Saturday, August 30, 2008

Seth Rogen and James Franco Light Up "Pineapple Express"

Feature Story by Brad Balfour

Over the last few years, producer/writer/director Judd Apatow has made himself into a mini-mogul while shepherding along a string of R-rated comedies that have varied from brilliant to inane. Along the way, he has provided a platform for a crop of like-minded talents ranging from Steve Carrell to Seth Rogen.

With "Knocked Up," Apatow cast Rogen as the slacker pothead who gets lucky one night and scores a drunken babe—only to find out he's gotten her pregnant. Given that she's played by Katherine Heigel, he ultimately convinces her to have both a relationship and the kid. For Rogen, it was a benchmark, establishing him as a new star and uber-sex symbol in reverse. Once Rogen had scripted last year's sleeper hit, "Superbad," it looked like he and Apatow could slip any off-beat concept past the studio and financiers.

So that's the case with "Pineapple Express," a stoner flick with a twist. Process server Dale Denton (Rogen) and newfound pal, street-level dealer Saul Silver (James Franco) get caught in the middle of a drug war between the established smuggler Ted Jones (Gary Cole) and the Korean gang who is trying to take over his turf. With this synthesis of action flick and slacker comedy, Rogen is beginning to look like he can do no wrong.

Stars Rogen and Franco—his buddy from Apatow protean television series, "Freaks and Geeks" and star of straightforward action flicks like the "Spider-Man" trilogy and "Flyboys"—joined a small roundtable to trade truths and quips about this riotous headbuster of a film.

Q: On paper, a stoner action flick doesn't seem like the most appealing proposition. So how did you pitch this script to Sony?

SR: We went to them with this pretty soon after we went to them with "Superbad." I think we literally started shooting this around three weeks after we finished shooting "Superbad." And "Superbad" was getting made and it was looking good. They pretty much just wanted a "Superbad" sequel and we were like, "No, but we have this other movie if you really want to make one."

They really gave us no notes, and it's a cheap enough movie [with a budget of $25 million] that they kind of just let us do whatever we wanted. Amy Pascal, the head of Sony, admitted to me at the first test screening that she did not get the movie and wasn't sure if it was a terrible idea or a good idea, but she just decided to let us go for it. And now she loves it, thankfully. But every time I watch, it I'm shocked we got away with it. To me it's crazy, and I can't believe we had as little involvement as we did with the studio, and they really just let us make a crazy movie.

JF: They had one note: "No blood on the face," for some reason.

SR: And we ignored that pretty much! [laughs]

Q: David isn't exactly the first director who comes to mind to make this type of film. How did you go about choosing him to direct your screenplay?

SR: We were very aware from the get-go that there was a very bad version of this movie [that could be made]. We could tell just when we told people the idea—you know, it wasn't an idea where people were like, "Oh, that sounds awesome!" It was, "You're writing a weed action movie? That's the stupidest thing ever." So we knew that we needed to hire someone that would elevate the material and take it very seriously, and not make the version that everyone was clearly picturing when we told them the idea.

We had met [actor/writer] Danny McBride after seeing [his film] "The Foot Fist Way," and he introduced us to David and told us how funny he was. We had seen his movies and thought, "Well, he's clearly a very thoughtful, intelligent person with a visual style and emotional sense to these things." He really liked the script, and we thought, "This might be weird enough to work!"

Q: How do you and writer Evan Goldberg collaborate on screenplays?

SR: We really write together the same way we did when we were 13 years old. Basically, we just sat in front of the computer and wrote. But one of the luxuries of having a few movies that did well is that the studio trusts you a little more, and they did let us go into the shooting of some scenes without a script at all.

Q: How much of the dialogue was improvised?

JF: The original script was very funny. But the way that Seth and Judd had been working on the last few movies is, if an actor wants to throw anything in at any time, it's fair game. I like it because it keeps the actors on their toes, and it makes it more natural if you know that anything can come your way. We usually do a version of the script, and then keep the cameras rolling and you can try whatever. And then there were some scenes, particularly the last scene, where there was no script and it was kind of just talking.

We know these guys are skilled improvisers, and if you have enough time, something good will come. And for the last scene in the movie in particular [in the diner], we knew we wanted it to be very organic and take it all back to the friendship that the audience is tracking in the first place.

We knew it would be hard to script, so we just convinced them to let us shoot for a day and not have a script, and just find it as we went along. And I think it's one of the best scenes in the movie. It really feels real, I think, and when you watch it you think, "There's no way this is written," because we're all talking at the exact same time.

JF: Like [the late seminal director Robert] Altman.

SR: Exactly, he writes that stuff! This is our Altman.

Q: You had mentioned Danny McBride. What members of the supporting cast really surprised you?

JF: A lot of Danny's movies hadn't come out [yet]. I'd seen "The Foot Fist Way" and David's movie "All the Real Girls"…

SR: He was very surprising constantly, though. He made up so much of his own stuff. The whole thing with the cake for the cat – he made up all that. I can't imagine why you would write that [laughs], but he's crazy. I'm glad he's on my team.

Q: Was Danny the one who was the most prone to cracking you guys up on set?

JF: David Gordon Green had to leave the set because he was laughing so much and ruining all the takes during those scenes.

Q: As the screenwriter, did you intend to make this film so much of an action movie?

SR: We love action movies. Those are really our favorite types of movies. We make comedies, but I don't run out to see "The Love Guru"—I run out to see "Batman." Those are the types of movies that I get excited about, and those are the types of movies that I'd love to make.

Q: There are a lot of action movie influences in the film. How aware were you of these specific elements?

SR: Sometimes more aware than others, I think. We knew we really wanted it to have this action movie feel which was similar to the action movies we liked growing up, from the late '80s and early '90s. And David [Gordon Green] as a director is very influenced by '70s filmmaking—like Robert Altman and [John] Cassavetes. So the more '70s influences came from David, and the more '80s action movie feel came from what we wrote into the script.

Q: James, did you approach the action in this film any different from your previous films?

JF: Well, it's like the most expensive pot movie ever made, but the cheapest action movie ever made. The budget on this was probably like a day of work on "Spider-Man." So what that translated to was doing the action scenes in a very short amount of time, and the actors doing their own stunts—which was also done for comedic reasons. We're not as skilled at fighting as stuntmen, so when we fight it looks more awkward. But that also meant a lot more injuries. I anticipated some injuries, and there were some. I busted my head open [running into a tree], and Seth sprained his finger, and Danny busted his head open [on a breakaway bong]. I love the end result, but—

SR: It looks like we're hurting ourselves, and that's why.

Q: Are you going to be the new model for the action hero?

SR: I'd like to think [so]. I think The Rock will soon be obsolete, and this will be the new mold of physical perfection [laughs].

Q: Who is better with the guns?

JF: You kind of took to that pretty well.

SR: I enjoyed it a lot.

JF: We did a lot of hand-to-hand action scenes before the guns. And we all got hurt.

SR: You throw a pumpkin grenade a lot better than I do, but I shoot guns pretty good! My favorite thing, though, is the "Street Fighter" punch that you did at the end.

JF: Yeah, that was Ryu!

SR: That played great at Comic-Con. Tiger upper-cut!

Q: James, when you're sitting there in a car with your foot through the window, and your leg sticking out there, did you think to yourself, "This is the weirdest point in my career right now?" SR: That was pretty funny, because you couldn't take it out for awhile there…

JF: It was actually kind of relaxing.

SR: [Laughs] That was the least weird scene we shot at that point!

Q: James, did you use any of your "Spider-Man" action expertise in the fighting scenes?

JF: Um, no… I pretty much was not thinking of "Spider-Man" throughout filming. [Laughs] Doing this movie was a great experience for me. "Spider-Man" movies aside, I was really unhappy with a lot of the movies I'd done, and this was just a chance to have fun with friends and have a good time, and I'm so happy that the movie's turned out well. Who would've thought the movie I had the most fun on would be the movie that people are responding to.

Q: What are some of the stoner movies that inspired you to make this one?

SR: Well, we were inspired by both good and bad stoner movies; certain things to stay away from, and certain things we like. The "Cheech & Chong" movies were very cool when I first watched them, but they don't have very good stories per se, and they don't hold up that well. I think if you didn't smoke weed, you would not like those movies at all, potentially. But movies like "Friday" kind of transcend a little bit; they have a plot that's more than two guys just smoking weed the whole movie.

Movies like "The Big Lebowski" are just about stoners, and they show that just because your main character's a stoner, doesn't mean the movie is primarily for stoners. And movies like "Half Baked" were some interesting cautionary tales, because I loved that movie, and then the end is like, "And never smoke weed again!" And it's like, "What the fuck? What do you think I'm doing? You make me wanna smoke weed for two hours, and then you make me feel guilty about it?" So we didn't want to do that also. We watched them all, and took good and bad lessons from them.

Q: You're not a huge pot smoker. What inspired this character?

JF: Well, I certainly smoked my fair share when I was younger, it's just not a part of my life anymore. But I met a lot of pot dealers before we did the movie, and even hired one on the crew—

SR: [Laughs] Which really was a pain in the ass!

JF: He was a particularly good model. If I ever needed a list of different silly pot names or something like that, I could go to him. He had all that at his fingertips.

Q: Is this movie's going to help with the legalization of marijuana?

SR: That's a good question! [laughs] I think anything that throws it in people's faces is probably helpful—it gets people talking about it. The fact that you asked me that question now is a step in the right direction, I'd say… But probably not—as long as Pfizer has anything to say about it.

Q: Is there a dichotomy between you and Judd Apatow on the marijuana issue?

SR: This is funny, because these are conversations that have been happening since we wrote the movie in 2002, and they continue on through the release! [Laughs]

Q: In "Knocked Up," the protagonist turns his back on the stoner lifestyle to settle down and get the girl.

SR: Judd wrote that one [laughs].

Q: So do you guys balance off your sensibility about marijuana and Judd's, and it sort of comes out somewhere in the middle?

SR: I'd say with this one there were many discussions about the exact lesson we were imparting on people, and I think it came out somewhere in the middle. Some people come up to me and they're like, "I can't believe there's no anti-weed message!" And other people come up to me and they're like, "I can't believe how strong an anti-weed message there is!"

It's really whatever you take from it, and it's really interesting how that worked out. I don't think you get the sense that these guys will stop smoking weed after this movie ends. But I also don't think you get the sense that that's necessarily the smartest thing these guys should do, either.

JF: It's not like my character's the best role model either. I think it just would've felt phony at the end, too. There was a version like that, but I don't think it would've even been believable if suddenly at the end we were like, "We'll never do this again."

SR: We actually tried to shoot it just to make certain parties happy, and it just didn't feel real. It didn't feel like there was any context for anyone to even say anything like that.

JF: It would be like saying at the end of "Spider-Man," "And if you read comic books, you're a fuckin' nerd!"

SR: That's exactly it—you're alienating your core audience. But I have no doubt that when you watch this movie you will want to smoke weed! That's what I know I've nailed Judd on! Whether it has a message or not, people will want to get high when they watch the movie.

Q: You flouted social mores in the movie, like having a guy in his 20s dating the high school girl, and the whole "Bromosexual" thing.

SR: That's just stuff we think is funny. We tend towards the slightly more… lowbrow, I guess.

JF: And the high school girl, too, is a way to show the character's immaturity, like to grow from.

SR: Exactly. We wanted a kind of a reverse-relationship, you know? Normally in these movies it would be: the guy has a girlfriend, she's disappointed with him, then all this shit goes down with weed dealers, and he has to prove he's a good guy. We were like, what's the exact opposite of that? You're praying for them to break up!

The whole movie is basically the exact opposite. You're not praying that he's going to prove himself, you're praying that he's going to realize that he's being a creepy douche-bag and that he should not be dating a high school girl. And I related to it. When I was in high school, there's always that hot girl who's dating a 25-year-old guy, and you're like, "What is it? That guy must be a loser, because otherwise he'd be dating a 25-year-old girl."

Q: Had you guys always been looking to star in a project together ever since your "Freaks and Geeks" days?

SR: I would not describe it like that, to be perfectly honest.

JF: I mean, there wasn't really the opportunity. I was dying to get Seth for "Annapolis…"

SR: [Laughs] Exactly. I auditioned for Tristan [in "Tristan & Isolde"] but I didn't get it [Laughs].

Q: Do you guys see these characters as grown-up versions of your "Freaks and Geeks" characters in a way?

SR: Not really…

JF: I'd say those characters all smoked weed, but that's about the only similarity.

Q: So you've chosen to adapt "The Green Hornet?" Most people view The Green Hornet as the guy who popped up during the "Batman" series. But it was more famous for the sidekick: Bruce Lee.

SR: To us, the idea of exploring the relationship between a hero and his sidekick was very funny and to us, the Green Hornet had the most famous sidekick ever out of any hero. When you say "The Green Hornet," nobody says, "Hey, Van Williams was on that," they say, "Bruce Lee was on that!" To us, it became the ideal outlet for exploring that kind of relationship, and because there's some built-in fan base, Sony would give us money to make a big, crazy action movie.

Q: And there's a rumor you'll be starring in a "Ghostbusters" film alongside Steve Carrell?

SR: No, I haven't heard anything. Me and Steve Carrell? Wow, that sounds fun! I'm psyched about it! Are you sure I'm not playing Slimer?

Q: Is there a real 'Pineapple Express' killer marijuana strain?

SR: There probably is now, but at the time of the making of the movie there was not. We just invented it for the purpose of the movie, but it sounds like a weed. I'm sure there will be now!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Joining the SisterHood of The Traveling Pants

Feature Story by Brad Balfour

Though individual interviews are always better to do rather than a press conference, doing a Press Conference with the our key cast members of "The Sisterhood of The Traveling Pants 2" actually makes sense. Talking with this team of Amber Tamblyn (Tibby), America Ferrara (Carmen), Blake Lively (Bridget) and Alexis Bledel (Lena) all at once after they've been in these two films—the first "Sisterhood..." and this about-to-be-released sequel—gave us a chance to see them interact with each other as questions were fired away. The dynamic of all of them together helped frame their experience in making these two films.

Based on author Ann Brashares's series of four young adult novels, the films explore a deeply felt friendship between this quartet of teenage girls and how the complex dynamic between them changes and evolves as they go from a summer when they were 16 to three years later after they've graduated high school and separated to go to different colleges.

Just as each character had different and distinct adventures based on their unique personalities, so has this quartet of actresses gone through various shifts and changes in their career from making the first film to this one. When the first film was created, "Gilmore Girls" star Alexis Bledel and "Joan of Arcadia" star Amber Tamblyn were in the ascendent position with critically acclaimed TV series on their resume.

Now it's America Ferrara (starring in "Ugly Betty") and Blake Lively (from "Gossip Girls") who are the two in the spotlight. Yet, what we saw during our 45 minutes together was just how well they worked together and how they enjoyed their time hanging out with each other. So just as they jumped into reconnecting with each other, the press conference got us a chance to leap into the fray with them.

Q: What was a scarier moment for you—riding the donkey up the winding path through the Greek village or taking that plunge into the ocean?

All together with laughter and and some incomprehensible gibberish among themselves they start to answer…

Amber Tamblyn (AT): Or riding the mopeds...

Blake Lively (BL): And taking a plunge into the wall [laughs].

AT: Well, on the first day of shooting we got into a little tiny moped accident.

BL: It was Amber's fault.

AT: Right—it was my fault.

BL: I already tried to say it was my fault yesterday.

Alexis Bledel (AB): It was a domino effect.

AT: Thank you for the voice of reason...

BL: But Amber totally started it all [laughs]...

AT: Blake hit the back of everyone.

America Ferrara (AF): But she wouldn't have f you hadn't stopped.

BL: Where else was I suppose to go when I turned the corner [laughs].

AT: Anyway... did that answer your question? We got into a tiny little moped accident the very first day of shooting; actually Blake really hurt her knee pretty bad; and America fell off the bike and it spun around, and it was very dramatic and great for a first day of shooting.

BL: I was on crutches for a while...

AF: It really set the tone...

AB: That was definitely the story...

AT: I got to make fun of them on crutches.

BL: She would take our crutches and go in our room.

AB: The donkeys were fun... You just sit on them right? We don’t have to talk about them [all laughs].

Q: And there was no fear for that plunge?

AB: That was fun.

AT: Not really, I think that Blake, America, and I were just walking around the Island and found a cliff that some other people were jumping off of and then we sort of talked ourselves into doing it and then later came and told the producers and director that we should put this in the movie. And they said, "Okay." 

Then we got there, there was a whole crew and a bunch of people and we kind of got a little frightened.

AF: And I just froze. I kind of didn’t jump when I was supposed to, and then I did eventually.

Q: What was it like working in Greece?

AT: Greece was amazing.

BL: The food there was just amazing and there were so many neat stores, and the stairs were wonderful with the crutches because the rocks were wobbling and we’re trying to get up them, it was incredible.

Q: It seems like you all really did develop a true friendship from working on the first movie. Since a lot of this movie is about communication, how do you keep your friendship going and do communicate with your friends when you’re so busy?

AF: {Through] pair of pants [laughs].

BL: We e-mail our friends.

AT: And, our spider senses.

AF: And we try to see each other whenever we’re in the same town, which isn’t often.

Q: What about collaborating with director Sanaa Hamri; when you added in your input, did you draw on or insert personal experiences you had i bonding with other friends, female or otherwise?

AT: Everyone was really open to us giving our advice. Certainly for me, I know my character is getting to be quirky, funny, avid, wise and stuff like that. My character is a very neurotic sort of self-loathing asset to her on this film and she often funnels these feelings through teamwork and by trying to make other people laugh and ignoring what’s going on with her and I had pulled that from several friends of mine. They sort of do that, they just make jokes when they’re trying to be curious so I was just thinking about that with Tibby, sorry friends where ever you are... Meredith.

Q: Is there a style about you that’s similar to your character?

BL: Well Bridget is like Indiana Jones and I don’t dress like that [laughs] and I don’t wear soccer outfits, so [my style] is very different. That was an easy answer for me. No, she’s honestly like Indiana Jones in this movie and she has swooping hats, it’s awesome, but I dress a little different. We had a wonderful costume designer though for this film and I think she did such a good job at carving out each characters personal style and she was able to tell a bit of a story with our clothes as well, it was great.

AF: Clothes are a big part of self-expression when you are that age, and I think this would be, for my character Carmen, we wanted to show her having kind of climbed into a shell or a cocoon, and so early on she’s layered, she’s wearing sweaters, she’s trying to put more distance between her and the world and she’s trying to hide in it. And then, in the end when she emerges from this amazing period costume we like to come and sit and watch TV [laughs]. I don’t do that.

It really was an arc in terms of self-expression with what you’re wearing. Of course that’s not the only one. I personally feel like I don’t truly feel like my character until I can get in their wardrobe, get in their skin, get in the clothing they would be wearing and know what they’re feeling like in their own environment.

AB: Lena’s costumes are very feminine and ‘50s style and I think it makes all the sense for her character. I like something like that but not all the time.

AT: I think sometimes, you’re a little more of a tomboy in your personal life.

AB: Yeah, I'd like her to be a little more sleek, although today I’m wearing something she would wear.

AT: Tibby looks like she’s sponsored by “Hot Topic” [the punk clothing site].

[Laughter breaks out…]

Q: All of you know these characters really well now in terms of your friendship, so do you have any hopes in the future for these characters, like say, in five years from now or so?

AT: Tibby will probably be… I don’t know…

AF: I think, for instance, we would be on our separate journeys [by then]. I think that this movie is about friendship and it’s about this special bond, so it would be about how friendships change throughout your lifetime and I always thought that this movie was not so much about what each of the girls were going through so much as how what they’re going through affects their bonds. I don’t know, but I have a feeling that if Ann [Brasheares, the author of the books] were to go on and write another book—and I think her books are beautiful—it would be based on the progression of this friendship and how this friendship might transform into something else.

BL: They’d probably still be trying to keep in touch and still growing in further different directions because they’re different people.

You all were so great in your roles, and perfectly cast for the roles, but if you had to switch up, what characters would each of you play?

AB: Is there an option to stay in your own role? Also if I switch with Bridget do I get her legs?

[A burst of laughter from the entire panel…]

Q: Each of you have had substantial television experience, and now you’ve had a chance to do a movie where there’s a sequel; that means you can see some character development here. But how different or alike for each of you was it in developing your characters here as opposed to developing characters in a television production setting—where you have episodes and have characters that grow over time?

AB: This film was a little tricky because it was the second, third and fourth book all in one movie and there’s a lot of material in it. We didn’t really know what they were going to be able to put, once it was condensed, into the film so, they let us have a little bit of input as far as when they were trimming down, what the things were that were important to us to keep they listened and so, hopefully.

BL: With a television show you find out what’s happening with your character every single week with each episode. With a film you get to see your character, you get to see their arc, with this, we had a series of four novels so we really got to see where they grow but it’s easier to plan. When you’re doing a TV show, the writers don’t even know where your character is going, you don’t know how many years you’re going to be on it. My character has many dark secrets, so she’s always changing. But I think it’s just easier to plan where you start and you end in your journey. Where as with the show, they’re just kind of making it up as it comes along.

AT: I would just echo what they say. I think that the easiest way to [put it is that] a movie is a sprint and a television show is a marathon, and you just have to pace yourself and be open to whatever changes the writers of your show choose to take your character.

America said something yesterday that with a film, there’s a specific beginning, middle and an end; you can go and see where that character is going to change and you can do certain scenes based on that. With television, you really don’t have any idea, you just go from show to show and make the best decision you can to back as an actor to fill in everything that needs to be filled sort of what that character requires. That's what America said and I just reiterate.

Q: If you could each respond to this book, what do you think is a major strength and shortcoming to each of your characters?

AT: I guess Tibby’s strength is her sense of humor and her ability to get people to laugh, but then at the same time I guess that she's also ignoring her own intuition and intimacy issues and completely ignoring Haley’s death and how that sort of trickled into her life and how she feels about things.

AF: I think Carmen's strength is that she’s very generous with her emotions and she’s open to loving people but she also leaves herself open for [being hurt], and leaves herself vulnerable because she depends on people around her too much to define who she is. But I think that she deals with some of those issues in this movie.

BL: Bridget is very determined, she’s very strong-willed, but she really avoids her problems, runs away from her problems. She’s living too fast paced for her life and she’s doing all of that to avoid dealing with the real issues.

AB: I think Lena is a good friend, she seems to be sweet and considerate. But she’s too timid to sort of deal with her life, she needs her friends to push her into confrontations that most people can probably just deal with on their own. She really needs help.

Q: What’s the craziest gossip you’ve ever read about yourselves?

AT: Well, I think it’s funny how people like is literally selling stuff to make stuff up. There she is wearing that four leaf clover hidden under her dress for good luck that her boyfriend gave her for Valentines Day. I’m like "Really?" It’s just a lie.

BL: No, they make things up. I’ve had people call me and like you didn’t tell me you were in town when I’m across the country because I was making out with somebody or shopping in some store or something. Also, another one recently that our hair and make up girls thought was funny so they put it up in our make up trailer. It was like “Blake Tells a Tall-tale” and it said that I am really 5’4” and I lie and say that I’m really tall and that I would have to be wearing stilts to be really tall. They’re like the only way she’s any where near 5’10” is if she’s on stilts. And it was like this big piece, half a page.

[They all begin to laugh, giggle and talk at the same time…talking about whether Blake really is 5'4" or not.]

Q: America and Alexis, folks really loved your characters and their ethnicity in the first movie, do you think they will relate to again in this film?

BL We're not loved? [Laughs}

AF: One of the things that I really appreciate about this second film is how diverse it is in the casting and that we have Asian co-stars and Latino co-stars and Black co-stars and it’s not really an issue, we don’t talk about it, and it’s just this is the world we live in and this is what the world looks like and it doesn’t have to be spoken about. And I think one of the healthiest things for this new generation of Americans to get used to it so that it isn’t a shock to see Latinos in this type of role. So we can just do it and catch it and it doesn’t have to be a big splash all the time.

AB: And in this film the girls are all going off to college and kind of finding their own way and I think anybody will be able to relate to this stage of life, just finding your own path.

Q: America, were you psyched by your part where you got the part in the play and the gorgeous guy?

AF: One of the things that I thought would be interesting for this character “Carmen” is that she’s a very different character from what we saw in the first film. In the first movie she was a lot more extraverted and kind of the glue that held the sisterhood together and was trying very hard to make all of those things mean something.

In this film you catch up with her at a point where she is sick of being this glue and if no one else tries why should I? I liked that she was struggling through something and was forced to do it on her own and that her friends couldn’t help her through what she was going through. The issues that she was dealing with in the first movie are sharing and abortion, are issues of abandonment.

In the first movie her father is moving on and starting a new family, and in this movie her mother is moving on and starting a new family and her friends are moving on. So, she has to deal with being alone again and she has to do it on her own, which I think is her portraying growing up.

Q: For each of you, how does this film contrast or mirror your personal friendships?

AT: Well as far as the four of us, a lot of it is us just giggling and laughing and then filming it because we can’t actually say our lines sometimes. So, it’s a direct reflection.

AB: Yeah, we just have fun working together, so I know that in the first movie they kind of got out of our way and just let us [be]… Whatever, we were lucky enough to have a chemistry between ourselves; they really let it come through and with this movie we picked up where we left off. So there was more of that…and uh…what was the question? [laughs]

Q: What experiences and relationships in your personal life growing up affected your role?

AB: I think that just trying to stay in touch as you get older is difficult that’s something we probably have all had to deal with.

BL: These girls are lucky to have four friends that are so strong, I’ve always had one or two close to me since I was little. Two of my best friends, one of them I’ve known since I was four and one from the seventh grade…which wasn’t that long ago, but you know, I still keep in touch with them…

AB: When are you graduating from high school again? [laugh]

AT: My very best friend Meredith I’ve known since kindergarten… who I mentioned earlier—with the emotional problems.

AB: She’s not your friend anymore [laughs].

AT: No, she’s still with me, and she came out with me from L.A. to come to the premiere tomorrow. And she’s always made herself available to be really supportive of my films so I talk publicly about her

AF: I think one of my best friends is one of my sisters. She’s a year older than me and we grew up together—too close sometimes—and everything I’ve experienced in terms of how different people mean different things to you in different times of your life has really been through my relationship with my sister. [There were] times that we’ve gone off to college and wanted to be nothing but as far away from each other as possible; and there were other times when you need them by your side and they’re the only person that could help you through certain situations.

I was never lucky enough to have friends that stayed throughout my entire life in terms of outside of my family but what I will say about this, what I love about this film, is that it gives young women an example of strong female relationships because I don’t think that I learned to appreciate strong female relationships until I was older, until I could get beyond the conditioning that women’s relationships have to be competitive or jealousy ridden or backstabbing. So, I hope that there will be better examples for the next generation so that women can learn to grow up supporting each other instead of tearing each other down.

Q: Blake, with "Gossip Girl" shooting in NYC, what are your favorite things in New York are and what life is like in New York?

BL: Just shooting in the city is such a wonderful [thing]. Getting up so early in the morning sometimes I think, why am I doing a job that wakes you up at 3:30 in the morning. But just getting to shoot on these beautiful cobblestone streets with the trees and it’s just…. It's a magical place and it’s a character in and of itself. It’s so important, I don’t think our show would work if it wasn’t in New York. You know some of my favorite movies are based here in New York. I just can’t describe what I love about this city… It makes me warm and fuzzy. And Silver Cup Studios and Long Island Studio are both really great.

AF: I think that you can’t help being energized by this city and be inspired artistically. I love riding the subway; I love walking the streets; I love sitting at a coffee shop for hours and just watching people go by. What I think is so amazing about being in New York is that it’s so hard to forget that you are part of the bigger picture in New York City. Where I grew up in L.A. my entire life—and while I love L.A. and it has some really wonderful things about it—you can really become isolated, being in your car and only seeing what you intend to see.

I feel like in New York, things happen that you wouldn’t believe, like you were in a movie. Like bumping into a friend you hadn’t seen in years on the corner of wherever and wherever; sometimes that a good thing and sometimes that’s not a good thing. But, I just love everything about New York, and when we’re filming it’s great to have people screaming about of their windows, “We love you, Betty” and that kind of a welcoming energy. We also get the other side of it too, which is “Get out of our way!” [laughs] but it's New York so you take the good with the bad and it feels like a battle.

Q: Tibby’s panic about having a baby was funny, but how come there was no mention of a Plan B?

AT: You know Planned Parenthood was actually involved with the film. We shot a scene with them, and to be honest, it did not work with the film. It added too much; it was too much of a separate conversation. You know watching it, it definitely became too much about that and less about what Tibby was going through and her emotions.

I myself am a Planned Parenthood advocate and I help them with a lot of things. So for them, I have been doing some things and doing some interviews and stuff online. But the story just didn’t fit because it wasn’t about where she was going to go to figure that out because you don’t even talk about whether she is pregnant, it’s not really about that. The storyline is about her back story, about her not being able to get over Bailey’s death, and about her intimacy issues. So that didn’t necessarily fit with what we were trying to accomplish with her emotional growth.

Q: Blake, how is it performing with your dad Ernie who played your father in the film?

BL: I get really shy around people… Even when I’m watching a movie that I’m in with family member or friends, I just want to hide. So, in the first movie, since it was my first job ever, it was more normal, but with this one I think that my worst scenes are with my father because it just felt so strange to be working alongside him. And I’m yelling at him, and I’ve never yelled at him, because you can’t yell at him, he’ll just give you a big teddy bear hug. So, I watch that scene and I’m like, uh that is so bad for me.

But it was really an honor that he got to be there and there was no way that we would ever get to do that again and it was a really wonderful experience and I’m just excited because this was my first job and I grew up watching him, he’s the first one in my family that got into this business and I never wanted this, and I never wanted to be in it, but it’s just nice to be on the screen together.

Q: Did you guys discuss your roles?

BL: No, we don't talk [laughs]. It’s just too weird and shy. He’s a great actor so he went in and did what he did and then I went in and messed that up. But I thought he was great and was so touching.

Q: Alexis, the important question for you was what was Jesse wearing when he did the scene as Leo, the nude artistic model?

AB: Not much [laughs]. That was a full day as well, that he was in front of everybody. I don’t know, everyone is just trying to make him comfortable for the most part because, you know, he was in front of everyone.

Q: Well, what was he wearing?

AB: I don’t remember to be honest. We could ask wardrobe [laughs] But I think it was some sort of underwear I’m sure.

Q: The tabloids often like to use the phrase “young Hollywood gone wild.” But you guys are all wonderful role models, what is it that keeps you grounded in each of your lives and keeps you out of the craziness?

AT: The ground [laughs].

Q: Well did you have people around you like your friends and family?

AT: Yeah sure, but on the opposite side, I think that I had a general disinterest in it, it’s not what keeps me grounded, it’s what is not interesting to me. That’s all.

AF: I just want to work [laughs]. I just want to do my job and I love what I do and I have way too much respect for the work to ever jeopardize my ability to do my job. You know, and I just don’t know who has the time to get in trouble.

BL: I just think for so many people it becomes a way of life instead of a job. For me, my whole family was in this business so they didn’t stay in it, but at the end of the day that was just their job like any other peoples jobs, so I grew up with that mindset so I think that that’s the thing for me. At the end of a day of work I want to go to dinner, I want to watch a movie, I don’t want to go to the club and not wear panties [laughs].

AB: Yeah, I’ve always thought of this as a job. I’ve never had time either to get into trouble. When I was on the show, it was always a lot to do. So, I’m a pretty low key person anyway…

AT: Yeah, I was gonna say she’s a social recluse…

Q: Do you see yourselves as role models? Obviously you are, but do you see yourselves that way?

AF: It’s more about how people see us than how we see ourselves. I would say "Yes," I would answer for all four of us and say that I know for a fact, I’ve met young women who look to every single one of these ladies and follow them and are always looking out for what we’re doing and I just think that, they did a really great job in finding sort of normal girls to do the first film. And now that we’re in each other’s lives I think that if any one of us dared to be ridiculous then we would get a lot of phones calls [laughs].

Q: America, since you've moved to New York, what do you do with your free time, like riding the subway or other hobbies?

AF: Like I said before I don’t really have a lot of free time. And what I love to do is work, I know that sounds crazy. But I did, as Amber just reminded me, direct a short film earlier this year, which was a really wonderful experience and I loved it, I love directing and I have been writing a little bit and just exploring things through the creative path I have already started to take other than that I walk my dog and watch movies and listen to my iPod [laughs] I don’t know what else to say I am really not a very interesting person.

Q: Are there any other characters you guys would like to play? Any favorite novels?

AF: I would like to play Harry Potter [laughs]. But that’s already taken.

AT: I'd like to play any lead character from a Janet Fitch novel. All two of them, and one of them has already been made [into a film, White Oleander"].

AF: What?

AT: By Janet Fitch…anyone? no? [laughs] You know, "White Oleander?"

Q: Why her? What do you think is interesting about her?

AT: She’s a phenomenal woman who writes really, really interesting female characters. If anyone has read "Paint it Black," it’s probably one of the most interesting character pieces, about a girl that is born and raised in Los Angeles too, so being from Venice I really identified with that and thought she wrote it perfectly.

Q: And the two of you?

BL: I feel like I only play characters from books [laughs] or a long book series. So it might be nice to play one that’s not in a book. I would like a part in Harry Potter though. But I read books and there are a lot of times when I don’t want to play the character because I want to watch it come to life by itself. I just read this book called "The Glass Castle" [by Jeanette Walls] that I know they are making into a movie but I don’t know how that’s going to work out. I would love to be a part of it but just not on the acting side because I just want to watch it so, maybe I’ll do [craft services] or something [laughs].

AB: I don’t have a specific one in mind. The last book I read was "My Life in France," the one about [chef] Julia Child, and they are making that into a movie. I am not age appropriate for that one [laughs].

Q: What are your favorite scenes from the movie and what scenes were the most difficult to shoot?

AT: I’ll say that my favorite scene that I shot was not the fight scene, but the one with the confrontation between America and I. But as far as one where all four of us are together, America reminded me the other day of the graduation scene, which was quick but was really fun to shoot because we were all sort of messing around and had these giant gowns on and they’re all like “Just go for it! We’ll shoot it!” and so America crawled into my suit and I zipped her up inside of it and we were trying to do this… [laughs from everyone]

BL: I thought that when we jumped off the cliff that that was really fun because we did it ourselves and we were getting to then do it in the film. Um, I don’t know I’m really moved by the scenes where there are no talking, like there is the scene with, the last shot in the end and it’s just these four girls with different personalities and they’re not saying anything but you just know so much about their journey and you wonder where they’re going to do and you see that they will always have this whether they are together or not. And, I don’t know, I just think that those are the most beautiful moments, or seeing them let everything go and jump off the cliff, I don’t know I love those. And the scene where I am yelling at my dad [laughter].

AB: I like all the scenes with my Greek grandmother. She has this… certain delivery that is really great and it cracks me up. She’s really interesting also because I guess, a lot of times in Greece, the actors are their own agents as well so she’d get on the phone and she’d be like, arguing about her deal and just being really nasty on the phone and pissed off, and then she comes out as this sweet little grandmother. So she had both personalities, it was really interesting [laughs].

AF: I would say that one of the most interesting things for me to shoot was, the um, all the Shakespeare scenes that Carmen had to do. They had a really wonderful man that was on set with me and helping me through the language and I loved wearing that dress and I loved saying the words and kind of being in a different movie altogether within this movie, it was really fun to shoot those parts.

Q: You never did Shakespeare before?

AF: I have. I mean, not Shakespeare in the Park, but I grew up at a public school that had the class [do its own] Shakespeare festival which was really one of the greatest gifts I got out of my education, being exposed to Shakespeare from the time I was in seventh grade, and, not that I always understood what I was saying, but by the time I was a senior in high school I had an ear for it and could get through any Shakespeare play. I think that’s a really wonderful gift.

Q: Blake and America, can you talk about anything on your show's upcoming season, and for all of you, will you keep a part of the pants?

BL: Oh…we didn’t. We should have… Okay, do you want to go first?

AF: About what is coming up on our shows…anything? I really don’t know what I’m allowed to say… but, we moved to New York and there will be a lot of New York [in it]. The first episode back you will be like “Wow! They’re in New York” and you’ll be able to tell. We get Pat Fields [the fashion stylist who developed the distinct look on "Sex And The City"] on the show again. Since we moved back to New York, she is designing our show and Betty has some very interesting costumes that are all very fun to wear and the fashion is taken to a new level of daring, so that will be really fun—the fashion watch.

Q: What about Lindsay Lohan?

AF: What about her?

Q: What was she like as a costar?

AF: It was great, it was fun. They wrote some really fun stuff for her character and we had a good time.

BL: [As for "Gossip Girl"] season two, I don’t really know what I’m allowed to say either… We start back at the Hamptons; it’s a recap of the summer—a lot of the relationships that were set up at the end of the first season… They’re…misleading. But we have new characters coming in, just from the beginning, and then later in the season, we have characters doing like five episode arcs and you know, they mix things up; everyone is dating everyone and sleeping with everyone, and there is lots of scandalous stuff happening on the Upper East Side.

There was just so much happening in the episodes that I read and know in the first five that even I am shocked. I’m expecting my sister, that I don’t have, to be my father or….even I am reading it and I’m like “Oh my goodness I can’t believe it!” So it’s definitely more scandalous and juicy and more of what people love about the show.

Q: Amber, tell us about your show?

AT: It’s a pilot for ABC, it’s called "The Unusuals," with very sarcastic female detective, undercover cop who works with a bunch of guys and get them all in trouble.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Rainn Wilson Steps Out of The Office to Put On His Rock Face for "The Rocker"

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

It's an old story, as old as the Beatles. A rock combo starts
out playing the clubs, building the band's repertoire and following,
and then, on the verge of signing the big deal, fires the most
 expendable member—the drummer.

It may not be as classic a scenario as the on-going bathos of the Emmy Award-winning comedy series, "The Office," but that's essentially the kick-off point for the "The Rocker." A rock and roll parable, the comedy stars media magnet/TV-star/ ace eccentric Rainn Wilson as that drummer bounced from his burgeoning metal band, Vesuvius, because a record company executive wanted to his own guy in the band. Absurd, though not always funny, the movie in far too many ways imitates life.

After 20 years of life's indignities, batterist Fish finds himself as
the last-minute replacement, as the percussive bottom so to speak, to
play the prom in his nephew's band. Though that gig is a disaster, it
inspires him and he proposes that they work together to launch a
 tour. Lo and behold, the band takes off—thanks to a vid of him
 drumming in the nude, virally broadcast throughout the internet. The 
spread of his cheeks get the band spread all over the country.

Certainly not all bands share this history, but the 32-year-old 
one-time founder of a teen rock band grasps this classic rock tale.
 Wilson's career has since diverged from rock roots as he went on 
to sing in musicals, do theater, and get discovered as a television 
star by becoming the abrasive Dwight Schrute in the comedy, 
"The Office." That role garnered him his own fans and a few accolades including a nom as Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy for this year's Emmys. Though he didn't win, a touch of the rocker style rubbed off on Wilson as he strutted around at the Primetime Emmy Awards in cool sunglasses and tux.

Q: So what is your favorite music?

RW: I would say rock.

Q: How did you get this gig?

Do you know if you were the first 
choice for this role?

RW: I doubt it. Any comedy script in Hollywood, guaranteed, goes to any
 three of these people: Ben Stiller, Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Vince
 Vaughn and Owen Wilson. So I'm sure it went to those people, I have no 
idea who. But then it trickles down to, "Okay, now what the f**k do we 
do with this thing?"

Then I was on the next list of the B-talent and somehow I rose to the top of that.
I was supposed to host [a VH1 rock show] last year 
that was a tribute to a bunch of different bands. I have a good
 relationship with them, and may do it in the future. They know that
 I'm a big rock music fan and they try and get funny people mixed in.

I'm thought of for real people that are odd and kind of misfits and 
funny in their own way. We see so many doors opening. Audiences are
much more allowing of the fact that you don't have to have chiseled
 cheekbones—not that I don't have them—to star in a movie. People like
 Seth Rogen and Michael Cera and all these great new comedy stars are 
much more interesting and real. I think studios have discovered that
 audiences enjoy that.

Q: What was your first step to getting into this role?

RW: The first thing I started to do was take drum lessons, and that
opened my eyes to who this guy was. I was in orchestras growing up,
but when you drum, you're just loud and pounding away. There's
 something like, "Yeah!"

This drum coach I was working with was all about putting on the big
 show behind the kit. When you get in that mindset of the drummer—the
 sweat and the pounding and the ugly face—Fish just became totally
 clear to me. This is not a thoughtful guy. Dwight [my character from "The Office"] 
is tight and controlled and maybe in his head too much, but Fish is 
just like, "Let it loose."

Q: How does Dwight's love of metal music compare to Fish's?

RW: He would listen purely as a motivational tool to increase the
adrenaline and the flow in his brain stem. He would have his reasoning
for it, whereas Fish just wants to rock and have a good time. They
both have a love of metal, unflattering haircuts, and not the best
wardrobe, but beyond that, they're pretty different characters.

Q: What was the most interesting thing you learned about drumming?

RW: It's an incredible workout. It's a workout not even of your body,
but of concentration. It's like playing golf. You can't get fuzzy on 
hole 17 and check out. It's the same thing. You're in these
songs and they're kind of repetitive. It requires an amazing amount of

Q: What drummers inspired this character?

RW: The iconic drummer of all time is [The Who's] Keith Moon so I
watched a lot of Keith Moon, but he's impossible to emulate. He's too
good and too crazy and too specific. I watched a lot of heavy metal
videos back in the day of Tommy Lee [Mötley Crüe], Lars Ulrich 
[Metallica], and the one-armed guy [Rick Allen] from Def Leppard.

 Rock drummers before metal were so faceless, except for maybe [the 
late] Keith Moon and John Bonham [Led Zeppelin]. You have all these
great bands and you have no idea who the drummer is, but metal was the 
genesis, flowering of the rock drummer.

Q: What bands would you like to sit in with as a drummer?

RW: My two favorite bands have the most awesome drummers ever from 
Radiohead [Phil Selway] and Wilco [Glenn Kotche]. They are the best
drummers in rock n' roll. I think it would be really cool to go with
The Raconteurs. They have a great drummer, but Meg White—I don't know
what happened to her, she had a nervous breakdown or something—so I
 would love to play with Jack White. It would be pretty cool.

Q: How did you develop your drum face?

RW: It comes natural to anyone. You try playing the drums and try
 making a normal serious, serene face. You can't do it. You just look
weird when you're drumming and you're intense. We started rehearsals
 and they thought it was hysterical what I was doing [with my face] but
I didn't even think about my face.

Q: Since your ousted drummer is loosely based on him, what role did
 former Beatle Pete Best play in the film ?

RW: He had a tiny cameo. If you blink, you miss him at the bus stop
 reading Rolling Stone magazine. We had a little scene that will be on 
the DVD. I find it highly ironic that Pete's scene from the movie got cut.
 That painfully freaked me out. He's a great guy. I got to interview
 and hang out with him.

 The movie is not based on him in any way, shape or form, but he's kind
 of the poster child for this kind of story.

There have been plenty of 
band members kicked out of the band before they got big during the
 course of rock n' roll, but he's the most famous. He's such a sweet 
guy. He couldn't be nicer or more low-key. He's not bitter. He said,
 "You just don't know how things are going to work out. I've got six
 grandkids and get to tour the world with my band." He's doing great,
 he's fine.

Q: Did you have rock star dreams of your own?

RW: I got to, thankfully, live through a little bit of a rocker
nightmare, which was probably the shortest-lived high school band
ever. I did two gigs with my band Collective Moss; I wish I still had
that flyer [we printed]. We played two gigs, one for a bunch of
 11-year-olds who stole our patch cords in a church basement.

Our second gig was an audition for the Battle of the Bands which we
didn't get into. That's how bad we were; we were not even in the top
six bands at New Trier High School [in Winnetka, Illinois]. I was the 

Q: What was it like playing yourself 20 years apart?

RW: It was kind of ridiculous. They put on a little more makeup. Here 
I am, this 40-year-old guy trying to play a 20 year-old. I don't know
how successful it was. I think the audience buys it because it says 
1988. You're like, "Okay, whatever."

Q: How did you relate to this character, who is a 40-year-old and 
playing in a rock band with teenagers?

RW: The main obstacle is this guy getting over what happened in the
past. I didn't have that, but I certainly can relate to finding
 success late in life, which is pretty cool and also pretty weird too.

Q: Do you ever regret that your youth didn't include having groupies?

RW: I'm happy the way it worked out. I couldn't be more thrilled. I
struggled for a long time, the first 10 years of my career, and now
 things are taking off. I have no regrets that I wish this or that had
happened. I'm a much better actor now than I was then. I needed to 
learn. Some people are like Leonardo DiCaprio were immediately 
brilliant at 19. I wasn't that way. I was learning in the 
Q: What would you do if the music of this fictitious band A.D.D. took off?

RW: Don't worry, we're hitting the road, opening for The Jonas 
Brothers. Not really! It would be a little bit of a stretch and take a 
few weeks of rehearsing, but we could pull it off. I could learn those

Emma Stone [Amelia] totally learned the bass; she learned every note.
 She got really good at it. Josh Gad [Matt] is a total fraud, so we
 would Milli Vanilli a keyboard behind him somewhere.

Teddy [Geiger, who plays band leader/singer/songwriter Curtis] is the real deal. That was something that should feel authentic.

Rock music sucks in movies nine times out of 10. We 
wanted good, catchy pop songs that would be accessible to a large
 audience, but at the same time, had an indie rock feel that felt like 
they were written by a 17-year-old writing songs in his garage.

He has an amazing voice and he's a completely self-taught, suburban kid

I did my own drumming. You won't hear me on those tracks but 
that was me playing over the tracks. That was something that was 
important to this film, that the music should be authentic.

We would shoot into the night through morning rush hour, so a lot of times 
we were driving home at 10:30 in the morning wanting to go to bed. It
 was ridiculous. They would just be drinking their Red Bulls and
 chattering away. I called them The Squirrels.

Q: What was it like working with Christina Applegate as Curtis's mom, Kim (who was 17, and in a punk band when she got pregnant and had him)?

RW: Christina's amazing. We were so lucky to get her to be in
the movie. I was such a big fan of hers, especially in "Anchorman." I 
thought she really anchored that movie, Hahaha!

She's effortless. She's so deft at comedy, with a light
touch, and she's hot, smart and really cool. We had a blast. I'm
 really psyched, and we're both Emmy nominees.

Q: Christina didn't mind being characterized as a MILF?

RW: This was her first MILF role, and I'm sure there will be many
 more. I think she knew, she was like, "You know what, I'm late 30s now,
it's time for me to tip-toe into the MILF world."

Q: The band becomes famous when your character drums naked and gets 
posted on YouTube—what was it like to film the scene?

RW: You can see the naked drummer footage up on YouTube. Put in "naked
 drummer" and you can see my ass crack all over the airwaves. It felt
 very sticky. I'll take my clothes off right now; I have no shame. It's 
just a human body that passes away at the end of our lives. It's a 
glorious thing. The body is your temple.

Q: What do you think of rock n' roll movies?

RW: There definitely needs to be a period metal movie. There's that
 "Rock Star" movie with Mark Wahlberg that sucked but that took itself
very seriously. There's a nod in the film to the famous Robert Plant
 story [in "Almost Famous"] where he said, "I am a golden God," and
 jumps into the swimming pool on top of the roof. I rode a tricycle [in this film] into a swimming pool, which was my little stunt. There's
 still another heavy metal or hair metal comedy to be made. It has to
 be more than dancing around like peacocks with "guy" liner [black

Q: What is your favorite concert memory?

RW: I never caught a drum stick or been sweated or urinated on. But I
 got to see Nirvana in their last U.S. concert, and that was a thrill 
for me as a Pacific Northwest Nirvana freak.

Q: Did you get to go backstage and meet Nirvana lead singer/songwriter
Kurt Cobain?

RW: No, I wasn't a huge international superstar like I am now, to throw
 my weight around with my posse.

My favorite concert memories are
about the music. I saw Radiohead last year and that was pretty
 awesome. Doing this VH-1 Rock Honors The Who concert was just
 tremendous. I got to meet The Who and they were idols of mine growing 
up. I just thought Pete Townshend was the best. I got to interview
 Flaming Lips and Dave Grohl and Pearl Jam. That was really awesome, 
to be part of the experience.

Q: What was your first encounter with a fan?

RW: My first fan was when I did Casey Keegan, the homicidal stand-up 
comic from "One Life To Live." I was on three episodes, that's when I 
first had my first fan. People really watch the soaps, and when you're
on the subway people see you. I was the bad guy so I got a lot of "Oh
man, you're him. You tried to kill my man Antonio! That's the guy! 
That's the guy!" That was pretty cool for me, who had mostly done 
theater up until that point, and you never really get recognized as a 
theater actor.

Q: Now it's passe?

RW: Yeah, you're like "Who cares? The little people, the little ants,
whoever they may be, by the millions. Where's my car?"

Q: Are you in "The Office" spin-off?

RW: No. They would never break up a formula that's already 
working for fear that it would fall apart. They cast Amy Poehler and
it's not really going to be a spin-off per se. It's going be another
workplace, kind of a mockumentary of some kind.

Q: Would you consider doing a naked drummer routine live?

RW: Are you propositioning me?

Monday, August 4, 2008

SF Author, Critic, and Poet Thomas M. Disch, Died July 4th, 2008

Author Thomas M. Disch, who has been called one of the most important science fiction writers of his generation, fatally shot himself in the head on July 4th, according to the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Friends said he was found dead inside his New York apartment. He had been plagued by personal problems at the time. Noted science fiction editor Ellen Datlow reports that Disch had been depressed for several years, especially by the death of long-time partner Charles Naylor, and worries of eviction from his rent-controlled apartment.

Three of his novels, "Camp Concentration," "334" and "On Wings of Song" were named in "Science Fiction: The 100 Best Novels," a survey by critic David Pringle. Disch's nonfiction work "The Dreams Our Stuff is Made Of: How Science Fiction Conquered the World" received a Hugo Award in 1999.

Born 1940,in Des Moines, Iowa, Disch published first story "The Double-Timer" in 1962. Notable early stories included "Descending" (1964), "Come to Venus Melancholy" (1965), "The Roaches" (1965), "Casablanca" (1967), and "The Asian Shore" (1970). First novel The Genocides (1965) was followed by two others before publication of classic Camp Concentration (1968), about an inmate in a US concentration camp who's treated with experimental drugs. 334 (1974, a Nebula finalist) was a set of linked stories set in a New York city apartment complex, while On Wings of Song (1980, a Hugo and Nebula finalist and John W. Campbell Memorial Award winner), was a near-future satire about a device enabling talented singers to transcend their bodies. Disch also wrote TV series adaptation The Prisoner (1967). Story collections included Fun with Your New Head (1970), Getting Into Death (1975), Fundamental Disch (1980), and The Man Who Had No Idea (1982), which included notable stories "Getting Into Death" (1974), "The Man Who Had No Idea" (1978, Hugo nominee), and "Understanding Human Behavior" (1982, Nebula nominee).

Novella The Brave Little Toaster, first published in F&SF in 1980 and later issued in book form, won the Locus, Seiun, and British SF Association awards, and was adapted into a 1987 animated film. Disch published sequel The Brave Little Toaster Goes to Mars in 1988. Disch wrote two plays, Ben Hur (1989) and The Cardinal Detoxes (1990), as well as 1986 interactive software adventure Amnesia.

After 1980 collaboration Neighboring Lives with Charles Naylor, he wrote a quartet of contemporary horror novels: The Businessman: A Tale of Terror (1984), The M.D.: A Horror Story (1991, a Bram Stoker Award finalist), The Priest: A Gothic Romance (1994), and The Sub: A Study in Witchcraft (1999).

Disch was an acerbic, demanding SF critic, famous for defining science fiction as a branch of children's literature (in "The Embarrassments of Science Fiction", Science Fiction at Large, Peter Nicholls, ed., 1976) . His The Dreams Our Stuff Is Made Of, subtitled "How Science Fiction Conquered the World", won Hugo and Locus awards as nonfiction book of the year. Essay collection On SF was published 2005.

He wrote poetry, bylined "Tom Disch" -- his long poem "On Science Fiction" won the Rhysling Award in 1981 -- with several collection included Yes, Let's: New and Selected Poems (1989) and A Child's Garden of Grammar (1997), and edited several notable anthologies, from The Ruins of Earth (1971), Bad Moon Rising (1973), The New Improved Sun (1975), and two with Charles Naylor, New Constellations (1976) and Strangeness (1977).

Disch had recently been writing more actively, with three books scheduled for publication within a year: novella The Voyage of the Proteus, published last December; short novel The Word of God, published this month by Tachyon Publications; and collection The Wall of America due from Tachyon in October.

The 1993 Encyclopedia of Science Fiction wrote "Because of his intellectual audacity, the chillingly distanced mannerism of his narrative art, the austerity of the pleasures he affords, and the fine cruelty of his wit, [Disch] has been perhaps the most respected, least trusted, most envied and least read of all modern first-rank sf writers."