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.

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.

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.

‘Skyfall’ Cast and Crew on Cinematographer Roger Deakins

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

Skyfall” has earned the respect of both critics and audiences around the world as they rightfully hail it as one of the best James Bond movies ever made. But while Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes have received tremendous praise for their terrific work, there is another man working behind the scenes who is equally deserving: Roger Deakins. Thanks to him, “Skyfall” features such unforgettably beautiful images like the assassination scene in Shanghai and the cold and barren landscape of Scotland. None of this is lost on the cast and crew as they spoke highly of Deakins’ work at the film’s press conference in Beverly Hills.

Deakins is best known for his work on many of the Coen Brothers’ movies such as “True Grit” and “No Country for Old Men.” He had previously worked with Mendes on “Revolutionary Road” and “Jarhead,” and the director attributes the look of “Skyfall” solely to Deakins.

Sam Mendes: He contributes what a great cinematographer contributes which is an unbelievable eye, an extraordinary skill in lighting, and for doing an immense amount of work in prep. (He showed) huge care and dedication from day minus 100 to the last day of timing which was only a few weeks ago. He’s a very shy man and he expresses himself through his work, and you just put a camera in front of Roger’s eye and point him in the direction of something interesting and he’s a very happy man. He’s one of the greats and it’s a privilege to have him on the movie.

Daniel Craig: There is an incredibly consistency in his work. He has a surety and you feel like it’s a Sam Mendes movie but it’s also a Roger Deakins movie as well. He has put his stamp on it, it’s not intrusive and it’s very magical.

Bérénice Marlohe, who plays the mysterious Bond girl Sévérine in “Skyfall,” spoke lovingly of Deakins and his work on this film.

Bérénice Marlohe: I have this concept that I’ve always believed in that hugely talented people are hugely humble. When I was on that set, I saw that with Sam, Daniel and him. He’s such a pure, beautiful man and just very focused on his work, and then when I got to see the movie, I would never expect that. The first thing that struck me was that mix of reality, a real story with real human beings, and with each picture it felt like you were having a journey in a dream. It was all so surprising and beautiful.

Naomie Harris, who portrays Eve, also described Deakins as being shy, humble and also added that he was quite “self-effacing.” This made him much different compared to the cinematographers she has worked with in the past.

Naomie Harris: It was a very different experience for me than working with most DPs because they can be very strong characters who really make their presence known on sets, and he’s the complete opposite. He’s really quiet and doesn’t interfere with your process at all, and he’s very respectful of actors’ spaces. For me it was an amazing pleasure to work with him.

To hear all this said about Roger Deakins makes him seem highly unique among the cinematographers of the world. I couldn’t agree more with everyone’s individual assessments of his work as the look of “Skyfall” is indeed gorgeous especially for an action movie. The greatest directors of photography have a look which is all their own and the kind you can notice right away, and Deakins has earned his place among them. Hopefully the Academy Awards will recognize his work here with an Oscar nomination when the time comes around.

Bérénice Marlohe on Playing an Especially Haunted Bond Woman in ‘Skyfall’

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

French actress Bérénice Marlohe leaves quite the impression with her performance as Sévérine in the James Bond movie “Skyfall.” Like many “Bond girls” (or “Bond women” as many would prefer to call them), Sévérine is beautiful and glamorous, but she also proves to be very enigmatic as she shows a sleek confidence which soon becomes undone at the mention of her employer Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). Marlohe is a knockout in the role, and she makes Sévérine one of the more unique and mysterious of Bond girls in this franchise’s history.

Marlohe appeared at the “Skyfall” press conference held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, California to answer questions regarding her role as Sévérine. When asked what the notion of being a Bond girl meant to her, Marlohe responded about how what excited her was the mix of “male attitude of power and danger” and “a very glamorous feminine figure” this particular one had to offer.

Bérénice Marlohe: They are theatrical characters, bigger and more colorful than in life like any of the Bond characters. I sensed that I would have a lot of freedom on set, and after the experience I was happy that I could be in those iconic scenes in the casino (where she and Bond meet over a shaken martini) that you find a lot of the time in Bond movies. For me, they are very meaningful in the history of the series so I was very happy to get to be in one of them.

When asked about the audition process, Marlohe said she heard about a friend who encouraged her to go after the role, which she did.

Bérénice Marlohe: I felt so connected with the Bond universe that I spent two days in front of my computer trying to find the contact information of anyone I could possibly find who was involved with the movie. I even found Sam Mendes’ agent Facebook account! And then I found Debbie McWilliams’ (the movie’s casting director) email, and I was so happy that she saw and liked my reel. They auditioned me in Paris on two scenes from “Skyfall,” and they called me back in London and I auditioned again with Sam Mendes. And then I did the third audition with Daniel (Craig) and Sam as well as Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, and then Sam told me I was chosen. I felt extremely peaceful and had a huge feeling of happiness in my stomach over getting the part because I felt very connected with the Bond universe. I called my father and family, and they were very happy for me.

Upon getting cast, Marlohe was determined to create “a real human being” out of the character of Sévérine. It involved a lot of digging inside herself to see what moves her as a human being, and also questioning herself about her own ancestors whom she never got to know. Being in “Skyfall” has also allowed her to speak out for causes she truly believes in as well

Bérénice Marlohe: Researching that character just had me become even more aware of the condition of the world and mainly of what happened in Cambodia years ago. I always wanted to be a voice to fight against the injustice, but I could never do that before. Now I have this ability to be heard, and I just learned that there is a very important trial going on in Cambodia where leaders of Pol Pot’s genocide 37 years ago are being judged. This is what I connected with. I wanted to be a voice for that. This is the incredible advantage I got from doing this movie; the connections I had as a human being and the revelations I had on the set.

Marlohe described her preparation as being very serious, but it was especially important to her that she be relaxed when on set. She also recalled joking around a lot with Craig on a daily basis.

Bérénice Marlohe: You have to be very relaxed and build your connections to the other actors so that it shows onscreen. The shower scene for instance, we (Daniel and I) were so relaxed that I would sing in the shower and he would be like, what? Daniel was doing some impersonations and other stuff in between takes, and the six months we worked together were like that so it was fabulous.

When it comes to Bond’s relationship with women, many still debate if he is still the love them or leave them type, or if 007 has evolved in this three movies Craig has starred in. Marlohe herself hopes that it her character’s destiny were different in “Skyfall,” a huge love story would have come about between Bond and Sévérine. Still, she describes Craig as succeeding in making Bond seem like a real human being.

Bérénice Marlohe: You can see that through his relationship with M (Judi Dench) that he has a sensitivity. They have a very beautiful and pure relationship that is very human and moving.

Some Bond girls develop a great career after they have appeared in a 007 movie while others have somehow vanished without much of a trace. Watching Bérénice Marlohe in “Skyfall” makes me believe we will be seeing a lot more of this French actress in the near future.

Naomie Harris on Portraying a Bond Woman in ‘Skyfall’

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

She thrilled us as a hardened survivor in “28 Days Later” and wowed us with mystical powers in the “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, so it was only a matter of time before English actress Naomie Harris got the chance to play a Bond girl. She finally gets the opportunity in the 007 adventure “Skyfall” where she plays Eve, an MI6 field agent who works hard at being Bond’s equal. She shares a sizzling chemistry with actor Daniel Craig in certain scenes, and it’s the kind of chemistry you want to see last for more than one Bond film.

Harris appeared at the “Skyfall” press conference held at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, California where she talked about her role as Eve. Being a Bond girl carries with it a weight of expectations, and some still consider a character like this to be sexist in its design. Harris was asked what being a Bond girl meant to her and she said it meant being alluring and beautiful, and she initially found it to be constraining as a result.

Naomie Harris: I usually don’t play roles like that. In fact, I don’t know if I have ever played a role like that before, so I felt confined by all those set ideals. But then a friend of mine gave me a great piece of advice which was, just forget about all of that and imagine you are a part of a low budget movie where you can do whatever you want with this role and just make it your own. And that ultimately is how I come to see Bond girls. In terms of Bond girl terminology, I think we’re just women in Bond movies and women now in Bond movies can be anything so you’re totally free to create. That’s what makes it an interesting role.

Now Bond has a reputation of loving women and leaving them, and this has made being a Bond girl seem less appealing to many people. For Harris, however, playing Eve in “Skyfall” represented an opportunity to portray a new generation of them, and it’s just as well as the Bond franchise is now celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Naomie Harris: They certainly said that to me when I auditioned. They said, we want you to create a modern woman that women can respect and admire and look up to, and this is something we’re creating that’s new and different. That was one of the reasons why I was so excited about taking on the challenge of this role.

When asked if people should say Bond girl or Bond woman, Harris replied we can call it whatever we want.

Harris was asked to audition for the role of Eve after director Sam Mendes and casting director Debbie McWilliams saw her in a production of “Frankenstein” directed by Danny Boyle. She had no idea they were in the audience, and her agent later told Harris they wanted to meet with her about being in “Skyfall.”

Naomie Harris: I had two auditions and I didn’t really take it seriously because I never ever saw myself as a Bond girl. I wasn’t really very nervous at all because I know they auditioned hundreds of girls all around the world, and I thought this is right at the beginning of their casting process so they’re not going to cast me. It wasn’t until the third audition when Sam said, “It’s down between you and just two others” that I realized this is actually serious and could actually really happen. That was the first time I got really nervous. Thankfully I got the role and largely because of Boyle because Mendes called him and asked what I was like to work with, and he gave me a glowing report.

Doing “Skyfall” gave Harris a great respect for action heroes because before this she had no idea of the amount of training which goes into getting prepared for a film like this one. Harris even said Craig would do a 15-hour day and then train for 2 hours afterwards, and she doesn’t know of anybody else who works as hard or has that dedication to a particular role.

Naomie Harris: Movies like these are emotionally and hugely physically demanding. For someone like me who’s incredibly lazy and doesn’t exercise at all, it was a big change for me to be exercising for two months before doing the movie. I was out five days a week with a personal trainer, I was on the gun range three days a week, and I was even doing stunt driving and developing all these other skills that I didn’t have before. I really got in touch with my body in a way that I never had before.

When it came to talking about working with Craig, Harris couldn’t have spoken of him more highly.

Naomie Harris: Daniel definitely remembers what it was like coming into this franchise and how intimidating and overwhelming it was for him. It’s amazing that in his third Bond movie he remembers that and he really goes out of his way to make sure that you don’t feel that weight of pressure and that it is shared. He kind of holds your hand and says ‘we’ll get through this together’ throughout the whole thing, and he is an incredibly generous man.

Talking about Craig also let Harris to tell one of the most memorable stories from that press conference.

Naomie Harris: For me the story that sums up Daniel was the first time that I met him. He was having a costume fitting and I was being walked down the hallway and I was asked whether I wanted to meet him. I was very intimidated and I thought I don’t want to bother him while he’s having a costume fitting as that wouldn’t be a great first time to meet him. So, I kept on walking down the hall and he saw me walk past, and as he ran out of his costume fitting, he hit me over the head and said, “Where are you going stupid?” And then he gave me this massive hug and said, “Welcome aboard,” and that for me really sums up Daniel because he’s incredibly down to earth and incredibly warm and also quite silly as well.

In closing, Harris leaves an everlasting impression as Eve in “Skyfall,” and this will become clearer to audiences around the world once they have seen this 007 movie. She is not your average Bond girl who pales in comparison to him, but instead one who can say she’s in many ways his equal.

Naomie Harris: Eve is very capable in the field. She is a very competent field agent but she’s working on this mission with the ultimate field agent who is Bond. She’s never going to be able to live up to him, and no man and no woman can. That’s why he is Bond and so it’s understandable that she needs a bit of help, but I was not happy about having to shoot him. I thought I really wanted to be a better shot than that.

Javier Bardem on Portraying an Unforgettable Bond Villain in ‘Skyfall’

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

As Raoul Silva, Javier Bardem gives us one of the most unforgettable and nastiest of Bond villains in the 007 movie “Skyfall.” But unlike other Bond villains who are bent on world domination, Silva is far more interested in seeking revenge on one of this series’ regular characters. It should be no surprise at how Bardem can play such an unnerving character to a great extent as he won an Oscar for playing Anton Chigurh in “No Country for Old Men,” but it’s the actor’s attention to character which makes his performance as Silva especially riveting.

For Bardem, it doesn’t matter whether the characters he plays are good or bad. What matters to him is if he is able to portray a character as a full-blooded human being with flaws and all.

“As long as there’s a human being behind the character, with some kind of conflict, as we all have, then it’s interesting to play anyone, whether it’s a villain, good guy, bald, long hair, tall or short,” says Bardem.

“Here there is a broken person,” Bardem continued. “What I like the most is there is a clear motive to kill. We understand he is very human and this is powerful. I was attracted to the villain because I thought he was a nice guy. I could see it in his eyes.”

In talking with “Skyfall’s” director, Sam Mendes, Bardem was told the key word regarding Silva was this one, uncomfortableness. This is a character who lives to make the skins of his opponents’ crawl, and Bardem portrays this ever so brilliantly here.

“I don’t want him to be someone that threatens somebody that’s threatening to someone. It’s about creating a very uncomfortable situation every time he talks to somebody else,” Bardem said.

There has also been a lot of talk regarding Silva’s sexuality as many wonder if this is the Bond’s franchise first homosexual villain. In a perfect world, this question would be completely irrelevant as good and bad comes in all forms, but many still cannot help but be curious. Bardem ended up using Silva’s ambiguity to his advantage.

“The character’s sexuality was part of the game,” Bardem said. “Sexuality was there as something important to create the behavior of being uncomfortable. From uncomfortableness, we brought the sense of humor.”

Bardem went on to describe Silva as being “really confident about himself in a weird way,” and that this character thinks of himself as “the most beautiful man in the world.” The actor also explained that while he wanted to make this particular Bond villain unique, he was also fully aware of how these movies were made with the fans in mind.

“You have to work on two different levels,” Bardem said. “One is to make him as real as possible. And the other is to fly a little bit higher than the rest of the characters. You are allowed to do that. Because that is what people are expecting to see when you play a Bond villain, especially since the films are turning 50 years old.”

Mendes himself went on to talk about how playing a Bond villain allows actors to create unusual kinds of characters.

“Doing a Bond movie affords you that kind of flamboyance that you can’t get in purely naturalistic movies,” said Mendes. “As an actor, you get an opportunity to do things that, frankly, are hovering a foot above the ground. They’re not rooted in reality. Javier always has a slight theatricality about him, which we just tweaked in this movie.”

The James Bond movie franchise is now fifty years old, but “Skyfall” makes it feel like it has been reborn. A lot of this is thanks to Mendes and the actors, and it says a lot about Javier Bardem and of how he has created one of the most memorable villains this series has ever seen. Raoul Silva is far from your usual one-dimensional bad guy and who is instead one who has been wronged and is actually justified in seeking revenge against those who abandoned him. As a result, Silva has more layers to him than your usual Bond villain, and Bardem more than rises to the challenge in making him one of the more complex bad guys you will ever see in this or any other motion picture.

SOURCES:

Bryan Alexander, “Javier Bardem gets in Bond’s head as ‘Skyfall’ villain,” USA Today, November 7, 2012.

Alexandra Gratereaux, “Javier Bardem on Being James Bond ‘Skyfall’ Villain: He’s a Broken Person,” Fox News Latino, November 8, 2012.

Jake Coyle, “Javier Bardem in ‘Skyfall’: James Bond Villain for The Ages?” The Huffington Post, October 23, 2012.

Dame Judi Dench on Making M a Central Character in ‘Skyfall’

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

Skyfall” marks Dame Judi Dench’s seventh appearance as MI6 spy master M, and it gives the Oscar winning actress her biggest role yet in the James Bond franchise. Ever since her first appearance in “Goldeneye,” the same film which introduced Pierce Brosnan as 007, Dench has made the character a no-nonsense leader who considers the famous secret agent “a sexist, misogynist dinosaur” and “a relic of the Cold War.” M also shows no hesitation about sending Bond to his death if the situation calls for it, and this made the role all the more exciting for Dench to play.

“A man saying that to Bond is one thing, but a woman saying that to him was quite another,” says Dench.

Whereas M has typically remained on the periphery of the Bond movies, “Skyfall” has her playing a significant part in the film’s story. We come to learn more about M’s past as it catches up with her in the form of one of the nastiest Bond villains ever, Raoul Silva (played by Javier Bardem). Dench was understandably excited about her enlarged role in this particular 007 film as Bond struggles to protect M against Silva who has a very personal vendetta to settle with her.

“It’s very nice to be out from behind the desk,” Dench said. “It’s extremely nice to get a go in the field, as it were, and get a bit of the action. It made me feel very grown-up. It’s not just the fellas who are spinning about and shooting guns – I get a go.”

In talking about M’s backstory, Dench talked about the need for actors to create one for themselves even if it is not there in the script.

“You always have to make a backstory for yourself in order to know how to react to certain things,” Dench said. “I’ve had this backstory with two grown up daughters and everything. I knew her capabilities and I knew that she must have been through all sorts of things in order to get where she was and hold this job over a lot of chaps at MI6. So I knew her capabilities but I’m very glad they came to the fore.”

As for how she prepares for a role, especially this one which she has held onto for 18 years, Dench said it is no different from when she plays a character in the theatre.

“With M, she’s always slightly changed in each film,” Dench said. “In the first one (“Goldeneye”) naturally I would have thought out why and how this woman has gotten to this part and why she’s head of MI6. Each time you come to do it you actually learn a little bit more about her, and you supply a little bit more about her. So there’s a lot more of the relationship between her and Bond beforehand that goes into this one, but it adds a bit more because there’s more to tell.”

There’s a lot more which could be said about Dench’s role in “Skyfall,” but doing so would give away many of this film’s surprises (and there are several to discover throughout). What can be said about Dench is she will always be a tremendous acting talent we should all feel privileged to watch in anything she appears in. Perhaps the person who can sum Dench up best would be “Skyfall’s” director Sam Mendes who also had the fortune of directing her in a production of “The Cherry Orchard.”

“She was the first bona fide great actor I had ever worked with,” said Mendes. “I learned more from watching her, the way she worked, than I ever had before. She would never think of herself as a teacher. She has too much humility and too much grace to consider herself to be knowledgeable. But in fact, it wasn’t about what she said, it was about how she conducted herself, how she rehearsed, how she thought about the play, her dedication to the play and the audience, her work ethic.”

SOURCES:

Jake Coyle, “Judi Dench on ‘Skyfall’ & Her Reign as M (SPOILER INCLUDED),” The Huffington Post, November 9, 2012.

Daniel Fienberg, “‘Skyfall’ star Judi Dench enjoyed going to ‘the ammunition shed’ for the new James Bond adventure,” Hitfix, November 5, 2012.

Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub, “Dame Judi Dench Talks SKYFALL, Working with Roger Deakins, the Best Part of Playing M, Her Upcoming Stephen Frears Film, and More,” Collider, November 8, 2012.