Thomas Jane on Playing Todd Parker in ‘Boogie Nights’

Boogie Nights Thomas Jane photo

WRITER’S NOTE: This is from a Q&A which took place on October 5, 2012.

Actor Thomas Jane was excited to be a guest at New Beverly Cinema as the theater presented the first day of their Paul Thomas Anderson movie marathon. One of the movie’s being shown this evening was “Boogie Nights” which served as Jane’s big acting breakthrough, and in it he plays dancer Todd Parker who becomes a dangerous friend to the characters played by Mark Wahlberg and John C. Reilly. During a Q&A which was moderated by Brian McQuery, Jane talked about how he prepared to play Todd and of what it was like working with Anderson.

One audience member asked Jane if he prepared a certain voice or walk for when he played Todd, and he replied he usually took the script for “Boogie Nights” to this theater he was working out of in Los Angeles where he could get his fellow actors to play all the other parts. It was there where Jane did a lot of experimentation which led him giving the role his own interpretation.

“I’d bring in funny glasses, do my hair crazy and try all this different stuff like bringing in a flowered shirt to wear,” Jane said. “I didn’t have any clue about who this guy was. I just knew that I was trying to find him, and then it just clicked in one day. I think it was the voice and just doing the scenes in my little theater off of Hyperion and Melrose. The first thing I found as an actor was the way Todd talked, and once I found that then everything else happened with the role.”

Jane first heard about “Boogie Nights” from casting director Christine Sheaks who had sent him the script which she said was “pretty amazing.” Upon reading the scene where Todd, along with Dirk Diggler and Reed Rothchild, go to rob a drug dealer, Jane said he was especially interested in playing Todd. Then, after doing an improvisation with Philip Seymour Hoffman and John C. Reilly in front of Anderson which lasted about fifteen minutes, he was cast in the role.

Looking back at shoot, Jane recollected much of what went on was improvised on set, and he attributed it to Anderson’s jazz-like direction.

“One thing that’s notable about the way Paul Thomas Anderson works is the freedom he gives to his actors,” Jane said. “We did have lines to say and stuff, but if you had an idea at the moment or a line to throw in or if something happens by mistake, he always encouraged that spontaneity and that freedom. That was what was so fun about working on ‘Boogie Nights.'”

When asked if he had any stories about the actors he worked with, Jane came up with a great one about Burt Reynolds. He talked about the scene where Wahlberg gets into a fight with Reynolds over wanting to shoot his sex scene now instead of later, and Anderson told Jane to fuck with Reynolds and “get in his face” once Wahlberg ran away. So, Jane started messing with Reynolds like Anderson asked him to and even pushed him, and Reynolds ended up kicking Jane right in the nuts.

“He thought the take was over and I was some punk actor getting in his face,” Jane said of Reynolds. “Paul Thomas Anderson didn’t tell Burt Reynolds that we were doing a little improvisation after the scene was over! To his (Reynold’s) credit, he gave me a bottle of champagne in my trailer the next day and he actually turned out to be really cool.”

There was also a lot of talk about the scene at the drug dealer’s house when Cosmo kept throwing fire crackers all over the place. It turns out the actor playing Cosmo was actually a friend of Anderson’s, and the fire crackers were not originally in the script. However, it got Anderson the reactions he wanted so he just put it into the movie. But since the scene was shot over several days, Anderson had to find other ways to keep the actors on their feet.

“The first day was all fire crackers, but then we had to recreate that over the next three days,” Jane said. “After the first twenty or thirty fire crackers go off you’re kind of over it, but then you can’t hear anymore. So, Paul brought a starting pistol in and he used a starting pistol for a while and then that got old. I remember he brought in a big couple of boards and was whacking those together. That was a brilliant scene because all that stuff made the tension so high.”

Thomas Jane has come a long way from his hungry days as an actor, and seeing him strut his way onto the screen in “Boogie Nights” showed us a star had arrived. For him, talking about this movie at New Beverly Cinema was very special as he said he got his film education there. He also remembered when Sherman Torgan was running the theater back then and of how he let Jane in for free, and that popcorn and candy bars served as his nightly dinner for a time.

Jane has since moved on from “Boogie Nights” to make a successful acting career for himself, and he still has many great performances left to give.

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William H. Macy Talks with Jason Reitman about ‘Boogie Nights’

Boogie Nights William H Macy photo

Jason Reitman proudly said he saw Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Boogie Nights” long before everyone in attendance at the New Beverly Cinema on February 21, 2010 had. This was the fourth movie he showed as part of his guest programming at the still standing Los Angeles revival movie theater. It was at a test screening shown at the Beverly Center where he first witnessed this movie which proved to be the breakthrough for Anderson whose previous cinematic effort was the acclaimed but little seen “Hard Eight.” With “Boogie Nights,” Reitman said he saw a filmmaker who knew how to handle all the elements while dealing with twenty characters.

Reitman’s special guest for this screening of “Boogie Nights” was William H. Macy who played Little Bill, the assistant director to Jack Horner (Burt Reynolds) who is married to a porn star (played by Nina Hartley) who sleeps with everyone but him. In many ways, Little Bill is the most empathetic character in this movie even though we keep waiting for him to stand up for himself.

Boogie Nights poster

Reitman, who had previously worked with Macy on “Thank You for Smoking,” first asked him how he came upon the script for “Boogie Nights:”

“I got the script through the normal channels,” Macy said. “I think I was still with CAA then, and the script was even more outrageous. I said, ‘Is this a porn film?’ There was actual shtüpping in it! Then I met with Paul and, the actors in the room will love this, I decided I wanted to do it and met with him at the Formosa Café, and it was about ten minutes in when I realized he was selling me. I wasn’t there to audition for him, he was trying to convince me to do it, and it was one of the great moments of my career.”

Reitman replied to this by saying, “I remember having a similar meeting when I was trying to get you to do ‘Thank You for Smoking,’”

 From there, Reitman talked about all the great long shots Anderson has used in his movies. Specifically, he talked about the one where Little Bill was at the New Year’s Eve party and found his wife once again sleeping with another guy. It’s a long tracking shot which goes from Little Bill looking for his wife, finding her, and then going back to his car to get a gun after which he goes back inside and shoots his wife and the other guy dead. Watching it years after “Boogie Nights” was first released, it is still amazing Anderson pulled such a shot off. Macy described how this scene was put together.

“Paul does a couple of his gazunga shots in this one and they are not as hard as you would think,” Macy said. “It took forever to set up, but then after three and a half to four hours of setting it up, the shot’s done. No coverage, no nothing and you move on. Four pages just bit the dust.”

Macy then talked about how much he loved Nina Hartley. The first time he met her was when he went into the makeup room, and she had her legs up on the counter and was shaving herself. At the end of the shoot, Hartley had started this series entitled “Nina Hartley’s Guide to Swinging” as well as one on anal intercourse. Macy then added, “In the end, she gave these films as wrap gifts! It was great to see (the reactions); anal intercourse? THANK YOU NINA!”

There was a number of actual adult film actors involved in the making of “Boogie Nights.” One of the girls who had a small scene in the movie came to Macy’s attention while he was having lunch one day with Anderson. She came down and sat between the two of them and asked Paul a career question, “Should I go legit or should I go anal?”

Reitman went back to the long shot which ended when Little Bill puts the gun in his mouth and blows his brains out. What made this shot particularly dangerous was Macy had to wear a squib on the side of his head. With squibs, the crew doesn’t want you to move around at all for your own good, and Macy went into detail over why it was so dangerous.

“What was dangerous about it was they let me do it,” Macy said. “I found out since then that they no longer let actors use that kind of squib. It’s a little explosive device and it’s called a gore gun. So I had this little backpack with all this blood and brains that would come shooting out the back, and it was wired to the pistol so that when I fired the pistol, that’s what set off the ‘gore gun’ and that’s not allowed anymore. A stunt guy sets off the gore gun now, but there is a cut because we couldn’t figure out how to do the whole thing with a loaded gun and the gore pack. So there is a cut.”

The conversation then went to the tone of a movie and what a director actually does. It’s nowhere as simple as Burt Reynolds’ character of Jack Horner makes it look in “Boogie Nights.” Reitman took the time to explain what he thinks tone is.

“Tone is like this inexplicable thing that, if you ask what a director actually does, it’s not like setting up shots or telling actors what to do,” Reitman said. “Really, what a director does is set tone. It’s not about the words; it’s about the feeling that carries through the scenes, and P.T. A’s movies have a very specific tone to them.”

Reitman then asked Macy if this is something he feels on set or if it was something he didn’t realize until he saw the finished product. Macy said he wasn’t aware of how special “Boogie Nights” was until he saw the final cut, and he was understandably very impressed with it. This led him to talk about when he made “The Cooler” (the mention of it got a strong applause from the audience) which contains one of his very best performances.

“The director kept telling me, ‘Wait until you hear the score!’ To where I finally said, ‘Dude, if you think the music is going to save this then you’re in trouble!’ I was wrong, and when he put that lush score over the film it was a different sort of film, and he had that in his head the whole time,” Macy said.

Macy went on to say the tone of the set bleeds onto the film and the way you comport yourself, or how your first assistant director comports his or herself.

“To my mind, it’s always like going to war then making art,” Macy said. “You need a good general. I’ve been known to call in first time directors and I say to them, ‘If I catch you making art on my time, then we’re going to have trouble.’ You better know what you want because it’s more like going to war.”

One of the best moments of the evening came when Macy talked about the extras who were brought in when Anderson shot the scenes at the adult movie awards. They were all told to bring their best 70’s clothes and that they were working on a Burt Reynolds movie. Then there was that moment where actress Melora Waters is about to give an award to Mark Wahlberg, and it was worded a little differently than what we saw in the theatrical version.

“I’ve seen all his movies and I can’t wait to get his cock inside my pussy, MR. DIRK DIGGLER!”

Macy said the whole crowd just sat there in utter silence, completely unprepared for what they heard. It certainly wasn’t your average everyday Burt Reynolds movie.

All in all, it was another fun evening which provided an in depth look into one of the best movies of the 1990’s, and “Boogie Nights” made clear to the world Paul Thomas Anderson was a born filmmaker.

 

 

 

 

Exclusive Interview with Ashim Ahluwalia on ‘Miss Lovely’

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On the surface, “Miss Lovely” might look like a typical Bollywood movie, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a Hindi feature film which digs deep into the sordid back alley of India’s film industry of the 1980’s which churned out countless horror and soft-core porn movies. In the midst of this sleazy atmosphere are the Duggal brothers, Sonu (Nawazuddin Siddiqui) and Vicky (Anil George), who are among the most prolific producers of trashy C-grade films for Mumbai’s underground market. But while Vicky has no problem with what he does, Sonu is desperately looking to escape this underground reality. When he meets the beautiful actress Pinky (Niharika Singh), Sonu sees not only his chance for escape but also the opportunity to make a real romance movie with her as the star. But as he works to make this a reality, he ends up going down a road from which there is no return.

“Miss Lovely” was directed by Ashim Ahluwalia who is said to be part of a new generation of Indian filmmakers who prefer to avoid working with Hindi film stars, and his films have been described as unconventional in how they blur the lines between documentary and fiction. This is certainly the case here as Ahluwalia’s film deals with an industry he has seen up close, and he invites us to journey into its murky depths. It was originally supposed to be a documentary, but when Ahluwalia couldn’t get those working in the C-grade film industry to be involved, he decided to make a fiction film instead. What results is an unforgettable motion picture which is as unsettling as it is intoxicating to sit through, and it’s one of those movies I sarcastically describe as being good fun for the whole family.

I got to speak with Ahluwalia while he was out to promote “Miss Lovely,” and he was super excited to talk about it as the movie looks at an industry which has long ceased to exist due to changes in technology and the widespread availability of pornography on the internet. It was fascinating to hear him talk about this as filmmakers today are dealing with a shift in technology from film to digital, and it’s a shift many are not quick to embrace.

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Ben Kenber: I was blown away by it and it was not at all what I expected. It’s more of a movie you experience than just watch.

Ashim Ahluwalia: Exactly. I think that’s really a good way to describe it.

BK: I especially liked how you shot this movie on Kodak Super 16 and 35mm film as it gives the movie a really rough feel which in turn captures the sleazy nature of the business these characters are engulfed in.

AA: Yeah, it was also about the end of celluloid. The whole period that these films were made in was kind of the end of celluloid and then you have VHS replacing it. In a way, that was the precursor to the digital age and this whole way of consuming sleaze I guess. It just moved to the internet in the 2000’s and then that was the end of that. So I think a lot of it has to do with this material that was so critical in the way these films are made and consumed. It’s crazy to think that they were shooting that sleaze on 35mm (laughs), and now people would just die to get their hands on that kind of access to celluloid, so it’s pretty much part of what the film is about.

BK: Now some have suggested that “Miss Lovely” is part of a new wave of Indian cinema. How do you feel about the reaction this movie has had so far?

AA: It has random individuals doing random things and they’re not really connected, and that has more to do with the fact that now people are more exposed to cinema and they’re getting excited by what’s happening in the rest of Asia and the possibility of digital, etc. I think this whole idea was kind of overblown. It was sort of a moment when they were trying to tie everything together. I think “Miss Lovely” is a very odd film honestly. It’s not unique. It’s not odd just to India; it’s just odd generally because it’s such a hybrid film. It’s just taking very comfortably in a way that most art-house movies don’t just take it from the musical, taking from a 50’s noir, taking from sex horror, taking from porn, maybe documentaries or experimental films and stuff like that. I don’t think it represents a new specific type of film from India, but I think this is definitely a moment where there is new stuff and it’s not just Bollywood, Bollywood, Bollywood.

BK: To be honest, I’m not too familiar with Bollywood films…

AA: Well you’re lucky (laughs).

BK: I think the closest I’ve come to Bollywood so far is “Slumdog Millionaire,” but I’m not sure if that counts.

AA: Well yeah but it’s borderline Bollywood honestly. New Bollywood is kind of like that.

BK: How difficult was it to re-create the Mumbai of the 1980’s as you remember it?

AA: It was really hard because most of the places were being bulldozed as we were shooting them. So sometimes at a location, half the building was already knocked down and we just got them to hold for like a week until we shot a scene. It was literally shooting the last remnants of that kind of 80’s one-hour hotels and cabaret halls and stuff. I would say that about 60 or 70% of the locations are gone now and it’s not even been two years. It becomes kind of a document of those places and that kind of time. It doesn’t exist anymore.

BK: I read that you were not looking to romanticize or do a parody of the 1980’s. How did you manage to keep yourself from doing that?

AA: Well I think there’s sort of like a hipster 1980’s thing and I really wanted to stay away from that. I didn’t want to just make like fetishes of all those little 80’s objects. For me, the reason is because I spent a year and a half hanging out with a lot of these people from the C-grade industry because I initially wanted to make a documentary. So, by the time I was done with that one-and-a-half-year period, it was very hard to poke fun at anyone because these are people that you spent so much time with and saw so intimately. It was hard to caricaturize them.

BK: During the movie, we don’t see a lot of the real world outside of the one the Duggal brothers inhabit. When it does intrude on their sleazy underworld, you feel almost as lost as the characters do as they desperately try to escape their circumstances.

AA: Yeah, it’s kind of claustrophobic. I wanted the film to be like this kind of maze that you were trying to get out of and you can’t. The whole point is this kind of escape ends up being a fantasy of a film that could maybe get you out of there, but it’s sort of like endless passageways that lead into other passageways. It’s just a very interior, claustrophobic kind of environment which I think, for me, I relate to that. When you work sometimes in film you feel like that. You don’t have to really only work in secret cinema, but sometimes a bad day job can be like that. So, I think that idea of you were always trying to escape but you can’t, I like that somehow.

BK: This is your first feature film as a director, and your previous film was a documentary. What was the transition like for you from making documentaries to directing an actual feature film?

AA: The first film I made was “John & Jane” and that was a documentary, but it was shot on 35mm and looks more like a dystopian sci-fi film than a documentary. Somebody told me that my documentaries look more like fiction and my fiction looks more like documentaries, so I’m really interested in this idea of what a fiction film is and what a documentary is. “Miss Lovely” is not a conventional or traditional film. It’s still quite loose in terms of its language and it’s quite experimental, so I don’t find much difference. I feel like I could slip in and out between these two worlds quite easily in some ways.

BK: You once said that the raw energy of these C-grade filmmakers reminded you of why you set out to make films in the first place. What was it specifically about them that reminded you of that?

AA: Well I think what happens is that when you start working in any capacity like in an industry or an environment, what ends up happening is that you become quite jaded as a filmmaker. You’re just like always thinking about how do I get money, do I put it in this thing, if I put this person in it then I get this money and then if I work with that person then I get this distribution, etc. I think what ends up happening is that you lose that energy and spirit of why you really love cinema. You don’t watch films anymore because you’re so jaded by it. But when I experienced these guys making films, although the films are very bad admittedly, the way that they would make the films would be so like run and gone. It would be like, “Oh are we running out of film stock? What we do? The actor’s not available? Get another actor to stand in for the guy.” So the character is now played by a different actor, or if you don’t have a shot then you put a stock shot in, or the police are coming into the building so you have to finish the scene like within 15 minutes. The whole anarchic energy of the way the films are made really reminded me of what independent film should be; just making it with such passion. It’s like the passion is going to make the film happen. It really inspired me in a way to just make something which I really love with some degree of madness and passion which I think sometimes gets filtered out of you.

BK: I’m always waiting for the independent film world to explode again like it did in the 1990’s.

AA: Yeah exactly, and then you see how it’s just been co-opted and it feels like such a tired kind of thing.

BK: The characters in “Miss Lovely” are basically composites of the people you met in this industry. You said you originally wanted to do a documentary, but a lot of the people you talked to didn’t want to be involved in it because of the illegal nature of what they were doing. How accurate is this movie to those types of filmmakers?

AA: A lot of the people that were going to be in the documentary initially, I got them to just play themselves in the background. So all the background characters are all like real C-grade people. All the secondaries are actually people that, when I cast them in a fiction film, were like, “Okay I’ll do it.” But they didn’t want to be in the documentary somehow. So, a lot of those real elements I just kind of brought back into this movie in another way through another backdoor and just brought the realism back into it.

BK: That’s surprising to hear that they did find a way to be in this movie without compromising their true identities.

AA: Yeah, and as long as they were in costume they felt like they weren’t revealing too much of themselves, but they were playing themselves essentially. That just gave the whole thing a bona fide genuine authentic atmosphere that is just almost impossible to re-create artificially with actors who don’t know anything about that world. I felt it just brings another energy to it.

BK: The cast is just spot on with their performances. What was the casting process for “Miss Lovely” like?

AA: Well a lot of them are real people that, when you meet them, are so performative anyway. There’s a midget casting director, the little guy, and when I met him he was just so charismatic when he was talking to me about what he did. He is actually a casting director in real life, so he just had to do what he always does and he was really comfortable. A lot of them were really comfortable around the cameras somehow. It’s almost like they were waiting all their lives to be in front of the camera, and suddenly they just did that thing. And of course, if I gave somebody lines, finally they would never remember the lines but they would do their own thing which would be better than the lines I wrote. I would be like, “Yeah let’s just keep that. It’s much better.”

BK: All the actors seem to have a wonderfully natural quality whenever they appear onscreen. It’s like there inhabiting the roles instead of just playing them, and it really sucks you into the atmosphere of the movie even more.

AA: Well that’s because a lot of them really are those people, so that’s partly it. And the others who were more professional actors were now having to match their performance with someone who’s so bona fide and so real that they are like, “S—t! I need to get better at what I’m doing because I’m looking fake now in relation to this person.” So, putting nonprofessional and then professional actors in the same space together creates a very interesting dynamic.

BK: “Miss Lovely” reminded me a bit of the Coen Brothers’ film “Barton Fink” as both movies have protagonists who really want to make a difference in the industry they’re working in, and then they see their dreams get shattered in the worst way possible.

AA: Yeah, I like that film a lot actually. That’s a very atmospheric film. The atmosphere is very much a character in the film, and it’s not just about the narrative. It’s just about the texture of that space and stuff. It’s a good reference I think.

BK: Another movie reminded me of was “Boogie Nights” and the scene where the producers are talking to Burt Reynolds about switching from celluloid to videotape since it’s a lot less expensive.

AA: Yeah. I think probably there are similar interests from filmmakers because we grew up in a certain time and a certain place, and you’ve seen this shift happen to digital and it’s such a radical change in terms of what it means to make a movie or what a film even is. I think it’s all about a certain generation of filmmakers grappling with the shift.

I want to thank Ashim Ahluwalia for taking the time to talk with me. “Miss Lovely” is now available to own and rent on DVD, Blu-ray, and Digital.