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Ed Helms' Happy "Hangover"

It may not have played a lot of film festivals, other than the Old Town Taito International Comedy Film Festival in Japan, but the rude, raucous and surprisingly very funny bro comedy The Hangover did make it onto at least one august film body's top-10 list of 2009: No less than the American Film Institute placed it on a rostrum that includes the likes of Up in the Air, Precious and The Messenger. This, for the cinema's second-highest-grossing R-rated comedy? Hang that on your critical clothesline!

Variety announced back in July that director Todd Phillips has the go-ahead to shoot a sequel, with production commenting October 6, 2010, for a Memorial Day 2011 release. With The Hangover now out on DVD, what better time than to revisit Ed Helms, who stars with Justin Bartha, Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis in this comic misadventure about the aftermath of four friends' inadvertent drug-blackout in Las Vegas.

Helms, who plays the obnoxious Andy Bernard on NBC's The Office, is in person actually a pretty nice guy. Born and raised in Atlanta, Ga., he first rose to fame as one of the satiric "correspondents" on comedian Jon Stewart's faux-news program The Daily Show.

In The Hangover, he plays a bland dentist bullied by his girlfriend (Rachael Harris) and who, with his buds, must deal with a lost night, a found tiger, a baby, marriage with a stripper (Heather Graham), and Mike Tyson lip-syncing Phil Collins.

FL: Your character through most of the movie has a missing tooth, which happened during their missing night. How'd they do the effect? CGI?

EH:  No, it's not CGI. I'd gotten an implant when I was a teenager, and cut to 20 years later, this part and this movie called for a missing tooth. And I asked my dentist and he was able to take it out!

FL: Ah, c'mon. For real?

EH: I'm dead serious! And if you really look closely, it's pretty clear it's real. When (the idea) originally came up, we did camera tests with some alternative processes. We tried to black it out and then they made a prosthetic that sort of covered my teeth but had a gap in it, which it made me look like a donkey, so I vetoed that. We were sort of talking about losing the joke altogether and I said hold on a second, and that's when I called my dentist. And it worked! It would have been really expensive to digitally remove it.

FL: Speaking of that, were you ever physically on the set with the tiger, or digitally inserted later?

EH:  It was an actual tiger and I was on the set with the tiger – actually three tigers. You can't work with a tiger for longer than a certain amount of time, so they had three of them there. We were on set with them together way more than we should have been!

FL: How close does one get to a tiger?

EH:  Bradley fed the tiger a baby bottle full of chicken blood. I am not kiddin'! I was sitting next to Bradley when he did that. That's actually not in the movie, oddly enough. But it was ridiculous – it's a baby bottle full of blood, for God's sake! And the tiger is slurping on the bottle nipple, and it's chicken blood! Strange [laughs]. That was routine, to be, like, two or three feet away. Routine and crazy, let me put it that way.

FL: Routine and crazy – the actor's motto.

EH:  That sort of typified the movie – the utterly insane became mundane [laughs]. At all times the tiger was on a leash and it was quote unquote restrained by a trainer. However the tiger weighed three times more than the trainer and the leash might -- might -- have been able to hold a border collie.

One of the first nights that we worked with the tigers ... all the trainers were way more nervous than usual. And of course it turns out tigers hunt at night. So at night they get basically, like, horny for murdering humans. It was really sketchy because they were in their trailer pacing and grunting and snorting and there was just something really foreboding about the whole night. We only lost about six crewmembers… [jokes]

FL: I assume the Humane Society was on set.

EH:  Sure, yeah. Even for the chicken [the guys find in their room]. They're on the ball. There's a lot of supervision. But they looking out for the animals, not for the actors!

FL: What was scarier, the tiger or  Mike Tyson?

EH:  The tiger. Mike Tyson was just great.

FL: A pussycat, you might say.

EH: I'm not sure I'd go that far! [

FL: How do you channel your inner asshole to play Andy Bernard on The Office?

EH:  That's exactly what I do – I just channel my inner asshole, I guess. That character is really just an amalgamation of every asshole I've ever known and everything that I find annoying in other people or that I'm insecure about in my own life or find annoying about myself. I just sort of heighten all that with Andy. The fun thing about him, too, is he's not self-aware at all and yet he's incredibly earnest. It's really fun.

FL: In the middle of The Hangover, your character sits at a piano and sings this song recapping the movie so far. How'd that come about?

EH:  That was really cool, actually. That piano was just on the set, and I used to sit at it and just play around and make up stupid songs to try to make the crew laugh between takes or whatever. And Todd [Phillips, the director] was really tickled by that and said, "Hey, we should put that in the movie – there's a prefect place for it right after you guys roofie the tiger where the narratives kinda needs to take a breath. Why don't you write a song and we'll stick it in there?"  So I went off and wrote the song in about an hour and we shot it right then.

FL: You were raised in Atlanta. Where you born there?

EH:  I was born in Piedmont Hospital [a major hospital in northeast Atlanta] and grew up in the same house my whole childhood. My parents just moved out of the same house where I was raised.

FL: In suburban Atlanta or in the city?

EH:  Very much Atlanta proper.

FL: What did your family do?

EH:  My dad was an attorney and my mom worked at a school in Atlanta. She was a development coordinator – a fundraiser kind of person [at] a school for kids with learning disabilities in Atlanta.

FL: And you got your start as a comedian in New York after college?

EH: Yeah. I studied film at Oberlin [College, in Ohio] and then moved to New York City and started doing standup right away. Actually I started [while] in college – I lived in New York City (during) my summers.

FL: After college you worked at a film post-production facility, as your day-job?

EH: Actually, I stated out doing technical support for Avid [film-]editing systems, because I was way into editing and stuff from my studying film in college. So I was trained as an Avid support tech. Through the company I worked for I would service these post-production companies. And one of them hired me because I was always there and always fixing their machine. So they hired me as an assistant editor … at a sort of boutique little company called Crew Cuts that catered to high-end advertising. It was super fun – we worked on a lot of really cool commercials. A lot of the Super Bowl commercials came to our shop.

And I was way ahead of the curve since I knew all of the hardware and  software. Then I just had to learn the drill of being an assistant editor and eventually I  became what's called a cutting assistant, where I was actually editing some commercials.

FL: That's when you started doing voiceover work, which is how you then made a living.

EH: Yeah, I would put my voice down on all the commercials I worked on, as a placeholder while I worked on it, and I started to book a couple of accounts that way. And I actually got an income from that at a certain point, and realized this could enable me to quit working full-time so I could be in the comedy clubs all night.

FL: What was that like, starting out as a standup comic?

EH: When you start out, your first five, six years in New York City, you're doing just the shittiest shows. A lot of open mics, a lot of amateur nights. A lot of shows you do when you start out aren't even at comedy clubs – they're at bars where comedians made a deal with the owner to have an open-mic night, and so comedians produce these shows all over the city and you try and get into the loop and into the network, and everybody's kinda putting each other up in each other's show.

I ran a show at the Boston Comedy Club on Third Street in Greenwich Village, and there was also this crazy place called Surf Reality that was more of a performance-art place. They had this famous open-mic night run by this guy called Faceboy and you would go up and do eight minutes of standup and after you would be some weird guy chanting and piercing his nipples onstage or something.

And it was totally insane yet totally supportive.  Like it was all there just for the artist, for the performers. We had a lot of  comedians down there along with crazy performance artists.  It was an inspiring, weird, distinctly New York joint.

Oscar Winner Robert De Niro Makes Sure Everybody's Fine

On the heels of his Kennedy Center Honors (along with Bruce Springsteen, Dave Brubeck, Mel BrookRobert De Niros, and Grace Bumbry) this last week of December, 2009, legendary actor Robert De Niro can be seen on the silver screen again. While he's being lauded for past laurels, he's also garnering kudos for his latest film, Everybody's Fine, a comparatively modest work that has recently been released after making a festival circuit tour — most recently, it had a special feature screening at the 2009 Denver Film Festival.

Based on Oscar-winning director Guiseppe Tornatore's 1990 hit Italian film, Stanno tutti bene (which starred Marcello Mastroianni as an Italian bureaucrat on a veritable travelogue across Italy in search of his adult children), English director Kirk Jones transfers the story to the States and De Niro.

The 67-year-old actor plays retired widower Frank Goode who used to string telephone wire -- a job that encouraged interaction -- but is a guy not good at communicating or even knowing what's going on with his kids. When his wife was alive she handled his quartet of kids; now, as adults, they are spread across the country, so Frank goes on a surprise tour to re-connect with them.

Though the narrative falls flat at times, De Niro makes up for it with his passion and understanding of his character. And the interplay between him and the trio of actors playing his kids — Drew Barrymore, Sam Rockwell and Kate Beckinsale — is authentic and affecting. A great turn this late in his career, De Niro shows a softer side and redeems himself for some of his recent, lesser movies.

Ever since he established himself through his breakout performance in 1973's Bang the Drum Slowly, De Niro has racked up quite a track record of cinematic achievements — culminating in various Oscar nominations and two wins. In 1974, De Niro received an Academy Award for best supporting actor for his role in The Godfather: Part II and won Best Actor for Martin Scorsese's 1980 boxing film, Raging Bull. The New York-born and bred De Niro has made a unique partnership with fellow Italian-American Scorsese, establishing quite a catalogue together from 1973's Mean Streets to the two Oscar noms for Best Actor in two of Scorsese's greatest films, Taxi Driver (1976) and Cape Fear (1991).

In 1993, De Niro made his directorial debut with the touching A Bronx Tale, and he later directed the epic CIA historical film The Good Shepard. Now De Niro heads his own production company, owns various restaurants and other real estate in lower Manhattan, and, in response to the 9/11 attack, co-founded the Tribeca Film Festival.

At least in Everybody's Fine, he plays neither a character who kills someone or a parody of Robert De Niro as either a crook or cop who kills someone. Instead, he has made a seasonally appropriate movie about a parent's loss and the enduring relationship with his adult children.

Getting De Niro to speak on much of anything is a bit of trick — not unlike his character in this film. So when a crop of journalists sat down for an Everybody's Fine press conference with Jones and actor Sam Rockwell and this the veteran New Yorker, they were seriously tested.

De Niro deferred to Jones unless they were directly addressed to him (and Rockwell wasn't asked much anDirector Kirk Jonesyway). Fortunately. enough questions were asked to produce some decent answers, but nobody will ever call Bob De Niro long-winded....

Q: When did you get involved with the process of making this film?

RD: Kirk and I had a meeting and he told me the story and what it was based on. He had photos of the whole project  — the traveling across the country — and I was impressed with how passionate he was about the project. I could see that he was special and doesn't do movies often. This will have been his third [after two long hiatus between each of his other films, Nanny McPhee and Waking Ned Devine]

So that informed me obviously [about how] he cares so much. I saw the original [Italian film] and [Kirk's] other two movies, and then I read the script. We then just decided when to do it.

Q: How does your personal life affect the roles you pick and the way you play them?

RD: Obviously, I related to Frank and drew on my own experiences like I do in all my parts. You draw on whatever's relevant to the part you're playing; it makes it more personal. There was a lot here of course.

I have five children, and two grandchildren. But also, going back to Kirk being the director and his caring [about the project], that's the anchor of the whole thing [here]. So that's really, really important.

Q: More important than the role itself?

RD: Well, yeah. It's not more important but it's equally as important. He has to steer the ship, it's his baby, so he's got to make choices and all that. I put myself in his hands so to speak.

Q: You watched the original Italian movie; how did you relate to the Marcello Mastroianni character? What do each of the fathers have in common?

RD: It was just a different type of movie. I love Mastroianni. Since I was kid I always watched his movies. He's been in great films, part of the great Italian tradition, obviously. But it was a different thing, totally. Kirk made it his own. The structure was there and all that stuff. But it was totally different.

Q: Possibly the most moving moments in the film are when we see Frank's telephone calls to his kids. When was the last time you heard a busy signal? Do you get nostalgic for those times or are you into the techno-gadgets?

RD: [Like] Twitter?

Q: Do you tweet?

RD: I don't Twitter. Somebody told me about it. I didn't know what it was.

Q: How do you feel about new technology?Robert De Niro

RD: I only know how to use a computer. I don't even know how good I am at it. I slowly use the little things and get e-mails and look at videos on the computer and use an iPhone. I guess I use it adequately.

Q: Did anything in this movie remind you of an experience you had with your own father  — after all he was a major abstract expressionist painter — or as a father with your own children?

RD: My father was pretty easy on me about what I wanted to do, to be an actor and stuff like that. My grandfather was much more strict, more old-school, old-time Italian than my father ever was. That was my impression of him.

My father came from that to New York City to get away from certain things, and they raised me kind of easily. And the fact that I wanted to be an actor, well, that was okay with them and my father.

And I try not to be too strict with my kids because certain things they have to do. But at the same time I don't want them to get away with anything. But I think I try to rationalize with them, and argue, "Now look I'm very good with you about certain things unless you do this. You have to now do this. That's only fair."

Of course, there are times when that stuff doesn't work. I'm not the all-knowing, all-seeing... But in general it works pretty good.

Q: You mean like the curfew kind of things?

RD: I don't put a curfew — you know, [I tell them] "do this" — I'm flexible with certain things that the kids have to do. It's not like a curfew where they have to go to sleep at a certain time.

Q: Do you approach your comedic work differently than your dramatic work?

RD: Well, this is a more gentle sort of — what would you call it — comedy than say, Meet the Parents. It's more of a dramedy.

Q: You've worked on every scale of film from mega-productions to an indie-budgeted one like this film, as a producer, director or an actor. What's the difference in working in indies versus large films?

RD: Well, the difference is you have more time. When you have more — just a lot more — then there are a lot more people on the set, a lot more trucks, [and such]. It's a big production. I don't know. I mean, making movies that are very simple, ultimately  — I always wonder when I walk around a big movie and you see all these trucks and this and that — I think, "Just to get this, you've got to get all these people."

And of course, those are only certain movies that do that. It was good. This to me is a normal time to shoot — I think we shot eight weeks? So eight weeks is a pretty good schedule. It's an independent film. An independent is going to be less than what goes on this film I think. It costs less to make. And a shorter schedule, like five weeks. Four weeks.

Q: Will you be doing more films like this?

RD: I will.

Q: Do you have some things in mind?

RD: Some, yeah...

Q: You signed a deal with CBS for three pilots to be shot in New York City. What kind of shows do you watch and will we see you taking a part on television?

RD: Maybe. I don't watch much TV other than the news. Really. I'm busy and I'd rather be reading and doing stuff. There's good television. I just don't watch a lot of it.

Q: So your interests are in producing?

RD: Yeah, we're producing these shows. That is — that's good. But to this point — and once those start happening I will watch them. Work on them. But in general before that, I'm not that tuned in to television and such. But there's a lot of good stuff.

Q: Are you doing another Meet the Parents?

RD: We're doing a third one  — Meet The Little Fockers.

Q: You've built a career on playing tough guys, gangsters, police officers. How important is it to you to do something different, something softer? Do you think about how people perceive you from movie to movie; does that concern you at all?

RD: No, some people do that and sometimes I play off that because it's a certain thing you do — you can make fun of it in certain movies. Like in Meet the Little Fockers, it's also titled, orThe Godfocker. And I asked Greg [Glienna, one of the writers] — because I have a feeling if something happens to me — will he [De Niro's character Jack Byrnes] be the Godfocker?

Q: The film deals with lots of adversity in many ways. Do you have any ways that you deal with adversity in your own life?

SR: Depends on the adversity, I guess. I do different things to calm myself down. Exercise. That's a good thing. [There are] different ways to battle adversity. I can't think of any other ones [right now].

Q: You've dealt with a lot of adversity. You've overcome 9/11 nearly devastating your beloved Tribeca. How do you deal with it?

RD: Which adversity are you talking about?

Q: Any adversity...

RD: I'm here, aren't I?


Emily Blunt in the Time of "The Young Victoria"

One of the great things about English actress Emily Blunt is that she carries no vestige of her characters beyond the set — especially since she played the British Queen Victoria.

At her roundtable interviews for The Young Victoria, she showed no royal imperiousness, no contempt of the masses, no unwillingness to answer questions that didn't please her. But her characterization of the youthful Victoria was so dead-on in the award-worthy The Young Victoria that you'd have expected her to be a royal pain.

It takes a fine actress to make interesting the story of a young princess who has basically been a prisoner in her own home, trapped by her mother, the Duchess of Kent and lover/consort, Sir John Conroy. When they try to force her to give control of the crown to her mother, she resists. On her 18th birthday, she becomes the Queen — but the power really shifts to her once King William, her uncle, dies shortly after her birthday.

Of course, Blunt's onscreen intensity is what makes the 26-year-old actor such a hit in the films she's made from her breakout role in The Summer of Love (2004) as a well-educated, cynical and deceptive 16-year-old beauty, Tamsin. She went on to have key parts in such films as The Devil Wears Prada, The Jane Austen Book Club, Charlie Wilson's War and Sunshine Cleaning but nothing has brought her to such public attention as this film about the English monarch who reigned the longest and changed her country's culture. Blunt's already been nominated for a Golden Globe and a BAFTA award for Best Actress — and she's expected to garner a few more award noms, including one for an Oscar.

Q: How aware were you of the Victorian period? What were your prior impressions, and how did they change?

EB: I actually had a rather limited knowledge of Victoria and Victoriana — how they created that — and of her and Albert together. I had the image of her as the old lady who's mourning and dressed in black.

I had no idea about the antithesis of that, when she was young, rebellious, spunky and bright, and she partied all night. It was these elements of her that I never imagined possible, so when I started reading about all of that, I was very surprised to hear about the character traits I never thought were there.

Q: What did the director Jean-Marc Vallée or the producers do to inform you? Was it just what you got from school?

EB: I had no idea, because I took geography, which I thought was the easiest subject compared to history. I took geography and can't remember any of it. It was probably a stupid thing to take because I think history would have been a better way to go. It certainly would have helped me more with this. But maybe not; we have a whole lot of kings and queens, so I think that I probably would have only known a paragraph about her anyway beforehand.

It was really fascinating to read about what they did together, really mainly under Albert's influence, because he was very educated in all these departments — social reform, architecture and the arts and the sciences — and what they did for [curing] poverty. They were very progressive in what they wanted to do for the country.

Q: How did the producers help you?

EB: [Screenwriter] Julian Fellowes is a historian really; you can't try out history on Julian Fellowes because he will nail you every time. So it was very helpful talking to him and then reading books that he had encouraged me to read: biographies, diaries of hers and letters. The diaries were most helpful to me, because you can learn as much as you want about this history, you can read about it out of your own interest, but it doesn't necessarily help me with trying to play this person.

At some point, you have to drop that and make it your own. Another actress would have read the same diaries and had a different take, so it was just my personal take on her, what I felt I could identify with, what I thought was important to bring across.

Q: Was it hard to keep that balance to make her relatable?

EB: It's interesting... I wanted it to be accessible because I feel period dramas can be quite staged almost, and stiff and arch, and I think that that stops people from actually getting in and identifying with what's going on. At the same time, you don't want to risk losing those constraints because then you lose the whole nature of the implications of what happens if you do a certain thing in that period. And if you've lost any of those constraints and any of the world then it doesn't become relevant.

It is a tough balance but Rupert [Friend, who played her husband Albert] and I approached it very similarly. I was very lucky with him because he is such a natural actor, so we fed off each other trying to make those moments incredibly real. Love is this thing that is all about emotions and instinct, and so you can have this flowery dialogue, but at the end of the day, instinctually, it's about love.

Love is timeless and I think that we really strive for that, to fight against the dialogue, fight against the costumes, to try not to be swallowed up by the sets and the opulence of it. I thought this was a love story, but I also thought it was a film about a dysfunctional family and about a young girl who's in a job where she's in way over her head. So I tried to approach it in a way that I could understand. I have no idea what it's like to be Queen of England.

Q: Did you feel the chemistry was there between you and Rupert or did you only see it when you saw the film?

EB: I think you know it [from the start]. Rupert and I met and we just got on so well and that really helps. When you have a genuine liking for that person it gives you a freedom within the scene to try stuff.

There's a lot of trust there so you can improvise moments and they come alive, and sometimes you strike gold and sometimes it's like watching paint dry, but at least you can try it because you have the trust there with that person.

Rupert was wonderful, and it's just because he was the only guy to play that job because he was so perfect as Albert. He was the last person that came in to read and I was like, "Thank God," because he just blew it out of the water; he was so fantastic.

Q: Lord Melbourne — her early advisor and friend who helped before she got involved with Albert — was the other major male relationship in Victoria's life. He is so incredible — what a dynamic between the two of you.

EB: It's a really interesting relationship because Melbourne was sort of everything to her. He was a father figure, she was infatuated with him in a slightly teenage way, but she didn't have those romantic feelings towards him. It was more sort of a teenage crush that developed into very much a real friendship.

She had a real love for him but at the same time he was manipulating her and was toying with that, but he actually ended up having a huge amount of respect for her when he realized he couldn't do that anymore, the tables turned.

So it was an interesting dynamic to get because you wanted to see that there was a threat to Albert, but at the same time that nothing shady was going on. So he was great with that pull because he'd add elements of being vaguely flirtatious but not seedy, and you could see he really liked her but it wasn't that he was completely trying to sabotage, or use her as a pawn.

It was a very complicated dynamic to get [right] and it was mainly on [Paul Bettany] to create that. He created it because it should always have been ambiguous as to what that relationship really was. I thought he was great; it was very delicately done.

Q: Did the corset help you find your character?

EB: It's very good in that it transports you to moving a different way, holding yourself differently. You do have to kind of glide with it, so I think it does help me. I usually try and approach characters in that way, I mean everyone's very different, but I find the physical aspects of creating that person very helpful, like the costumes, the clothes, the way they move, the voice, and everything like that. I usually start from that point.

Q: Did you ever faint wearing those corsets?

EB: I got close to it. Miranda Richardson [who played Victoria's mother, the Duchess of Kent] was the one who had the closest call, after claiming she was amazing in the corset and that she could take it as tight as anyone wanted. We call it in the UK, she "pulled a whitey;" she literarily went white. She was sitting at the table and she was talking and she suddenly just went… and she was like, "Get me out of it!" and had a panic attack.

I was alright; I got very used to it and by about four o'clock, that's when it starts to hurt. But they look beautiful so you've got to just suck it up, really. Or suck it in, as they say.

Q: One of the most powerful scenes was between her and King William. Was he as entertaining in real life?

EB: Oh he's so entertaining. She did adore her uncle; he was always wonderful to her and very much a father figure. She was kept back from seeing him and that was always very sad for her. She was kept from seeing anyone. It was really an oppressive, lonely childhood.

There was one story I read about that she was walking with her mother in the gardens — and her mother was reluctant about being there with King William — and he came past in his carriage and just picked her up and they went on this crazy ride around the gardens in his carriage. So that was her outlet, going to see him. But Jim Broadbent [as King William] is absolutely as fun as you can imagine. He's really wonderful. That's my favorite scene in the film, that dinner scene.

Q: What do you think you'd do if you lived in that time?

EB: It's almost an impossible question because I have no idea. I would hope that I could be as forward-thinking as she was. She went against protocol and she was determined to make things better and she overrode tradition. I thought that that was a really wonderful quality for her, and surprising that she had the guts to do it.

It probably helped her not growing up at court amongst those stately manners, from the mannerisms to the etiquette, and I think that she was kind of a loose cannon in a room like that. She had a horrible temper, which correlated as well to how passionate she was as a character. I think that she was a modern girl and that she was independent, so I would hope I wouldn't be manipulated and controlled in a way that a lot of women were in those days.

Q: What about handling fame and wanting to be a young person?

EB: It's funny because I think it is all about choices, from the choices you make as to where you want to go and eat dinner, like don't go to the scenes, don't go to where you know people are going to take your picture. Just find a dive bar. Why do you have to go to a scene?

Are you talking about me or Victoria? It's a similar thing.

It's interesting. You have to develop quite a thick skin because people are going to trash you. Not everyone's going to think you're great. I think that that's important to remember… You've got to relinquish that and just let it go, because you have no control over that side of it – of people's opinions – but I do have control over how much I put myself out there.

I feel that in a way I now lead a similar existence to what Victoria led, although certainly not under the amount of pressure that she was under. I have a good life. It's not compared to the ridicule that she was put under, but I think it's that sort of element of a dual existence. You have yourself at home behind closed doors and then you have an awareness [of something else] when you step outside the house. For me, it's only an awareness. It's no more than that.

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Q: Celebrities are always complaining about the downside of dealing with fame and attention and paparazzi.

EB: It's a really magical job, so the side effect of what comes with that can be good and bad. But what I get out of it is the work. It's not whatever people think of me because with that comes bad and that willingness to see you fall as well.

A lot of people like to see a fall from grace. There's a real hunger for that. I'm aware of that, so I try not to buy too much into what people think. But as long as I keep getting the parts that I've been lucky enough to play… The variety is what I really strive for, because that's what I love about the work.

It's a wonderful job in that everything you go through in life can come out in it somehow. You can have a visceral reaction to so much in life and then put it into your work.

Q: What was your impression of Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York [former sister-in-law of Britain's Prince Charles], and did you get to meet any other real-life royals?

EB: Sarah was a great support system because she came up with the initial idea, but then she very much took a back step and said, "What do I know about making a film? I know nothing about that."

But she'd come on set and make tea for everyone. She was always so open and down-to-earth; I think that you were able to see the humanity in the royal family through her because she would talk quite openly. In a way, she identified more with Albert because Albert was the guest in the house and the outsider, and she actually understood his character more.

Q: I want to know more about Fergie. She actually came on set and made tea?

EB: She only came on set twice. She really wasn't around once we started filming. She was very tenacious with Graham [King, producer of the film] in getting it off the ground, but once we started making it, she was just thrilled to be a part of it. I only got to know her after, when we started doing press.

Q: How do you think the royals will react to this movie?

EB: The Queen saw it; she liked it. She said she wants to know what happens next. So that was good.

Q: Did you get to meet her?

EB: No I've never met her.

Q: Though you haven't met the Queen, what is your imaginary scenario of getting to meet her Majesty.

EB: I'm sure I would botch it up somehow. I'm sure I'd forget to curtsy, or I don't know what I would do. I'd probably say the wrong thing; I might drop an F-bomb, it could all go wrong. I think it would be nice to meet her in this context because I've played a queen and I think I'd feel more at ease meeting her in this contextQ: Did you hear that Lady Gaga met The Queen?

EB: Did she meet the
Queen? She did not! What was she wearing? Are you serious? Unbelievable. Unbelievable./p>

Q: You've done another movie people were talking about — Sunshine Cleaning. it had an early buzz that's going to get revisited.

EB: Oh that's nice. It's funny because Sunshine Cleaning was the one that we didn't know what was going to happen with it. I thought it was a great little movie and I met one of my dear friends on it, Amy, and we just became such good friends. But again, it's with those little films that take off, it gives me hope I think for the industry, that these films will be seen, at least see it on dvd for god's sake.

Most people have seen Sunshine Cleaning now, which is great. I hope it does get revisited because people really enjoyed it. It was a film with real heart. It had a human heartbeat to it and I thought it was a really well-observed, sisterly relationship the script offered. 

It's again about a dysfunctional family I think, and about a family under duress, and I love the survival element of that family. It was great; Alan Arkin playing my dad, you can't go wrong.

Q: There's a lot of buzz about The Wolfman. Why has it been delayed?

EB: Because there are special effects with a film like [The Wolfman] — and it's a big movie — you can't accelerate its release date, it's not fair. It just needed some more time, they needed to cook a little more. But the film is so good so I'm really happy that they waited and I think it's the best time for people to see it. 

This fall is all about the awards seasons and all that, but I don't know if it's that kind of film. It's not; it's a werewolf movie. It's a brilliant one because it's more of a throwback to the old Lon Chaney films. It's classic and gothic and eerie, but I don't think it competes with the slasher movies in that way because I think it's better. 

It was a combination of reasons, but again, I don't really see it as anything to do with me; I did my job, they loved the movie. I almost feel this is the best time because I feel like more people are going to see it in February anyway.

Q: Do you know why they brought in the new editors?

EB: No. I mean I don't know what happens behind those scenes. It's important to get as many influences as possible with a film of that scale, with that much effects that need to take place.

Q: Of the two genres — werewolf movies and costumed historical dramas — what do you watch more of?

EB: Oh this one. I don't do scary films; I'm not great with scary movies.

Q: Are there any favorites that you have of this genre?

EB: Elizabeth, you know, because Cate [Blanchett] just was insane in it, I mean she's so brilliant. And I loved Mrs. Brown (1997; Her Majesty, Mrs. Brown in the U.S.) — I saw that ages ago and it's one of my favorite performances that I've ever seen. 

You know when you see those films and there are moments in films that last forever in your mind? I get upset thinking about it, it's Judi Dench when she first meets Billy Connolly and he breaks down all of the barriers; she's being very polite and she's obviously on the edge of having a breakdown, and he very casually says to her, "My God, I heard you were bad, but I didn't expect to find you in this much of a state." She completely breaks down in the scene. 

I remember rewinding it and watching it about 10 times because I didn't know how she did it; it was so alive, so organic and real. It's those moments that you remember from films, so even before I had The Young Victoria, before I'd even heard they were making this film, that was always one of my favorite moments in cinematic history. And my first job, my first theater job, was with Judi.

Q: Do you have anything new coming up like maybe a sequel to The Wolfman?

EB: I don't know what I'm doing next, which is actually quite nice. I'm ready to read a lot and take it all in. I'm not really sure, this year's been quite busy so I think I'm very much looking forward to finding that thing that gets me really excited about going to work. That's not to say I haven't had that experience on other sets, but I would like to take a breather and find something that's really great.

Q: What about doing more comedy?

EB: I've done a lot of comedy. [The upcoming] Gulliver's Travels was a big comedy and that was really fun. I don't mind, I've never really had a preference for it; I usually enjoy films that are a bit in the middle because the films that make you cry are the films where you've fallen so in love with the characters because they're funny and they're quirky so I think I enjoy films that offer you both of those things. 

It's quite hard anyway for an adult drama to be made these days, so you'll usually find something with that kind of hook to it. I think that comedies, if they're done in the right way, can charm you to tears. I'm a bit tired of the dick jokes, there's no finesse or charm to me.

Q: You mean you don't know a good dick joke?

EB: I do, but they should probably be kept behind closed doors.

Q: You're doing an animated film right?

EB: Yeah it's different. It's weird; you're constricted to this little booth that you're in. I'm doing it with James McEvoy and we haven't had one session together. It's called Gnomeo and Juliet so do the math.

Q: You spend so much time in New York; would you consider doing a Broadway show?

EB: I'd love to, I'd really love to. I'm not going to do a musical but I would love to do a Broadway show, yeah.

Q: Were you surprised by all the reaction you had with your breakout film, My Summer of Love? It's so British and then you go and play Americans all the time. What's it like to go from such a buzz so early on?

EB: Well not many people saw My Summer of Love. You guys did because you guys know what you're talking about, but a lot of people didn't. In a weird way that's what I mean about these films; if there's buzz around it that's a good thing because I think it was mistimed, My Summer of Love because it got the most glowing reviews I've ever read of any film and people went crazy for it and they couldn't place it. 

It's this magical little film that people couldn't understand and people loved it, but no one saw it. So you need the buzz around films like this. I watched The Deer Hunter the other day and I don't think it would get made nowadays. And it's tragic.

Q: Do you have any hopes or expectations with award season?

EB: No. [laughs] Again, I feel like people are the bird watchers; but you can't have an awareness of what's going to happen. It's such a meat market, so who knows. I just want people to see it.

I feel if there's any buzz around this film it's a good thing, not in a selfish way for me, but for the film because these films need a lot of help because they can be overwhelmed by New Moon or whatever else. This film deserves to be seen. It's very beautiful, so if there's any kind of buzz around it, that's good.

 For a related FFRtrav story go to:

Michael Shannon's Sundance Neo-Noir Film

At 6' 3", the tall, lumbering Michael Shannon doesn't look like a leading man with his rumpled character-actor looks. Sometimes, Shannon's so quiet and reserved in person you wonder how he made the leap to stage acting. Yet when unleashed by a role, his presentation can be so overpowering that it often overwhelms other performances. Such was the case with his characterization of John Givings in Revolutionary Road, which won him a 2009 Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his dark philosophizing on the state of the world in 1950s America.
Aligning with his arch, pained performance in Sam Mendes' film, Shannon is now to be seen in Person, in which he plays private eye John Rosow, who's hired to tail a man on a train from Chicago to Los Angeles. For years, the former New York City cop had been drinking to self-medicate over the loss of his wife, who was working in the World Trade Center's North Tower on 9/11. Rosow gradually discovers that the man was one of the thousands presumed dead after the 9/11 attack. Persuaded by a large reward, Rosow is charged with bringing him back to his wife in New York, a journey that compels him to finally address his own trauma, making the film something more than just a cinematic homage.
Debuting in the States at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival, this neo-noir film, co-starring Oscar nominee Amy Ryan, is directed by director Noah Buschel who also directed the intriguing Neal Cassady (a film about the late Jack Kerouac's traveling buddy and inspiration). Not only that, he's also been featured in the two recent Werner Herzog films, My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done and The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans.
The Lexington, Kentucky-born Shannon first came to wide critical attention through his uncanny, twisted performance in 2004, appearing Off-Broadway in Bug at New York's Barrow Street Theater; it later became a film directed by William Friedkin starring Ashley Judd and Shannon. He had established his role initially in Chicago, where he did it at Chicago's A Red Orchid Theatre and got nominated for a 2002 Joseph Jefferson Award for Actor in a Principal Role in a Play. Shannon discusses finding himself through his characters in this exclusive interview.
Q: You play a detective, one of those prime roles that every actor looks to do. Had you read a lot before? Had you seen all those movies like John Huston's The Maltese Falcon or Robert Altman's The Long Goodbye?
MS: The movies I've seen hardly any of at all. I consciously didn't want to look at them going into shooting the film because I didn't want to feel like I was imitating somebody else the whole time.
In terms of the books, I've read a lot of Jim Thompson books, I've read a bit of Raymond Chandler, but I took all my clues basically from the script and the director. He was clear about what he wanted and I just went with that.
Q: It was a good opportunity for you, taking that detective character and updating it into a contemporary context. I think that must have been interesting to you as well.
MS: Oh, yeah, definitely. It seemed appropriate; it never seemed ham-handed to me.
Q: What did he tell you he wanted, and why did he feel you had those qualities?
MS: I did a reading of the screenplay, which I guess wound up being an audition. I applied my natural sense of things to the reading, and he was pretty happy with that. Actually, he was much more interested not so much in the detective aspect of it or the classic noir aspect of it, but in the fact that [this] man was severely traumatized by 9/11 — pretty much incapacitated by it. The film was really about seeing if this person could come back into the realm of the living. That was more the journey that we were exploring, I think.
Q: Where were you when 9/11 happened?
MS: I was in Chicago. I was doing a play called Bug, which later became a film. Apart from it being a devastating experience, it was also an incredibly bizarre experience, because I was playing that character at the time. He was very skeptical of things to begin with, and so to have that kind of event happen in the middle of telling that kind of story was really, really intense.
Q: If you had to say something about your character in terms of 9/11 — who he was, or how that resonated — what would you think is the truth there? What will people take away that is that truth?

MS: I think the truth in this film is a deeply personal one. In the other two instances you mentioned, it's much more directed at society or the world at large. But this is very personal. I think at the beginning of the film, John is pretty delusional and not in touch with the truth of what's actually happening around him. The journey of his character in the film is towards a truth. It may not be a truth that involves anyone other than himself, but it's important nonetheless.
Q: Obviously, you have some ability to play traumatized characters. Yes, you have a look, but also an understanding as well. Does coming from Kentucky do that to you?
MS: It's tough to figure. I was telling somebody, inevitably when you watch somebody in a movie, no matter how much craft or acting is happening — however much or little of that is happening
you're essentially drawn to who the person is innately, because you can't escape the fact that you are who you are. I think that comes through. That's why people are fans of certain actors.
That's why some people say, "I really love Christopher Walken." I mean, as great an actor as Christopher Walken is, you love him because he's Christopher Walken. When you go to a movie, you go to see him, even if he has funny glasses on or a mustache or something. You know that that's him and you know that you like him, regardless of what character he's playing.
I think who I innately am, for whatever reason, translates into the things I do and makes it so that you can buy me as a certain type of person. Whatever my life experiences are that allow me to give off that sense of understanding, that's private.
Q: Did you realize that director Noah Buschel made that movie on Neal Cassady?

MS: I saw [Neal Cassady]. That was the first time I met him, actually. I was having coffee with Amy Ryan, and she said, "I have to go see this film that I'm in because the director wants me to give my input." And she said, "You could probably tag along if you wanted."
So next thing I know I'm sitting in a little editing suite with Amy and Noah, who are watching Neal Cassady. I loved that movie; I thought it was so fantastic. It really baffles me that more people haven't seen it. I thought it was beautiful. But Noah has a very eccentric style to what he does. He has a very unique style, and it's something that leaves some people scratching their heads.
Q: He certainly applied that style to this movie. What was your experience with him like?
MS: We shot the film in about four weeks, so it's all kind of a blur. It was a very intense schedule, we had to work very quickly. We shot two weeks in New York and two weeks in LA. And we shot all this super heavy stuff in New York first, and then we went to LA and did the more whimsical part. It was an interesting order of sequence.
Q: Was that just a logistical choice, or was that also a choice in helping you?
MS: It was purely logistical; it was very low-budget. We couldn't start in New York and go out to LA and then come back to New York; we couldn't keep going back and forth. We basically shot the beginning and the ending of the film first, and then went out and shot the middle in LA, just because that's the way it had to be. That didn't wind up really bothering me. I enjoyed that order, it made shooting in LA a lot of fun.
Q: So when you saw the movie assembled, did it work in the way you expected it or did it surprise you in certain ways?
MS: I was real tickled with it. I had seen a variety of different cuts, actually. I was a little bit worried to see the final cut, because I know that Noah had been under pressure to maybe make some choices that he wasn't entirely convinced were right. He had been getting notes from a lot of different sources. At one point, after almost starting to lose interest a little bit — it was just too difficult to make everybody happy — he kind of sucked it up and got to the end of it. I was really proud of both the film and him for surviving that process.
Editing a film can be very arduous, particularly if there are a lot of people with opinions looking over your shoulder. I think in the end he was able to find a way to make everybody happy, but still hold on to his vision of things, which is quite an accomplishment.

[continued, next page]


Q: Though you were the one awarded the Oscar nomination, you were still just a supporting character in Revolutionary Road. In Bug, you're really the driving force, but you weren't thought of as the lead. But here you're really the lead; it's a movie about reaction to you, and you reacting.

MS: It's an opportunity for me. I'm not shaping these stories really, I'm just getting the opportunity to show up and participate. At the end of the day, at least from my perspective and my experience of things, the actor in a film is not a real power position. What the audience ultimately winds up watching is a lot more about the vision of the director and of the other artists involved--the cinematographer, editor. Film is a very technical medium, and the actor gets this opportunity to contribute their portion of it, but it's not like it's my vision.
Q: As an interpreter of the director's vision, you are the truth-teller. In Revolutionary Road your character was a truth-teller. In Bug, as crazy as he was, he was a truth-teller as well.
MS: Maybe there's something about me. It's hard to be aware of yourself to that degree. I'm not even necessarily sure that I look at what I do as an act of self-expression, really. It's more about trying to serve the story. I guess I express myself basically in what I decide to get involved in. But once I'm there, it's like [I'm] a servant of the story and director.
Q: In a funny way, Kim Fowley, your character in The Runaways — the upcoming bio-pic of the legendary girl rockers — is the ultimate manipulator, truth-teller or truth-hider. He also fits into the set of characters that you should play. That must have been interesting; what was that like?
MS: That was very daunting, very intimidating. I met him. [He and I ], Joan Jett and Kristen Stewart [who plays Jett in the film] had dinner one night at a Denny's. He told me that he hoped I did a good job in the movie, because when he died that was how he was going to be remembered, was by my performance. I said, "Well, thanks for the pressure, I really appreciate that."
He was very sweet, actually. He really is a character. I watched as much footage as I could. I don't think I pulled off a spot-on impersonation of Kim Fowley, but that's never been my forte to begin with. I never claimed to be able to do that. But I certainly think what I did will honor his legacy and his memory. Hopefully, when he sees it, he'll agree.

Q: Were you much of a rock and roll fan?
MS: Oh, yeah. I love rock and roll; I love music in general. That was a really fun era for music.
Q: Besides getting to work with some great first-time directors, you've also worked with the legends
from John Waters (Cecil B. DeMented) and Cameron Crowe (Vanilla Sky) to Sidney Lumet (Before the Devil Knows You're Dead). How do you resist wanting to watch all their movies and talk to them about it?
MS: Well, fortunately, most of the time you're just there to work, you don't have too much time. If I'm working with someone for awhile, we make an opportunity to have dinner or something, and that's when you get to hear all the stories. But when you're at work, it's all about the work. I'm not a Chatty Cathy on the set anyway. I generally tend to not talk unless I'm saying one of my lines, because I'm trying to concentrate and conserve my energy.
Q: You were initially a theater actor, and because you're a tall person with an imposing quality you can really have a power on a stage. In film, you pull it back or you control it differently. How is that contrast for you?
MS: I don't know, I don't see them as being as different. I think that's largely because a lot of the theaters I have worked in have been very small, very intimate. I think the difference was larger maybe back in the old days when you would do a play in an 800-seat theater and then go do a movie with Hitchcock or something; that was a bigger discrepancy. But nowadays, a lot of the theaters are very intimate. Even some of the larger theaters, they've found a way to make them incredibly intimate. It's not as big a discrepancy as it used to be.
Q: You worked with a great ensemble in Werner Herzog's re-think of Abel Ferrera's Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans.
MS: That was a lot of fun. I got to do two scenes with Nic Cage, one of the biggest movie stars in the world
also a very inventive actor to work with. My scenes were just with Nic. Both the days I was working with him, I think he was feeling particularly inspired. It's an older kind of Nic Cage performance, not so much the leading man roles where he has to rein it in or something. He gets to let loose and have fun. He does such an incredible job. When he gets an opportunity to do what he's good at, he really knocks it out of the park.
Q: Give me a quick take on working Jonah Hex, based on the DC Comics character. Even though you're not Hex, it must be fun to work in a comic book film where these characters are a little larger than life.
MS: I had a lot of fun on Jonah Hex. I was only there a couple of days; my character's just in a couple of scenes. But they tell me that if there's a sequel, I would be back in a larger capacity — which would be fun, because it's a really fun character. I had never heard of the comic series before, but when I was there and looking at the artwork, [I thought] it's really strong.
Q: Are you working on something now, beside being in Herzog's My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done and Gela Babluani's 13?
MS: I'm working on a TV show right now called Boardwalk Empire, which is going to be on HBO. We shot the pilot this summer, and now we're shooting the series.
Q: And that will be the Atlantic City boardwalk?
MS: The first episode is right at the start of Prohibition in Atlantic City. Very gritty.
Q: You don't think you'll do a superhero someday like, Nic Cage has done
MS: I'd play a superhero if there was good writing. I'd play Oscar the Grouch if it was good writing. I like good writing, and a lot of times the writing is more complicated and interesting when you're dealing with characters that are [somewhat] damaged. That's just the way it is.

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