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What makes Canadian-born actor Elias Koteas so fascinating, is that he doesn’t like to play it safe. In his latest film the vampiric Let Me In, he plays the policeman who discovers the true nature of the mysterious 12-year-old killer Abby (Chloë Moretz) and pays for it. In the process, he shows a humanity that's needed to charge this dark and chilly film.
This 51-year-old handles gritty roles full of dark and light mixtures from the auto/erotic-obsessed Vaughan in David Cronenberg's Crash to the stalwart Captain James Staros in Terrence Malick's The Thin Red Line.
Though Koteas first got known by playing Casey Jones in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies he moved onto a number of genre films such as as the horror thriller Skinwalkers (2006), David Fincher's Zodiac, Shooter (both released in 2007), the Denzel Washington starrer Fallen (as the demon-possessed serial killer Edgar Reese) and as the priest-turned-detective Thomas Daggett in The Prophecy -- which also starred Christopher Walken, Viggo Mortensen, Eric Stoltz and Virginia Madsen (with whom he appeared in The Haunting in Connecticut).
Born in Montreal, Quebec, to his Greek mechanic father and milliner mother,. Koteas is tri-lingual. He left Canada in '81 for New York City's American Academy of Dramatic Arts and later, the Actors' Studio where he studied under Ellen Burstyn and Peter Masterson. While at the AADA, Koteas was in the school's production of The Devils adapted by John Whiting from thecontroversial Aldous Huxley novel, marking a provocative start to his career.
Q: You’ve done such amazing extreme characters that push the envelope or live in an envelope-pushing place, whether it's in a film like Crash or Prisoner. How do you so lose yourself in these characters that sometimes the viewer doesn’t even realize it’s you? EK: I can’t believe you saw Prisoner. I don’t know what to say other than thank you. Q: What makes you fascinating as an actor is that you don’t like to play it safe. What's your process of inhabiting these arch characters? EK: There’s no rhyme or reason; for better or for worse, these jobs, they find me. I like to think that. Sometimes you develop a relationship with them, and sometimes the character pitches a tent outside your front door and doesn’t leave unless you invite him in. It sounds hokey, but I don’t know what to say about it, you know what I mean? You try to give as much of yourself as you can to each role. Q: Look at the policeman you play in Let Me In. You have to make it appear that an extreme situation is slowly revealed to him, and that he's being blown away. Literally. What did you do to make that work for you? EK: When I first read [a script] there are odd things that happen. You never really know what it is that’s going to set you off or set you on the track to where you need to go with this thing. For some reason Abraham Lincoln came into my life. I read voraciously about Lincoln; what that has anything to do with the movie I don’t know. Other than that it allowed me to somehow think about the higher nature in man and somehow the compasionate qualities in people and to see both sides of something and to bear witness. It’s odd to try to make that connection, but my life at the time was going through a lot of changes. Then how do I make it personal? How do I make the part relevant without being obvious? Somehow he felt like a ghost to me, like somebody who was in a room observing, bearing witness. Then at the same time you spend a lot of time alone. Your life somehow dictates that, and if you’re open and sensitive, one feeds the other. And the atmosphere and arena that director Matt Reeves created sort of allowed you to be open, vulnerable and to explore different ways about playing this guy. I didn’t really know how; I didn’t have any preconceptions other than I felt it needed to have a sort of compassionate tone. Then with a hope and a prayer, you dive off, and hope for the best. It’s always a crap shoot; you never really know what’s going to happen on that day. Q: Your role in Let Me In is an important one, if secondary, to the two kids. EK: I feel so blessed that I’m able to do this. Then you work with these two children, and after all these years of my so-called experience, having been on stage and gone through it, To this day, I still feel like, if I got another job it would feel like I have no experience at all. It’s starting over, and I’m beside myself, hoping that I asked the right questions in order to get the ball rolling. So the toughest part is getting up in the morning and actually showing up. That’s the scariest part of the film for me. But then you show up and you work with these two children who are so unaffected, so incredibly phenomenal. They’re so pure that it’s just humbling to be in their presence. You have a lot of kids at that age who aren’t able to reflect back what they see, but here are these kids just so soulful. There’s almost something divine about it that as an actor I look at that and go to myself, "Oh my god! As an actor that what I pray for: to be as affecting and as moving as these kids are capable of being." So in their presence, I don’t know anything about acting.Q: You're also in a segment of Eric Mendelsson's 3 Backyards which screened at The Hamptons Film Festival last week -- a really wonderful film with three separate stories that are interwoven in one way or another. No one story dominates and nor does any one overwhelm the others, so it’s more about the film as a whole. EK: It was a great two weeks of guerilla film-making with people who are really passionate about what they do. Ultimately, it’s a crapshoot whether it comes together in a meaningful, affecting way, but the journey of making [a film like that] that and being entrusted in that [performance] was what I remember. There was a lot of kindness on that set.It’s a small film [which won an award at Sundance where it debuted] and got a little bit of [exposure] in New York [at the New Directors/New Films] in the spring. I’m very proud of it. I’ll be curious to see what your thoughts are [about it]. I haven’t seen the [completed] picture but I’ve heard that it’s kind of like an everyman [story], and if I can tap into that, that’s the toughest part, in relation to what you just said, where you could just be almost everyman in a situation.Now It’s just doing the festival thing and I think this spring it might play some more dates in New York. Q: Sometimes, you have this slightly deranged streak, and yet at the same time, a sympathetic quality. With Vaughan in Crash, he has to be somehow sympathetic to show how he draws them in to his little cult -- that was one reason that it got you so much attention for that role. EK: That part to me was a metaphor for love and for making the connection. And it doesn’t make sense, but I saw it from a young boy’s perspective with wonderment. Everything that he did was with a sense of wonderment; I haven’t thought about it in 16 years, but that’s what I recall from it. If you leave yourself open to just making discoveries without any sort of preconception then anything can happen. Q: You’ve done such a range of films. One of the through lines seems to be that you often understand characters who are either pushed to an edge or stand at an edge. Do you feel that’s true? EK: You know what, I don’t know, man. It’s really in the eye of the beholder. I’m living my life the best way I know how -- try to be curious about things and open, and work through my own neurosis and fears and hopes. And somehow, for some reason that’s beyond me, they translate that way on screen. So where that comes from I don’t really know. I don’t know what it is. I wish I had a better answer. Q: In capturing the duality of darkness and light, you're in some ways a successor to what Robert De Niro is able to do. EK: You flatter me putting me in that company. He’s certainly somebody that I admired during my studies and during my career. In response to that I just feel like I haven’t even started yet, so I feel with your thoughtful words and kind words that maybe in my life I’m opening up that ways that would invite different experiences, different roles. I don’t even know how to explain it; all I know is that I’ve barely begun. It feels that way. I feel like a late bloomer even though I’ve done 70 movies. I just feel like I’m just getting started. It feels that way. So if you can compare me to an actor like that then you flatter me. I should be so lucky. Q: Reflecting on your career, which roles were linchpins for you? EK: You want me to think about the roles that I’ve played and how they’ve had some kind of effect on me? Q: Your relationship with Atom Egoyan -- being in Exotica as well as other of his films The Adjuster and Ararat, -- has been very important. You had to have extreme talent to be able to play that character in that very tough film. Was that a critical role for you, and maybe a chance to make something of a statement? EK: A lot of these roles that I feel like I’ve had some sort of impact, or that have had an effect on me, have always been with directors who have the time to somehow get to know me. Any good director’s going to be curious about who it is that’s coming aboard. Because of lack of time a lot of directors hope that you just have the character in your pocket and you just show up and do it. and controversial production. Egoyan is very intuitive and he was very inclusive about getting to know you and hanging out. That breeds an environment that allows you to be open and to sort of explore and to trust. David Cronenberg just left me alone. I kind of somehow knew the role for some reason, and it was just all about finding your light. The whole experience with Crash was I felt like I was in a state of grace. I felt that we were making discoveries as the camera was rolling, and that was very exhilarating. The Thin Red Line was an experience where, again, the director would get to know you and push you in a way that it’s a tough act to follow. Most directors don’t know -- they don’t really know what questions to ask and how to inspire you. I feel like I’m at my best when there’s a relationship with a director, and you feel safe and that you can fall on your face and make mistakes. I could go on. Q: Your ability to give yourself to each of those situations allows you to go from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button to Shutter Island. You’ve worked with directors like David Fincher and Martin Scorsese who are known for a degree of meticulousness. What do you think they find in you that works with this meticulousness? EK: With David Fincher first of all, it’s just a blessing that he would see me as the color that he would invite along to help him tell the story. That’s just the luck of the draw. You know people, you’ve done enough work, and you know the right people who would get in touch with you and put you in his line of sight. And so there you are, and you’re scared and nervous and this and that. I consider him like a big pillow. Like if you’re going to be nervous on that day, scared out of your wits, you know you’re going to be there, and you’re going to work through the scene until it happens. That to me was like a comfort know that you’re not going to move on; you’re going to do it 20, 30, 40 takes, whatever it takes, to make it happen. And he’s such a brilliant filmmaker and storyteller; you could just let it go and just try to do your part and you’ll be taken care of. With Marty Scorsese, oddly enough I felt like I was home, and I don’t really know how else to describe it. The whole experience of making that film was like going to church almost. It was a very quiet set and then suddenly there you are with all this makeup and everything stops, everything’s in slow motion. There’s Mr. Scorsese and there’s the set and the cinematographer. It’s a little surreal. You’re plucked out of your own life, and then suddenly you’re thrown into this situation and you’re asked, “Okay, what are you going to do?” I don’t really know how to articulate the adrenaline that is shooting through you at this moment, but somehow you have to remember your whole life has prepared you for this one specific moment, that you are here, you are where you have to be. And Marty Scorsese was just so open to trying a lot of different things, any fear that you have is your own, and he’s there to help you along. Q: You’ve done two films with David Fincher, so obviously you have some understanding of him. Have you seen his latest? EK: Social Network? No, I’m going to. It looks pretty interesting. Q: He’s becoming heralded on a level he didn’t get with Zodiac or even The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. What’s the secret of working with him? EK: I wish I knew. He is an incredibly bright guy, very visual. He knows what he wants. It’s all about rhythm in the scene...He’s very thoughtful and open, but like any creative person, it doesn’t have to be the most comfortable, and sometimes it’s very frustrating. It’s a lot of different things, so some days it can be very difficult, and some days he might not even know what he wants. But that’s all part of the process, so you’ve got to be willing to go through it. At the end of the day what’s up on that screen is what’s important. I’m so happy for him because I remember when Zodiac came out, it [was the] beginning of the year [but despite] glowing reviews somehow at the end of the year it was like, “Zodiac what?” There wasn’t any sort of acknowledgment, and I thought to myself, What’s at work here? But then it goes beyond that. The guy is able to make his films, and he’s able to tell a story, and the fact that he’s as prolific as he is these past few years is awesome. He’s got a lot to say and he’s just getting started, and I look forward to seeing anything that he does. It’s poetry. Q: You’ve been in films, sometimes in a critical role or as a supporting figure who understands isolation and alienation, and you deal with directors who show the dark side of humanity, like Michael Winterbottom with The Killer Inside Me, or with James Gray, showing that crazy side in Two Lovers. What is it that you get about these characters? Are you slightly crazy? EK: I don’t really know…It’s all instinctual…it’s really my makeup I guess, and in some way I’m able to find a voice within my own struggles with why I’m here and what my purpose is and what my conflicts are within myself and family and relationships; whatever it is. I have an idea of what my own personal demons are, and somehow the more aware I am of those maybe perhaps the work will get even more honest -- and perhaps get close to what those children were doing -- at the tender age of 75. Maybe then I’ll be able to figure it out. Q: When did you decide you wanted to be an actor? EK: I don’t know. It was like overnight almost. I was watching Rich Man, Poor Man with my mom, and I was deeply affected by that series for some reason. Nick Nolte’s character blew my mind. There was something about his character that somehow, I don’t know, as a 10-year-old, as a 15-year-old, whatever I was at the time, what I saw in it -- the idea of affecting people. Like I sat and watched after his character was killed; I was crying, I was weeping, I was inconsolable. Somehow there was something about that that wanted me to do that and affect people that way, make them see their own mind. At the time I didn’t know that; at the time I was more like, Let’s pretend. Let’s make you forget about your life. Let’s entertain you for a while. Let’s tell a good story. You want to be affecting, you want to be doing scenes where when somebody’s watching it they’re not just saying, “Oh wow, what a wonderful scene,” and then go off and have a sandwich. In some way you want to open the door to the view in their own hearts, their own life. To touch someone and make them see themselves perhaps. Q: But you were able to get outside of yourself. EK: A lot of times I don’t watch anything that I’m in because I’m going to nitpick it to death or I don’t see it behind the eyes or I could have made that choice or they could have done this. So I don’t even bother. And the fact that I’m able to watch – I saw Let Me In three times in one week, and each time I saw it everybody got better and I got worse. It’s tough, man. I mean Ritchie Coster as the teacher, he was lovely. He had a limited amount of time. Q: Whom would you like to work with again? EK: Atom Egoyan, obviously, and David Cronenberg, I would be back there. I’d like to say Terrence Malick because of the arena that he creates and the poetry of his films, but for better or for worse I’m always Captain Staros to him, and I don’t know if he’ll ever see me in any other aspect. And that’s not an indictment; it’s just the way it sometimes is. Q: You can proudly say you’ve been in both a werewolf and a vampire movie. You’ve covered two of the great iconic… EK: I grew up watching these guys, man. Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, later Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing -- they were my idols as a kid. The outward monster, but then inside there’s this conflict, this battle with one’s good and bad side. Somebody outside looking in, trying to belong, being a freak. Maybe that has something to do with the kid that was sitting in front of a TV late at night. Maybe I should have been supervised, maybe I shouldn’t have been allowed to watch TV, like endlessly watching horror films. I’m sure that had some sort of weird affect on how I look at the world and how I look at myself in this world. Q: You've been in ghost stories, played a priest, been in a vampire movie, been in a werewolf film. But I haven’t seen you as a space captain. You’d be the perfect captain of some ship in space dealing with the dark and light sides of encountering aliens. EK: I don’t mean to be glib but do I have to wear like tight, spandex uniforms? As long as I don’t have to do that then I’ll be okay. I’m taking the question seriously. Hey, you know what, if it’s a good story out there in space. Can you image being out there light years away from earth? Can you imagine what it was like being in that capsule going around and round the moon? You’re just by yourself.
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If anyone should be considered the American dean of indie animators, it's the New York-based master artist Bill Plympton. When we first met years ago, he was Soho Weekly News' political cartoonist -- and counterpart to the Village Voice's Jules Feiffer. Once the News disappeared into the trash bin of history, Plympton applied his remarkable penciling skills to making wacky short films that, over the years, have accrued him various critical accolades, awards, nominations and the headache of being a defiantly independent spirit.
Plympton's illustrations and cartoons have been published in The New York Times and The Village Voice as well as in magazines such as Vogue, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair and National Lampoon. His political cartoon strip Plympton, which began in 1975 in the Soho Weekly News, went into syndication and appeared in more than 20 newspapers.
Now Plympton is releasing his latest feature film, the wordless Idiots and Angels, with a run at the IFC Theater here in NYC, then in Los Angeles, in order to stimulate Oscar consideration after a year's long passage through the festival circuit. It will then have national distribution and be viewable in tandem with a coffee table book of his work to come out later this year.
Q: With Idiots and Angels you’ve chosen not to apply computer animation or to slicken it up. Do you think it’s retro? Why do you continue to work with this pencil style, with this rawness? Your artwork consistently harkens back to a certain era; there’s a certain elegance to it.
BP: This is a style that I’ve been doing all my life, quite frankly. Ever since I was five years old I was always doing pencil-on-paper, and I like the cross-hatching, I like the smudging, I like the building up of the dark surfaces. So it’s really nothing revolutionary or even retro; it’s just a style that’s sort of been synonymous with Billy Plympton for a long time.
If you look at my illustrations, in that book that we’re doing you can see my illustrations in college and high school and you’ll see a lot of the similarities. It’s just a continuum of my drawing style. The pencil-on-paper I feel very comfortable with. If I was to do computer animation I would not feel comfortable. It just feels right for me, it just feels natural, and I like the way it looks. It’s different, it’s fresh, it’s evocative -- I can really draw the characters out like that, and it just seems like if I tried to do another style it wouldn’t be very good.
Q: It’s almost absurd to ask what you’re trying to get across in Idiots… because it’s open-ended. Things upend each other and then there are violent reactions to that. How do you see your work evolving in both storytelling and message. What’s the continuity, and where have you gone in different directions?
BP: I think that this film in particular, Idiots and Angels, is a real departure. Most of my films are sex and violence and gags, and this film has a lot more sensitivity. It’s more psychological, it’s a lot more character driven, it’s a lot more plot driven, and there are some serious moments in there.
There are some very magical, spiritual moments, and my mother, who saw the film, who doesn’t generally like my films, was moved by it. She thought it was very religious. I’m not a religious guy but this film has some moments that are quite religious in terms of being born again and rising up to heaven and everything. Very Joseph Campbell kind of stuff.
Q: I would say you’re standing religion and philosophy on their head.
BP: I do, yeah. I try to put some humor in there. But I think that’s what’s going on. You asked about my progression – that’s what’s going on, is that I started out doing wacky gag stuff and feature films I feel are a lot more emotional and lot more personal, a lot more soulful. I think there’s a lot more depth to my films now, and that’s where I’m going. I’m starting another film right now that’s even more personality-driven and is deeper storytelling.
Q: Does it work against you to not have any dialog?
BP: No, I think it helps. For sales overseas I don’t have to do dubbing and subtitling. It’s quicker, I don’t have to do the lip sync, which is really time consuming. And also I just don’t think I’m a very good writer of dialog. I prefer to tell a story with visuals, with gestures and actions and responses and close-ups of the face. You can get a lot of information that way.
Q: You’re the dean of American independent animation.
BP: What’s interesting is that now you’re seeing a lot of people in the States looking at my films and saying, “I can do that too.” They’re inspired by my record. And so a lot of it, like Sita Sings the Blues, My Dog Tulip, Queer Duck, now these are people who are making their films on their own.
Q: Or even on a European level, like Les Triplettes de Belleville The Triplets of Belleville (from 2003, directed by Sylvain Chomet -- it was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Feature. And Persepolis (directed by Marjane Satrapi, was released in 2007 and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Animated Feature at the 80th Academy Awards). I mean there are a lot of films now. So it’s not such a weird thought to be qualifying for an Oscar.
BP: No. Well last year The Secret of the Kells got nominated. So I figure if The Secret of the Kells can get in, maybe I have a shot.
Q: How many feature-length films have you made?
BP: I’ve made nine. Six animated and three live-action.
Q: What did you do that was live-action?
BP: I did J. Lyle, back in 1993, I believe. I did Guns on the Clackamas, which just came out on DVD, and that’s a really good film. That’s getting really good reviews. And then I did a documentary on Walt Curtis. So three live-action films. None of them did very well. I think the Walt Curtis film may break even. That’s about it.
Q: I guess it was the logical decision to go from paper to computer.
BP: Well no, it’s still on paper.
Q: But it’s all digitally projected...
BP: The big switch over was from Hair High, for which I did the drawings on paper. We Xeroxed the drawings onto cells, and then painted the cells. Now I do the drawings on paper, same old way I did it before; then we scan them and then we color them on computer rather than cells.
Q: Is it that much faster?
BP: It’s faster, more versatile, and cheaper. And it looks better too, it looks better than shooting it on Xeroxed copies. So I’m very happy with it. The cost of Hair High was about $400,000; the cost of this film was about $130,000.
Q: How many drawings do you actually make?
BP: Well around 30,000 for Idiots and Angels. It’s about a hundred drawings a day, which is not so bad.
Q: You don’t get carpel tunnel?
BP: Oh no it’s very relaxing. It’s therapeutic.
Q: Do you think you’re a little crazy?
BP: No I’m very normal actually. Boringly normal.
Q: And you're not a bit of a risqué -- at least with your work?
BP: No. Nope.
Q: You’ve almost become insufferably normal?
BP: The films manifest my weirdness. In my real life I’m pretty normal.
Q: Have you ever thought to collaborate with anyone?
BP: No. I’ve always had trouble with that because people don’t generally understand my kind of humor and my kind of storytelling. I think what I’m doing is kind of unique, and if I could find somebody who would do it, they would probably charge a lot of money for it, and I just don’t have money to pay people.
Q: I would love to see you with Jonathan Lethem or David Sedaris.
BP: Well they have agents, and their agents would want a big chunk of the finished film. Actually quite frankly, I’m very happy working the way I am. I like making the films on my own progress without a lot of pressure or a lot of people changing my ideas. Certainly they’re not big blockbusters -- they’re not Pixar films -- but for me it’s a wonderful exercise.
Q: Whom do you think of as your influences?
BP: First of all, let’s talk about Walt Disney. Windsor McCay, Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, Charles Adams, R. Crumb, Milton Glazer, Roland Topor, A.B. Frost, Peter de Seve, Tomi Ungerer -- I could go on and on.
Q: What about writers?
BP: Hunter Thompson, I guess. That’s about it. A lot of filmmakers; Frank Capra of course, Elia Kazan. It’s always befuddled me how a lot of people really hate Elia Kazan because of his political stance, but what he did was really courageous. I think that Communism is a bad thing, and I think if someone was a Communist it’s to their benefit to get out of being Communist. And for Elia Kazan to get all this heap of hatred because he exposed Communism; what’s so bad about that?
Q: That wasn’t exactly it.
BP: Communism in the ’30s and ‘40s, they knew what was going on; they knew that Stalin was killing masses of people and it was not a fair system. All this bullshit about equality and everything like that; it was bullshit and these people still were Communists. And I think Elia Kazan was very noble to stand up to these people.
Q: I wouldn’t think of you as right wing.
BP: Oh no, I’m not. I just have more important issues to deal with than reading up on politics all the time. In fact, all my friends who were in political cartoons or in illustration are dying. There’s no magazine work.
Q: Which filmmakers do you like?
BP: Well I like Terry Gilliam, I think Terry Gilliam’s great. Quentin Tarantino is wonderful.
Q: And you've met Terry Gilliam -- he is listed as presenting this film.
BP: Terry and I are old friends. I met him back in the mid-‘90s, and we sort of connected. He lives in England, so I don’t really run into him that much, but I recently ran into him at the Dubai Film Festival.
I happened to have my portfolio of drawings because I was showing them around, and he said, “Let me look at them.” So he started looking at them, and he flipped out. He freaked; he thought they were so great. And his agent was saying, “Terry, we have an interview with BBC. Come on, you’ve got go.” “Ah, fuck you! I want to look at Bill’s drawings.” And he stayed there for half an hour looking at every drawing, asking me about how I did this and everything. So I said, “Terry, you know you’re a really great guy, can you help me with my film?” He said, “Yeah. Anything you want.” So I said, “Well, would you like to present the film?” He said, “Yeah, I’ll put my name on it.” And he did a wonderful introduction for a documentary that Alexia’s making about me, called Adventures in Plymptoons, and Terry did a wonderful introduction for the film.
Q: Does it feel weird to have a doc made about you? You’re not dead. Did he know you?
BP: Yeah, it’s a woman who goes to a lot of the Comic-Cons, Alexia Anastasio. She’s been an acquaintance of mine for a long time. So two years ago she said, “I’d love to make a documentary about you.” She worked hard. Boy, she interviewed it must be a hundred people. She went to Oregon and interviewed my family and my college and my high school friends…(and to) Los Angeles to interview Matt Groening and people like that.
Q: Did she get a lot of the Soho Weekly News people?
BP: Ooh, I don’t think so.
Q: That is one of your defining periods.
BP: Well I don’t think so. I thought that was a path that went nowhere.
Q: Wasn’t that period the first time that you were really exposed as a personality?
BP: Yeah, but I should have been doing animation at that point. First of all, I wasn’t crazy about politics. It was hard work; I had to read up on all the magazines and newspapers
Q: Really? I thought that was when you jumped out in the world. That was where your first flag was planted.
BP: Yeah but you know I regret that because if I had a chance to do it again I would start doing animation right out of college.
Q: I also think that’s where you came into your own.
BP: Well I did develop a style.
Q: But we were also running around in the scene, part of an historical moment.
BP: Yeah, you’re right, you’re right.
Q: You’re part of a generation, and you reflect this generation. We were this transitional generation between the bohemian culture, the previous being the printed word, sort of the pre-digital age into the digital age.
BP: I suppose. I never thought of it, but you’re right.
Q: What do you think about running a business?
BP: I have to do it. I don’t like doing it; I don’t like doing the contracts, I don’t like doing the phone calls and the business meetings. I just want to draw, like most artists. But if I want to retain ownership of the film and I want to retain copyright I have to do that; that’s part of the deal.
Q: You’re sort of an accidental entrepreneur. I do think you should exploit it further.
BP: I could. People say I should do dolls, I should do calendars and all this bullshit. I just don’t have time to do it. Maybe at some point when I get enough money. I’m running a pretty tight ship here, the recession was not so easy, so sometimes I’ve had trouble making payroll. If I ever did get a big fat contract then I would bring in more marketing people, maybe David Sedaris, people like that. But I have no money now. But I like my own stories, that’s the thing. I really like my own stories, they’re fun to write.
Q: You look like some of your drawings...
BP: People say that.
Q: Have you done self-portraits?
BP: I do it constantly; I’m always doing drawings of myself.
Q: Do you feel you’re able to convey some of what you are?
BP: Well that’s what Idiots and Angels is all about. It’s me sort of talking about my feelings about being an asshole or being an angel. That’s what I think the film covers; control of your soul. I don’t mean to get heavy and I don’t want to be moralistic. Also I want to make people laugh and I feel that laughter is the essence of life.
In fact, as Charlie Chaplin once said, “A day without laughter is a wasted day,” and I agree with that. There should be a Nobel Humor Prize. I think that humor, especially in a world like today with so much fucked up stuff going on, people have got to laugh, people have got to enjoy life, people have to laugh at life.
Q: Conveying humor through a drawing is one of the toughest things in the world, much tougher than doing stand-up.
BP: I don’t think it’s particularly though but I think it’s important. I think it’s very valuable; it’s very beneficial to society.
Q: Who are your favorites in single panel cartoons?
BP: Charles Schultz I suppose and “Calvin and Hobbes.” Gary Larson was a big influence, of course. I don’t look at political cartoonists anymore.
Q: Why didn’t you ever do comic books -- you did a graphic novel?
BP: Comic books are not as satisfying as film. You never get to hear people laugh when they see the comic book. It doesn’t movie, it doesn’t have sound.
Q: You don’t think it might have a different kind of reach?
BP: Well comic books are really kind of a dead end anyway. They don’t sell that well unless you’re doing Batman or Robin or something like that.
Q: Do you think of your work as laugh-out-loud, or snicker?
BP: Well I hope it’s laugh-out-loud. I appreciate laugh-out-loud, but the cow film doesn’t get a lot of big laughs, yet still people love it a lot. So I think there’s a little more substance in there, a little more heart than my usual stuff. But I think eventually I’ll go back and still do those crazy sex and violence kind of films. I always love that stuff.
Q: How do people respond to your work, say, at a forum like Comic-Con?
BP: The thing is they saw it when they were kids on MTV or the Tournee of Animation, or Spike & Mike, and that’s where most people have seen it. They have fond memories of it. Some of them it twisted their minds a little bit, but they have positive attitudes.
Q: The number of awards you received is amazing. How did it happen that you got these Oscar nominations?
BP: The first film I think was sent in by the distributor. So they knew if they got an Oscar nomination it would help their chances. This was Your Face, which was 1987. And then the second one was Guard Dog, which we sent it to the Academy.
You have to answer certain qualifications, such as you have to play in LA for a week or you have to win a certain award. We sent it in to (a cinema) and it played for a week there and that qualified it. So also we’re doing Idiots and Angels and The Cow Who Wanted to be a Hamburger.
We do have a distributor for Idiots and Angels. Passion River, they’re out of New Jersey and they’re lining up all these art houses and college universities. We’ll get good distribution; we’ll get like a hundred cinemas, maybe more. Especially if New York and LA do well we’ll get a lot of distribution.
Q: From your early Portland days to now, do you step back and say, “Jesus, how did I get here? I guess I’m doing pretty good for myself.”?
BP: No I do. I look back and say, “Yeah; I turned out okay.” Things are going well, I get invited everywhere around the world and I have to turn them all down because I’m just so busy. I feel like I’m in a nice position.
Classic pop-rock star Tommy James writes his own music, has a great voice, stills sells records and tours regularly. Lots of musicians have covered his songs from such stars as Joan Jett to Billy Idol. I love all his songs from his early classic “Hanky Panky” to the great “Mony Mony.”
Now 63 years-old, this Dayton, Ohio-born singer/songwriter recently wrote his autobiography with Martin Fitzpatrick, Me, the Mob, and the Music (2010). Accommodating to his fans, he makes sure he meets and greets everyone and enjoy signing for the fans.
When he came to NYC for a book signing at Barnes & Noble, I had a chance to interview him for a few minutes. He’s a real pro, answered everything I asked and gave me great information about his past.
BA: What made you write this book?
TJ: Basically this book was in the works for almost 10 years. Martin Fitzpatrick and I started out writing an autobiography that was to be about music, which we were going to call it “Crimson & Clover,” but we soon realized that we weren’t telling the whole story.
It had to be the Roulette Records story. The book was incomplete without that part of the story, but it was not in our best interests to tell the whole story at the time because most of the Roulette people were still alive. I was just uncomfortable about it.A few years went by and the remaining Roulette regulars passed away in December 2005. We felt it was time that we finished the book and felt okay about doing it then.
So, we did it and told the whole story and got a deal immediately through Simon & Schuster which we were surprised about because they do more literary works and very few pop culture kinds of projects. We were very honored and flattered when they took the book. Now it’s going be a movie and a Broadway play. So, we are very happy, feeling lucky and also very blessed.
BA: I heard that director Martin Scorsese might be doing a movie based on it.
TJ: We are talking right now with three different directors and he is one of them. He actually contacted us first and we are going to make an announcement over the next few weeks on the film project.
BA: Martin Fitzpatrick is not only your co-writer of the book but also
your road manager.
TJ: He wears many hats for us, and also does merchandising for us.
BA: It must have been weird not getting paid for a lot of things back then.
TJ: Roulette was the best and the worst of all worlds. It was great from a creative standpoint because they left us alone and let us be whatever we could become, but getting paid was very difficult. I don’t have a lot of regrets and a lot of anger or bitterness because we were able to make a great deal of it back over the years. But it is true that getting paid was like taking a bone from a rottweiler
BA: A lot of people thought that you were born in Niles, Michigan when in
fact you were born in Ohio.
TJ: That’s true, I was born in Dayton, Ohio and moved to South Bend, Indiana and then to Niles, Michigan. My dad was in the hotel business so we moved around a lot.
BA: How did you find the transition when you moved to New York in the ’60s and that whole period coming here?
TJ: It was a culture shock because I was a kid from the Midwest, graduated from high school and all of a sudden within a year lived in the middle of New York. So, I consider myself the first year a spectator. I felt like I was in a movie in New York. I said in the book that I never felt so important and insignificant at the same time.
BA: What was it like playing music in and being part of the ’60s scene?
Was that a groovy time?
TJ: The 1960s were the best time ever to make it because all the ducks were in a row. All the planets were lined up. Radio and television and the record business were all on the same page and were not competing with each other much.
They were all looking to break the next big act. Of course, 60 million baby boomer kids with money in their pockets fueled everything and radio was so much bigger and covered so much more ground then than it does today.
The Average Top 20 hit from that period sold more records than 10 #1 records combined today. Really, the rules have changed. I consider that period of time the very best to have made it in because of then amazing numbers of people back then.
BA: Also, the music was very positive back then.
TJ – Absolutely, anything could happen that you could think of
BA: What was it like being away from your family and having this other
life in New York?
TJ: You end up spreading yourself very thin when doing this business. One of my great regrets is that I wasn’t able to be more of a family man as so much of my life was was devoted to self promotion and making music. On one hand you get to stay a kid a long time but on the other hand you really do miss those important years with your family. But, you can be at only one place at a time.
BA: What it was like traveling on those package tours. Was it
fun, tiring, or both?
TJ: I basically stopped the really serious touring back in 1968 .We had done the big one night tours with 40 dates back to back and I was so tired having to live like that it’s as if I became a zombie. I decided from that point on we would do one-nighters or two nights a week was all I wanted to do
In the end it worked out well because I was able to save my voice. I can’t imagine doing the touring that like Rod Stewart does. I don’t know how they do it; they would find me under a bridge or somewhere out in the field. I couldn’t live like that.
BA: What was it like working in a record store in that period?
TJ: I got a great education working in a little record store in Niles. Things that I use to this day I like learning to read the trade papers I learned back then. It was called the Spin-It Record shop.
BA: Anything about notorious record company owner Morris Levy that you want to add?
TJ: Morris ended up being the star of our book. He was one of the most dynamic people I have ever met. It was a real love/hate relationship, kind of like an abusive father I guess. I learned more being at Roulette than any place in the world.
BA: And any final thoughts?
TJ: I just want to say thank you to the fans for 44 years of fun and music. This is a business that maybe gives you two or three years if you are lucky, and we have had it for four decades. Thanks to the fans and the good Lord!
Maybe it's because of her Brazilian genes that Alice Braga looks good even when sweaty after a jungle trek. Braga has become the go-to girl for sci-fi action thrillers, what with this year's Repo Men and the recently released Predators. This time, as the bust-ass female lead, IDF sniper Isabelle takes charge, with co-star Adrien Brody, of a pack of errant mercs, paramilitary types, rebels and hardcore criminals forced to band together in order to survive after they are mysteriously chute-dropped into an unknown tropical forest on a distant world.
Chosen because they can kill without conscience, these warriors, some trained, some not, battle a pack of 10-foot-tall Predators who are hunting them as prey. In this vast jungle, these human predators must learn whom, or what, they're up against, and test the limits of their abilities, knowledge and wits in a battle of kill or be killed.
Having appeared in several films, most notably as Angélica in 2002's acclaimed Cidade de Deus, Braga landed her first US blockbuster with 2007's I Am Legend. Who else has starred in two apocalyptic films about the world's end within a year -- that Will Smith film and Blindness (2008) -- and survived?
Coming from a cinematic family -- her aunt is the great Brazilian actress Sônia Braga -- 27-year-old Alice Braga Moraes got started at eight being in a yogurt commercial. Besides her native Portuguese, this daughter of São Paulo, Brazil also speaks English and Spanish, and shows a sort of pluck that propels her career.
Braga has learned to endure all kinds of abuse whether it's rolling around in slimy traps, or having a hand rammed into her gaping wounds. Maybe because she neither has the tough-as-nail glare of Angelina Jolie or the towering power of Uma Thurman, she suggests both intelligence and vulnerability. That's something so noticeable when we talked for a few minutes after the Repo Men interviews.
Q: You've done a lot of futuristic movies lately; do you have an affinity for them? Do you look for science-fiction scripts or do they happen to find you?
AB: It was a happy coincidence. It was something that my mom always loved, so I grew up watching those types of films, but it wasn't something that I focused on. These scripts came to me; I read them, had fun with them and liked them. I really had fun because this type of film really opens a door for your imagination. It was a happy coincidence.
Q: When did you finish Predators?
AB: We wrapped the second week of January .
Q: How was that experience?
AB: It was great, really nice, a lot of running around, running for my life as fast as I can. A great cast and crew. The photographer, Gyula Pados, was amazing. It looks really nice and the Predators are dark, and really, really, scary.
I think the fans are really going to be happy with it, at least I hope so. The director, Nimród Antal, is a fan of the films, so it was like a fan directing us. He was like a kid on set, and having that energy was really special.
Q: It was R rated; was it ever going to be a PG-13?
AB: I don't think they could have because there are some [really] dark scenes in it, like any other of this type of film. So I think it’s going to be hard. We never know what's going to happen or what the studio’s going to do in the editing. But it looks really dark, and I had fun doing it.Q: Meeting you here, it's hard to believe they cast you as a tough "guy."AB: Everyone tells me, "You look so much taller in the movies."
Q: Will you get your own action figure for Predators?AB: I hope so. We did the scanning. I don't know if it was for action scenes or post-production things, but I really hope I have an action figure. I would love that.Q: Your character is Israeli military?AB: She is a sniper. She’s a Special Forces lady.Q: So are you chasing the Predators?AB: I’m being chased.Q: Was Predators a hard shoot?AB: It was a fun shoot. It was hard because of the weather conditions -- really cold and working outdoors. But it was a blast, and I think it’s going to be interesting.Q: What’s it like acting next to some guy in a suit?AB: Awesome. Truly, I had so much fun because in I Am Legend they were wearing suits with dots, so it's like Teletubbies. I remember I took a picture when I met the guys because one of the guys who played the Predator -- he also played Jason -- Derek Mears, so he's big, and I was next to him barefoot. He's great. So having someone that tall, that big, with me -- and I’m like 5'3" -- that kind of vibe was great because it gives you [a sense of] that desperation.Q: What was it like working with such different people on Predators? It has such an interesting collection of actors, like Topher Grace and Adrien Brody. AB: It was great because I think they wanted to do something different. Having Adrien as the hero was not the obvious choice, but he did great. I thought it was a great choice just to play around with acting in an action film.Q: Do you think it one-up the old movies?AB: I don't know if it will one-up [the original]. I hope it adds up more than anything else. I don't know if it ones-up the other ones. I think to become successful as the others I think it needs to add up. You cannot try to make something different because then you lose the fans. The best thing is to make a film for the fans. That’s why we’re making it.Q: Is there a possibility to get your own franchise out of the Predators movie?AB: I don't know. I would love to, but I have no idea. I'm totally open for anything. People ask me, "What type of films do you want to make?" I want to make films. I have a blast when I’m on set. Seriously, I’m a kid, ask anyone that worked with me or saw me on set. Actually, what [director] Fernando Meirelles used to do with me on Blindness is he would keep me for last so that he could keep me on set. He knew that I wouldn’t leave. So if it comes up, definitely I would love to do more action and more stuff. I’m open for any type of acting.Q: Have you talked to Fernando recently? Do you have any idea what he’s going to do next? Are you going to work with him again?AB: I heard that he was going to do something with a Janis Joplin story or something, but I’m not sure. I heard that at a party at midnight in São Paulo, so that’s not a trustful source. He was doing a really wonderful TV series in Brazil about Shakespeare. He’s been writing, and I think he’s probably in pre-production or something. As I was shooting Predators I was away for the past few months so I’m not sure.Q: If you could work on any action film franchise or remake, do you have that ideal role in your head where you could be another kick-ass character?AB: I never thought about it. I’ve always been a small, short girl so I never thought about myself running around and kicking ass and punching and shooting. In Predators, I’m a sniper and truly, my gun was the heaviest gun on set. It’s 14 pounds and everyone is with a knife, a pistol, and I’m with a [huge] rifle. I totally love the challenge to portray someone like that character. It would be great if something comes up as another action figure. It’s a nice challenge physically and emotionally.Q: Your career seems to be moving not only in a sci-fi direction but in an action film mold. The world needs a really big Latina action star. They’re looking to cast Wonder Woman right now.AB: That’s great! But Wonder Woman is not going to be Latin for sure. With my accent?Q: Linda Carter is half Mexican.AB: Oh yeah but she didn’t have an accent like I do. That would be great though; Wonder Woman Latina. But I did City of God and Lower City and independent projects, and then I did some dramas. It was nice to face a film like Repo Men that has some drama, is a character that has some hard background stories but at the same time is running and training and firing. It’s cool.Q: When did you do Repo Men?AB: Right after, actually. I was shooting Blindness in Toronto and went to LA to audition with Jude [Law, co-star of Repo Men with Forest Whitaker] on a Saturday and then went straight back to Toronto to finish Blindness. Then I ended up shooting Repo Men in Toronto again. My mom always asking me, “When are you going to do a romantic-comedy without monsters?” and I’m like, “Okay, that’s coming one day. Let’s work for it.” But this is a happy coincidence.Q: Do you think your character, Beth, in Repo Men was plagued by a love for the surgery? Do you think she was addicted to the surgery or she was just going along trying to fix things?AB: Miguel [Rosenberg-Sapochnik, the director,] and I spoke a lot about her past, about what she’s been through, what happened in her life, what was her background, why was she in that situation when we first see her in the film, just because I love doing that and Miguel also was really involved in the story. We wanted to understand what kind of emotional state she would show up in. It’s just life; we created a little background, like some disease, some problem, some lack of health, addictions maybe. As soon as she started getting new ones then it became an addiction I think, because it’s kind of hard to say she had all those problems. It was mainly an addiction, but it’s hard to say that it was only that.There was a line that ended up not in the film but is really fun. I looked at him and was like, “Did you get upgraded? Come on!” And that kind of line shows that she was always trying to keep up. It’s like us; you guys don’t have tape anymore. We’re always upgrading, always doing something new. Everyone has the iPhone; in a week everyone’s going to have the iPad. We’re always upgrading all the time, so I feel that’s what Beth did. And it’s nice. If someone’s boring talking to you, just turn it down.Q: How do you find the right level of empathy for a character that has so much of her body turned over to science and is a drug addict and does all those deals? How far do you go to make that character empathetic, and where do you stop?AB: Empathetic in what sense?Q: You want people to feel sorry for her so that you worry about her, but where do you stop? Because you also want her to be tough.AB: I don’t know if I want people to feel sorry for her. I never felt sorry for her. I always try to not judge the characters that I portray. I try to just understand, and get meaning and belief in the characters. But I always tried to make her as human as possible. All of us endure pain, sadness, loss. Life is not only happiness. But on the other hand, you can find love or happiness, or you can find anything else, so that’s the change she goes through her life. She’s giving up on herself when he finds her and that’s why I punch him in the face and am like, “Why? Why did you do that? You’re not going to save me right now. You’re going to go away.” Who knows, maybe 10 guys did with her, or her family did with her, we don’t know. I just tried to create a character that was human more than anything. I think feeling pity is a really strong thing to feel for someone.Q: Apparently, in the book version, your character had cancer which ravaged most of her body? Her husband at the time had been a doctor, so she got a discount, which is why she got so many body part upgrades -- he was just trying to keep her alive. By that time she was 74% artificial, and he couldn’t be with her anymore.AB: [Miguel] didn’t say anything. No but I wish he did. The script was so different in a sense, so we tried to build the story and background. There were a lot of different versions of Beth and Remy’s love story in the beginning, and then it changed through the course of the film until we started shooting. Q: Miguel said your character started out in a different relationship with Remy. What’s your reaction as an actress? You play a part a certain way, and then it’s edited and somehow it works in a completely other way that you hadn’t intended. What did you think when you see that?AB: My mom’s an editor, so I totally understand editors, which is great -- It helps. I’m kidding. I grew up in this world. My father’s a journalist, but he directed a lot of TV shows in Brazil. I never think too much about what they’re going to do. I always try to grab the script and learn it by heart and focus on that, and whatever they want to do later they can do it. I don’t mind. I’m passionate for the story and being part of something. That’s the most important thing. Funnily enough, in Repo Men, I prefer what I saw on the screen than what we shot. It works really nice. I don’t know how, because we had such a background in our minds – me and Jude, Beth and Remy – all the time that drove us through the journey towards the end of the film, and once we cut the part before they meet, where we meet them in the film, it could have gone wrong. What is great is that it was done perfectly, and it was even better. I’m glad he took it off because the story is even sharper. I think more important than you as an actor is the storytelling. Of course as an actor you want to show your work, you want to be on screen, but being part of a nice story, it’s really special. So I do think as an actress you need to know how to understand and how to put yourself into it. Everything matters; don’t take anything for granted. Be present in the moment. That’s the best thing to do.Q: At the end you’re still alive. Is there hope for a sequel that would include you?AB: Maybe. I'll give you Universal’s number so you can ask them. Then I’ll give you mine, and you call me. I have no idea what they think of it. I don’t think so. I think the story’s done.Q: Did you think of yourself as a female Terminator?AB: The way Beth’s going, she probably can be a Terminator because the only thing’s real are the lips.Q: One of those scenes near the end where he's taking the parts out of you is really sick but also sexy in its own way. It recalls the movie Crash. In filming that scene, how did you play it so that it was both passionate but kind of sick and crazy at the same time?AB: When Miguel told me that he wanted to do that scene as a love scene I couldn't picture it. Once we started doing it I was just trying to figure out how to play it, not to be overly painful or only love and forget the pain. I tried to stay in the middle and to just bring truth. It's interesting that both characters are so in love and they’re fighting for their lives, yet they’re so connected at that moment in the film. I think pain and love go together. If you're in love, you're going to feel pain and the passion increases the pain. It's hard to explain with a logical answer, but mainly I do think that's what Miguel wanted, and I tried to put my heart into it and just bring it alive. It was fun to do it because it was so free to create anything. We are in sexual positions actually; it's like we're making love. It was a great idea.
For more by Brad Balfour: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/brad-balfour
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