HBO lays claim to a handful of big nominees for this year's Emmys: the network has two series recognized in the Best Drama Series category, and three in the Best Comedy Series. But one of HBO's biggest achievements in 2012 was actually not a series, but a TV movie: Game Change, the high-rated Jay Roach film chronicling the vice presidential candidacy of Sarah Palin. Game Change has earned nominations for several Emmy Awards categories, including Outstanding Miniseries/Movie, Lead Actress (Julianne Moore as Palin), Lead Actor (Woody Harrelson as political strategist Dean Schmidt), Supporting Actor (Ed Harris as John McCain), and Writing in a Miniseres/Movie for writer/producer Danny Strong.
Hollywood.com got a chance to speak with the multi-hyphenate Strong — also an actor, with series like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Gilmore Girls, and Mad Men on his resume — about his new Emmy nod, his time working on the acclaimed HBO movie, and what he has in store for the future. "I feel appreciated!" Strong professes. "I'm beyond excited to be nominated — it's a lot of fun. I'm thrilled that the film is being recognized, and particularly, that so many people in the film have been recognized. You become close. I'm very fond of the people in this particular production. To see so many of them nominated…it's really cool." Strong goes on to applaud his Game Change colleagues: "You've got some of the best actors in this country playing these parts. Woody Harrelson, Julianne Moore, Ed Harris, and Sarah Paulson, who is a really brilliant actress. They all just brought such humanity to these people and fully realized everything they were going through." He affords particular admiration for Moore's performance: "Julianne Moore, for my money ... was one of the best performances of the year in anything. Movies, TV, theater — anything. One of those mind-boggling performances that everyone is floored by." According to the writer, Moore's terrific performance comes from a wholehearted dedication to the delivery of the role. He says, "Julianne definitely came to me and wanted to know where everything was sourced from, where all the information came from, she wanted everything she was doing in this movie to be true. And then there were times when she would be practicing the dialect and she would find phrases from speeches that were kind of similar to something I had written, and she would say, 'Do you mind if we substitute what you wrote to what she actually said in this particular scene? I can get the cadences better.' So we would just do it." Does this mean that there is a great degree of authenticity in Game Change's story? According to Strong, several sources have confirmed the HBO film's veracity — including the man at the center of the story. "Dean Schmidt, who Woody Harrelson plays, came out and publicly said that the film is completely true. Nicole Wallace came out on MSNBC and said, 'This is true. This is what happened.'" But of course, you can't please everybody: "We definitely got blowback from Sarah Palin's aides and then some websites that are Sarah Palin fan websites ... We had people on Governor Palin's payroll come out and say the film is all lies — and they said it before they had seen the film." Another high-profile project that Strong has his hands in is The Lost Symbol, the followup film to The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons. Despite the fact that he is moving onto fictional material, Strong is heavily invested in the story and characters therein: "For the characters in the story [of The Lost Symbol], the stakes couldn't be higher. It's a fictional story, so it certainly doesn't have the same stakes for our daily lives like they do in Game Change or Recount, but for the characters and what they're going through, absolutely. And this is a mainstream studio thriller that needs to be very exciting, that needs to be fun. But with Dan Brown's books, you are dealing with issues that are more profound: religion, government, politics. I think that's why I was drawn to this — there's quite a bit of meat on the bones. More than your average thriller." That's not the only project Strong has in the works: he's also writing the script for the political historical drama, The Butler. "The Lost Symbol is the one I'm deep into, but I have another movie that's going into production on Monday called The Butler, the story of a White House butler over the course of 35 years. It's inspired by [a true story]. You're also dealing with true historical events. It's kind of a sweeping look at the civil rights movement from Eisenhower to Reagan. There are the Freedom Writers, the March for Selma, the sit-ins. There are a lot of true story, true life events in it." Clearly, Strong is not abandoning his prowess for drafting political projects. Perhaps The Butler will earn Strong a writing Oscar, just as Game Change earned him an Emmy nom. Although this can hardly be predicted at this point, his work on past projects proves that anything Strong has in store for the future is something worth checking out. [Photo Credit: HBO] More: Emmys 2012: 'American Horror Story' Star Connie Britton Talks Emmy Reactions, Demon Babies Emmys 2012: Snubs, Shockers and Surprises! Emmys 2012: 10 Burning Questions!
Director Alexander Payne's (Election Sideways) new film opens over sprawling landscape shots of Hawaii's scenic suburbia accompanied by George Clooney's character Matt King summing up his current predicament: "Paradise can go fuck itself." The reaction unfortunately is reasonable.
We pick up with King an ancestor of Hawaiian royalty in the middle of deliberations over a plot of land handed down through his family over generations. With every uncle aunt and cosign whispering opinions into his ear King is suddenly presented with an even greater problem: taking care of his two daughters. A boating accident leaves his wife in a coma forcing Matt to take a true parenting role with his young socially-troubled daughter Scottie (Amara Miller) and his rebellious teen Alexandra (Shailene Woodley) who was previously shipped off to boarding school. Matt awkwardly hunts for the emotional glue necessary for the mismatched bunch to become "a family " but matters are made even more complicated when Alex reveals that her mother was cheating on him before the accident. Murphy's Law is in full effect.
With The Descendants Payne continues to explore and discover the inherent humor in life's melancholic situations unfolding Matt's quest for understanding like a road movie across Hawaii's many islands. Simultaneously preparing for the end of his wife's death and searching for the identity of her lover Matt crosses paths with a number of perfectly cast side characters who act as mirrors to his best and worst qualities: his father-in-law Scott (Robert Foster) who belittles Matt for never taking care of his daughter; Hugh (Beau Bridges) an opportunistic cousin who pressures Matt to sell the land; Alexandra's dunce of a boyfriend Sid (Nick Krause) who always has the wrong thing to say; and Julie (Judy Greer) the wife of the adulterer in question. Colorful yet real Matt experiences a definitive moment with each of them yet the picture never feels sporadic or episodic.
Clooney and Woodley help gel these sequences together as they observe experience and butt heads as equals. Clooney's own magnetism stands in the way of making Matt a fully dimensional character but he shines when playing off his quick-witted daughter. His reactions are heartbreaking—but it's the moments when he has to put himself out there that never quite ring true. But the script by Nat Faxon Jim Rash and Payne gives Clooney plenty of opportunities to work his magic visualizing his struggle as opposed to vomiting it out like so many of today's talky dramas.
The Descendants is a tender cinematic experience an introspective and heartwarming film unafraid to convey its story with pleasing simplicity. Clooney stands out with a solid performance but like many of Payne's films it's the eclectic ensemble and muted backdrop that give the movie its real texture. The paradise of Descendants isn't all its cracked up to be but for movie-goers it's bliss.