Monday, January 13, 2014

Archive: Amy Adams Gets the "Junebug" and Also Captures an Oscar Nomination

Find on Video

Archive: Amy Adams Gets the Junebug and Also Captures an Oscar Nomination

(from 8/16/06)


In "Junebug"--director Phil Morrison's witty and poignant slice-of life ensemble piece about an uncomfortable homecoming--George (Allesandro Nivola) returns to his parents' home in North Carolina after three years in Chicago. He brings his sophisticated bride Madeleine (Embetz David), and the only person to welcome her to the family is his pregnant, gabby sister-in-law Ashley, who is always cheery despite feeling unappreciated by her in-laws (Celia Weston, Scott Wilson) and neglected by her husband Johnny (Ben McKenzie), George's younger brother.

As played by the effervescent, red-haired Amy Adams, Ashley comes across as the heart of both the family and the film itself. It is a star-making performance that won her a Special Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and much-deserved Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

Q: Do you see a connection between Ashley and Brenda, Leonardo Di Caprio's adoring fiancée, who you played in "Catch Me If You Can."

AA: Definitely--it's the innocence they both have. But they are different people. Ashley's specific so Philip couldn't just cast me because I'd played Brenda, but had me audition to see if I was right for her. I got the script on Friday and had to audition on Saturday I did a couple of scenes, including Ashley's dramatic hospital scene with George. And then I came back and we read everything. We worked a lot during auditions. I went by feel. I knew if I felt like Ashley then I could capture her.

Q: Had you ever known anyone like Ashley?

AA: No, which is good because if I had, she would have started to bother me five pages into the script. Oh, my gosh, this girl won't stop talking! Before I started playing her, I didn't give her a lot of credit. Through playing her, I learned to be more patient with people who aren't like me. Of course, I was able to understand her better once I knew all my lines and we had time to rehearse. Then I could bring more to her. I came at her from an innocent and pure place. I didn't say, "Oh, in this scene I'll do this, and in this scene I'll do that." I wanted to be open and free, because a big part of Ashley is that emotion seems to flow freely through her. So it was important not to bring too much information into the performance.

Q: But didn't Phil Morrison have a "manifesto" for the film, detailing everything about Ashley and the other characters?

AA: Yes, but that wasn't off-putting because he didn't force us to think in a particular way. Phil allowed us to believe whatever we wanted about our own characters and the other characters as well because in life that's the way it is. So if you asked all the actors questions about Ashley and the other characters, everyone would give different responses. He also encouraged us to improvise, although that may have been a way to manipulate us into eventually doing what he wanted. But hey, if it works I'm all for it! Phil also made each of us a folder of poetry for us to think about. It was helpful. Though I didn't actually sit in a scene and think of a poem, it gave me a feel for what he was thinking. I repeatedly read one inspirational poem called "Walking in the Light."

Q: Coming from Colorado, did you meet people while shooting in North Carolina that put you in the right frame of mind to play a Southern gal?

AA: Absolutely. They were very inviting. We spent a lot of time with Phil's family and the family of our screenwriter Angus MacLachlan. There was even a barbecue. Being invited into Phil and Angus's families was important to me because I believed a sense of community is a lot of what Ashley is about. What Ashley seeks is a close family.

Q: When you saw the final version of "Junebug" were you surprised by how big your character became?

AA: When we were on the set, I was just playing her and not seeing the film through the eyes of an outside observer. I didn't really understand the importance of Ashley until I watched the film for the first time. Then I realized that she is the tool Phil uses to invite the audience into the family. I hadn't approached her that way, so I was surprised by how effective she is in that role. I was surprised that she is so much bigger than the rest of the film—does that make sense?—because everything else is hushed. I never felt "I'm going to steal this scene"--I never intended that--but Ashley's loud and talkative in what is otherwise a very quiet film. Ashley is very lonely so she reaches out all the time.

DP: Ashley greatly admires Madeleine. But if you watch the film, Ashley seems perfect and Madeleine is badly flawed. Does Ashley have any flaws?

Amy Adams and Embetz David as Ashley and Madeleine
AA: She was lovely to play, so I tried not to pick out of her flaws. But I think she does. I guess you can say that anything done excessively can be a flaw. She might be too patient, too tolerant, and too upbeat. Those might be good traits, but in this society we don't honor them. But wouldn't it be a great world where you could always be positive and forgive everyone quickly? I would love to live in Ashley's world. I think there is a part of me like her, so maybe I could use her spin in L.A. Maybe it would work if I approached everyone with a big smile and said, "Hey, ya'll."

DP: I expect you to say no, but do you think George is a better match for Ashley than her husband Johnny?

I have an answer to that because I know there is something there between Ashley and George. But I think it's created by her. George was the town hero, the golden boy, and because he's been gone for so long, he is romanticized around the house where his parents and Johnny and Ashley live. It's easy for Ashley to romanticize about him. She looks up him. Angus wrote: "Ashley mistakes George's silence for wisdom." To me, that is really the key to her feelings about him. Even if there is an attraction between Ashley and George, I think a relationship between them would be doomed. Ultimately, Johnny and Ashley are right for each other, they really are. He's the person she is going to fight for.

DP: The relationship between Ashley and Johnny is complex because by the time we meet them, he has stopped being nice to her. He could come across as his being unforgivably abusive and uncaring toward her, so did Phil work with you to tone it down?

He might have talked to Ben individually, but the three of us didn't get together to work this through. Phil was smart to give his individual actors information and then to let it play out without letting one actor know the information he told the other. If he told everyone too much, the scene wouldn't ring true.

DP: Talk about Ashley's key line to Johnny--"God loves you just the way you are, but too much to let you stay that way."

AA: That wasn't in the script. Phil and I attended a Sunday service at the Green St. Methodist Church in Winston-Salem, and the minister said that. Phil was all squirrelly sitting next to me and afterward said we had to find a place for that line. It was important for Ashley to say, I feel, because it lets the audience know she is aware of what was going on, and that Johnny is being so cold to her. It's subtle and not like she's speaking out in protest, but when she says that to Johnny, it's clear that she sees the bad stuff happening around her but has made the choice for patience rather than rebellion. Being weak is really hard for her. She feels she has to be the strong one, and the upbeat one, because that's her purpose in life, what God has given her to do, and she is going to do it. She makes that decision every day.

DP: Ashley is terribly lonely for the man she married, but rather than crying herself to sleep, she masturbates. It's a sad, yet positive image—and very surprising.

AA: It took me surprise when I watched it, too. When Phil and I spoke about the scene, we wanted it in the movie because it was a graphic look at Ashley's loneliness. Prior to filming it, I was very practical. I wasn't going to overreact and tell Phil to shut the set down because we were going to shoot an intimate scene. I said, "Okay, let's just do it." For me it was more, "How can I make it look real when I get in and out of bed?," than worrying about the act. That's what I was thinking, and what I did in bed—I didn't really do it-- was just technical. When I first watched the scene at Sundance I was so uncomfortable because it was so personal and exposing. I couldn't watch it. It was a good time for a bathroom break.
Amy Adams

Q: How did you feelt about winning the Special Jury Prize at Sundance that started the buzz about you?

AA: Going there and winning the award were like two different experiences. I had a great time, hung out with the cast, and saw the movie for the first time, which was really nerve-wracking. Then I went home and they called and asked me to come back. I asked why. They said I was invited to the awards ceremony but no one would tell me why. So winning the award was surreal. Because you do a movie like this, an independent film, for the experience. The award was too much for me to accept right away. It took until the next day, when everyone had cleared out of Park City, and I was walking along and thought about what an honor it was to have won. I was overwhelmed. I'll be honest—I cried.

Q: You probably thought how far you'd come since "Cruel Intentions 2," which I assume was a sexy-dirty, rite-of-passage movie for a young actress.

AA: I didn't think it was sexy-dirty, I thought it was funny, tongue-in-cheek. I got the sense of humor. So it surprised me when it started playing on late-night cable—that wasn't what I expected. That was my first job after I landed in L.A. I got it about two months later. I have no regrets about it because I wouldn't be here if I hadn't done that. This is what I think: I think you should be open to whatever film comes to you, but it's important to grow from each role and not revisit the early ones if you don't have to. It's important to move forward, which I've done.

Archive: David Strathairn Says "Good Night and Good Luck"

Find on Video

David Strathairn Says "Good Night and Good Luck"

(from 8/16/06)

The title of George Clooney's second feature film as a director, "Good Night, and Good Luck" also served as the familiar sign-off of Clooney's real-life protagonist, Edward R. Murrow when he hosted the legendary live prime-time television news program, "See It Now," in the early 1950s. The show's most famous hour was when Murrow, his producer Fred Friendly, and their staff dared challenge the methods and honesty of all-powerful Senator Joseph McCarthy, who rose to preeminence by accusing individuals in the government, military and media—including anyone else who challenged him--of being communists and traitors. nalists with integrity, is about their confrontation, when McCarthy was exposed for the first time on national television.
Film and stage actor David Strathairn plays Murrow with such uncanny insight, that he gets into his skin, showing his strength of character, his intelligence, and even his insecurity. It's no wonder Clooney said he was the only actor he considered for the part. His powerful performance made him a Best Actor contender alongside Clooney's two nominations for his directing "Good Night, and Good Luck"and acting (as a supporting actor in "Syriana").
Prior to its American premiere at the New York Film Festival in September, Straithairn spoke about making the film.
Q: Did you know George Clooney before he called you to play Edward R. Murrow in his film?
DS: I didn't even know who George Clooney was. Of course, I'm kidding. But unlike others in the cast, I not only hadn't worked with him, I hadn't met him. So I can tell you that I had no expectations of him as a director. Fortunately, the actual making of the movie day-to-day was a delight, to put it mildly. George just understands every requisite of directing, particularly working with actors. He provided a safety net for us, which actors really need. And at the same time, no one was safe from any of his jokes.

Q: I know that Clooney shot some scenes in one take. Was that the most difficult thing for you as an actor?
DS: Not really. What comes to mind was that a couple of the broadcasts were pretty scary to shoot. Because of the tight relationship I had with the camera, my movements were constrained strained. The words, the cadence, and his focus were so important. Keeping Murrow in focus through those scenes was a task every day. But George gave me a lot of support, trust, and sense of freedom, and I had the feeling I was giving him what he wanted.

George Clooney, Robert Downey Jr. and David Stratairn
Q: What about the responsibility playing a real person as opposed to a fictional character?
DS: They are two different beasts, but in both cases you are always responsible to the script. In playing a fictional character, you have to pull something out of the imagination of the author from the get-go. In playing a real character, especially when it's someone of such magnitude as Edward R. Murrow, at very least you should be respectful to the image people who knew him still have. There is also a responsibility to present an objective, respectful image to people who have no idea who he was. Good Night, and Good Luck wasn't a standard bio picture. George wasn't exploring a man at home or his farm, or anything but Murrow as a television personality. I didn't do an impersonation, but for the Murrow I play in the movie, there was much archival material I could look at it, including the iconic images of Murrow on the McCarthy broadcast.

Q: When you were delivering Murrow's 1958 speech in which he seems upset at the direction television news had taken since his confrontation with McCarthy in 1954, did you question whether he considered himself a success?
DS: I'm sure that wasn't the case. He was a very humble man who shied away from the limelight, even though embraced it in a fashion and was very aware of how the camera gave him magnitude . Because after almost every broadcast he was sweating and nervous. I think he was propelled to do what was right in regard to McCarty; he wasn't saying I'm going to make a hero out of myself by going after these people. In fact, it took him a long time to get into the game. He was very reticent to go out against McCarthy.
Q: So do you think he thought he failed?
DS: A great question. I think he had an abiding hope that he was doing the right thing, an innate confidence. I think—and this has been said by others—that he was never quite sure that he got it right.

Q: My earliest memories of Murrow in the '50s were of him on "See It Now" and his celebrity interview show, "Person to Person." He seemed deadly serious yet somehow his humor came through. That's how it is in this movie.
DS: George didn't give me any funny lines, but he told me if "you do this, you'll get a laugh." Murrow was quick and he was witty, but at this particular time in his life, maybe he didn't exhibit a sense of humor as much as he did a sense of irony.
Q: How did it strike you that back in the '50s, that television journalists at CBS and elsewhere were required to sign loyalty oaths?
DS: It's not as if times have changed that much, even without the oaths. How many journalists are present at White House press briefings who want to say something but fear they will lose their jobs if they do? So many are between a rock and a hard place. What's insidious today is that a journalist can't just point his finger at one individual and say, "Oh, it's Joseph R. McCarthy." Who can you point your finger at and keep your job? You can be comprised in so many ways, including losing your job. So it's still really scary. Our film shows Murrow and the others at CBS put their jobs on the line to tell their stories. I would think this gives hope to today's journalists when they come to that fork in the road when they must decide whether to keep quiet or speak out.

Archive: Garrison Keillor's Life As "A Prairie Home Companion"

Find on Video

Archive: Garrison Keillor's Life As A Prairie Home Companion

(from 8/10/06)

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 National Public Radio's unique signature program, "A Prairie Home Companion"—a Midwestern variety show with intriguing songs and stories, real and fictional characters, that surely is transmitted through space and time warp from a parallel universe.

After more than 30 years on the airwaves (and through live performances including his latest with special guest Meryl Streep on July 1st which is being broadcast on PBS), "APHC" now comes alive on the silver screen courtesy of maverick director Robert Altman. (official website and trailer...) 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. Though he has made it to the silver screen, Keillor's first love is still radio.

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?

ImageGK: 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.

Q: 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.

Q: 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 Poconos, 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.

ImageLili Tomlin, Meryl Streep, Lindsay Lohan
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.

Robert Altman

Director Robert Altman

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 Kathryn 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.

kevin kline

Kevin Kline

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 Robert Altman?

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?

virginia madsenVirginia Madsen
GK: 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?

streep and lohanMeryl Streep and Lindsay Lohan
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.

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.{Q: 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?"

lohanLindsay Lohan
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.

keillor, streep, lohan

Keillor, Streep, and Lohan

Q: 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.

Q: 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.

ImageMeryl Streep
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.

woody harrelson and john c. reilly
Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly

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 Lake Wobegon 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 of 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.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Long Island's Nemiroff Does Double Duty As a Film Critic and Filmmaker


Long Island's Nemiroff Does Double Duty As a Film Critic and Filmmaker

(from Sag Harbor Online 1/8/14)

PerriProfressorPerriNPerri Nemiroff

Film critics and filmmakers usually stay away from each other as much as possible, but that’s not the case with Long Island’s own Perri Nemiroff.  She has no choice because the twentysomething Roslyn-native happens to be both.  If you read about movies online, particularly horror films, the chances are good that you’ve come across her lively reviews and interviews with actors and filmmakers.  That’s because the one-time guard on the girls basketball team at the Wheatley School in Old Westbury contributes regularly to numerous sites including Fandango,,, and her own (This week you can find her video interview with Fruitvale Station’s director Ryan Coogler and star Michael B. Jordan at  In 2013, she also made impressive strides into filmmaking by producing two exceptional shorts before graduating with an MFA in Creative Producing from Columbia University.  Both the creepy Child Eater and savvy political thriller The Professor have received acclaim on the festival circuit. (I’m also partial to an earlier short that she directed at Columbia, the whimsical Trevor.)  And 2014 promises to be a big year for her as well.  Certainly for both aspiring young film critics/journalists and indie filmmakers on Long Island, Perri Nemiroff is a bona fide role-model candidate, someone to follow. Over the years she and I have done numerous press junkets together and debated horror films that she invariably liked better.  But this is the first time I have interviewed her.
Danny Peary: Were you young when you became a movie fanatic?
Perri Nemiroff: I always loved movies.  My parents always loved movies, too, so there were a lot of trips to the theater when my sister and I were kids.
DP: Including to see films from your favorite genre–horror movies?
PN: I was allowed to see whatever I wanted, and horror movies were what I was drawn to most of all. I remember when I was really little, my grandmother and I would sit on her bed and watch scary movies before my bedtime. When I graduated to the big screen, I went with my mother to see Scream in 1995. I was only about nine and was a little young to be seeing it, but I loved it and was addicted from then on.
DP: Did you scream after Scream?
PN: No, I never had nightmares. The only time I remember really being scared is when I was about five years old. I was at a friend’s house, in the living room, and we watched Killer Klowns From Outer Space. It’s embarrassing because it’s really more of a comedy, but that was my first horror movie and that was the first movie that freaked me out. I got over it pretty quick though!
DP: Did your parents take you to foreign films when you were growing up?
PN: No.  It’s frustrating because even to this day, when I try to share a foreign film or something that isn’t commercial with them, they can’t adjust to it.
DP: I get frustrated with young critics because most of them don’t see foreign films!
PN: Well, I see foreign films, but not as many as I’d like. Or documentaries.  Come Oscar time, I get mad when I haven’t seen a nominated film. I want to win my pool!
DP: As a kid were you thinking about a film-related career?
PN: Not then. I wanted to be a journalist, always. In the 5th or 6th grade we had to make papier-mâché models of what we wanted to be when we grew up, and mine was a person sitting at a News Channel 12 desk.
DP: Did you write as a teenager?
PN: I did a lot of writing. High school changed my writing a lot. I wasn’t in a regular English class at The Wheatley School. I took something called SWS, School Within a School. It was a bit like college in that you could sign up for all different classes.  And every class had writing assignments. So instead of going to one English class every day and getting one assignment each week, I went to five or six classes and got five or six assignments. Every day I had to write, no matter the subject. It was a lot, but I certainly got used to it and really believe that program made all the difference for me now.
DP: Did you also write about movies?
PN: I did. In that SWS program, I took classes on black and white movies, a Hitchcock class, a Woody Allen class. That program was the highlight of my time in high school.
DP: But you still wanted to be a television journalist?
PN: Yeah, I moved into Manhattan in 2004 to attend NYU and I was a journalism major as an undergrad. I really enjoyed the classes and work within the program, but they never had us cover anything entertainment-related. I also did a little writing for the Washington Square News, but then I fell out of that when I joined a sorority. I took on a bunch of leadership positions within that, so that kind of took over my time.
DP: While moving forward with your writing, were you thinking that some day you’d also like to produce movies?
PN: No, not yet. But I did a little of it at NYU. They have this great option where if you have a certain GPA, they’ll let you take a certificate program in the School of Continuing & Professional Studies. So in my third year, when I was about 20, I took a certificate program in digital filmmaking. It was basically four classes. In one class we literally studied the B&H catalog. Fun, huh? Another one was a Final Cut Pro class. Another was an elective and I chose a class in anchoring and that’s where I started doing my first on-camera stuff.  They let me sit at the anchor desk on their soundstage and read from a prompter. That was a good one.
My favorite though was an eight-week summer intensive called Digital Filmmaking. We had to shoot and edit our own shorts, so I made my first short ever. I was the writer, director, and producer and that was really exciting.  My short was called The Sushi Challenge. There’s a Japanese restaurant on MacDougal Street that had a sushi challenge, where if you ate x number of pieces of sushi in twenty minutes, you got your photo put up on the winners board. We staged it, so it was basically a montage of a friend of mine eating sushi and pretending to stuff his face.  It was very much a learning experience.  They gave me just one light to set up, and I’d never edited anything before.  I look at it now and the quality is absolutely atrocious, but people who saw it seemed to like it.   People had a lot of fun with it and it played in the New York Film & Video Festival and it was featured on Yahoo! When it played in that festival, my family and my whole sorority came. Now, having shown films at other festivals, that one seems a little small, but it was a really great day that I’ll never forget.
DP: And you were still writing. Were you excited to be published?
PN: Yeah, but the school paper didn’t thrill me. I hadn’t been into the high school paper, either. I was still waiting for the day that I could be on camera or cover something I was really passionate about.
DP: News 12 was what you were after?
PN: When I was little yeah, but when I went to NYU I saw all the different outlets in the city, so there was no way I was going back to Long Island to do television.
DP: But did you still want to do the news?
PN: Yes, I wanted to do hard news. It wasn’t until I started working in hard news that I realized it was not for me at all. I graduated from NYU in 2008. That’s when I started writing about movies, but it was only on the side. I got my first job at NY1. I was given the “News Assistant” position. Basically, they’d give me a camera and during my shift I kind of ran around all day and collected news stories. I enjoyed it quite a bit and I learned how to do all my camera work there – proper framing, focus, white balance, etc. But the way it worked is that you put in a certain amount of hours, and then you’re either hired full-time or you move on. As much as I loved it–and I still love the people that were there–I was just tired from the heavy lifting and ready to move on. And I had a really great place to move on to.
DP: Were you applying to grad school at this time?
PN: No, grad school came much later. I wasn’t even thinking of it then. There was a reporter at NY1, Cindi Avila. We worked together on a bunch of assignments and I’d always talk about movies. One day she said, “You know, my husband is the producer of the show Reel Talk,” so she connected me with her husband, Mike Avila, and about two weeks after my hours ran out at NY1, I was at a new job.
DP: What was your title?
PN: “Content Producer.”  In addition to helping produce the show, I ran Reel Talk’s Website. The team was really small.  It was just me, Mike, the on-air talent–Jeffrey Lyons and Alison Bailes—and an editor. I was just so genuinely happy working with them.  They were all very receptive and greatly appreciative of my initiative to do as much as I could.
DP: What was the content?
PN: All sorts of things, all movie-related.  If big news broke, I’d cover it.  They let me start one thing that I absolutely loved doing.  One of my favorite things in Cosmo is when they have celebrities handwrite answers to a quiz. I started doing something similar every time we had a guest come in. It was this little file square with five fun questions, and a celebrity would handwrite the answers, I’d scan it and put it up on the Website.
DP: How was it meeting the celebrities?
PN: I was total in awe watching Jeffrey and Alison doing the interviews, but it was more because I wanted to do what they were doing, not so much about meeting celebrities.
DP: So you were happy at Reel Talk?
PN: I was obsessed with Reel Talk.  I loved the team, I loved the atmosphere, I loved what we were all doing. I was the happiest person in the world for six months.  Then out of nowhere the show was canceled.  That was it.
DP: You said that during this period you were writing on the side.  Online?
PN:  Yes, I was writing a lot.  I started with Cinema Blend, in 2008. I literally woke up one morning and said, “I want to write about movies.” So I emailed all the sites that I normally looked at, and Cinema Blend was the only one to respond. They gave me a test run, and before I knew it I was writing DVD press releases every day. And that evolved into doing reviews and interviews and more.
DP: At what point did you decide to go to Columbia film school?
PN: After Reel Talk was canceled was the first time I was committed to writing and reviewing full time. I did that for a year or two, but because it wasn’t turning from a hobby into a career, I was getting frustrated.  I was getting more and more work every day but it was never enough.  I’d also reached the point where I felt bad criticizing other people’s films without at least trying it myself to know what it takes. Also, having seen a lot of bad movies, I thought maybe I could do better. Film school was my best option.  I looked at loads of programs, but Columbia was by far the best option. It had everything that I wanted. The program has three tracks: Creative Producing, Screenwriting, and Directing.  By then I knew I wanted to be a producer, but I also wanted to learn about directing and screenwriting, too.  The way the program works is that before all the students separate into their own concentrations, they do everything together.  My first year I was a producing/screenwriting/directing student.  But the rule is that if you go into the program saying you’re a producer, as I did, you have to stay on that track. Other students can say they want to be a screenwriter or a director and toward the end of the program can switch from one to the other as long as they fulfill that concentration’s requirements.  But I was committed to producing.
DP: Why did you want to be a producer rather than a screenwriter or director?
PN: I’m very detail-oriented and organized. I get a sick thrill out of making a list and checking things off, so that made me perfect for producing. And as creative as I am, I don’t think I’m as creative as certain people. I come up with good ideas every now and then, but once I got to Columbia it was pretty easy to see that my skills would best be put to use finding people who can make incredible films and helping them do it.  That’s why I think I had a successful run at Columbia.
DP: What does “a successful run” at Columbia mean?
PN: I felt fulfilled by the films I was involved with, and my money was very well spent.
DP: I read in your bio that you won some producing awards for students.
PN: Yeah, I got a couple of things there. In my first year, a faculty member I really admired nominated me for a New York Women in Film and Television scholarship, which meant a lot to me, and then in my second year, I received the Brick Company Producing Prize.
DP: While making films at Columbia, you were doing a lot of writing about film and doing on-camera interviews. What kind of feedback were you getting?
PN: Every site I’ve worked for has had a different pool of commenters. My favorite commenters are at They all express very informed opinions and there’s an incredible discussion that goes on after almost every piece I write. Of course I appreciate that.  I might be bummed if someone disagrees with me but they always have a good reason for it.  And they don’t attack me.  Sometimes they say something thoughtful that makes me rethink something I wrote, and I’m always thrilled when something like that happens.
Q: What are your main outlets today?
PN: My main outlets are, Fandango,, and I write for and occasionally, too.  I also have my personal site, I’ve been doing a lot of TV lately for, which is a huge honor and is something I enjoy quite a bit.  It’s typically spending four or five minutes in a room with each celebrity from a film and after editing all the interviews together, I wind up with a piece between eight and ten minutes long. and Fandango are connected. I’ll pitch some features to and every once in a while, Fandango will take one. They’ve got different readerships, but both place prime importance on coming up with original content and as a writer who loves being creative and having a voice, it doesn’t get much better than that.
DP: That you’re with Fandango excites the publicists, right?
PN: I think what excites publicists is that I’m a freelancer with a bunch of outlets. They can email me and ask, “Can you pitch this film to that outlet or that other outlet?”  Or they’ll say, “Pitch it to whomever you want.” Then I have the option to do whatever I want, and I get more interviews that way. It also means I can cover all different genres and take all different types of assignments. One outlet likes me for horror, but another gives me young adult book-to-film adaptations. One outlet prefers on-camera interviews, another will send me on set visits.
DP: So you’re pretty much independent now and if there is any film you want to cover with a review or on-camera interview you can find an outlet.
PN: I guess so, yeah.
DP: I have noticed that you seem to like almost every horror film.
PN (laughing): I think I end up liking everything because whenever I write my reviews and pick my overall grade, I assess it from the standpoint of entertainment value. For instance, when I review for Shockya, I give a movie a technical grade, an acting grade, and a story grade–and sometimes it will get below-average grades in those sections, but since I still enjoy it, I’ll give it a stronger overall assessment.  It’s also important that I never forget that every movie is for someone. Even if it’s not for me, someone out there will enjoy it and I always try to take that into account.
DP: And horror movies still don’t scare you?
PN: Especially nowadays, after I’ve seen so many horror movies, nothing keeps me up at night anymore. But when I can see a scary movie and take it home with me and let it mess with me as I’m trying to go to bed, I love that feeling. I totally get a thrill out of it.
DP: Do you ever tell anyone not to see a movie?
PN: Certain people I tell not to see certain movies. Especially the people I know really well, like my family, I can very easily pinpoint what they will and will not like. Every once in a while, I’ll take that leap of faith. Most recently it was Europa Report, which I loved and wanted my family to watch so badly. We were sitting there watching it, and five minutes in, my mother was nodding off. I was upset, but knew the risk I was taking. Sci-fi isn’t really her thing.
DP: So while you were becoming more prolific online, you started making movies at Columbia.
PN: Yeah. At the end of your first semester, your goal is to make a 3-5 minute short. At the end of your first year, your goal is to make an 8-12 minute short. They’re considered exercises, but I was determined to make them a little more than that. I wanted to be proud of them.
DP: You started with a small horror movie, right?
PN: That was my 3-5 minute film.  I’m still very happy with that one–FaceTime. People really responded to it and that really lit a fire under me.
DP: To me, that was an exercise, but you think of it as a film and it did play in a film festival.
PN: Very few shorts actually have a beginning, middle, and end anymore. Columbia has a standout program because it teaches students to make fully-realized stories, not just little snippets with some sort of punchline at the end.
PerritrevordogThe title character in Trevor.
DP: Trevor, your second short at Columbia, is a sweet film and I don’t think of it as an exercise.  You were the director, but did you also produce it?
PN: I put some pieces together for that, but I wouldn’t say I produced it.  The way it worked for the 8-12 minute short is that we went through a swap process.  Everybody wrote a script and they gave it to another person to direct. So I took Lindsay Tolbert’s script of Trevor.  It was her idea.  We worked on the script together a little more, and then Lindsay produced it and I directed it.
DP: I’m sure you were drawn to it because you love dogs.
PN: I responded to the animal element of it instantly. My class was about seventy-five people, so in the swap process, there were approximately seventy-five scripts out there. You’re not expected to read them all, but everybody puts up a logline and that’s what you read and then narrow your options.  From the second I read that logline for Trevor, I knew that was going to be one of the scripts I was going to go for.
DP: Trevor is a stuffed dog that its kind but deluded owner brings to the vet because it’s lethargic.  Are you a stuffed animal lover?
PN: Not like Larry in that movie is with the toy dog, but I had some as a kid.
DP: I’m sure you related to the lead character, the female veterinarian who treats Trevor for Larry’s sake.
PN: Oh, my god, absolutely. At one point in my life, I wanted to be a vet.  I got over that really quickly when I realized I couldn’t handle anything bad happening to an animal. But yeah, I guess that’s kind of how I’d behave in a situation like that.
DP: After Trevor, did you decide that you didn’t want to direct anymore and want to produce instead?
PN: Yeah, pretty much, but if someone ever says they want to hire me to direct a film, I don’t think I’d say no.   I know I’m capable of directing, but I am much more drawn to the duties of a producer.
DP: So your next short has an interesting title.
 Child Eater poster
DP: Did other students know you liked horror movies and ask you to be part of that?  Or did you go after it yourself?
PN: One of the classes you have to take in your second year is a development class, in which they pair second-year producers with students who have completed feature scripts. They put all these scripts in a book; you look through it, find something you like, look up the writer, and try to make an arrangement so you can work on the film.  In this book, it’s sectioned off by genre, and the horror genre had only three scripts in there. One just jumped right out at me and I was determined to get it.  It was by Erlingur Thoroddsen and it turned out that we were so in-tune in terms of our love of the genre. He’s one of my closest friends now.  He’s a great person, great writer, great director.  We took the script that I found in that binder through my class and while we working on it there, he said to me, “I have another short script I’ve been working on that we could do together as well.” He gave it to me to take a look at it, and that’s what we turned into Child Eater.
DP: I think it’s well-made and very satisfying as a short. What involvement did you have as its producer?
PN: Everything.  A big reason I stick with Erlingur as a director is that he trusts me and he’s very receptive to my ideas.  We very much developed the story together. He wrote it and he directed it and he chose all the shots and that kind of stuff. It’s very well-directed. You can just feel the amount of thought that went into everything he did.
DP: I am impressed by how much he has seen and taken from horror movies.  He does a good job using darkness and light, building tension, and moving the camera.  Did he takes his story from an urban myth or make it up completely?
PN: He was inspired by Nightmare on Elm Street, but it is an original story. He’s also Icelandic and Iceland has the best creepy folklore. He’s got a couple of film ideas that are directly connected to those legends that absolutely need to get made.
DP: But was his villain, “Robert,” who sucks out the eyes of children, made up?
PN: Completely. We tossed around different names but stuck with Robert.
DP: Question: since Robert’s victims are always kids, why does he try to kill the young woman at the end?
PN: Because she’s pregnant and he wants her baby. Earlier we make a connection between her being pregnant and the stork story.
DP: Why does Robert bother hiding from everyone, including in the boy’s closet, when he’s seemingly invincible?
PN: We’re working on expanding Child Eater into a feature, and we’re working on the rules. We’re giving him a backstory, and it’s only going to work if we have concrete rules set for him.
DP: In Halloween I believe Michael Myers is playing a game when puts on a mask and terrorizes everyone, because that’s what he likes to do having never grown out of childhood. Perhaps a reason Robert hides is that he’s playing.
PN: That’s definitely part of it.  He’s there for a reason.
DP: How long did the film take to shoot?
PN: Four days and four nights.
DP: Did you get money through Kickstarter?
PN: Yeah. Minimal amount of time and minimal amount of money!
DP: How exciting was it to screen Child Eater at SXSW?
PN: SXSW was, by far, the most incredible festival experience I’ve ever had. I attended as a filmmaker and as a journalist so it made for the ultimate combination. The festival’s programmers are also quite incredible. They make ever filmmaker feel so well taken care of and go out of their way to fill our schedules with meet-up opportunities. Also, there was a group of about ten Columbia students there, so being able to share my experience with them made it even more special. The week was just non-stop screenings, interviews, and friends. What more could you ask for?
DP: Was that your first real festival experience?
PN: My first film festival experiences were covering festivals as a journalist. As a filmmaker, the first festival I attended outside of New York was the Reykjavik International Film Festival with Child Eater. Erlingur is Icelandic, so it was important to him to screen the film back home. I’d never been to Iceland, so the trip itself was a thrill, and I really have to thank Erlingur and his family for that.
perriposterprofessorPoster with Betsy Brandt
DP: Your last film at Columbia, your thesis film, is called The Professor. How did it come about?
PN: When directors are looking for producers for their thesis films, the faculty helps by blasting an e-mail with the directors’ information and a synopsis of their films. I’d gone through a lot of those e-mails, and The Professor was the first that I stopped on, re-read a number of times, and then finally took the plunge and reached out to the writer/directors Anya Meksin and William Gerrard.  It’s a political thriller and though I’m not a particularly political person, the script’s tech-related component and suspense really spoke to me. From there, it was just a matter of sitting down with Anya and William, hitting it off, and then committing to moving forward with the project.
DP: The Professor is about a leftist underground group, led by a female ex-professor, that kidnaps a popular, deceitful news broadcaster to force him to read on the air the real news they wrote for him.  I think it’s well-made, and it is politically pretty brave, clearly getting across progressive ideas and political viewpoints. However, the film has a tagline that says it is about “radicalizing the media.”  In my opinion, it’s not about radicalizing the media, it’s simply about forcing the media to tell the truth. The idea is that if the media is honest then that’s enough to change America. Were you uncomfortable with this?
PN: I’m down the middle politically.  The reason that I was drawn to producing that project from the start was not because I felt it pertained or didn’t pertain to my own political beliefs.   Again, I looked at it as a very entertaining, thoughtful thriller–and also I had the opportunity to learn something different, too. The two directors are very politically minded and really believe in a lot of the film’s ideas, and I learned a lot from them.
DP: My one objection to the film politically is that one of the radicals says that the professor is the only one who makes decisions–like choosing to kill the broadcaster–and everyone else just follows her mindlessly.  Was that a controversial line?
PN: No, not really.  I remember that scene mostly for the producing challenges involved. It sounds silly, but basically it was about digging a hole for the grave. It’s very hard to dig a hole like that.  As for that line, I like it quite a bit, and find it interesting that the students would realize the situation and still go along with it, because they’re all very smart people. But they still follow her into the darkness.
DP: As soon as anybody differs at all, she shuts them down.  Her argument is that the end justifies the means. Did you have discussions with the directors about such things or did they do whatever and have everyone follow them?
PN: There were a lot of creative discussions early on, not pertaining to that though. One of the main challenges when we were developing the script was getting people to believe that the news anchor would just go along with reading their words on the air. Originally he was just hit once and was verbally coerced, and then suddenly he was doing the news just like she wanted him to do.  We had to change that and make it seem like he was scared enough to read it. We went back and forth with a lot of options before settling on what we have.
DP: Do you want us, the viewers, to have her fail or succeed in her mission?
PN: Personally, I want viewers to leave still weighing all the options. I love that you get three perspectives on this one thing–hers, the broadcaster’s, and the member of the group who is reluctant to kill the broadcaster.  It’s so thoughtful. I love walking out of a movie leaning toward one person’s opinion, but still considering the opposing viewpoint as being a justifiable option. To me, that’s a major achievement for the writer/directors.
DP: In the movie The East, the eco-terrorist group has no leader but is a collective. Everyone is smart and has his or her own viewpoint and though they’re extremists they can all be called patriots and heroes, just as it is with your professor.
PN: I love that movie. That’s another movie where I was expecting a completely polarizing viewpoint, but after hearing all the backstories, I also believed the group’s hurting people and its eye-for-an-eye mentality seems justified.  I was almost hoping that they pulled off their acts, to some extent.  I love when I can side with many different characters in one movie.
DP: In your film, I question why they don’t all wear masks because once the reporter has seen them they have no choice but to kill him.  I would think they’d be smart enough to all wear masks and then let him go, because his death doesn’t really matter once he’s read what they gave him to read.
PN: That was something that we discussed but you don’t necessarily want to put a mask on all your actors’ faces, especially when one is Betsy Brandt!
DP: You have a solid cast.
PN: We were so fortunate with our cast. Betsy and Rick Peters, who plays the broadcaster, are our big names.  She’s from Breaking Bad [and now The Michael J. Fox Show] and you may remember him from Dexter, although I recently saw him on a rerun of Veronica Mars.  We reached out to them ourselves, and sent them scripts. We were incredibly fortunate that the two of them responded and that their manager was willing to work with budding filmmakers. Also, as students it’s a pretty big undertaking to fly two actors from Los Angeles and house them in New York.  A very necessary learning experience for me though!
DP: And now you’re taking The Professor to festivals?
PN: Yes, we began with the L.A. Short Film Festival in September.  That was quite the place to start and we’re very happy about that. It was just so exciting to see everyone again and share this first screening with them. It went well. The audience responded appropriately to each beat of the film, so that’s got to mean we did something right! The film also recently screened at the Santa Fe Independent Film Festival. We have high hopes for it. We’re relying very heavily on the fact that what happens in this film is very current.
DP: And is The Professor going to be a feature?
PN: The directors have a feature script they want to explore.
DP: What are you currently working on?
PN: I’m forging forward with writing, interviewing and reviewing for the online sites.  And on the producing front, I’m dedicating a lot of time to Child Eater as a feature.  We’ve been working on a script for months now, and it’s in very good shape. It’s really a very good expansion of what you see in the short, fleshing out information that we wanted to include in the short but the film’s length did not permit.  It’s been a challenge, but we’re hopeful the feature will become a reality very soon.
DP: You’ve never been star-struck but have there been other filmmakers you’ve met who inspire you?
PN: In all the time I’ve been doing interviews, the only person I asked for a picture has been Wes Craven, because I love his films.  I also recently met Jason Blum, the producer of Insidious 2. I really admire his production company and as a budding producer myself, he is where I want to be.   So it was exciting to see him.
DP:  When young people tell me they want to make a living being a film critic, I’m tempted to tell them to do something else.  But you’ve had success and are on track to do what you want, so what advise can you give young Long Islanders who are following you into film criticism?
PN: I’d say they need to be persistent. I never stopped. Ever. And when I wasn’t getting enough work, I just fought for more, all the time. Whether that meant picking up different outlets, or doing the less exciting jobs, like writing DVD news releases instead of interviewing people, I just did it, all the time. I guess what puts me in a different category than some people is that I just have an immense amount of support from my family. I couldn’t have continued doing this without them.  They helped me financially and boosted my morale. They’ve always been fighting for me just as much as I’ve been fighting for myself.
DP: Was there a frustration element?
PN: There’s still a frustration element every day. The critiquing and the interviewing is very much turning into a real job for me at this point, but I’ll always want more. I’ve been very career-driven since I was a kid.
DP: Where can you go with what you’re doing?
PN: I have two goals.  On the producing side, I want to make horror movies.  On the film journalism side, I just want to maintain a steady flow of reviews and interviews. At this point my obsession is going to junkets–there is nothing that makes me happier than waking up and knowing it’s a junket day–and talking to people about their movies. I can talk about movies all day long.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Hobbit's Hunks 2: Lee Pace and Richard Armitage

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug Is Playing in Theaters

The Hobbit's Hunks 2: Lee Pace and Richard Armitage

(from Sag Harbor Online, 1/2/14)

Richard Armitage
By Danny Peary
The Hobbit:The Desolation of Smaug continues to do astonishing business around the country and locally at the UA Southampton 4, where it is playing in both 3-D and 2-D formats.  It’s my contention that sex appeal is a major reason for its success. For those attracted sexy actresses, the second part of Peter Jackson’s epic adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkein’s slim fantasy classic introduces Lost’s lovely Evangeline Lilly as a female elf who is not in the book. For those attracted to hunky actors, there are three that will grab their attention: Lee Pace who plays Thranduil, the Elvenking; Richard Armitage who plays Thorin Oakenshield, the leader of the dwarves on the epic journey to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from the dragon Smaug; and Orlando Bloom, who was so appealing as Thranduil’s elf son Legolas in Jackson’s Rings trilogy that the director inserted the character into his new film although he isn’t in Tolkein’s book.  For the Australian magazine FilmInk, I participated in an international press day with the threesome several months ago in New York City. Last time, I posted a roundtable with Orlando Bloom. As promised, here are the roundtables with Pace and Armitage. I note my questions.
Lee Pace Roundtable
hobbitleepaceLee Pace as Thranduil
Q: Here you are again playing Thranduil. Is there a process involved in playing a character over so many years?
Lee Pace: It’s been a totally artistic experience, and I’ve had a lot of fun. I’ve been working on this movie for about three years now, so the “process” means a lot of different things. There’s the incredible source material that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about, about what Tolkien thought about the elves, and what his inspirations were. And I think of the elves that Peter Jackson created the first time around for Lord of the Rings–where can we take them in these Hobbit movies?  Thranduil’s the first elf that Tolkien wrote.  He’s a very tricky elf, you know. He is the most powerful being in Middle Earth, a legendary warrior. He’s not a friend, as the dwarves know. The best way I can say it is that he’s more like a very old tree, or a tiger, or a lizard, than a human. It’s fun to play a badass.
Danny Peary: It’s interesting that Tolkien made the elves, including Thranduil, immortal. You’re a vampire in Twilight and vampires start out as human beings who become immortal and deal with the new dilemma of living forever. But in this your character is immortal from the beginning. So how did you approach that?
LP: That’s a very interesting question. I’ve thought very much about that, and I think there’s a place to start answering the question.  Like their king Thranduil, I see the elves as a force of nature.  That’s what I think they are about. They are old Old World elves and their immortality is about transitioning to another place…
DP: If Thranduil weren’t immortal, would you play him differently?
LP: Immortality is a huge part of the elves, and I talk a lot about it in the movie. It changes the rules totally if you know that you’ll never die of natural causes. The elves love combat though and they can die in battle. Thranduil’s survived great battles in which most of the other great elves died. That is a huge cornerstone to the character, too. The dilemma that my character faces–as you see in the prologue of the first film–is whether to help the dwarves battle the dragon.  He chooses not to.  I think about that choice in the context of your question about immortality.  Why should he risk the elves’ precious immortal lives for a lost cause?  There’s a different set of values that comes with that immortality. Life is precious in a different way, not because it’s a transient thing. You’re not going to just pass through time with people but will endure and be like the stones and mountains.
Q: What can you tell us about the second film? Is there more action? Is your character more at the center of the story, as it appears in the trailers?
LP: In the second movie, the stakes get ratcheted up an incredible amount, which accelerates the action.  The group must get to the mountain and there’s a lot of things standing in the way, including the elves.  Thranduil does play a very different part in the second movie. Some dwarves come through his woods, but he’s not going to let them go and wake up a dragon. You don’t wake up a dragon unless you know how to kill it, and they don’t know how. His choice is not to use his force, but he could. Choosing not to do it, he’s taking the same risk as if he chose to do it, because he will still change the outcome of a conflict.
Q: This trilogy is based on one book.  How deeply did you go into Tolkien’s writing to learn about your character?
LP: The book is great stuff. Tolkien was such an incredibly knowledgeable person, a real intellect. There were all these great sources he drew on to put his story together. You can’t beat it. It’s literature, it’s mythology, it’s cool. In many ways, it’s English story-telling, English language at its peak. For me, that material was not only a fascinating work but necessary. Decoding those riddles and symbols that he put in was very interesting work. You have to understand it, and be inspired in the same way he was inspired. So many things I read would occur to me later in the shooting, like that all of these kings live in underground caves. What is that about? How did Tolkien come to that?  Was it reading Icelandic literature that inspired him, or was it some kind of expression of his imagination that he put these kings in underground fortresses in a very wild world? This is one of the most profound ideas in the story.
Q: Did you train to do any fighting?
LP: I trained to fight with swords.  The fight scene was one of the most fun things I did on this movie. The stunt guys are so good, and I had the opportunity do quite a bit of the great stunt work, especially in the Battle of the Five Armies.
Q: What did you take away from playing your character?
LP: My sword skills? You always take a little bit from a character you’ve played. I don’t know what it will be with him.  The research did to find him was taking long hikes in New Zealand and just going into the woods and thinking about woods.   I’m a pretty gentle person.
DP: Do you think of your character as a bad guy?
LP: Thranduil is not bad, he’s just badass. You can’t compare him to humans because he’s not human. He’s wild. If you encounter a bear in the woods and it mauls you, you can’t say it’s evil. It’s a wild thing. Do you know what I mean? He’s a king, a significant king, a formidable force in this world. He makes no secret of it–he’s not devious. He has rules and principles.
DP: Do you think Thranduil’s been misunderstood?
LP: Definitely.  In Ralph Bakshi’s animated feature, he’s portrayed as a pretty nasty character.  But I look at him a little deeper and don’t believe that he is bad. He’s just not a friend of the dwarves; he doesn’t like them. When I think about him, it makes sense–if they are going to accumulate that kind of wealth, a dragon is going to come. I think that’s his wisdom. He’s looking at these dwarves acquiring a huge pile of treasure, and he knows evil will come a result. Thranduil knows because he’s been around for 3,000 years.
DP: He has a son, Legolas, played by Orlando Bloom, who reappears in this film. What’s the father-son relationship?
LP: It’s a very interesting relationship that evolved as we shot this movie. It’s about immortality as well. Thranduil’s heartbroken because of things that have happened in the past that makes this relationship very complicated. It’s very hard. It’s a movie very much about fathers and sons–there’s that storyline throughout the movie.
DP: I’m sure that Thranduil’s own father who was killed in battle plays into it.
LP: Yes, Thranduil’s father was killed in a battle that Thranduil fought in. And Legolas’s mother is not here. So there’s that loss, too. There’s definitely a difference of opinion between this father and son. Thranduil wants to stay close to his fortress gates and protect his people, and stay in this wild forest forever. He sees another war ahead but is cautious to participate because he knows the toll death can take on those left behind.  But we know Thranduil will eventually send Legolas out into an even bigger world on The Lord of the Rings journey.
Q:  Was the vibe on Peter Jackson’s set the same as with the previous films?
LP: I don’t know, because I didn’t do The Lord of the Rings movies. I just know my experience on these two Hobbit movies. I will say that Peter Jackson is one of the most creative people I have ever met in my life.  He doesn’t stop at “good enough.” I can only imagine that after ten years making these films that his creative process is ten years more advanced. Every time I walked onto the set to do a blocking with him, I was amazed with what he came up with. I’d seen the sketch of what the set was going to be on the green screen, and it was astonishing. We shot some stuff in front of the Gates, and you have to understand, we walked on the set and it was just a few twigs and maybe a little rock and a big green screen–and then something amazing looking shows up in the movie.  At one time, my character is sitting on a throne in his chambers and there are elephants as far as you can see in the background. One of Peter’s big gifts is making these beautiful settings. It’s an honor to be there. One more thing, Peter has the same sense of humor he always had.  He still likes gory jokes!
Richard Armitage Roundtable
Danny Peary: I think Thorin Oakenshield is the tragic hero of Tolkien’s story, a flawed  Shakespearean hero. Did you see it that way too??
Richard Armitage: Yes, it sort of evolved that way; I didn’t really come into it with that being his journey. I used the book a lot to build the character. But there were moments when I did look to Shakespeare for ideas and inspiration, and that’s somewhere in my portrayal . He’s complicated and complex.  He is heroic with honor and nobility, despite his shortcomings, cantankerous nature, and stubbornness. I think we need to see him in the first half of the story as a hero.  He will later be corrupted and spiral down, so it’s essential to give him some heroism at the forefront.
Q: Perhaps you get to release your inner anger playing an angry character??
RA: I don’t think dwarves in general are angry but they do have a lot to be angry about. They’ve been wronged a lot, particularly in this story. From the minute you meet these characters, they’re on their front feet, because they’ve been wronged and they have this quest they need to do.  I was never playing a dwarf in a state of relaxation. Who is Thorin when he’s chilling out at home?  I can’t imagine him not being at war.  The dwarves are always on that energy level. I experienced it myself filming the third movie, because we were shooting some of the battle scenes and fighting at a level of rage that I’ve never done before.  I was adrenalized and swinging swords around, and I found myself–the placid person that I am–very angry all the time. I think that that’s how these dwarves must live their lives, because they’re always ready for war. That’s what expect of them because they’re provoked repeatedly, all the time. In this story they’re on their quest to the mountain, to Erebor, for their lost gold and to reclaim their kingdom.  But one of the complexities of the second film is that they know there is a dragon, Smaug, there to repel them. Thorin wants to get inside the door but he knows that once he gets in he’s going to be facing the most horrific thing that he or his people have ever experienced. I think one of the most interesting scenes that I play in the second movie is when they finally open the door to Erebor and Thorin breathes the air again of his childhood. It’s this weird sort of sense memory. He remembers all these things that happened to him.  But at the same time he can smell the dragon and the dragon can smell him. It’s quite a moving scene, because only three of the dwarves are there when the dragon attacks. It’s very potent for him and the three dwarves with him when they finally open the door, because it’s been talked about for so long and it’s been years in the planning.  They finally get there and it’s a very emotional scene. And the dragon attacks.  It’s sort of the beginning of a downward spiral that you’re going to see in movie three.
Q: Do you find it strange that you are over six feet tall and playing a dwarf?
RA: I’ve never really found it that strange, I just get used to it. We were made much bigger than ourselves so when the computer does what it does it’s of no interest to me. It’s just important that we don’t look like children. I do get hot around the collar when I go to do voice dubbing and then see how small the dwarves are in the films. I don’t like seeing them reduced, because I think dwarves have quite big egos. It’s good that I have that reaction, because it means that I understand what it means to them to be formidable.
Q: How was doing the scenes with the dragon?
RA: During the entire shoot it was just a green ball on a stick, which is staggering. Occasionally an assistant director would walk around holding the stick. So you look at the ball, but mentally you try to create the face of the dragon. They’d show you a picture of the dragon – this is what it looks like. Three weeks later they’d go, we’ve completely changed it, and now it looks like this. So I decided I was going to create my own dragon in my mind. What I created didn’t even look like a dragon, it was just kind of a weird beast.
Q: So you never acted with Benedict Cumberbatch, doing motion-capture work as Smaug?
RA: Luckily toward the end, after we’d shot everything else, I did get to work with him. He was doing some voice work in the studio, and I came in to do something with him, so I actually worked face-to-face with him, which is good. I wish it had been at the beginning. I heard his voice, and the good thing is that I could then go back and re-voice some of those scenes with that sense inside of me. One of the good things about doing post-production sound is that you can just invest your part with a new essence.
Q: Was it strange when you were acting in a movie without seeing the visuals?
RA: There’s both a story in my mind and a movie in my mind, which I create in order to do these scenes. And the finished product that Peter makes is something else. I’ve always said that whether or not there’s a movie at the end, I still have to experience the adventure myself.  And that means not seeing a green ball but creating something for myself.  I felt like I was going on a journey.  What’s great is that I’ll sit down in December to see the movie with the same eyes as you journalists.  Although I’ve read the script, seeing the movie will be a very different experience.  It will be a surprise for me.
Q: Thorin wears a very elaborate costume. Was there any input from you on costumes and makeup?
RA: Absolutely. I love, on a very basic level, that the elves are inspired by an art nouveau aesthetic and we dwarves are inspired by an art deco aesthetic. I love both periods of architectural design and I think it works pretty well.  With Thorin we started with a lot of decoration, because he’s described as the prince or the king-in-waiting. That was very much incorporated into his costume. Peter and I negotiated with the costume designer, and we stripped back a lot of that so that Thorin would look more like someone in exile who is no longer wearing all of his jewelry and decoration. I wanted him to look more like a wild man than a king. That’s going to come later. But also he needs to have a face that people can relate to, so it wasn’t going to be too heavily disguised with silicones or elaborate hair. We simplified his look a lot because we needed to read that face up close over a long period. We needed people to understand what my character is going through.  So that was something that evolved.
Q: What kind of training did you have for the fight scenes?
RA: It was always kind of very weapon-specific. Until Peter signed off on a weapon design, I couldn’t really train. So we had to hedge our bets, really. I knew Thorin would never be swinging a hammer or an axe. He took an axe on the journey, but in battle he’s a swordsman with a buckler, a shield. So I trained very much with that in mind.
DP: Would you play your character any differently if you didn’t know that at the end of Tolkien’s book he dies?
RA: No, probably not. His death scene was left until quite late in the shoot. We didn’t shoot it until pick-ups, which I think was a good thing because I’d almost forgotten about that moment coming.  I think that part of the creation of this character is offering the audience and other characters in the movie a potential future. He had to be someone who was going to be king, he was going to sit on that throne and return the dwarves to their former glory. And in a way, his death has to come by surprise to him. Having said that, I think one of the things– talking about Shakespeare again–that I admire about Richard the III is that he rides across the battlefield to fight, single-handedly, for his kingdom, for his crown. In the Battle of the Five Armies, Thorin is going to do something like that. It’s fatalistic. It’s almost an act of suicide.  Playing it, it’s good I forgot I needed to die!
Q: What did you like most about working on these films?
RA: That they never stopped writing the script, they never stopped working on it. Even when it’s all been shot and all the movies have been released, they’ll still be writing extra stuff, they’ll still continue to work on it and develop it.  They’re probably still working on the first Hobbit film!