Destin Cretton is not in the room, but his presence is most certainly palpable. Just a day before his film Short Term 12 — a heartfelt, effective drama about teens in a foster care system and the lives of the counselors who look after them — won the Grand Jury Prize at the SXSW film festival, Hollywood.com sat down with a few cast members of the young, wildly talented ensemble.
When asked what got them most interested in the project and who made them feel most at ease working on something that deals with such weighty topics as abuse, depression, and suicide, the answers from Brie Larson, John Gallagher Jr., Kaitlyn Dever, Keith Stanfield, and Rami Malek were unanimous: their leader Destin Cretton. His cast described him as "thoughtful," "casual," "calm," "intuitive," "great," "genuine," and "honest," among other things.
RELATED: SXSW 2013 Film Awards: 'Short Term 12' Nabs Grand Jury Prize
Cretton channeled his own personal experiences from working at a facility like the one depicted in Short Term 12 into a short film with the same name in 2008, and decided to turn the project into a full-length feature. He put his cast together (2013's Short Term 12 reunited the writer/director with the elusive Stanfield, who appeared in the short film) and with a small budget — but a lot of heart — the cast and crew got to work.
As it turned out, the only thing the cast members loved more about the project than Cretton was each other. The tight-knit group's enthusiasm for the film was only matched by their enthusiasm for each other and their performances. When Dever, who plays a troubled teen named Jayden, modestly talked about the audition process, Larson — who turns in a career-making performance as Grace, a counselor with a dark past of her own — is quick to point out, "You made [Destin] cry, don't forget about that part." When talking about the scenes that hit her hard, Dever doesn't point to her own tearjerker, but Stanfield's lost soul Marcus, who turns his pain into an honest, heartbreaking rap.
Cretton certainly didn't hurt the process by having his cast engage in bonding experiences, either. Gallagher, who plays the sweet, sensitive counselor (and Grace's struggling love interest) Mason recalls, "Brie and I went to dinner when we first met and Destin gave us an envelope that we kept on the table. Every couple of minutes we would take out a piece of paper that was in there that had a conversation starter about [us]." Larson quickly interjects with a laugh, "It's so weird to think about that now! That we went to a nice dinner and had an envelope of questions about what our [character's] first date was."
One major bonding experience for the cast is something you'll actually see on screen: the tongue-twister of a team-building game called "Big Booty." "I had to teach the kids how to play Big Booty," Gallagher reveals. "Destin would be like, 'Hey, you're not in the next scene. Can you take these kids to the other building and practice Big Booty because we have to shoot that tomorrow. So I'd be like, 'Hey everyone, we're gonna learn the game; and then I would mess it up and they would be amazing at it." In true supportive fashion, Larson quickly notes, "We were all pretty bad at Big Booty!"
But fun games and first dates weren't the only ways the cast dove into their work. Dealing with such heavy material took research — and going to dark places. "Destin had me shadow at a place, and that's where I learned a lot. That's really where I found Grace's voice," Larson says. "You learn very quickly in these foster care places, [the kids] are acting tough, but they have very specific triggers and they're traumatized."
RELATED: SXSW: 'Short Term 12' is a Small Movie with a Big Impact
Larson continues: "Talking about serious trauma stories [with these kids], you just can't even fathom that anybody would ever do this to any other human being. I'm the type of person, when I first meet someone I wanna hug them, and you can't do that [there]...Certain [kids] don't want to speak to you, won't want to talk about certain things. I got to sit down with them and learn what Grace would know for her job."
As Larson and others got more hands-on experience for the task at hand (Dever recalled that they had to properly learn how to do restraints on set), others like Stanfield, whose character is withdrawn and depressed, retreated. "I kind of isolated myself," the elusive actor admits. "I wanted to kind of soak in everything. I feel as though if you talk you're not listening, so I just sit back and ingest. This is all very new to me, so I wanted to take in the experience. At the same time I thought it would be good for my character if I maintained not being really socially intimate with anybody and put myself in the zone. My whole being was immersed in being melancholy. It's cool to dive in there and go to those places."
Dever agrees that going to those darker places, while difficult, was one of the more rewarding experiences for her. "When I first read the script, I loved it and I really related to the character. I felt like I could do so much with it and it was so deep and dark."
Larson adds, "I lived this through Grace's eyes, which is a very lonely experience."
In the end, all the blood, sweat, and tears paid off, not only with a film that critics and moviegoers have taken note of and sung its praises, but one the cast is proud to be a part of. Malek, who plays Nate, a newbie counselor to the facility, told Hollywood.com about what it felt like to watch the film's world premiere at SXSW with his castmates, director, and an audience.
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"It was palpable, the emotion," Malek says. "Something was happening with the energy in that audience. There were definitely moments — I don't know if I was having a particularly sensitive day — but it was really hitting me, watching that film. It made me count my blessings... I felt fortunate."
But Gallagher, perhaps, sums it up best for his castmates: "I loved making it; I loved who wrote and directed it. I loved the script. I loved the actors in it. I loved watching it. When I watched it [at SXSW], I was like, 'It's all about love'."
[Photo credit: SXSW]
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If there's a cinematic alchemy award to be given this year director Bill Condon deserves to take it home after magically turning the tedious Twilight franchise into entertainment gold. 2011's Part 1 was a horror camp romp that turned the supernatural love triangle — the naval gazing trio of Bella Edward and Jacob — on its head. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 continues the madcap exploration of a world populated by vampires and werewolves mining even more comedy thrills and genuine character moments out of conceit than ever before. The film occasionally sidesteps back into Edward and Bella's meandering romance (an evident hurdle of author Stephenie Meyer's source material) but the duller moments are overshadowed by the movie's nimble pace and playful attitude. Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will elicit laughs aplenty — but thankfully they're all on purpose.
Part 2 picks up immediately following the events of the first film Bella (Kristen Stewart) having been turned into a vampire by Edward (Robert Pattinson) to save her life after the torturous delivery of her half-human half-vampire child Renesmee. She awakes to discover super senses heightened agility increased strength… and a thirst for blood. One dead cougar later Bella and the gang are able to focus on the real troubles ahead: Renesmee is rapidly growing (think Jack) and vampiric overlords The Volturi perceive her a threat to vampiric secrecy. Knowing the Volturi will travel to Forks WA to kill the young girl (a 10-year-old just a month after being born) The Cullens amass an army of bloodsucking friends to end the oppression once and for all.
Packed with an absurd amount of backstory and mythology-twisting plot points (some vampires can shoot lightning now?) Condon and series screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg mine revel in the beefed up ensemble of Breaking Dawn - Part 2 and thanks to a wildly funny cast it never feels like pointless deviation. Along with the usual suspects Lee Pace adds swagger to the series as a grungy alt-rock vampire Noel Fisher appears as a hilarious over-the-top battle-ready Russian coven member and Michael Sheen returns has Volturi head honcho Aro and steels the show. Flamboyant diabolical and a steady stream of maniacal laughter Sheen owns Condon's high camp vision for Twilight and he lights up the screen. There are a few throw away nations of vampires — the oddly stereotypical Egyptian and Amazonians sects are there mostly there to off-set the extreme whiteness — but the actors involved bring liveliness to a franchise known for being soulless. Even Stewart Pattinson and Taylor Lautner give personal bests in this installment — a scene between Bella and her dad Charlie (Billy Burke) is genuinely heartfelt while Jacob's overprotective hero schtick finally lands.
Whereas Breaking Dawn - Part 1 stuck mostly to the personal story relying on the intimate moments as Bella and Edward took the big plunge into marriage and sex Part 2 paints with broader strokes and Condon has a ball. Delving into the history of the vampires and the vampire world outside Forks is Pandora's Box for the director. One scene where we learn why kids scare the heck of the Volturi captures a scope of medieval epics — along with the bloodshed. Twilight might be known for its sexual moments but Breaking Dawn - Part 2 will go down for its abundance of decapitations. The big set piece in the finale is something to behold both in the craftsmanship of the spectacle and in its bizarre nature.
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 had the audience hooting hollering and even gasping as it twisted and turned to the final moments. There's little doubt that even the biggest naysayer of the franchise would do the same. No irony here: the conclusion of Twilight is a blast.
Boyfriends of Twihards everywhere, rejoice!
Maggie Grace -- a.k.a. this hottie -- just signed on to play Irina, the new vampire threat to Bella, in the upcoming Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn directed by Oscar-winner Bill Condon. Looks like dudes have at least one reason to go to a midnight premiere with their girlfriends!
In the books, Irina is part of the Denali coven -- cousins of the Cullen clan and the only other "vegetarian" vampire group (you know, they don't suck the blood of innocent people). But of course, relationships don't last, even if you have the same diet. Irina's lover dies of something, so she does the logical thing and blames the Cullens (but in her defense, why wouldn't you? That family is creeeeeepy). Regardless, she's pissed at K-Stew's character and $#*! goes down.
Anyway, there's more casting news. Remember that nasty-ass birth scene that everyone is all up in a roar about? Well, Bella and Edward's love child is very close to getting a face: nine-year-old MacKenzie Foy.
Reports say that the young actress is "inches away" (whatever that means) from signing on to play Renesmee, but there's some confusion how she'll play the part. In the books, Renesmee ages a full 17 years in only seven years. Some speculate that Condon will go all Benjamin Button and use CGI to depict the actress' age.
To round out casting news, earlier this month, hunk Rami Malek signed on to play Benjamin, another vampire friend to the Cullen family.
Breaking Dawn will be split up into two parts with each adapted by screenwriter Melissa Rosenberg (Dexter). The first picture releases November 18, 2011, followed by the second on November 16, 2012. So, just letting you know in case you want to, err, avoid the mobs and leave the country or something.
Sources: Deadline and Hollywood Insider
Team Jacob versus Team Edward... versus Team Benjamin?
Rami Malek, star of HBO's Emmy-award winning The Pacific, just announced he's putting down his rifle and growing fangs. The hunky young actor is joining the Twilight team and will portray Benjamin, an Egyptian vampire and friend to the Cullen Clan, in the first part of the upcoming Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn (to tell the complete story -- and make a gazillion dollars -- Breaking Dawn will be broken up into two parts, with the first releasing in November 2011).
Malek made the announcement during an interview with Kate Gosselin (who's apparently now a reporter for Entertainment Tonight?) on the Emmy's Red Carpet. Gosselin gave him a "Kate Quiz," which consisted of the most generic questions ever. Those poor, poor children. Check it out below.
Source: Entertainment Tonight
Plays alpha-vampire Benjamin in "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2"
Cast as Kenny, the first gay teenager in a family sitcom, in "The War At Home" (Fox, 2005-07)
Lands first role in "Gilmore Girls" (WB, 2000-07) with first audition
Gains critical acclaim for performance as Corporal Merriell Shelton in "The Pacific" (HBO, 2010)
Malek has an identical twin brother named Sami who is four minutes younger than him.
"I've never played the boy next door. I like being able to inhabit someone who's got some type of irregular mental state. I like all those kinds of deviant characters who are not the regular Joe." Malek quoted in Nylon, November 2012.
"I spend a lot of hours in dark rooms by myself, listening to music and just thinking, creating, letting my mind run wild. I'd like to add up all the hours I've spent just sitting in the dark, preparing for auditions or films. It's a bit nutty I know, but it works for me." Malek quoted on PaperMag, June 24, 2013.