audience disagreed with this assessment. Williams described this as a “warts and all documentary” that shows him at his best and worst. One particular sequence, when he was co-hosting Merv Griffin’s talk show while on drugs, was one he originally wanted to be cut out as he was terribly afraid of what his kids would think about him. His son Cole, however, was in the audience, and when asked about what he thought of the documentary, he said, “It’s great dad!”

Kessler made it clear he had no intention of putting himself in this documentary, and he even said he “can’t stand movies that do that;” directors becoming the subject of their own films. His increased participation in “Paul Williams Still Alive,” however, helped to illuminate the songwriter much more than it would have without him. While Kessler keeps going back to the past, Williams looks to the future instead.

When Williams was asked when he reached his bottom as an alcoholic, he responded it happened when he started looking out the window for what he called the “tree police.” He even joked and said, “You know you’re an alcoholic when you’ve misplaced an entire decade.” What made him say this was the embarrassing truth that he forgot for a time that Ronald Reagan was once President of the United States.

Since becoming sober, Williams says he now knows what it feels like to be around people he feels safe with. He has also entered into what he calls his “Paulie Lama” period of life as he goes out of his way to pull people off of bar stools, and that he would be thrilled to work at the Betty Ford Center if asked.

1992’s “A Muppet Christmas Carol” marked the first project Williams ever did sober, and he remembered going into it feeling very scared. But after he finished working on it, he found he was able to approach his work in a more productive way:

“Success for me has to be about authenticity and honesty. Today I have to trust that I am enough. Never again will I ever let tension and my ego keep me from writing songs.” The emcee of the Nuart told us not to ask either of the two how much “Paul Williams Still Alive” cost to make or when it will come out on DVD. This is because he wants to see it again with as a big an audience in the midst of all these summer blockbusters being thrust at us. It is certainly one of the sweetest documentaries you will ever see, and to see Williams today is to see a man very comfortable with who he is and who does not need another cup of fame to feel better about himself.

Emily Blunt On Portraying a Single Mother in ‘Looper’

Sara (Emily Blunt) is a single mom who’s learned to stand her ground to protect her home — and her young son.

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

As single mother Sara, Emily Blunt is a powerful presence in Rian Johnson’s “Looper” and she more than holds her own opposite Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis throughout. It’s been a busy year for the actress as she has appeared in several movies including “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen” and “The Five-Year Engagement,” but “Looper” gives her an opportunity to play a different kind of role which allows her to be tough and vulnerable all at the same time. It presents a big acting challenge for Blunt, and those who know her best know she’s always up for one.

“I think I really just want to challenge myself, more than anything,” said Blunt. “People have been asking me if I’m gravitating to these sci-fi roles, but I don’t feel I necessarily am because they’ve been sort of sporadic as to when they come out. But I do like the idea of creating a backstop that is high concept for the characters to really have stuff to play with within that.”

Blunt has described Sara as being a “very tough cookie” who lives an isolated existence on a farm out in the middle of nowhere. Sara looks to have completely shut herself from the outside world and spends the days working on her farm and taking care of her five-year old son, Cid (the amazing Pierce Gagnon). The beauty of Blunt’s performance is how she pulls back the layers of her character to show us what’s underneath.

“I think that I really loved the tough exterior with the inner guilt that she sort of torments herself with,” Blunt said. “I love that unraveling of the character that you don’t know why she’s so tough, you don’t know why she’s so protective. Gradually it unfolds throughout the course of the third act. So really what I said to Rian (Johnson) was that we’ve got to make this whole sequence in the third act like that movie ‘Witness.’ It’s got to have that sort of pastoral tension to it and the feeling of someone coming in that’s alien to your world and disrupting everything and how frightening that must be for her. So, I think really I wanted to make sure we maintain the mystique of the character as long as we could.”

In preparing to play Sara, Blunt had to resort to using what she called those “dreadful sun beds” to get the tan her character has from working outside in the sun all day. Blunt did say she took some time lay out in the sun a lot before shooting began, but also admitted it takes a really long time for her to get a tan. Still, using the sun beds and getting makeup put on top of her tanned skin proved to be preferable to getting a spray tan as she hates the smell.

Blunt also gets to ditch her British accent for a Kansas-sounding one in “Looper,” and she worked with a dialect coach and listened to people from Kansas to get it down right. But what really helped was listening to one Oscar-winning actor in particular.

“The person I listened to a lot was Chris Cooper who’s from Kansas and grew up on a farm. I loved his voice and it sounded very grounded. I found it more helpful to listen to guys than girls because of the toughness of the character,” said Blunt. “I watched ‘American Beauty’ and I watched ‘Adaptation’ but I mainly listened to his interviews, him giving interviews and stuff.”

Watching Emily Blunt from one movie to the next shows her having an understated power to completely transform herself into whatever character she plays. It’s like she almost makes her preparation look effortless, except of course for those scenes where she chops wood with a big axe. As a result, she has become one of the most interesting actresses working in movies today, and we all look forward to seeing what role she will inhabit next.

SOURCES:

Sean O’Connell, “‘Looper’ Interview: Emily Blunt Talks Shotguns, Redemption and A Nickname for Her Fans,” Cinema Blend, September 26, 2012.

Fred Topel, “Butching Out: Emily Blunt on ‘Looper’ and ‘All You Need is Kill,’” Crave Online, September 27, 2012.

Tommy Lee Jones on Playing a Fiery Congressman in ‘Lincoln’

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

t’s not just Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field who give excellent performances in Steven Spielberg’s well-received “Lincoln.” The entire cast is superb in a variety of roles which helped bring to life the tale of how the Thirteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution was passed. One performance which really stands out in particular is Tommy Lee Jones’ as fiery abolitionist congressman Thaddeus Stevens. Time Magazine put Jones at number nine on their list of the Top 10 Movie Performances of 2012 with Richard Corliss describing him as giving “a flinty, inspiring turn.”

Whenever Jones is onscreen, he is a powerful presence and injects this role with both seriousness and a sense of humor as we watch him disassemble the egos of his fellow congressmen for daring to go against the idea of abolishing slavery. Stevens proves to be as obsessed about getting the Thirteenth Amendment passed as U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard was about capturing Dr. Richard Kimble in “The Fugitive,” and Jones is as entertaining to watch in “Lincoln” as he is intense.

While most people are aware of whom Abraham Lincoln is, many are not as familiar with Thaddeus Stevens. Known as a Republican and one of the most powerful members of the House of Representatives, Stevens was described as being witty, sarcastic and quite the flamboyant speaker. Jones did a lot of research on Stevens and described him to Bill Goodykoontz of AZcentral.com as “a radical Republican abolitionist during the (Civil) War, with a very severe policy of Reconstruction during the war.” But Jones really got at the heart of his character when he described Stevens to Randee Dawn of Variety.

“Stevens was looked on as a wild man for his belief in freedom,” Jones told Dawn. “It was a backward time. It doesn’t surprise me that he had to fight the way he did.”

History also states how Stevens suffered from alopecia, a disease which results in the loss of body hair and baldness. This explains Jones’ use of his black wig to portray Stevens, a wig which in any other movie would look completely out of place on any other actor. Learning of Stevens’ unfortunate ailment, Jones wanted to shave much of the hair off his body to present a more honest portrayal of this congressman. A certain person, however, was deeply involved in making “Lincoln” to put an understandable stop to that.

“I originally suggested that we shave my eyebrows,” Jones told Chris Lee of the Los Angeles Times. “Steven (Spielberg) would have nothing to do with that. He said, ‘Your eyebrows are the most expressive part of your face.'”

It goes without saying Jones deserves serious awards consideration for his performance in “Lincoln” but, like Anthony Hopkins who is currently earning praise for “Hitchcock,” he is not interested in mounting any sort of Oscar campaign. As Jones bluntly told Lee, he doesn’t think about or even talk about it. All the same, it is a rousing performance that reminds us of the great actor Jones can be when he is given top rate material. The actor’s talent is certainly not lost on Spielberg who ended up describing Jones quite beautifully.

“Tommy is not just a subtle solo instrument,” Spielberg said. “There is an entire symphony orchestra inside that man, and I knew this when I cast him in the hope that he would represent the Thaddeus Stevens that history tells us was flamboyant, volatile, radically determined and, to some, even tender-hearted. Tommy gave me everything I asked for and much, much more.”

When it comes to talking about the endeavor of making “Lincoln,” Jones described it to Madeleine Marr of The Miami Herald in a way that was both respectful of the movie and very down to earth in regards to his profession.

“It’s a fine undertaking – entertaining and educational with a great respect for American history,” Jones says of the movie, adding, “But I’m always happy to have a job.”

SOURCES:

Richard Corliss, “Top 10 Movie Performances: Tommy Lee Jones as Thaddeus Stevens in ‘Lincoln,’” Time Magazine, December 4, 2012.

Bill Goodykoontz, “Q&A: Tommy Lee Jones, in time, talks ‘Lincoln,'” AZcentral.com, November 15, 2012.

Randee Dawn, “Tommy Lee Jones in ‘Lincoln,'” Variety, December 1, 2012.

Chris Lee, “Tommy Lee Jones on playing a real firebrand, in fake hair,” Los Angeles Times, November 29, 2012.

Madeleine Marr, “Tommy Lee Jones talks ‘Lincoln,’ his career and charity,” The Miami Herald, November 6, 2012.

Sally Field on Portraying the First Lady in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Lincoln’

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

Watching Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln, wife and First Lady to the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, it’s hard to think of another actress who could have inhabited this role as well as she did in Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln.” The director had Field in mind for the role back when Liam Neeson was originally cast as President Lincoln, but the actress almost lost it when Neeson withdrew from the project and Daniel Day-Lewis got cast. It wasn’t the first time Field had to fight for a role, and she fought long and hard for this one to where Spielberg granted her a screen test with Lewis.

“I heard commotion and looked up, and across the lobby came my darling Mr. Lincoln,” Field said of Day-Lewis when she first saw the actor walking towards her. “He smirked at me, and I smirked right back. I gave him my hand, I looked up and said ‘Mr. Lincoln,’ and he said ‘Mother.’ That’s what they said to each other. I felt this audible hush in the room.”

After Field and Day-Lewis improvised for an hour as the Lincolns, Spielberg informed her the role was hers. From there, she took the time to visit Mary Todd’s home in Lexington, Kentucky. It was actually a low-key visit for the actress, and she went about town with very few people recognizing who she was.

“What I wanted to really do was be inside of her house,” Field said. “I know what an important place that was for her in studying her, and I really wanted to step inside the house and look at all of that and have the feeling of space.”

“I had seen pictures of what it looked like in those days before, before there were like parking lots and things connected to it, so that I could have a feeling of where she came from,” Field continued. “It’s important in understanding her makeup as a person that you take a look at her home.”

Field also gained 25 pounds to authentically portray Mary Todd Lincoln, and it took seven months to add all that weight to the actress’ 5′ 2 ½” frame.

“She was much heavier, or more round, so we tried to replicate her measurements,” Field said. “We had her dress size, because it’s documented when they made dresses for her… We replicated what she was, and it wasn’t easy. It was sort of horrifying to be a woman of a certain age and to put on 25 pounds.”

After all these years, Sally Field remains a most incredible actress who works very hard to understand the psychologies of each character she portrays and you cannot, nor should you, ever accuse her of being lazy in her preparation. Her performance here is the latest example of how much we really, really like her work (sorry, I couldn’t help it). Field also does a commendable job of giving Mary Todd Lincoln the respect she deserves as she is not talked about as much as her famous President husband.

“Had there not been a Mary Todd, there would not have been an Abraham Lincoln,” said Field. “She found him when he was a young lawyer and really a bumpkin. No one knew of him but she recognized his brilliance. She was so under-examined and misunderstood, and a very important woman in American history.”

SOURCES:

Lisa Gutierrez, “Stargazing | Sally Field had long lusted for ‘Lincoln’ role; justice rules on ‘Sesame Street,'” The Kansas City Star, November 13, 2012.

Rich Copley, “To play Mary Todd Lincoln, actress Sally Field visited Lexington home,” Kentucky.com, November 15, 2012.

Sally Field’s body transformation for ‘Lincoln,’” CNN, November 1, 2012.

Andrea Mandell, “Sally Field locks on to ‘Lincoln’ role,” USA Today, November 13, 2012.

Daniel Day-Lewis on Portraying the 16th American President in ‘Lincoln’

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

While there are many actors who physically and mentally transform themselves for a role, none are as fascinating to watch or as serious in their concentration as two-time Oscar winner Daniel Day-Lewis. Whether he’s playing poet Christy Brown in “My Left Foot” or portraying Daniel Plainview in “There Will Be Blood,” Lewis disappears so deeply into each character he takes on to where it’s almost like he ceases to exist. With “Lincoln,” he gets his biggest challenge yet as director Steven Spielberg convinced him to portray the 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln.

Lewis spent a full year preparing to play President Lincoln by reading through his speeches and writings. The actor also lost quite a bit of weight to look more like the rail-thin leader, and he took a tour of Lincoln’s home and law office in Springfield, Illinois along with historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. As for the physical side of playing Lincoln, Spielberg indicated Day-Lewis had many of the President’s features when he arrived on set.

“That was his hair, his beard, he had very light makeup on his face. And we added the mole, of course,” Spielberg said of Day-Lewis. “I don’t know how much (weight he lost), but he was as lean as I’ve ever seen him.”

In the process of reading Lincoln’s writings and speeches, Day-Lewis became delighted at his use of certain words like “disenthrall.” The actor’s father was once England’s poet laureate, and he taught his son a great love of language which lasts to this very day. As a result, Day-Lewis strongly encouraged Tony Kushner, who wrote the screenplay for “Lincoln,” to include those words into the script.

“I’d never seen that word (disenthrall) before and I’m always looking for a context ever since where I can use that word, I love it so much,” Day-Lewis said. “The richest source, which creates a very broad, illuminated avenue towards an understanding of Lincoln and his life is through his own words and his own language.”

One aspect of Day-Lewis’ performance people are desperate to know more about was how he came up with Lincoln’s voice. Since Lincoln died long before audio recording became a reality, no one can ever truly be certain of what this American President sounded like. Looking at him in historical pictures, most people came to assume Lincoln had a deep booming voice. Day-Lewis, however, went with a high-pitched tone instead which came about when he read Lincoln’s writing aloud.

“I began to hear a voice that, as I grew closer to the man, that seemed to give me the full expression of his character,” Day-Lewis said. “You look for the clues, as within any aspect of the work, you search for the clues, and there were plenty of them, but for me, if I’m very lucky, at a given moment, I begin to hear a voice, not in the supernatural sense, but in my inner ear, and then the work begins to try to reproduce that sound.”

As with his previous roles, Day-Lewis stayed in character and kept the accent even when the cameras were not rolling. This was not lost on his fellow co-stars which included James Spader who plays political operative William N. Bilbo.

“He’s doing an accent and voice that he held onto all day because I think that’s really the only way one could do that,” Spader said of Lewis.

While doing his research, Day-Lewis’ biggest surprise was discovering Lincoln’s sense of humor and what an important aspect of his personality it was.

“I think it was tactical (Lincoln’s humor), in the political sense. At times, it was undoubtedly used in a conscious sense, for some purpose and to make some point,” Lewis said. “There were accounts of people that came to ask him a question of great importance to them, found themselves in his presence, got a handshake and a story, and were out of the room before they even realized [they never asked it]. That’s good politics. But I think that was innately part of him.”

Daniel Day-Lewis never ceases to amaze us with his unsurprisingly brilliant performances, and the one he gives us in “Lincoln” is just the latest example. While he was initially reluctant to play this American President in Spielberg’s film at first, it is clear he did his homework which led to his unique interpretation of this unforgettable historical figure. It would be utterly shocking if he were to be denied an Oscar nomination for his intense efforts here.

SOURCES:

Bryan Alexander, “Daniel Day-Lewis: A true ‘Lincoln’ transformation,” USA Today, November 9, 2012.

Rebecca Keegan, “‘Lincoln’ was a tall order for Spielberg, Day-Lewis,” Los Angeles Times, October 31, 2012.

Daniel Day-Lewis’ ‘Lincoln’ voice historically accurate?” CBS News, November 9, 2012.

Christina Radish, “Daniel Day-Lewis and Steven Spielberg Talk LINCOLN, Showing Lincoln as Politician and Father, and Release Timing around the Election,” Collider, November 10, 2012.

Arnold Schwarzenegger on Portraying John Wharton in ‘Sabotage’

WRITER’S NOTE: The following article was written in 2014.

Arnold Schwarzenegger has had a hard time regaining his status as an action movie star as “The Last Stand” and “Escape Plan” both disappointed at the box office, but this looks to change with “Sabotage,” the latest film from writer/director David Ayer who is best known for his realistic action films “End of Watch” and “Harsh Times,” and for writing the screenplay to “Training Day.” While we have come to expect Schwarzenegger to play the hero, this film has him playing a different kind of role than any he has played previously.

In “Sabotage,” Schwarzenegger plays John “Breacher” Wharton, the commander of an elite squad of DEA operatives, and the movie starts with them infiltrating a drug cartel safe house to steal $10 million dollars for themselves. But when they try to recover this money, they discover someone has gotten to it before them and soon find themselves being killed off one by one. From there it’s a race to figure out who the assassin is before they all end up dead.

I was in attendance at the “Sabotage” press conference at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills where Schwarzenegger was the biggest star of the day, and he talked at length about how different his role of John “Breacher” Wharton is from the ones he is famous for. Wharton is a morally grey character as he fights crime, but he could easily be a criminal as he has been investigated by his superiors for illegal activities.

Arnold Schwarzenegger: I think that from an acting point of view it was the most challenging because I’ve never played a character like this. The characters I usually play are black and white. I’m the good guy that wipes out the bad guys, and then there’s a little bit of humor throughout the movie and that’s it. But this script and the character were written quite differently, and I think that’s what was appealing to me. And of course, I knew of David Ayer’s writing and his directing, and I thought it would really be great for me to be challenged like that.

For those familiar with Ayer’s “End of Watch,” you know he put Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Pena through some seriously rigorous training so they could get fully into the mindset of being LAPD officers. With “Sabotage,” he put Schwarzenegger and his co-stars through SWAT training which was very intense and designed to have them get into the mindset of their characters in a similar way. Schwarzenegger described the kind of training he endured before the cameras started rolling.

AS: When we got together, David had a whole list of things that he wanted me to do. I loved that he pushed me because sometimes directors get intimidated when they meet someone like me and they say that I’m looking forward to working with you and let’s just figure out how we are going to get ready for the movie and those kinds of things. But David came in and was very clear with the set of things that needed to be done like the weapons training and I said, “Why do I need weapons training? I’ve shot more guns than anyone in movie history and I’ve killed more people than anyone, so I mean why do we have to go through weapons training?” And then he said we have to go down to the SWAT team and we have to figure this out. But the thing was that all of this built the character and made me perform the way I did. It was the rehearsals that we did and the talking about the character, learning how they think because that was one of things David wanted me to do; to hang out with those guys, learn how they think, why they are the kind of guys that they are that are willing to risk their own lives to save others. What kind of a mentality does this take and the conflicts in the training and the dedication and all of those things? It’s a very complex world.

Schwarzenegger also compared the SWAT training to his early days of bodybuilding, some of which were featured in the documentary “Pumping Iron.”

AS: I come from a world of reps. The more reps you do, the better you get so I believed in what he (Ayer) said. The more you go down there and do this training with the SWAT team, the better you will be on the set and that’s exactly what happened. What we have learned was that they don’t hold the gun the same way as many in the military or when you just play an action hero, and the authenticity of this was really important. How did you hold the gun? How do you shoot? How do you aim? Do you have your head down or do you bring the gun up to your eye? They are all the time making adjustments. This is what made the movie look good because of those kinds of suggestions.

Of course, we all know Schwarzenegger took a number of years off from acting when he was elected the Governor of California. When he returned to making movies, he was not blind to how things have changed. This had us wondering how he dealt with those changes and how he sees filmmaking today.

AS: Today it’s not like in the ’80s and ’90s when a studio throws $100 million dollars to get a great action movie. That was the old days, now we have half of the money and you have to be very frugal and you have to really rehearse and be prepared, so to have all this stuff be second nature I think is very important. I think that the style of shooting is different, the kind of directors that are out there is much more the younger crowd that is being hired, and there are new visions and new ideas and all that. Movies are made a lot of times by committee and go through the studio route. There’s a bunch of young guys now making decisions whereas in the old days there was one guy sitting there making the decisions, so there’s a lot of changes like that. Budgets are half of what they used to be, the rest of the money is being used for the franchise movies and the big sequels and stuff like that, so it’s a different world that you have to adjust that.

In the past few years, the action genre has taken a bit of a hit as the superhero and comic book movies have dominated Hollywood. But for Schwarzenegger, he doesn’t see the genre disappearing anytime soon. From his point of view, action movies have always done very well, especially those with great stories.

AS: There are action movies that are multilayered and have really interesting characters, and they always will be popular. The key thing is to entertain people, and I think that people are fascinated about this world that we are dealing with in this movie. So, we hope that this movie is going to be successful and is going to be seen by a lot of people. But I think that what this movie has to offer, unlike most action movies, is realism. It is so realistic in the way it was researched and that is why we had so many experts on the set. We had a director that was insisting on being as real as possible and he was basically a fanatic about that. It all paid off and I think people will really, really enjoy this film.

Other action stars like Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis have seen their careers go up and down on a regular basis while Jean Claude Van Damme and Steven Seagal seem to be forever trapped in straight to video hell. Schwarzenegger, however, still has a strong presence in movies even if his most recent efforts were not well received. Now that he has been in show business for a few decades, we wonder what direction he would like to see his acting career go from here.

AS: Well, I think I’d like to challenge myself. You think about would this movie be appealing in the United States and also all over the world because sometimes you read a script and you say, well, I think this will play really well in America, but it’s not going to play well overseas. I don’t think I have much interest in that. I like to entertain the world and that was my mission. That was what bodybuilding was all about for me and what acting was all about. So, it’s always about what is the most entertaining project and what is the most challenging project for me, or it could be doing a sequel to” Twins” called “Triplets” with Eddie Murphy. That’s the same type of story, but to me, it’s just a fun project. There is a comedic side just to me that I can play in that role really well. Or we could do a sequel to “Conan (The Barbarian),” “King Conan” or something like that. “Maggie” was the last movie I did which is a very little movie where I just play a farmer whose daughter has this zombie virus. It’s all about having a good time but challenging yourself and always stretching and entertaining the world.

Now it’s no secret Schwarzenegger is not the young action star he used to be. When movie stars reach the age of 40, everyone expects they will not have many of the same opportunities they once had. At one point, the emcee asked Schwarzenegger if it is great to be over 40. He responded he thinks it’s great to be over 60, and his outlook on aging proved to be quite healthy.

AS: I don’t think about when I go to the gym, oh I’m now older or something like that. I just think about how I want to get in shape, and it’s the same when I do a movie. I don’t think about what age I’m in. I just do the movie and I do it as well as I can and go all out. I’m very fortunate that I exercise every day so that I start out already in good shape so that when someone like David Ayer comes along and says, “I want you now to do the martial arts training and I’m going to send over some guys that are cage fighters and then this and then that,” I can also deal with that. To me, I never even think about what is my age.

Schwarzenegger’s performance in “Sabotage” is one of the best he has given so far. Many still see him as not much of an actor even after such memorable turns in “The Terminator” movies and “Total Recall” (the original, not the remake), but he’s always been a better film actor than we give him credit for. Here we get to see him play one of his most complex roles to date, showing just how much range he has. Now he looks more than ready to graduate to the next level of being a grizzled action hero.

PLEASE CHECK OUT THE EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW I DID FOR WE GOT THIS COVERED WITH ARNOLD SCHWARZENEGGER AND OTHERS ON “SABOTAGE” DOWN BELOW.

William Friedkin Discusses His Career at American Cinematheque

On January 22 & 23, 2011 at the Aero Theatre in Santa Monica, American Cinematheque presented a tribute entitled “Strangle-Hold: The Gripping Films of William Friedkin.” Featured were four of the director’s most noted movies: “The French Connection,” “To Live and Die In LA,” “Sorcerer,” and “The Exorcist.” Mr. Friedkin was there both nights to talk about his work and filmmaking, and he was greeted by sold out audiences who gave him with a standing ovation.

It’s been a long road for Friedkin. Despite the many ups and downs of his long career, he still directs movies even though his work these days is constantly, and unfairly, stuck in the shadow of his greatest work. Back in the 1970’s, he gave us two of the greatest movies ever with “The French Connection” which has one of the greatest cinematic car chases ever, and “The Exorcist” which is as powerfully unnerving today as it was when it first came out. Since then, however, he was seen as stumbling both critically and commercially with movies like “Deal of The Century” and “The Guardian” to name a few.

But Friedkin has now rebounded with “Bug” starring Ashley Judd, and the re-release of “The Exorcist” which was a big hit despite it being readily available on video and DVD. Even his flops like “Sorcerer” and “Cruising” have been critically re-evaluated and gained strong cult followings in recent years. Today, he is directing Matthew McConaughey in “Killer Joe.”

Friedkin started off by remarking how the Aero Theatre’s marquee said “William Friedkin Live” and how glad he was to see that at his age. From there, he told a story about his friendship with the great writer/director Billy Wilder and how they had lunch together often at Johnny Rockets. At one point, Wilder said to him:

“You and I have something in common; we both want to make commercial films for a large audience. So don’t look for your films to get shown at the Cinematheque!”

It may have taken long enough, but American Cinematheque did come through for him!

When working with actors, Friedkin said he does not put his personal style on them, and that he always creates an atmosphere for actors to work in which allows their creativity to flow. If the actors come up with something better, he is more than willing to let them roll with it to see where it would take the movie. This aided tremendously in his job of deeply immersing the audience in the story as much as possible.

Some in the audience asked him if he had any advice to pass on to filmmakers. Friedkin was quick to the point:

“Don’t go to film school!”

Friedkin claimed he never had a single lesson in filmmaking, and he said everything he learned came from “the masters who broke the rules” like Orson Welles and Alfred Hitchcock. In fact, he encouraged everyone to get out of the classroom and watch all of Hitchcock’s movies. While they may vary in quality, he said the master of suspense’s genius is present in every shot he took.

Friedkin also encouraged aspiring directors to not even bother with the preview process or audience testing. None of his movies have ever been altered by these processes, and he really doesn’t like them anyway. Had “The Exorcist” been previewed, he said, it would not have ever have been released!

In selecting movies to make, Friedkin says the movie comes to him more than he goes to it. But the one theme which runs through each and every motion picture he has helmed is ambiguity. The works he admires the most are the ones which ask questions but don’t provide answers. As he sees it, the quest is far more interesting than the end of the journey as there are no ultimate answers, only great questions.

Friedkin also loves playing with the thin line between good and evil. Case in point is “The French Connection” where Popeye Doyle, played by Gene Hackman, is a racist and a womanizer while the drug dealer is a gentleman with manners and who loves his wife dearly. There’s only so much that separates the good guys from the bad ones, and movies like this serve as a very strong reminder of that.

Though his glory days might be behind him, William Friedkin remains a director with an unwavering vision on each film he does. This proves to be the case even in his weakest movies as even they show how fully in control of the craft he is. I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next.

Exclusive Interview with Gaspar Noe on ‘Love 3-D’

I have been a big fan of Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noe ever since I first watched his highly controversial 2002 thriller “Irreversible.” Starring Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel and Albert Dupontel, it was a rape revenge film told in reverse order like Christopher Nolan’s “Memento,” and it featured, among other things, a rape scene done in one shot which lasted nine minutes, and another in which a man’s head is completely bashed in with a fire extinguisher. Many were quick to walk out of this film as they felt it promoted violence, but I can tell you few others are as anti-violent, anti-rape and anti-revenge as this one is. Moreover, it features scenes of sheer intimacy and thoughtfulness which some critics were not quick to see at first glance. Noe invites you to look beneath the surface, if you can, and see there is more to what meets the eye.

The same also goes with Noe’s other works which include “I Stand Alone,” “Enter the Void,” “Climax” and “Vortex” as he examines various issues with a thoughtfulness that often eludes his harshest critics. There is more to this director than simply shocking his audience, and he gives a lot of unforgettably surreal imagery with the help of acclaimed Belgian cinematographer Benoît Debie who can light a scene ever so beautifully. His movies do not exist just to leave a permanent psychological scar on you. They leave you with a cinematic experience few other filmmakers could ever possibly give an audience, and I am always thankful for such motion pictures.

So, it was quite an honor to interview Noe back in 2016 when he was doing press for “Love” which he shot in 3D. The movie stars Karl Glusman as Murphy, an American student studying movies in Paris alongside his girlfriend, Electra (Aomi Muyock), whom he is having quite the sexual relationship with. The on one day, they come across a Danish teenager named Omi (Klara Kristin) with whom they engage in a threesome, but from there relationships take some truly powerfully emotional turns to where what was once found may forever be lost.

“Love” is, and will probably always be best known for its scenes featuring unsimulated sex, but for me this movie deals more with the emotions of love which lift us up to delirious heights, and also bring us down to such rock bottom lows we may find impossible to climb out of. Noe and I talked about these themes and other things during our time together, and he made it clear how this film should in no way be considered a porno.

Indeed, when it comes to the average filmgoer of any nation or ethnicity, I fear they will react in the following manner:

“Oh no, it’s a penis. A big hulking phallus. GET IT AWAY FROM ME! GET IT… oh wait, it’s just an AK-47. Whew! Thank goodness. I was worried for a second.”

Click here to check out my exclusive interview with “Love” star Karl Glusman.

Michael Clarke Duncan on Playing Kingpin in ‘Daredevil’

WRITER’S NOTE: The following article was written in 2012 and refers to the “Daredevil” movie, not the Netflix television show.

While he’s best remembered for playing John Coffey in “The Green Mile,” the late Michael Clarke Duncan gave us many memorable roles throughout his career. One of them was as crime lord Wilson Fisk (a.k.a. Kingpin) in the 2003 superhero movie “Daredevil.” This role proved to be a major physical challenge for Duncan as it made him see how loyal comic book fans are, and it also changed how he took care of his body after his time on set ended.

Kingpin is an overweight corporate head who is also the sole person running organized crime, and he is incredibly strong despite having no superhuman powers. When cast as Kingpin, Duncan weighed 290 pounds and was asked to gain 40 pounds in order to better fit the physique of this villainous character. To accomplish this, Duncan ended up lifting weights for 30 minutes a day, power-lifted with one or two reps a day and, as Robert De Niro did when he prepared to play Jake LaMotta in “Raging Bull,” ate whatever he wanted.

Duncan’s biggest concern, however, was that Kingpin was always seen as a white person, and he is black. Duncan made it clear to comic book fans everywhere how he was more than aware of the loyalty they show to these works:

“They watch movies to say, ‘Hey, that’s not like the comic book,’” said Duncan. “But I want them to get past that and just see the movie for what it is and see me for what I am-an actor.”

There were rumors for a while of a “Daredevil” sequel, and Duncan stated he was interested in reprising Kingpin but that he was not willing to regain all the weight as he was comfortable being down to 270 pounds. He did say, however, if 20th Century Fox were to offer him $20 million, he might just change his mind. Duncan even suggested Kingpin could have trained a lot during his stint in jail which would allow him to become faster in combat against Daredevil, and this would allow the filmmakers to fit his weight loss into the story.

In 2009, Duncan became a vegetarian and boasted of his “increased strength” and how he was “a lot stronger” than he was when he ate meat. It’s a shame he is no longer with us as his performance as Kingpin was one of the highlights in “Daredevil,” a movie which proved to be one of the lesser comic book cinematic adaptations in the past few years. Whatever his size, he would still have been perfect as the feared and powerful crime lord.

SOURCES:

“Daredevil” film Wikipedia page

Ryan J. Downey, “Ben Affleck Dares to Dream ‘Daredevil’,” MTV.com

Michael Clarke Duncan Wikipedia page

‘Green Mile’ star joins veggie campaign,” KSNB.com, May 12, 2012.