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.

The Initial Reaction Audiences Had to ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’

John McNaughton’s “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” was made back in 1986, but it did not get a theatrical release until 1990. All these years later, it remains a very disturbing look at a murderer lacking a conscience who essentially kills at random. For those who’ve seen “Henry,” you know how unnerving it gets, and the fact it got released at all is amazing.

Michael Rooker, who plays the Henry of the movie’s title, appeared at the Egyptian Theatre back in 2011 to talk about audience’s initial reaction to it. Neither he nor anyone else involved in its making believed it would ever get any response whatsoever. They filmed what they thought people wanted to see, a scary movie, but this was no average horror flick like “Halloween” or “Friday the 13th.” “Henry” involves real life horror, the kind we often do not go to the movies to see. And in the end, what’s scarier than real life violence?

Chuck Parello, who would later direct “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Part II,” managed to get the film screened at the 1989 Chicago Film Festival, and this later led to it being shown at the Telluride Festival. Rooker recollected about the first time he saw “Henry” in a theater, and he said there was around forty people in the audience. There were not a lot of sounds coming from them, and no laughter. This led Rooker to say that, after you’ve watched “Henry” twenty times, you begin to see the humor in it. For the record, I completely agree with him on this.

“Henry’s” most disturbing and controversial scene comes when Henry and Otis (Tom Towles) do a home invasion and murder an entire family. We watch these two as they view the video they shot of them killing each member, and Otis finds watching it once is not enough. After this scene ended, Rooker said more than 60% of the audience left after this scene, and they all left at the same time. Many of them were vocal about what they had witnessed:

“Fuck this shit!”

“This is bullshit!”

“This is what cinema’s coming to?”

Rooker was sitting with the producers when this happened, and he freely admitted how they all loved the response “Henry” was getting.

People came out of the film stunned and silent, and Rooker remembered seeing one guy walking out of the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles with his hands shaking. The actor also said a friend of his yelled at him because the film made him think “those thoughts.” There were no car chases, no gratuitous violence, and the violence shown in “Henry” is mostly minimal. Many of the murders Henry commits are never shown but heard as the camera circles around the bodies of his victims as we hear them take their last breath over the speakers. It ends up leaving a lot of room for imagination as you can’t help but think about what you didn’t see. Sometimes it is what you don’t see which is the most frightening thing of all.

But the most memorable incident for Rooker happened when he arrived late to one screening. As he headed into the theater, a woman, who was not walking but running out of the movie, ran right smack dab into him. When she realized who he was, she screamed and raced to the women’s bathroom. The ushers and producers had to come out and calm her down, saying to her over and over, “He’s really an actor. “

“Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” is seriously disturbing, but for good reason. Unlike other horror movies which revel in blood, gore and vicious fantasies, this was one which dealt with horror of real-life viciousness. Every once in a while, you need a film like this one to remind people of the ugliness of violence, and to make us realize we are not as desensitized to it as we may think. If “Henry” didn’t cause a good portion of moviegoers to walk out, then the filmmakers would not have succeeded in making this point clear.

Michael Rooker on ‘Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer’

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is about a screening which took place in 2011.

Actor Michael Rooker appeared at the Egyptian Theatre for the 25th anniversary screening of the film in which he made his acting debut, “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer.” Even with the passing of time, it remains as infinitely disturbing as it did when it was first released. Rooker discussed how he got cast and of what went on during its making. He also told the audience this was the first time he had seen the film since it first was released back in 1986.

Rooker said he started out as a theatre actor in Chicago after graduating from the Goodman School of Drama. At the time casting began for “Henry,” he was in a play called “Sea Marks,” and the director was doing the prosthetics for it. Rooker said he didn’t care if the screenplay was good or bad because he just wanted to do a movie. Doing “Henry” was a test for Rooker to see how working while shooting out of sequence would work for him.

For research, Rooker said he read several books about serial killers which were written by doctors, but he found them to be “mostly crap.” He ended up getting more from the Texas Rangers who interviewed the man this film was more or less based on, Henry Lee Lucas. Also, the director, John McNaughton, asked him and the other actors to write character sketches. Rooker said he did not want to do that though because he did this endlessly in college and was now “sick of writing stuff down.” Instead, he recorded an audio tape of himself speaking in character.

During shooting, Rooker said he tried staying in character all day long. This led to a lot of strange times on set as actors and the crew were not sure if they were talking to him or Henry. McNaughton also got him a room for him to hide out from the actors and crew, and it was filled with mirrors which Rooker later covered up with trash bags. He stayed in the room all day until he was called to set.

The budget for “Henry” was a mere $120,000 according to Rooker, and the guy selling him cigarettes towards the film’s end was the one who financed it. Being an independent film, the filmmakers had no permits and had to hide whenever the cops were in the area. Once they were gone, the crew went right back to filming. They did, however, get busted during a pivotal scene in which Henry is shown throwing a body into the river. While shooting, four police cars came out of nowhere, and one policeman got out and asked, “Are you throwing bodies into the river?”

Once they looked in the bag Rooker was about to hurl over the side, they started laughing uncontrollably and ended up leaving the crew alone.

“Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer” opened up a lot of doors for Michael Rooker, and it even scored him a role in John Sayles’ “Eight Men Out.” His terrifying performance is still embedded in the minds of so many who dared to view it either on the silver screen or on their own television sets, and they still cannot get it out of their heads. Since then, he has had a great career which has allowed him to play both good and bad guys with relative ease. Michael still has many great performances left to give, but don’t count on him doing a “Henry” sequel unless he can be convinced it can be turned into a musical.

Joaquin Phoenix on His Brutally Physical Performance in ‘The Master’

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

It has been two years since we saw him in “I’m Still Here,” the mockumentary on his alleged retirement from acting and bizarre transformation into a hip-hop artist. Now, thankfully, Joaquin Phoenix has returned to acting in Paul Thomas Anderson’s cinematic triumph “The Master.” Justin Craig of Fox News calls Phoenix’s performance “brutally physical,” and Peter Travers of Rolling Stone says the actor gives “the performance of his career” as Freddie Quell, a deeply disturbed World War II veteran. Just watching the various movie trailers for “The Master” reminds us of how emotionally raw Phoenix can get whenever he is onscreen, and it is both amazing and scary as there is no doubt as to how far he will go in preparation to play a character.

It turns out Anderson had Phoenix in mind when he was writing the role of Freddie, and he admitted to being amazed at Phoenix’s acting abilities and of his discipline while on the set.

“He’s like Daniel Day-Lewis in his level of concentration. He just got in character and stayed there-for three months he didn’t stop. Joaquin is very unpredictable. A lot of the time I didn’t know what he was going to do,” Anderson said.

Phoenix himself only says so much about how his preparation for a role as he compares actors to magicians in that they “don’t talk about how their tricks work, because people would go, ‘Oh, that’s all you do?'” He did say, however, how Anderson set up two cameras for certain scenes between him and Philip Seymour Hoffman who plays the charismatic Lancaster Dodd. This allowed both actors to “be in the moment and not be worried about shooting the one side and then re-lighting and shooting from the other side.” Phoenix described this as making a huge difference for him while portraying Freddie.

There is also the story of how Anderson showed Phoenix a video of a monkey falling asleep and told the actor the monkey was him.

“Paul called me Bubbles on the set,” Phoenix said. “Bubbles was Michael Jackson’s pet monkey, and I was Paul’s pet monkey. The key to Freddie is an animal, just pure id. For the scene where he’s arrested and put in jail and all that, I just watched videos of wild animals that get into suburbia. If you’ve seen video of a deer or a bear that finds its way into suburbia and the cops have to tranquilize it, it seems as if the brain stops working. If they’re cornered, they’ll slam into walls, or one leg tries to go left while the other is going right. Its complete fear and chaos. They can’t control themselves at all. That was the key to Freddie. And Paul certainly called me his pet monkey.”

While Phoenix still says he experiences problems with acting, it does look like he has rediscovered his love for it in “The Master.” Hearing him talk about being an actor shows how much he has struggled with his gift to where he had to rediscover a whole new way of doing it.

“Part of why I was frustrated with acting was because I took it so seriously,” said Phoenix. “I want it to be so good that I get in my own way. It’s like love: when you fall in love, you’re not yourself anymore. You lose control of being natural and showing the beautiful parts of yourself, and all somebody recognizes is this total desperation. And that’s very unattractive. Once I became a total buffoon, it was so liberating.

“I’d see child actors and I’d get so jealous, because they’re just completely wide open. If you could convince them that something frightening was going to happen, they would actually feel terror. I wanted to feel that so badly. I’d just been acting too long, and it had kind of been ruined for me. I wanted to put myself in a situation that would feel brand-new and hopefully inspire a new way of approaching acting. It (“The Master”) did do that for me.”

SOURCES:

Justin Craig, “Joaquin Phoenix’s performance in ‘The Master’ has Oscar written all over it,” Fox News, September 13, 2012.

Peter Travers, “The Master” movie review, Rolling Stone, September 10, 2012.

David Ansen, “Secrets of ‘The Master’,” The Daily Beast, August 20, 2012.

Jessica Winter, “‘The Master’s’ Joaquin Phoenix on Animal Inspirations, Curb Your Enthusiasm and the Pleasures of Discomfort,” Time, September 13, 2012.

Philip Seymour Hoffman Talks About Portraying ‘The Master’

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was written in 2012. Philip, you are still missed.

Oscar winner Philip Seymour Hoffman remains one of the best character actors in movies today, and his role as Lancaster Dodd in “The Master” is yet another brilliant performance on his never-ending resume. The movie reunites Hoffman with filmmaker Paul Thomas Anderson who has cast him in five of his six movies. From the gay and painfully timid boom mike operator in “Boogie Nights” to the infinitely angry mattress store own Dean Trumbell from “Punch-Drunk Love,” Hoffman has gone from playing one unique character to portraying one who is the complete opposite, and makes one wonder how he goes about preparing to play each role he takes on.

In an interview with Rolling Stone film critic Peter Travers, Hoffman made it clear he was not out to turn Lancaster into some sort of bizarre human being with scary ideas.

“The thing is that this character needs to be as accessible as possible,” Hoffman said. “That when you meet him in the film and then when you get to know him in the film that you don’t judge him so much. I think we (he and Anderson) succeeded in that you actually take him in. He’s a real person, and you can almost see how he’s brought so many people close to him or been so successful. You could see how he can function in the world. You know he’s not too idiosyncratic or too eccentric even. He’s full of passion for his ideas, and some of his ideas are really good ones.”

Hoffman said it was those things he and Anderson wanted to concentrate on as opposed to the “oddity” of the character. When it came to Lancaster Dodd, he never looked at him as the head of a cult or even a religion. In his mind, the character was really the leader of a movement and not a fraudulent person.

Of course, much has been said about how “The Master” was inspired by L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology to where many are already nauseated at hearing this said over and over. When talking to the Wall Street Journal’s Rachel Dodes, Hoffman tried to clear up this issue as best he could:

“The idea that L. Ron Hubbard and that movement (Scientology) was the basis for some story in the film is accurate, but it’s really not a film about that, so it isn’t accurate enough for me to play L. Ron Hubbard. And so, I didn’t,” Hoffman said. “It wasn’t enough of that kind of story to do that. So, I wanted to think about other people because it was a fictional thing and the character is a very fictional character. So, I thought about other people who had that kind of charisma and moved people and people followed them, and what that meant for me. I steered clear of anything having to do with ‘The L. Ron Hubbard Story’ because it’s too specific and the film wasn’t going to support that, so I thought it would be confusing.”

From there, Hoffman was a bit cryptic as to what individuals he based Lancaster Dodd on. Dodes told him she heard Orson Welles was an inspiration for this role, but Hoffman said he never tried to emulate the “Citizen Kane” actor and director in “The Master.”

“It’s like when you are thinking about something, a lot of ideas go through your head, and references go through your head but ultimately you are just looking for something in yourself. There are certain behaviors, the way people sound. I didn’t really try to play anybody if that’s what you’re looking for.”

Like his co-stars Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams, Philip Seymour Hoffman is getting serious Oscar consideration for work in “The Master.” The fact he already has one Academy Award for “Capote” doesn’t seem to matter to anybody because the general feeling is he will get a second one at some point in the near future. Whether he does or does not, it is for certain we can expect many more great performances from this actor as his attention to character remains impeccable.

SOURCES:

Peter Travers, “Philip Seymour Hoffman on New Film, ‘The Master’,” ABC News, September 13, 2012.

Rachel Dodes, “‘The Master’ Star Philip Seymour Hoffman: ‘It’s Not a Scientology Movie’,” Wall Street Journal, September 7, 2012.

Nick Nolte and Paul Mazursky on Mike the Dog from ‘Down and Out in Beverly Hills’

DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HILLS, Nick Nolte, Mike the dog, 1986, on all fours

WRITER’S NOTE: As the first paragraph states, this article was written back in 2011.

As great as Nick Nolte, Richard Dreyfuss and Bette Midler were in Paul Mazursky’s “Down and Out in Beverly Hills,” they were almost completely upstaged by Mike the Dog. If there was ever an animal in movie history that deserved an Oscar, it was Mike. Forget Benji, Rin Tin Tin, and Lassie, Mike had them all beat in portraying the nasty and incredibly neurotic Scottish border collie Matisse. His reactions to his owners, the Whiteman family, and his affection for Nolte’s character of Jerry Baskin made him as much a character as anyone else in this classic comedy. Mazursky and Nolte were enthusiastic in telling stories about Mike when they appeared at the Aero Theatre on August 14, 2011 for this movie’s 25th anniversary screening.

One memorable scene had Nolte on his knees trying to get Matisse to eat his dog food by eating it with him. Determined to see this through, Nolte said he went to a nearby grocery store and bought all kinds of dog food, mostly of the meat variety. When he started dispensing it into different bowls, however, he noticed that to the side there were other dog bowls filled with peas and corn. Nolte went up to Mike’s trainer, Clint Rowe, and asked why these bowls were out. To this, Rowe replied, “Mike’s a vegetarian.”

OOPS!!!

Mazursky had even more stories to tell about Mike and the big star he was. Reminiscing about an Air France jet he flew on to Europe, he saw Mike sitting in first class and reading a magazine (he didn’t remember which one). People ended up making their way up to first class just to see him. Things got even more bizarre when Mazursky got off the plane as there were photographers out in full force at the gate. Mazursky said he greeted them kindly, but they instead went right past him to shoot pictures of Mike.

Things eventually reached a final straw when Mazursky went up to his hotel room and found he was not in room 704, but 804. Guess who was there to greet him when he opened the door? That’s right, Mike. At this point, Mazursky looked him dead in the eye and said, “Out!”

Mike complied and ran off.

Mike went on to play Matisse in the short-lived TV version of “Down and Out in Beverly Hills” and also appeared in various commercials. He has since passed away and is hanging out with Spuds McKenzie and the Taco Bell Chihuahua in doggie heaven. Still, his talent has never been lost on anyone who watched him in the 1986 comedy, let alone those who helped make it. Even during dallies, film editor Richard Halsey kept telling Mazursky:

“That fucking dog is stealing the movie!”

Elizabeth Olsen on Playing Zibby in ‘Liberal Arts’

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

After playing an escapee from an abusive cult in “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and a young woman terrorized at her vacation home in “Silent House,” actress Elizabeth Olsen finally gets to lighten up a bit in the comedy drama “Liberal Arts.” In the movie, she plays Zibby, a 19-year-old college student who ends up falling for 35-year-old college admissions officer Jesse Fisher (Josh Radnor, who also wrote and directed it) over their love of literature. Critics have called Olsen’s performance in “Liberal Arts” enchanting, radiant and luminous.

Having seen Radnor’s last directorial effort “Happythankyoumoreplease” which she really enjoyed; Olsen was very interested in working with him on “Liberal Arts.” Her audition for him consisted of reading through every single scene their characters had together in the movie. She recalled it being a lot of fun to “just sit on the floor and read through the scenes with him,” and she really liked the way he wrote Zibby’s dialogue.

For Olsen, the role of Zibby offered a nice change of pace as she had just finished her third psychological thriller. In this movie, she got to play a character who is wise beyond her years and excited about being alive. It also gave her the opportunity to play someone whom she felt was closer to who she was.

“I just always wanted to rush things, grow up sooner, couldn’t understand why someone older couldn’t make a change,” said Olsen. “There’s something really honest and great about her. Also, I wanted to say those words really badly. The words on the page were so much fun to say out loud. That’s a really simple thing to say about wanting to do a script, but I feel like that rarely happens.”

Olsen herself is still a college student at New York University, and she still has a couple of more classes to go before she graduates. Like Zibby she shares a love of learning, and this love came to inform her character deeply. To hear her talk, Olsen has always enjoyed reading literature like Zibby does.

“I went to a really great high school and I took a few AP classes in literature and language and things like that,” Olsen said. “The only type of writing I like to do or enjoy doing is academic writing, so I’m already inherently that type of person. I’ll still remember that my senior year of high school I wrote an essay on Joseph Conrad’s ‘Heart of Darkness’ that I’m still proud of to this day, so I’m already kind of a nerd when it comes to literature and theory. I wish I could have more of that in life, but I don’t because I’m always reading scripts or things to prepare for movies when I’m reading.”

Elizabeth Olsen not only has college graduation to look forward to in the near future, but she also has some exciting movies in store for her including Spike Lee’s remake of “Oldboy.” She has given us a number of wonderful performances so far and, after watching “Liberal Arts,” it is clear she still has many more to give.

SOURCES:

Matt Joseph, “Interview with Elizabeth Olsen on Liberal Arts,” We Got This Covered, September 13, 2012.

Christopher Rosen, “Josh Radnor & Elizabeth Olsen on ‘Liberal Arts’ & Why Being Earnest Is OK,” Huffington Post, September 12, 2012.

Adam Chitwood, “Elizabeth Olsen Talks LIBERAL ARTS, Reading as Entertainment vs. Enrichment, and More; Reveals Spike Lee’s OLDBOY Starts Filming Next Month,” Collider, September 11, 2012.

Cicely Tyson on Playing Nana Mama in ‘Alex Cross’

WRITER’S NOTE: This article is about a press day which took place back in 2012. RIP Cicely.

The great Cicely Tyson has worked only so much in movies over the years as she is strongly determined to play only strong and positive images of African-American women. In Rob Cohen’s “Alex Cross,” she finds a very strong character in Regina “Nana Mama” Cross, Alex’s grandmother who helps keeps his children in line when he’s not around. At a press conference which took place at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, Tyson explained why she took on this particular role.

Upon meeting James Patterson, author of the Alex Cross novels, he said out loud “we finally found Nana Mama.” Watching her in “Alex Cross” makes this crystal clear to those who have read Patterson’s books. While Nana is Alex’s grandmother, she’s really more of a mother to him as we learn how he lost both his parents at an early age.

When asked if she would describe Nana as feisty or cantankerous, Tyson said “she’s all of that and more.” But she also sees the character first and foremost as being a mother.

Cicely Tyson: To me it is the most important feature in her personality. Then add to that fact that if anything ever happened to her son, she would not only be grandmother but mother to his children. So, I was torn between his love for the work that he chose and the fact that any day he could not come home to me or his children. So that was extremely difficult for me.

It is the danger of Alex’s work which leaves Nana Mama is constantly on edge because there’s always the possibility he won’t come home one day. Tyson said Nana knows the facts of how not only Alex’s life is in danger, but also her own and his children’s.

Tyson had previously worked with Perry on several of his movies, and when Cohen offered her the role, she told him anything with Perry interested her greatly. When asked what it was like working with him on “Alex Cross,” she talked of how he heard him say time and time again, “I can’t believe I’m in a scene with Cicely Tyson,” and he at one point told Cohen he didn’t know how to act around her. In turn, she responded that she could believe she was doing a scene with Perry.

Cicely Tyson: We both had the same anxieties about working in this particular capacity with each other.

When it comes to choosing roles, Tyson made it clear she never takes anything offered to her at face value.

Cicely Tyson: I have always maintained one way of selecting a role that I play, and it’s through reading the script. If my skin tingles, I know it’s for me, and if my stomach churns it’s a pass. That’s my way of deciding.

When asked what made her skin tingle about playing Mama Nana in “Alex Cross,” Tyson said it was working with Perry.

Tyson said she would definitely love to reprise the role of Mama Nana if “Alex Cross” is successful enough to generate a sequel. Despite its somewhat middling opening weekend at the box office, a follow up does look to be in the works with Perry returning as Alex. Tyson herself looks to work for as long as she is able to, but did she admit there is a certain play she wants to do. Now she wouldn’t say which play, but she is intent on retiring once she does it. While she never expected this opportunity to happen, it is now a possibility she will do this play sometime next year.

From “Sounder” to “Roots” to “Alex Cross,” Cicely Tyson has given us one unforgettable performance after another. Here’s hoping she doesn’t retire just yet.