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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.

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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.

Brittany Murphy Lives On in Her Work

The tragic, far-too-young death of the talented Brittany Murphy, who proved as capable in drama as in comedy, cut short the arc of a performer whose humor and humanity came out whether playing the spunky tag-along girl in Clueless (1995); the sexually abused Daisy, who pathologically cuts herself, in Girl, Interrupted (1999); or the wide-eyed, well-meaning hottie, Luann Platter, that she voiced for years on TV's King of the Hill, earning an Annie nomination in the process.

The 32-year-old actress and sometime singer let her good nature and all-around adorableness shine through — nowhere more apparent than in USO shows in which she performed for American troops overseas.

At 8 a.m. local time on Sunday, December 20, 2009, the Los Angeles Fire Department responded to a 911 call from the home of Murphy and her husband, British screenwriter Simon Monjack. She had apparently collapsed in a bathroom, and despite the efforts of emergency crews, was pronounced dead on arrival at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center at 10:04 a.m., following cardiac arrest. As of the evening of Monday, December 21, 2009, the cause of death remains unknown. 

She is scheduled to appear in a film completed before her death: the psychological thriller Abandoned , opposite Dean Cain, Mimi Rogers, Peter Bogdanovich and Tim Thomerson.

In the meantime, in what might be a macabre coincidence, she spoke with Brad Balfour for a 2006 drama directed by Karen Moncreif in which, with a cast that included such luminaries as Toni Collette, Piper Laurie, Giovanni Ribisi, Rose Byrne, James Franco, Mary Steenburgen and Bruce Davison, she played the title role: The Dead Girl.

With respect and sympathy to her family, friends and fans, FFTrav offer a rare, little-seen Q & A (from a roundtable transcript) with the much-beloved actress — who, as her upbeat and carefree words then show, was a woman, not interrupted, who lived her life with energy and joy.  --Frank Lovece

Q: Were you attached to this role from the beginning?

BM: I was the second person attached to the film, second or third, after Giovanni [Ribisi].

Q: What attracted you to it?

BM: Karen asked me to be a part of it and I was a huge fan of hers from Blue Car. I loved the honesty and truth and rawness of that film. Then I was really intrigued that she was doing another picture. I read it, [and] thought I was reading a psychological thriller. It’s called The Dead Girl, and it started reading like a psychological thriller from the first act. After getting past The Stranger and then moving on to The Sister… you know, they say the journey is the destination.

As clichéd as that is, it really was true with this because all I did was, while I was trying to figure out who did this – which character was it? – I started to just not care [who actually did it]. I started to get completely engrossed in the lives [of the characters], and in being a voyeur of the lives of these really richly written characters with so many layers and so much depth, and how highly unusual that is to see so many of them in one script.

I adored the script. So I met with Karen, then heard her vision and what she was going to do with it, and then signed on to be a part of it.

Q: How did she pitch the part to you? It all builds up to Krista, so what did she say to you about what she wanted the character to be like and what ideas didi you bring to it?

BM: I wish I could be more specific about it because neither one of us can really remember because it all happened so quickly. I have said this before, and I’m sorry to be redundant.

I am very visceral when it comes to choosing material, or characters choosing me, or me choosing them. My job is strange. My job is to believe I’m someone else more hours of the day than I am myself. That’s a really weird job, OK?

So one wants to make sure that while one is doing is doing that, first of all, I like to make sure I’m a part of a story that I think is imperative that it’s told or (is) extraordinarily entertaining. The older I get the more particular I’ve become about that. Then, who’s telling the story? Through what eyes? a/k/a/ Karen’s.

Then, okay, who is this person that I am going to be? And does that make sense for me? Immediately, when it comes to characters, once the story is something that I’d love to be a part of, it’s a very visceral feeling and I always just kind of connect and know. When Karen also told me that she thought of me because of the information she received in some work that I’d done prior in different other films, and her being a juror and how she came about this project, I also then sort of felt it was a responsibility to Krista’s life, because she was a real person.

Q: The character here, Krista, shares a lot in common with your Girl, Interrupted character and even your 8 Mile character -- they express a gritty, outward appearance but want to do better for themselves. Did you find yourself drawing on your previous roles in portraying Krista and what kind of research did you do?

BM: what I explained to you is the research that I did. And anything else… I spoke with some recovered addicts. I spoke with a counselor or two, but I like to keep my resources private, to respect their privacy. And people really helped explain things to me.

I also saw some footage, and that helped. But really the breakdown of the chemical composition was the biggest help. As far as everything in life – sorry to be so broad – but it really does cover everything. For me, everything in life is a learning experience. Everything. This is. Whether we choose to make it one or not, anything can be, I believe.

Q: There was an inevitability of her death. Did that help inform your performance?

M: You know, interestingly enough, no. There was no foreboding feeling because she didn’t have a foreboding feeling, I don’t think, of her death. [That’s] not how I saw it or felt it. I didn’t feel that she had a foreboding feeling of her death.

But I will say, if you saw Girl, Interrupted, that was one experience where a character killed herself. Daisy killed herself, but how we shot that film was Daisy’s death completely backwards to the first scenes in the film. So I actually did shoot, in Girl, Interrupted, just Daisy, and they blocked me in a certain period of time and shot me out in three weeks. They shot her completely from her death to the beginning of the story, and that helped me a lot in understanding who she was.

So I have had that experience before, and I didn’t feel that here, because Krista loved life so much. She was very much about, they say, "Live in the moment," she was about the second or maybe the millisecond.

Q: Do you worry about doing too good a job that results in glamorizing this lifestyle?

No, I would hope the very, very opposite. If I’m ever a part of something like this it would be to… I mean, this film particularly… to help be a very small part of [imparting] a very large, large message, much larger than any of us involved, which is that violence is wrong and atrocious. So many people’s lives in this film, every character’s life, was changed by this violent act that occurred, and why can’t we just notice things instead?

Why do we have to have something that tragic happen to kick us in the rear to be able to actually life-altering decisions for the best, to better ourselves? I don’t understand that. And I wish more people would. I think we all could start trying. And I think this is a great message as far as stopping violence or at least helping to garner awareness towards stopping violence.

Q: Was there a line or something else that helped you figure out who Krista was?

BM: It was very evident to me. I don’t know how else to… I did ask Karen a lot of questions. "How would you like her to sound?" "Exactly what kind of drugs is she on and how much of them?"

"OK, she’s bi-polar," Karen told me. "She’s self-medicating."

Well, I figured she’s self-medicating, so I spoke with some counselors and had them break down exactly the types of drugs Karen told me Krista was on and break down what the chemical reaction with any human being’s body would be. And these reactions are absolutely atrocious, and that’s why she behaves so mercurially; just what it depletes one’s body of is so sad and tragic.

Also she was a chain smoker, and I asked [Karen] how she envisioned her always sounding and she said, "Kind of gravelly."  I said, "Kind of like this?" I did her voice and she said, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, exactly like that." So I said, "Okay, I’ll keep that." Karen and I had a really easy shorthand.

Q: What was Krista on?

BM: Crack.

Q: How was Karen different from other directors you’ve worked with?

BM: Quite obviously, seeing the film, she is a chameleon when it comes to actors. There’s such a broad cast, and how she changed her… It wasn’t the Karen way. Karen molded to each person she worked with as opposed to the people molding to Karen’s way, which was really fantastic.

Yet, she still stood very strong in herself, very grounded and still had so much respect, the utmost respect from everyone and the entire crew, and ran the show, yet still, again, adapted to all of these different styles of acting, people, egos, you name it. I think that that’s miraculous. She never lost her cool.

This was one of the happiest sets I have ever stepped foot on in my life, and it definitely was not light fare. People were there because they wanted to be, from our costume designer to hair and makeup to the actors to our whole entire crew, [and] I mean grip, cinematographer; everyone there had an opportunity to be the artist that they are.

Karen allowed everyone to be creatively rewarded and allowed us – us meaning myself and the crew and the other actors – to be able to express our own art. She did not ever try to stifle that, and that’s a great feeling. People need that… artists need that to replenish the soul. So everyone felt very free there, and that allotted for a very happy place because no one felt stifled.

Q: Your fellow actress Kerry Washington said you taught her how to smoke.

BM: That is true

Q: So, is she a good smoker?

BM: I don’t know. You saw the film. What’d you think? I hope I did okay. She was practicing and showing me. We met for dinner. Because of the short preparation time, how Karen wanted Kerry and I to rehearse was to just familiarize ourselves with each other.

We went for dinner. And I had to be chain smoking for the role. As you could see, I had to learn to do that. And she taught me how to curse, so… I’m kidding [giggles loudly]!!!!

Q: Going forward, are you looking to keep mixing it up, doing indies like this and bigger films that may have a worthwhile message?

BM: For me it’s extraordinarily important to be a part of films that have messages that, as an artist, I can help communicate, and messages that I find important because that is what I do. So if I’m going to try to be a part of getting any sort of point across I think I should stick to my job and do it that way.

The next film I’m working on is The White Hotel, and I’m excited. That is a film that has a very large message behind it and hopefully it will make people extraordinarily aware of how wrong genocide is.

Carey Mulligan Gets "An Education"

With An Education, the 24-year-old British actress Carey Mulligan has come out of nowhere to garner the kind of ciritical acclaim and award notice that few receive so quickly — she's up for a 2009 Golden Globe, for example. But her performance as 16-year-old Jenny in Danish director Lone Scherfig's version of Lynne Barber's story (adapted by screenwriter Nick Hornby), not only glistened but showed an understanding of her character and the era beyond her years.

Carey Mulligan and Alfred MolinaStifled by the social conventions of 1961 England, Jenny's life changes when she meets a handsome older man David (Peter Sarsgaard) who both opens her eyes to world at large and the sexual life within her. Though he tenderly draws her in, he has an insidious, deceptive side that eventually reveals itself, destroying her and her father's (Alfred Molina) hopes for a life with him.

The London-born Mulligan had been in a few films such as 2005's Pride and Prejudice (playing Kitty Bennet alongside Keira Knightley, Judi Dench, and Donald Sutherland) and in the 2005 BBC adaptation of Charles Dickens' Bleak House (as the orphan Ada Clare). but the Covent Garden resident first established herself in the latest version of TV's Doctor Who as a guest actress.

Carey has said her passion for acting was kindled at Woldingham School, where she performed in Sweet Charity in her final year. In a relationship with Shia LaBeouf as of last August, meeting him when they began filming Oliver Stone's sequel to Wall Street (1987), Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, she spoke with us at a press day in Manhattan.

Q: Did you identify with your character?

CM: I think mainly in the way she feels about school. I got quite bored with school towards the end. When I was 14, I was really academic, and then I slowly lost interest in it towards the more important parts. It was just that I felt like I was doing things to tick boxes and to get on another level, and to just pass that exam so that I could get onto that exam, and I just thought, “This isn’t interesting and I’m not learning anything that I’m interested in.”

I just felt like I was doing it for other people, and I was doing it to please other people. But then I didn’t take advantage of my education, and that’s quite sad. I admire Jenny, in that she really does want to learn and feel passionately about things. [I attended] a really nice school in Surrey, and we went on really amazing school trips to really amazing places, even just museums in London or concerts and things. But it was just an opportunity for us to run out and find a Pizza Hut that serves alcohol, like where can we get drunk in 45 minutes before we have to be at this thing. So I related to her in the fact that she wanted to escape all of that, because I thought it must be better somewhere else.

Q: You and the other actors have a lot of theater experience. With this movie that would contribute to making some of the set pieces in the house and some of the other interactions work because you’re really familiar with that kind of interplay of dialogue, that talk back and forth. Did the film have a theatrical, on the stage quality to you?

CM: When you do a play you come away from it feeling like you’ve really acted for a bit. But it pretty much would have come out of lots of people who are brilliant and have done a lot of film. It’s the cast [that matters] —  when you get a group of people together who genuinely like each other a lot, and make each other feel comfortable. Those sort of things work when everyone feels at ease with each other, and so you don’t feel nervous about making mistakes or are embarrassed.

Because I was probably the least experienced person, [that was] certainly the case for me. I never felt embarrassed, and that was because I was around a lot of people who don’t worry about perceptions of themselves like that. So it had more to do with that; I’ve not done that much theater [actually]. We didn’t have a huge amount of time [for rehearsal]; we had 6½ weeks and then two days in Paris.

Q: Did you enjoy having a chance to live through the experience of the ‘60s — especially with the clothes, and hair?

CM: It was great; I loved all that. It’s always helpful to put on the shoes of the character you’re playing, and it certainly helps wearing a school uniform. And then being surrounded by girls who really were 16 or 17 years old; all the extras that age were really helpful. When you wear no makeup, or film no makeup — which is lots of makeup to make it look like you’re not wearing anything — and a school uniform, and then someone puts on a nice dress and does your makeup, you do feel like you’ve been done up and transformed. 

You walk around and don’t feel so horrible in front of the crew; all those things make you feel generally better about yourself. It was great and it was fun, with girls false eyelashes are always fun.

Q: Was the '60s music a revelation?

CM: Lone [Scherfig, the director] made me lots of CDs before we started shooting. Also they’d written this sort of soundtrack, or the piano piece that goes over the whole film, and I had a minute of that, it was put on one of the CDs. And then it was on my iTunes and I didn’t know what it was, and six months later I was going through it and played it.

I had no memory of where it had come from, so I labeled it because I was going through a labeling phase. I labeled it as “Pretty Song." It wasn’t until I Dominic Cooper and Peter Sarsgaardwent to Sundance and heard the song that I realized it was from this. I love the music in the film; the Duffy track at the end is cracking.

Q: What was Lone's direction like?

CM: she doesn’t see the task of making a film as stressful. I’m sure she has enormous stress, but you never feel that stress from her, and she sees it as a really joyful thing that we’ve all be given this gift of a script. So it does feel very measured really.

Q: Do you think that 16-year-old girls nowadays could fall in love as easily as a girl in the ‘60s?

CM: Yeah, definitely. Probably the only difference is that I wouldn’t advocate getting in the car in 2009. Don’t get in the car. But then, my dad would tell me that when he played on the streets
he'd played football in Liverpool when he was growing up — if you got thirsty you just knocked on the door and asked someone for a glass of water.

You just wouldn’t do that now. So I think the only difference is she wouldn’t have got in the car. God, girls at my school would just go crazy, and instantly, and I don’t even think Jenny ever falls in love with him; I think she loves him and finds him endearing and he introduces her to a different world, but I don’t think she’s in love. I don’t think the sex would be so calculated. But I think she does love him.

Q: Is she more in love with her projection of herself in that world?

CM: Absolutely. She’s becoming who she thinks she wants to be, and then realizes of course she’s not. There’s one good thing that someone said the other day, there are a few shots in the film where the lighting changes, or moments when she’s realizing stuff about herself that she doesn’t particularly like, and every time there’s a shot like that, in the car when she reads and she finds out that he’s married, and there’s another moment as well, the makeup suddenly doesn’t sit on her face anymore; it looks like she’s put on her mum’s shoes and done her makeup.

The lips look wrong and the eyes look wrong, and I like that. I think the lighting suddenly becomes harsh and you see a really young face with too much makeup on it, and you suddenly see her, and those are the moments when she realizes that she’s just gone way too far.

Q: It wasn't a problem for a girl that young to get involved with a guy that old? Not a problem conceptually, but did it seem realistic?

CM: Oh absolutely; definitely.

Q: You get a chance to live 16 again, so were there things you've thought about or learned or reflected on so that you say, "At least I didn’t do that," or "Oh yeah, I didn’t think about that?"

CM: She’s more rebellious than I was; I wasn’t that interesting. And I wasn’t that bold either; I would never have got in the car, and not even in the ‘60s, I would have just walked away and waited for the bus. I think I wish I’d taken more advantage of the stuff I got to at school. I think I wasted quite a lot of time. I had fun, but I didn’t do very much.

We went on a choir trip once to Washington and we spent the whole time being like, “Oh it’s so hot.” Like, come on; we had amazing opportunities and threw them away, and I feel a bit guilty about that.

Every time I do a job I’m always amazed by how knowledgeable people are, and on Wall Street, the amount that Oliver [Stone, the director] and Shia
[LeBouf] and Frank [Langella] and Michael [Douglas] have all learned about, they already knew so much, but the amount they know about finance and the economy, and I kind of come in a go, “God, give me a copy of The Economist, I need to figure out what the hell you’re all talking about.” So I think I’m trying to learn more for myself than I was before. I was kind of coasting along before, quite happily ignorant.

Q: Have you ever tried singing?

CM: I sang a lot at school but I’ve never done it professionally.

Q: Who are your role models as actresses?

CM: I think people who’ve had interesting, varied, gone back and done plays and lots of different things. Like Samantha Morton, Emma Thompson obviously, Kate Winslet, Toni Collette, Claudie Blakley, but lots of American actresses as well. Penelope Cruz; I met her in Toronto and almost cried.

Q: [Actor] Dominic Cooper [of An Education] said you went to lots of readings and auditions together but never got the role. What do you remember from that time?

CM: I love how he’s telling that story. The reason Dominic and I know each other is that, when [the production company] Working Title has a new film they have a big roundtable read and they just ring up actors to come play the parts, not necessarily the people who will play the parts, and in our case, definitely not.

So we’ve been in, a fair few times where we’ve been called in to play very small parts in big films, and we sit around and we get really horribly nervous because we’ve got like three lines and then we just make a complete mess of it and then they never call us.

Then you find out when you watch the film that everybody else around the table ended up playing those parts, apart from me and Dominic. So that’s how Dominic and I met basically, by being rejected together.

Q: Dominic made it sound much more glamorous when he was telling it.

CM: He does.

Q: After all that rejection how do you feel about everybody saying this movie is a big vehicle for you?

CM: I’m amazed by the reviews. I’m not amazed [in that] I think it’s a lovely film, but I think it’s been wonderful to be part of something that people seem to genuinely like. But it hasn’t come out yet, so. It hasn’t been years and years of rejection; I’ve a had a really lucky, nice career so far, Dominic’s just made it sound like we lived in hovels and occasionally sang songs for people.

Q: Well he did.

CM: He did; yeah that’s true. But I can’t say enough about what this has all meant to me. But really the best thing that’s come out of this has been spending time with the people we made it with.

Nick just gave me this, and when we were about to do a Q&A and showed me the dedication at the beginning and I just burst into tears. I’ve got so much love for all the people that we did this with, and the fact that I get to spend all this time around them again is just great. But if these nice things mean that more people will see the film, that’s nice, because it won’t just be your aunt and my Welsh granny.

Q: How are things on Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps?

CM: Good, they’re good, yeah.

Q: How did you land the role in Wall Street 2? How is it working for the first time here?

CM: This is not the first time I worked here; I did a film here last summer, The Greatest — which was also at Sundance — and then I did the play here. But someone slipped Oliver a copy of An Education and my agent rang me when I was still shooting Never Let Me Go and said, “Oliver Stone’s going to give you a call.” 

What a strange phone call to have. I was sitting with Andrew Garfield, who was in Never Let Me Go with me, and he just went mental. I went and got a hands-free [phone] so we could both lean over the table and listen, because we just wanted to hear Oliver Stone speaking, which I’ve never told Oliver and now he’ll know.

Then he offered me the job and I went over to LA a couple of weeks later and read it and loved it. I had versions of the script since July and we started rehearsal; we had about three weeks of rehearsals about two months ago, and then we’ve done about four weeks of shooting. I haven’t had to do very much yet, they’ve been kind to me and [scheduled] all of my big stuff for after I’ve released this. But it’s great; it’s an amazing cast.

Q: You’ve seen the original movie?

CM: Yeah. It was weird actually because the day before I was going to meet Oliver to read it, and I still didn’t know if it was something that I, I didn’t know what to do really, I didn’t know what the part would be like and I didn’t know if I should just dive in regardless of the part because it’s Oliver.

I was staying at this hotel and I was doing this thing with The New York Times and I went to rent a DVD the night before I left, and I opened the dvd player to put in the one I’d got
I got Risky Business and Wall Street was in there. And then when I was flying to LA I was reading this magazine and my horoscope said, “blah blah blah blah blah, rubbish rubbish rubbish, like Gordon Gekko said in Wall Street, "Greed is good.” And I thought, “Why is the universe telling me to do this film?”

Q: Who do you play in the movie?

CM: I play Gordon Gekko’s daughter.

Q: Working with Oliver Stone, and all the good reviews and award notices for this movie, it is a big break in a sense of global domination. How you feel about that, because everyone wants a piece of you; there’s also the bad side of fame and the paparazzi and of course once everyone recognizes you on the street...

CM: I mean, I’ve been recognized twice [laughs].

Q: That could change.

CM: Well, I don’t really look like I do in this film. My years so far, and my life so far, and even to do with Wall Street, and there are paparazzi and it is distracting because you’re trying to film a scene on the street and you’re trying to think about your character or the other person you’re acting with, and you have 20 people taking other images of you.

When you think there should be just one image of you there are all these images of you, and so you have to try and not think about any of that, so it’s distracting for your work. But ultimately, you can get upset about it, but it’s not a bad position to be in. I’m doing the job that I love with people that I really respect, so it’s like a 98 percent good situation with a 2 percent downside. I’m so absurdly lucky to be working, let alone working with the people I’m working with. I don’t even know if it will enter my world, but if it does it’s not bad in the grand scheme of things.

Q: Are you irritated that when you’re out with Shia that everybody’s is clicking cameras and, everybody surrounds you? He’s probably stalked by people.

CM: At work there are always paparazzi there, but there are always paparazzi on the set of Sex and the City and everything else that shoots in New York or any major city, so it comes with the territory.

it’s irritating at work really because you don’t want to think about it, but then they’re doing their job and ’re earning their living for their families. You just have to block it out.


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