Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Doug Jones Leaps Into The Fray in "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army"

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

For someone who has done his share of big-budget, tentpole films, his latest being "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," actor Doug Jones can step out on the street and usually go unrecognized. But, it's no wonder since almost all of his parts have been masked by incredible make-up, special costuming, or computer-enhanced visuals. Not that the Indiana native is complaining; Jones's skill at using his body and facial gestures to give life to characters who are either silent or with faces and bodies so alien in appearance that it has made Jones the go-to guy for breathing life into such roles.

When that skill is enhanced by being in such a fanciful film as "Hellboy II" his performance becomes even more pertinent and compelling (he was also called on to do The Chamberlain and The Angel of Death in two scenes). In "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," the saga of the world’s toughest, kitten-loving Hell-bred hero continues to unfold with more muscles, badder weapons, and ungodly villains. After ruthless Prince Nuada (son of the Woodland King) kills his father and defies an ancient truce between humankind and the invisible realm of the fantastic, an apocalyptic war seems ready to erupt if the robotic Golden Army is unleashed. A member of The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, aquatic empath Abe Sapien joins fellow veterans Hellboy, pyrokinetic Liz Sherman and new director, the ectoplasmic Johann Krauss, to step into the hidden realm and defeat Nuada.

As envisioned by Oscar-winng Mexican director Guillermo del Toro ("Pan’s Labyrinth," "Hellboy," "Blade II"), the film arrives with an epic vision of imagination. The 40-something's attention to detail from the raft of intriguing creatures to the unique music makes for a a filmmaking vision that makes his films transcend the traditional hero flick. But because Del Toro is such a fan-boy in his own right he appreciates what both the general public and hardcore aficionados enjoy.

Though Jones shines in this sequel, he's done similarly rich performances from his starring role in "Fantastic Four: Rise of The Silver Surfer" to his idiosyncratic animated creature renditions in such films as "Lady in the Water" (Tartutic #4), "Men in Black II" (Joey), and "Batman Returns" (the Thin Clown) among many others. Now he's even being talked about as being the monster if Del Toro does his interpretation of "Frankenstein" and continues to do character roles in various movies and television shows. In the following exclusive interview, Jones enthusiastically discusses his unique career and its evolution.

Q: How has your aquatic character of Abe Sapien evolved?

DJ: You just get to see more of him, and in this particular installment of Hellboy, his emotional side is evolving. He’s always been sort of a Mr. Spock-like character, very intellectually driven. This time, his emotions are awakened because of a new love interest.

Our [enemy] in this film is Prince Nuada [played by Luke Goss], an elven prince from the underworld, and he’s risen to be our nemesis. He’s trying to make right what went wrong with his community against humans many, many moons ago. He has a twin sister, Princess Nuala (played by Anna Walton who is Cate Blanchett good, okay?). She’s amazing.

Nuala is the one who Abe finds out in the field on one of our little missions, and is immediately smitten by her. She also is a creature from another world, as is Abe. They have a bond of being misfits that are lost souls; that don’t quite know where they belong; and it’s really sweet and tender how they find each other. It becomes a part of the major plot that this subplot plays into.

Q: What was the experience of working on this "Hellboy?"

DJ: Because we’re more together as a team, I'm on screen more this time and Abe also gets a chance to wield a weapon and fight with bad guys; he didn’t really have that much prowess in the first film. I had a little tête-à-tête with [the demon] Sammael in the first movie, where he swiped me and I was running from him.

This time, I get to be a tad more macho, and my costume has been changed a little bit where they’ve added a lot [more definition]—I’m clad in leather a lot, and letting these muscles bulge through that the fan girls hopefully will appreciate. But all-in-all, it’s more colorful, there’s more sets.

Guillermo is one of those directors who likes to do as little computer graphics as possible. He uses them to enhance and flavor his film, but he likes to have the real set there, the real costumes, the real make-up, so there are critters and creatures aplenty that throw you back to the Hellboy comic books—the real world that artist/writer Mike Mignola created.

Q: Watching you is a fascinating study on how to use your hands as an actor to make a character come alive, that’s a key part to Abe.

DJ: It’s funny you say that because I’ve had more people recognize me from my hands than my face, honestly. It’s like, “Those hands! That’s gotta be—” Plus, my thumbs, this little knuckle on my thumb, for some reason is very noticeable. People tend to recognize the shape of my hand because I have this funny knuckle. It’s not that big of a deal to me, but it’s like, "That’s Doug’s thumb!"

Q: How did you meet Guillermo del Toro and get your first parts from him?

DJ: One afternoon in 1997 I was called by a creature-effects make-up shop, asking if I could come downtown that same night for a night shoot on a movie called "Mimic." Apparently, the film had been shot in Toronto, but they were now doing re-shoots here in Los Angeles, and the tall, skinny fellow they had in the insect-man mutant costume was still in Canada.

So there I was, donning this outfit and working for a total of three days on "Mimic." It wasn't until the second day that I met our director, a jolly Mexican man with bright, inquisitive eyes named Guillermo del Toro. This was his first big American studio film.

At lunch time that second day, he sat across the table from me and asked me all kinds of questions about my history acting in creature suits and make-ups, wondering which make-up artists' work I had worn. As I listed off most of the big make-up names in Hollywood, Guillermo turned into a geek fanboy in my very presence, telling me how much he loved all their work, while also filling me in on his own history, getting started as a creature-effects make-up artist in Mexico. He asked me for my card and stuck it in his wallet.

Well, five years later, I received another call from the wonderful Spectral Motion creature-effects shop. They had just been talking about me while looking at the approved design for Abe Sapien for the first "Hellboy" movie. Earlier that day, Mike Elizaldi, Steve Wang, and sculptor Jose Fernandez stepped back from the maquette, looked at Guillermo, and one of them said, "That looks like Doug Jones." Guillermo replied with, "Doug Jones... Doug Jones.... I know Doug Jones!" And he pulled my card out of his wallet.

Q: You went on to work on Del Toro's Oscar-winning "Pan's Labyrinth" as Fauno/Pale Man; how was it different from working on the "Hellboy" franchise?

DJ: The difference between these two films is that "Hellboy" was a big American studio film, and "Pan's Labyrinth" was a smaller budgeted foreign film done independently. When doing an indie film, Guillermo has so much more creative freedom and control over his own product. That's why he loves to do smaller indie films between his big ones, and that's why he was at the Oscars with six nominations for "Pan's Labyrinth."

When you let a genius create a masterpiece without over-processing it, this is what can happen. My involvement was simply brought to me by Guillermo, telling me that no one else could play the Faun, 'Pan', and that he needed me to also play the Pale Man, as he said, "In my sick mind, one is a creation or an extension of the other, so I need you to do both."

This film has become the most career-defining and most meaningful to me personally, as it was such gifted and unique storytelling that I was so honored to be a part of it. I have now decided that if Guillermo asked me to take a dump on film, I will take that dump with the full confidence that he will turn it into some amazing piece of art that we will be discussing this time next year.

Q: What do you know about more Hellboy films coming out?

DJ: Well, Guillermo del Toro has had "Hellboy 1," "2," and "3" in his mind ever since the beginning, so I do believe that "Hellboy 3" is coming. But, of course, with him now working on "The Hobbit" movie, I’m not sure how quick that's going to [happen], or when that will be. But, you know, we waited four years between "Hellboy Part One" and "Part Two," so it wouldn’t be unusual to do that again.

Q: In both "Fantastic Four" and "Hellboy," you worked with an ensemble, but in "Hellboy" you’re really part of the ensemble; in "Fantastic Four" you were a man alone, and there was a focus on you. As part of an ensemble, you had to fit in and become a character that’s part of a community; what was the difference for you?

DJ: Yeah, the Silver Surfer is very much a loner. He’s got all this angst and, you know, he made this sacrifice that put him into a life of lonely service. That’s how he became the Silver Surfer. So that was a completely different psyche to crawl into than Abe Sapien's, who is very much a team player. He’s a little brother to Hellboy. He’s a brother-in-law like annoyance to Liz Sherman. And he’s also risen up to be the brains of the operation in the absence of [Hellboy's adoptive father/guardian and founder of The BPRD] Professor Broom in "Part Two." We lost him in the first movie, played by John Hurt, who did a beautiful job.

So the team effort thing and being part of an ensemble cast was much more of a true feeling in "Hellboy" and "Hellboy II"—especially in "Hellboy II" because in this sequel Abe is much more a part of the team and we all go on the adventure together, whereas in the first movie I was this one-note intellect, sort of clairvoyant character that was useful, but once I got hurt, you lost me for the last third of the movie.

Q: What was it like hanging out with each community of actors?

DJ: The thing about the Hellboy family that sets it apart is that we are all freaks of nature, and, I think, in real life, too. Honestly, if you talk to Ron [Perlman] and to Selma [Blair] and talk to me, all of us have our insecurities that go above and beyond. We’re typical actors, but we’re also—we can put up a good bark, but behind it we might be—we connect with our characters quite well. And our characters don’t have an alter ego. We don’t get to be Bruce Wayne or Clark Kent by day. We’re stuck in our look, you know? We are our alter ago at the same time.

With the Fantastic Four, [they're] a bunch of beautiful people. They’re all pretty. They’re not freaks of nature; even in the lore of Fantastic Four, they’re celebrities in their community. They have a gift shop with t-shirts and all that. Well, the Hellboy community, we don’t. We’re a secret, tucked away, freak of nature sort of element, whereas Fantastic Four is very out there, very celebrity-driven, very pretty. So that does set it apart and make it different.

Q: The characters you have played have been in the middle, neither arch hero or arch villain.

DJ: Because of my look—I’m not Brad Pitt—I knew early on in my career that I was going to have to either be scary or funny. And with most of my roles, I have been both of those. That’s why doing a character like the Silver Surfer or Abe Sapien, those are the two times that I’ve actually gotten to be a handsome hero, but in a make-up that made me so.

The Abe Sapien thing is even more obscure because—that’s another Guillermo del Toro trait—he takes creatures that have an otherworldly look, but you can’t really relate to their look as much, but he gives them a humanity and a personality that we can relate to as humans. So he’s turned a demon from hell and a fish boy into handsome, leading, romantic males.

Q: You've been tapped for two iconic, major characters that will be in the psyche of the fan base for the rest of your life...

DJ: I don’t know why I’ve been so fortunate, honestly, to be a part of two "ginormous" franchises; it's just a real dream come true. Adding to that, being able to do more artistic films like "Pan’s Labyrinth" at the same time, being coupled up with Guillermo del Toro as a director and writer who loves working with me, and I love working with him, I’ve been very extremely blessed.

It’s nothing that I ever went out and sought. I thought I was going to be a sitcom star many years ago. That’s why I went to Hollywood, thinking I was going to be a goofy next-door neighbor, do armpit farts, say a funny line, and leave. But instead, the creature-effects world sort of found me early on when I played the Mac Tonight character for McDonald’s many years ago, the crescent moon with sunglasses, and I sang at a piano. Yeah, that was me. So that kind of got me hooked into being the guy who moves well, wears a lot of crap, and doesn’t complain.

Q: What do you do to give these characters life and make them something unique in their own right?

DJ: Wow, I should start boasting about myself [laughs]. No, I don’t know. I’ve always said that acting, for me, is a full-body experience because communication is a full-body experience, and I’m one person who has always talked with my hands, gestures, posture and body position, facial expressions a lot.

All of that comes into play in addition to your words. It speaks every bit as loud as your words do, and, having training as a mime back in college, which I don’t talk about much, because nobody likes a mime, do they, but that got me very much in tune with everything from the neck down, having to tell a story without props, a set, without words, and still be able to communicate something to an audience. So taking that mime training and then coupling it with roles that have dialogue and lots of make-up and everything has become my career, you know?

Q: You understand how to make a little gesture go a long way.

DJ: Less is more sometimes, yes. Again, my personality is very much "be big, be broad because no one is going to understand me unless I go really over the top." The Silver Surfer is so reserved and so confident in his strength because he’s got this cosmic power, that he doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody. That was the antithesis of Doug Jones, so he was quite a character study for me to do, to relax in the strength that the Surfer has within him, and securing myself that way.

That role also [involved] a posture change, that was something that I had to work on my core muscles and have a posture that started from my gut, that had a certain strength to it so that everything that came from me, whether it was flicking a hand to send a zap at somebody, or, gathering up strength to blow up at the end. Those are strength moves that I don’t usually carry with me, so I did have to delve into finding out how the Silver Surfer felt and moved, and his confidence was something that I really had to take in.

Q: Initially the Silver Surfer was going to be a CGI-generated fabricated creature, not a human being. You surprised everybody that there really was a person playing Silver Surfer.

DJ: Actually, you can tell from looking at the film, there was a lot of computer graphics used, but there is a difference between computer-generated characters and a computer-enhanced character. From where I was sitting, it felt very computer-enhanced, which means I came walking out of my trailer everyday in full make-up and a costume that looked exactly like the Silver Surfer.

The enhancements were put over me in post-production by Weta Digital, the company that did The Lord of The Rings trilogy and King Kong" beautiful work, but my costume and the design of the Silver Surfer was made by Spectral Motion, the company that brought to you Abe Sapien from "Hellboy." They were the same make-up artists and everything.

Mike Elizalde, who was the head of the company that put me all together, and Jose Fernandez did a beautiful job of sculpting me, so there was just a lovely team effort there, and I’ve never been in a role before like this, that combined practical effects that you glued onto yourself on set and the visual effects were added later, so it was a combo platter of beauty, and some shots, yes, were completely computer-generated, some of the action sequences, much like was done in "Spiderman."

When you would see Tobey Maguire put his hood down and then go flying off in between buildings and you could tell that was a CG character. With the Silver Surfer, it was the same thing, but in other shots there is no CG at all, when I was powered down, lost my board, and was tarnished, that was me in a rubber suit and make-up. So it was a complete combo platter.

Q: What about your own Silver Surfer movie?

DJ: I wish I had more information to tell you about this. The hope is that there would be a Silver Surfer solo movie one day, and I am contracted for two more films, as was standard in doing a franchise type movie. You know, a three-picture deal is kind of standard. So there are two more options for me. If they want to exercise those options or not is up to 20th Century Fox. There is talk of J. Michael Straczynski ["Babylon Five" creator] having written a beautiful script for a solo movie. Whether or not it happens is going to be a matter of time and interest from the public and the studio going forward with it. Let’s hope it happens.

Q: You were in "Tank Girl" and several other films; I knew you’re there but I didn’t realize it was you.

DJ: In "Tank Girl," I was one of the Rippers with Ice-T who was also playing a Ripper. We were these half-man/half kangaroo mutants, and Malcolm McDowell, was the nemesis in that film. He was the bad guy that we were all fighting.

I did a small cameo in "Adaptation," which is one of my favorite films ever. I played Augustus Margary. It was a flashback and I was one of the orchid hunters that was lost in the field, killed in the field, that they were doing a flashback to from the book, from the adaptation of the book.

Yes, I was also in "The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle." Robert DeNiro had me and two other FBI agents in captivity and turned us into vegetables. There was a potato; there was a radish; and I was the carrot. So as you can see, I’m tall and reddish [laughter]. I’ve come a long way since then.

Q: What about this indie film you are doing next?

DJ: The next thing I’m starting in a few weeks is a small independent film, "My Name is Jerry," which is going to be filming back in my home state of Indiana. I’m playing the role of Jerry, a middle-aged white guy who is going through a bit of a mid-life coming-of-age story. He needs a reason to reinvent himself out of his boring, dull, mundane life and ends up finding himself drawn to the punk rock world because of a couple of kids he meets, and they draw him into this. Meanwhile, his daughter he hasn’t communicated with in 10 years moves back home with him, and so there’s a lot of cross issues and a wonderfully woven story.

Also coming up, that starts filming soon, but coming out in October I have a cameo in a movie called "Quarantine," Sony Pictures Screen Gems, kind of a horror element, one camera, reality looking show, and you’ll find a little surprise at the end of the movie. That would be me. That’s all I can say.

Then I have a cameo in a movie called "Legion" with Dennis Quaid, Paul Bettany, and Tyrese Gibson. I’m kind of a page-turning character from Act II to Act III. My character shows up; I’m the Ice Cream Man, which you think is a happy-sounding thing, but picture a clown with a knife in his hand. That’s kind of what I’m going to be in that, sort of this Ice Cream Man that’s not quite right.

I'm really excited about this next thing—I finished doing the Skin and Bones episode of "Fear Itself," a new show on NBC. My episode will be airing sometime in August, with director Larry Fessenden at the helm, and he did a wonderful job. It’s a great story; I play a wealthy ranch owner who’s been missing in the mountains for ten days. I come home at the top of the show, and I’m not quite right again. I’m possessed with something that inhabited me in the mountains, and you’ll see what happens. The show and my ranch home turns into something like "The Shining."

Q: When people meet you are they surprised that you’re so tall?

DJ: They’re surprised at how tall I am and at how skinny I am; I wear lots of muscle suits. And they’re also surprised at how nice I am because sometimes I play scary characters, too. So I hope I keep getting that comment from people.

Another Happening From Director M. Night Shyamalan

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

Like his work or not, director M. Night Shyamalan employs big ideas and challenges himself and his viewers with unusual and dark storylines while a unique framework to express them. After his incredible success with "The Sixth Sense," "Unbreakable" and "Signs," he was hailed as a youthful wunderkind with a special skill at fashioning supernatural thrillers with a twist. Rightly or wrongly, he was saddled with the idea that his films always had to have a trick ending, a secret to be revealed, and each film needed to be marketed in the same way. But then his last couple of films under-performed spectacularly, and Shyamalan was chastened. So when he landed at Fox with his recent summer film, "The Happening," he was under scrutiny of the studio.

Although known as a purveyor of big-budgeted genre pictures, Shyamalan was able to make "The Happening" for a relatively modest budget (approximately $30 million) with a cast of quality actors who don't necessarily draw in the tentpole audiences. Yet, despite the pressure to perform, Shyamalan has made one strange film.

One thing this 37 year old Indian-born writer/director understands is that by basing his films on the realm of fantasy, science fiction, and the supernatural he draws the mythological aura these genres suggest. Like Stephen King, Shyamalan tells stories filled with ordinary middle-class people thrown into very bizarre, life-threatening situations that test their ability to grasp consensus reality and find solutions.

In this case, planetary vegetation has somehow reacted to our civilization as an ecological threat and developed a suicide inducing pheromone that gets released near large populations. Almost as if the flora has joined forces to express a warning, certain heavily populated areas of the East Coast are plagued by a lemming-like wave of gruesome deaths, starting with an opening sequence weirdly reminiscent of actual scenes of 9/11 death leaps.

Into this scenario comes his key cast members—Mark Wahlberg (Elliot), John Leguizamo (Julian), and Zooey Deschanel (Alma)—who grapple with this frightening and unexplainable event. Once exposed to these unexplained suicides, this trio, and Julian's daughter, tries to escape the cities and survive by isolating themselves from society at large.

Shyamalan discussed this and more in a recent session before several journalists.

Q: How does this storyline reflect your worldview?

MNS: You know, all these movies, they're all a little bit like therapy—about something that's bothering me or family things. I'm always working them in, in a journal-like way. But [this film] does represent things that are on my mind [right now]. I think everybody in our generation is starting to worry about these types of things. Certainly in an election year, you think about the future.

It's interesting, this slew of end-of-the-world movies. There's an anxiety that's in the air, and it sort of mimics the '50s, the same kinds of anxieties that were about our future. Where are we headed? Are we going in the right direction? Is it too late to change course? [I had that] all in the back of my head. I never thought I was actually all that serious a person. But when I sit down to write, I guess more adult things come out.

Q: Born in India, a transplanted South Asian of Hindu descent, your non-western experiences seems to have influenced you. Plants having a consciousness is a non-western world view; is that part of the spiritual side to this film?

MNS: Definitely. It's interesting because of the Native American culture—that's all it's about. My middle name, Night, it's an American Indian name. That is what I felt so attached to when I was a kid—from the American Indian culture—the relationship to nature, and worshipping the sky, the earth, and the rocks.

As a kid, that relationship felt correct, and it feels correct now as an adult. It's interesting how in all our religions, so little is said about how we should feel towards nature. It's an interesting thing to kind of get the hierarchy back in line. We're just one of many living creatures on the planet.

I had this conversation [with some of the cast]. They asked, "What were you thinking about?" I said, "Jesus." They said, "What?!"

Q: Your main protagonist, a science teacher, is discussing limits of rational thought by the end of the film...

MNS: Well, I was reading the Einstein biography when I was writing the screenplay. I don't know if you've read it. It's just fantastic. The new one by Walter Isaacson ["Einstein: His Life and Universe" (2007)] is a beautiful, beautiful book. One of the things I was struck by—and when you read the book you may not even see that it's in there, but I saw it there—was that Einstein was this guy [who first] rejected religion and became atheistic, did his wondrous things in his 20s, and got really into it. Then in the gaps in science he started seeing a hand, you know? In his point of view, the hand of God. A divine kind of "Is there something there?"

His life struggle was finding an overall formula, an overall thing that could define the design of things, and a belief that it was there. Then he became very religious. The ultimate man of science became a man of faith.

In a way, when I was writing Elliot [played by Mark Wahlberg], it affected Elliot. He's just a high school science teacher. He has plenty of gaps in his knowledge of science. I said, "You're just a regular science teacher. You're not going to be the hero that figures out something. It's not like that. But you see in those gaps…" He honors those things in the gap.

That's why it felt like Mark was the right casting, because obviously he's a man of faith. Because there are things that we don't know. The lack of need to define it in the closest category is something inspiring when I see that in somebody, whether it's Einstein or Elliot's character or Mark. And so it is a question of science to almost give evidence to something else.

Q: You have a math teacher, a science teacher and his psychologist wife a playing these roles...?

MNS: The movie's really about the state of where we are now in the world—the paranoia, how we feel toward strangers, to each other, to other countries, to everything in the sense that we don't trust anybody. I was saying that Mrs. Jones is the ultimate version of that character—if she kept on going, she would close off everything and distrust everybody. So we went that way in talking about her.

Really, that's the part of me that wants to protect myself, and jokes about it, and tries to undermine it. But it's really a delicate thing for me to go, "It's better to protect myself. Let me protect myself like everybody else is protecting themselves." Which is exactly the opposite of what I tell my kids.

I tell them, "Be completely vulnerable. Take every hit you can because that'll allow you to feel all those great things that are going to come—love, joy, creativity—all that stuff. It will always outweigh the amount of hits you're going to get. Although you want to protect yourself from those little hits."

Really, the struggle of the movie was her struggle—which is my struggle—which is, "Is this person an appropriate way to be?" Which is the way I am naturally. "Is this an appropriate way to be, or is this the right way to be?" The struggle of whether to question it or not. John's character is… the guy with the numbers. It always comforts me to give numbers: "There's a 34% chance that we're going to be okay."

Again, in many ways, they're similar, because he sees beauty in math as well. So when he tells that story when they're dying in the jeep… he tells that beautiful riddle and says, "If you just double that penny at the end of the month you'll have over $10 million." It's amazing, the properties of math. And he tries one last time to teach this girl in the jeep [who is freaking out], "Isn't math wondrous? Do you want to hear one more story about it?"

Again, they each see something kind of bigger in their fields. Whereas Alma's the person deciding whether the world is that way, or if it's really a kind of crappy place. Literally, it was an agenda.

I know this sounds silly, but I wanted to put the most likable cast that I could possibly put at the center or the movie. You can get a great actor, but if they come from a dark place, and then if you put them at the center of this dark movie, the movie would just become unbearable.

[This cast] all comes from a place—they don't know why they do it, but that's their gift—they come from a place of light, all three of them. And to put those guys, and all the rest of the cast—even Betty Buckley, who chose to play Mrs. Jones—trying to have light... And then it just messes up. A whole cast of actors coming from light was right at the center. That's why the movie, even though it's so dark, has such a great light to it. When I wrote the characters, they all had some aspects of me, of things I was struggling with or thinking about. Zooey's character is the person that's scared to be vulnerable. They're all scared to be vulnerable, and use humor to deflect that feeling of "I don't want to risk myself."

Q: Is it possible to make a popcorn flick with a serious and important message?

MNS: Yeah, definitely. One of the things that I said to everybody, the cast and crew, "This is a B-movie here. Let's get ourselves straight here. This is just a grade B movie. We're making the best B movie that we can here, that's our job.

If the movie has something that sticks with you, great. But we're not going to put that in front of the movie. We're going to have a lot of fun. It's a paranoia movie. We just need to pound away. That's our job."

I was really clear about that. So in that way, it was meant to be entertainment. I think one reporter asked, "How come you just don't go make a pure popcorn movie and then go make your art movie? It seems like you want to do [both in one film]."

The problem is that both are my instincts, to have one [foot] in each place, which sometimes pisses off one group and sometimes pisses off the other group. My wife says, "Just make one or the other." I wish I could, but as it ends up, I think about all these kinds of spiritual things. And I do love cheeseburgers and I do "Seinfeld" and I do love Coca-Cola and I do love Michael Jordan. It's just me.

So if I took one side away—the side that really loves to read about philosophy—and pretend that side didn't exist, it would be a lie. And if I pretended I wasn't jumping up and down watching the Celtics last night, that would be a lie as well. So it's that balancing act. I keep trying to be honest here.

Q: To get that mix, this film got an R rating.

MNS: I got an R on two other movies—on "The Sixth Sense" and "The Village." I got an R initially, for the intensity of certain scenes. We were right on the line, and I could always just pull back and resubmit it so they go, "Oh, that's much better." All I did was take out some sound effects. It's always the impact; the emotion was different than what I actually showed. But this one, with the screenplay I wrote, there was just no way to do it any other way.

One of the movies I was thinking about was "Pan's Labyrinth." I was thinking about it a lot when I made the decision, because I didn't want to make it as an agenda. You want to make an organic decision about what does the material want to do. And when I thought about "Pan's Labyrinth"—which had visceral moments of violence juxtaposed against the softer things that are going on against the canvas—it gave it authority and some teeth. For me, a PG-13 version of "Pan's Labyrinth" wouldn't have had that kind of impact.

It wouldn't have stayed with me the way that movie has stayed with me. And so it felt like the right balance of things. It was exciting, and it was disturbingly easy to shoot all those scenes. I had such a fun time.

Q: What are your greatest fears in real life?

MNS: I've changed my thinking, and my analysis of fear has come down to the factor of being alone. It's all based on versions of that. Take random things that you're scared of… "I'm scared to fly" or you're scared of the new job that you have. It's all related to the feeling of "I'm going to have emotions, and no one else will have those emotions. I'll be alone in some manner."

So if you're scared of flying but if you talk to the pilot or talk to somebody else, you don't feel as scared. It's the human connection. You're not alone anymore, you have commonality. And I've said that art, I believe, is the ability to convey that we're not alone. That's the power of art. It's always been in our genetics, since we were cave people. Fear protects us—"Don't go down that road, you'll be alone. We don't know what's down that road. You'll be alone. Being alone is not good. Together we're safer."

And the person that didn't have that [reaction], didn't survive, right? Now it's flipped on us and become a limiting factor. We're scared to put our kids in the backyard now because our neighbors might do something. But our neighbors are wonderful people; the assumption is wrong.

It's the same that it was when I was a kid running around on a bike. We're so much more scared now, but nothing has changed. Nothing has changed, except for fear. And the fear builds on itself, because we get more and more isolated like Mrs. Jones, until your fear has been realized—you're all alone.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman Team Up For "The Strangers"

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

There are interview opportunities and there are interview opportunities.

Consider the circumstances that came up in covering this horror/suspense film, "The Strangers." When a movie is made by an unknown, first-time director with two actors who have been out of the spotlight for awhile, interviewing the stars together is usually a pain. It can dilute the dialogue and allow the two actors to mess around rather than offer insights that interviewers are supposed to look for in asking the questions. Well, this time a quartet of interviewers got a bit of both: a little fooling around and some insightful comments.

Inspired by "a true story" (so the film is tagged), a great trailer suggests a film that ratchets the personal anxiety up through an attack by three insidious strangers who decide to threaten and eventually slash a couple—played by Liv Tyler and Scott Speedman—late at night in an isolated summer home in some unknown vacation town.

After being a crucial member of the "Lord of The Rings" trilogy and the hot girlfriend/daughter in the sci-fi disaster flick, "Armageddon," Tyler established herself among the genre-geeks. Then a marriage, child-bearing, and pending divorce took her out of the spotlight until the release of this film; that and the success of the tentpole superhero movie, "The Incredible Hulk," proves that Tyler is not just back in form but proving that the break did her good.

Speedman had garnered his fan creds as well, by playing the werewolf/vampire hybrid in the "Underworld" series, as well as playing characters in various genre flicks as "Anamorph," "Weirdsville," and the swanky sequel to "xXx."

LT: Oh my god, talk about fears! [Doing this] is more terrifying than this movie was.

Q: Did you watch a bunch of horror flicks to prepare for this film?

SS: Bryan got us to watch stuff, right? What did he want us to watch?

LT: The things that I watched… "Rosemary's Baby," and we both watched "Halloween."

SS: Yeah. "Halloween." Jamie Lee Curtis in "Halloween" was a good one to watch.

LT: What was that weird one? It was a really dodgy movie... Two girls get kidnaped? Yeah, they're in the city and they get taken to the country, and it's really disturbing, and they're like naked—

SS: Oh yeah? That sounds really cool!

LT: Never mind! We did watch other movies—

SS: "Texas Chainsaw Massacre"—

LT: Didn't we watch "A Woman Under the Influence?"

SS: We were supposed to… [laughs]

LT: When I was a kid I was pretty obsessed with horror movies. It was my favorite thing to watch, and I remember seeing that for the first time and being like, "Okay! I'm done with the horror movie genre!" It really scared me so much.

SS: They're fun movies...

LT: We both read the script [of this film] and fell in love with it— it's really a drama—and it's a story about a couple going through a not-so-perfect situation, and they just happened to be happened upon by these three people.

SS: Bad people.

LT: Very, very bad people.

Q: How did director Bryan Bertino keep you in the mood so you weren't stressed out during the shooting of the film?

SS: It felt like we were stressed out the entire time. That was what was so tough and exhausting about it, was keeping up that fear and anxiety level every day. The whole thing takes place over five hours. If that to me is our job, he can't really do anything to get us there. I feel like that's our responsibility to get there every day.

LT: He really created an environment that was really specific to what he wanted. He would give us music to listen to and show us photographs, and that house was THE house he dreamt up in his mind. He was really clear about that and talked us through it extensively. Then he just kind of let us go.

There were moments when he was cautious about not interfering, because he would see us so upset and disturbed and he didn't want to get involved. He created everything for us and then just stood back and watched, in a way. He was very clear with us not to be campy in any way, humorous, but very real and bleak and absolutely terrifying.

Q: Were you surprised by his self-assurance considering this was his first time directing?

SS: It was kind of nice to have that. That's what you don't want with a first time director, is somebody who's not cock-sure. It was nice to have somebody so confident.

LT: [Laughs] I mean it depends on who you're working with, but this was different. It was just Scott and I and Brian and a small crew. It was a very intimate and very small experience for all of us, and it was just really emotional for everybody. There wasn't ever a light day. And for the crew it was emotional as well. There were days where I'd shoot certain things and I'd come outside and my poor hair and makeup people would have tears in their eyes or be shocked.

Q: Did you read stories in the paper similar to this one?

LT: Well, there was a story a year ago. But the movie was possibly going to come out a year ago, and I remember a story in the paper right at that time that was quite similar.

SS: Really? What do you remember? Where was it?

LT: I don't remember. I have two stories, but one is too personal to talk about because it is terribly sad—but it's not about me. The other one is about my stepfather, Todd Rundgren [the New York Dolls producer and legendary musician], who used to live in Woodstock. Two people broke into his house in the '70s. They tied him and his girlfriend, Bean, who was pregnant with my brother Rex at the time, to a chair and held them at gunpoint. I think one of them pistol whipped Todd, which is horrible. There was nothing stolen, there was really no reason, it wasn't a crime of passion. But things like this happen a lot and often they're really random.

Q: What's it like being in a movie made for under $10 million?

LT: The lower the budget, the lower your salary! That's how it works. We didn't really care. It's not about that. It's an amazing, wild, wacky collaboration of a bunch of gypsies making a movie, no matter how big or small.

I just did "The Hulk" and it's the same thing, but there was a lot more stuff to blow up and a lot more time to do it. And actually, I wouldn't say the catering was any better, frankly. We were in Toronto… Just kidding! But it's the same experience.

Q: I imagine your experience with this film gave you a lot more input than with "The Incredible Hulk?"

LT: I actually had a lot of input in "The Incredible Hulk" too. I mean, it's a collaboration, but I don't mean to be cocky about it. I mean, it depends on who you're working with, but this was different. It was just Scott and I and Brian and a small crew. It was a very intimate and very small experience for all of us, and it was just really emotional for everybody. There wasn't ever a light day. And for the crew it was emotional as well. There were days where I'd shoot certain things and I'd come outside and my poor hair and makeup people would have tears in their eyes or be shocked.

Q: As for "The Hulk"—did you go back and watch Ang Lee's movie to see what Jennifer Connelly did?

SS: Are you playing the same person?

LT: Yes I am, Miss Betty Ross. I mostly went back and watched the television show, which was one of my favorite things my mom and I used to watch all the time.

Q: What did you want to bring to the Bruce/Betty relationship?

LT: The story's completely different. There's nothing similar about the stories, or even the characters in many ways. I would say the essence of the image of that lone figure of Bruce Banner walking down the street alone with his little backpack, hitchhiking—the misunderstood hero having to move on to another town type of thing—was more of the overall feeling for the film. But the story is completely different. Edward Norton wrote the screenplay. I was really happy, because I was offered the part and had to decide if I was going to be in the movie before I ever read the script. So the script was very well-written, and he wrote a great part for me.

Q: Unfortunately, word has it that there is some acrimony now between Edward Norton and the producers. Was that evident on the set?

LT: No. This was a real collaboration for everyone. Edward wrote the screenplay and they agreed to his story. He was really involved, as were we all, and I think the misunderstandings that happened were reached in the editing. I think that basically, at a certain point Marvel just decided to edit the movie that they wanted to, and possibly Edward disagreed with some of those things. But I can't speak for them. It's not a big deal. It's the same movie. There's nothing crazily different about it.

Q: Did you get to meet the actor who played the original Hulk on television, Lou Ferrigno?

LT: I did not. He came to the set one day, and I believe it was, amazingly , one of the only days in the three or four months where I had a half a day somehow, and I didn't get to stay to meet him. I really wanted to.

Q: Is there anything you haven't done in this business that you'd like to do?

LT: Wow. I would looove to do a musical. That's like the dream of my whole life. I always wanted to be a singer, or get to sing in some kind of capacity. I haven't been able to do that, and I'd love to do that. I like the idea of the Old Hollywood singing and dancing—there's something so fabulous and fantastic about that. Actually, I recorded a song [recently] with my friend—I don't know if it will ever come out. My friend Evan Dando [of The Lemonheads] asked me to sing a Leonard Cohen song called "Hey, That's No Way to Say Goodbye."

I worked all year—I just did three movies in a row, and I finished "The Incredible Hulk" in November and then took a little break because I was a little exhausted. Now I'm excited to see what happens next.

LT: Scott, what is one thing you'd like to do, and what do you have coming up next?

SS: Well, Ms. Tyler, I have no idea. Definitely NOT a musical! That is one thing you will never see me do. You wouldn't be very happy about that! I've got a movie called "Adoration" [directed by Canadian auteur Atom Egoyan] coming out at some point, I don't know when.

Q: Would you revisit doing a horror film again?

LT: Of course.

SS: Yeah, absolutely.

LT: This was a tremendous experience for me, and I would be thrilled to have another experience equally as good, if not better again.

Q: Have you ever been in a situation where you were by yourself and were scared?

LT: Oh yeah, all the time. Absolutely. That's what's so real about this movie. We've all been in bed at night, trying to relax, and all of a sudden you hear a [she hits the table] and you're like, "What was that!" And it's like, are you brave enough to go and check or not? Bryan used to always say that to us, "Imagine if you got up and went and looked and there's nothing ever there and your girlfriend is in bed and suddenly one day you go out and look, and someone is there, with a mask on, standing with a butcher knife in your living room?

SS: Yeah, that would suck. That would be really, really scary.

Director Alex Gibney Goes Gonzo on "Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, His Life and Work"

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

At a time when we need counter-culture heroes more than ever, Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney's "Gonzo-The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson" explores in a relatively unvarnished fashion Rolling Stone magazine's late wild man of journalism and a counter-culture icon. During Thompson's heyday, he challenged assumptions about journalists and politicians alike in both his writing and drug-infused lifestyle. When he hit his stride, his rambling "Fear and Loathing" essays in Rolling Stone provided a counter-culture journalistic response to the world's insanities at the time.

While Thompson was hardly a model of virtue—a gun-toting, foul-mouthed, intoxicated madman who so declined creatively and physically that he committed suicide in 2005 at 67—he became a mythic figure of his time ("Doonesbury" creator Garry Trudeau's even based Uncle Duke on Thompson's alter-ego Raoul Duke). What saved him from irrelevance was both his remarkable prose and insights into the hypocrisies of both mainstream political and culture figures as well as those on the cutting edge.

Though not quite as politically charged as his two previous films, "Taxi to The Dark Side" and "Enron: The Smartest Guys in The Room," veteran documentarian Gibney manages to connect Thompson's vision and history with Gibney's own dark outlook on American society today. In some ways, Gibney sees his semi-cynical take on human behavior as mirrored in both Thompson's work and life as well. Before a small roundtable of journalists, Gibney recently discussed his experience with Hunter's life and death.

Q: Did you ever meet Hunter S. Thompson before making this film?

AG: No, so I was the perfect person to do the film because I didn't know him from Adam. I read his work—I knew Hunter's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" and the "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail" books from long ago—and had followed the exploits of the Good Doctor from time to time, so I was amused.

But it just seemed to me, when I was approached to do the film by [Vanity Fair editor] Graydon Carter and the folks at HDNet, that it would be interesting to do a film about a guy who didn't play by the
journalistic rules at a time when the journalistic rules were being used against journalists by people in power.

When he died, it was right around the time it was revealed that Jeff Gannon, the sometime male prostitute, was posing as a White House journalist, and had been given a press credential by the Bush administration to ask these kind of puffball questions: "Oh Mr. President, isn't it terrible the way these people are treating you?"

You need a Hunter to dig into stuff like that—somebody who's not afraid to insult, make fun of, so it seemed like a good time.

Q: Both you and Thompson seem to have shared a similar sense of political awareness and concern.

AG: The political element in Hunter's writing was certainly there. But it was also frankly—he was just so funny. I thought it would be fun to have some fun with Hunter. In my office there are two cutting
rooms: one I used for "Taxi to the Dark Side," and one for "Gonzo". So it was nice to be able to go back and forth.

"Taxi" was very, very dark, and actually some of that darkness helped rudder the Hunter film in a darker direction at times. But [doing "Gonzo"] was also a respite from "Taxi" because initially, the attempt with "Taxi" was to try to put some of that dark comedy that had been in "Enron" into "Taxi," and there were elements that'll probably be on the DVD extras or whatever. But in the film itself, once this poor kid's legs get pulpified by these much bigger guys in a prison in Afghanistan, there wasn't much room for humor, and properly so.

Q: There seems to be a parallel between the Dick Nixon administration and George W. Bush's administration.

AG: Hunter, personally and in his writing, intuited the great contradiction in the American character, between this sense of possibility and idealism, and the dark side, or what he called "Fear and Loathing."

What both Nixon and Bush were able to do effectively was to stir that sense of fear and loathing in a certain portion of the American public, to remind them how afraid they should be, and how people were trying to take stuff away from them.

That's how they would get elected. Not by appealing to a sense of possibility or idealism, but to appeal to their sense of fear and rage,and sometimes to inchoate rage. And that's something that Nixon did very well, as did Bush.

Q: Are there any journalists who are writing today that you consider comparable to what he was doing?

AG: Well, he was such a giant. At his height, from 1965 to 1975, he had it all: the sense of humor, the sense of anger, and the peculiar kind of literary excellence; he just had this way with words that was extraordinary. So he was a blogger, really—in particular, the "Campaign Trail" book was a precursor to blogging—but he blogged at a pretty high level in terms of the use of language.

But there are people who use anger today… I would say Jon Stewart and [Stephen] Colbert have a kind of anger about the way things are, but they express it through satire and comedy, and also by using real events that they say, "Oh, look at this! Look what they said two months ago! This person's a liar." And that's what you need.

You feel the evidence of Hunter's influence, but you don't see somebody who's doing it like Hunter was able to do it. You know, the channel is so bifurcated now. Rolling Stone was an underground magazine when Hunter was writing for it, but it was also a national magazine—everyone was reading it. It wasn't just. "Oh my page opens to this blogger or that blogger." He had this broad sweep of people.

Q: What about some of Hunter's contemporaries like "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" author Tom Wolfe?

AG: Wolfe was interesting. He had a more ironic sense of detachment. With [bohemian writer Ken] Kesey and "The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test" he did hang out with those guys for a while, but… yeah, Tom Wolfe was another character like that—somebody who combined journalism and literature.

Q: Was there anyone you would've liked to meet besides Hunter?

AG: I would've loved to have met Kesey ["One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"]. We're doing a film now about Kesey and the [Merry] Pranksters, and he was apparently an extraordinarily charismatic guy.

Q: How was it interviewing politicians like former Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern?

AG: He was a very decent man, and you felt like you were getting the truth [from him]. It was a weird day, because in the morning, I interviewed him—in the same hotel suite—[that I interviewed former Republican presidential candidate] Pat Buchanan in the afternoon! And Pat came in, and was like, "Where's George?" He wanted to hang with McGovern—the guy who he had beaten to a political pulp in '72.

And [former President Jimmy] Carter was fascinating. We had thought we would have had a tremendous amount of difficulty getting to Carter,but he accepted right away and gave us a lot of time.

He told us a very funny story that we couldn't put in the movie, for no particularly good reason. But Hunter had gone to interview Carter after this University of Georgia thing in '75, and he spent three days with Carter and Roslyn and hung out with them. Just the idea of Hunter and Carter hanging out for three days…

Anyway, Hunter had this fantastic interview, and he was going to go back to Woody Creek [Colorado] and write it up, and then went on vacation or something. When he got back, he realized he lost the
tapes! So he calls up Carter's people and goes, "You know, I fucked up, I lost the tapes. Can we do it again?" By this time, Carter's taking off, so they're like, "I'm not sure we want Hunter… we want to control the message a little more," so they put him off.

Then he finally went down to wherever they were traveling around in the country, and he was trying to hunt down Jody Powell [Carter's assistant]. He finds him in his room and Powell won't answer the door,so Hunter lights a fire under his door—literally—and starts burning down the door! Carter had to be called from upstairs to come and calm Hunter down, help put out the fire [laughs].

Q: Did Hunter get a chance to talk with Carter further?

AG: Not as much as he wanted. He certainly didn't get his three days again.

Q: Did Johnny Depp regale you with any Hunter stories, since the two were so close when you were working with on the film?

AG: [Laughs] They were very close. Working with Johnny Depp was a brief experience, but it was a good one. It was the kind of thing where, under tremendous pressure, he comes into town, does his thing, and goes out again. So, there wasn't a lot of hang-time.

But Johnny loved Hunter. He feels deeply connected to him because there was a room in the basement of Hunter's house called "Johnny's Room"—it was a small, garret-like room with a cot and a slit for a window, and that's where [Depp] lived for a month or so just before [making the film] "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas." You can see in the film, one of the interesting things that's shot, and it's in Johnny's house, in this bar, that was one of Hunter's favorite places; he's wearing Hunter's shirt.

Q: What was it like hanging out with [artist] Ralph Steadman?

AG: He is a fascinating character and was transformed by Hunter—by Hunter and maybe, the drugs. When he gave Ralph psilocybin I think his world kind of changed. It was so much fun to hang out with Ralph.

I went to his place in Kent [England] and he has this big studio in the back of his property, and you inhabit this world. You walk through four or five huge rooms filled with drawings and little artifacts from here and there. He has this wild imagination. He's a great raconteur and storyteller with a very dark sense of humor.

But it was great to see those earlier drawings before meeting Hunter—B.H. and A.H.—they're very sort of uptight. Now he has this ability—it's just like the poster, I mean he took that photograph of Hunter and said, "I'm going to defile it!" I had him sign a book for me and he signs it, and then he takes the pen and goes "thwack!"

Q: How much of Hunter's drug-taking has been exaggerated, or is it accurate? And how did it inform his writing? Do you think that's why his writing quality diminished over the years?

AG: Well, it enhanced it at first, and over time, it diminished it. I think the thing that really got to him in the end was the booze. He was drinking every day, all the time. But the early brushes with hallucinogens opened him up for free association and things like that. But a lot of people [did them] during that time—Kesey wrote "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" while he was on acid; or [Bob] Dylan, who claims he didn't use drugs, though I don't think so. But for a long time, the key drug for Hunter was speed, and then as it got into the '80s, it became coke.

Q: He wasn't much for deadlines.

AG: Deadline writer, right. Even though he almost never made a deadline, he'd go on these writing jags, and then he'd smoke a joint to get an idea while he was on speed, and then he'd be drinking. I think it was real, but at the same time, he was also doing it for effect. So it wasn't like the drugs were talking in the writing—that was Hunter.

For a long time he was a very disciplined guy. He was the guy who typed The Great Gatsby on his own just to feel what it would be like typing those words. I think he was purposely exaggerating it as well, so you would have this sense that he was this larger-than-life character. At the same time, he became a drug action hero because he had this capacity for ingesting this stuff that nobody else had.

As ["Boys on The Bus" author and former Rolling Stone writer] Tim Crouse says in the film, "You'd see it go in, but it didn't seem to have any discernible effect." I think that Hunter may have been bipolar, and that he was self-medicating to get this even keel. And over time, he would only get 15 minutes of lucidity in a day, and then it would go down.

Q: Was there anything you unearthed during your research that really shocked you?

AG: At four or five in the morning he would do these long, tape-recorded monologues. And he would take tapes that he had recorded out in the field and would play them, and make a little commentary about them, and then he'd play a little music, and that would become part of his tape. He would make a little "movie of the mind." We're going to actually release a five-CD box set of some of those tapes.

Q: Have Hunter's second wife Anita and his son Juan seen the film, and if so, how have they responded to it?

AG: I was talking to Juan last night, and he said he liked it very much. It was difficult for him to watch it the first time, through. I know Anita likes him. You know they all have little issues with it, but I gave them and the estate a lot of credit, because they really opened up this material to me, and I was an outsider. The one person I really haven't heard from yet is Sandy [Hunter's first wife], and I would like to.

Q: One of the biggest events in Hunter's life was his suicide, but you chose not to include a lot about it in the film. Was it the ultimate act of nihilism on Hunter's part?

AG: None of us ever really knows why someone commits suicide. Hunter was in poor health, the alcohol was really taking its toll on him, and his mood was getting darker and darker and darker. Some people say it was the Bush/Kerry election; well, maybe that was part of it. But I also think, physically and mentally he was just heading downhill.

Yet suicide is also a narcissistic act. We juxtapose Juan and Sandy, who have very different views about his suicide. Juan says it's kind of a mythic thing—that he knew how he was going to go out, he just didn't know when, and he chose a moment when everyone was there. Well, it's a little weird when you take a gun to your head when your grandson is in the next room…

Q: …And you're on the phone with your wife.

AG: It was the act of a narcissist, and it was also a guy who was thinking about his legacy rather than the people around him. So it wasn't a pretty picture.

Q: How did Hunter's celebrity affect him?

AG: It's sad that sometimes you get to that point where you become a celebrity. I have to say, as nice a guy that he was, I was a little astounded by all the attention paid to [the late NBC "Meet The Press" host] Tim Russert recently. Some people were saying, "It was like when JFK died." I don't think so. He was a talk show host! And he was a journalist, and the job of the journalist is to get the story, not to be part of this celebrity club so that you're honored by other celebrities.

That's the great trap, and Hunter fell into that trap, too. He had this celebrity club that would just come to his house in Woody Creek, and it would all be hangout time. I think it's a hard task when you become a celebrity and you still have to operate as a journalist. It's not easy to do, and I'm not sure how many people still do it effectively.

You can even see it with somebody like [CNN international correspondent] Christiane Amanpour. She's about as good an example as it gets of somebody who's still trying to do it, but she walks into places and she's this huge celebrity now.

Q: But Tom Wolfe seems to utilize that method quite effectively. He's dubbed it the "Man from Mars" effect.

AG: Right. Some people do that to great effect. Truman Capote was another one. What was that line from the movie with Joe Pesci and Marisa Tomei?

Q: In "My Cousin Vinny?"

AG: Right. Joe Pesci was saying, "You can't wear that kinda outfit around here!" And Tomei turns to him and says, "And what, you blend?"

Capote never blended; Hunter never blended; Wolfe never blended. Their M.O. was to be the outrageous person that would make everyone feel comfortable, and I do think it worked for Hunter. But there's a difference between that and then just getting caught in kind of "celebrity hangout status." But yeah, it still works for Wolfe. I'm very amused in the film when Wolfe says, "Hunter was trapped in Gonzo," and here's this guy in this white Savile Row suit that he never takes off. So it's not like Wolfe has eluded the need to live up to his own image.

Q: What was your brush with celebrity status like at the Oscars?

AG: Well, I always take it with a grain of salt. I can remember walking the red carpet for the first time when I was nominated for "Enron," and I'm thinking, "Oh man, this is good! I've arrived. Everyone wants to talk to me." And this photographer beckons, and I'm ready for my close-up, and he says, "Will you get out of the way? Jennifer Aniston is coming!" Well, okay, I get it.

Q: And what about winning the Oscar for "Taxi"?

AG: Winning was great. There is a moment of heaven where you go down to the bowels of the Kodak Theater, and you go to this room where all these beautiful women in long gowns are handing you drinks and taking your picture. You go into the Press Room and there's this huge, cavernous group of reporters from all over the world. There's so many of them they have numbers like an auction, and they call out the numbers. And they said, "And now, who has a question for the Academy Award Winner: Best Documentary?" Zippo. You know, a documentary on U.S. torture policy, attacking Bush/Cheney. Questions? Zippo. So I got perspective pretty quickly.

The only thing I do remember from that night that was jaw-dropping just for that night was that when you walk around with that statue in that town on that night, it is a little bit like having Gandalf's staff.

Every door opens for you. I remember going to the Miramax party and stepping on the sidewalk right outside the Chateau Marmont, and there were a thousand photographers, and we had to get the bouncers to help us in because I was just blinded. There was one sheet of white—there's so many flashes and strobes going at the same time. It was intoxicating, but you realize it wears off fast.

Q: This film primarily covers the era from 1965 to 1975, which were pretty much your formative years. So how involved you were with the counterculture movement?

AG: Well, it was interesting. I had a front row seat to some of it—particularly the political stuff. My stepfather was a guy named Reverend William Sloane Coffin, Jr. He was the Chaplain at Yale, and he became this comic book character also in "Doonesbury"—the Reverend Sloan—and we used to have summit meetings at the house for people who would plan the next big demonstration. Now I was young, but still, it was pretty interesting.

Q: You had some pretty heavy hitters at your house.

AG: We did. I can remember when [former congressman and Atlanta's mayor] Andrew Young came and spent the night, and [Peace Corp creator] Sargent Shriver was there. And Bill had taught [former Nixon admin official] Jeb Magruder. So Magruder came by one day, [anthropologist] Margaret Mead came by, so did [pianist] Arthur Rubenstein. All sorts of wild characters were passing through the house.

Q: You mentioned the Kesey film, but do you have anything else you're working on as far as upcoming projects go?

AG: There's a film about the role of money in politics—it's about [the Jack] Abramoff Scandal—called "Casino Jack and the United States of Money."

Q: And what about plans to make a film based on the book "Freakonomics?"

AG: It's an omnibus film where different directors do portions of the book, so it's not "my thing." But I got fascinated with this section of the book about cheating in sumo wrestling.

Brendan Fraser Takes A Fascinating Journey to The Center of The Earth

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

Even an old action flick veteran like Brendan Fraser (well, he's not really old, but he will be 40 this year) is thoroughly fascinated by the digital technology that has birthed a 21st century version of 3-D filmmaking. Of course, it's no wonder Fraser's enamored of this new technology, since he is the star of "Journey to The Center of The Earth"—the first full-length, live-action feature shot in digital 3D.

That's not to say that the Indianapolis-born actor needs the new variation on the medium to prove he is a hit-maker.

After all, Fraser quarterbacked the first "Mummy" film into a mega-hit that has now become a tentpole franchise with another sequel, "The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor," coming out later this summer. But even before he had those hits, he had been a comedic star, shepherding along such kid-friendly films as "Encino Man," "Airheads" and "George of The Jungle" into hits. Of course, he has an Oscar-friendly, indie film side, having starred in such critically acclaimed films as "Gods and Monsters" and "The Quiet American" as well.

The saga of making a modern digital 3-D version of Jules Verne's 1864 sci-fi classic "Journey to The Center of The Earth" really began with HDTV camera technology developed by director/producer James Cameron for his own productions. Obviously, it has roots in all the 3-D concepts before it, when shooting a 3-D film was expensive and dependent on special projectors to show the films.

That's why, in recent years, 3-D films have been mostly non-feature length docs shown in IMAX theaters. Once digital technology made it possible to manipulate the final results in computers without needing film, having enough theaters using digital projectors became the primary constraint in releasing digital 3-D movies—until now.

Indie filmmaker Paul Chart ("American Perfekt"), signed to write and direct the film, penned the original script. After the producers decided to shoot in 3-D, Chart left, afraid that it would become something more for a theme park rather than the epic action-adventure he envisioned. Special effects expert Eric Brevig (a visual effects Oscar nominee for "Hook" and "Pearl Harbor") was brought in to direct his first feature, and the script was heavily retooled to emphasize the new format.

Fraser became so passionate about this movie that he offered script revisions and a commitment that led him to become an executive producer on the film as well as its lead—the seismic scientist and maverick adventurer Trevor Anderson. He amply explained all this in a
very recent roundtable session.

Q: With such action film experience, what do you do to prepare for a movie like this 3-D production?

BF: Let me start from the beginning. I got the script. It was based on Verne's classic tale, "Journey to the Center of the Earth." Verne was arguably science fiction's creator. We've seen the film before; it's slightly, as the British say, "daft" [laughs]. I say that with affection. I didn't arch my eyebrow at it, I didn't turn my nose up to it, because I don't know an actor who doesn't like to work.

But the cover letter to the script said that this [version] was going to be shot in 3-D and I was like "What, huh?" I thought 3-D was when you wore red and blue glasses and watched the movie and it made you a little bit queasy after a while and you went home and said, "Why did I spend my money for that? Anyway, let's get back to paying taxes and stuff."

I wasn't sure what the technology held, [but] I was hooked [on the idea of it]. But I hadn't read the book as a teenager in school like I was supposed to [laughs]. So I went to a bookstore got the last copy of an anthology of Verne and thumbed through it as fast as I could. [But there were a few problems with the script I read so] I realized that the answer was right there in the book, like they say, in the world of the film.

Q: So what did you think was the problem?

BF: All you needed to do was flip-flop the relationships [from how they were described in the original book]. The professor has a nephew; he's his research partner. They have this theory, he's slightly mad but they must go and find out [if it is true]. Actual classic mythology has aid that Mt. Sneffels [a volcano with a glacier covering its summit in western Iceland] is a portal to the center of the earth.

Changing the gender of the guide [was also necessary]. I think, depending on who it was published by [in Verne's original "Journey..."], he was like either Hans or Hortz, or something like that. So we had the character become Hannah [Anita Briem]. In this version, you have this misfit trio of oddball characters who aren't going to get along that well. Textbook screenplay writing has it that you bring those people together to see them win and succeed by the end of the story. That's what we had to go for.

I pitched my idea to Eric [Brevig]. I showed up to the meeting with my copy of the book, and the screenplay, and said, "Look, I just read this and the screenplay." I also collect cameras, because I'm a wannabe nerd, and I had with me my stereopticon [a the mid 19th century
projector with two lenses that created the effect of 3-D for stillimages] just to prove that I knew about 3-D too [laughs].

I gave him my ideas that were basically to change the relationships around a little bit. It's all writing. All the set pieces [in the original "Journey..."] were great. I don't know about that, but those can stay in place, those are the big ticket items. But in the end, between you, me, and the tape recorders, we wound up writing it ourselves. Eric later told me he could have kissed me on the lips for it, because it solved all the problems of the challenges they would have been up against with how to get this thing green-lit and going.

I brought everything I had to a studio and talked to Cary [Granat, producer and co-founder of Walden Media], and said "Look, you've got to make me a producer. I put my neck out [laughs] and he said, "Okay I will do it." And I'm like, "Alright what do I do?" They were like, "Well, take it seriously."

A lot of those producer credits go out there to actors and they're kind of vanity titles. It's what you make of it, and in this, I was able to bring the considerable knowledge that I have learned in [the last few years]… At ShoWest [the theatrical exhibitor's trade show] they gave me a film achievement award even though it took me 20 years to get it [laughs].

Q: How has your journey—so to speak—been to this point?

BF: Interesting. I think in many ways I'm just reaching my stride. I feel like I have a lot left to do. I'm excited to see what the future holds, because clearly this movie is the first of its kind in history. Arguably, this movie can be an innovation in cinema technology that is on par with when the moving image was fused with an audio track. People said it will never take, no one will go. Oh well, sorry, it kind of did. And then color film came to the screen, they were like, "Why do you want to see it in color [laughs]." Then television was invented and again they went "We listen to radios."

Then they invented TV dinners and people didn't go to the cinemas anymore. Then someone got an idea and it was like, "I know, 3-D." We've had this bizarre stereoscopic image gimmick around for over a 100 years; then let's put that back in the screen and people will come back to the theaters and we won't go out of business. They did that and people came back; it was a little hokey. But in the end, they learned to just make better movies and people will come.

Oh, there was a gag I hope you got, maybe you didn't, in the movie, for those in the 3-D know. When Trevor opens the box he pulls out this wooden thing and says, "I have no idea what this is" and throws it over his shoulder. It's the stereopticon; it's what people used to put an image in front of and they go like, "Oh cool, the Grand Canyon. Oooh, naughty pictures from France."

I just want you to know that all of these advances have come to a point now, that I've learned so much with visual imagery and working with CGI, it went from 0 to 10 during my career. The 1992 film "Encino Man" [laughs]—go ahead, let it out, just get it out now [laughs]—I assure you, did not have one processed shot in it at all. It was a camera, tripod, a script, and three actors, well, two really, and Pauly Shore [laughs], and me with a squirrel attached to my head. That was it. That was a teen film.

Films like that aren't made for teens any longer. We've advanced so much, technologically speaking. I mention this is because if you think of the number of ways we can receive our media and the platforms on which they are delivered, they are displayed in auditoriums, on canyon walls, and even on your iPod.

What's missing is the magic that happens with the communal experience of being on a stage and telling a story and having people captivated at what you're doing, and they are doing it together. When you go to a movie, there's a barrier, something distancing between you and that experience. The experience of this technology, and this film, being the first of its kind, is important because the star of the film is the experience itself.

So you like the movie, or say you don't like the movie, fair enough... apples and oranges. You kind of can't say you didn't have a good time seeing what I saw. If you do, maybe you have one eye [laughs].

The three dimensions are something that has a "boo" scare to it. Something comes out at you. Thankfully, it's used judicially. The audience feels like we are all in this together, and the better you can have depth of field that just goes on and on and on, depending on how much the studio ponied up for some talented CGI artist to create a background that is just crisp.

Q: So what was your favorite scene?

One of my favorite sequences in the film is the raft sequence, with the storm fish and animals and the creatures are leaping from the water and we are battling them valiantly. During that scene I felt like I could see the curvature of the inner earth of the ocean. There's something poetic about that. I've never seen that before.

Q: What about the people who can't see it in 3-D if they only have 1-D projectors available?

BF: Get on an airplane go to the United States, England, is what I would say. You really want to see the experience of it in 3D. I haven't seen the film as a "Flatee," let's call it [laughs]. [Now I've] coined that phrase first [laughs].

Hopefully the film still works on a standard projection; at the end of the day that's what it's all about. You want people to walk away feeling they had fun, "I just killed two hours, yeah." It's an important industry question that was asked. I don't know if I have the answer.

Between the studios, the theater owners, they are all watching this film to see how it does, because it comes down to conversation; [that is if people talk about it]. The delivery system is reels, technology we've had for a hundred years. Anybody working in the popcorn counter can walk in, flip a switch, and make it go.

Truth is, it's pretty much the same thing with digital—you just press a button. But getting the theater owners to convert from analog to digital is something I want you to ask Eric Brevig about. He could give you a better answer then I can. But the answer is to be decided, to be determined. I had a meeting with Reel D this morning and there are 1,400 theaters in the United States alone.

We made this movie two years ago. It would have been ready last year, but the number of theaters was only half of what we have now. Why come out at a time when there aren't enough screens for people to see the film as it's conceived and shot and created and delivered to them in a way that it really wasn't meant to be? It's like I said before, it's about being there to enjoy it.

Q; What was it like acting in a completely CGI action film?

BF: The quick answer to that is: bruises and ice packs [laughs]. Crapped into a little metal thing on hydraulics attached to something called a gimbal that smashed me around [laughs].

Q: You worked on a few films in Montréal. That was where this was shot?

BF: Well, yeah, I worked there twice. "Journey to the Center of the Earth" was shot at Mel's Studios, a great facility with great crews, motivated and friendly; it's a nice environment. And I shot another movie there called *cough cough* "Mummy 3" [laughs].

Q: Will you take your kids to watch this movie?

BF: They may be a little too young…. One of my favorite things to do is to go see the families and their kids, and see little kids reach out and try to catch a blue bird and then see their dad go "Ahhh!" [laughs] when the dinosaur leaps out at them. See the little kid go, "Yeah!" [laughs]. They love it, you know.

Q: How much of a dream is it to be in a "GI Joe" film?

BF: [A dream] come true. I am a GI Joe.

Q: Who do you play?

BF: I can't say, but it's not Gung Ho… don't believe everything you read on the internet.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Method Man Gets High with "The Wackness"

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

Though Method Man only plays a small role in one crucial scene, his presence in "The Wackness," adds a necessary touch of credibility to this indie film paean to New York and its homegrown hip-hop culture. Given that the story is told from a geeky white, Jewish, 18-year-old pot dealer's perspective (he's more into weed as a social statement than as a way to financially elevate him out of the 'hood), having a former Wu-Tang Clan member/founder performing even a small part--as Jamaican drug supplier Percy who has an approving encounter with Luke Shapiro (Josh Peck) and his sort-of customer/mentor, semi-partner Dr. Jeffrey Squires (Ben Kingsley)--lends the film a further authenticity.

Happening during the summer of 1994—when the streets of New York are full of a funky, soulful hip hop exemplified by Wu-Tang and the sweet smell of pot—"The Wackness" darkly celebrates a coming of age for both the 18-year-old Luke, and the middle-aged shrink Squires. Set against the backdrop of newly-inaugurated mayor Rudolph Giuliani's regime, when the law & order fanatic begins to implement anti-fun initiatives against such vile crimes as noisy portable radio play, graffiti-bombing and public drunkenness, the film celebrates a positive cultural abandon that seems sorely missing in NYC today.

Nominated for Sundance 2008's Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and winner of the Audience Award, director Jonathan Levine's touching film takes advantage of Method Man's expanding acting experience (he's been in films and TV shows such as "Oz,", "CSI," "The Wire," "Garden State," and "Soul Plane") to join the movie's other fine supporting actors such as Olivia Thirlby and Famke Janssen. From the seminal hip-hop collective he formed with Redman, DOB, and RZA, the former Cliff Smith has established a successful solo artist/producing career. But it was his time with that supergroup Wu Tang—on such albums as "Enter the Wu-Tang: 36 Chambers" and "Wu-Tang Forever"—that he made a mark in history that spurs on such films as "The Wackness."

Q: How was it revisiting 1994, this historical moment in hip-hop, through this film?

MM: Well I didn't get that until I saw the film. When I did my scene it didn't have music. I just had to draw off what I read in the script and the scenes that I shot. when i saw the movie, the music could have gotten a credit t was pushing the story along in certain areas--i had a feeling of euphoria; and I had a feeling of nostalgia when listening to the music in the film. I was like, damn that's where I was at in that day.

Q: How does it feel being an actor in a hip hop environment rather then being a hip-hopper affecting the environment?

MM: I've come a long way to start off. It's a little crazy to sit there watch this film and hear a song that I did playing in the background of my scene; it's silly in a way, for a lack of a better word especially when it's you watching it. I don't know about it for everybody else, but for me it was a little silly.

Q: Do you think director Jonathan Levine picked the right music for the soundtrack? Did you help him? You think you had an influence?

MM: I know I had an influence; he put my music in the film. I had nothing to do with putting the sound track together, that was all Jonathan.

Q: This film seems to be a tribute to NYC hip-hop as the roots as opposed to the West Coast.

MM: It's a tribute to the city actually. As far the west coast goes, we always had a lot of love for the west coast, that's why I didn't understand why there's was no Snoop Dog songs in there's when he came out in '94 they almost played the whole album on the radio.

Q; Were you happy to see this film portray an appreciation to the weed culture?

MM: Absolutely man. There is a culture out there of pot heads; we are growing bigger and bigger everyday. People are using it for medicinal purposes now.

Q; Were you happy to see this film portray an appreciation of the weed culture?

MM: Absolutely man. There is a culture out there of pot heads; we are growing bigger and bigger everyday. People are using it for medicinal purposes now.

Q: Was it interesting looking at pot through that your character's Jamaican experience?

MM: When you are there and you're seeing how the whole thing works as far this guy goes... I've lived most of this shit so, I've sat inside "gates," that's what we call them and shit; the dread, if he likes you and shit, he'll talk to you. It ain't just a hand-over-fist type of thing. You get to talking now and then. That's the connection between Luke and Percy. Percy trusts Luke. You don't get a lot of that so you want to keep the people you trust around.

Q: Was there anybody as a reference to get the character and accent down?

MM: Every Jamaican I ran into in my lifetime [was a source]; as far as the dialect goes, I had a good coach.

Q: You must relate to the concept behind the film, for this kid to use hip-hop and pot as critical elements in his growing up?

MM: The music definitely pushes the story forward and Luke as well. The pot definitely bridged gaps between him and his psychiatrist; him and his supplier; and him and his love interest. The coming of age thing, this is a dude trying to find himself. he way the pot plays into it is exactly as I told you...

He's asking questions, trying to find out were he stands with this girl and were he stands with himself. He's about to be a man and life sucks that's where the whole concept of the wackness comes in because right now everything looks "Wack" to him.

Q: Did you find it weird being in a film with both Ben Kingsley and and Mary Kate Olsen?

MM: With Sir Ben it was bug because he doesn't leave the set. he chops it up a little. He's a real, genuine cool dude. It helped when we started shooting the scene because I was so comfortable around him it was like a cake walk.

I didn't meet Mary Kate until Sundance and the first few interviews we did. Every running into her so many times you get to chatting and she was real cool and calm, and down to earth. doesn't get fair shake in tabloids She's a nice girl sweet girl.

Q: You don't get it much in the tabloids do you?

MM: I get a little controversy; it doesn't escape the urban network [laughs].

Q: How do you approach doing acting versus making music?

MM: It takes a lot more preparation. With music, It's just a vibe; I get a feeling then I sit down and I write what I feel. With acting, I go over certain things and do my repetitions to make sure I don't forget my lines then when I am on set, I see the other actors, and what I am working with. When we are shooting a scene, I see what the other actors are doing and see how I can play off that. In the end, it's silly too because it's just a bunch of grown ups playing pretend.

Q: Do you freestyle much?

MM: Not alot.

Q: When you write how does it work.

MM: Sometimes the music will give you the theme, other times you can be watching, like, a TV program and then it hits you, "I want to write about this." Then you sit down and jot like your first four lines and then you look for the proper beat that can match that and you continue writing the rest but in the midst of doing that you are jotting down little ideas on the side that you can put inside the whole stew once you start to cook it.

Q: What are your roots, both in pot culture and music culture--hip=hop's an amalgam...

MM: As for pot I love my purple haze [laughs]. The roots for me probably musically or culturally... I love anything my moms pops were listening to I had to adopt as my own. It's an abundance, from rock to hip-hop, pop to alternative, soul, blues, jazz, then everything gospel... It all incorporates into my everyday being or how I do my thing as far as writing or portraying list this Rastafarian on the screen. It's authentic because I've been there, and I draw own experience.

Q: Do you miss Wu Tang; it represented this community in hip-hop.

MM: Yeah we always tight-knit group we still are but it's a little different now since we got kids. We've moved on to other things and other chapters in the entertainment business. It gets hard to stay in contact but I think the unit as a whole is as strong as ever especially through our children who still scream "Wu Tang." And I haven't done a show yet by myself or with the whole crew that people didn't scream "Wu Tang."

Q: What about the new generation of hip hoppers; do you see an evolution--or not?

MM: We're recognized as big business but we're still not televise... our category.. at the Grammys. We're expendable now since so many people are doing it. It's like fast food; they're shipping it out so fast you can not grasp onto any artists long enough to even like 'em. By the time you do there's somebody comes out with the same sound or a similar song or dance mix or ringtone.

When I started out it wasn't about the jewelry you had on. I'm not saying you didn't have the yin and yang... You had to have that because Biggie [Smalls] and them was always fresh... They kept their jewelry.... [But] Wu Tang was always grimy with no jewelry; the best part about the whole movement was the lyrics—the lyricism was there. There was no denying that New York cats had that certain edge over everybody else.

Q: Wu Tang also understood that it wasn’t just about rap; it was about the music community in general.

MM: Definitely. That's why Wu Tang could go overseas with [bands like] Rage Against the Machine, or do shows with Marilyn Manson and the Red Hot Chili Peppers so perfectly because people can dig that group mentality [whatever the style of music].

Q: How did you make the transition for a musician to an actor, not as a star but as a character actor?

MM: I didn't go out looking; it was more thrown into my lap. I always thought of myself as a bit of a character anyway [laughs] I'm a Pisces and I've always had a bit of an imagination, I've always been a bit of a comic book fanatic. I used to watch the shows on TV and emulate what I saw, like what any kid does. If you can keep 30,000 people entertained for 45 minutes on stage then you can jump on the screen with one camera and do the same thing.

Q: What's your favorite comics?

MM: Anything X... Yeah, X.

Q: How you thought about writing one yourself?

MM: Maybe something might happen with this comic book thing; I’m trying to write my own comic book now, a joint called "Throwbacks."

Q: Are you writing or drawing it?

MM: I used to draw back in grade school but that’s as far as that went. We used to have a dope teacher named Ms. Gold. We had a comic book club after school, so I’ve always been interested in comic books.

Q: What do you think about how comics have evolved since your day?

MM: Well, I think they are prostituting them now. They didn’t start with the movies; it started with the variant covers. When it was a 100 million dollar business these dudes were raking in the dough. They would come out with seven different covers for one comic book. It devalued a lot of the books. Now it’s like what's that for?

Q: What else do you have coming up?
MM: I just did an episode of "Burn Notice" which premieres this month.

Q: How do you balance it all?

MM: I would do it all at the same time if I could but sometimes it's impossible. So I have to find out what's in first position and I make sure that get's done.

Q: How was the thing that affected you the most about this film?

MM: I tell Josh every time I see him. It's the part when Olivia calls him in the hallway for breaking his heart or whatever and he says "Nah, I want to hold on to this, this is real for me." Man, that's my favorite part of the film.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Josh Lucas and David Strathairn Lend Their Voices To "Trumbo"

Feature Interview by Brad Balfour

Though not quite the stars of "Trumbo," actors Josh Lucas and David Strathairn, join with Joan Allen, Brian Dennehy, Michael Douglas, Paul Giamatti, Danny Glover, Nathan Lane, Liam Neeson to lend a theatrical voice to this cinematic testament about the late screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Based on a theatrical version created by Trumbo's son, Christopher, that had been staged in New York and Los Angeles several years ago, this film, built around letters Trumbo wrote to friends and foes alike, mixes documentary footage, historical archives and theatrical recreation to make an award-worthy release.

In the first flush of anti-communist Congressional investigations (witch-hunts really) led by Senator Joe McCarthy, Trumbo was arguably the most famous of the "Unfriendly Ten" screenwriters who were blacklisted in 1947. Until the early '60s, when Trumbo's name finally reappeared on the films "Spartacus" and "Exodus," he wrote under a pseudonym for a very few producers who were willing to help him.

Now through director Peter Askin's documentary, the dramatized readings from Chris Trumbo's epistolary drama have historical gaps filled in with newsreels, interviews, and the few film clips of Trumbo that exist. Not only does this documentary show how defiant Trumbo was, but how his insistent visibility eventually helped break the Blacklist More importantly, it illustrates how easily that slippery slope rolls forward once the process to erode civil rights gets started.

Since Trumbo was such a prominent figure in Hollywood over a half-century ago, it was important to discuss him and his legacy with Hollywood actors Lucas and Strathairn—not just because they portrayed him through his letters—but because both in their own unique way have been affected by his legacy. Both actors discussed their experience and his impact recently in New York City.

Q: Each of you brings something new to the Dalton Trumbo letters you read. How did you get into Trumbo’s head?

DAVID STRATHAIRN: Well, it’s a steep slope to get into his head actually, but I’ve done a bunch of readings of short stories and play readings, and that’s kind of the format. I tried to find some music to it so it’s listenable, and then what you’re saying starts to couple-up with that. When poets or writers read their stuff, it’s not performative and therefore, maybe not as engaging. So the challenge was how you give his aesthetic, plus present it in as clear a form.

JOSH LUCAS: I had a great experience last year, when I did [the play] “Spalding Gray: Stories Left Untold,” which was, in a sense, the same format as this, where you have actors performing as a character in a way. The way they structured that play was five actors played five different essences of Spalding, and that created the whole Spalding, cause Spalding himself was so complex, and I think there’s something quite similar here in that you have a character whose got awesome literary intelligence and intellect, but also anger, rage, and incredible humor.

To me, the reason why the film works in this format is because watching Nathan Lane do that piece on masturbation is amazing. And for me, it was about saying how do you relate this particular story in your life—who you are, and where you are—to what this man might have been going through, and this was the process that was fun for me. Particularly because my piece was somewhat romantic, and has quite a bit of pathos underneath it because he’s in prison as he’s reading it.

Q: Did you choose the particular letters of Trumbo’s that you read or were they assigned to you?

DS: They were assigned. Peter [Askin, the director] or whoever ], decided that these were the ones that were assigned. I don’t remember him saying why…

Q: The actors reading the letters seem to embody, to take a word from Josh, the “essence” of Trumbo, brilliantly conveying different aspects of his persona. What sort of research did you do to get yourselves into character?

JL: I think one of the things the film had to deal with in its construction was that there wasn’t a lot of footage on Trumbo, and much of it is used in the film, and I think that’s why actors were necessary to tell the story—to hear the letters, hear the writing and the incredibly razor-sharp nuances of how the letters are constructed like poetry.

So what we had to work with, for me at least, was not dissimilar to what you see in the film. But mostly what Peter [the director] wanted to do for us was to get our take on it, and not necessarily by any means try to be like Trumbo or sound like Trumbo, or move like Trumbo. Which is why its effective, moving from these personalities like Donald Sutherland moving into another actor like Michael Douglas, and the way that each person’s essence is so different.

DS: It was a great design. If you had done “Trumbo” the way that they had done a traditional biopic—to have one personality try to inhabit him—that’s an impediment to the material, because then everybody’s going to be focused in on how this particular person is inhabiting or presenting him.

In this way, you get a lot of different voices, and the variations—or the collage of people—is entertaining, and refreshing moment-to-moment, but it also in a way displays the universality of what he says. It’s a lot of people dancing on the same floor, and you can see how substantial that floor is.

Q: Many of the actors, including yourselves, convey much emotion when reading the letters. Did [Peter] and screenwriter [Christopher Trumbo] direct you towards this emotion?

DS: I don’t know how it happened for you Josh, but he just said “read it and hear it.” It certainly wasn’t “turn right, here” it was more “I can see where that’s going, do it again,” and it felt very creative and organic, with no sign posts along the way. Because the material speaks for itself—you release to it—and it is affecting. It’s always tricky when you’re presenting something like this to not be overbearing, or not be affected by your own particular stuff so you don’t trample, because maybe what he meant to be funny sometimes was also so full of pathos. It’s safe to be careful.

JL: Yeah, the guideposts were in the writing. No one was telling Joan Allen, “This is when you should tear up.” The writing is so good. It’s just infused with incredibly humor but incredible pathos.

I think there’s a moment in the film where Trumbo actually says, “All the greatest jokes have the greatest tragedy underneath them,” and so throughout reading it, there were still moments where you couldn’t help but be led a certain direction. And the way Peter was directing it—this sort of black box element of a group of actors in a theatre—was, “Let’s see what happens.”

Q: How familiar were you with the works of Dalton Trumbo before embarking on this project? Do you have a favorite?

DS: My introduction to him was “Johnny Got His Gun,” and then I had been in the development of a project years ago called “The Hollywood Ten,” so there was his presence in that. And some of his films—“The Brave One” and “Papillon” obviously—but not in as much depth as I’ve come to find out.

JL: Same for me. My parents were hardcore anti-war activists, so “Johnny Got His Gun” was essential, and obviously “Spartacus.” The letters were probably the most revealing, and I think that’s what the film in a sense is most concentrated on. And I think those letters are extraordinary.

Q: David, in your film “Good Night and Good Luck,” you’ve already broached this subject of the blacklist, Joe McCarthy's HUAC anti-communist investigations and the "Red Scare," albeit from an entirely different point of view.

DS: This [production] felt like you were in the street reading Dalton’s stuff. There was a little more grit and affect. [CBS newscaster and analyst Edward R.] Murrow was obviously insulated, but he got into the whole neurology of that time—pretty incisively—but he, because of who he was, responded in a different way.

So it was interesting to see that he had this forum where he could at any given time speak to three million people, whereas Trumbo—his megaphone was shredded, compared to the elegance of Murrow’s. But they were both coming at the same issues with I think as much passion, although their aesthetic definitely was different. When you read some of Murrow’s stuff, he was as razor-sharp about the issues… The two of them probably would’ve had a good talk.

Q: Josh, you said your parents had been anti-war activists. What insights did you gain from this, and is there a particular resonance in light of today, with the Bush administration’s (and the media’s) handling of the Iraq War?

JL: The integrity of what [Trumbo] did was pretty incredible. I grew up with that [as well], but in a time where it wasn’t as difficult to do, in the ‘60s and ‘70s, as it was for Trumbo.

So my parents weren’t exactly rare in a way that I think Trumbo was rare, and unfortunately I think we’ve gone backwards to a time where it’s become rare again, where its become incredibly difficult for actors or politicians or personalities or citizens period to stand up and say what they believe without having very difficult repercussions placed on them.

I just did a film with Susan Sarandon [“Peacock”] who talked about how there was a period of time where she felt like she was bashing her head against a wall in a very painful way, and there were repercussions. No one was blacklisted per se, but that was a big shift in the country, to go from a time with my parents where it was readily acceptable—I watched my father get arrested for trespassing consistently, and it was “cool”—as opposed to after 2001, where anyone who was protesting in that way, literally, [could] lose their jobs.

Actors who are doing it on a certain level like Sean Penn were genuinely being demolished for it in a public sense and yet in hindsight, it turned out well for them I think in a way, because it’s quite clear that, as in Trumbo’s case, they were in the right. But it takes insane courage, especially back then, to be one of the only ones to say “I’m not going to allow this,” and not only become broke for it, but go to prison for it when you have young children. That’s integrity.

Q: This film also celebrates a bygone era. It’s an epistolary film based on these beautiful, long-winded letters, whereas now we live in the era of text-messaging and abridged conversations.

DS: That’s a great observation because in a way it was a bygone era, but letter writing was amazing. People think of it as some archaic art form, but that was really how people communicated. I just did a play about Brutus and Cicero, “Conversations in Tusculum,” and they were like the original pen pals. They wrote volumes to each other.

JL: I don’t know about you, but I’m at a time in my life where when I text, I’m forcing myself to use full words [laughs]. And I’m forcing myself simply because it’s for me to do, not for the other person because everybody now is getting to know these abbreviated words, and the idea of sitting down and writing an elaborately, well-constructed, beautifully-worded letter to the phone company, it’s extraordinary.

DS: Yeah. So if the film just does just that on a historical level, great. To make people aware, of all the political resonances and personalities that are in it, [even better]. But that’s something that people sort of look back and say, “Oh yeah, people used to write letters and used to [mimics typing].”

Q: Did this project make you want to do more theater?

DS: Yeah, I just did one in March. But hey, I’m always looking to do theater.

JL: I haven’t done one in about a year myself, but it’s what you search for constantly. It’s a question of how you make a living doing it, and when do you find a piece that you want to put out into the jaws of the New York critics, because it’s a really difficult environment. It’s a very mean environment in a way, so it has to become something you have to do if you really love the piece.