the traveler's resource guide to festivals & films
a site
part of Insider Media llc.

Connect with us:


Irishmen McPherson and Hinds See the Light in "The Eclipse"

It's no wonder that Conor McPherson's latest film, The Eclipse, should have had its world premiere at last year's Tribeca Film Festival. The Irish dramatist has enjoyed considerable support and success in New York City. Three plays he's written were produced here to much acclaim, with the last two — which he also directed — garnering various Tony Award nominations.

The playwright turned to film and has done several movies as the director, writer or both. With the recently released The Eclipse, he draws on his own experience with literary-festival traveling. This story of a man suffering both the loss of his wife and a lack of confidence in himself also has supernatural undertones. Though it's not really a ghost story, hints of the ghostly slip in enough so that an eerie tinge adds to this meditation on love and redemption — or maybe reclamation.

Supernatural occurrences have long been a part of Ireland's rich cultural history, especially given its pre-Christian Celtic traditions and Druidic mythos. Into this mix comes the fine actor Ciaran Hinds, who lends the right sense of unease and disquiet to his performance, providing balance to Aidan Quinn's bellicose writer and Iben Hjejle's anguish.

Q: This movie was loosely based on your friend Billy Roche's story?

CM: He was writing a book of short stories and as he finished each one he emailed them to me. One was set against the background of a literary festival; it's about a teacher who’s a volunteer at the festival and is driving around this lady who’s a writer and he becomes obsessed with her. He’s married and has kids so it’s how his life unravels because of his obsession with her.

We thought it might be fun to work on a screenplay of that story. My wife read an early draft and said, "In a story we can get inside the character’s head—we can understand what’s happening to him. But in a film, if we’re just watching some guy stalking this woman, women are not going to like him. It would be better if you got rid of his wife."

So I thought, if he was a widower, we’d sympathize with him better. Also, he could be haunted, and suddenly this whole thing took on a supernatural hue. About 20 drafts later we ended up with this love stoConor  McPherson and Ciaran Hindsry and ghost story — a hybrid of genres. That's the journey it took.

Q: Have either of you had any experiences with ghosts?

CH: I believe I had one in my teens. In the North of Ireland, where I’m from, in a graveyard there are stones there from the 17th century. Disused now, it's on a little cliff, and in my teens I was up there messing around with some friends the way you do. Suddenly I looked over in one direction and there was this shape that formed that was very recognizable as old and human, but not complete, not exactly delineated. There was movement to it and also some sort of face. I didn’t know what to do because I wasn’t sure if it was a trick of the light or my own sensibilities as a teenager going, "Wow, this is crazy."

But a movement came from this image and I thought it was very weird. I looked around to the others to see if they could see what I see and they were messing around. I looked back, and at that stage, whatever it was, it was almost like free of gravity because it moved. But it didn’t sidle or walk, it just went to a place and then whatever energy, it just dissipated. I don’t know to this day whether it was a trick of light or it wasn’t. But all I remember is the gesture of it was sort of spooky and scary, and I wasn’t going to go over there because I knew there was a [quite a] drop after it.

CM: One time, I was driving along — we had just done a film which I wrote, I Went Down — with its director [Paddy Breathnach] and producer [Rob Walpole]. We were doing a tour of local radio stations in Ireland.

We were in a hurry, driving across this very desolate area, and as we drove along this very long, straight road—it was a very flat landscape where we were—I saw a figure standing on the side of the road. It was a woman, and there was something about her clothes that she looked like she was from the 1970s. She had a leather coat with a belt, boots, and just the way her hair was, was very 1970s. She was standing in the middle of nowhere, and as we drove by she seemed to be looking right at us; I remember her eyes and this half quizzical smile on her face as we drove by. Myself and Rob, we both went, "Whoa, that woman was spooky," and Paddy, who was driving, said, "What woman?"

We looked behind and there was nothing there. Maybe she was someone who was standing there and walked away, I don’t know, but I don't know what it was or why or whatever. That’s the only time I remember.

Q: Aidan Quinn plays the famous author Nicholas Holden, who has his own set of issues.

CM: In the short story, he is the writer who has persuaded Lena, played by Iben Hjeje , to come to the festival so he can reignite this affair with her. What Aidan really understood about it was he thought this is a guy who’s obviously successful, he’s a writer who all his novels would be on the stand at the airport bookshop, and his books are made into movies.

What’s great about Aidan in that role is that while he is very good looking, he's gotten a bit older, so perhaps the character is feeling the hand of mortality on his shoulder, and he's sort of worried about his prowess and attractiveness; this is causing him great panic and pain.

It was Aidan who actually said to me, "This guy is in great pain," and I realized that he understood something about that as an actor because Aidan says, "I’ve always been cast as this good-looking leading guy. I never get a chance to express this kind of stuff, this panicky, freaking out, I'm losing it, I'm a jerk, kind of stuff." He really embraced it enthusiastically and developed the character and took it to a place that I actually didn't quite expect.

CH: He's obnoxious, arrogant, a jerk, and he's suffering something inside. That often produces the humor in the story because of the extremity of his confusion.

Q: The fight scene was very convincing.

CH: The way he comes in and says, "I’m not drunk." You know he's gone somewhere else.

CM: When you have to say that, you're probably not sober.

Q:  In the last few films I've seen you getting abused in one way or another. Mentally, if nothing else, in the upcoming Life During Wartime. I was really sure you were beaten up in that scene. You liked having him abused you...

CM: Absolutely. He has to go through pain and suffering to be redeemed. They were very committed during their fight scene, that's for sure.

Q: How was it shooting that?

CM: We shot it in one day. Iben broke her toe at about half nine in the morning and continued through the whole day doing the fight. I have to say in my own defense, I didn't realize her toe was broken until after.

CH: She didn't tell anyone. She just felt the pain and taped it up.

CM: It was pretty hairy.

CH: I know Aidan once warned me I was getting a bit too close.

CM: Except that he was really hitting you and then said, "Hey, you’re getting a bit close."

Q: So who was more the boxer?

CH: He is. He's American, Irish-American, so there's bit of the jock in him. Me, I'm a dancer.

Q: We haven't seen you do this kind of movie before; you even won the Best Actor prize at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival. So what was the most challenging aspect of playing this role?

CH: The job description as an actor is to do what’s required for the story, whatever that entails. Because I'd worked with Conor while we were doing the play The Seafarer, we got to know each other—not just about work, but personally. When I read the outline of the story, I thought there was something beautiful and touching and serious and rather profound about this. But then there are some crazy bits in it that how the fuck do you get to there? In the end, I think I tended to be just as open as possible and not to prepare.

Obviously, you need to know the dialogue to be able to bounce off somebody, but to be as open as possible to every moment that you’re on camera. And what’s so wonderful about Iben when you work with her is just the purity of her truth. When you work absolutely direct with someone, it’s sort of beyond acting, it's about real communication, and there may not even be a camera there. There are moments where you put yourself in the situation, and you believe in the situation; therefore you are that situation. And you hope the way Conor uses the camera, he picks up the truth of it.

Q: So this one of your most vulnerable roles?

CH: For sure. I'm not always playing emperors or presidents or strong men, because of the way my face looks—it looks quite tough. It's not particularly my nature, it's the way your face hangs, but this is probably one of the most vulnerable roles I've had to play.

Q: You wanted to get that side of him out there a little more?

CM: I know that Ciarán is a very warm guy, and I thought, "Yeah, he probably sometimes gets cast as guys that are tough and cold in a way." But I knew that Ciarán is actually a very warm heart and I knew the camera would pick that up. The character he plays is a kind of an everyman in a way who gets to be everything — a father, a son…

CH: He's not quite a holy ghost.

CM: He's a lover, he's a fighter…

Q: He's a writer.

CM: He's a writer. Ciarán just has a wonderful presence as an actor which can allow all of those things to be. The world can be revolving around him and yet he's not ever having to be explicit about any of those things, we just get it, we understand. It's a mark of his great talent.

Q: This movie is dealing with characters facing their fears, so what scares you as an actor or you as a director? How do you overcome them in your line of work?

CM: I don't think any of us overcomes the thing that scares us, we just sort of learn to accept that they scare us and we're going to have to just get on with it. If you're asking me what in my professional life scares me, as a writer or director, it's all scary, it's all crazy. When you're writing something you wonder, "Is anyone going to understand this, what am I doing, is this a real job?"

All of that stuff is pretty heavy. When you go to direct, it's like, we've got to get all these people to work on this thing; they've all got to want to do it; they've all got to get on with each other. Then we're going to let an audience in and are they going to even get this, or are they going to hate it? It's all scary.

You don't overcome it, you just bite your lip and cross your fingers and hope to god it's going to work. But actors, I mean I don't know how an actor steps out on stage; that's crazy to me.

CH: With most of us, I think, there's fear wherever you go and it's a daily battle. But usually you fight that battle because somewhere deep down you believe in the craft and the work that somebody has started and that you owe it to them. And once you get a real sense of trust and a debt to the writer who's going to share these stories, you've got to conquer those fears somehow. I mean it is scary, taking that deep breath and going, "Shit, here we go."

Ego gets in the way—it's always all about me, people are watching me—and no, it's not about you, it's about you playing a creative role in something that they want to see. And sometimes you have to fool yourself that you can do that.

Q: Which is tougher to do — making films or the plays?

CH: The plays. Once you are in something as open and you believe in everybody around you, you can breathe collectively and celebrate. Even if it's not soaring, there's something about "we are together supporting each other." Film is day to day, depending on what you are required to do that day, the amount you're required, the concentration, how much you feel really ready to deliver—and those can be scary days.

Q: You're writer-director of a play or of a film — which is scarier?

CM: Well a play is probably scarier because it's live and it's happening, and you're sort of at every moment willing the play to keep moving forward, and if someone near you is shifting in their seat you're like, "Oh, God, this is terrible." If someone gets up and leaves to go to the toilet, you're like, "Are they going to come back?" So that's pretty scary. But then films are scary because it's like every day you're trying to get something done. Especially if it's a small little film and you don't have much resources, if it doesn't work it's like, "Oh, my God, what are going to do?" So it's all scary, but it's all very rewarding,  too.

Q: I was also wondering, what was the turning point for both of you when you decided to go into the creative arts? And how is your family reacting to this? Your immediate family, your parents, siblings, children.

CM: Well, we're back where I started out. My parents were really worried because all I seemed to have an interest in was playing music and playing the guitar and that kind of stuff, and they were like, "Listen, what are you doing with your life?" They convinced me to go to university because they thought, "Look, you've got to have something to fall back on." But what happened to me was then I really got interested in that and then, to their horror, I became very interested in writing plays, and they were like, "What the fuck is going on here?" So it was pretty worrying.

Q: So university had the opposite effect of what they were anticipating.

CM: Yeah. But the thing is, as soon as I started making a living … they're just worried about you. It's not like they're trying to stop you because they don't believe, they just don't know anyone who's ever done it. But then as soon as I started making a living at it and they could see that I was happy doing it, they're incredibly supportive and proud and absolutely thrilled. So they've been really supportive and they still are to this day. They believe in everything I do; they would hate to think that somebody didn't like something I did.

CH: My mother, who's about to turn 90, used to do amateur drama when she was younger, but then she settled down with my father and had a family. I suppose she understood somewhere the idea, not to stand up and show off, but to be a part of something that is celebrating the human condition. Then again, I never expressed a desire, never did say I want to be an actor, ever. I did school plays and things, but I never said that's what I want to be, because I didn't know.

Sure as eggs is eggs, I was told to go to university to get a degree, so I ended up studying law for three months and that was about it. Your parents want to protect you and they know that it's a very precarious life. They don't know how you will survive, and they're right because I have many friends my age as talented as I am who haven't had the breaks, who have had to find other ways, and I understand that.

So what they're doing is trying to protect you, but then you surrender yourself and offer yourself up to whatever is calling you. And then we have the idea where you meet somebody, you have a relationship with them, they become your partner in life, you have a daughter who thinks it's all glamorous for a moment and then comes to see you in two things and then couldn't care less, which is great.

Q: Has your daughter been to visit you on any movie sets?

CH: Just one.

Q: How old is she?

CH: She's 18. It happened about eight years ago when she was about 10.

Q: The eerie soundtrack is very effective; how did you chose it?

CM: My wife [Fionnuala Ni Chiosain] wrote the music for the film. She's a painter but plays the piano and we play music at home. She composed the music and we got an amateur choir from Trinity College in Dublin to do the choral pieces. I just wanted to have that really Catholic feel to the film, like The Exorcist. We used that kind of sound. But you're right, people do scream when they're watching it.

Q: In the movie, you addressed the idea of who is an artist or not. Ciaran's character is a writer, but is he really? People don't always know they're a writer until they finally allow themselves to see themselves in that light;  that was an interesting dynamic in the film.

CM: I always think that at least 80% of doing anything creative is fighting for the confidence to do it. It's very hard to put stuff out there, I think a lot of people find that aspect very hard and probably don't move forward purely because of that.

Aidan's character has a lot of confidence, he's out there. How talented is he? Maybe he's moderately talented, but he's really a great networker, great at pushing himself, and a great self-publicist, which is half the battle. When we see Aidan talking about his books, he's talking about a movie that was being made of one of his books. That's where his head is at.

When Iben is reading, she's talking about when someone saw a ghost it made that person realize that they would die, that her husband would die and that her children would die, and she knew in that moment that she was looking at reality. So she's sort of really getting into what does it all mean and what do ghosts mean. So when Michael sees that, he's like, "Oh I could talk to this person," where he probably couldn't relate to Aidan's character. He's the person wondering, stuck in the middle, "Where do you go, what do you do with your writing, what's it for?"

Q: In a way, he's the real artist.

CH: Well, he denies that he's a writer. But he must also be quietly doing things that he hasn't been. He's reticent and unsure.

Q: What are you doing next?

CM: I'm just starting again now, to write new stuff so come back to me in a year or two.

CH: I'm finishing off John Carter of Mars and after that, if something comes in, it'll come in.

Q: You'll be back here for a play?

CH: That'll depend.

Q: How was the experience working on the last two Harry Potter films?

CH: It was short for me. I was very surprised that I was suddenly asked to see the director [. Of course your agent works for you and suddenly he says, "they would like to see you for this part" that I didn't know because I hadn't read the whole book. I met the director, who was very warm, and suddenly he said, "We're going to try and fit it in with your theater schedule. We need four serious days from you and maybe a couple of days in six months time."

There was a gap in my theater schedule so I went. And I have to say, the preparation they do from the costume to the amount of money, time, and consideration invested in something is [incredible]. They go into a way where they realize this has to be as perfect as we can make it because people have followed this all the way, this is the last piece. Just to be witness to that—especially because the film I'd done before that was with Conor—it's committed as you can get to it.

Q: And you're in the upcoming John Carter of Mars.

CH: Why, I'm suddenly doing green screen for the first time in my life. I have to say I'm thrilled to be, because he's a great writer/director, Andrew Stanton. It's a genre that I wouldn't particularly go for. It's really strange because I don't look back. You do the work, and then it's behind you. If you look up and you've done that, it's sort of, "Did I do all that?" because you're in the present, and you have to do what you do.

Q: What are you looking forward to about that movie in terms of your character?

CH: It's functional, it's not anything extreme. It's a thrill to be asked by somebody and be offered up something inside a huge experience like that. In a way you're a cipher inside the story, but it's exciting. I've done three days; I might get bored by day seven. I believe in his storytelling and in sense of humanity, which comes from those animated stories he's told. It's just very nice to be involved.

Q: Making Todd Solondz's Life During Wartime must have been interesting since you play a character played by someone else in its predecessor.

CH: It was a great experience to work with Todd. He's a great humanist; he presents all these people with all their strangeness, their difficulties in life, their awkwardness, and yet, he doesn't' judge them and he doesn't patronize them.

Todd allows it out and says, "Have a look at that, because there are bits of us all over it." Maybe not as extreme as the character I play, but just doing it I remember as being quite a lonely journey.

For more by Brad Balfour:

Actress Noomi Rapace Brings "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo " to Life

I always look at what people read on the subway. So when I saw the many well-worn copies of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo on my every ride, I knew thSwedish Actress Noomi Rapaceere was something epochal about it. Eventually, I picked up one and started reading, but ADD got in the way, so I put it down and didn't finish it.

Thankfully, the Swedish movie version came out last weekend, and I heartily recommend it, especially for the striking performance by actress Noomi Rapace, who does an uncanny version of the character Lisbeth Salander. The first of three cinematic versions of the Millennium trilogy by the late, controversial leftist journalist Stieg Larsson, the movie grapples with violence against women, Nazi elements in Swedish society and corrupt business practices.

It introduced the punkified, tat-and-pierced hacker Salander, who's saddled with a sexually abused past, and journalist Mikael Blomkvist, editor of the muck-racking magazine Millennium. Their lives become intertwined when temporarily discredited Blomkvist is hired to investigate the 40-year-old disappearance of an aging Swedish magnate's niece.

Despite the black-and-studded garb of her character, Rapace projects a strange allure that lends both her performance and the film its credibility. She made an ideal choice for Danish director Niels Arden Oplev to work alongside veteran Swedish star Michael Nyqvist as Blomkvist. Daughter of a flamenco dancer and an actress, the 31-year-old Rapace has already tackled such difficult roles as the failed actress in 2007's Daisy Diamond, as she details in a recent roundtable interview.

Q: This is a very dark movie and Salander is a challenging character to play. What was the most difficult aspect of it for you? You were really into the character; are you anything like her?

NR: When I was done with those three films it was very strange. I'm never sick, but when the producers and everybody going to celebrate with champagne, I begin to throw up, and couldn't stop.

For an hour or so, I couldn't stand on my feet. It was like my body was just throwing Lisbeth out of me in a way; it was very strange. Everybody was a bit shocked because we had been working for one-and-a-half years and I was never sick….

Q: You did all three of the movies back to back?

NR: Yes. [When I was done] I didn't really know who I was; it was very strange when I walked out of the room. I have this Mohawk [haircut] in the third film, so both sides[of my head]  were shaved and I was walking out in real life and didn't really know, 'Who am I today? What have I become?' So it was strange, but good.

I like to let things go; I love to go on and to leave things, and I'm not so sentimental. I was supposed to play Medea, so one week later I began to rehearse Medea.

Rapace as Lisbeth SalanderQ: What was it like making that transition?

NR: Lisbeth pretty much helped me; it's like they're sisters in a strange way. I think that the rape scene was probably one of the hardest to do and to go into. The scene when he actually rapes me, but also the scene when I come back and rape him and torture him.

I expected the scene when he rapes me to be terrifying and horrible; it was, and I dreamt nightmares. It was like some kind of demon who sat in me in a way. But the scene when I came back, I didn't expect to feel the way that I did; I actually enjoyed doing those things to him and that was pretty frightening.

I felt some kind of dark force in me that actually liked to scare the hell out of him and I didn't expect that. It was like we went down to Hell and we were in this Hell for a week or something.

It's extremely important that you trust the director in those situations and that you can fully hand yourself over to the situation. I have to force away my vanity and try to just let go of control.

I hate when you see rape scenes in films where it's like entertainment, it's a bit charming or sexy in a sense. I hate that because I'm very sure that a rape scene in reality would be terrifying and horrible, and everybody who's gone through a situation like that knows.

My responsibility as an actress is to try and get every scene as credible as possible. You have to be on the edge, you have to force yourself all the way.

Q: Had you known anybody that had been abused or raped?

NR: Yes. When I was 20 one of my best friends had been abused.

Q: Did you read the books?

NR: Yes, a couple of years before.

Cover of The Book VersionQ: The chemistry between you and journalist Blomkvist [Nygvist] makes for a very unusual relationship because of the difference in age and background. But most surprising is when she seduces him. Is that typical for the women of Sweden [laughs]?

NR: They will come and knock on your door and seduce you [laughs].

Q: How did you feel about that? Did it feel right?

NR: Yes. I think that love is the most dangerous thing for Lisbeth and she actually falls in love with Mikael, but doesn't know how to behave. It's the first time and she doesn't have any weapons for that so that makes her very scared.

People can beat her up, rape her, do a lot of really bad things to her and she will always survive, she will always find a way to stand up and fight back. But when it comes to love she's terrified.

So I think the scene where she comes into him, she wants to have sex with him because of physical reasons, but also she’s emotionally connected to him. It’s also her way of protecting herself; when she’s done she’s got to go.

She can't stay with him because that would be emotional and then they would be close. It always has to be with her rules and she has to be the play leader in a way.

Q: How do you think American audiences will react to the rape scene?

NR: I think people all over the world will feel released in a way. It's very freeing. It's strange, but I think it's a pretty bright moment when Lisbeth actually fights back, and I think it's [relatable] worldwide. I think everybody can understand and can follow in that kind of situation.

When somebody has been abused and they fight back, there's always something good about that. In Sweden we have a huge problem with young girls and women harming themselves, cutting and burning themselves. It's much better to actually hate the one who has abused you instead of beginning to hate yourself.

Americans are like Swedes or European people in that sense, so everybody can feel some kind of revenge and some kind of energy in that scene. Lisbeth is aggressive, dangerous and full of hate, but she's also full of life, and I think you can feel that in a way. She wants to live, otherwise she would have been gone years ago.

Rapace and OplevQ: Your character is so convincing. Did the pierced, bisexual communities approach you to serve as their spokesperson?

NR: No, but Lisbeth did become a big icon in Sweden. I think that she in a way paved the way for many young people in Sweden. Also she opened up many things. She doesn't define herself as bisexual or heterosexual; I think that she's a very free spirit in a way and she’s very impulsive.

I think to open that up for many kids and young people in Sweden that it's okay to be different, we don't have to stick to the line, because Swedish society can be pretty hard to live in; you're supposed to be so many things and you're supposed to not stick out.

Swedish people are a bit repressed and stoic and they keep everything inside, and sometimes it's really difficult to know what people really feel and really think because they don’t show anything. And everybody’s trying to keep this nice, neutral, normal, surface, and you don’t know anything about what’s going on inside of them, and it can be pretty difficult to live in a society like that. So I think that Lisbeth has opened up things in a way.

Q: Those were real piercings; you did them for the sake of the film?

NR: Yes.

Q: You have had your own punk background.

NR: When I was 14, and 15, I lived in Malmö, Sweden, which is next to Copenhagen, Denmark. I was pierced and had white hair; I wanted to look like Nancy Spungen, Sid Vicious' girlfriend.

Q: Do you think Lisbeth was a victim like Nancy or did you find her intimidating?

NR: I love her; she's such a fighter. She has gone through so many terrible things, but she always finds a way to pull herself together and to stand up and to continue what she wants to do. I think that she doesn’t accept being a victim, but she is. The whole society, everybody has let her down, and everybody has treated her so badly, but she doesn’t feel sorry for herself.

I think that she is a victim in many ways but she refuses to be one. That was the thing that I really loved of her when I read the books. She's like a little warrior fighting her own personal war, and I love that.

Q: She was a combination of victim and intimidator. Was she intimidating? Or somewhere in the middle?

NR: Yeah, maybe someplace in the middle.

Q: How did you find a way to play that?

NR: I tried to not analyze her so much. I didn't do too much research, but I did a lot of preparation; I was preparing for seven months before shooting because I really wanted to transform my body. I don't like to fake things, so I try to do everything as far as I can as realistically as possible.

I trained and exercised, did a lot of kickboxing and Thai boxing, and was on a certain diet because I wanted to get a bit skinnier and a bit more like a boy in my body. I cut my hair and pierced myself, got my motorcycle driver's license, and it was like Lisbeth slowly grew inside of me and slowly I didn't think so much about it.

I always try to come to a point where I can let go of control when I’m shooting, so the director can be the man in charge, and can have control, and be sharp, and I can just free myself. I can't really see myself from the outside anymore so sometimes it's really hard for me to answer questions like who Lisbeth really was and where did I put her and so on, because it's sometimes like I was so deep into her.

Q: Truly into character.

NR: Also, I try to use myself as much as I can, dig from myself and translate things from me into the character. I can't come to work, put on Lisbeth's clothes and now I'm Lisbeth so now we can begin to work. It's more like I have to give her a place in me for the whole time. This was a year – we were shooting for a year – so it's more like I have to open up for her in me, and then she's with me 24 hours a day.

Q: In the film. Michael said to Lisbeth, "Friendship requires mutual respect and trust." How do you feel personally about that in regards to your real life? Is that statement true to you personally in life?

NR: Of course. Lisbeth doesn't have any friends so she doesn't know how to behave or how to act. I think that Lisbeth is the most loyal friend that you can every have; she will die for you. It's easy to be strong on your own, but it makes you vulnerable when you let people into your heart and into your life.

When I was younger it was difficult for me to have friends. It's always easier to be tough if you're the one who's making all the decisions and you're the one in charge. When you have a close friend or a boyfriend of a family member, you have to compromise in a way, and then you have to open up. I can understand Lisbeth in many ways.

Q: You did a scene in the hospital with your real mother. How was it seeing your mother play Lisbeth's mother and how was that for your mother? Had you ever acted with her before?

NR: No, that was my first time. Well, it was heavy. I said to Niels that I wanted him to meet my mother. It's a very short scene so we have to immediately get the audience to feel the energy between those two and we have to feel that they have a history. But Lisbeth's father has harmed her so badly so she's not working anymore, she's way out.

So it was extremely important that the audience could feel the strong relationship and the strong energy between them, even though she can't really talk and respond as normal people do. We have this history in my real life that we could use; my mother was in the hospital when I was a teenager, so we had things that we could dig from.

Q: You weren't afraid of that?

NR: Yes, I was. I'm afraid of things every day but I force a way through those things because it doesn't help you. I'm pretty much like Lisbeth in that sense; I try to play stronger than I am.

You have to go where the fear is, you have to face the fear in a way, and that it’s extremely important when you're making films; it has to be personal. I have to put it as close to myself as I possibly can.

Q: Do you feel the ending is believable when she goes through the sudden transformation from an outsider to a Julia Roberts-like foxy lady with a lot of millions?

NR: Yes, of course. She's like a chameleon; she can change and she's very smart. It's a uniform, this punk rock, emo message she's sending to the world. At the end of film she has to look a different way in order to get all this money so she can be whatever she needs to be.

She’s a very good actress; she can play every game in the whole world and transform herself. She's a survivor so it's a way of surviving.

Q: You're now a big star in Sweden on the verge of international stardom. Once you go through that door, you can never go back. Have you thought about what it means to you?

NR: Yes. My life has changed pretty much, and I think that last year [felt] like three years or something. I've been traveling so much, and I've done, I think, 1,000 interviews talking about this film, so it has changed my life already.

I don't see any value in being famous for being famous; I hate those celebrity parties. I don't want to be in every paper and I don't want everybody to know everything about it.

If you get too famous it can stand in the way of your acting and people will go to the theaters only to see this famous person, they won't go to see what kind of character you're playing.

It's a balance between how much you should and shouldn't do, and it's extremely important to keep some kind of secret. But most of the directors that I deeply respect and have changed my life are from the US or the UK.

Sweden is very small and I will leave Sweden one day because I always felt like some kind of outsider; I always felt a bit uncomfortable [there].

Since I was a kid I always felt like I didn't really fit in Swedish society, so I think I will leave. And if fame can help me so I can work with people that I deeply respect and whose work I love, that would be wonderful.

Q: Who are some of those people?

NR: Martin Scorsese; I love his films. Quentin Tarantino, Sean Penn, Christopher Nolan, Sofia Coppola. I can go on forever. I don't want to jump on the first big boat that comes so It's very, very important to stay on the ground and really listen to yourself because all of a sudden there are many people who want to explain to you what's good for you. I'm trying to stay true to myself.

For more by Brad Balfour:

Said Faraj of "Green Zone" on His Real-Life War

While director Paul Greengrass uses a shaky cam to lend grit and authenticity to Green ZoActor  Said Faraj (Seyyed Hamza) at the Green Zone Premiere in NYCne — his take on what really happened in the search for weapons of mass destruction at the onset of the Iraq War — actor Matt Damon gives it a human face. Damon makes his character, Roy Miller fret and sweat as the mission's chief warrant officer who goes off into the wilds of Baghdad.

Yet it's 43-year-old Said Faraj who gives the film its verisimilitude. With a life story right out of any war-torn Middle Eastern land, Faraj vests his character, the military adjunct to a top Ba'ath Party general, with his own personal perspective of having survived the Lebanese Civil War in the 1980s.

Born in Choueifat, Lebanon, Faraj was 13 when his Beruit-based family, members of the Druze reformatory Islamic sect, saw death and mayhem firsthand as warring militias vied for control of his homeland.

He humanizes his character, Seyyed Hamza, allowing us to see pro-Ba'ath combatants not only as brutal oppressors but as family men as well. Hamza is one degree of separation from the general who can explain where the WMDs may be. He's also the man who unlocks Miller's anger about their questionable existence. As a result, the exchanges between Hamza and Miller pack an urgency that give Green Zone its narrative punch.

Miller's improvised aide, a Shia Iraqi nicknamedDirector Paul Greengrass and actor Said Faraj Freddy, (played by Khalid Abdalla of The Kite Runner) plays out the notion of, “This is my Iraq, it’s my country. You Americans don’t have a connection to it.”

Through Hamza we see the conflict through a Sunni perspective. He's a military guy — sharp, ambitious and on the rise, one who can invite powerful people into his home. So it's all the more poignant when he gets brutally tortured in an American military prison and begs for his captors to protect his family if he gives the information demanded.

Like so many of the Iraq War films, Green Zone presents itself from an Western point of view. Yet thanks largely to Faraj's authentic performance, the film also invites Western audiences to understand the unfolding ordeal from Iraqi eyes.

Though the film was greeted by mixed reviews and lukewarm audiences, it deserves a viewing if for no other reason than for the many crucial questions it raises. In this exclusive interview, Said Faraj provides some equally compelling explanations.

Q: Your character shows the Iraqi side has a human face.

SF: One thing I wanted to [convey], was that regardless of the position I had -- that I am a high-ranking officer -- or of what we’re trying to do, the most important thing in my character's mind was that "I have a family [to protect]."

I separated the two things in my head; it's like, "Okay, he does this, but at the same time, he has a family, he's caring, and he loves them so much.

This was one thing that, no matter if somebody wants information, you need to protect [your] family because [your] family comes first, especially [your] kids. So it was very important, because over there, especially in that type of war, family comes first.

It was very important for this character to have the love so that he could do what he had to do and go as far as possible. I think when people watch the film, [they] forget what he does, [but have] sympathy [for] the fact that this guy has a family, and his job is to get them to a safe place.

As Seyyed HamzaQ: Were there debates among the cast and crew off-screen? Were you trying to understand the conflict yourself?

SF: My character is from the Ba’ath regime and a Sunni. Khalid [Abdalla]'s character is a Shia. That was a conflict to the characters which made it great. I have to admit it was very hard, because every time we finished shooting we would go out, have fun, go smoke hookah and drink some Moroccan tea.

In the morning... I'd focus so much on the job that needs to be done, and then it's done and I go and sit down on my chair. Matt would sit down and we'd chat a little bit and then I'd go to my room and go, "Okay, what is this guy's point of view and what does he care about and what does he want to do?" Again, it's family, family, family.

This is one of the first films that I really feel shows Middle Eastern characters who have families and how much they care. My character is really pressed so hard because it’s very important for people to know that we are really people who have families and have kids and care about them.

Q: How did you get connected to this film?

SF: My agent found out that they were casting for this film but that the role required a 65-year-old man. So he called me and said, "Cathy Sandrich is casting this film in New York called Green Zone. The role is for an older person, but it’s a very important person. Go audition for her and then you can get an audition and hopefully at least you can meet her."

This is how everything starts: I went over there. There were lots and lots and lots of people who auditioned for the film, and lots of offers went out for it. But I went to just go. [I] did the job, and I just want to give a big thanks for Sandra for her giving me the chance to work. And I thank Paul [Greengrass] for fighting for me so hard to get this role.
Green Zone  Poster
Q: So he changed the part?

SF: Yes, he thought a lot and was like, "This is who I want."

Q: Your character has to both fight for his family and be committed to the Iraq he knows; so what made it work?

SF: They needed a high-ranking officer and I was blessed with having this part of me that's charismatic. So I tried to portray him in a very manly, Middle Eastern way. That came out nicely. At the same time I went to an acting coach because I wanted that image but I needed to give an American touch to it so it would blend in.

You don't want him to be off the board, but at the same time you want a charm to come through. A very important part of the audition deals with my kid, and when I was auditioning, I was picturing one of my own kids [in that situation] so that really brought a realism into it.

Q: You're Lebanese, right? Though you speak Arabic, how good was your Iraqi accent?

SF: I had a fantastic technical advisor in LA, Sam Sako, and I went to him and told him I needed to have an Iraqi accent. I really needed his help and that I didn't have too much time because I just found out about it. I had two weeks and needed him to give me enough... so people at least know I'm Iraqi.

We were working on it and another technical adviser said, "No, no. This guy is a Ba’ath militia from Tikrit." I’s like going from, say if you are Chinese, speaking Mandarin, now you have to speak Japanese. And that's what happened; I only had a few hours to learn it and it was really, really brutal. I have to say that I worked really, really, really, really hard on my accent to represent the Iraqi people and the Iraqi language the best that I could.

Q: In that crucial scene with the Iraqi generals, you give a sense of who the general is, how everybody treats him and how those in authority express the right posture. He's not just a general, he's this Ba'athist leader. How did you get into it and look at the issues? Was there a discussion about how you'd play your interaction with Matt?

SF: I'll be honest with you, just being in that room [for that scene of Ba'ath officials with the general was enough]. Of course, they hired some Moroccan guys over there. Except [for the actor who played] his bookkeeper; he was 100% Iraqi and spoke as Iraqi as possible.

So the issue of it wasn't [discussed] because they didn't say much [to us] since they were speaking Moroccan among themselves. We had lots of dialog that we had to remember with that accent, so that accent as very important and each person was trying to really concentrate on it along with everything else. And it's amazing. What Paul enjoyed was every time we did a scene he'd want more and more. So I'm trying to add to what I needed to say.

Q: You came from Lebanon during its civil war. You have an understanding of the turmoil in the Middle East from your own life -- your own story could be made into a movie.

SF: Of course. I grew up in Lebanon and started fighting in the civil war at 13 with the Druze; I used all kinds of weapons and have fired more guns than you can imagine.

Q: Does that get you Israeli citizenship?

SF: Actually we're very well respected in Syria and in Israel. We go up there and they salute us, and in Lebanon we are all respected.

One thing that's very important about my religion is that we love the ground we live on and respect it so much and protect it with our heart, mind and soul. It doesn’t matter what the point of view of other people is, but it matters what we believe and we believe that if this is the place we’re staying at we need family, of course, god comes first, family and the land.

We put everything political on the side and this is what we do. I was fighting in the wars when I was 13 years old, and around 16 years old, it’s mandatory in Lebanon to go into the war. I was 16 years old and supposed to join the army, but I didn’t want to do that at all. My dad tried to get us down to Beirut, and at the time there was an American embassy in Lebanon, in 1983, and they were giving five-year visas to come to the United States.
We went over there at three in the morning because there were long lines; it was crazy. We stayed over there from three in the morning until three in the afternoon and what happened is that I went and I got my visa, and I was so proud to get it so that I could leave Lebanon with the mess that there is. I was the last person who got the American visa stamped, and walked out like 100 feet; then they came and blew the embassy up.

I saw everything in front of me; it was a horrifying scene. I went to the hotel and because I’m supposed to join the army, we needed to get an excuse to get me the ticket so I can leave. There was also a person who was Druze giving all the Druze at least 10 days to leave the country; they could do whatever they had to do. I went with my friends and cousin and we get this for 10 days, and that night they came and assassinated the guy.

I went back to the hotel and we found out that they assassinated him, so I got my ticket to come to the United States. My flight was supposed to be at seven o’clock in the morning and that night [factions were] bombing Lebanon; it was a really big mess over there. October 17, 1983.

We woke up at 12 o’clock in the morning and went to the airport. There were very few cars going to the airport since there were snipers; they shot at the front part of the car but my dad was zooming through the streets.

We get to the airport, and while we there we find out that the hotel we were staying at there were a few Druze guys who are my same age. They came and knocked at the room that I was in while we were at the airport. I was the only guy, by the way, who was 16 years old going to the United States on this airplane.

The most important thing was just to get on the plane. I hopped on the plane and we went from Lebanon to Jordan, which is 45 minutes away. We landed there, and let me tell you, my friend, that was the last airplane that left this airport. After that they bombarded the airport and it was closed until it was opened up a few years later. So I reached Jordan, called my parents and they're crying on the phone telling me what happened, and I went from there and flew to New York.

Q: You didn't speak English?

SF: Very little; I spoke French and Arabic. As you know, the embassy had just been attacked, so they were like, "Said Faraj. Please go over there to interrogation."

Portrait by William CouponQ: You’re probably one of the few actors in this movie who had a real experience with this kind of conflict and from an Arabic point of view.

SF: My brother died in front of me; so did some of my relatives and my best friends. I almost died three times. To top things off, when I reached New York and they interrogated me, thank God, after four or five hours I [was able] to fly to LA.

In my country people live according to their family's last name. I knew that I had an uncle that lived in North Hollywood, so I go over there. I asked the security guard at the airport to direct me to North Hollywood and he told me which bus to take.

I got over here with exactly in my pocket, $335. So the bus dropped me at the corner of Colfax and Riverside, and this is the best part. My dream is to really eat the real, hardcore American hamburger. The first minute I step my feet on the soil of American land I want to have a hamburger.

I’m looking around and my uncle is not there and I don't know what to do. There is a stand on the corner; that was the best hamburger. I was sitting on this bench eating a hamburger a day, sleeping on this bench for two-and-a-half weeks waiting for my uncle, who did not show up. I'm almost running out of money and I'm looking around — what should I do?

One street down there was an ESL [English as a second language] school that taught adults, and I start walking, thinking maybe I’ll meet somebody that has dark features, maybe they’ll speak Arabic. Fortunately, I found a Syrian guy and explained to him my story and asked if he could help me. Guess what? My uncle lived in one of the apartments that his relative owned, and he lived two blocks away. And now, 28 years later, I'm sitting here talking to you, my friend.

Q: So what did your father do?

SF: My father actually lived in Africa, in Monrovia, Liberia, and fixed typewriters and adding machines. He was kind of the right hand of Wlliam Tolbert, the old Liberian president that was assassinated. It's so funny because we grew up in Lebanon but they were over there in Africa because the education over there and the school system was really very poor.

Q: In Monrovia they had English-language schools; did you spend time in that area?

SF: I did actually for seven years, but separated. I was born in Lebanon, went to Africa, lived there until age four, then went back to Lebanon to live with my aunts. During the first Lebanese civil war in the mid-'70s we went to Africa for a couple of years, and then we went back to Lebanon.

Q: Where was the guy who played the general from?

SF: He’s an Israeli [actor, Igal Naor who was also in Rendition and Munich].

Q: I guess he had military experience too. But he's an Israeli. Of anybody in the movie, besides the American soldiers who went to Iraq, your experience is closest to that of the Iraqi people. Did you tell that to the book's author?

SF: When we went to Morocco I met Rajiv Chandrasekaran [the former Baghdad Bureau Chief for the Washington Post, whose book Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone inspired the film]. What a beautiful book.

Q: He’s South Asian and works for one of the big newspapers. Because he spent time in Iraq as a journalist, he knows all this bullshit about the parties and factions.

SF: I met him but didn’t have a chance to sit down and explain to him, "Okay, this is your story, but this is my story."

Q: But you never spent any time in Iraq?

SF: No. I'll tell you one thing; one of my dreams is to go see the Garden of Eden in Iraq, one of the wonders of the world. I really wanted to go.

Q: The irony is that the only ones who have actually been to Iraq are the American soldiers. How many in the movie were actually in Iraq?

SF: All of them.

Q: So basically this military group infiltrated Hollywood.

SF: Paul really wanted reality in this. He cares a lot about balance and real authenticity and respect to cultures, and really wanted genuine, hard core, to the max from the military. If you notice, he picked an area in the film that was really beaten up earlier.

By the way, my first name means "happy" and my last name means "hope." To tell you a good thing about Paul Greengrass, his last name means "spring."

Q: Did you tell him that?

SF: I didn't have the chance. At the premiere party I really wanted to talk to him and he just gave me a hug but we only had a very light chat because he was busy; I understand that.

Q: So where does the actor come in?

SF: In my country, we loved theater, and to this day, theater is our passion. After I found my uncle, I went to North Hollywood High School and graduated from there. I started looking for jobs and didn't have my papers with me so I had 22 jobs in two years. Every time they stared asking [about my papers, so] after a couple of weeks I was gone, and I went from one to another, one to another, but always the acting and entertainment was a passion that never stopped.

I went back to Miss Haver, my art teacher in school — that was in 1985 — and I asked her in 1988 what could I do and she told me this is exactly what I needed to do.

And believe it or not, my first job was a film produced, directed and starring David Hasselhoff, The Hoff. I just want to say thank you so much. It’s called W.B., Blue and the Bean, and they changed the name to Bail Out, and out of this film I got my Screen Actors Guild [card], and here I am after 21 years in the business.

Star Andy Garcia Makes a Home in "City Island"

Nestled up alongside The Bronx's mainland is the bridge-linked City Island, a sweet gem of a seaside neighborhood with the kind of New Yorkers you don't much see anymore. It's made up of classic borough working-class folks struggling to survive, and laden with family issues that don't usually make it into films populated with superheroes and otherworldly villains.

Andy Garcia smiles (photo: B. Balfour)Situated in this environment is the story of a troubled, middle-aged, prison-guard patriarch, Vince Rizzo (Andy Garcia), husband of Joyce (Julianna Margulies) and father to Vivian (Dominik García-Lorido) and Vince Jr. (Ezra Miller), who all have various issues of their own. Though his wife thinks he's having an affair, the only flirtation on Vince's mind is an acting career, and he's afraid if anyone he knows finds out he will endure endless taunting.

Manhattan-based director Ray De Felitta has made other local films, but this one really hits its mark as a fine dramedy, with heart, some twists and turns and unique touches. It hit its mark with festival audiences as well, having won the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival's Audience Award.

The 53-year-old, Cuba-born and Miami-raised Garcia has played his share of villains, Hollywood heroes and, in recent years, the lead in films he passionately supports not only as an actor but as an occasional director and sometimes as  producer. Though he was Oscar-nominated for The Godfather: Part III, he has really been driven by movies with authentic roots, such as the self-directed The Lost City (2005). He signed on to produce City Island  because he so connected to the story — understandably so, since it also stars his daughter Dominik.

Q: This is such a feel-good film. It's so rare that we get those types. What did it take to get it made?

AG: Well, Ray sent me the script — we share the same agency — and then my agent said, "There’s a script I read, Raymond wants to talk to you about it and you could produce it if you want."

So I sat and I read it and I had the same feeling that you guys had with the movie; I went, "Wow, what a beautiful script. You mean this thing is having trouble getting off the ground? What kind of world are we living in?" This is a beautiful script and I knew it would attract great actors because of the quality of the writing.

So we met and hit it off. We had a lot of similar interests in music and piano and all these things. I watched his movie Two Family House — which was terrific — and then I signed on. It’s easy to say romantically, "Hey, I’m a producer in the movie," but I’ve done six of these independent things and when you sign up to produce a movie, it’s a commitment you’re making to the director, to the piece and to yourself — to challenge yourself to get this thing made. I want to fulfill that challenge.

When you challenge yourself, you want to be successful, and not in terms of money. I’m talking about just the achievement, because the fact that the movie exists is success enough already. The fact that you’re going in saying, "We’re going to do this," you want to fulfill that.

So it’s not like anything that comes along I go, "Yeah I’ll produce it!" because it takes a lot of work. Unless you go to Warner Brothers, where they say, "Great script. When can you start?" That''s easier. But when you’re on your own, raising money from your dry cleaner, it's different.

Q: How is it producing in this economic environment?

AG: It's a very, very tough environment. Most of the independent distributors are gone, the ones that were part of the majors, the Warner Independent, Paramount Classics and all that, most of those closed down, so it's very difficult. It’s hard to raise money internationally if you don't have a distributor. The pre-sales are very soft, so it’s possibly the worst time to try to produce a movie. But yet again, here I go.

Q: What strings did you pull to put this movie together?

AG: Well, [how about] Alan [Arkin], Julianna [Margulies] and Emily [Mortimer]? They were friends and colleagues and I had worked with them before.

Q: Was it fun working with your daughter, Dominik García-Lorido?

AG: It was great. For us it’s like baking bread together. It’s pretty natural because we’ve ... worked together before. Of course I'm proud of her and look at her from a distance going, "She’s doing her thing." But it's like you want to also make it not a big deal like, "Hey, I’m really watching you," kind of thing.

First of all, she doesn't need my help. I need her help as much as she needs mine because as actors we need each other, so it’s as simple as that. You just let it be relaxed, have fun and do your thing. If there's an idea that I feel I can articulate to her or to a fellow actor or a fellow actor to me, I want people to be comfortable to express ideas. I'm not one of those actors who goes, "Mind your own business."

Jeff Bridges taught me that the first time we worked together many years ago in 8 Million Ways to Die (1986). I didn't know the man, but I played the antagonist to him, so my job was to make it miserable for him as much as I could. And the first thing he said to me was, "Hey man, if you have any ideas of something I could do that would make it better, please let me know." And I went, "Okay. Wow."

Q: He's like that, isn't he?

AG: He's the most generous individual and generous actor I’ve ever worked with. And he set a great example to me of how to behave as a protagonist in a movie. He always said, "I consider the protagonist really the most important supporting actor because I'm here every day and you've got guys coming in to a new set. It's my job to make them feel like, "Hey, man, come in here and let’s play and don’t worry about it. What do you want to do? Let’s just do it."

He's so supportive that way and it was a great lesson for me in one of my first movies. I feel that way; it's a collaborative art form. The most important thing in any creative collaboration is respect, and the deeper the respect, the deeper the love, and the deeper the generosity, the deeper you can go into hatred and all the other dark characters because you’re going in there together. You can push each other's buttons and at the end of the take go, "Hey man, that was pretty wild."

You went there together and it feeds you as a creative unit. You don't have to really hate the guy to hate him. So Jeff really personified that for me and it’s been a philosophy that I’ve adhered to and I've followed.

Q: Though your character didn't struggle too much because he gets a part right away, for non-actors just the audition, the huge line of actor wannabes, is unnerving, but at the same time…

AG: Funny.

Q: Did you struggle a lot?

AG: Oh, yes, very much.

Q: Was it like that?

AG: Pretty much like that. I had a lot of embarrassing auditions. I had a lot of struggle: years without even an audition, without agents. I was still going to class, I was doing improvisational theater. I was staying active in my craft. But I was making a living as a waiter or as a roofer or as a mover. I was not getting any acting work because, first of all, I didn't even have an agent that would pay attention to me. So for me it was very difficult for me to get an agent to begin with.

I moved to LA in '78, I started making a living as an actor in '85. So that was like seven years, and it was really like the last year-and-a-half that I actually had an agent and was making a little progress. The other six years or whatever were like Death Valley days; nothing was going on for me.

Q: Did you ever feel like giving up during that period?

AG: I had nowhere else to go. I had moments of insecurity. I had moments of sadness. And I had to really deeply soul-search; those years weren't always a party. They were lonely years. I was there alone, really. I had some friends I had made, but I wasn't around family, and wasn't married until '82.

It helped me when I got married. That empowered me more and grounded me more with my wife. We had Dominik right away. The first thing I did to make a little bit of a living is I used to do what they call "walla," which is the background voices on all the show. If you're in a restaurant scene, it's all those people. You go in as a group and you would do all those voices for the mixer to fill in, and I used to do that for Cagney and Lacey and other television shows. When they rerun you get a second check, so I used to do that two or three times a week with a group. Barbara Harris was the leader of the group. That kept me afloat and got my daughters in Pampers, and paid the rent. I was waiting to find a niche.

Q: Was acting the only thing you were interested in doing?

AG: That was it.

Q: How long did you know this?

AG: It was always in me as a young man, but I was involved in competitive sports all the way until my senior year in high school, baseball and basketball mainly. But in high school I concentrated on basketball, because the seasons overlapped and they wouldn’t let you play both sports.

Q: So you didn't go professional?

AG: Of course I wanted to play professional basketball, but the likelihood …  I was a little guy, I weighed 150 pounds. I'm about the heaviest I've ever been in my life right now and I'm not that heavy.

I was very good at point guard but had physical limitations ultimately. I could have played college ball at a small college but ... I got very sick my senior year with an illness that put me out, and during that time of limbo is when this other interest really grew. I was vulnerable for that other virus because it really was something in the pit of my stomach. I started feeling this kind of intense thing inside my body and I really related to it like a virus, like a huge cramping feeling that I needed to attend to, and it was this thing about acting.

Q: You must have found it ironic to play a character that wants so desperately to be an actor?

AG: There's a reason why I made this movie — because I related to him, I related to his dream. I remember there's one scene where I'm telling my son, Tony, played by Steven Strait in the movie, and he discovers me with this thing and I tell him I want to be an actor.

What's in the movie is the first take because the second take I started weeping, and the director said, "It might be too much. Would you be weeping in front of the son? You haven't even told him he's your son; would you be weeping in front of him? It might be too much because this guy’s so cramped up that he'd be evasive."

But I related to Vince so much that I had this reaction, and if you look at the movie again you see in the scene that it's there underneath and it's coming. He wants to be an actor but he doesn't think he knows anything about acting. He thinks he's terrible about it. He's insecure. He's embarrassed.

There's a great line that was an improvisation that always gets a laugh, and it's always very gratifying for me because I come from an improvisational background. When the character starts to speak, and Raymond was very good about saying, "This is yours. Go with it."

He knew that I worked that way a lot. When you stay out of the way of the characters, they start to speak for themselves. And there are some lines in the movie that come out that the character says that you can see the audience relates to because it’s not even Raymond or me or anybody, it’s the guy. There’s a moment where Emily says, "No, no. You channeled your son’s experiences and incorporated them into yours. That’s acting," and I said, "That acting? You can do that in acting?"

And that's just him; that's just me in it there and that's what came out. There’s another one at the end where I kiss him and I say, "You're my son now, you’re my boy now, I’ve got you now," and then I turn around, and I turn to Dominik and I say,"Hug your brother." That just came out. At that point you’re just a vehicle for the guy who is in it.

Q: Dominik said that in the scene in the cul-de-sac you decided to play it straight. Was that how it was written in the script or how you worked it out?

AG: There was no rehearsal in this movie. The first scenes we shot in the movie, we sat around the dining room table in the morning, they brought the pasta, I looked at Julianna and she looked at me and said, "Here we go," and that was it. [There were] two cameras, we kept moving them around, shot the two scenes and went home.

Q: In 27 days?

AG: 27 days. But that scene is basically as written, aside from these little embellishments and things that come up. I knew that this scene was designed, for me anyway, as sort of farcical. All the stories are coming together, everybody's coming in and out of the door, the stories being tied together in this one scene. I knew that it was my responsibility in the comedic structure of the movie and the comedic structure of the scene to drive this scene. If I didn’t drive the scene it would just lay flat because it was just too much information, too many storylines to complete.

I knew that I needed to hit it because I was at the center of the vortex. After we did the scene inside the house where he runs away, I knew that when I hit that street we had to be powerful until I finally say, "I walked out on you."

So I knew that was the way it needed to be played; that was just my own thing. Other than that it was in the material, the relationships were there, and you’re in it. But you make that directorial choice in a way of how the scene should be designed.

Q: I've always liked how you make your characters really organic in your films. How do you get into these characters to make them so real?

AG: Thank you. My training has been one to try to personalize the characters and find the parallels in my own life, to feel their emotional weight, their joys, pains, whatever. I try to strive for a sense of truth in the work and stay present in the moment and be free and relaxed and spontaneous and take my performance as much as I can from my fellow actors. You just got to stay in the moment and make sure the stakes are high, and the only way the stakes can be high is that I try to do as little acting as possible, basically.

Q: Do you have a favorite role of the many you've done over the years?

AG: This one's pretty close. But it’s like children; you’ve got to be careful when you pick a favorite child. But this character was ... unique. First of all, I'm playing against type because I've played a lot of gangsters or tough guys. People who know me see me in a much goofier, looser fashion, but you get known for a certain persona, thank god, because it’s a job, but you get typecast to that persona.

Q: What's next?

AG: I did a movie called Georgia directed by Renny Harlin, about the conflict in Georgia. I played the President, Saakashvili. I might have done something else; my memory is so bad. Right now I’m involved in a script that I wrote called Hemingway & Fuentes, with Hilary Hemingway, who is Ernest's niece, about the relationship between Hemingway and Gregoria Fuentes, who was the captain of his boat for the last 20 years of his life. I'm going to direct that. I've committed to trying to raise the money for that.


For more by Brad Balfour:

Newsletter Sign Up

Upcoming Events

No Calendar Events Found or Calendar not set to Public.