Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Paul's, Pike's & Barney's Versions

Find Barney's Version on Video

Paul's, Pike's & Barney's Versions

(from 1/11/11)

Recently I took part in a lively roundtable with Paul Giamatti and Rosamund Pike, the unlikely romantic leads of Barney's Version, which opens this Friday in New York. In the third film adaptation of a novel by the late Canadian novelist Mordecai Richler, Giamatti gives another tour de force performance as a heavy-drinking schlock television producer, Barney Panofsky, whose lone worthy accomplishment--since being a loyal friend to struggling writers and artists when he was a young man in Italy--was marrying Pike's Miriam. In fact, he fell for her at first sight, at his wedding to the 2nd Mrs. P [Minnie Driver]! Many years and two kids later, Miriam is encouraged to go back to work by Blair [Bruce Greenwood], who has obvious designs on her, and Barney feels threatened. Coming into the roundtable, Pike was sure that her character was faultless--making her the opposite of Barney (who is even a suspect in the death of his friend Boogie, played by Scott Speedman). But I ambushed her with my suspicion that Miriam was the one chiefly responsible for the demise of her marriage to Barney. Giamatti? He seemed happy that someone was trying to get Barney off the hook. It was fun.
Q: Paul, do you see your character Barney as a three-ring circus?
Paul Giamatti: A circus of some kind. Yeah, definitely. A little bit of everything happens to him, it's all over the place. The movie itself is a bit of a three-ring circus, with all kinds of things going on at once. There are a lot of balls in the air, that's for sure.
Q: How did you bring that character to life? He seems complex.
PG: That was the pleasure of playing him, that there's so much to the guy. I had a lot of good people around me, including a great director, Richard J. Lewis, a great producer, Robert Lantos, and a great script by Michael Konyves. It was a fun character so I had a good time.
Q: You had the screenplay, so did you ignore the book completely?
PG: I ignored it for the most part. The screenplay was very strong.
Rosamund Pike: The screenplay was very good and definitely captured the spirit of the book while changing it in a large way. There are a lot of things in the movie that are very different from what's in the book. For instance, while the love story is certainly a large part of the book, the movie focuses on it.
Q: We understand Barney's magnetic attraction to Miriam, and know why he married his first wife [Rachel Lefevre], but why does he marry the second Mrs. P [Minnie Driver]?
PG: He fouls his life up in Rome. He tries to live like a Bohemian, although that's not who he really is. It ends disastrously over there and he comes home and works for his uncle...

RP: Irv Nausbaum.
PG: That's right! It's amazing you remembered his name! Uncle Irv is going to get Barney a job and Barney's going to straighten out. He introduces Barney to the kind of woman you're going to marry if you're going to straighten out. And she's nice looking, so it's "All right, I'll do that." But it's a mistake. He doesn't really want to do that.
Q: Do you view Barney as a nice Jewish guy gone wrong?
PG: What's that? No! His second wife says, "You're not a square, like the other Jewish boys I know." I don't thing he has gone wrong. He's a troubled guy, he's a tricky guy, but I don't think he's gone terribly wrong. He's an alcoholic but...
RP: He's functioning...
PG: Highly functioning!
Danny Peary: Mordecai Richler called his book "the true story of my wasted life." Paul, I'm going to say something that you'll disagree with; Barney does a lot for other people but his own life could be a lot better, so there is some kind of waste there...
PG: I don't disagree with you.
PK: I'm glad you picked up on the fact that he does help people....
PG: He's self-destructive and insecure and fatalistic, and he has more energy than he knows what to do with. He's impulsive and can't control himself...
DP: And though he's financially successful, he's underachieving in his choice of jobs compared to the artistic people around him.
PG: That's true.
DP: Is that important?
PG: I don't think he gives a shit in some ways or he can't let himself give a shit or he can't appear to be giving a shit about it. But you're right, he is sort of underserving himself in that regard. He makes weird choices and that's part of the conflict in him. Somebody said to me, "If Barney actually had some artistic talent, he would have been all right." He could have been a writer or painter or something, but he doesn't really have that talent. He has the temperament, the drive, the spirit and the romantic sensibility to do that. And he has the artistic friends who he is going to try to live through in that way.
Q: Do you see Barney as Duddy Kravitz all grown up?
PG: These are different guys. As I remember Duddy Kravitz--and he actually makes an appearance in the book--he doesn't feel pain about anything.
DP: He's an operator.
PG: Right, he's an operator and a slick dude. I think he's a different guy. But it's interesting that there are three Richler books--The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, Joshua Now and Then, and Barney's Version--and in them he seemed to be revealing three large aspects of one huge human being.
Q: Is there something Harvey Pekaresque about Barney?
PG: I suppose so. There's a certain amount of dissatisfaction and bluntness to him and an irascibility. But [in American Splendor] Harvey doesn't sell himself so short. I don't think he undermines himself in the same way that Barney does, although one could say he does. He was artistic in his vision...No?
DP: I think Barney might care more....
PG: Really? As a person in general?
DP: In regard to criticism of him, Harvey probably accepted anything, but Barney suffered inside.
PG: Maybe, I don't know.
RP: The whole reason Barney's Version was written by Barney was he wanted to respond to criticisms of him.
PG: That's true!
RP: Someone had written an unflattering book about Barney Panofsky and Barney's version is his retaliation against that.
DP: I think Barney has a lot of feelings and he hurts inside.
PG: Yes, definitely.
RP: I like him because his actions are not governed by what other people think. If he does care about the criticism it doesn't stop him from doing anything.
Q: But he drives Miriam away.
RP: She was pretty tolerant but drew one line in the sand and he crossed that line. She didn't ask much of him and made virtually no demands except for one. It doesn't mean she doesn't love him anymore, and she forgives him,
but it sullied what they had. He wasn't perfect but there was something pure about what they had and that's gone, she can't do it anymore.
Q: Do you think there's something inherently Jewish about your characters?
PG: I was never consciously sitting there thinking I'm playing a Jew so I'd better seem Jewish. I don't know how deeply important it is that he's Jewish in the movie. Maybe it's more so in the book.
RP: You got to say a few Jewish words.
PG: I used "putz" and a few words like that.
RP: Miriam's not Jewish. That's a huge departure from the book. She was based on Richler's wife and the love of his life, Florence, who was not Jewish. Miriam is Florence through and through, other than that in the book she's given the name Greenberg and is Jewish. Our producers felt justified in not making her clearly Jewish. Richler's grave has a Star of David and Florence's has a cross. We didn't want to copy their gravestones.
PG: Obviously it's a big part of it but there was nothing I was superconscious of. There was one controversy about whether we should wear yarmulkes in a scene Dustin Hoffman, who plays Barney's father, and I shot a scene at Barney's mother's grave. We shot a take and the producer said, "Wait a minute, you guys are supposed to be wearing yarmulkes in the cemetery." Without talking to each other, both of us instinctively said that neither of them would bother to wear a yarmulke. It turned into a huge to-do. We ended up calling four rabbis--two that Dustin knew, one the producer knew, and one the director knew. And one of them said, "Well, it could go either way." And the producer gave up. Certainly Barney wouldn't have gone out of his way to wear one.
DP: Rosamund, you said that there was only one thing Miriam asked Barney to do but he crossed the line by cheating. You make it seem like that it was a minor thing that she doesn't forgive him for that, but remember that Barney forgives everyone anything. But he has one indiscretion and she ends their marriage.
RP: You say he forgives everybody for anything they do?
DP: Yes, but your character doesn't forgive him.
RP: I think it's two different things. She does forgive him. But it's the issue of trust. It's because of her father and she said it right from the outset: "I will not marry a man like my father." It blurs everything. It's the one thing that terrifies her because it killed her mother. She will always love Barney after his one-night stand, but I don't think she can trust him anymore. She will forgive him, but that's different.
DP: You convinced me that it's trust and not forgiveness that's at play,
but Miriam expects Barney to trust her when she says everything is innocent in New York when she is seeing Blair [Bruce Greenwood]. But she ends up marrying Blair. There's nothing innocent going on there.
PG: Ha!
RP: There is! Miriam would never be interested in Blair.
DP: She marries him.
PG: That's interesting!
PK: Now I'm going to be angry toward you. That's such a typical male reaction. It really angers me.
DP: I think she's responsible for the breakup.
PG: I thought that...
PK: No! That is bullshit. She would never ever be unfaithful with Blair.
Q: Well there is an attraction between her and Blair.
PK: She is aware that Blair is angling toward her but there is no way she would do anything behind Barney's back. She isn't attracted to Blair. He's a safe option but life with Blair would pale in comparison.
PG: There's no attraction to him?
PK: No way. What he offers her is that things won't go wrong. He'll be polite and there will be an easy life.
PG: This is the first time anyone has talked about this.
DP: You kind of agree with me?
PG: I think it's a possible way to look at it. It's more complicated than just Barney cheating on her.
RK: I think it's such a typical thing for the woman to go away and the male to feel abandoned.
PG: Well, that is going through his head.
PK: Instead of just blaming her, look at what she's getting from Blair that she's not getting from Barney. She's seeking out his company, so what does he give her that Barney doesn't? Attention and understanding. And an understanding of her career. Barney makes light of her need to work. He belittles it. He says, "You're depressed, let's go to Lake Como." "Fuck Lake Como, I want to get back into the profession I was in and have the stature I had when I met you."
DP: But he gets her the big interview that boosts her career--he comes through. If Blair weren't there, connected to her work, I think Barney would be more supportive.
Q: So you think she's only going to leave Barney because she has a spare in Barney?
DP: No, that's not the reason. But she's setting him up to mess up. She knows Barney well enough to expect him to screw up because she's away with Blair.
PG: That's an interesting way to look at it. I don't know if she's setting him up for anything but I think there are some subconscious motivations on both sides.
PK: It's Barney's version so he's writing the story to try to justify his own actions, right?
PG: Right.
DP: And Barney the writer sticks Rosamund with Blair...
PK: Exactly.
PG (laughing): Obviously, Rosamund's version is different from Barney's.
PK: I think she adores Barney. I don't think there is a temptation to cheat with Blair.

DP: Are you blond now for a new role?
PK: No, this is my real hair. I am blonde. Miriam has dark wigs the whole way and it was the first time I've had dark hair.
DP: In Made in Dagenham, you have dark hair, right?
PK: No! it's blond. I don't think we get on very well, do we?
DP: We get along great. I do like you in that.
PK: Oh, good. Although I'm not the dark-haired one.
DP: Of course, Sally Hawkins has always been blond.
PK: Oh, yes.
Q: My favorite scene in the movie was of you and Sally Hawkins talking on the balcony of that apartment complex and your telling her, "You're my hero. Look at me, I've gone to the best universities in the world and what am I doing?"
PK: Sometimes it's just one chunk of writing that makes you want to do a film. It's not about the size of the part as I said to Paul during this movie.
Q: What will you two be doing next?
PG: I'm doing a movie called The Ides of March. George Clooney directed it. It's about incredibly dirty dealings between these two rival political campaigns. In a funny way, it has kind of a thrillery aspect to it.
RP: I still have some work to do on the remake of Johnny English. It's intended to be funnier. There's a whole reimagining of the British secret service and I play a new guard. Right now we're trying to mend it. After that, I have no idea what's next.

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