January 22, 2013 8:35am EST
If you think you haven’t encountered comedian Chris Hardwick yet, you’re probably wrong. Between hosting Talking Dead (the Walking Dead talk show on AMC), doing the Nerdist podcast, MC-ing every awesome Comic-Con panel ever, performing stand-up, providing voices for cartoons like The Legend of Korra, and keeping up a formidable web presence, the man is everywhere. He’s basically King Nerd and he truly does it all.
Hardwick’s latest venture is his own comedy special, Mandroid, the DVD of which hits stores Jan. 22. When we chatted with Hardwick about the special, our discussion of all things nerd and all things Internet eventually led to hard-hitting truth: the Internet is a mean, mean place.
Hollywood.com: Between stand-up and hosting gigs like Talking Dead, what stretches you further?
Hardwick: Stand-up is probably the most work, but that doesn’t mean that it’s harder. It’s also really fun. I’ve managed to build this career being next to or working with stuff that I love, that I’m a huge fan of. None of it’s really hard. The YouTube channel is actually challenging in a really fun way, because it forces you to sort of think about, "What kind of stuff would I want to see as a viewer and how can I express that?" Because there’s a lot of moving parts when you’re making a video and there’s a lot of ways you could screw it up, so I think that could be the most challenging. But again, that doesn’t mean it isn’t the most fun.
Some people have brought up that you don’t look like a nerd. Have you heard that? And what is your response to that accusation?
There is a small part of me that is, not aggressively offended by that, but a little offended by that because well, what is a nerd supposed to look like? I don’t know what to say, I am who I am and I know what I’ve liked my whole life and what I’ve been into. And particularly now, I think [with] the idea of what it means to be a nerd, there’s not as much of a superficial or aesthetic definition as there was when I was growing up, because so much of the things that are considered nerd culture have seamlessly woven into society. And so you have a whole generation of young people who, you know, there’s a lot of them who like nerdy stuff and they don’t look [a certain way]. Some of them play a ton of sports, but they still love video games or comic books. So it’s not really as compartmentalized as it was when I was growing up, so I never really know how to answer that question. It’s like “Where are your glasses?” … I know that there is kind of an archetype for what people think of as “nerd,” but I think it’s a little less true now than it used to be. So I never know how to answer that, I’m always like, “I like what I like.”
I liked your bit in Mandroid about John Mayer, because your approach is a bit different considering everyone loves to make fun of him. Have you ever encountered him after making that joke?
I’ve always felt a bit bad about it, just because I’m so involved online with stuff and interacting with people. People make assumptions about me, or if I say something they don’t like they’ll say something rude or assume something about you that’s not true. The Internet’s full of people that have it figured out and they’re going to tell you exactly how something is, even if they have no information. So, I’m really sensitive about talking about people because I know what it feels like and I don’t know John Mayer at all, but I hope that if he became aware of it that he knew that it was not me really trying take a shot at him. It’s just me screwing around and playing around. It’s not meant to be a serious, critical commentary on John Mayer. He was just sort of the guy I used to illustrate the point about how we say stuff on social media and we feel like we’re in this bubble and it’s like, no no. Everyone can see that, but it’s like how people on Facebook get arrested for something and the day before, they made a video about how they did the thing that they got arrested for. It’s like, you’re not in your room. You put that out in the public and we forget that, with Internet culture, everyone can see it. So I guess that was sort of the point of that.
Some comedians have talked about “wasting” their jokes on Twitter, but you’re pretty active on there. What’s your take on that notion?
I don’t know if there’s anything to wasting jokes that you’re putting out into the world; I don’t know if I necessarily agree with that. First of all, the way I do stand-up and the way I do Twitter are totally different. I’ve never been able to make a Twitter joke work onstage. So the stuff that works well on Twitter, because I just don’t do stand-up in short jokes that way, so the mechanisms are just different. I think if comedians aren’t on Twitter, or performers in general, I’m guessing it has more to do with the fact that as performers we’re all very sensitive. We’re very sensitive. And so, there’s a certain amount of thickness of skin that you have to have [in order] to deal with the Internet. Because, you know, a lot of people are very nice. But a lot of people, because they can talk anonymously, say really horrible things, and even as much as you understand how the Internet works, it’s hard not to take it a little personally. Especially from my generation of people; I did not grow up being able to go on the Internet. It was not until I was like 20 or 21 that I was able to go online. So I think a certain amount of people take comments they read on the Internet the same way you would take it if someone walked up to you in a bar and said something horrible to your face. The truth of the matter is those people who write comments online would never do that. They operate from the safety of anonymity. And so, I would say it’s a much more cowardly way to take a shot at someone because there are no consequences. You don’t have to be held responsible for it. So I think some performers don’t like exposing themselves in that way, and sometimes it’s hard not to get wrapped up in it. As performers, we are sensitive beings and we let the egos get the better of us. It’s certainly not the best way to be, but that’s just how it is.
It’s definitely tough out there. You get your fair share as a writer too.
Of course! You write a column and 20 people in the thread say, “Hey, great column,” and two people are like, “Here’s why your article is dumb.” It’s hard not be like, “Whoa, hey! Take it easy!” It just gets under your skin a little bit because you feel like your being is being called into question.
Is there a bit you worked into Mandroid that you’re most proud of?
I don’t know if I would use that word, like, “I’m so proud of my writing.” But I was pretty excited by the fact that I was able to turn a Harry Potter joke into a commentary on losing your virginity. That was fun for me, it was just a Platform 9 and ¾ joke that really [worked]. Fortunately or unfortunately, I’m always kind of tickled by nerdy or academic filth. In this case, it was certainly more on the nerdy side, but if it hadn’t been about Harry Potter, I love a good (I don’t know if you can print this) but I love a good sciency d**k joke if that makes any sense. (Laughs) Something that satisfies the nerdy side of my brain and the 15-year-old side of my brain. I feel like that’s something that I was able to do with this joke about the Harry Potter universe, so I don’t know if that means that I’m proud of it, but it happened.
Mandroid is now available on DVD and the Talking Dead returns Feb. 10 at 10 PM ET.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Comedy Central]
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January 19, 2013 4:03pm EST
Back in 2005, writer Nathan Rabin coined the phrase "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" to describe Kirsten Dunst's character in Elizabethtown, a type of recurring female character that "exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures." Today, the archetype still remains, but has since sprouted new companions as the sensibilities of filmmakers adapt to the times.
If Sundance 2013 is any indication, specifically Breathe In, the new film from Like Crazy director Drake Doremus, that new variation is less all-knowing, more sharp and unknowingly seductive. Inspiring in the life-shattering way rather than the life-enhancing variety. In the film, happily married music teacher Keith (Guy Pearce) has his nostalgic feelings for the past cranked to 11 when foreign exchange student Sophie (Felicity Jones) arrives to live at his home. Feeling that his life took a wrong turn (he used to be in a rock band but now he teaches piano), Keith discovers new possibilities in Sophie's innocence and intellect. He's happy with his wife Megan (Amy Ryan) and daughter Lauren (Mackenzie Davis) but with Sophie, Keith sees a return to his happiest moments.
"The Disaffected Sexually-Charged Ingenue"? "The Spaced Out Siren Prodigy"? We may need to work on the phrase, but the fact of the matter is that it's an emerging presence in indie film.
Breathe In resembles the Sundance 2012 premiere Nobody Walks, which starred Olivia Thirlby as a promising New York City experimental filmmaker who shacks up with family friends in L.A. in hopes of completing a new short. John Krasinski played the sound designer husband, who only needed on day with Thirlby's beautiful, creative self to throw in the towel on his marriage to Rosemarie DeWitt and hook up with the 20-something. You can find similar traits in 2012's The Oranges, Leighton Meister helping to push Hugh Laurie out of his multi-decade marriage to Catherine Keener. To all men in their 40s entertaining young, female house guests: beware. It never works out.
Breathe In is a spiffier film than Nobody Walks, sporting luscious photography and a broader scope than its lower-budget counterpart, but both suffer from the dramatic emaciation of their female leads. Jones is a stunning actress — see Doremus' Like Crazy for evidence — but she merely floats through Breathe In. We see as Sophie mesmerizes Keith with her expert piano skills, we see Keith equally entranced by the glow of her bikini-clad body sunbathing by the lake, but what we don't see is any real life connection the two would make that would challenge everything Keith has ever known, so much so that he sacrifices his family for a new beginning. We're just told that's the case — the script forcing us down a path, swelling music making up for Sophie and Keith's foundationless romance. Sophie isn't a fleshed out character, she's a cinematic pawn to explore the male fantasy.
This isn't to say that the scenario of Breathe In is impossible. Relationship dramas date back to the beginning of written work — what it takes is a closer analysis. Luckily Doremus has a fantastic ensemble on his hands — Pearce is always reliable and Ryan finds a way to wake the movie up with spats of humor — but this new shade of MPDG acts as an easy out for the movie. And if it continues to be a trend, more movies to come down the line.
[Photo Credit: Indian Paintbrush]
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
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It’s interesting how appropriate a movie title can be, even beyond encapsulating the central conceit or touching upon some important plot point. Take for example Jee-woon Kim’s The Last Stand. On the surface, the title may only appear to reference that the story revolves around a sheriff whose small border town is the last line of defense against a marauding escaped convict. But there is another connotation: this actioner stars sixty-five-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger. Arnie has enjoyed a long, celebrated career of cinematic action heroism, but has reached the point where each new film feels like a last stand, a potential final note of glory for his expansive catalog.
Despite the harsh physical demands imposed by the genre in which he has become a staple, Arnold has managed the remarkable feat of continuing making action films well past his peak. Hollywood has long had a reputation of being a world suited for the young; where age is an insidious enemy. And yet a few special performers have managed to jump into the acting game well into their 30s and beyond with profound success. Others simply didn’t get their big break until they were more mature. We thought we’d take a look at some of our favorites and discuss why it took so long for them to achieve success.
Thanks to the Harry Potter films, Alan Rickman is more popular now than ever, but it was a certain skyscraping action classic that put him on the map back in 1988. Rickman was forty-two when Die Hard, his first film, was released. Like many British actors, he got his start on the stage, but he didn’t even enroll in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts until he was twenty-six. So what delayed him from tackling acting sooner? Believe it or not, it was a successful graphic design business, which Rickman ran with his friends. Is it too much to hope for that those friends were the other dastardly thieves on the Nakatomi heist? Regardless of his previous occupation, his maturity upon entering acting school, coupled with the stage roles prior to Die Hard, is precisely what allowed for Rickman’s dazzling film debut.
Harrison Ford has become one of the most recognizable figures in cinema. His resume reads like a who’s who of superlatively iconic film characters. He’s Indiana Jones, he’s Deckard from Blade Runner, and, possibly most renowned, Han Solo from the original Star Wars trilogy. When Ford beat out the likes of Nick Nolte, Kurt Russell, Jack Nicholson, and Christopher Walken, among many others, for the role of Solo, he was thirty-five-years-old. With such raw talent and magnetism, why did Ford wait so long to give performing a whirl? It turns out he had tried acting once before, even got signed to a contract with Universal after he dropped out of college. But after becoming frustrated with his stagnating career, he decided to go into carpentry. It wasn’t until he met George Lucas and worked on American Graffiti that he got back into the movie star game. Thankfully, his rugged good looks only improved with age.
There have been a great many film stars who began their careers on TV before making the leap to film. However, in the case of Steve Carell, he has jumped back and forth between the mediums with great success. But even if we go back to his seminal gig on The Daily Show, where he was a favorite correspondent, he was already thirty-seven. The first film role that would bring him notice was as the slimy anchorman Evan Baxter in 2003’s Bruce Almighty. A couple more film victories later, he landed the role of Michael Scott in the American version of The Office; Carell now forty-three. Once again, when it comes to burgeoning talent, comedy proves to be a genre without age restrictions.
Dame Judi Dench
When scanning back through all the actors who either began their career or got their big break later in life, one thing that becomes exceedingly clear is that there are far more men in that category than women. It seems the proverbial system is not as accepting of aged female performers as it is their male counterparts. We could postulate in-depth about the superficiality and sexual double standards of showbiz all day, but one thing is for certain, Dame Judi Dench is a force of nature on the screen whose age has not at all slowed her down. Like Rickman, she too got her start on the stage, but won her first major acclaim on British TV, just as she entered her late 40s. Of course, it was her casting as the James Bond franchise’s first female M in 1995’s GoldenEye that broadened her appeal stateside. She was sixty-one. Talent, real talent, has no expiration date, and Dench serves as a fantastic testament to that.
Transitioning from one entertainment arena into cinematic fame becomes a common theme the more we examine these late-in-life movie stars. In the case of Rodney Dangerfield, he developed a name for himself as a standup comedian long before his first foray into film came in 1980, when he was just shy of sixty-years-old. His role as the outlandish millionaire Al Czervik in Caddyshack launched him into the filmic comedy stratosphere and made him a fixture of the 1980s. There is something to be said for comedy being more accommodating for this sort of post-mature transition. Comedy does not tend to present the same physical demands as do action films, nor are the standards of beauty as lofty. No disrespect intended, Rodney.
[Photo Credit: Lionsgate; Columbia; Warner Bros Pictures(2)]
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January 09, 2013 5:40am EST
After a decade at midnight, ABC’s Jimmy Kimmel Live made the move to the 11:35 PM time slot Tuesday night, becoming a direct rival of The Late Show With David Letterman and The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. While a few jokes about his new foes were expected, Kimmel didn’t slam either Letterman or Leno (for once). Instead, he was on his best behavior and kept the jokes about himself... and Honey Boo Boo, because, of course.
Kimmel did poke some fun at his 25-minute move, saying, "I’m now 25 minutes closer to my lifelong dream of hosting The View." But he took a minute to get serious, and while he didn't outright acknowledge his new rivals, he did hint at the task before him. "I understand what’s at stake here and I don’t take that lightly," Kimmel said. He then brought the comedy back with his segment, Lie Witness News, where he asked random people on the street if they had been watching his new show — even though it was impossible since it hadn't aired yet.
Kimmel also brought back a fan favorite segment, Celebrities Read Mean Tweets, and recruited a whole roster of famous folks to read insulting tweets about themselves. The reactions from Selena Gomez, Eric Stonestreet, Simon Cowell, Jessica Biel and more were hilarious, but Bryan Cranston took the cake. "'Malcolm in the Middle? More like mushy in the middle. Lose some weight, Heisenberg!' I had a good chuckle over that one," Cranston said with a smile. Then he went full on Breaking Bad: "I’m coming for you, @TXGRIZZ."
Jennifer Aniston had the honor of being the first guest on Kimmel's first post-move show, but did some serious damage — joking that she thought she was the last guest on his old show, she came out with a sledgehammer, and completely destroyed his new desk. "That wasn't a very well-built desk, was it?" Aniston said. She did bring along some great photos from her vacation with fiancé Justin Theroux, Kimmel, and John Krasinski; including photos from the men's spa day. Aniston also proved her haircutting expertise (she is the woman who brought us The Rachel, after all), and gave Kimmel quite the professional trim on camera. Check out a clip below:
Musical guest No Doubt performed "Push and Shove," the title track from their new album, and closed out the night with a nostalgic performance of "Hella Good." The lights, the wardrobe, the dancing, and that iconic tune took the audience back to the early aughts... in a great way.
Still, Kimmel's show didn't feel complete without a least one Leno knock. C'mon, Kimmel — time to take a page from Conan.
[Photo Credit: Randy Holmes/ABC]
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January 07, 2013 7:50am EST
When Gangster Squad hits theaters this Friday, it will join a long history of movies whose roads to release have been bumpy and draped in controversy. The film was originally slated for Sep. 7, 2012, but after the shootings in Aurora, Colorado last July, Warner Bros. Pictures and the producers of the film opted to push its release to 2013. On top of the large amount of gun violence depicted in the movie — Gangster Squad follows a team of cops who abandon protocol to rid the streets of crime by gunning down mobsters — there was also pressure to reshoot a sequence that depicted a massacre set in a movie theater. After four months of tinkering, the stylized crime drama is finally ready for public consumption.
Despite the turbulent post-production process, early reviews for Gangster Squad are mostly positive. The Hollywood Reporter cautiously praises the movie, saying "there is incident and plenty of it, all portrayed in a brutal modern fashion rather than in a style one would ever associate with the noirish films of the era itself or with the more recent tangy, nostalgic evocations of it." They add the mixed note that, "Gangster Squad is all about instant gratification, almost as much for the characters as for the viewer." Variety praises Josh Brolin, who stands out amongst a cast that includes Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, and Sean Penn: "With his lantern jaw and tough, Glenn Ford-like attitude, only Brolin looks as though he's been on hard-boil since the era in question." Empire Magazine echoes the two industry reviews, calling Gangster Squad "perfectly decent entertainment" and citing the "frequently witty script, a roster of likable, cool-looking stars, fizzy choreography and Sean Penn out-hamming Mr. Pricklepants."
Steering through the unfortunate, thick fog of real world hot topics, Gangster Squad appears to deliver at least a bit of fun during the normally stagnate January movie season. But will audiences head to the theaters to give it a chance?
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Because of the nature of the genre and content of the film itself, Gangster Squad has continued to play up the ball-busting heroes of the film and their less-than-morally-correct ways of conducting business. It's a crime movie set in '40s — the roaring fire of tommy guns is a given. Distancing the film from the Aurora tragedy was a smart move, but thanks to other incidents, the debate against gun control continues to rage, its vines spreading to every facet of pop culture. Gangster Squad escaped one controversy and found another.
Success for the movie isn't impossible. History has shown that a blockbuster that hits early speed bumps can still connect with its audience, and good reviews don't hurt. 2002's Spider-Man notoriously kicked off its marketing campaign the year before with an iconic teaser featuring the World Trade Center. After September 11, Sony quickly recoiled and found a new approach, helping the film to eventually earn $403.7 million in the States. Controversy also surrounded 2011's We Bought a Zoo, which released trailers in the wake of the slaughtering of zoo animals in Ohio. While many guessed the poor timing would impact the film, Zoo went on to gross a solid $75.6 million.
But not every film to face unfortunate struggles goes unscathed. Last summer's The Watch, which toyed with its title (changing it from Neighborhood Watch) and battled Internet reactions to its suggestive teaser trailer after the death of Trayvon Martin, never regained momentum. Even with Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill, the movie only mustered $35.35 million.
As with Spider-Man, 9/11 put Hollywood in a tough spot; no film was more affected than Arnold Schwarzenegger's Collateral Damage, bumped from Oct. 2001 to Feb. 2002. The film starred Arnie, who was dwindling as a box office draw already, seeking revenge on terrorists who killed his family. The film hit too soon and took in $40 million. Still, the award for "worst timing" continues to go to Fox's 1986 drama SpaceCamp. The NASA disaster movie that put kids in a life or death scenario arrived in theaters five months after the Challenger accident. The movie grossed a paltry $9.7 million.
The first reactions to Gangster Squad are promising and align the comic book-styled movie more with past hits than misfires. Where will it land? We'll find out when the movie drops over the weekend. Will you be checking out Gangster Squad in theaters?
Follow Matt Patches on Twitter @misterpatches
[Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures]
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January 05, 2013 11:41am EST
Each week, Hollywood gives us something to whine about, and the week of Dec. 31 was no different. We could make a drinking game out of this week, but that would be too dangerous. Instead, we'll stick to the usual formula: varying levels of alcoholic respite depending on how bothersome the week's issues are. Is your biggest complaint this week a flimsy one? How about a light cocktail to take the edge off? Got a real bone to pick with a celeb or entertainment entity this week? Go ahead, grab a drink that'll put hair on your chest. Here are the week's entertainment stories that are forcing us to seek a bubbly or boozy refuge. And maybe an idea or two about how you should wash them down.
Take the Edge Off With a Little Leftover New Year’s Champagne
Matt Damon is ready to replace Ben Affleck.
Did I just crush your whole world? Well, don’t feel too crushed, his “replacement” is the infinitely lovable John Krasinski, so it’s alright.
Rex Ryan. Seriously? Why? Why is this happening?
I suppose this is how some people deal with failure. The New York Jets coach got a “sexy” tattoo of his wife taking a Tim Tebow pose in a Mark Sanchez jersey. There is a photo. Excuse me while my brain takes a breather.
Surprise, surprise. Late Night wars are still a thing.
Damn you, Jimmy Kimmel.
Let Loose With a Midday Cocktail (We won’t tell anyone)
We haven’t yet forgotten about Kathy Griffin’s messy New Year’s.
Yeah, you know. The part where she tried to give Anderson Cooper a South Pole smooch on national television.
We thought we’d worked out our country’s strange obsession with Honey Boo Boo, it seemed to have simmered down to its rightful level. Then the New Year strikes and not only is that not true, but we’ve got another show to redneckignize: MTV’s Buckwild.
Frank Ocean joins the legions of celebs being caught with Mary Jane.
Hey, hey, no seriously you guys. Everyone just needs to chill, okay? Chill.
Community Just Lost a Very Important Writer to Modern Family
And that’s not great news for the swiftly shrinking crew at Greendale. Man, it’s hard to be a Community fan.
Let’s Forget This Ever Happened With That Bottle of Rum You Got For Christmas
Azealia Banks stop. Just stop.
Look, we were really stoked about what 2013 would like for you. See? But we didn’t bank on you using “foul” language that offended one community, only to turn around and justify the language by offending your own community of women two seconds later... and that you'd put it all on Twitter. Maybe you should pull a Kanye and quit Twitter for a beat or two.
Evil Dead released its red band trailer and we totally watched it. Lobotomy please!
So here’s what happened. We saw that there was a red band trailer for this movie, meaning it was worse than the original one that sent us crying home to our mothers. We swore we wouldn’t watch it. Then we did and the flowers no longer grow, colors have all turned gray, and the sun no longer shines.
Follow Kelsea on Twitter @KelseaStahler
[Photo Credit: Screen Gems]
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January 04, 2013 11:13am EST
Matt Damon is not only part of the creative force behind Promised Land, which he co-wrote with John Krasinski, but is also the glue that holds the film's talented cast together. In the film, Damon plays Steve, a sales representative for a natural gas drilling company, who tries to buy land from a small farming community. He and his partner Sue, played by Frances McDormand, come up against an unexpected obstacle, however, when environmentalist Dustin (Krasinski) comes to warn the town of the dangers of fracking. But Promised Land is a film that doesn't let its politics overshadow its characters, so compiling the perfect cast was key to the film's success.
Damon shares his thoughts on the cast — which includes Krasinski, McDormand, Hal Holbrook, and Rosemarie DeWitt — (no surprise here, he "loves" McDormand), re-teaming with Good Will Hunting director Gus Van Sant, the film's twist ending, and why, sometimes, silence is golden.
Hollywood.com: What was the process like writing with John Krasinski? And with Dave Eggers, who wrote the initial story?
Matt Damon: John hashed stuff out with Dave early on and then Dave left to go work on his book. But the writing process with John was basically exactly what it was like writing with Ben [Affleck]. It was very, very similar. You know, two actors in a room jumping around playing all the different parts and improvising and eventually ending up with the screenplay. But yeah, I laughed just as much as I laughed with Ben.
It was weird, the main difference was probably the fact that my kids were there and running all over the place and climbing all over me and John. John might say, he said it the other day and it made me laugh, "If someone walked into the room and saw it they'd go, 'There's no way a movie's going to come out of this. There's no way.'" But somehow one did.
I loved all the little asides in the dialogue, the recurring conversations about the miniature ponies and whatnot. It felt very casual and natural. Is that something that happened while you were writing or while you were shooting?
That was all in the script and came out of discussions with John. Our big thing was wanting the characters to feel real, like people that we all know. We wanted them to feel relatable. You know, the guy who gets five grand and goes and buys a Corvette, we all know that guy. Lucas Black actually told us that he thought we based it on a guy in his town because the guy had actually bought a Corvette and didn't have the money, and then also got the logo tattooed across his chest. He subsequently lost the car, but still obviously has the tattoo. So Lucas literally thought we based it on that guy. But we were like, "No, we made it up." But it's heartbreaking when he drives up in the Corvette. And [Frances McDormand]'s character, somebody who is rationalizing what she does and she's like "It's a job," and you know, it's all about her kid. That's where her allegiance lies, with her son, and she's going to do whatever it takes. We can all relate to that, and we know that person.
I wanted to ask you about working with Frances McDormand. You two had such a natural chemistry onscreen and I'm wondering if you just fell right into that.
I love her. I worked with her in 1994; she played my mother, which is really funny because she's not much older than I am, but she played my mom in a cable TV movie that Tommy Lee Jones directed. So I started hanging out with her back then. And I'm just a huge fan of hers, obviously — I mean who isn't? But when we started writing, John said who are you thinking? Because I was going to direct it, he asked who I was thinking of for that role. And I said, "Well my first choice would be Fran." And he said, "Oh my God! I hadn't even thought of that!" So we started writing it with her in mind. As the script got better and better we finally thought we had a draft that was good enough to show her and I gave her a copy and said, "Would you ever consider doing this? I'm going to direct it." And she read it and she signed up. So pretty early on in the process we had her character and John's and mine and we were all going to play them, so that made the writing a lot easier.
You mentioned that you were going to direct and then had to step back because of your schedule. Was it hard to let go of the idea of that?
It was the right thing to do, because just for personal reasons. It would've taken me away from my kids for too long, so I kind of had to make that choice. But it was hard to give it up. It was a bummer. And the day that I decided to do it, it was a really tough phone call with John. And also because we had it set up with Warner Bros. because I have a deal there and they were just doing it to support me; it didn't feel like a Warner Bros. movie but they were doing it to be supportive of me, so when I bowed out as the director they bowed out as the financier, and that was that.
One thing I thought that was so interesting about this movie is that your character is so sympathetic, and for 85% of the film he is defending the big corporation. It's so rare in these movies that it's okay to root for people to want the money and go against the cause. Until, that is, the end. What was your thought process in adding in that twist ending?
I mean, really the stand that the guy takes at the end doesn't have anything to do with the issue, it has to do with democracy and the idea that the process is being hijacked by the money, basically, is too much for him. And what he says to the town, basically, is, "I'm not telling you what to decide." He says, "I don't think this is going to happen, but I don't know what to tell you. This is your decision." It's about taking responsibility for the decisions that we make as a society and as these communities and owning those decisions. And he basically says, "If you don't make this decision it's going to get made for you." So that's really the stand that he takes, if there is any stand at all. Which I liked. It feels like our political process has been captured by these big money interests, but at the end of the day the power does truly lie with the people if they are engaged. And that's what he's saying at the end.
I read that it took you guys a little while to settle on what issue the movie would be about, and I was wondering if you think the movie would have been different if you were dealing with an issue that wasn't fracking.
Yeah, I mean surely it would. But there was nothing we could find where the stakes were this high. Which is why we loved it, which is why it's a really interesting place to set the whole thing and issue to set it around. Because the potential gains are so huge and the potential losses are so huge, that it's really the perfect issue for the movie.
I liked how in the movie it took a long time before anyone even said the word "fracking" and then when someone does it sounds almost like a swear word.
Yeah, and it's Hal Holbrook who said it.
And he was so great in the movie. How did his casting come about?
Well, that guy is supposed to represent the ones who've come before, and he speaks to the idea of where we've been, where we are, and where we're headed, and the idea of stewardship. So we needed an older actor, and we wanted somebody who could just be… who could just be, really. Who was undeniably honest. And Hal just has such a quality of truth to him, that when he speaks you believe everything he says, and it's unadorned. I love that style of acting. To me that's because it's so genuine, it's so honest. And that's what that role needed. So once we thought of Hal there really wasn't anyone else we could think of who could do it quite like that.
The last bit of casting we haven't really talked about is casting the role of Alice.
Every time in my career I've been part of casting a romantic lead, my theory has never changed, it's just get the best actress available. Whoever wants to do it. And [Rosemarie DeWitt] came in and we read together and we did kind of like a screen test in a bar in Hollywood, and John Krasinski played the bartender, and we did that first scene where they meet in the bar. And she was just great. And it was that thing where a woman comes in and she just took it, she just took the part. And there was just no doubt she was the right person for it. And she also has that real quality, which we really wanted, again. Like, Gus [Van Sant] said no makeup, we couldn't wear makeup, he just wanted us to be real people.
Speaking of Gus, what was it like working with him this time around? Did it feel different?
No, it felt the same. It felt really great, and I have the benefit of 15 years of being with all these other directors so I understand why he's a genius now. In the old days I just knew he was a genius and didn't quite understand how he did what he did. And now I do have a keen understanding of how he does it and why he's so great, and I'm just very appreciative that I get to work with him.
I've heard so much about the silent takes that he does, and I'm just curious from an actor's standpoint what it feels like to do a scene in that way.
It's great. That's the old Coppola thing, steal from the best, Francis always said that, "You steal good ideas." Sean Penn had told [Van Sant] that Terrence Malick did that, so Gus started doing it on Milk, and two scenes in Milk are silent takes. And the scene where Scoot and I — the "fuck you money" scene in the bar, there was dialogue of him walking towards me. He was talking the whole time in the four or five other takes we did, there was a whole chunk of dialogue back and forth. And we did the silent take and he just got up, and Gus put it in the movie. He comes up and it's really menacing. And there was a whole time that passes before finally I just kind of laugh, and he goes,"Is there something you wanted to say?" That all was, you know we had like a page of dialogue that Gus just cut out. So that silent take stuff really works. It also works for reaction takes, Gus said, because the actors loosen up. They go, "It's the silent take, it doesn't really matter." And so he says he ends up using the reaction shots from a lot of those takes.
Follow Abbey Stone on Twitter @abbeystone
[Photo Credit: Scott Green/Focus Features (3)]
Gus Van Sant, 'Promised Land' Director, Compares Hollywood to Fracking
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December 29, 2012 11:19am EST
Jennifer Aniston and Justin Theroux sitting in the sun. K-i-s-s-i-n-g. First comes love. Then comes marriage. Well, you know the rest.
The sunbathing stars — who met while filming Wanderlust and have been engaged since August — were spotted over the holidays in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico where they were photographed displaying some rarely-seen PDA. But the paparazzi weren't the only ones to witness this rare occurrence. The twosome had some famous faces join them at their $12,000 a night resort, including Jimmy Kimmel (and his fiancée), Emily Blunt and hubby John Krasinski.
Merry Christmas indeed.
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December 28, 2012 6:15am EST
Jennifer Aniston has turned her Mexican getaway with fiance Justin Theroux into a star-studded gathering by inviting along fellow Hollywood couple Emily Blunt and John Krasinski.
The British actress and her funnyman husband joined U.S. TV personality Jimmy Kimmel and his writer fiancee Molly McNearney on a flight to Cabo San Lucas from Los Angeles International Airport on Thursday (27Dec12).
The group then met up with Aniston and Theroux, who have been enjoying the sun in Mexico since before Christmas (25Dec12).
A source tells Us Weekly, "They spent the afternoon lounging around and having drinks (at Aniston's house). They seemed to all be really good friends and comfortable around each other. Emily was lying in John's lap, and Jen had her arms around Justin. They were there all afternoon until sunset, laughing and having great conversation... The group looked very excited to be vacationing together."
December 27, 2012 4:18am EST
Director Gus Van Sant was a late addition to John Krasinski and Matt Damon's cautionary tale against fracking, Promised Land. The script was finished and the lead actors (Damon and Krasinski) were cast when Damon had to back out of his anticipated role as director. "One year ago, [Damon] decided he didn't have time [to direct] so he called and said, 'Do you want to direct it?'" Van Sant tells Hollywood.com. "I guess I was the person they thought of. Or, I don't know if they checked with Soderbergh first or what. I took one night, read it, and said, 'Yeah sure,' because I really liked it." The rest, as they say, was history.
Van Sant is no stranger to Damon's writing — the two teamed up for Good Will Hunting (1997) and Gerry (2002) — and he found much to work with in Damon and Krasinski's script. "The characters were interesting, the dialogue was funny but it was also pretty serious, the story was very enthralling and you were pulled into it. Everything else I could imagine putting into it was exciting. Everything was in order," Van Sant says. "My thing is usually if you have a good story then all the other stuff is sort of doable. Like the thing that you really need is a story. [Promised Land] did have a good story and then it also had all these other things as well."
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The "other things" Van Sant refers to are heart, compassion, and a nuanced look at the fracking issue at hand. And in Promised Land, these elements shine through the well-developed, charismatic characters. So for Van Sant, nailing the casting was paramount. "It became at some point common knowledge to directors that casting was a large part of your job," Van Sant says.
"I guess I think of Streetcar Named Desire," Van Sant says by way of analogy. "If you're casting that play, and you find a Marlon Brando — because I think that was one of Marlon's first roles — but you have an ability to use somebody that's maybe been around … who was more well-known than Marlon, what's the better choice? It's not necessarily the most well-known person, it's the person that's going to really make the role sing. So if all your characters are cast in that fashion, then each of the roles are cast perfectly and they're going to make it sing."
With Promised Land, the actors certainly make their roles sing. Joining Damon and Krasinski in the film's talented cast are Frances McDormand, Hal Holbrook, and Rosemarie DeWitt. The audience expects a high quality of work from this slate of actors, but at the same time, Van Sant knew he could trust them to bring the goods. "Somebody was just talking about what made a good director … what produces a good performance, and it was something about letting the actor run free with it so they can actually have fun with the character. As opposed to the director being an enforcer, like more of a policeman," Van Sant says. "If you're afraid to let the [actor] go too far one way or the other because of maybe a preconceived vision that you had or because of simple blocking or lighting or mental versions of that … it can become the job of the actor to simply listen to the director's preconceptions. A lot of times that means that they don't get to have their own preconceptions. So this person talking was saying like, in the best situations it's usually that the directors trust their actors to sort of go with it."
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Speaking of his Promised Land cast specifically, Van Sant says, "They're such pros that they just do it. But then, you know, they are looking at you and asking what you think. But sometimes they don't care what you think … Ben Affleck was talking about something that I told him that he actually used. We were doing Good Will Hunting and he was asking me about, 'What if the actor wants to do something different? What if they want to change the words and just do something different? What do you do?' And I said, 'Oh, I usually let them do it.' And he couldn't believe it!"
Van Sant continues, "You know, the freedom is the thing that's necessary. If the actor wants to change the script, usually what can happen is it becomes good, it makes the script really good, or he himself will actually realize it's not so good and will say, 'Let's go back.' But it's the freedom to do that that really empowers them and makes the actors see for real that they're actually part of the process. It's not like they're just there to recite lines for you."
Damon's performance in Promised Land hinges on his ability to imbue his character Steve, a sales representative for the massive natural gas drilling corporation, with sympathy. But [SPOILER ALERT!], a third act twist has Steve choose to ally with the farming community and environmentalist perspective rather than his employer. "I think it's because of the corporate deception," Van Sant says of Steve's change of heart. "It's a common theme, and has been a common theme since corporations were invented. Because I think they were an invention in the 50s, like literally the way a modern corporation worked. In our film — like the films I used to grow up watching about corporate deviousness — is also about corporate deviousness. And [Steve's decision] is not because of the actual business of the corporation so much as it's about the structure of any given corporation."
"We're also, as filmmakers, working for a corporation," Van Sant says, drawing a comparison between Hollywood and the natural gas corporation in the film. "Our parent company is also just a big giant corporation … Which means that individual thinking, anyone kind of using their imagination, is a threat to profits … Say, if you met two actors and you just had a hunch that one of them might be better than the other, but the other one had starred in Twilight, and then if you used "Actor A" who didn't star in Twilight and your movie never made any money, the corporation might say, 'Why'd you make that decision?' And you said, 'Well I had a hunch they might be right.' Then you'd be fired. You might be celebrated if the movie made twice as much money as Twilight, but just making that individual decision is the thing that's not allowed in the corporation. So you have to go with the Twilight guy because it makes sense in view of the people behind the desk that are controlling numbers. There are so many corporate deceptive agencies that had sort of appeared over the last 20 years, because of the executives needing to be safe from their own bosses."
GALLERY: 10 Biggest Golden Globes Movie Snubs Luckily for Van Sant, with Promised Land he was able to have his cake and eat it, too. While non of his A-list cast appeared in Twilight, Damon, Krasinski, and McDormand (as well as Van Sant) are names that fill theater seats. And yet, they were also the perfect people to make their characters sing. Follow Abbey Stone on Twitter @abbeystone [Photo Credit: Focus Features] More: Matt Damon On Almost Ruining John Krasinski's Plans for 'Promised Land' — EXCLUSIVE 'Promised Land' Is a Big Good Will Hunting Miracle — TRAILER Win Tickets to See 'Promised Land' and a Q&A With Matt Damon!You Might Also Like: 20 Hottest Bikini Bodies of 2012: Miley and More! Spoiler! Spider-Man Comic’s INSANE Ending