Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Waititi's Witty and Poignant "Boy"

Playing in Theaters

Waititi's Witty and Poignant "Boy"

(from 2/29/12)

Okay, the Oscars have been awarded, finally, and you can stop trying to see every nominee in every category in time for the ceremony. Now, you can seek out the best new films around town that have been under the radar. I suggest you start with Boy, a whimsical charmer from New Zealand that is opening this Friday in New York at the Angelika. It's the second feature by writer-director Taika Waititi, following Eagle Vs. Shark (which starred Jemaine Clement), but he always felt that this semiautobiographical work was meant to be his first film. It's actually about two young boys, Maori brothers Boy (James Rolleston) and Rocky (Te Ahol Eketone-Whitu), who live with their grandmother and many cousins because their mother died giving birth to Rocky and their father Alamein (director Taika Waititi) is away. The lonely, bullied Boy lies to everyone in his small town that his father is off doing heroic things, when in truth he is in jail for robbery. When the ne're-do-well Alamein returns to look for the hidden money he buried, Boy sees him as a hero equal to Michael Jackson and tries to bond with him; Rocky, who feels guilt over his mother's death, is more cautious about connecting to a neglectful, boastful father who is just as juvenile as them. Will the three lonely males recognize their common bond and need for each other and come together as a family? That's what we hope for in Waika's sometimes sad, often funny, always unique little gem. I interviewed the personable Waititi and his stars Clement (just before The Flight of the Conchords debuted on HBO) and Loren Horsley (now a busy actress and acting coach in New Zealand) upon the release of Eagle Vs. Shark in 2007. Last week I spoke again to him about his new film that has unexpectedly broken box-office records in his native New Zealand.
Taika Waititi

Danny Peary: In America, I predict Boy will be a "discovery" film, a little sleeper that gets good word of mouth. It's strange to think it's a box-office smash somewhere.
Taika Waititi: It's so weird, isn't it? I feel it's so small here and that some people will talk about it, and that's it. In New Zealand it wasn't billed as a big film, but it just took off. On it's opening weekend, something happened. There was a wave that just kept picking up more and more people as it went along. An indication of how strange this was to everyone is that the distribution company said it would be over the moon if it made $1M. It made nearly $10M. Every week more people were going and it was eclipsing films like Clash of the Titans and all the new films that opened each week. We were wondering if we should open on more screens, but were thinking it was an anomaly and that the next week the box office would taper off. And it every week it got bigger, for eight or nine weeks.
DP: So you have comfort opening it in America already knowing that it made ten times what was expected in New Zealand.
TW: I can relax.
DP: Why do you think this film has had such tremendous success in New Zealand?
TW: I think the popularity comes from the people there seeing themselves on film, Maori especially. A friend of mine has a theory that Maori kind of drive the box-office in New Zealand. When Maori people, or people of color, see something they love, they will see it again and again. The popularity is driven by the fact that Maori and probably a lot of Pacific Island cultures really got behind the film. They saw themselves on film and it was funny rather than depressing and they didn't feel picked on.
DP: I think that applies to a quote by you in an interview: "In general New Zealand films are very dark, especially films dealing with Maori stuff. One of the most famous films is Once Were Warriors, which is an incredible film, but man it's hard to watch...I like New Zealand films because they're very dark with a black comedy slam on things. But there's only so many kind of dead kids you can put in a film without changing it up a bit." So is its popularity in New Zealand due to the fact that it's atypical?
TW: I feel that the Maori content is not typical. Yeah, it deals with typical things in our movies like child neglect and shitty parents but I tried to do it in a different way, where it's accessible to everybody.
DP: Was finding the right tone difficult?
TW: Yes, it was very difficult to get the balance right. I could say it was a comedy with little bits of drama or a drama with light moments. I had to balance it so it wasn't funny up front and then suddenly have it heavy all the way to the end. I wanted to keep those little moments throughout the film.
DP: We last spoke prior to the release of Eagle Vs. Shark and were recommending movies to each other. You'd seen a million American movies but were eager to see many more. Now I watch Boy and see that there's no Western influence on it at all, which I'd think contributes to the film's appeal at home.
TW: I see little bits only because I purposely copied some movies. It's not from an American movie, but the opening, with the quick cut-aways and voice over, was really like my version of Jules and Jim. I liked pretending that there would be a voice-over for the entire film and not doing it after the first five minutes. But you're right: I can't think of any American films really that I was influenced by.
DP: At the time of Eagle Vs. Shark, you already seemed pretty well known in New Zealand because of your short 2 Cars, 1 Night receiving an Oscar nomination. How well are you known in New Zealand at this point?
TW: I'm quite well known there now. I can still walk down the street with some anonymity but they know my name.
DP: Do they have pride in you?
TW: I feel great about that. I'm proud to represent not only Maori people but all of New Zealand. I feel good making a film that not only my friends and peers like but the wider community loves. If I had made Miss Congeniality and everyone saw it, I'd be proud that it made a lot of money but I wouldn't be saying, "Yay, my story, Miss Congeniality, is really popular." I'm proud that Boy is such a personal film and is popular. We filmed in my grandmother's house in Waihua Bay and the school I went to in the middle of nowhere. When you do that, you have no idea what people will think. When you're shooting you're only thinking, "I hope we actually finish this movie." That was the goal at the time, so it's really nice to be validated.
DP: You have said about Boy: "I want to explore comedy of growing up and interpreting the world." Is the small village the real world? Or is the city Boy wants to go to with his father the real world?
TW: Where he lives there's one store and his school and there's nothing to do. It's very dull where he is and he expects to find adventure in the city. But he's in the real world and it's beautiful, with the most incredible landscape. And you can eat lobster whenever you want. It's so beautiful that people come there to camp and fish, but it's not a tourist area.
DP: The character, Boy, is not you exactly, right?
TW: He's bits of me and bits of other kids I knew.
DP: Although he's not you, he had a similar upbringing living in an out of the way place. Can you picture a boy like Boy going on to become a world-famous director?
TW: No, I can't.
DP: Do you say, "How could I have been a kid like that who made it this far?"
TW: I do. Filmmaking was never my dream until I started doing it. But then I did it with 2 Cars, 1 Night. And then people said, "You should be a filmmaker." And I thought, "Well, I guess so." It wasn't until after my short film and I started writing my feature and was enjoying it that I thought, "Filmmaking might be my dream now."
DP: Did people tell you about your potential, as Boy is told?
TW: I don't think so. I just thought it was a cool idea having Boy try to figure out what potential is.
DP: Boy idolizes Michael Jackson. Was there the hero-worship of Michael Jackson in your life?
TW: Yeah! As kids we loved the idea of this guy had millions and millions of dollars and was successful and was brown and he spent all his money on stuff kids would spend their money on, like castles and zoo animals. And he dressed like a kids would dress.
DP: Boy has a crush on a tall girl named Chardonnay. Did you have a crush on a tall girl?
TW: Oh, yeah. The crush was real, but that wasn't her name. I think we've all had our Chardonnays.
James Rolleston as Boy, RickyLee Waipuka-Russell as Chardonnay
DP: Did James Rolleston understand Boy or did you have to explain a lot to him?
TW: He understood a lot of it. About the emotional side, I'd talk to him. He might ask, "How am I supposed to cry?" I'd say, "Well, you don't have to really cry, but just think about your own life and things that are similar to what Boy is going through. Be yourself and if you feel it, you feel it." I had very frank discussions with him. He got it. I had another kid who was going to play Boy. I'd cast another actor eight months before but by the time I got around to rehearsing with him he was too old and too tall. I found James Rolleston only three days before we started shooting.
DP: Was he upset he got that ugly haircut in the film?
TW: Yeahhhhhhhh. Too bad. He wore a hat a lot of the time. I think he got to enjoy it.
DP: Although you say there aren't influences of American films, my wife saw Boy soon after seeing The Descendants and saw the similarities--a father with two kids, a dead or dying mother, a neglectful father coming back into their lives.
SPOILER ALERT There's also a final scene where they're sitting together without any words being said.
END SPOILER ALERT.TW: Whoa, it's so true! Oh, my God! I didn't even think of that. I just saw The Descendants last week and didn't even make the connection.
DP: That comparison does make sense. I don't know if you've seen an American TV show from the 1950s called Leave It to Beaver.
TW: Yes, but not for years.
DP: It's a great show and one of the interesting things about it is how parents and kids try to connect but have a hard time because they're from different generations and have trouble communicating. The two boys in that show never want to be embarrassed in front of their father and he tries to be a perfect dad but he always assumes they understand his advice although they see it from a totally different perspective than he does. Unlike in Father Knows Best, the parents and kids rarely mingle within the frame; instead the kids and adults face each other--just as you have it several times in Boy.
TW: That's right.... Let me write down the name of that show.
DP: Like The Descendants, your film is about repairing a disconnected family.
TW: Yeah, they are all trying to replace this woman who left the family and trying to replace each other. Alamein has tried to replace his family with his stupid gang.
DP: Everybody wants to connect but they don't connect.
TW: That's right.
boyfatherandtwokids.jpg Rocky, Boy, and Alamein
DP: As in Eagle Vs. Shark, you show how extended families are common in New Zealand, where lots of kids and adults inhabit small houses. But are you also saying that the people in those houses don't connect?
TW: No one, I think, really understands the other people in their family. I don't think parents and their children really get each other. I know that I don't really know who my parents are and I've lived around them my whole life. I don't really know what their hopes and dreams are or what their real personalities are, and what they were like before I came along and how I changed that--or what dreams I shattered by coming along. I feel there is a disconnect in the closest family or tribal unit. Everyone's in the same house but you don't quite know each other.
DP: Is Alamein modeled after anyone?
TW: He's mostly modeled on a lot of adults I grew up around. He has elements of my father and my uncles and other people's fathers, not necessarily Maori. Mostly people who fantasized a lot about who they weren't.
DP: A theme in the film you have talked about elsewhere is "kids need heroes." I don't know if you've thought about it, but both your features have another theme: everybody needs to be a hero themselves. Alamein is obviously like that, but even all the kids, who act tough and concoct stories about themselves and create their own myths, really want to be looked up to.
TW: Absolutely. It even comes down to the simplest form of that, which is trying to be popular, even to just be liked, perhaps by a girl. I've written another film with the exact same thing, about a kid who lacks heroes and chooses the wrong hero, and having a need to be a hero himself. It's a big theme in the stuff I write at least. Jarrod in Eagle Vs. Shark just wants to be a hero.
DP: I asked Jemaine if there was a painful element in that character and he said, "I think the main reason he acts as he does is to avoid any more pain in his life. That's why he pushes people away. He doesn't want to be picked on for who he really is so he puts up a front of being a cool bad guy. He's wrong in thinking that's how he comes out to other people." That sounds similar to your character in Boy.
TW: That's true. Alamein surrounds himself with two losers...
DP: Flight of the Conchords type characters...
TW: Yes. And he does this to try to make him feel better about himself and to look cooler to other people who see that he is the head of a gang. He started the gang and is the leader and he's got the coolest jacket of the three. He put all the work into the patches on the back of his jacket and the other two have them just painted on badly. He even competes with the kids. For some reason he's always trying to be better than them, saying, "I've seen E.T. ten times..."
DP: He's also trying to keep above them as their hero. What happens is that the two flunkies are replaced by his two kids, who love him for the right reasons. If he wants them, they're there for him. There's a sweetness there that you start to recognize when he stops totally ignoring Rocky and they become friendly.
TW: Boy starts the film obsessed about his father and doesn't care about the mother. Rocky is the opposite; he's obsessed with this woman he never met and doesn't want to know the father. And as the film moves along, there is a shifting of loyalties. Rocky realizes that he is more like the father, and Boy is more like the mother.
DP: The father calls himself "Shogun" and Boy "Little Shogun." Why is that?
TW: That stuff did come from my family. The men in my family were all into Native-American culture and Samurai. There was a romanticism to being strong and an outlaw. The Maori culture is full of incredible heroes and amazing warriors, and we fought the British for ten years in the 1800s using guerilla warfare. To forget that and name yourself after a Samurai warrior is really ironic and crazy.
DP: If the mother hadn't died in giving birth to Rocky, how would things have been different in the family?
TW: I don't think the father would be as bad as he is, but he would still be neglectful, even when he is around the kids. He wasn't a great father or husband in the first place. I feel he would be living at home and they would be happy together but he still would need to do a lot of growing up. I was thinking about including scenes of him having these weird memories that would show he was a terrible husband, but I thought that would take the film into a genre that I didn't want it be in.

DP: You were also being protective of the character.
TW: Yeah. I felt he was hard enough to like as he is, so showing more bad things would make it impossible.
DP: One reason Boy is quick to make his father a hero rather than a loser is that he's lonely. Is the theme of "loneliness" important to you?
TW: It is. The world is so overpopulated but there is still so much loneliness. You can live in a small town like I did or New York and be very lonely.
SPOILER ALERTDP: The lonely boy opens up only to a goat. His father accidentally runs over the goat. Is that something a boy could ever forgive?
END SPOILER ALERTTW: I think people forgive their fathers for anything. Fathers can get away with anything. It's always the mother who the boys take it out on later in life. It's kind of crazy. The less present a father is, the more his child will want to be with him, the more they love him.
DP: So if there is that forgiveness, in terms of repairing this family, can it work?
TW: Good question. I think the answer is yes. They have potential to succeed as a family. That's the cool thing about forgiveness and second chances.
DP: Is that a theme you like?
TW: I do. I love this quote that I think is by Hemingway: "The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them." That is only way. As much as it is someone apologizing to you for something, it is also you letting go and giving them the chance to do right and be better. [Laughing] And if it doesn't work out, cut them loose! I'm a big one for second chances and forgiveness.
DP: I asked Loren Horsley whether it was essential for us to love Lily in Eagle Vs. Shark. Although she didn't think it was, I disagreed. Boy acts tough and does things we don't like, but do you think it's essential that we love him?
TW: I think it's essential that we went want to go on the journey with him. He can do things that we don't love, but it's essential that we want to see what happens next and be part of his group of friends.
DP: The production notes says this is a "rite of passage" movie but I'm not so sure.
TW: I didn't call it that; someone else must have said that. Maybe it's a "coming of age" film but what we see is just part of his childhood.
DP: Yeah, he learns a few things and softens a bit toward his brother and the girl who likes him.
TW: But he hasn't become who he is going to become.
DP: I think because of the tone you were trying to achieve, you made sure that Boy isn't "too nice." Because boys aren't too nice.
TW: Yes. He's so conflicted all the time. He'll be mean to someone because he doesn't want them to know he likes them. He's a little boy with a lot of inner turmoil. In the movie The Tree of Life, I really liked the stuff around the boys. For instance I connected instantly with the first time you feel guilty for stealing something and the kind of turmoil you go through when you hide it, and say "Why did I do that???" I love all that stuff.
DP: You mentioned Jules and Jim but Truffaut also made a film called Stolen Kisses in which one character loves somebody who loves somebody else who loves somebody else, and nobody loves each other at the same time; in your film, one person bullies one person who bullies another person who bullies another person. There's a hierarchy of bullies. It's partly their trying to find security by putting other people down.
TW: Yeah, yeah, I'm fascinated by that. It also again comes down to people wanting to be heroes to others. DP: In your movie, there's a large man-child on the beach who befriends the lonely Rocky and who saves Boy from drowning. What are your thoughts about him?
TW: He's based on a real person from a documentary by Vincent Ward. He's a great New Zealand filmmaker who when he was very young made a film called In Spring, One Plants Alone. It was about an old Maori woman who lived in the middle of nowhere. And she had a son who was dependant on her. He had no friends and was a bit weird and talked to animals. People either laughed at him or really believed he was a special kind of spirit. The character in Boy is based a lot on that character, Niki.
DP: Talk about the full-cast musical number that you lead. Is it a mixture of "Thriller" and Bollywood?
TW: It's the haka. It's the Maori war dance. It's what we do before battle but nowadays it's also done before sports events. Blacks playing rugby will do the haka before facing off against someone. When we were kids doing that we always tried to mix it up a little bit with contemporary stuff, like Michael Jackson.
DP: There's a scene in Boy in which everybody facing each other at the kitchen table, and it's very much like the scenes in Flight of the Conchords when the manager takes attendance.
TW: Yeah. It's also an Ozu type shot.
DP: Right, in Ozu people sit around tables and talk.
TW: And it's filmed straight on.
DP: Did Flight of the Conchords play in New Zealand?
TW: Oh, yeah. It was very popular there.
DP: How many did you direct?
TW: Two in each season, and I wrote one each season.
DP: Why did it go off? I expected a third season.
TW: The boys didn't want to do another one. It was too much work to write all the songs, and write the episodes and be in them. HBO is an incredible network and is hands-off but it was so hard with the budgets and time frame to generate all that stuff. They haven't discounted doing a feature film.
DP: What's your dream now?
TW: Just to keep doing this, writing my own scripts. Jemaine and I are now writing a feature together. We're going to try to make a vampire movie. I just feel that it might be the time for one! I've written another movie set in Europe during World War II. It's not Maori related, it's completely European.
DP: Do you worry that if you stop making films with Maori characters that people in New Zealand will accuse you of being a sell out?
TW: I do worry a little bit. But I feel as long as I continue writing my own stuff then I'm doing what I want to do. There's less chance of doing something for the money if you write your own material. It's more about love for the project.
DP: Do you still do stand-up comedy? And what was your routine?
TW: I don't really do it that much. I emcee now and then. What I did mainly was character stuff. It was never really like me. It was weird and surreal.
DP: Where do you live now?
TW: Nowhere. I don't have a house at the moment. I'm in L.A. a lot, and here in New York a lot, and sometimes I'm in London. I stay in hotels and with friends. I'm hardly ever at home but am constantly moving. It was great when I started doing it but I really need to settle down. Because there will be a baby in May.
DP: I guess you want home-cooked meals for a change!
TW: Oh, yeah, I'm really tired of five-star restaurants...

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Garrison Keillor on Altman's "A Praire Home Companion"

Find on Video

Garrison Keillor on Altman's "A Praire Home Companion"

(from 6/30/06)

Garrison Keillor, Lili Tomlin, Meryl Streep, Lindsay Lohan

Garrison Keillor seems tall enough to be a basketball player, but he looks more like a Sunday school teacher or the social director on a nearly empty ship. Among celebrities he stands apart, a humble genius who created, writes, hosts, and is chief cook and bottle washer of NPR’s unique signature program—a Midwestern variety show with an intriguing songs and stories, real and fictional characters, that surely is transmitted through space and time warp from a parallel universe. After more than thirty years on the airwaves, “A Prairie Home Companion” now comes alive on the silver screen courtesy of maverick director Robert Altman. Fittingly, Keillor provided the screenplay and plays G.K., a variation on the real fellow who hosts the radio show, who serves as the human hub that his all-star castmates (Meryl Streep, Lili Tomlin, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, etc.) revolve around.

Q: It is the television age, but you have a radio show that still is wildly successful and wildly popular. Why do you think it touches people so strongly, including the people who made the movie?
Garrison Keillor: I have to disagree with your assumptions. “A Prairie Home Companion” is not wildly successful; its success has been very carefully controlled. Its success, such as it is, has been largely due to lack of marketing and lack of publicity. Secrecy I think is the secret. You have a show that goes out and people are turning their little radio dials and they come across a show that doesn’t sound like other shows. And that’s the success of any radio show. That was Rush Limbaugh’s success, that was Howard Stern’s success. They didn’t sound like anybody else. I wouldn’t call it wildly popular and its effect on the American imagination I think would be minimal. I don’t see it. We’re just a journal. We reflect a little aspect of the strata of human life.
Danny Peary: You’re from Minnesota, a Midwesterner, but I know Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry was an influence on your show. Were you a fan of the radio show?
GK: No, not in a big way. I listened to it sometimes as a kid—the AM radio signal came in particularly well in the winter time, so if you strung an antenna out your window you could pick up WSM. I went to see it a couple of times when I was in college. I’m very fond of the Opry but when it comes listening to music I guess I’d be more likely to listen to classical.
DP: What about the impact of Jean Shepard, Will Rogers and even the TV show “Hee Haw?”
GK: Jean Shepard didn’t really get into the Midwest. We could not get WOR over the mountains; It stops somewhere in the Pocnos, I think. We got Pittsburgh KDKA. “Hee Haw”--no. “Hee Haw” is a particular little genre of rube jokes that I was never big on. Will Rogers came too early for me. I guess I read his stuff but it never appealed to me the way James Thurber did. James Thurber and those New Yorker guys were better writers, if truth be told. Will Rogers suffered from being a topical humorist.
Q: After all these years, what made you want to do this film of your show?
GK: That’s a damn good question. Writers are restless, writers are looking for other things to put their hands to. I’ve written novels--I’m kind of a failed novelist, and I’m a failed poet. I’ve sort of kept this radio show cooking along, I’m still trying to find something I can be good at. Maybe it’s screenplays. They are only 120 pages long, double-spaced. That’s not onerous.
Q: You wrote the poem Lindsay Lohan recites in the movie, so maybe you have a career ahead as a teen poet.
GK: Writing suicide poems? Well, I remember being nineteen. I don’t think there’s a big future in that, but if she needs me to work on her new album, I’m here for her.
Q: Was there hesitation to taking something you’ve worked on for so long and hand it over to Robert Altman to put his own vision on it?
GK: No, I trusted him. He’s from the Midwest. His wife Catherine is a fan of the radio show--she loves “A Prairie Home Companion.”--and Bob has listened to the show from the next room. If he were to do something truly squalid and ugly and tasteless, he’d have to face his own wife—one can’t hope for more control over a man than that. Once you come up with the main story, then you certainly want to give the director a great variety of material for him to arrange. You don’t have to worry so much about form. He’ll do that in the cutting room. So you have the luxury of being able to lavish material on him and leaving it to him to make the choices. That was my great insight. Form has never been my strong suit anyway. It also was good to give up my characters to actors, I believe. I really like that. The Guy Noir that Kevin Kline plays is nothing like the Guy Noir who I’ve done on the radio. My Guy Noir is older, dumpy, and down-on-his luck and Kevin’s is very elegant. Even when he’s bumping into things or he’s shutting his fingers in a drawer or dropping hot coals on his shirt front, he still retains that dignity that has always been there for great physical comedians. My guy is just kind of a dower, a straight-man compared to his, so it’s really fun to watch Kevin do him. Kevin is an actor who over the years has been kind of held in rein by directors, as directors will do, and here he found Altman, a guy who just lets actors go wild. So it was Kevin’s chance to use every bit of shtick in his entire repertoire as an actor and put it all together for one character.
Q: Would you ever have entertained that this film be done by anyone else than Altman?
A: I am always open to offers, but it would have had to be somebody I could sit across a table from and have lunch with and not feel odd. We writers are a very intolerant people. We don’t have the social skills of producers and directors because our work is essentially solitary. So it’s difficult for us to find people we can work with.
Q: While writing, the script, did you have a clear vision of what you wanted to take from your radio show and set down in cinematic format?
A: Most of the elements of the picture, including the songs, were really pieced together as we went along, some of them at the last moment. They important part was to come up with the basic storyline of the movie—the show coming to an end, the last show—and then the accompanying storyline of the Dangerous Woman [Virginia Madsen], the dark angel, moving in our midst, sometimes physically, sometimes not.
Q: Is this the film you expected?
GK: It’s quite amazing, I think, although I’m still trying to figure out what it is. I’m very grateful that it all came together in some form. If you’re privy to the chaos these things start out as, especially in the mind of the writer, it’s really stunning that something actually happens and there are people on the screen moving around and saying words that are more or less your own, and doing facial expressions and gestures, and so on.
Q: Were there things that surprised you that you might not have considered special before you saw it work up there on the screen?
GK: There’s an early scene that Meryl, Lili and Lindsay shot before I got to St. Paul, in the dressing room, the three of them, that I’ve seen five or six times and it’s still it’s really amazing to me. It has to do with Lili and Meryl and their timing, and their taking lines that I wrote but extending them, so that they’re sort of repeating each other and overlapping with each other. And it is such a natural thing that they’re doing, a natural conversational style that I don’t associate with the Midwest somehow. Meryl’s voice especially is really a tone perfect, Midwestern voice, not a cartoonish parody. Lili of course is Lili. And when I saw that in an early cut, I really thought that if I’d have known how beautiful that was, that would have been my whole movie right there. I just would have done it with the three of them. It all would have been in a dressing room. They never would have gone on stage. That’s the sort of movie I really would love. I like stationary movies that don’t move at all.
Q: What movies do you love?
GK: I don’t know that I love movies. I don’t think I could go that far. Movie-going is a social occasion, so you go with somebody you love, and you’re there together, and you share popcorn. And afterward you talk about it, usually kind of briefly on the way home. And you’re always kind of hoping that the movie will lead to something better once you get home. It’s not like reading a book. You can love a book. I don’t know how to love a movie. I said the wrong thing! Inadvertently the truth came out of my mouth. Well, the sort of movies that I really love are so out of fashion. I think of those movies of the English working-class, in which you’re following that one character, and you’re with that character, and you’re walking down the street with that character—and it’s part of town and it’s a slice of life that’s unlike your own. And the story seems peripheral to the characters—the characters are the great thing.
DP: The casting of teen idol Lindsay Lohan was a surprise to many people. Is it true that she wasn’t originally in your script until you read that she wanted to be in it?
GK: Exactly right. She had signed on to it through an agent. But soon we were aware that Miss Lohan was saying in interviews that she was going to be in a movie with Meryl Streep. So this seemed to be something she was really herself personally enthusiastic about. Well, good for her, I thought. Because I liked her in her movies, because she’s very gifted—I mean “The Parent Trap” is a piece of work. And then I read in an interview that she said she was going to be Meryl Streep’s daughter. Which was news to me, and I was writing the screenplay. But it seemed like such a great idea, just on the face of it, that--once I got over being slightly offended at an actor taking over my prerogative--it just immediately made sense. The only character I had for her up to then was an aspiring, not very good songwriter.
Q: Why “not very good?”
GK: Because it would be funnier. But that character wasn’t going any place, and she took a lot of space and time to establish. Whereas it takes no time at all to establish a mother-daughter relationship. They just do it physically; the way they walk together, you can tell: that’s the mother and that’s the daughter. And there’s a kind of a friction between them. Meryl has three daughters who are Lindsay’s age or older so she has immediate experience to draw on.
Q: Was there something Lindsay brought to the set or character that you didn’t expect to come from her?
GK: She brought things I did expect. She brought attitude, and we really needed that. I think it’s always surprising to find tremendous competence, and she was tremendously competent and capable in scenes that I was in with her. I really enjoyed working with her, and I think I’d have been able to detect indifference or impatience. She did one scene in which she accuses me of being cold and indifferent and she did that scene so beautifully, always with real tears in her eyes—I guess they teach them at Disney how to summon up tears—and with such fervor that, even though I’d written the words myself, they really stung. I was really hurt. She just really came at me.
Q: Did you have to fend off the paparazzi for Lindsay?
GK: No, no, not at all. Lindsay came with two or three friends—maybe they worked for her, I don’t know. They were kids, girls about her age. So she was just kind of with them and they’d’d walk up and down the street. She was fine, she didn’t have any problems—it probably made her uneasy being in St. Paul and all those people ignoring her.
DP: Did you know you were going to be in the movie?
GK: I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t in favor of that. I was talked into it for “the good of the team,” but I still am not sure about it.
DP: Is G.K. you?
GK: No. He’s a radio announcer. I used to be a radio announcer, then I came up with this show on which I’m a writer, I’m a producer, I’m an amateur singer, I’m a stand-up comedian, I do everything—park cars.
Q: Meryl Streep talks about how she came on the set after having read the script and signing on to it and then finding out that the idea that her character and yours had a past was scrapped. And she had to talk you into putting some of it back into the film. Why did you take it out?
GK: I thought it was implausible.
Q: And the Angel of Death walking around back stage is not?
GK: No, it’s not. I don’t think so.
Q: Why was that past romance implausible?
GK: I just don’t see my character and her character being involved. I wish I could—God knows I wish I could!
Q: Would you personally do a moment of silence in tribute of someone who died, as GK refuses to do? Could you see that working on radio?
GK: No. I’d never do that. But I’ve announced the deaths of performers who were close to the show. I think I’ve done it two or three times, and each time it was exquisitely painful. That passage was written from personal experience.
Q: Is there a reason you wrote a movie in which the radio show dies off?
GK: It’s a good story. It’s a very simple storyline.
Q: Are you afraid of that day?
GK: No, no.
Q: If the show were to come to a conclusion, how would you handle the last show?
GK: Quietly.
Q: Do you expect the radio show’s audience to increase because of the movie?
GK: I don’t think the radio show’s profile is raised especially—the movie is kind of a temporary thing; it opens on Friday and boom, and then kind of trickles away, whereas a radio show keeps marching forward.
Q: Now that you’ve made this film, do you want to act in other people’s movies?
GK: No. I averted disaster once. I fooled them once, but I don’t count on being able to fool them again.
Q: What about doing music for other people’s movies?
GK: No. I’m not a musician.
Q: You’re a good songwriter.
GK: I got lucky a couple of times.
Q: So do you see other movies or other things you’ll do as a result of this experience?
GK: Well, I had wanted to make a “Lake Wobegon” movie. I had a great time making this, so I want to go ahead and do that. I really have my heart set on doing that in some way, shape, or form.
Q: So the LakeWobegon movie would be the next movie that you want to do?
GK: Oh, yes, absolutely.
Q: Would you direct it?
GK: I could. But I wouldn’t want me to be in it. I don’t want to be in it. I can’t think what I would play. A priest, maybe. Sort of a dissolute priest. Or a Norwegian bachelor farmer—I could do that.
Q: Outside of the realm of radio and film and writing, is there anything you’d love to do that you haven’t yet done?
GK: Well, I want to get into a car and drive around the western United States for a few months. I don’t know when I’m going to get to do that. But I don’t think I really have any desire to ride in a boxcar anymore. And I’ve no real need to learn to play the guitar anymore. I just don’t think the world needs another mediocre guitarist. And my desire to learn French is receding. So I think I’ve given up on most of my dreams.

Illustrator David Lloyd on the Movie of "V for Vendetta"

Find on Video

Illustrator David Lloyd on the Movie of "V for Vendetta"

(from 5/18/06)

Danny Peary: David, did 1984 influence the novel V for Vendetta?
In the back of the novel is a list of our influences. The reason we worked so well together is that we had exactly the same influences. The Prisoner was a big influence, Fahrenheit 451, 1984, Brave New World. A whole bunch of things stimulated us. V kind of had a transformation. When we started it, we didn’t actually didn’t know what we were going to come up with. As it developed in the eighties, it changed. Alan would write a script each month for Warrior magazine, and then I’d do the artwork and he’d see the artwork before he wrote the script for the next month. So it grew very organically, and I think that was very healthy.
DP: What about The Count of Monte Cristo?
It’s a good film but that was Larry and Andy who put that in the film. They’re big fans. When they first sent me the script they talked about book. They made the addition.
DP: Growing up, reading 1984 and seeing the Edmond O’Brien movie in the fifties, I believed Orwell’s model for his totalitarian state was Russia. But then I learned it was Britain during WWII because of the government’s control over the media. That’s why I see the influence on you, particularly because of all the monitoring done in Britain today.
Oddly, we want those things now, especially in the buses. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t have tracked down the terrorists who blew up the tube in July.
According to Alan Moore, you came up with the idea of a hero wearing a Guy Fawkes mask blowing up Parliament. Could you have made a movie in 1988 with Parliament being blown up?
If we had tried to make the film in Britain in 1988, the forces of oppression, which were linked to the conservative government then, would probably have suppressed the film. It’s interesting that now you can make it, so obviously there’s a great deal of freedom in the creative community. Now, it’s different. Today’s government actually facilitated the filming by blocking off the moll in the middle of London. I don’t know if the conservative government would have done that.
The novel was a put-down of Thatcherism, but does it apply to Tony Blair?
No, it doesn’t. It applies more widely to the neoconservatism that is in America now. When we did the graphic novel, there was a strain of conservatives that sparked political opinions in television and comics and elsewhere. There is neoconservative in America that is sparking political debates and resulting in political films like Syriana.
But in Britain they just passed a law prohibiting the “glorification of terrorists.”
That’s a very interesting development. They passed that law, not before the movie was made. The government helped them with filming permits.

Is this the film you expected?
What I expected was a good film from Joel and the boys, and I think it is. It isn’t an exact book translation because that would be difficult to do, but Larry and Andy made a film that says what we tried to say then. It’s a terrific adaptation that kept the spirit and integrity of it all, and the key scenes. It says the same thing but in a different way. It’s a really, really good job.
Did you imagine your graphic novel would become a Hollywood movie?
We tried to sell it to film studios at the time. This is before we sold it to D.C. In 1983 and 1984, we were trying to sell it to EMI, and David Putnam’s company in England. We had it on track to be an animated film. We always were interested in furthering it to another media. But I must say, the way it has turned out is just terrific. Watching some of the scenes, it’s like seeing a painting you’ve done come to life. One specific scene is when Evey comes out of her prison and discovers who her torturer is, and goes through a transformation. When I drew that I wanted to make it as convincing as possible, and have it be subtle. And they did that on the screen just great. To create something like that and have someone else put a camera on it with actors was fantastic.
Is V your favorite character?
Yeah, I’d have to say that. To be honest, V is the foundation of my career. Everyone in the comic business knows it and has read it. He’s sort of a tortured genius, kind of crazy, has a good intentions and tries as hard as he can, and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. He’s a very sympathetic character. When we did it we were influenced by Phantom of the Opera—the masked hero who has turned up prominently throughout literature. And what’s behind the mask? Who is this person? What drives him? It’s a fascinating concept, and we took that and gave it another lease of life.
Speaking of tortured genius, was Alan Moore involved in this film at all?
Alan hasn’t come on board this tour. I think Alan would be really happy only if it were a perfect translation of everything he’d written. Alan is entitled to what he stands for.
Terrorist is a scary word in the United States and all its markets.
Remember that when we did V, Irish terrorism was still going on. The peace talks were still fresh. So there was terrorism then. It’s not new. The difference is that since 911, terrorism has become a political movement. It’s something a large number people grasp as a political philosophy rather than it being a small group or movement.
DP: V is not a movie hero in the mold of Errol Flynn or Robert Donat’s Count of Monte Cristo. Do you have to make him a big of a maniac to show that he isn’t being endorsed completely?
He is clearly unhinged because of what he does. He’s someone who wears an outfit. His body is grotesquely deformed because of the fire but the fact that he dresses in an outfit and mask shows he’s unhinged. He’s a crazy man with a mission.
DP: In movies, we need violent men to kill the bad guys and bring about civilization, but then there is no place for them in civilization. So does V have to die because he’s too violent for the world he wants to bring about?
The important thing to bear in mind with V is that although we have to talk to him as a human being, he is, in symbolic terms, an idea. And idea of freedom from repression. It’s not important that we see who he is because he’s Everyman. To me there are two important political and philosophical messages. One if the right of the individual to be an individual. And the other is the right everyone should have to resist being forced by fear into conformity. If you look at Nazi Germany in the thirties is because it showed the people a way out of their terrible situation. I’m sure most of the German people did not want to embrace the Nazi philosophy but because they saw it as a way to help them escape poverty and unemployment and extraordinary inflation, they accepted it. That’s the same thing that happened in Italy with Mussolini. It’s the same old story. But the point in V is that you must resist that temptation. Your right as an individual is to govern your own future and don’t give the rights to your destiny to someone else because you’re afraid of what might happen otherwise.
The theme of the movie seems to be: Don’t let fear and paranoia influence you to give up all your liberties and trust your government.
That’s absolutely a central point of what we’re trying to say. At the end of the movie, there is a mass defiance of repression by individuals who aren’t political. What’s interesting is that they put on the masks V sent to them and as individuals become part of a mass defiance. A demonstration of individuality and unity combined.
Were you involved in the making of this film?
No. Luckily, D.C. sent me the scripts and asked for my comments. Larry and Andy called me and said they’d send scripts to me. I said, “Do you want suggestions?’ And they said, “Well, sure.” And I did make a few, not trying to bring it back to the original, because I recognized they had the right to make changes. I thought it was a really scripts. I have lived with that story for years, so I understood connections between characters and events that they might have overlooked. So I made a few suggestions. But by that time I knew they were going to be faithful. I did suggest if they added a sound to the curfew to up the dramatic ante.
Were you surprised by how faithful they were to the novel?
Yes, I am. Guy Fawkes is such an unknown person to most of the world that I thought they’d eliminate him. But they did it successfully and I think it will make people want to know more about British history.
DP: I assumed they were going to blunt a lot of the political stuff from the novel, but it’s there. Joel Silver acts as if there is nothing in the film controversial strictly because it adheres to the original, but it surely is.
He’s clear that he’s not afraid of that. We have to talk about these things. When we’re asked if we’re expecting complaints because it’s about terrorism, we had terrorism in the 1980s with IRA but that can’t stop you from telling a story. It’s crazy. If you worried about reactions, you wouldn’t tell a story about anything.
The film says: Blowing up a Building Can Change the World. Is there anything in the novel that you’d change if you wrote it today?
I was mainly the illustrator. That’s impossible to answer. It changed as it grew. We started off with straight adventure, about an urban fighter against a repressive regime. It grew as time went by.
What about Alan Moore?
If they had done a direct translation, I don’t think he’d have objected. He has a particular standpoint and wants to stick to it. He can’t stomach anyone adapting it with such liberal attitudes. He has refused to take money for it. He’s a man of principal and you can’t force him.
Is he mad at you for endorsing the film?
I found him and tried to get him to leave his name on the movie. Years from now, it will be good to have it.
What other projects are you involved with?
I’m not doing anything at this moment, but I have a 92-page police-thriller graphic novel coming out in the summer in America. I originally sold it to France, which a wider range of subjects. It was two 46-page albums there, and they have a very active market. It’s about a corrupt policeman and corrupt force in a mythical city in America. He’s an ordinary guy. I’m very interested in why people do things and why people compromise. I’d love to make a move out of it.
Have you considered doing movie design?
I haven’t been asked. People have suggested storyboarding, but that’s doing the director’s job. I know it’s lucrative but it doesn’t interest me.
Was there a storyboard on this?
Yes, they started with the novel. I know for a fact that they used it because they were giving out copies of the book to the cast and crew. The important thing is that Larry and Andy were fans of it, as was Joel Silver who bought the rights years ago. So when you have a project put together by fans of it, you can’t go too far wrong.

The Bizarre and Joyous "Air Guitar Nation"

Find on Video

The Bizarre and Joyous "Air Guitar Nation"

(from 3/21/07)

  • picture Björn Türoque aka Dan Crane
  • picture Alexandra Lipsitz
  • picture

“There is something that happens to you when you air guitar.  I am not sure if it is on a biological, mental, or spiritual level.  Maybe it happens on all three levels, but it involves checking your ego at the door to have fun and being able to let go of everything.” --Alexandra Lipsitz, director of Air Guitar Nation.

Alexandra Lipsitz insists that while she was making her delightful, crowd-pleasing first documentary, about guitar competitions without guitars, she never worried that audiences would be betwixt, bothered, and bewildered by the weird images and loony finger-synching characters she was shooting.  She figured correctly that if she could be won over by this unwieldy combination of performance art and sport, then so would everyone else.  As the film’s producers (including sister Jane) contend, Lipsitz “infiltrated the world of air guitar until she truly turned native and was completely claimed by it.” 

Indeed Lipsitz (who later produced segments of TV’s “Project Greenlight” and “Project Runway”) immediately became captivated by air guitar playing while filming the inaugural East Coast championships in 2003 at the Pussycat Lounge in New York—there was a turn-away crowd after Howard Stern plugged it on radio--and the first U.S. championships at the Roxy on L.A.’s Sunset Strip.  Yet she didn’t fully connect to it in the same way as the contestants until she traveled to Oulu, Finland for the eighth world championships.  “I was at a rock club called the 45 Special well after midnight,” she tells me over lunch at the Half King on 23rd and 10th, a few days prior to the film’s March 23 New York City release.  “The music was blaring and everyone was air-guitaring and I joined in.  There’s a big difference between doing it in front of your bedroom mirror and in public!”

I ask her if there was anything in her past experiences working in American circuses or serving as a crew member on sailboats in Southeast Asia that would indicate why she became immersed in the air guitar subculture.  She shrugs, “I think it’s the freedom.”  And what about the odd array of obsessive, over-the-top, semi-maniacal performers?  “They aren’t unfamiliar to me,” she says.  “You have to remember that they are much different from who they are when they perform. They’re like other people in I’ve known in the arts—they’re smart and creative, and on stage the best of them display a high level of artistry.”

“If you put us all together in a big room you’d have a lot of creative people who are able to talk about a lot of subjects other than air guitar,” says the “artiste” who sits to Lipsitz’s right in the restaurant. Today a lecturer, journalist, and author (young wannabes must check out his book “To Air Is Human”), Dan Crane was a bored software producer until he discovered that all the years he spent air-guitaring for his appreciative elderly relatives had not been in vain.  Suddenly, in 2003, there were actual competitions being held in America to determine who should represent our nation in Finland.  So until he retired from competition in 2005, Crane performed as “Björn Türoque,” one of the giants of air guitar and one of its sanest advocates. “I do believe there is a purity to playing air guitar,” he says sincerely.  “I also agree with those who say it both completely frivolous and completely serious.  I remember being backstage with one of my competitors at the Roxy and he was joking around and happily chugging down beers, but I could see he was very anxious because he badly wanted to win.  That’s how we all are.  We really want to win.”

Oddly, Björn Türoque’s pursuit of the 2003 world title makes him the de facto villain of Lipsitz’s film. After losing to David Jung’s “C-Diddy” in both New York and L.A., he still tried to spoil his likable fellow American’s march to a deserved world title by representing Sweden at Oulu.  Just when we’re becoming annoyed with him on the screen for being such a bad sport and pain, Lipsitz connected to him offscreen.  “We bonded,” Lipsitz recalls, “when he was bouncing up and down on my bed and lost his balance.  He landed on top of me, really hard, and after that we were friends.”

Also in Finland, the affable Jung (an actor/writer/comic) and Crane became friendlier than they had been in the States.  “David and I became closer the more we competed,” says Crane.  “We wanted to beat each other, but we appreciated each other’s performances—he really is good--and had a lot of beers together.”

“It’s important to note,” interrupts Lipsitz, “that while Dan and David could be friends, Björn Türoque and C-Diddy still didn’t like each other.  Their personalities clash.”

As do their styles.  C-Diddy, garbed like a martial arts grand master, is utterly flamboyant and, though we only imagine his guitar, “electrifying.”  He is part dirty, strutting WWE wrestler and part a lizard-tongue-wiggling member of KISS, with the meticulous rapid-fire fingerwork of a Segovia (this is art!) or Jimi Hendrix. He is always expressive, always playing to the audience, suitable for center stage.  On the other hand, Björn Türoque performs in the traditional, pure style of a guitarist whose band has a great lead singer—think Keith Richards, Pete Townsend, or Crane’s favorite, Jimmy Page. I suggest to Crane that C-Diddy has the distinct advantage because he takes the role of a band’s leader, like a Hendrix, while Crane’s stage persona is that of the star’s sideman, and he says, “I hadn’t thought of that, but there may be something to it.” However, I do point out that Crane has an advantage himself in that he plays a real guitar in bands.  Crane shakes his head and amazes me with a statistic and a fact: “I’d say that only about five percent of air guitarists really know how to play the guitar; it is actually a disadvantage for me that I know how to play.  The problem is that while I’m performing I have a tendency to look down at my hands to see if my fingers are in the right place—the ones who can’t play don’t worry about such things.”

More of a concern for all competitors is coming up with striking personas with memorable nicknames—Craig “Hot Lixx Houlihan” Billmeier is the 2006; U.S. champion Jace “Zombie on a Rainbow, Esquire” Bartet is the current Collegiate Tour champ.  And, Crane says, “almost all of them have alter egos who are much wilder than who they really are.”  And when in character, the competitors are rarely chummy.  “I’m happy to give others advice,” smiles Crane as he looks to the floor, “but if we’re competing, the advice is usually wrong.  It’s offstage that we’re friendly.”  Crane’s remark doesn’t jive with a scene in the movie in which he’s given the cold shoulder at a party by two Austrians who obviously have an anti-Bush’s America sentiment.  “But we got along better after that,” argues Crane,” and after we competed, one of them gave me a hug.  There were many people with cameras backstage but only Alex got that on film.”

While the artistry of Björn Türoque and C-Diddy is apparent during each of their performances--their one-minute staged routines are followed by one-minute of improv to songs chosen by the organizers at each competition—some of their weaker challengers try to establish an identity with shocking taboo-breaking visuals. For instance, Lipsitz includes one nude performer tugging on his dong and giving new meaning to the term “naked ambition.” Mercifully, she did not include the guy who begins his performance by taking a dump.  “He came on stage,” laughs Lipsitz, “opened up what looked like a pizza box, pulled down his pants, did his thing, closed the box, and then began to air guitar!”

“He would have been a hard act to follow,” deadpans Crane.

Like most of the viewers at the screening I attended of Air Guitar Nation, I laughed at the beginning of the movie, feeling as though I were watching something as cuckoo as the world championships of thumb-wrestling, but scam or not I soon found myself sincerely rooting for my favorite air guitarist to be able to claim he is best in the world.  Everyone is so pleased at film’s end—one reason it won the Audience Award and Best Documentary at various festivals—because, as Lipsitz, says, “there is a payoff, a satisfying payoff.  The film would have been different if there had been another winner.  It worked out great for my movie.”

Lipsitz achieved her primary goal of making skeptical viewers who initially laugh at the concept of air guitar truly care about who wins.  But what about her other objective, which is shared by everyone else in the “air guitar nation?”  “We really do believe that we are part of the world peace movement.  It’s as we say: nobody can play air guitar and pick up a gun at the same time.”  To emphasize her genuineness, when our interview ends, Lipsitz gives me a promotional button that reads, “Make Air Not War.”

One might doubt that peace will be achieved through the efforts of the growing world community that is uniting around invisible-guitar competitions.  Wouldn’t that be as absurd as a famous guitar company sponsoring these events without instruments?  Lipsitz smiles, “Did you know that Gibson is interested in doing just that?”

Laura Linney and the Dead Body of "Jindabyne"

Find on Video

Laura Linney and the Dead Body of "Jindabyne"

(from 4/26/07)

  • picture
  • picture 
  • picture

There’s nothing more fun than discovering a great movie, so I urge everyone to pick a few titles that sound intriguing at the Tribeca Film Festival—just as you $2 bettors might choose between several unknown horses at the track—and boldly lay your money down.  However, don’t become so focused on Tribeca that you miss a few super festival-type movies that are having theatrical releases: The Host, The Namesake, First Snow, Killer of Sheep, The Hoax, Stephanie Daley, The Lives of Others, The Lookout, Red Road, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Pan’s Labyrinth, and the upcoming Severance and Sarah Polley’s remarkable Away from Her.  And Jindabyne.  Featuring extraordinary performance by Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne, Ray Laurence’s haunting Jindabyne is an Australia-set adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story, “So Much Water, So Close to Home,” which also was the source of the Huey Lewis-Buck Henry segment of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts
I am reminded of this silly joke:
            Marvin: Sorry I’m late, dear, but George dropped dead on the second hole!
            Madge: My goodness!  Did you spend a lot of time at the police station?
            Marvin: No, we spent a lot of time dragging him to the next sixteen holes!
In Jindabyne, it’s not a golf foursome but a fishing foursome, and the joke’s not funny.  For some reason the four men who discover the dead body of a savagely murdered young aborigine woman in the stream where they fish, decide to finish their annual trip before reporting the body to authorities.  How could they do such a thing?   I spoke to Linney about acting in Jindabyne and why her character, Claire, is so outraged by her husband Stewart’s shocking behavior.

Q: Is getting to travel all over the world one of the reasons you like making movies?
A: Absolutely.  I’d never get to Jindabyne, Australia otherwise.
Q: What was the most interesting thing you discovered about the country?
A: Just how remote it feels, and how remote it actually is.  I never had understood Australians when they talked about how far away they are.  Then you go there, and you really are far away.  Far away.  This feeling of isolation was used to huge advantage in the movie.  The landscape is unbelievably powerful—the light hits things in different ways and it’s not like anything you’ve ever seen before.  There is a sense of a ferocious nature there. The wildlife is amazing.  It’s odd and exotic. I’d open my door and there would be a kangaroo outside.  There were wombats—my favorite creature was the baby wombat.  And I saw this huge snake jump into a lake where ducks were swimming, and then it went under the water and came back up with its jaws wide open.  And it devoured a duck—it was disgusting!  I was on the phone with my boyfriend and said, “I’m going to have to call you back.”  You never know what’s around the corner and I think Ray Lawrence really used that idea in the movie.
Q: Australia is famous for deadly insects, so is the one that stings the serial killer lethal?
A: I like to think so.
Q: In your research, did you reference the segment in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts that also was taken from the Raymond Carver short story?
Q: No, I didn’t reference the movie.  And I hadn’t read the short story.  The film isn’t a strict adaptation of Carver.  It has been moved from the American Northwest to Australia so the landscape is different, and the whole issue of race has been introduced.  Sometimes it’s terrific to have a source novel or short story because you get information and can become very secure in your choices about your character physically and emotionally. At other times it can lead you in the wrong direction.  Because the movie is not the book.  It’s a different medium and you have to give yourself the permission to let it take on a life of its own, and that’s hard to do, particularly if you loved the material.  You want to nail it to the original source, and a lot of times film doesn’t work that way.  What you must rely on is the script.  You read a script and you figure out how to interpret it.  It’s an interpretation of a blueprint.  It’s like when an architect gives you a blueprint and you have to go build a house.  What is the script telling you to do, how is it telling you how to work?
I work on every script differently.  This is where craft comes into play and you know how to do what you do.  With some scripts I see that I have a lot of work to do--a lot of text work, background work…But there are some scripts I hardly touch at all.  Beatrix Christian’s script for Jindabyne was very sound. It was dense and thick and there was so much to find because it had a lot going on, so I did all my work and then threw it away.  I was as prepared as I could possibly be and then I allowed it to change. 
Q: If you were so well prepared why would you allow it to change?
A: You go on a set and everything can change because of the room you film in, the clothes you put on, any number of things.  You have to roll with it and be willing to give up the ideas that you thought were so brilliant when you were in your bedroom.  It’s called “Shoot the Baby.” You get on the set with an idea and you are determined to get in that one thing you were positive would work—and then you realize it doesn’t work at all. Now you say, “Don’t do it!”  You got to let “your baby” go. 
Q: Your mother in Jindabyne is much more sympathetic than the religious zealot mother you recently played in Driving Lessons.  Did it appeal to you to play a mother different from the first? 
A: I don’t think of one film or role relating to the other movie or role. I just do one thing at a time.  Journalists point out to me how certain things from different movies are related thematically, but I don’t really think about that.  There’s a film I did called The Savages from an amazing script.  Everyone said, “You can’t do that because you can’t play a sister again.”  I said, “What do you mean I can’t play a sister again?  Are you saying that I can play a wife only once?  Can I play only one mother?  Can I play a lawyer only once because there’s only one way to play a lawyer?  What are you talking about?”
Q: Talk about Claire and her being unable to forgive Stewart.
A: Claire is an extreme character, which makes sense if you look at what she’s been through.  Years before she ran off after a horrific bout of postpartum depression. Now she is still away from America and isolated in Jindabyne. Everyone in this movie is haunted by something from their pasts that directly affects how they behave and interact with people in the present day.  Claire has guilt and shame over abandoning her family and she’s desperately trying to make it all okay.  And she won’t tolerate any longer such behavior as the men exhibited. She doesn’t accept such behavior in herself and won’t accept it in other people.
Her judging what Stewart did is in direct correlation to her being judged for her past actions.  For a woman to abandon her child years before—and I loved that boy, I loved that boy—there had to be a very good reason.  So I had to figure out why she did it.  I think it’s not something most people would consider, but my conclusion was that it wasn’t a selfish choice.  It wasn’t, “I’ve had it with being a mother, so I’m leaving.”  I decided it got to the point that she knew that she was endangering the life of her child if she stayed.  So she had to leave.  That was the decision I made about her past, from her perspective.  It’s very complicated stuff. I really love this movie because it’s like a Rubik’s Cube, it’s so all over the place.
Q: There’s a key line in the short story that’s also in the movie.  Claire says to Stewart, “That’s the point.  She was dead.  But don’t you see?  She needed help?”  I assume that’s a key line in the movie as well.
A: Absolutely.  That is a key line, particularly in our script.  I think Claire says that because at one time she was in the throes of mental illness and no one helped her.  For her there are things that are sacred and it is unacceptable for anyone to behave in any way other than with respect and care and love.  I tied that line she says to her breakdown, which happened way before the movie begins.
Q: Of the four men and their four women, Claire’s the only one to react. 
A: She’s the one who takes it to an extreme.  Some of it has to do with the particular situation, but it also relates to the stuff she can’t let go of.  I think when you have been to the precipice, emotionally and physically, it changes the way you treat everyone.  It’s not easy to deny things as easily, if your recognize pain or wrong to such a degree.  It’s very, very hard to just ignore it.
I didn’t really make the connection but Claire may relate to the aborigine girl in that she’s an outsider in this country and is surrounded by people who aren’t her people.  Even her Irish husband is a foreigner.
Q: You have spoken about how one theme of the movie is that men and women are different. 
A:  In the movie, there are real differences between how men and women are wired.  What I find interesting about the different choices they make is how relationships survive this, whether it’s spouses, or siblings, or best friends, or anyone you’re intimate with.  You have faith in who you think they are, in their character, and then they behave in an appalling way that just astounds you.  You can’t understand how someone can do that!  How could someone do that?  And when it’s someone you know, trust and love, how do you survive that?  I certainly know people who I was extremely close to, whom I’ve loved, who I witnessed treating someone in a way that I’ve never gotten over.  It fractures you. 
Q:  In the production notes you present the question: What would four women who go fishing do if they found a woman floating in the water?  So what is your response?
A:  To me, it’s an easy answer.  They’d immediately report it.  Immediately!  I don’t understand that choice at all.  It’s completely foreign to me that someone could choose to fish rather than report a rape and murder.  I’m very similar in this regard ti Claire—I have no understanding of how they could fish for three days with a body floating in the water by them—especially when the woman clearly has been sexually assaulted and is floating naked, face-down in the water.  How could anyone do that?
Q: Stewart comes home from the fishing trip and makes love to Claire without telling her what happened.
A: It’s creepy. 
Q: Was it intentional that your body was in the same position as the dead girl’s?
A:  I copied it.  That was my idea and I didn’t know if anyone would pick up on it, and I’m glad they do.  I was there when they filmed the scene with the body in the water.  I remembered how she was, and how her arm went up.  I thought that something had to unnerve him, pushing him a little further.  When you come up with those things it’s really fun because you know you’re helping the other actor and pushing him a little farther. 
Q: Talk about working with Gabriel Byrne--again.
A: When you get to work with someone you know well—and I’ve been lucky to work with several people more than once—it really does help.  I’ve known Gabriel from the minute I started acting professionally.  This is our third troubled marriage on film, and this is the most troubled of the three, and that makes for the best of the worst.  He’s such a good actor and particularly good in this.  He is not afraid of playing characters who aren’t completely moral.
Q: In the movie, the young, disturbed girl kills a rabbit.  I think it’s an important scene because the women conspire to not make a big deal of it.  Is that meant to parallel the men conspiring not to tell about the dead girl?
A: Oh!  I never thought about that, but maybe.  That wasn’t a point of discussion however.  Themes aren’t usually points of discussion on sets because you can’t act and think. 
Q: But Gabriel Byrne has said that after you did scenes you would talk about them.
A: That happened.  But we didn’t talk about themes.  Because then you become result-oriented.  If you talk about theme and structure, you are talking about result and when you think about results while you are acting, you invariably will skip steps. 
Q: The police officer is female, yet when Claire asks if the dead girl was raped, the officer implies she may have been asking for it. 
A: There’s prejudice.  The girl was aboriginal so there’s a whole other layer added because of the historical subtext of how aboriginal people have been treated in Australia.  That police officer is completely unsympathetic toward aboriginal people. 
Q: There is a race element in the film, but is it really about that?
A:  No, I think it’s about the bigger picture.
Q:  Nobody should read your answer to this question until after they see the movie, but: Was there ever a discussion to have a less positive ending, as in the short story?  There are some signs of peace with the family of the dead aborigine girl and there is a hint that there will be some kind of reconciliation between Claire and Stewart.  In Carver, Claire knows she will never leave Stewart, but she probably won’t forgive him.
A: There’s only a slim chance of any reconciliation in the movie, not a whole lot.  We talked about it a lot between us—“What do you think happens?”  I can see it going either way.  It’s nice to think it will all work out, but I don’t think it does.  Viewers may think differently.
Q: What project are you working on now?
A: I’m doing a seven-hour miniseries about John Adams for HBO.  I play Abigail.  There’s research.  I’m relearning American history—or, I should say that I’m learning it for the first time.  High school American history is shameful.  That and 1776, the movie, which I loved, were my only points of reference—and that’s embarrassing.  It’s astounding what they did on the set.  It’s based on the David McCullough novel and he’s been there on the set.  It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever been involved with.  I have never seen sets or costumes like this.  It’s being done on a huge scale.  I dyed my hair black and wear it up.
Q: So is your Broadway career on hold?
A: No, I’m going to be doing a play.  It hasn’t been put together yet so I won’t name it, but I’ll tell you that it’s going to be a revival.

Steph Song, Soaring Star

Find Everyone's Gone Green on Video

Steph Song, Soaring Star

(from 4/11/07)

  • picture
  • picture
  • picture
  • picture Steph Song
About a week before the April 13th New York premiere of “Everyone’s Gone Green,”, the publicists for the award-winning Canadian romantic comedy said I could interview the film’s male star Paolo Costanzo, male director Paul Fox, male writer Douglas Coupland, or female lead Steph Song, who just happened to have been voted the “Sexiest Woman in the World 2006” by Asian FHM readers.  Now, that’s the very definition of a no-brainer. 
Naturally I spent a lot of time leading up to the interview looking at Steph Song’s pictures online, but, she’d be happy to know, I in fact was won over by her thoughtful, graceful performance in the film-festival favorite. And my reasons for wanting to interview her changed as I researched her unusual background and read interviews she had done with the press in Asia.  She was intelligent and funny, didn’t give standard responses, seemed a bit rebellious, and had a cynicism about Hollywood and stardom that I shared.  She spoke four languages: English, Spanish, Hokkien, and Khymer, which she learned in order to play a Cambodian prostitute in the acclaimed CBC miniseries, “Dragon Boys.”  She once hosted a 26-part television series on the environment, “Earth Pulse.”  Plus she loved good books, Zhang Yimou movies, and John Coltrane, Ray Charles and Nina Simone.  Sure, she was the sexiest woman on the planet, but she also seemed like someone I could hang out with.  In fact, amazingly, in one aspect I could identify with her.  My father was a biologist and hers was a geneticist and we two shy kids spent our youths moving to many different locations and trying to fit in.  Obviously our paths had to cross.

Danny Peary: Where did you live while growing up?
Steph Song: I was born in Kuching, Malaysia.  When I was around two months, my parents moved me to Canada.  We first settled in Edmonton and then moved elsewhere.   When I was five we went to Colombia in South America, and lived in Cali for about four years.  Then we moved back to Canada and lived in Saskatchewan, first in Regina and then Saskatoon.  Then when I was fourteen we moved to Brisbane, Australia.  That’s where my father is now.  My mom lives in Melbourne.  After all that time, they divorced.  I was very happy when it happened. Trust me, kids would much rather be from a broken home then live in a broken home. 
DP: Because you moved so often, you repeatedly were the new girl in your neighborhood and in school, and the only Asian.  You have said it was very difficult.
SS: Yeah, I was incredibly shy and was always trying to fit in, but never did.   That was the sad part of my childhood.  When you’re a child, you want things to be stable.  I was watching my young cousins the other day and realized they watch the same Disney cartoon over and over and over again because it’s safe, they know what’s coming next, there aren’t going to be unpleasant surprises.  Children want the security of knowing what is happening next.  When you spend your entire childhood moving around like I did, you learn never to expect what’s familiar to be there when you turn around.  Mom and I counted that I went to something like fifteen different schools before I even was in grade nine.  That’s a lot of schools and trying to fit into a new group of friends.  And then the second you start feeling comfortable, you’re off again.  Then you discover a whole new set of bullies in your new school and just when you made your peace with them you’re off to meet another set of bullies.  It’s not such a great way to grow up.  But as a result I learned to adapt quickly.
DP: I would imagine that your unusual background and perspectives set you apart from other actors. Do you find that the actors you meet on and off the set aren’t at all similar to you? 
SS: I only like talking to actors on the set.  When you’re working with them you have to be so honest that you cut through the bullshit and get to know the real person pretty quickly. You need to communicate with them as actors.  I don’t really like talking to them off the set.  Off the set, they are a different breed.
DP: As a young girl you saw the Gene Wilder version of “Willy Wonka in the Chocolate Factory” and first thought about becoming an actress. When did you first act?
SS: When I was six.  I pretended to be Wonder Woman—wearing big tin foil—and I jumped off the garage roof and broke my collarbone.  I’d charge kids to watch me, and mom said I made some money.  Later I appeared in high school plays.  But I was always being passed over for the lead roles because I was Chinese.  So I only got to play the nurse in “Romeo and Juliet” and supporting parts like that.
DP: You didn’t immediately pursue acting as a career, but instead got nursing and journalism degrees at the University of Southern Queensland. Everyone asks you about your nursing degree—because you’ve said you’d love to put give injections, do ultrasound, or take blood pressure on “ER” or “Gray’s Anatomy”--but what about your journalism degree?
SS: In actuality, I wasn’t so much interested in journalism as English literature.  I got both degrees, mostly to please my parents.  They didn’t want me to be this bum on their couch who was trying to act or go into art direction, so they said I needed something to fall back on.  My mom has a master’s in political science and my dad has a PhD in genetics, so they are incredibly academic.  Being the eldest of three children, I was expected to get some kind of degree.  I didn’t really want to spend my whole life studying, so I started off in English literature, which mutated into journalism.  And I also studied psychology, which turned into nursing.
DP: How does psychology turn into nursing?
SS: I loved studying psychology, but I learned that it didn’t really give me a practical skill.  I decided that instead of being able to psychoanalyze someone, it might be better to learn some medical jargon and skills.
DP: I’m sure that studying psychology eventually helped you with acting, right?
SS: No. Psychology didn’t teach me much, nothing I wouldn’t know anyway. 
DP: So actors don’t have to be psychologists to play their characters correctly?
SS: No, they have to be incredibly good liars. 
DP: But don’t actors usually state the cliché about how they “are searching for truth.”
SS: Yes, that’s one way of looking at it.  But there are times when you are under the gun and the whole crew is waiting for you and the director is telling you to perform and you don’t really agree with what you’re supposed to do, so you kind of fake it.  You do it the best you can.  And that’s when it’s not the truth but pretty much a lie. 
DP: It doesn’t sound like you really enjoy being an actress.  In fact, I read where you advise young girls that unless acting is their life’s calling, they should “avoid it like the plague.”  Is that how you really feel?
SS: There are moments in filmmaking when I feel like I’m going against the art I should be practicing.  But most of the time I really love it.  “Everything’s Gone Green” was a wonderful experience for me. 
DP: Ming’s corrupt boyfriend Bryce (JR Bourne) talks about a “moral free zone.”  I’d think that when one makes movies, it’s hard to stay true to yourself, especially if you, like Coupland’s Generation Xers, haven’t yet defined yourself.  So is “selling out” t a worry for you like it is for Ming and Ryan (Paolo Castanzo)?
SS: It is a worry that you won’t find those truthful moments in this profession.  The moments you do get to work and perform can be so few and far between, and then you have to sell out to do them, so when do you find your personal reward?  There’s a sorrow that comes with this profession.  It’s not all going to be this wonderful search for truth or whatever.  The reality might be that you’re in the fourteenth straight hour of filming and the director is dying to get a scene over and done with and you don’t really understand how to do something truthfully so you’ve got to scrounge around and dip into your own little bag of tricks to come up with something quickly.
DP: Are you easy to direct?
SS: You’d have to ask Paul Fox.  I think it’s different with every director.  It depends on their directing methods. If you tell me to say my line and then stand there and blink my eyes and then smile and say my other line and have a teardrop, yeah you might encounter a bit of resistance from me.  They’re asking you to trust them, so why can’t they trust us? But if the director has a clear vision then it’s my  responsibility to respect that vision. 
DP: You now act all over the world for different directors.  Where are you a citizen?
SS: I have citizenship in Australia and Canada.  I have a U.S. Green Card and various working visas.  Also I have a permanent resident card of Singapore, where my man and I have a house. 
DP: It was in Singapore that you first really made your mark.  You were on nine television shows in three years.  How is that possible?
SS: I wasn’t the lead in all of them.  I played supporting roles, too.  Of course, it’s strange if you compare it to the U.S. or Canadian standard.  To do that many series is ridiculous.  But the way it works in Singapore is kind of like the old studio system.  You’re contracted to a studio and they will put in front of you a whole slate of things you need to fulfill: two lead roles in either a sitcom or drama or miniseries, then you need a couple of guest star appearances, and you need a couple of recurring roles.  “So here’s a whole slate of what we’re doing this year.  What would you like to do?”
DP: Your biggest show was an English sitcom called Achar!  It was a huge hit in 2003 and you were the female lead and became very popular.  So how come you aren’t contracted to still be on it, as you would be in America?
SS: I didn’t want to get tied into a series so I did it just for one season.  They weren’t smart enough to option me for four years.  I was asked to come back, and if I had been really gracious I could have done a couple of more seasons, but I said, “No, I just have zero interest in it, sorry.”  That didn’t really bode too well because it was the surprise hit of the season. They didn’t offer me more money, but it wasn’t about money.  I had done three-camera, big exaggerated sitcoms already and it had been fun for awhile, but I couldn’t imagine doing another thirteen episodes, let alone for another four years.  It’s not that I’m ungrateful, but my idea of comedy is very different.  At the end of the day I didn’t think those sitcoms were very funny.  I find Doug Coupland’s writing very funny.  I giggle during a lot of parts of “Everyone’s Gone Green.”
About two years ago I decided not that I had hit a ceiling in Singapore, but that I should look elsewhere for work.  Acting is kind of a young person’s business—you have to be full of energy and ready to take on the world with a great deal of perseverance.  I thought while I still had some energy in me I would see how far I could take this, as opposed to just being comfortable.  So I decided to look outside of Singapore, and what I found was “Everything’s Gone Green.”  So I went to Vancouver.  And after I made the movie, I got another project, then another project, and then another project.  So I’ve been really fortunate.
DP: You stopped working in Singapore, but you are still a star there.  Last year Singapore FHM voted you the “Sexiest Woman in the World.”  Is that a big thing that affects everything in your life or something minor?
SS: It made me scratch my head a little bit!  The reason is that in the last project I did in Singapore, I played a nagging, complaining, whining wife who was eight-months’ pregnant.  I was barefoot and ugly most of the time.  I don’t know why Singapore would reward me with that.  It was kind of funny.
DP: Maybe they’d seen the pin-up-type pictures and magazine covers you’ve done.
SS: I had a writer friend quite a few years back who worked for FHM.  He asked me if just for a lark, “you’d consider doing something in your swimmers?”  I said, “Okay,” just for fun and maybe so I’d have something to show the grandkids when my boobs are down to my knees.  I didn’t think anything of it after that.  Then the new editor of FHM called me up and asked, “Do you think we could get you back in your swimmers again?”  I said, “Absolutely not.”  Then he said, “But our readers voted you No.1.”  When he told me this I was in my boyfriend’s underwear, eating Doritos on the couch; I hadn’t showered all day and had popped a couple of pimples.  I laughed to my boyfriend and pointed at myself and said, “Hey, Number One!” 
DP: Do you have to keep your movie agent from pushing you as a sex symbol?
SS: I don’t have to keep him in line or anything, but I do tell him not to use the FHM thing so much.  Because the times it has come up in interviews is far too many, and it’s not really what I want to be known for.  He’ll say, “Well, just use it as a stepping stone!”  But I think it’s a stupid thing to put out there when I’m trying to get movie roles.
DP: When did you make “Everybody’s Gone Green?”
SS: I read the script in April of 2005.  And we shot it that June. 
DP: In Australia, you once anchored “Earth Pulse” for the National Geographic Channel and have said you’d like to do more environmental television from the other side of the camera. When you heard the title “Everyone’s Gone Green,” did you think it was a movie about the environment?
SS: No, I knew it was about money.  I recognized the title from a very obscure New Order song.  It was a side B side, back when there was vinyl.  I had no doubt the title came from that song.  “Girlfriend in a Coma” came from a song by the Smiths, a band Doug Coupland was inspired by.  Doug is into all that alternative British rock music of the eighties.
DP: Had you read his books already?
SS: At the time I had read “Generation X” and either “Shampoo Planet” or “Girlfriend in a Coma.”  Plus I had a boyfriend who was a huge fan of his, and he would listen to the Smiths, and tried to find his place in the world by staring at his naval, which is kind of typical Coupland.  So I was familiar with Doug’s way of thinking. 
DP: Did you audition to play Ming?
SS: I did.  I had to audition for Paul Fox. I did the scene in which Ming and Ryan talk by the lake. Then Paul requested a meeting.  So we sat down and talked and he found out where my head was at and how I thought of Ming.  Then he said that there were a lot of similarities between me and her, “but I think Ming finds where she wants to be and you’re still searching to get to that place.”  That was a hard thing to agree with--but I did. 
DP: The tagline for the movie reads: “’Everything’s Gone Green’ is about when you get older and you feel certain doors closing very quickly on you.”  But is that what the film is about?
SS: I read that quote for the first time after the movie was made. When I had read the script I didn’t think it was about a certain time in your life ending, as that quote implies.  It was kind of a coming-of-age film but not so much coming to a certain age but coming to a certain state of mind and certain state of self-awareness of where you stand morally and what you can and can’t live with.
DP: What comes after that tagline in the production notes is: “’Everything’s Gone Green’ comically illustrates how hard it is to know what’s real in a world filled with fabrication and hidden agendas.”             
SS: That makes more sense.  I think the city of Vancouver pretty much set the tone for the film.  As Doug makes clear in his script, Vancouver has sold out with the big skyscrapers on prime real estate that no one lives in; and with American films and TV using her beauty yet not saying it’s Vancouver.  That’s selling out, saying “it’s not cool, but we’ll take the money anyway.”
DP: What do Canadians think of we Americans disguising their cities as our own and making films there? 
SS: I don’t think people in Vancouver resent it at all.  It’s an industry and a lot of people depend on American dollars coming in.  It affords a lot of people a livelihood and life style.
DP: How does Ming fit into this?  She has a scheming boyfriend, whom she is clearly better than but condones.  And her job is to make what’s on film appear to be different from what it really is.
SS: She’s pretty much done looking in the mirror and seeing that she’s sold herself out.  She’s taking these small, belated steps to get to where she needs to go.  She’s a little bit jaded and she’s a little bit sweet, she’s smart and funny, she’s kind of real.  She is strong but not in the classic sense, not strong like Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, or Diane Keaton.  She’s strong, I guess, in that she’s indifferent toward men.  Not that she really does anything dramatic, but she drifts out of one relationship, with Bryce, and isn’t keen to get into another one, with Ryan.  She thinks that’s going backward.   She’d like a decent fellow, but doesn’t care if one doesn’t materialize. 
DP: Does she fit somewhere in between Bryce and Ryan, acting as their conscience?
SS: In a way she’s a bit of moral touchstone for Ryan.  But she has to fix herself first, that’s her priority.   She can’t tell him to not sell out before she changes herself.
DP: Ryan and Ming “meet cute” by a beached whale. At the time she is with Bryce and has sold out her values but she starts to change upon meeting the nice Ryan.  And in time their roles will be reversed as Ryan starts hanging out with Bryce and has his values corrupted. So the scene has deeper meaning later on. Was this beached whale scene in the script?
SS: It was.  That’s a very intimate moment in the movie, getting to know a complete stranger and divulging your innermost thoughts.  I thought it was clever to begin the relationship that way.
DP: One of the interesting things about this movie is that at a time you are being promoted as one of the sexiest women in the world, there are no sex scenes with you.
SS: There’s not even a kissing scene! 
DP: I found it peculiar that they didn’t want in any way to exploit the attention you were getting.
SS: I found that great!  There were no discussions about it.  That’s the way the script was written.  You know you don’t have to show characters kissing or rolling around in the hay to show intimacy.  The intimacy comes across in a different way—viewers will see it in the beached-whale scene and the lake-side scene, where we bare our souls to each other.
DP: Ming and Ryan bare their souls to each other.  Have you ever bared your soul in a movie, as I have read you want to be able to do as an actress?
SS: I think I did it to a degree in this movie.  And there’s an untitled film I’m working on in China that lets me do that. 
DP: “Everything’s Gone Green” is being promoted as your “breakthrough” movie. You’re next release, in September I think, is “War” with Jet Li.  Is that a big movie for you?
SS: “Everything’s Gone Green,” to me, is bigger.  But “War” is big in a different way.  My dad and I used to watch Jet Li movies together, so when I called him to tell him I was going to be in a Jet Li movie, he thought that I had arrived!  It was a good experience making the movie, which was titled “Rogue,” until another movie used that title.  And Jet Li is a really nice fellow.  He has a real sensitivity as an actor and really cares about what he’s doing.  He studies the script intently, and he’ll fight to have lines or scenes cut out if they aren’t keeping with the character.  So I was really impressed. 
DP: Where are you in your career?
SS: When you start off in this career, you pretty much have to take what you’re given and try to make the best of it.  As I get older I can be more selective.  I don’t necessarily want to do material that speaks volumes to people.  It’s more about trying things I haven’t done before and finding challenges. I just formed my own creative-content group.  Check it out: Islandfilms@net.  I source material that I’m interested in and I’ll try to get films made that are good stories.  Sometimes they’ll have a role for me that I’d love to play but if I’m passed over for it, that’s fine because it’s still a great story that deserves to be told.
DP: Are there particular Asian actresses whose career paths you admire?
SS: There are actresses whose careers I’ve followed.  Sandra Oh, for instance.  She has been busting down doors for other Asian-American actresses.  God bless her, I love her.  And I love Gong Li.  But not in English, only Chinese!
DP: I know you don’t love Hollywood films but to advance your career to where you want it to be eventually, do you expect to go that route?
SS: I think Hollywood is part of a machine that I just don’t believe in anymore.  If we’re talking about films like “Little Miss Sunshine,” then I’d love to do a “Hollywood” film.  But if we’re talking about “Mission Impossible 2,” then no, I don’t care for that.  My agent would kick me for saying that!   But that’s how I feel.