Monday, November 25, 2013

Young Olsen on "Oldboy"

Playing in Theaters

Young Olsen on Oldboy

(from Sag Harbor Online 11/24/13)

By Danny Peary
Spike Lee’s highly-anticipated English-language reworking of Park Chan Wook’s 2003 cult classic slips into theaters in New York this Wednesday.  Yes, this alternate-reality film about an amoral alcoholic (Josh Brolin as Joe Doucett) who is kidnapped and kept in solitary confinement for twenty years without explanation and then seeks revenge, is just as lurid, violent, and twisted as the original. But not drowned by the overflowing testosterone is the delicate flower played by Elizabeth Olsen.  Nothing was expected of the younger sister of the Olsen twins when she came upon the scene, but since turning in an award-worthy performance as the star of Martha Marcy May Marlene, she has been in demand.  In Oldboy, she gets a choice part, Marie, a kind young woman who helps and grows close to Joe as he searches for the grown daughter he hasn’t seen since she was three.  Olsen was recently in New York to promote the film’s opening, and I participated in this roundtable with her.  Following the Q&A are my exchanges with Michael Imperioli (who plays bartender Chucky, Joe’s friend since high school), a tight-lipped Spike Lee, and screenwriter Mark Protosevich.  I will be posting a roundtable with Pom Klementieff (who plays Haeng-Bok, the villain’s henchwoman) in December.

Elizabeth Olsen Photo: DP

Q: What attracted you to working with Spike Lee on this remake of a popular Korean film?
Elizabeth Olsen: If you get the opportunity to work with Spike Lee, it’s not something you think twice about.  Especially on this film.  People have seen and are aware of the Korean version, so if there is going to be an English-language, Americanized version, you need to have a director who has his own style. I think that’s important for this remake—or reimagining. The moment this movie begins—and I’m thinking of the way it’s colored and the camera angles–it’s Spike Lee film..
Q: Had you seen Park Chan Wook’s 2003 movie before you were offered the role?
EO: I wasn’t offered it. I was captivated by the story and especially the script, which gives us an amazing shock. Then within a few hours I saw the original movie and it was even more traumatic. It was amazing how different they were in telling the story but they had the same heart. Then I tried to get the job, I wasn’t offered it.
Q: So what was it like to work with Spike Lee?
EO: Spike’s amazing to work with. It’s a process and it’s an experience. He collaborates with every single person that is around him. And from that, he always knows what he needs and what he wants.  The first time I met him, he pointed at the script and said, “What do you think about this scene?” I said, “But I’m not in this scene. What do you mean?” And he said, “Well, do you like it?” And I said, “Am I allowed to say something about it?”  Then I said, I don’t really think the scene needs that part of it.” And he made a little note. He just really cares about everybody’s opinion.  He and [Director of Photography] Sean Bobbitt really just played around with ideas. It was like a playground for them.
Q: How surprised were you that this is an American film but didn’t change many of the most shocking elements of the Korean movie?
EO: There’s no reason to make the film it if you’re not going to do the story.  Nathan Kahane, the producer, said, “I’m not going to make this movie unless I do it right.”  There’s no point to remake it if you’re not going to try to make it as edgy as the other one.
Q: I won’t say what it is, but there is something just as shocking but different at the end of your film.
EO: In the Korean film, there’s hypnosis used to magically erase memories. Ding! For some reason it works so well in the original but an American audience would kind of be, “Are you serious?”
Q: You’re breakthrough film was Martha Marcy May Marlene, in which your character escapes from a cult, and you starred a psychotic victim of child abuse in Silent House. And now you’re in Oldboy. What do you find appealing about dark films and appearing in them?
EO: My dad likes to call it “the bottomless pit of sadness.”  I think Jessica Lange said that once, and my dad took it as his own. Honestly, the first five or six films that I did, I did because I wanted a job and wanted to be a working actor. I’d audition and I’d be offered the part, so why would I say no?  The concept of ‘no’ wasn’t there. Silent Housewas just “Okay, cool, you’re giving me a part.” But I don’t find playing such roles harmful to me. They’re accessible to me.  I love horror movies and audiences. There’s something really fun about the group experience. Even on something like this, when something grotesque happens or something scary pops out, people have some group reaction, and then everyone laughs because they feel so stupid for getting scared in the first place. I think there’s something really fun watching movies like this in a community setting.  Movies with dark themes are fun, no matter what the movie is, if you can be shocked or surprised. I think there’s something about the brutality and the violence in Oldboy that’s imaginative. It’s bizarre and weird and a little heightened from reality. No one’s shooting at each other and there’s nothing about it that would remind you of what you see on the news.
Q: What is it that makes some dark films fail while others become classics?
EO: I think it has to do with it being something new. You can remake Carrie, for instance, but the reason why [Brian de Palma's] Carrie was Carrie was because it was groundbreaking. It could still be a great new story to tell people who haven’t seen it, with great actors and actresses, but the reason the original was a classic was because there was nothing like it before.
Q: Does your dad object to your being in dark films like this?
EO: I don’t think anyone in my family agrees with my role choices except maybe my brother, because he’s a big film guy and he’s a writer who sees a film from the perspective of the story.  My dad and I have a very happy relationship and just laugh about it. I remember having a conversation with him when I made Martha, because he wanted to visit the set and I thought…well, that wouldn’t be such a good idea. I don’t remember what our conversation about this film was.  Oh my god, did I even tell my dad? [Laughter]. I haven’t even thought about it. I don’t think I told my dad the plot of this story, or anything except for the fact that I don’t want him to see it because of…obvious reasons. He’d have to close his eyes for a long while, quite a few times.
Q: Did you object to the nudity or discuss it with Spike Lee?
EO: For Spike, it was pointing to a page and going, “What do you think about that?”  I had read my contract and it gave me a lot of protection over certain things, and some not.   For me, I’d rather do a scene in which my character is nude that will later make people feel terrible having seen it, than to do a scene where I’m jogging on a beach in a bathing suit, which, to me, is gratuitous titillation. The nude scene in Oldboy helps the movie move forward and manipulates the audience without them knowing it initially. I think that if the audience doesn’t watch Marie and Joe connect in a physical way, they won’t have the same reaction later. The impact won’t be the same.
Danny Peary: In the production notes it says that you “understand why Marie is initially drawn to Joe, despite his bizarre behavior and bizarre story.” Marie is drawn to him, but why does she fall in love with him?  Or does she?
EO:. For the purpose of the story, there are innate connections between people without their realizing why. There’s something to be said of my character in general.  Marie just knows there’s someone who’s too scared to ask for help, and she likes giving help.
DP: She reads the letters he wrote while in captivity, written by a loving father to a daughter, so do you think that is why she is so drawn to him?
EO: Yeah, she reads the letters and becomes invested in his story. I think once you know someone’s history, you’re able to excuse them for things they do in the present. You can justify it for them and you want to help them more, because you care about them in that way. That’s how I thought about their relationship. It was important, especially in comparison to the Korean film, that Marie have psychological reasons to find something hopeful in this man.  It’s for her own sake, too.
DP: If Joe tell Marie the big secret, will she be devastated or take it well?
EO: It’s a really scary thing, it’s really dangerous territory. When I’m asked how I prepared to play Marie, I say, “I didn’t have to prepare much of anything because it’s one linear trajectory.” She does deal with traumatic things, obviously, but it’s different. To me, if she had that information, it will be hurtful.
DP: In the original, the girl does share that information.
EO: But then she takes him to a witch to make him forget. I don’t think it’s something Marie is capable of accepting. It doesn’t seem right.
Q: If you could travel back in time to the Golden Age of American cinema, what are some roles that you would love to say yes to?
EO: My goal as a little girl was to dance and sing and act, all three, because my dream was to be to be one of Frank Sinatra’s leading ladies.  I didn’t realize that the musicals I was watching were old, made at a different time. So when I then saw Frank Sinatra as an old man, I was literally heartbroken. I was so upset that my parents didn’t explain that to me.
Q: You have said your role model as a young girl was Michelle Pfeiffer.
EO: She was an inspiration.  I saw all these movies with her, and I thought, oh my god, she can do anything. I thought it was so cool that she was Catwoman [in Batman Returns], and gets a pink leather jacket, and is a teacher, and is a great mom.  And there was something about her beauty that I was just drawn to. But I could never imagine myself having the career she has had.  Mine has been nothing like that.
Q: How different an experience was making Godzilla than making Oldboy and smaller films?
EO: Not that different. I thought it was going to be, but it wasn’t. I just had a very obnoxious-looking trailer that I never really hung out it in because I don’t like hanging out in trailers. I thought the crew was going to be obscenely big.  And the crew was very large, and there were a lot of trucks parked in various places, but I knew all the cameramen, I knew the staff, it was the same group of people I’ve worked with before. You deal with the actors, you deal with the camera, and it is the same. The only difference was that I was that at some point I was on a really tall building. But it’s always all just make believe.
Q: How hard is it to find a complex role for a woman, in Hollywood?
EO: I don’t know. The roles that I’m chasing right now aren’t necessarily so complex. Honestly, I’m getting excited about playing the Scarlet Witch [in The Avengers: Age of Ultron] because she’s really complicated. It’s really fun stuff.  I’m kind of tired of playing versions of myself.  Doing something like that seems a lot cooler!
Michael Imperioli
Danny Peary: Your character’s kind of neutral in the entire film, but then all of the sudden, you see Chucky as a young man and he was a total jerk. Did that surprise you?
Michael Imperioli: A lot of people as young men are total jerks. I was a jerk as a young man. I can look back at some of the things that I did and my friends did. Being young sometimes is very difficult and you do things that you wouldn’t do anymore.  Hopefully you can evolve and get past those things, though some people probably can’t.
DP: Is Chucky as an adult the same as he was back then, but we just don’t see it?
MI: No. I wouldn’t say that. You stand in a river, then you stand in a river a year later, it’s different. It’s the same river but it’s not the same. I would say he’s a little bit like that.
DP: I don’t agree with you about his being different.  That he’s just like he was back then is apparent when he uses the word “whore” to describe the villain Adrian’s sister–when she did nothing to deserve being called that.
MI: Well, just because he uses that word, it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the same person.
DP: I think he is. I think that when he uses that word we are no longer meant to care if anything bad happens to him.
MI: You don’t think he changed as an adult and is any nicer now?
DP: Before he was imprisoned, the adult Joe, his childhood friend, hadn’t gotten any nicer, so it make sense that Chucky is also unchanged.
MI: It’s a good argument. But for me his role was about how he was going to help Joe reconnect to his life.  He’s thinking, “What can I do to help facilitate that?”  He’s asking himself, “How has the world has changed in the twenty years Joe has been away? And how is Joe’s ability to navigate the world going to be impeded?”  A lot of it is technological.
DP: In conceiving your character, did you ask Spike Lee questions?
MI: My questions were about what Chucky believes and does not believe about Joe’s story.  Also does Chucky wonder what Joe did to deserve being locked up and tortured?   Why did it happen? SPOILER ALERT Never in a million years would he think what they did in high school would add up to be the reason things happened later. END SPOILER ALERT
Spike Lee
Danny Peary: This is a very stylized, very heightened film, but people involved with it did some serious research about prisoners in solitary confinement. What real stuff did you want to come out of this film–perhaps about morality?
Spike Lee: I’m way past telling people, journalists, what the take-away of a film is. I just want to serve the script the best way possible, using people’s skills as actors and filmmakers. Josh did research. He didn’t want to just imagine what it felt like to be locked up, so he talked to people who had been locked up. I know he talked to one of the “Memphis Three,” who was locked away for many years.  Based on his performance, I think that research paid off.
DP: Revenge heroes are problematic to begin with, but when you talked about Joe while making the film, did you refer to him as a hero or as the protagonist?
SL: I never looked at it like that. That’s me. I was never a big fan of Deathwish or Dirty Harry. They’re good films but I never saw Joe as one of those cats. He wasn’t just going out and wiping out people indiscriminately. He’s had twenty years to think about it. That made a big difference to me.
Oldboypomphoto 003

Mark Protosevich  Photo: DP

Danny Peary: Journalists have been calling this–and the original Oldboy–a horror film, but is it one?
Mark Protosevich: I don’t think I’d refer to this or the original Oldboy as a horror film.  I would definitely put it more in the “psychological thriller” category. The goal of horror films is to scare and unsettle people. I don’t think we’re trying to scare anyone. Horror films usually are violent and dark, and though this film is that, I wouldn’t classify it as horror.
DP: Joe is an immoral, amoral character who goes into a hotel room for twenty years and comes out wanting to do violent revenge on who imprisoned him and at the same time be tender to his daughter.  Talk about his transformation from one person to another.
MP: When I first started writing the script, when it looked like I was going to do it with Steven Spielberg, I wrote down my thoughts on what I wanted the movie to be. The two key words that I wrote down were Redemption and Revenge, which in a lot of ways are contradictory. Redemption is this admirable pursuit that generally brings out the better aspects of one’s nature, whereas revenge generally leads to the satisfaction that one gets inevitably from bringing up the darker aspects of oneself. In my mind, I liked the idea of someone, after his release from the prison, struggling with darker and lighter pursuits. I think Joe is in some ways  trying to be a better person, but in other ways he’s intent on punishing those who punished him.
DP: Did he read the Bible, the only book in his room for twenty years? You never see him actually reading it.
MP (laughing): I wonder if he did. It was never an overt aspect of the script. But I wonder if in Josh’s mind he did. I think that’s probably a question you’d have to ask him.
DP: I know you were inspired by film noir. But what about the book and movie, The Count of Monte Cristo, and Luis Bunuel’s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, before the lonely Crusoe meets Friday?
MP: The Count of Monte Cristo is a good comparison.  I’ve actually never seen Robinson Crusoe.  I definitely need to look for that.
DP: What did you change from Spielberg to Spike Lee?
MP: Nothing really changed from the original treatment that I wrote. If you looked at that treatment, I’d say 90% of what you see in the film was in that original idea. Even at that stage, my first draft, I was trying to write a version of the movie that I would want to see. They can always ask you to change what you give them, but it’s hard to put stuff back in that you held out originally. You’ve gotta go balls-out on the first draft! 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Steve Coogan's Odyssey with "Philomena"

Playing in Theaters

Steve Coogan's Odyssey with Philomena

(from Sag Harbor Online 11/17/21)

Add Stephen Frears’ Philomena to the list of possible Oscar contenders.  It has a good shot for a Best Picture nomination, and I think it’s almost a sure thing that Judi Dench will be among the five Best Actress contenders for her spot-on performance as Philomena Lee, a devoted Irish Catholic who wants to find her bastard son that the convent gave up (actually sold) to a well-to-do couple for adoption fifty years before.  The spectacularly versatile Steve Coogan (hilarious as a fictionalized version of himself in the brilliant comedy, The Trip, and off-putting as a manipulative egotist in the brilliant drama, What Maisie Knew) deserves a Best Actor nomination for playing ex-BBC correspondent Martin Sixsmith, who helps Philomena on her quest so he can tackle a “human interest story” for the first time.  But I think Coogan has a much better chance of receiving a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination for turning Sixsmith’s serious 2009 nonfiction book, The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, into an audacious mix of tragedy and good cheer.  Additionally, Scottish actress Sophie Kennedy Clark might snare a Best Supporting Actress nomination for playing the young Philomena, who was abandoned by her parents when she became pregnant and wound up in a convent and toiling as a laundress with other young girls who had “sinned.” I will soon post a roundtable I participated in with Clark.  For now, here is a roundtable I did with Coogan, who was in New York to promote the opening of Philomena this Friday.  I note my questions.
Q: The convent where Philomena was confined and that sold her baby is in Tipperary. Did you film there?

                                                             Steve Coogan  Photo: DP
Steve Coogan: We actually didn’t film in southern Ireland at all.  We filmed in London, Washington D.C. and Northern Ireland, which doubled for southern Ireland. The abbey we used is actually outside London. Actually, the two buildings we used—the redbrick building where Philomena last sees her baby and the building where the nuns live–are about twenty miles away, but with CGI we stuck them together so you don’t notice on the screen.
Danny Peary: I love The Trip. That film and this film seem to have nothing in common but when you were writing about two ill-fitting travel companions again, did you find similarities?
SC: Of course they’re both road movies, in a way, so there’s that similarity. I never saw that parallel until it was pointed out to me.  If it’s there it’s subliminal, because their executions were poles apart. On Philomena, we stuck to the script absolutely verbatim; there was no improvisation whatsoever. The Trip, which Michael Winterbottom directed, was almost entirely improvisation.
DP: So you weren’t drawn to making an entirely different trip, or road, movie?
SC: I was just interested in telling Philomena’s story, which I read in the newspaper and found very moving. I wanted to tell a real story as a drama. I didn’t see it as being especially funny, at first. But whenever I told people the story in a sentence, they’d say, “Oh, that sounds awful. Who’d want to go and see that?” Then I thought that since the story is so inherently sad, so tragic, introducing some levity would make it bearable. I wanted to somehow findin the sadness a way to lift people up. I didn’t want people to leave the cinema depressed but to feel positive and hopeful or inspired.
I wanted to tell the story about this odd couple, Philomena and Martin, looking for her son and thought about  Missing, with Sissy Spacek and Jack Lemmon looking for his son [and her husband], and how in their odyssey they learned some things about each other and about life. I thought that would work but I wanted to do something funnier.  I looked at the newspaper photograph of Philomena and Martin sitting on a bench and they’re both laughing, like we are in the poster. The movie ended up being funnier than I thought it was going to be. When writing it, if it was clearly a funny situation we’d mine the humor, but we were very careful not to introduce humor into moments of real drama. If it was too much, we’d take it down a little. Sometimes we’d take the humor out of a scene entirely because we thought it would trivialize it. It was all about tone.
Q: A lot of the humor in your movie actually derives from unusual things Philomena says to people. How concerned were you not to make her come off as…
SC: Stupid?  You have to be bold sometimes in terms of the way you write a character. You can gently mock a character that you later find heroic, that you then dignify. It’s okay to do that, and you should do that to lead the audience down the garden path. I want people to think Philomena is a slightly foolish, naïve, old lady. Then I can surprise them by showing that she has this special intuitive quality.
Q: How about her comments about having enjoyed sex when she was young?
SC: She didn’t know anything about sex, but I did invent it when she says, “Martin, I didn’t even know I had a clitoris.” The real Philomena never actually said that to me, but I thought it would be a quite shocking and funny thing if an old lady says that. The humor is not at Philomena’s expense, it’s at Martin’s. He’s this buttoned-down, middle-aged man and has discomfort with what she says. Actually, that did come from the truth, it wasn’t just a contrivance. Philomena is very open. For 50 years she didn’t say a thing, it was all bottled up, but now that she’s unburdened herself, it’s like deluge.  She talks forever and can’t shut up!
Q: Judi Dench gives the film a lot of its humor and spirit. She of course can play comedy or drama.
SC: She was who we wanted to play Philomena from the start, and when the script was finished, I went to her house and read her the entire script out loud because of her eye problems. Judy was very enamored with it and wanted to play the part straight away, so we were fortunate. She’d worked with Stephen Frears before, so I knew that she would feel comfortable, which was important because she’s in her late seventies and playing the lead role was a huge task.   When the script was printed out for her, it was in very big letters, almost like for a child, because her eyesight is so bad.  But she got through it.  I was intimidated and worried because I was going to be acting opposite her, but she made me feel very comfortable. She is a Dame, but I saw her struggling with the part just like any other actor, and I realized she’s flesh and blood!
Q: How was it working with Stephen Frears?
SC: Stephen was there to serve the script, so he didn’t tear it apart. He helped us get it into a more clear and cogent shape.   He helped elevate it and with [cinematographer] Robbie Ryan made it look beautiful. There’s a lot of two people talking in the movie, and it could have been dull.  But it’s not, as a result of Stephen’s great work.  I’m grateful because though I love doing improvisation with Michael Winterbottom, I’d written this and didn’t want anyone messing with my script!
Q: Since you collaborated on a script adapted from a non-fiction book, how much input did you have?
SC: I did most of the dialogue and character detail and Jeff Pope, my co-writer, helped with the structure, pace, and rhythm of the piece. There was some overlap but that was largely what we did. The script was based only a small part on Martin’s book; most of it was based on interviews I did with Martin.  His book deals almost exclusively with the life of the missing son, but the son’s hardly in the movie at all–he’s a subliminal force throughout and you see snatches of his life on Super8.  The Philomena who Judi Dench plays is much closer to the real Philomena Lee than I am to the real Martin Sixsmith.  The movie Martin is really a distortion of the real Martin.  For one thing, Martin is not a lapsed Catholic.  I made him a lapsed Catholic in the movie because I’m a lapsed Catholic.  The Martin I play is half Martin and half me, with my thoughts and cynicism. When Martin says “Human-interest stories are read by weak-minded, vulnerable, ignorant people and written by weak-minded, vulnerable, ignorant people,” that’s me at my most cynical. The thing is, you can accuse the entire film of being exactly that. I’m as guilty as anyone else, because Philomena is by definition a “human-interest story.”
Q: Is the depiction of Philomena’s son Anthony in the movie accurate?
SC: What we have about her son is all real. He was a Republican and became a Chief Legal Counsel to the Reagan and Bush Sr. administrations. He was a closeted gay and kept it quiet because of the politics of the time.
Q: These days there are many documentary and independent films about AIDS, but this is among the few films in a while that deals with AIDS.  How important was it for you to touch on this topic?
SC: It’s important, because it’s easy to forget what a huge, huge impact the AIDS epidemic had in the 1980s.  It was devastating and was turned into political football. I wanted to flag some things to remind people that your government under the Republican administration, withdrew funding for AIDS research. That did happen. It was a political decision that resulted in people’s deaths that needn’t have happened.  A friend of my girlfriend’s mother died of AIDS then, and had she contracted it twenty years later, she’d still be around because of the advances in treatment. We didn’t want to make a whole issue of it in the movie, because we were talking about Michael’s life, but I wanted to bring it up and also point out why he was closeted.  Part of the film is about sexuality and people’s difficulty dealing with it, and also how religion has difficulty coming to terms with it in an honest way. Philomena says, “We didn’t know about making babies.” Those nuns educated those girls, but they didn’t include sex education.  It wasn’t accidental that there was no sex education, it was systemic. Looking back now, that seems insane. And you have to ask yourself how that came about. In my opinion, it was because of the distortion of some of the better values that religion should have imbued them with. I didn’t want to avoid those spiky moments in the script; I wanted to give some voice to them.
Q: How much research did you do in regard to the girls in the convent laundries at that time?
SC: Not a huge amount. I was aware of the laundries in Ireland, before The Magdalene Sisters, because my aunt in England voluntarily went into one of these places in the late 1960s. She was sent there because it was somewhere to hide while her belly grew and she had the baby. I was 7 or 8, and knew what was going on and I was embarrassed that my aunt had a baby and wasn’t married. It was a huge social stigma to have a child out of wedlock. It seems odd to us in this modern age, perhaps, but it was very, very real then. Being raised a Catholic I knew about those places and that they were dying out.  The laundries in Ireland have always been an issue. I didn’t want to make a film that was a polemic attacking these archaic practices. Having the benefit of hindsight, it’s too easy to express some sort of conceited liberal-minded admonishment of people in the past. It has to go beyond that, although clearly I’m angry about some things.  I wanted to tell the story of this simple, working-class Irish woman because there are many people like Philomena, including my mother and grandmother and lots of ladies in Ireland of her age. I wanted to celebrate those stoic, forgotten women who have sustained their faith and led quiet, unremarkable but dignified lives. It’s important that Philomena actually dignifies her faith, because I do point my finger at the Catholic Church. I made sure to distinguish between the hierarchy and institution and the ordinary people like Philomena, who are not only blameless but are the only real hope that the religion has.
DP: Martin has trouble containing his anger about what happened to Philomena, while she’s the forgiving and gracious one. My guess is that the average viewer is going to side with him and you.  But do you want that?
SC: It’s an interesting question. I asked Philomena, “Do you forgive them for what they did to you?”  And she said, “Yes, I do.”  I thought, “Well, that’s very interesting, and that could be a very powerful moment in the film.”  She told me about that decision to forgive; but given my creative license I have Philomena say it directly to Sister Hildegarde.  Her daughter, Jane, who’s also portrayed in the movie [by Anna Maxwell Martin], stood next to her mother when she said she forgave them.  She said, “I don’t forgive them.” I thought, wow, they both seem really comfortable with their opposite choices. She doesn’t but I do. That made me decide to put both choices the film next to each other.  But I also wanted Martin to confront the people at the convent and say what the audience needs to hear, to give the audience that kind of rush. An audience would feel cheated if they didn’t have that cathartic moment.  But, conversely, I wanted to contrast Martin’s anger with Philomena’s serenity. She tells him, “I don’t want to spend the rest of my life hating people, I don’t want to be like you.”   And he’s suddenly humbled and reduced to almost a child. That was really important, too. I didn’t want to be prescriptive because there’s nothing worse than a film saying, this is how you ought to feel.
DP: Was Sister Hildegarde, who in your movie sold babies and even now thinks all the convent girls back then who had pre-marital sex and gave birth were sinners, real?
SG: Yes, she was a real nun there, but she died a long time ago.  So that conversation [Martin and Philomena have with the elderly Hidegarde] in the movie never took place.  People in the clergy and other people came out the woodwork and said it is an unfair representation of her, that she did some good things. Then, straight after that, lots of other people came out of the woodwork and said, “No, actually she’s the one who stopped me from finding my child.”  There’s a big, big discussion going on in Ireland about this, even as we speak.
Q: Was the convent cooperative?
SC: When we tried to film, we told the church what it was going to be and asked whether they had any comments. And they didn’t respond to us in any way. They didn’t want to help.  I actually went to visit the abbey. I had a conversation with a nun there when I was looking around. The word she used to describe me was “impertinent,” which is very telling. I pointed out that we’d asked in a phone call days before if they would help, and they made it quite clear that they’d have nothing to do with the film.  Certain people within the church have been very contrite, but there are just as many people who are unwilling to accept that what is in film really happened.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Sayles and Ross Say "Go see 'Go for Sisters'"

Playing in Theaters

Sayles and Ross Say "Go see 'Go for Sisters'"

(from Sag Harbor Online 11/8/13)


Go for Sisters fits my category Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor. Beginning today you can see John Sayles’ quirky little jewel in Manhattan, before it plays in select theaters nationwide.  Since 1980, Sayles has written and directed some extraordinary independent films—Return of the Secaucus Seven, Passion Fish, The Brother from Another Planet, Matewan, Lone Star, Eight Men Out, and Amigo are among his eighteen familiar titles—offbeat, thought-provoking, splendidly-acted works that have been full of wit, action, and adventure while seriously dealing with politics, labor issues, racism, poverty, exploitation, and women’s issues. He has been a role model for other independent filmmakers and has a grateful following among savvy moviegoers.  Foremost Sayles is a storyteller and this story is a doozy.   Bernice (LisaGay Hamilton) is a strict, cynical parole officer whose newest case is ex-con and recovering addict Fontayne (Yolanda Ross), who was her best friend until they split up over a guy twenty years before.  When her son Rodney, who has been smuggling Chinese out of Mexico, is held for ransom by a Chinese gang, Bernice enlists Fontayne to help and hires the almost-blind, hardly-working private eye, Freddy Suárez (Edward James Olmos) who was thrown off the police force for not turning in his corrupt partner.  This unlikely trio travels to Mexico to find the missing son, deal with an assortment of characters—some strange and some dangerous–and have some wild escapades.  Will they find Rodney alive? Will Bernice and Fontayne resume the friendship they’ve both missed? And will Freddy–“The Terminator”—come through one more time?  Having seen the movie I had no need to ask any of those questions when I did this interview with Sayles and Ross earlier this week.
GoforSistersSaylesRossphotoJohn Sayles and Yolanda Ross  Photo: DP
Danny Peary: John talk about the title of the movie, Go for Sisters.
John Sayles: It’s a good example of a title that I never thought of.  That happened before when I made “The Louisiana Project.” There was a title contest among the cast and crew, and two other people besides me said Passion Fish might be a good one. My only problem with this title is that if I call up the chain theater near my place in Hoboken, they might think I made a film about gophers.
DP: I thought Go for Sisters might be the title of a song from years ago.
JS: It’s a phrase from when I was kid, when guys went for brothers and girls went for sisters–like how Romy and Michelle go for sisters. I never came up with a better title and I think it’s a good title for this movie.
DP: The title implies that is about, foremost, not the search for the missing boy but the relationship of the two women, Bernice and Fontayne, and their sisterly love for each other.
JS: Go For Sisters is really for me is about redemption and figuring out who you are. For probably 12 to 18 years, when Bernice and Fontayne were young, if you described one of them the other had to be in the conversation because they were that close. But then there was a twenty-year gap when they didn’t see each other. Is that relationship possible now? And is it desirable? And so the journey they take answers those questions. I like when where there’s a physical journey and also a psychological journey. The journey is between the two of them personally as well as it is to find the woman’s son.
DP: Yolanda, in that twenty-year-period, how often did Fontayne think of Bernice and was she resentful the whole time or was she hoping to be friends with her again?
Yolanda Ross: I think if you go through as much stuff as Fontayne has been going through, you try to hold on to a part of yourself from before and it’s like a little nugget you don’t want to get messed up–because people and situations change when a lot of time goes by.  Fontayne was in prison and inmates sometimes don’t want to let that outside world into what they’re into right now. I think there’s a lot of emotions mixed into it.  I don’t feel Fontayne had negative thoughts of Bernice. I think she always treasured Bernice and their friendship. I think that a lot of times that’s how you see friendships from way back. I know I do. There are people who I felt immensely close to and suddenly there was nothing between us for decades. And then you see these people–as I did when having my own films play at film festivals–and it just clicked and it was as if nothing had changed.
JS: Fontayne has a scene where she talks about that person she once was. She’s not just protecting the idea of who her friend was–and Bernice might still be her friend–but also the person Fontayne liked being.  As far as having been in prison and all this stuff, that’s somebody different, from the past. She wants to keep those things separate. Whether Fontayne can get back to being that person she liked being before she went to prison is another question.
DP: Well, I am sure that Bernice was a better person at that stage of her life, too, when she and Fontayne were friends. The movie is about characters not only searching for redemption but also their identities—it’s about people finding themselves again and having a second chance. I think Bernice finds her herself again through Fontayne.
JS: I think she finds her best self. She has had a lot of hard stuff weighing on her from being a single mom, having her husband die young, having had a lot of disappointments. And then working in that system as a parole officer–to do it, you build up a lot of crust. That not the best Bernice and she just now starts to sense that “Maybe I’ve turned into somebody I don’t like that much.”
DP: Remember the movie Hardcore in which the upstanding George C. Scott gets help from prostitute Season Hubley to find his daughter in the porno world.  We think he may take her in as his second daughter but at the end he pushes her aside.  During Go for Sisters, I think everyone is hoping that Bernice will want to stay friends with Fontayne at the end.
JS: That’s the indication.  As Bernice says, “I don’t have that many friends.” It’s illegal for them to be friends because she’s a parole officer and Fontayne is her client.  But also Bernice doesn’t want the complication of having power over her. A couple of times she snaps the whip and tells Fontayne, “Oh, you’re coming to Mexico with me to help me find my son.”  She’s her parole officer and there’s that implication that “if you don’t, maybe I will write you up.” It’s not a good thing in a personal relationship for one person to have that kind of power over the other.
DP: We want them to be together and be friends and equals. However, we remember that in your last film, Amigo, you didn’t give anybody what they wanted. So this time, watching a John Sayles movie, some of us are asking, “Is he going to give us what we want at the end?”
JS: Well, not what we want, but what the characters want.
DP: Yolanda, when reading the script for the first time, were you hoping that these two women would get together at the end?
YR (laughing): At first, I was hoping that Fontayne and Bernice stayed around throughout the script. LisaGay and I talked about how when we got the script, the first thing we said was “Where am I in it?”  Because the way the business is, you might get just a scene or two in the movie.
JS: I had already worked with LisaGay before, and I met Yolanda auditioning for the part that LisaGay played in Honeydripper. At the audition I wrote next to Yolonda’s name–”a really good actor, work with her someday.”  Then this happened. It’s really pretty rare that I know who the actor is going to be when I’m writing. I try not to write with actors in mind because even if I know them, they may not be able to afford to work for me, or might not be available. In this case, I was putting together two different ideas–one about a detective and one about the two women coming together, and it made sense as one film. And I said, “Oh, jeez, that actress Yolonda Ross would be great for this!
DP: Yolanda, you probably heard from other directors you auditioned for that they’d cast you in a future film.  And nothing happened. So were you surprised to hear from John?
YR: We met at the audition for Honeydripper, but we hadn’t kept in touch.  Then three years later I get the script for Go for Sisters.  I’d heard of John keeping his word, so I was thinking he had me in mind for a scene or two.  But the whole movie?  I was floored.  LisaGay and I both kept turning the pages and seeing our names.  We were saying, “Wait! Am I in it all the way to the end?”  That was fascinating.
JS: I just gave them the script and told them each, “I want you to play this character.”
YR: He wanted us both to play substantial characters.  It was like, “Ok, I’m going to sit down and read it now.”  When I was reading the script, I just wanted to go on a journey. I didn’t know where it was going to go.  I can’t say I hoped that Fontayne and Bernice would become friends at the end but I hoped for the best for them.  Because when you see what they go through, how they help each other, and what they overcome, you want it to work out.
JS: Fontayne has a line near the end, “I didn’t think there was a hope in hell that this kid was alive.  I just wanted to be there for my friend when she got the bad news.”  You have to go back through Yolanda’s performance to realize that what Fontayne says is the truth.  As you watch Yolanda, sometimes when Fontayne is in the background, you realize that Fontayne is thinking Bernice’s son is dead. She is just there keeping the hope alive, but not in a cruel way. She’s gonna be there if Bernice hears bad news because she doesn’t want her friend to be alone if she finds out her son is dead. I was very impressed with Yolanda because that’s a tough thing to play.
YR: That’s a tough line to say. I read that, and even when doing it, I was like “Wow!”
JS: LisaGay also had something hard to do. There are scenes that aren’t about her son and she said, “How do I play something that’s almost comic and have Bernice appear to be having a good time, when her son has been kidnapped and they’re cutting off pieces of his body?”  I’d say that we see wives of men who are trapped down in a mine and they don’t know if the miners are dead are alive, yet worrying is not the only thing these women are capable of doing.  Still that’s really hard to play.
DP: I told you when Honeydripper was released that it reminded me of a short story. Although it’s not directed or acted in this way, I think Go for Sisters could be told as a yarn or tall tale:  It’s about these two black chicks who get together with a nearly blind and aging ex-cop and go down to Mexico to find one woman’s kidnapped son whose fingers are being sent home–and they meet a whole bunch of weird or dangerous people; one shoots a dirty cop in the leg, they get shot at, the ex-cop–who is nicknamed “The Terminato”–gets abducted.   It sounds like a whopper.
JS: There’s a way to write that with a third person who has just heard this story or witnessed some of it. I’ve actually done some short stories like that.
DP: So have you ever thought of it like a yarn?
JS: Yeah, yeah. The thing is, stories generally present themselves in my head in the form that they’re going to be in, but every once in a while they mutate from something else. For example Casa de los Babys was a short story before it was a movie.
DP: I read that you went to sixty-five locations, so is Go for Sisters your first road movie?
JS: It’s certainly the movie with the most fucking car shots. At times it was 117 degrees and we had  to turn off the air conditioning because of the sound.
YR: And you put more people in that car…
JS: The sound person and me. Some of my other movies have almost the same form. In Lone Star, for instance, there’s a whole detective thing, and the hero has to kind of take a journey–but he’s not literally in the car all of the time, going from one place to another. I think that besides Yolonda, LisaGay, and Eddie, there was only one actor who worked more than one day. Vanessa Martinez, who played Chula, Fontayne’s “friend” from prison, wanted to work only a couple of days.  So that’s very indicative of a road movie, where the lead characters briefly encounter people along the way.
DP: You don’t show Rodney at the beginning of the movie and you never really show the villains. Big choices!
JS: The Chinese are mysterious and they remain so. That woman you meet in the market is based on a Chinese woman who a couple years ago was arrested here. She had one of those little shops on Canal Street, lived very modestly, dressed very modestly, and, it turned out, was the snakehead of and international multi-million-dollar smuggling ring of Chinese. She’s definitely the snakehead of the organization. As Hector Elizondo’s character, a bartender, says, she’s cursed as a devil and venerated as a goddess by various people.
DP: So I’m wrong in saying that we don’t see the villain.
JS:  She’s not really the villain. We don’t ever see her in action.
DP: You had Chinese in the Philippines in Amigo and now in Mexicali in this film.  Are there Chinese there?
JS: In Mexicali, until about the 1930s, there were more Chinese than Mexicans. They were brought in because they’d work for less money than even the Mexicans. Today, in “La Chinesca,” which is what they call the Chinatown in Mexicali, there is an air of mystery. A couple years ago, there was an earthquake and people thought the Chinese smuggling had ended because the tunnels were gone. All the sudden, there were hundreds of Chinese in the streets. Where did these people come from? They’d been living in holes, waiting to cross the border, and the earthquake drew them out.
DP: There’s a scene with Fontayne and Bernice that has a terrific exchange in which Bernice says people are defined by the choices they make–which seems to make sense–but then Fontayne says that often people don’t have a lot of choices—which makes sense, too.  Yolanda, did that bit of dialogue have particular meaning for you?
YR: That scene stayed with me. I played another character who was in jail [in her 2001 movie debut, The Stranger Inside], and I think choices are different for everybody.  Having fewer choices makes it easier to function daily.
DP: Yes, but I think the implication is that some people, like Fontayne, don’t have a lot of good choices.
JS: I think what Fontayne is saying is that Bernice is talking about a world that has nothing to do with her world. What job is Fontayne going to get? When we meet her she’s working in a diner.  She loses that job by going to Mexico. The new job, that Bernice gets her, is even worse. She’s crushing cans!
DP: Fontayne violates parole if she hangs out with ex-cons, but in her world half of the people have spent time in jail.  That’s her world and she has no choice but to have contact with them.
YR: That’s her world in the beginning.  She talks to Bernice about her life and a lot of people’s lives–and whether it’s coming out of jail, or having an addiction and going back into the life that led you to prison–it’s just very real. Sometimes people don’t realize that when a person comes out of prison and relapses, that they often don’t have choices.  It’s the socio-economic reality of things.  It’s not like you go through all this cleanup and you when you get out you go to this very nice place.  You go back to your old life.
JS: You ever see the movie Straight Time? The great thing in that is that Dustin Hoffman gets out of prison and works in a factory for minimum wage and he’s got this parole officer on his ass.  But when he goes to this bar where all the cons hang out, they treat him like a man. And you realize, there’s no chance of him staying in the factory and being treated like a peon, but he’s gotta do something illegal to retain his status. It’s not just about the money.
DP: John, talk a little about Edward James Olmos’s detective, Freddy Suárez, nicknamed “The Terminator.” In your Director’s Statement in the film’s production notes, you say he “is in desperate need of personal redemption.”   He was thrown off the police force for turning a blind eye to his partner’s corrupt acts, but since your film extols loyalty, wouldn’t he feel he didn’t do anything so wrong that he needs redemption?
JS: He has been marked “lousy” by his tribe. The cops are a tribe, like a gang or whatever, and for whatever reason, he has been kicked out and can’t do police work anymore. More tellingly, he’s a guy who’s losing his power. He can’t see.  It’s like If you’re a great baseball player and all of a sudden you can’t see the ball anymore and you’re no longer great. And he’s still young enough to do it.  Freddy wouldn’t have had to retire yet. He feels he should be out there doing that thing that he does. And so his redemption isn’t about getting back on the police force. It is him getting to sit in the driver’s seat and again be the Terminator. He probably doesn’t think Bernice’s kid’s alive either, but he’s going to get resolution for this woman who hired him. That’s what Bernice paid for. At first he thinks Bernice and Fontayne are flakes and there’s nothing to their mission, so “I’ll charge them something even though I don’t even have a detective’s license and may not be able to do anything for them.” But once he gets into it, he wants to go to the end. He throws himself out there like bait, and wanders around Tijuana with no power. There’s this moment when he again becomes the Terminator.
DP: You can see he must have been a great policeman.
JS: He was great at his job.  Just as some of the guys who got caught in the Serpico scandal in New York were dirty as hell, but were known for being the best cops.
DP: Also in your Statement, you say how you loved putting great actors like Yolanda, LisaGay, and Edward James Olmos together and watching them.  Did you prefer writing scenes with two of them or with all three?
JS: For me, scenes with two characters and three characters are very, very different. One of the things that I was very conscious of is that half an hour into the film, Freddy comes in and the whole dynamic changes. Until then, we have two-character scenes with Fontayne and Bernice, but when the dynamic changes, each of them can watch the other one with Freddy. You can see them watching each other. Scenes with two and three characters are both important in this movie.  I don’t have a preference when writing them, but they definitely have a different dynamic and rhythm.
YR: I like playing whatever’s well-written. It doesn’t matter to me if a scene is one character, two characters or three characters. I completely agree with what John said. I like something happening in front of me, but still being a part of it and watching and listening and taking it in.  The other characters may be talking but your character is reacting to them.  When watching a movie I’m in, I always find it interesting to see how I react to things as the character, because she is part of the scene.
JS: Yolanda often plays supporting characters. She had a little run in Treme and stuff like that.  Often a scene is not about her character, but she finds an agenda for her even if she wasn’t given one. Some of it is being a good observer. There’s a famous story of a young British actor who was in a play with Ralph Richardson and one of those Dames. She had a big soliloquy, and Ralph Richardson went over to this new actor and asked what he was going to do during her speech. The young actor replied, “Well I thought I’d just be quiet and listen.” And Ralph said, “No, that’s what I’m doing.”  So this kid had to find a way to make himself less present.  When you’re in with a bunch of people, you’ve got to do your business but not get in the way of the main thing, and Yolonda had to do that a lot in this movie because really the heat is between the woman whose son is missing and the detective who says he’s going to go find him. It was great to see her performance when I was doing the editing, because I didn’t always notice what she was doing when I was directing because sometimes the picture on the monitor is pretty far away.
YR: That’s what I think is really fun.  You’re a character in the scene and you react to what others are doing, and hopefully what you do gets noticed.  I enjoy that.
JS: There are scenes when Yolonda is way in the back. She didn’t have that much riding on the scenes. And  what I mean about watching good actors is seeing them do what’s appropriate for their characters. Almost hiding on-screen sometimes, and all of a sudden, taking center stage and having it be about them.
DP: Yolanda, as the fledgling director of your first short, Breaking Night–which is playing at festivals now–what impressed you about John as a director.
YR: John lets actors do their work.  LisaGay and I definitely had to work through things, and he allowed us to do that. We took little moments between shots or whenever to get our heads in the right place, and get who we are to each other in the scene and work it out.  That’s was what we needed and what John wanted.
JS: On the tight schedules that I have for my movies, I don’t usually do actor rehearsals. I do blocking rehearsals and that’s it.  I don’t teach actors how to act, I direct their talents. I want to see what they are going to do. What I expect is that they’re going to help out each other. The only thing I could do for Yolanda and LisaGay was make sure that the first scene, when they’re reunited, was the first scene that we shot. The rest of the shoot was all over the place. We only had four weeks, and the first week we didn’t have Eddie, so they had to do scenes from the end of the movie during the first week.
YR: You’re there to make this film, and you want to make it the best that you can. So you’re putting in your time and your work into it so that when you guys see it, it doesn’t look like it was made in four weeks.  It looks like we had a billion hours to do it. All the talent is there on the screen, and all the hard work is there.
DP: John, could Yolanda and LisaGay have switched parts?
JS: Yeah, they could have and it would be interesting on stage.  But when I make a movie I’m not working with people who are household names. My first impression was kind of, “Oh, LisaGay is a really organized person.” Having worked with her before, I can say she seems like someone who could work in a bureaucracy. She’s comes across as being buttoned down, so she could handle all that stuff. But if we were doing repertory, it would be fun to have them switch parts sometimes.
YR: When somebody else asked us that, LisaGay and I both paused.  We thought, “Well, we’re actors, so we could switch.” But this made so much sense. Going over the script, it was like I knew all Fontayne’s words.  I knew the language of Fontayne–it made sense.
DP: In the film Fontayne asks Bernice why she liked her. Why does Yolonda like Bernice?
YR: Fontayne likes Bernice because, I feel, she knows the heart of Bernice.  And Bernice sees her, you know what I mean? She sees not what others see, she sees this good person.
JS: She knows what she’s worth.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Thumbs Up for "Best Man Down"

Playing in Theaters

Thumbs Up for Best Man Down

(from Sag Harbor Online 10/31/13)

By Danny Peary
Best Man Down fits my category of Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor.  Ted Koland’s debut feature, which played at the 2012 Hampton’s International Film Festival, is already available on VOD, prior to its opening in Los Angeles and other select cities this weekend.  Justin Long and personal favorite Jess Weixler play Scott and Kristin, a young Minneapolis couple, who have a destination wedding in Phoenix.  It goes smoothly, despite the heavy drinking of Scott’s amiable best man, Lumpy (Tyler Labine).  Kristin doesn’t understand why Scott is so devoted to the loutish Lumpy or know Lumpy gave Scott money for the honeymoon she craves.  But they spend the money on Lumpy’s funeral when he turns up dead the next morning.  They discover Lumpy had a secret life, including a friendship with a fifteen-year-old girl, Ramsey (Addison Timlin), who has a troubled home life with a flighty mother who takes drugs (Frances O’Connor) and her dangerous boyfriend.  Scott and Kristin meet Ramsey and drive her to the funeral.  I didn’t expect much from Best Man Down but was won over by its twisty script, strong dialogue, wit and sweet temperament, and a talented cast who obviously cared about the offbeat characters they played.  The film has heart and I recommend it.  Recently, another journalist and I conducted the following interview with Minnesota-native Koland, Long (who has a second film opening on VOD, A Case of You), Weixler, Labine, and Addison.  I note my questions. 
BestManDownJustin 005
The director and stars of “Best Man Down”: (left to right) Ted Koland, Addison Timlin, Justin Long, Jess Weixler and Tyler Labine. 
Danny Peary: Ted, when Best Man Down played at the Hamptons International Film Festival in 2012, it was titled Lumpy.  Did you worry about people thinking it was about the character in Leave It to Beaver or a lumpy mattress or something else?
Ted Koland: Actually, the head of Magnolia, our distributor, hated that title.  He thought people might think it had something to do with oatmeal!
DP: I confess that I read the synopsis and said, “This isn’t going to be a very good movie.”  So it is a big surprise how much I like it. How do you convince people that it’s going to be good?
TK: You’re right that it is hard describing the movie.  For me, it’s the surprise of it all that resonates.  At the beginning you think you’re in one movie and you’re not.  You assume Lumpy is just a nuisance comedy character, but then the night of the wedding he actually dies and sets this whole planes, trains, and automobiles adventure into motion.  It’s a totally different story that people didn’t see coming.
Justin Long: When I began reading the script for Best Man Down I assumed it would go the way of all the formulaic romantic comedy scripts I was reading at the time.  But then the whole morbid angle of the best man dying at the wedding is introduced and I was intrigued by how different it was.
DP: Did all the actors understand the tone of the film from the start?
JL: It was hard knowing the overall tone because we didn’t have scenes together.  In fact the four of us never had a scene together.
Jess Weixler: I found the tone along the way.  But I remember doing a funny scene and then watching somebody else do their scene and being surprised it was supersad!
Tyler Lambert: We eventually found the tone.  We had our own little sideshows going on.  There were lots of days when we’d just hang out and watch other people do their thing.
Addison Timlin: We’d be there at the same time, but Jess might go off and do a scene and the next day I’d go off and do something different.  We all had different things going on but I think that was beneficial at the end.
DP: Working that way, did you find consistency to your own characters that made it easier?
JL:  We all tried to keep it fairly grounded.
TK: I was trying to keep it grounded and real so it wouldn’t come across as schizophrenic. So I knew that if Justin and Jess’s characters are being too funny, then we were never going to find our way back to Ramsey’s story, which is more serious.
TL: I think the overall note we got from Ted is that we shouldn’t play it too goofy.  Except for the wedding scene when Lumpy is out of control.
TK: Well, Lumpy is superdrunk but still grounded!
TL: It was an intentional misdirect to where you wanted viewers to go.
Q:  Since some of you didn’t have many scenes together, how did you bond?
JL: Jess and I got to the set a couple of days early and we hung out and connected very quickly.  Then the others arrived.
TL: The first thing we did was go to a zombie bar and drink some chartreuse.
JL: Minnesota has great bars and restaurants.
JW: We ate so much.  I felt we were constantly eating.
TL: Jess and I had rooms nearby in the hotel and our doors were always open.  It was like summer camp.
AT: Going to a Twins game was really fun.
TL: What Twins game? I wasn’t invited!  But we did go see a Prince cover band.
DP: Ted, you come from Minneapolis.  Is there a Minneapolis sensibility that pervades through the movie?
TK: It pervades through my life.  This film is kind of my postcard to my hometown.  Minneapolis–actually Minnesota–is so Scandinavian and I am too, so that comes across.  There are just certain things about some of the characters that wouldn’t be as big of a deal if the film took place in New York.
DP: For example?
TK: For example, I don’t think Shelley Long’s character would care so much about someone dying at her daughter’s wedding if she were a New Yorker. She wouldn’t think it was a stain on the family and worry that people were talking about it.  But she’s from the Midwest so she can’t get over that her daughter’s perfect wedding was ruined. Shelley is from the Midwest, so she slid into that role very nicely.
DP: I’d say there’s a gentleness found in the four lead characters that can be traced to your being from Minneapolis.
TK: Maybe. Jess, you played your character with a lot of sweetness and you don’t always play sweet characters.
JW: There’s a politeness in Minnesota.  You say “Hi!” to strangers and there’s a social etiquette that isn’t everywhere else.
JL: There is a sweetness, you’re right.  You see it every day.  The people are unbelievably friendly and it can be a little bit disarming when you’ve lived in New York or LA for so long.  You think there’s some kind of agenda. “Hello?  What do you mean by that?”
TL: I’m from Canada and I think there’s a Canadian-Minnesotan kinship–bearded, hard-drinking, big hearts.
Q: Ted, I know it was rough filming in cold Minnesota, but was it beneficial otherwise?
TK: In Minnesota, you get huge tax incentives and it’s inexpensive to shoot there. And there is no next door neighbor who would fire up his lawnmower and want you to pay him fifty bucks to shut it off!  The attitude was so positive. The crew was by and large non-union and after doing a ton of commercial work there they were so excited to be working on a feature film. I just had to choose my cinematographer, editor, and other people carefully.  There are so many fantastic, talented people working in the indie world so I never felt I was working on a dime budget.
TL: Neither did the actors.
AT: What really makes a good shoot is when everyone wants to be there and do a good job and is excited to tell the story.  I’ve had experiences working on films since making Best Man Down and I look back and say that the budget on that was much lower but it was so much nicer.
DP: Justin, I sense you chose to be in this movie because you were trying to get away from your persona.
JL: Yeah, I usually play a slightly neurotic Everyman who gets the girl after a struggle. I was intrigued about playing a character who isn’t so comedic and is a bit more of a straight man and who keeps a lot more to himself.  It was also a challenge to trust the story and not make him boring. I should be more ambitious and deliberate about seeking interesting movie roles, but I did realize this was different.
DP: I found Scott and Kristin’s relationship interesting in that they can continuously bicker about Lumpy and other things but never think of breaking up.
JL: We had to find moments to earn that.   Like in the aftermath of the wedding when she’s upset about losing her honeymoon, Scott brings her donuts.  We didn’t want to overdo it but we wanted to show that despite the strife and bickering, there is, at the heart, a genuine connection between them.  I liked that it wasn’t overwritten and we tried not to overperform it.  I sometimes see in my friends that it’s almost romantic and charming how they argue.  There’s an underlying affection.  So I’m glad that came across to you.
DP: You and Jess seemed so comfortable together that it comes across that Scott and Jess have known each other for years.
JL:  It helped that Jess was so easy working with.   I was a fan of her work, but she went to Julliard and was a classically-trained actress so I incorrectly assumed that she’d be into the whole rehearsal process and wouldn’t be in the moment.  I found that to be completely untrue.  She is very loose. We had a natural trust so I didn’t feel I had to do too much.
DP: Jess, what was the appeal of doing this film for you?
JW: On this one it was the script and the cast that appealed to me.  I was a fan of everyone’s work in this movie.  And it was fun to play a hopped-up Minnesota lady. It’s the only time I’ve played a part like this.
DP: Do you pick quirky parts or do you expect to make them quirky?
JW: That’s a great question. I think it’s a little bit of both, unless I’m just a weirdo.  I’m not that interested in playing just the girl next door or the girlfriend. It’s nice when the stakes are high and you don’t know how my character is going to deal with them–I try to play against the obvious choices.  It’s fun to push against how people expect my characters to act in certain situations. My character in this movie has a drug problem so making her extra kooky worked.
Q: Jess, talk about Kristin’s use of pills to fly and for other anxieties.
JW: She’s the high-anxiety, high-strung type who can really get attached to something that brings her calm.  It made sense to me that for a Minnesota girl a wedding would be the most pressurized time of her life.  It was a problem that probably started a year before she got married when she knew she had to do so much preparation.
TL: Jess, I’m curious. How did you choose your level of “highness?”  Because you could have made her a highly-functioning drug addict or something else.
JW: I think she’s high-functioning and I based it on whether we see her before or after she takes a pill.  The situations she’s in are all so high-strung, and not just the wedding.  Being in Ramsey’s house, where her mother’s boyfriend pulls out a gun, would trigger her need to take a pill.  Going to Lumpy’s funeral would trigger her need.  It would be based on the stress level.  But to be honest, I wasn’t always sure if I went too far.
DP: Tyler, I heard you say in an interview that you liked the opportunity to play Lumpy because it allowed you to break away somewhat from your jackass image.
TL: My skill set wasn’t on ample display when I played jackass characters previously. Because you don’t usually get to redeem those kind of characters.  My only function was to be a buffoon who makes everyone laugh.  When I met with Ted, he told me that Lumpy has a heart and when I read the material it was obvious that there was another side of the coin that people would see.  I relished the idea of showing the other side of my character and being a little more tender and sensitive.
TK: There are a lot of actors who could play Lumpy when he’s drinking, but the reason I cast Tyler to play Lumpy is that he can also break your heart.  That’s tricky.
TL: A life-of-the-party alcoholic is really more depressing in my opinion than the typical alcoholic because they feel they have to get shit-face drunk and depraved to reach their social obligation.
JL: The first time I met Tyler was when we shot the wedding sequence and I just couldn’t get over the force that he had playing Lumpy as he got increasingly drunk.  The hardest thing to do is to play drunk.  I know because I’ve done it a few times, and I think unsuccessfully.  I loved watching him perform.  He had a whole physical routine that he’d do.  Even though he was playing a drunken buffoon, there were moments of humanity that you’d see.  As funny as Tyler was in that scene, there was something so sad and vulnerable and lost about Lumpy–and I see that in a lot of drunken people.  I thought that was so genius about Tyler’s performance.  If not for that it would be hard for anyone to invest in the movie.  Because at the heart you’re trying unravel this guy Lumpy’s life, and if he were just a drunken asshole, then who would care?
Q: How did opening the film with Lumpy drunk at the wedding establish the relationships of the characters?
TL: I think it establishes these characters’ level of frustration with Lumpy.  Also, hopefully the first part of the movie illustrates things about Lumpy that will help viewers answer questions raised later on, including: why was he hanging out with a fifteen-year-old girl?
DP: And Addison, why did you want to be in this movie?
AT (joking): I was in it for a Teen Choice Award.
TL: Which you didn’t win!
AT: Actually, I liked that every character in the movie is multidimensional. Also, having just finished Californication, which was the totally opposite, I wanted to find a character who was sweeter–well maybe not sweeter but who had some innocence.  I also liked that Ramsey has so much going on that she is a strong young female.
DP: Ted, your casting of Addison was inspired. I thought she was the same age as Ramsey, but it turns out she was a few years older.  I had seen her on Californication but didn’t recognize her.
AT: That’s good. A very impressive transition, right?
TK: She was nineteen playing fifteen going on sixteen, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch. We couldn’t have made the movie with an actress younger than eighteen because of the budget that we were on.  We needed her to work twenty-three out of twenty-five days.
AT: I am twenty-one now.
DP: Would you have played Ramsey differently if you were fifteen when you made the movie?
TL: She probably would have sang everything if she had been fifteen!
JL: Addison came from musical theater.  She starred in Annie on Broadway.
AT: I grew up in New York and in the “biz.” I was sort of on my own. That was especially true at work, where I was taking care of myself and looking out for myself in a way children need protecting.  I had a conversation or maybe a mild disagreement with Ted about the times in which Ramsey needs to feel younger. I felt that she is inherently going to feel older than she is. I think it comes out in the scenes with Lumpy, where there is a more youthful freedom to her because it’s the first time she feel safe, I guess.  There’s the “milkshake montage,” and also the scenes in the hotel room with Lumpy wheere she struggles to figure out who she is in that context.  She knows he’s an adult and he’s pointing out how young she is.  That’s when you see that she’s just fifteen and that outside of her family situation, when she is always wiser than her years, she is young.
TL: There were moments between Lumpy and Ramsey when she seemed to be in her twenties. It’s obvious in the scenes in Lumpy’s hotel room that Ramsey doesn’t know what to do or what her function is.
DP: Ramsey puts her head on Lumpy’s shoulder and it’s evident that she’s seeking comfort, someone to take care of her.  She trusts this adult right away.
JL: Yes, that’s very intimate.
DP: She also quickly trusts the other two adults Lumpy was close to. This movie has a parental motif and I believe that the key scene in regard to this was when Scott and Kristin are driving and Ramsey is in back making awkward observations about them.  Are they meant to be Ramsey’s surrogate parents and is she the kid they would want to have in fifteen years?
TK: It’s definitely Ramsey’s new family, after she leaves her mom.  I had to make the situation at her home bad enough so that Ramsey’s mom, Jaime, would be willing to give her own child away.  So absolutely Scott and Kristin are her new family.

AT: When I read the script and first talked with Ted, I saw that Ramsey had really parented herself to that point.  She’s very wise for how young she is and is now parenting and protecting her mother, too.  She feels that her future is not contingent on someone else being her parental figure. Although, maybe Lumpy in a legal sense takes on that role and helps her with college plans.  I think to Ramsey, Justin and Jess’s characters are her first tangible example of normalcy.  They have jobs and are nice people. They’re being parental plays a big part in her transition.
DP: What brings your four characters together is that they make good choices in who they like. They have good instincts. For instance, Justin, you make no real effort to make Scott sympathetic but we like him because he has made great choices in the two people he loves and who love him back, Kristin and Lumpy.
JL: It’s interesting that you say that.  It was a challenge for my character to just exist. There’s not a lot you know about him other than who he marries and who his best friend is.  Ted, would you be okay with someone saying that?
TK: Yes. I don’t know that I processed it that way but that’s how it ended up.
AT: I think what you say is true.  You don’t have to know someone but can immediately have a very close relationship with them because you’ve lost someone in common who liked you both.  Their death brings you together and you have someone to talk about, sharing memories.  That’s what happens with Ramsey, who knew about Scott and Kristin from Lumpy.
DP: Ramsey and Scott realize what a great person Lumpy was, but Kristin takes a while.
JW: She comes around.  She learns about Lumpy. One of my favorite things about the movie is suddenly realizing why Lumpy was how he was.
JL: He was socially awkward but…
TL: …he was a hero!
JW (laughing): He was a hero whose heart was too big!
DP: Justin you have a second film being released to VOD at the same time as this.  Did you make them simulataneously?
JL: No, we shot Best Man Down about two and a half years ago, and we shot A Case of You a year ago.
DP: You said Best Man Down gave you a chance to do something you’ve never done; but since you cowrote A Case of You, you picked the type of character you wanted to do, which is a man who, after reading a beautiful young woman’s Facebook page, tries to win her love by pretending to be the man she’d written about.
JL: A Case of You is something in my wheelhouse and something I’m comfortable with.  We just wanted to tell a nice, simple, authentic romance. We didn’t have very lofty ambitions with it other than to get it made, which we felt was very ambitious..
DP: Were you being cautious because you were a first-time writer?
JL: Maybe subconsciously.  I wasn’t deliberately making it simple, but I’m sure that entered into it because it’s scary writing your first screenplay so you want to write what you know. It was a bit of an experiment.  My friend Keir O’Donnell, who cowrote and produced it with me, and I were going through break-ups at the same time and there was something therapeutic about writing the script.   It was a gradual thing where we’d get together every once in awhile and write a little bit more.  It materialized eventually into this script which we’d have readings of.  The more people whose creative input we trusted responded to it the more we thought we should pursue it in a real way.  Several incarnations later, we finally ended up making it with Kit Coiro as director.
Q: Were you precious about your script or were you okay with adlibbing?
JL: I wrote it with Keir and my brother [Christian Long] and it was a fairly loose process.  It was our first script so we had to be as open as possible and we embraced anything people we trusted had to say about it.  So we weren’t precious at all about our script.  We were fortunate that we had such great actors play the parts, including Evan Rachel Wood, Sam Rockwell, and Vince Vaughn.  Maybe I’m biased because I’m an actor but I think actors can always make it better.  In fact I’ve been on many films where they realized the script wasn’t strong at the time we started shooting so they kind of encouraged me to adlib.  But on A Case of You, I’m proud to say that even with the funny stuff with Sam we stayed fairly close to the script.  However, Vince came in and in the best way changed some things.

Q: Are you interested in getting back into television?
JL: I’m dying to.  I’m trying to be as thoughtful as possible because it’s a huge commitment.  I’m really afraid of creative commitments like that–it’s six years for a successful series.  I’ve done arcs on a few shows, like New Girl.   That kind of inspired me because I saw how much fun those guys were having.  Zoey talked to me about what it has done for her creatively and where she had been creatively before doing the show.  I felt like I could commiserate with her and look for something like that.  So I’m writing something with my brother for NBC and we’re hoping it comes to fruition.

DP: Meanwhile, are Best Man Down and A Case of You part of your career plan?
JL: I don’t really have a game plan. I just feel lucky to be working at all.  I still haven’t gotten over thinking that to do a movie at all is such a novelty.  For a couple of years I was just doing everything that I could.  I was relishing the idea of getting to be in a movie at all.  Each one I was offered, I’d get excited and say, “Of course, I’ll do that.” Some were good and some were bad.  My mom was a theater actress who would do commercials to supplement that so I grew up with this mentality that you just go wherever the jobs are.  So it took me awhile to get over that to a large degree.  I can now be a little more deliberate about what I do and make better choices, as with these films.