Thursday, July 5, 2012

PRESS CONFERENCE: Woody Allen and the female stars of "To Rome With Love"

Woody Allen's notoriety is equally literary and visual, his name invoking nebbishly thick-framed glasses just as readily as it does his famed Jew-Yorker patois. His image is so indelibly linked to his artistic output that it is jarring to realize he has not appeared onscreen since his criminally underrated 2006 comedy Scoop. This summer has seen Allen-as-actor make a triumphant return in his new comedy, To Rome With Love, a film stuffed to the brim with notable performers both Italian and American. Yet the participation of such stars as Jesse Eisenberg and Roberto Benigni has done little to tittilate the public: as with his previous films, all eyes are on his female costars—and To Rome With Love offers moviegoers a bevy of them. Recently in Los Angeles to promote the film, Allen spoke at a press conference alongside With Love actresses Alessandra Mastroianni, Alison Pill, Penelope Cruz, Ellen Page, and Greta Gerwig.

Mr. Allen, when you cast another distinct comedian in your movie—like Roberto Benigni in this and Andrew Dice Clay in your next movie—how compatible are they with your style of humor?
WOODY ALLEN: They don’t have to be. I cast them because they’re perfect for what I’ve written and they, they don’t have to in any way be compatible with me. I didn’t think Roberto Benigni would be compatible with me, I thought that I would have a difficult time with him, that he’d be irrepressible and I’d never be able to get his attention. He’d be running around and acting crazy and I’d have to—but in the end it turned out that he was quite intellectual and quite poised and quiet, and a pleasure to work with, and it really had nothing to do with my type of comedy, just his role. It was quite easy, actually.

It’s been a long time since we’ve seen you in front of the camera. Why at this particular point and for this particular movie did you decide that you wanted to be in the film?
ALLEN: Um, because there was a part for me. [LAUGHTER] You know, when I write a script, if there’s a part for me then I play it. If there’s no part—and as I’ve gotten older the parts have diminished. When I was younger I could always play the lead in the movie, and I could do all the romantic scenes with the, with the women, and it was fun and I liked to play that. Now I’m older and I’m reduced to playing, you know, the upstaged doorman or, you know, the uncle or something, and I don’t really love that. So, essentially, when a part comes up I’ll play it.

Alison, Penelope, you two were reteaming with Woody Allen again. What is it about him that makes you want to work with him over and over again?
ALLEN: Do I have to hear this? [LAUGHTER]
PENELOPE CRUZ: You want to start?
ALISON PILL: Um, I will work with this man anytime he asks. It’s a joy and a privilege and such a civilized filmmaking environment. And I also appreciate the idea that films can be just because you want to do them and that people will want to see them and you’ll make them even if they don’t want to see them. That’s how I feel as an actor, is just, I just like doing it. I’ll act for anybody and I’m very lucky that I’ve gotten the chance to work with this amazing man more than once.
CRUZ: Me too, I feel extremely lucky. I’ve been a fan of his work since I was a little girl and I was very happy first of all to meet him, to be able to spend time with him; he makes me laugh all day long so I feel like the luckiest girl, you know, I can spend time with him and I get, also, to be directed by him and he trusts me enough to give me these beautiful characters. And the only thing is that it’s always too short! Both times I’ve worked with him I did it in three weeks, so I always want more.
ALLEN: I buy that. [LAUGHTER]

Mr. Allen, you’ve said in the past that you have a drawer and you’d pull out the drawer and look at all the different ideas you had and you’d say, “This one.” Is this one of the ideas you had in your drawer?
ALLEN: No—yes, I had a lot of notes that I, you know, ideas come to me in the course of the year and I write them down and throw them in a drawer in my house, and then I go and look at them and many of them seem very unfunny and foolish to me and I can’t imagine what I was thinking when I originally did it. But sometimes I’ll pull out an idea like, uh, there’ll be a little note written on a matchbook or on a piece of paper that says, for example, “A man who can only sing in the shower.” And it’ll occur to me at the time, this could make a funny story. And that’s what happened with this: there were some ideas in this movie that did come out of, um, the notes that I had given myself over the year.

Did you have a hard time convincing Fabio Armiliato to do this? Did he understand it and everything and want to do it?
ALLEN: Did he understand? Yeah. Yeah, we searched for a long time to find somebody who could actually sing opera and could speak a little English and could act a little bit, and then all of a sudden we met this guy and he was great. He had all those qualities—he’d lived in New York for a year of his life, he spoke English pretty well, he was a pretty good actor and had a lovely singing voice, so we were very lucky.

Mr. Allen, you’ve made some beautiful films both here and in Europe. What was the inspiration for Rome? When did you decide the setting was going to be there and what is it about Rome that appealed to you for the setting?
ALLEN: Two things—one is I’d been talking about making a film in Rome for years with the people in Rome who distribute my films. They always said, “Come and make a film, come,” and finally they said “Look, come and do it, we’ve been talking about it for a long time, we’ll put up all the money necessary to make the film,” and I jumped at the chance ‘cause I wanted to work in Rome and it was an opportunity to get the money to work quickly and from a single source, and so it came together like that.

Is it an inevitability that if you shoot in Rome you’re going to shoot in a location from 8 ½ or a Fellini movie, or did you deliberately choose locations that sort of, uh, referred or were similar?
ALLEN: Probably inevitable, because we never, I didn’t know Rome very well and the art director went around finding pretty locations and interesting locations and, you know, I had no idea if any of them had appeared in other movies. I mean, I was sure, obviously, if I was shooting at the Coliseum or something like that, it had probably appeared in fifty movies, and that would be true of a number of the locations. But I didn’t really know where I was shooting and many places I, I was seeing for the first time, many of the streets, and it’s really the art director who found all the beautiful locations we had.

So much of the film is a meditation on fame and accomplishment, and I was wondering what might have sparked the idea to focus the film around that.
ALLEN: The fact that this film deals with that theme is, um, post facto. I didn’t think about that when we made the film. I thought, gee, it’s a funny idea, the guy sings in the shower, it’s a funny idea that some guy wakes up someday and is suddenly famous and doesn’t know why, two people come to Rome and they’re just married and they get involved in this situation—I never thought of any thematic connection in anyway. That was all just an accident. Now, it may have been something that was in my unconscious at the time and it came out in some strange way. I myself feel about fame the way the character of the chauffeur talks about it in the movie: you know, life is tough whether you’re famous or not famous, and in the end it’s probably, of those two choices, better to be famous. [LAUGHTER] Because, you know, the perks are better. You know, you get better seats at the basketball game and you get better tables and reservations places, and if I call a doctor on Saturday morning I can get him. You know, there’s a lot of indulgences that you don’t get if you’re not famous. Now, I’m not saying it’s fair. It’s kind of disgusting. [LAUGHTER] But I can’t say that I don’t enjoy it. [LAUGHTER] There are drawbacks to being famous, too, but you can live with those. They’re not life-threatening. You know, if the paparazzi are outside your restaurant or your house and, and actors make such a big thing of it and scurry into cars draped in their things—you know, you think they’re gonna be crucified or something! It’s not a big deal, you can get used to that. It’s not so terrible. So the bad stuff is greatly outweighed by the dinner reservations. [LAUGHTER]

Do the other actors want to comment on the topic of fame? Not that you’d want to follow that—
PILL: Yeah, how can you follow Woody Allen?!

Mr. Allen, you’re also an accomplished musician in your own right, and music always plays an important part in your films, including this one. Could you talk about the importance of music in your movies, particularly this picture?
ALLEN: Well, I’m a big believer of music in movies. It covers a multitude of sins. Now, a great director, a really great director—let’s say Ingmar Bergman: he did not believe in the use of music in films. He thought music in films was barbaric, that was his word, and his films are great enough so that he doesn’t need any outside help. I need help. [LAUGHTER] And I knew this right from the first movie I ever made in my life, Take the Money and Run, there were scenes that were just dying when I looked at them in the cutting room, and the editor Ralph Rosenblum said “Put a piece of music behind it!” And I was so inexperienced that I didn’t, he said, “Here, let me just put this record on.” And he put a record on and all of a sudden, when I was doing something and it was so boring originally, it came to life. It just, doing it to music just made the whole thing work, and ever since I’ve been a big believer in supporting the action on film with appropriate music. And it’s gotten me out of a lot of jams of the years so music for me is a very big thing in films and I use it unashamedly. I’ve used all the classics, all the great composers, both classical and Tin Pan Alley, and it’s the most pleasurable part of the movie too, when you have a movie and you look at it and it’s ice cold with no music. Then you start dropping in a little George Gershwin and a little Mozart and a little something else, and things suddenly become lively and magical in front of you. It’s a great feeling.

In the film, Alec Baldwin’s character takes a trip down memory lane. If you could go back in time, what would you tell your younger self?
ALLEN: What would I what? [LAUGHTER]

What would you tell yourself?
ALLEN: What would I tell myself? Well, it would be “Don’t do that!” [LAUGHTER] I’m not, I would like to go back in time but just for lunch. [LAUGHTER] I would not like to live in the past because there are all those drawbacks, like I mentioned in the movie, you would not get antiseptic when you go to the dentist, you don’t get antibiotics, you don’t get, you know, the things that you’re used to now: cell phones and televisions. These things are very convenient. It takes all year for the ambulance to come, you don’t want that. But it would be fun if you could every now and then just meet a friend for lunch at Maxime’s in Paris in 1900 or go back to 1870 just for a couple hours: take a walk in the park and then come right back to Broadway. [LAUGHTER]

For the actors, it’s been said that Woody Allen is not precious about every word of the script being repeated as it was written. What is freeing about that, or is it particularly frightening because of who’s saying “Do it your way”?
ALESSANDRA MASTROIANI: Well, in my case it was different, I guess, because in my case it was in Italian, because everything we would say he’d put later the subtitles, so for us… but for me I was, I was glad because I really felt free to act in the way that I felt the character, so I think it’s a good thing for us. I don’t know, I’m not that kind of actress that I need to restrain myself to the lines. I’m pretty glad to be free—and either way he put the subtitles, so I don’t know!
PILL: Um, it was absolutely terrifying to be like, “Yeah, I can just… say something else that’s not on the page.” I don’t really like doing that, and, um, it’s a wonderful challenge and a totally exciting and terrifying thing to do but, um, you know, I am not a gifted wordsmith most of the time, and so I do remember at times just staying up at night going “Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod.” But anyway it is a joy as well.
CRUZ: He gives all these freedoms, which is very liberating. At the same time it feels like a very big responsibility because you don’t want to ruin anything, especially when you are working in a different language. Like, in Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Javier and I, he gave us the scene in English and asked for us to translate it however we wanted, the way our characters would speak, and we didn’t know if he was going to be angry with us when he got the translation of what we were saying because we were swearing every three words. [LAUGHTER] Apparently he was happy, actually. He, he gives us a lot of trust, the actors.
ELLEN PAGE: I think I feel very similarly to Alison and Penelope. I think, you know, especially when you’re reading a script that is so good, like, there’s already such natural fluidity to what you’re saying and what you’re doing, I mean, I don’t think that there are that many incidences where you feel unnatural or that uncomfortable. But it is nice to have that sense of flexibility or comfort in, in talking to him, I guess, when that moment arises. But there’s already such fluidity in his words and how he comes across.
GRETA GERWIG: Um, I spent most of my life imitating characters in his movies, and so [LAUGHTER] I, from the age of 11, was trying to talk like them, so my entire identity is confused with [LAUGHTER] other characters’ identities. So when he says “Be yourself,” I’m like, but that’s so fused with these characters that you’ve written! But I was just excited. I mean, for me it was hard to change the words because I loved them so much but also because just his idea of humans and the characters that he’s written are so big in my mind.
ALLEN: I have to add something. I had great faith in the actors, and when they improvise, you know, it always sound better than the stuff I write in my bedroom, ‘cause I don’t know what’s going on. I’m alone, isolated in New York. Then you get on the set and it feels different to the actors, and when they improvise they make it, you know, they make it sound alive. In Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Javier and Penelope were improvising whenever they felt like, and they were speaking Spanish. I don’t speak a word of Spanish, and to this day there are scenes in the picture that I have no idea what they’re saying. [LAUGHTER] I just never knew, but you could tell they were correct by their body language and by the emotions they were going through, and I knew, I never had to know, you know, I just assumed they knew what they were doing, they were professional, and I was right.

In a previous question, Mr. Allen was talking about fame. I would like to hear from the ladies: what has fame brought to your lives?
MASTROIANNI: I don’t know, actually. I think that maybe in Italy we have a different kind of fame, so… we are, yeah, if you are famous, if you are a very important person and you call a restaurant, maybe they will set aside a table for you, but just this one time, not two times. So I don’t know, we have a different relationship with fame. Personally, I don’t, I’m not really famous. I’m not famous! [LAUGHTER] I’m just an actress, and I’m working in Woody Allen’s movie so maybe I’m a really, really lucky actress, but I’m working on it. Maybe I have to think about fame. I have to think about it.
PILL: Um, I mean, I just consider myself to be a working actor. I have no idea what people would, I mean, I’m not famous. I don’t get stopped on the street. I just sort of do my thing and live my life. I don’t like strangers, so I wouldn’t look forward to having to meet a lot of them at any one point. [LAUGHTER] Uh, but that’s about it. Um, I just, I’m waiting for the day when somebody sends me a pet pig. [LAUGHTER] That’s it, that’s all I want from fame. People send you free stuff, and I’m like, I don’t know, what would I want? I want a pet pig. [LAUGHTER] If anyone knows anybody with a pig, then… let them know that I’m famous and I want a pig. [LAUGHTER]
CRUZ: I don’t know, we were talking about it this morning. The only good thing that I have taken out of it is to, to experience it in first person, to realize that there is no real happiness that comes out of it, to be able to say there is no real happiness added to your life because of that. And I agree with Woody that the advantages are very unfair and disgusting, but I also think that some of the disadvantages are pretty tough and difficult to deal with, to the point where sometimes I have to question if I want to continue this job because of that. I don’t care if they take pictures of me, but when they take pictures of your family or write about your family, especially when it’s about children, that—mmmm. I can’t tolerate it. And it depends on the country where you live, so children are more protected that way. In the States there is no protection, you can show faces of children, so I am 100% against that. All the magazines have these few pages dedicated to the children of—and it’s not a handbag! [LAUGHTER] I don’t care if they take pictures of me, but that goes into a different territory that is, that should not be allowed.
PAGE: I don’t know what to say, you know, I’m an actor because I love to act. First and foremost that’s what I’m always thinking about. And I sort of, um, it’s not that I forget about it, but the transition occurred after Juno, I guess, so there’s definitely a transition one goes through from when nobody knows about who you are to a few more people knowing who you are, of course. And then, I don’t know, it’s sort of just, it sort of balances itself out. Sometimes it comes up if a movie’s coming out, and then it sort of fades away again, and I just sort of go about my life and don’t tend to really have much of an issue, but I also think that’s just because I’m kind of boring and don’t do much. I don’t experience things in the way certain friends do, or, I imagine, Penelope has on her plate in that way. I just kind of… go about things. [LAUGHS]
GERWIG: Well, I feel like I’m not famous at all, but I do like that in New York there’s a certain quality—like, Alison, I knew who you were in New York and I saw you—
PILL: Yeah, I know you—I, I know!
GERWIG: And I wouldn’t say anything, but afterwards I’d be like “Alison Pill just walked by me!” [LAUGHTER] I’d call someone, I’d tell them—
PILL: Yeah, but then it’s just like, we knew each other, too, and I’ve meditated in your house! So that’s the other side of it! [LAUGHS]
GERWIG: I do think that’s the coolest thing in New York, where it’s like, a lot of theatre actors in New York—they’re not fancy people who get their pictures taken all the time, but I go to the theatre all the time and I know who they are, or comedians who do stuff at UCB and are just around, and you just feel so proud that you live in a city where there’s all these artists, and they’re under the radar in a way—or I’ve seen New York City Ballet dancers on the subway and I’m like, “I saw you in The Firebird!” and I’m so excited, and that level of artistic community and recognizing each other is really nice. Um, but that has, that’s a different thing than Roberto Benigni fame. [LAUGHTER]

To Rome With Love is in theatres now.

Read the rest of the article.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

ROUNDTABLE: "Damsels in Distress" director Whit Stillman and actress Greta Gerwig

With the release of his recent film Damsels in Distress, Whit Stillman has re-entered a world of independent cinema very different from the one he unintentionally left behind after the completion of Last Days of Disco. In the absence of his delightful erudite-core offerings, mumblecore has grown exponentially in popularity; beyond this sphere, the standard budget for indie filmmaking has ballooned so much that the word "independent" almost seems not to mean anything anymore. So how does an auteur like Stillman adapt to such a dramatically-altered landscape? Actually, he doesn't—he simply goes right back to doing what he does best. With Damsels, Stillman once again offers his audience a deliciously articulate and verbose work of social commentary, all palatably presented on the sparkling aluminum platter that his microbudget forced him to have to use in place of real silver. Though Damsels a departure from his previous films, this is certainly not because of any perceived need on his part to "keep up with the times"; indeed, the only concession he has made to the current landscape of the movie biz has to do with the creative types he hired, among them key mumblecore player Greta Gerwig, who heads up Stillman's film in a performance brimming with wit and class. Unsurprisingly, Gerwig and Stillman had a great deal to say about their collaboration—and their admiration for each other.

Greta, I just wanted to get a sense of your comfort level with the stylized approach of the script and the story.
GERWIG: Well, I was a huge, massive fan of Whit’s work before I even read the script, and I, the way the characters speak in his movies, and their ideas, and the way they espouse their ideology was so familiar to me from these other movies and the way these other actors so brilliantly made these ideas their own that one of the struggles for me was actually not imitating the way they sounded in things. Or not hearing the way Chris Eigeman would—
STILLMAN: You did a very good Chris Eigeman impression. It’s very good, yeah. [LAUGHTER] And you sort of look alike.
GERWIG: I know. Chris and I are very close. [LAUGHS] But I love, I love the dialogue, I love the words. I loved how challenging it was because it—and in some ways it’s not even, it’s much less challenging to say really good writing than to say really bad writing. When you say really bad writing you have to turn off your brain and just say it, but when you have great writing you have something to do and you have something to act, so it was wonderful.

What was your own experience in college?
GERWIG: Well, I went to Barnard College, which was the women’s college at Columbia, and I had the most wonderful time. It was literally life-changing. I grew up in Sacramento, California, and Barnard is in New York City, and that was the biggest thing that could have happened to me. Learning about art for the first time in any real way and then being able to see the paintings we were talking about in the Met, or being able to go see opera, or being able to go see theatre… there were more cinemas that were running things like—at FilmForum I got to see things on the big screen some of which I would have had to drive to San Francisco to go see.
STILLMAN: But Sacramento’s the state capital.
GERWIG: …Yes. But it is not the cultural capital. [LAUGHTER] I love Sacramento, but in California, I think because there is Los Angeles and there is San Francisco, it’s almost like the state is like “We’ve taken care of that and now we’re really gonna commit to farming and government.”

Whit, had this film been percolating ever since your last film came out quite some time ago?
STILLMAN: I mean, oddly, that’s pretty much true. It had been percolating all that time. I mean, it’s not as if I was working on this, because I had all these other projects that collapses and fell apart, but I’d actually had this idea initially back in 2000 and didn’t pursue it—but I’d been thinking about it and I’d been taking notes. I actually found out once I started that those notes weren’t so helpful. The main things from the 2000 idea were the Roman-letter fraternities and the four girls with floral names.

It’s definitely a departure from your prior movies, both stylistically and in the fact that it’s your first movie that isn’t autobiographical. I know Greta has also written and directed and is very involved in mumblecore, so was that an influence?
STILLMAN: Yes, it was very helpful to us that almost all the people we were dealing with were makers as well as interpreters, and we tied in friends of Greta’s whom I’d met other ways, like Lena Dunham, who lent us her co-producer. I’m glad you see it as a departure, because many people see it as a “Part 4” when the other three films really have something in common and this film overlaps with the other films but we’re going off in a very stylized direction. All the films have a utopian element, but this one is a full-on utopia. There are different ways of handling autobiographical material, because you write what you know about, so for me it’s often been a particular period. This one has a lot of autobiographical stuff and I feel very close to the characters, but it’s done in a very different way.

Greta, not only have you worked with Whit, but you were directed in Greenberg by Noah Baumbach, who has been very vocal about being inspired by your work. How do you feel about that?
GERWIG: Well, I think a lot of my favorite directors from the nineties, they were part of this model of filmmaking where it took a lot more doing to get it done. There was a lot more money that needed to be invested in things to get it going. And regardless of whether or not—even if people didn’t necessarily like the aesthetic of the films I was making with my friends circa 2006-2007, I think there was something inspirational for a lot of filmmakers about the size of the film and that it could be made for so little.
STILLMAN: Likewise, the people who backed Barcelona and Last Days of Disco originally backed this script in a very tentative way, and then it came around to the idea of doing this as an indie film and they started thinking about the usual budget range of independent films, which is really quite high, and to do this it meant raising money this way and that way. So I said, “You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about this and it’s possible to go back Metropolitan-style and make quite a good-looking film without many resources,” and I mentioned a very low number, and the people at Castle Rock were like, “For that we can get people to write you checks.” And it was a great experience because we had total freedom. We didn’t have much money, but we had enough to do what we wanted.

Are you releasing the actual budget?
STILLMAN: No, there’s been a lot of delightful, humorous fiction about the budget and I don’t want to get in the way of that comedy. [LAUGHTER] I think one of the producers was asked by FactChecker and he said something along the lines of “It’s like asking an actress’s weight: you can’t ask and expect an honest answer.”

Read the rest of the article.

Monday, March 5, 2012

'Pariah' actress Adepero Oduye

By far the most criminal snub of this year's Oscars was that of a $500,000-budget gem called Pariah. Maybe you've heard of it, maybe you haven't: the debut feature of director Dee Rees follows a 17-year-old Brooklynite named Alike as she attempts to navigate her adolescence, unsure of everything about herself except for one thing: her homosexuality. Pitch-perfect, Pariah's ability to bring its audience to exhilarating heights and devastating lows is truly a testament to Rees' skill. Yet the film would only be half as good without the sheer magnitude of its cast, from Kim Wayans' brilliant dramatic turn as Alike's homophobic mother Audrey to the marvelous discovery of one Adepero Oduye, the actress whose turn as Alike marks her feature film debut. I recently spoke to Oduye about the role, about the film's origins as a short, and about our beloved Brooklyn.

You’ve been involved with Pariah since the short, right?
Yeah. I got an email one day with a bunch of castings, and I saw Pariah and I said “I want to be part of this.” I was hoping to be an extra, so I emailed my picture, and Dee called me in for Alike. So we did the short and it was a great experience, but I remember saying to Dee “You know, I don’t want this experience to end,” and she was like, “It’s not gonna end ‘cause we’re gonna make a feature one day and we’re gonna have you!” And I was like—but this was so long ago, and I was like, “Don’t get ahead of myself.” And they held true to their word and kept me and the actress Parnell Walker on.

What part of the story did the short cover?
It was the first act, so maybe the first 30 pages, but tweaked so it could be a standalone short. You really got the friendship between me and Parnell Walker, who plays Alike’s friend Laura; that was pretty developed there. You got glimpses of the family dynamic, but it was primarily about the friendship.

How was working on the feature different from working on the short?
It was bigger. It was just bigger. Working on the short I hadn’t had any expectations, and then it did well in the festival circuit, so there was all this expectation and all this hype, for lack of a better word, so I don’t know, I felt really nervous about taking this character that I’d already played and who’d kind of been with me—I wanted to bring something fresh and new to it, but I was scared because I’d done the short already and I didn’t want to repeat anything. I just wanted to bring something fresh to it. So it was a process of me just trusting myself and letting go of any fear or anything like that and just digging deeper. You know, and I grew as an actor and felt more grounded as an adult too.

Did you bring anything from your own life to help inform who Alike was as a character?
Yeah, I mean, that feeling of feeling like you don’t belong, that you’re kind of an outsider—you know, you’re on the outside looking in, and everyone’s living their life and everyone’s kind of clear on who they are. They know who they are, but you don’t know, and you just want to know. Just beginning that process of letting go of what people expect of you and figuring out what it is that you wanna do, that’s kind of how—and that feeling of not feeling free. That’s what I came to the table with.

That’s definitely a big struggle Alike goes through, although by the end she seems to have a better picture of it.
Mmhmm. She’s, like, at the beginning of something, but it’s the beginning of something on her own terms. She might not know what it is or what it’s gonna look like, she’s just going to get on the bus and take it hour by hour.

And she says twice at the end of the film, “I’m not running; I’m choosing.”
Mmhmm, which is so poignant, because it’s like, “I’m not being forced out. I’m not running away from anything. I am making a choice.” It’s amazing what happens I think in anyone’s lives when we make a choice and say, you know what, I’m not doing this, I’m doing this. I’m going to go for that. It’s empowering.

What did you make of Alike’s relationship with her father? He’s very closed-down and at first doesn’t even acknowledge the possibility that his daughter is different, and he’s very detached from the family, but at the end he’s more accepting than most of the film’s other familial figures.
I think the relationship between Alike and her father is very interesting because it’s like they know each other’s secrets, but they’re in denial. They know, but no one’s saying anything. But there is this love. On his part, maybe he knows but doesn’t want to admit it, but he loves his daughter, and there is a bond and they actually talk. Maybe they’re talking around everything, but conversation is actually happening. She knows what he’s probably doing, but he’s still her father and he still loves her. He kind of knows, but at the end of the day she’s still his daughter. He’s definitely the more open parent.

Do you personally think Alike’s mother will ever come around?
Probably five, six years down the line, yeah. It’s amazing, once you kind of accept who you are, once you choose that route, people just kind of come around. You don’t hide yourself from anyone, and people just learn: “These are my loved ones and if I want them around I have to accept them.” I think maybe in five years, six years, it’ll be good.

What made that rift especially hard to watch is the fact that we know Laura’s relationship with her mother hasn’t mended, and we know things could easily go that way.
Yeah, it’s kind of like what Audrey will be if she doesn’t accept Alike. That’s where she’s kind of headed.

I thought Alike’s relationship with her sister was really interesting.
Yeah, it’s like the best thing about having siblings. Sometimes you just don’t have to explain stuff. She’s kind of the voice of reason; she’s the one that’s like, “Dad, go and find her, this is ridiculous.” That scene when they’re in the bed together and she just says, “It doesn’t matter to me,” that’s all that has to be said. It’s like, “I know, and I accept you and I love you.” Even though siblings can get on your nerves and be annoying, underneath they have each other’s back. She’s definitely the voice of reason in that family, yeah.

The film was shot on location in Fort Greene. Were you familiar with the area?
Oh, yeah, I grew up in Brooklyn. It’s like, downtown Brooklyn, Fort Greene, you know…

Yeah, I’m from Park Slope. [LAUGHS]
Oh! Awesome! Wow! You’re from Park Slope? Did you go to high school in Brooklyn?

Yeah, in Brooklyn Heights. I went to Packer.
Oh, Packer, cool! Yeah, yeah.

But I went to 321 for elementary school.
Yeah! Okay! My sister, we grew up in Brooklyn but she went to Trinity. But I went to, I went to Edward R. Murrow for high school.

Oh, yeah, I took all my standardized tests there!
Oh, wow! [LAUGHS] I love it. So, yeah, it was very much familiar to me, and it was nice because at the time I was living at home in Brooklyn, so it didn’t take me long to get to set. It was nice to just hop on a train and be on set in like 30 minutes tops.

And Fort Greene is super convenient because all the lines go there.
Oh, yeah, everything. So it’s like, “Sweet, I’m not gonna be on a train for an hour and a half!” Because the short we shot in the Bronx, so it was like…

Yeah. So coming home from the set it was like… “Oh, gosh.”

I know, it’s so much of a pain to go anywhere that isn’t Manhattan or Brooklyn.
Yeah, Bronx people don’t go to Brooklyn and Brooklyn people don’t go to the Bronx.

Brooklyn people might go to Queens. If they live near the G line.
Yeah, “might”! [LAUGHS] Yeah, might, but it’s like… why am I going to the Bronx? For what, seriously?

What school did you use for the high school scenes?
Um, it’s on Smith and Baltic. I’m blanking now; it might be a middle school. Maybe Global Studies, I think it is? It’s the school on Baltic between Court and Smith, right by the movie theatre on Court Street.

Speaking of the setting, I know the film wasn’t a period piece but I got a bit of a period vibe. Between the vinyl records that the character Bina owns and the very 90s-ish clothing… I thought that was interesting.
It’s interesting that you’re saying that. Yeah, I mean, she was playing actual records. I don’t know, it’s supposed to be current, like now, but it definitely—now that I’m thinking about it, some of the clothes… I never thought of that before. But I figure Bina’s like that “cool” chick, you know, who listens to records and is just so hip.

It’s Brooklyn.
Yeah, it’s Brooklyn. She would be the one to play records.

Read the rest of the article.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

ROUNDTABLE: "Martha Marcy May Marlene" director Sean Durkin, producers Josh Mond and Antonio Campos

Last week we spent some time with the incandescent stars of Martha Marcy May Marlene. Now that we've heard from the people who brought Martha's characters to life, why don't we see what those who created those characters and that world have to say? Round-table with director Sean Durkin and producers Josh Mond and Antonio Campos after the jump.

Can you talk a little bit about your discovery of Elizabeth?
SEAN DURKIN: Yeah. Yeah, she is. Um, open casting, our casting director brought her in, and we wanted an unknown, and she was the best person. With a character like this it’s hard to say; it was totally fleshed-out in the script but how someone’s gonna interpret it is always tricky, especially this role, ‘cause it’s so silent. So you start with what you don’t want, and you don’t necessarily know what you do want, but when you see something and you feel it you have to follow that, and she was the only person that I saw that I felt it from. I just sort of knew after the first audition.

How many people did you see?
DURKIN: Maybe 50.

Were you worried that the Olsen name would give people entirely different preconceptions as to what this film was about?
DURKIN: No, because I just knew how good she was and I just knew that at the end of the day I would pick the best actor, and she was the best actor for it. Once people see it, that’s all that matters.

Do you know anyone who was actually in a cult?
DURKIN: I do, yeah. A friend of ours, all three of ours, was in a group. We were friends with her for a couple years and didn’t know anything about it, and then she heard that I was writing a script and she told Josh about what had happened, and she said that she wanted to help and share her experience. Then Antonio and I sat down with her for the first time, and she shared everything she could remember, and a lot of it was blocked out, and then six months later we met again and she recalled more. The film’s not based on her at all, but understanding the methods of manipulation and the confusion that she experienced getting out and the paranoia—all those things come from her story.

When you brought John Hawkes on board with the project, had he already been receiving attention for Winter’s Bone?
DURKIN: It was out, but I can’t remember if—
ANTONIO CAMPOS: It had just come out, I think. That was the summer it released, so it had gotten attention. But we all knew John Hawkes—not personally, but we knew his work, like Deadwood and everything else he’s done.

What was your biggest challenge in shooting?
DURKIN: You know, I think making a movie is just really hard. How do you keep going? You have to dig every day and find that drive and that discipline and focus and maintain that, not just through production but through post and screenings and festivals and press. It’s ongoing.

It also seems like the timeframe between casting and release was pretty short. Did you guys feel rushed during the production, or were you working like a well-oiled machine?
CAMPOS: We were working like a well-oiled machine, but Sean had been working on the script for a while, and so by the time we went into production Sean had already sort of lived out the story and so many different variations of it that, in that sense, he was so ready to go and just tell the story. The fact is we’ve been working together for so long and we work with the same people over and over again, so there’s a shorthand that allows us to move very quickly and for us to figure things out in a way that allows for that.

How did John and Elizabeth research cults? Did they meet with your friend?
DURKIN: It was never about a cult. The movie was never a cult movie; we never used the word “cult”—it’s not in the film, it’s not in the script, and we never talked about it that way. All it is, is about a girl who goes through these specific circumstances. “Cult” is a word you use later to talk about it, to encapsulate what it is, but there was no need. For Lizzie it was there on the page, and then her interpretation just focused on that, and if she needed anything we would talk about it. Sometimes she wanted to hear a story that I knew from life that correlated with a scene in the film so she could understand it in a different way, but generally not. And John just approached it in that knowing what he didn’t want it to be and what I didn’t want it to be was some clearly evil, over-the-top cult leader. Even using the word “cult leader”—we never did that.

You mentioned in the production notes that there are a whole lot of cult scripts out there at the moment, which surprised me. You don’t hear much about that now.
DURKIN: Cult scripts? Do you mean—
CAMPOS: Scripts about cults.
DURKIN: Are there? Did I say that?
CAMPOS: I don’t know. [LAUGHTER] I do remember John Hawkes saying that yesterday. I do remember that yesterday John said every year there’s a Manson project that comes around that he’s asked to be involved with in some way that he turns down.

Let’s talk about the aesthetic of the film for a second. I found it to be really self-assured and really impressive for a feature debut, and I just wanted to know what your aesthetic touchstones are as far as other directors who might have informed that.
DURKIN: Well, there are definitely directors who influence you but you try to just focus on the material and do, like, the look of the film specifically was very much like, it wasn’t necessarily “Oh, this looks good, let’s do that.” You’re very much trying to find your own thing. So we knew a couple basic principles, which were we wanted the film to be weathered and worn in, so we had to figure out how to create that look. So Jody had an idea for underexposing and making the blacks milky, and we tested that, and that became the look we wanted to create. From there it was, you know, how do you shoot scenes to create tension? Is tension created in this scene by holding a long shot, whether in a dolly or being still? Is tension created by cutting back and forth between people? It was really more about just looking at each point in the script and seeing what was best.

Together, as Borderline Films, you’ve also done Afterschool and you produce each other’s shorts. I was really interested in hearing more about how you work together as a production company: does it function as a collective? Is it a delineated system where you take turns helming?
CAMPOS: It’s very organic. The first projects we did, coming out of film school, the first film we made I was going to try to direct and Josh and I had co-written based on a script that he had started with somebody else, and Sean and Josh were going to produce. So we had set up the dynamic there, and then after that the short film—Buy it Now—got traction and won a prize at Cannes. That sort of made it… it was natural that I would go from there to directing a feature, and once Afterschool was done I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next but Sean had been developing Martha and Sean knew what he wanted to do next, so it was very natural for us to say “Okay, let’s go and try to get this made.” Basically, there’s no pitching or trying to sell each other, no “This is my turn, this is my turn.” It’s like, “This is a film that I want to make; let’s start working on it,” and whosever idea it is, they develop it.
JOSH MOND: And in between the writing we try to get commercials and music videos to support each other so the other one can write and work on the material. While one of them was in the Cannes Residency program, or in the Sundance Lab, we all had to figure out how to pay our rent. But we also had another film in between the two, which was Two Gates of Sleep, which we shot in Mississippi and were producers on as well, which went to Cannes in 2010. But, yes, it’s a very organic kind of thing and we were talking earlier about kind of keeping film school going and we had to figure out a way to sustain ourselves so we could continue to learn and educate ourselves and get to working.

How do you think going to film school and being in that environment, as opposed to teaching yourselves, has helped you—or, more to the point, has influenced your style and what catches your interest?
MOND: Well, for me I’ve been working in the business since I was like 13, and I worked for a director when I was really young, and I really got a lot of work ethic from him—he made really small movies—but going to film school and meeting people that are our collaborators now was the best part of film school and also allowed me to open up my mind to other types of filmmaking, and I think I learned a lot more about European films and international films and films from the ’60s and the ‘70s, which I think heavily influenced all three of us. All three of us kind of grew up on movies, and I think they were more mainstream American films, but I think what we try to do is we try to apply this new kind of filmmaking that’s progressive to us that we’ve seen internationally, trying to do something different but with the same kind of accessibility.
DURKIN: Exactly. I mean, we sort of founded our company on this idea that—commercial films and art house films are separate but we don’t want that to apply. It doesn’t have to be like that. We grew up on The Goonies and Back To The Future, these great adventures that formed the basis of our creativity and excitement. Those films live in your subconscious and they make it in. We’re also influenced by art house films, but we have that love for entertainment too.

Martha Marcy May Marlene is in theatres now.

Read the rest of the article.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

ROUNDTABLE: "Martha Marcy May Marlene" actors Elizabeth Olsen, John Hawkes, and Sarah Paulson

Everyone's been talking about Martha Marcy May Marlene. Okay, so most of them are referring to it as "Marcia, Morris... that one movie with all the Ms," but it still counts. Martha Marcy, a film about a girl named Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) who temporarily moves in with her married sister Lucy (Sarah Paulson) after escaping from a cult and its magnetic leader Patrick (John Hawkes), is the most psychologically chilling movie to have debuted in recent years—and it's not even a horror flick. What's more, every last performance of the film—from those of the aforementioned leads to those of the smallest bit players—is a genuine tour de force. In fact, I could wax rhapsodic all day about the film's impressive array of performances... but why not let Olsen, Paulson, and Hawkes speak for themselves?

SARAH PAULSON: Hello, hello! I’ll be in the middle.
ELIZABETH OLSEN: Oh, is this on?

So, Elizabeth, Sean said you didn’t actually go and meet anybody that belonged to a cult. Did you want to have done that?
EO: No, we came to that together. Um, there was really only one person that I had entertained the idea of meeting, who was his—I would like to say his main source of understanding the emotionality of this character, but when I thought about it I didn’t want to meet her and feel like I had to tell her story. I also thought it was so private, her life, and there’s no need to invade someone’s privacy for something that’s actually fictitious, um, and, and the questions that I had as far as the experience came when I asked Sean a little bit more about her—so, no, I actually thought that it would be distracting because you want to pay, like, reverence to someone instead of just focusing on the story that he wrote.

You get so immersed in Martha’s world. Did you feel kind of depressed, filming?
EO: Not really. No, I keep myself very separate from what I work on. I’m very clear in my head that I am not the person I’m pretending to be. When you have to relate in some way, you’ll have harder days than others and more draining days than others, and certainly you get more tired than other days; it was emotionally exhausting, but I didn’t feel—we had a great family and we had a lot of fun doing it, so I didn’t feel like I was heavy all the time.

JOHN HAWKES: I’ll speak loudly.

[LAUGHS] You’re an amazing actor. I’m sure you know that.
JH: Exactly! I’m with you! I don’t know what Sarah’s saying.

Well, you transition from stage to television to film seamlessly. So do you use a different technique when you’re going into different mediums?
JH: I think so. I think it’s all about trying to find your character in a story and how you can best tell that story. That rule doesn’t change. If you’re onstage, obviously, the audience is in a set position far away, and if you’re filming the audience is often a foot away from your face, depending on where the camera is placed, so you may just adjust your performance a little bit that way. The thing about stages is that you can’t be edited, so that’s pretty exciting, but one of the things I love about film is that you can be edited. [LAUGHTER] So it kind of is a double-edged sword there.

Did you base your character on any particular person that you knew or researched?
JH: You know, I often really draw from sources, even family members, people I’ve met along the way, but for this character I took a different tack. I wasn’t interested in trying to ape anyone’s previous performance as a cult leader. There was just no one in life that I wanted to really draw from on this. I wanted it to feel as if Patrick fell from the sky and landed in this place. The whole film is so elusive and deals so much with questions and mystery, I almost wanted the character to be a mystery to the audience and I wanted him to be a mystery to me as well.

Sarah, you’ve also done a fair amount of theatre. Is your experience with different mediums similar to John’s, or do you approach it differently.
SP: I just prefer doing theatre to almost anything, just because—for me—I feel that it’s an experience where it’s the focus or attention paid on the entire journey that the character takes. There’s something about the beginning, the middle, and the end of it, even in the rehearsal process, where I always figure out what to do with the part most clearly on the last day of the performance, and so I love the idea of getting to continue to explore it every night and the fact that every time you go out there it’s a new opportunity. You know, you can have a bad show one night and the next day you can go—I have an opportunity moment-to-moment to change, because the audience only remembers the last thing they saw. [LAUGHTER] So you can have a really shitty false moment and then you can find a way that something really organic is born out of the moment that was really awful and they won’t remember that, really.

So the song that John sings—how many takes did that require?
JH: Three. One of the really wonderful and terrifying things about that is that it was going to be the score of the film for three minutes, and there was going to be no way to edit within it. It would just have to be the take that sucked the least [LAUGHTER] that they ended up choosing, rather than pre-recording the song—as you normally do—and pretending to sing along to yourself. It was a wonderful challenge to basically score live for a few minutes.

Elizabeth, you have a difficult job in that scene as well because that’s sort of a pivotal moment for you but you don’t have any dialogue.
EO: It wasn’t very difficult. [LAUGHTER] A handsome man is singing a song for you; that’s not… you can do that in any situation and that will win someone over.

I know, John, that you got involved with this project shortly after Winter’s Bone. It’s been said that this film is essentially the spiritual successor to Winter’s Bone, and your roles between the two movies are very different but also have a lot of similarities.
JH: Well, I had a really minor trepidation that I might be sort of rehashing old territory, but it was fleeting. They’re very different projects; the characters have an opposite arc, really. It didn’t so much figure in—it’s rough guys in the woods, but their stories are so different and the characters also are so different. I actually felt in a strange way that Patrick needed less research than Teardrop [from Winter’s Bone] did because Teardrop was so specifically regional, for one thing, and there’s also a novel to work off of, whereas this was something where the character could kind of be from anywhere. In fact, the less attachment to any region, the more interesting for him, I thought.

What about the productions? What was it like to move from that production to this production? They were both small films.
JH: You know, I think Martha Marcy May Marlene had less money, a smaller crew.
EO: Re-heh-eally!
SP: I didn’t know that.
JH: Oh, yes, by quite a lot, I would think.
SP: Oh, snap! [LAUGHTER]
JH: I was probably also the oldest person on Martha Marcy May by maybe, what—well, before Sarah got there [LAUGHTER]—by maybe [LAUGHS] 15 or 20 years. But that was really interesting; you know, there were no grizzled teamsters or anyone around on—
SP: Lotta Puma-wearing cool people. Yeah. [LAUGHTER]
EO: A lot of hipsters.
SP: Lotta hipsters.
JH: It was an amazing bunch, though, and the really interesting thing about this film was that the crew was so of a piece, they were, they, it felt that every person there outside of a few of us actors were friends already and had worked together already, and that creates a shorthand, and that creates a continuity of focus that’s there before you begin to roll, and that’s really a great gift. They were a young but really, really focused and really interesting bunch of… reprobates, I guess I would say. [LAUGHTER]

The ending is slightly ambiguous in the sense that you’re not sure whether or not what you see is real or in Martha’s head. Do any of you have a specific take on it?
EO: I’m more interested in what John would think because he’s, you’re not in that scene.
SP: He’s pushing the microphones away. [LAUGHTER]
EO: For me, I have no idea what’s going to happen afterwards. I mean, it ends where it ends. But I just love how it ends in a transition and it begins in a transition, and it doesn’t tie anything up and give the audience relief. I feel like audiences want the satisfaction, a lot of times, of something tied together or a crazy twist or something, but usually a lot of times they’re unsatisfied with that satisfaction, with that fixed thing. A lot of times they’re like, “I didn’t want it to go that way and it went that way!” So I think Sean really created an ending that, no matter what, I feel like people really do feel like people can’t be like, “I knew it!” [LAUGHTER] And my brother’s someone who does that with every film, he’s like, “I knew it was gonna end like that,” and when I asked my brother about our ending he was like, “…Well, I figured it was gonna end something like that.” [LAUGHTER]
JH: That’s as close as you’re gonna get!
SP: You were like, “No, you didn’t.”
EO: I was like, “You’re such a liar!”

Martha Marcy May Marlene is now playing in select theatres.

Read the rest of the article.