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Director Roskam, Rapace, & writer Lehane
Noomi Rapace is still something of mystery to American audiences. She had been a big star in Swedish cinema, but given that there’s only a 9 1/2 million audience who speaks the language, that limited her reach. It wasn’t until she played Lisbeth Salander the lead character in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (and the subsequent sequels) that she stepped out of relative obscurity into the international spotlight. Once the English language version was released, the comparisons drawn between her performance and that of Rooney Mara shed light on Rapace’s talent.
Since that star turn, she appeared in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows as a Gypsy fortune-teller as well as the more important part of Elizabeth Shaw, a key role in the prequel to the Alien series, Prometheus. Then she co starred with Colin Farrell in Dead Man Down and Rachel McAdams in Passion.
Now the 34-year-old plays opposite actor Tom Hardy in The Drop notable not only for the fact that Dennis Lehane penned the script (based on his short story) but that it showcases the last performance of actor James Gandolfini who died short after making this film. Hardy plays bartender Bob Saginowski who is both enmeshed in a bar robbery and an investigation that draws in crazed ex-con and ex-girlfriend (played by Rapace) whom he befriends.
Recently Rapace’s director Michael Roskam and writer Dennis Lehane made appearances at several events in New York to promote their film The Drop. This Q&A is excerpted from their appearance at the Apple store and from an earlier interview.
Q: This is the first full-length feature film you filmed in New York from start to finish, right?
Noomi Rapace: Yeah. I was here a little bit on Dead Man Down, but this is different, you know?
Q: You grew up watching New York on the big screen in Sweden. What was it like being here?
NR: I always dreamed of making a movie, or being a part of a movie. There's something very romantic about it, and I remember that I fell in love with the script immediately, when I read it, but I was kind of afraid I would be flown into a studio somewhere, and not into a city far away, pretending that I'm living in Brooklyn.
And when we met, Michael said it’s crucial for you to shoot it on location. And I'm like, "Fine." I've been watching it since I was a little kid. I knew that it would create its own playground. Brooklyn is its own playground. Brooklyn is its own character in the movie, and without that, it wouldn't be what it was forced to take the time for. We gauged a lot of the things that could work... I always like to do research, and read up, and watch and listen and absorb. It made me really happy, and I loved it.
Q: The film had the best puppy in the world. He did exactly what he needed to be: a dog.
NR: It felt so much more disciplined than the actors.
Q: Cute dogs aside, what was it like getting to meet James Gandolfini?
NR: Michael and I were having dinner at Weisenkopf in Brooklyn. We were both going, "Go talk to him!" Was that in the restaurant? It's funny, because he was like... I got really shy, and I'm not really shy normally. I remember that I stood up, and I shook his hand. His hands are like three times the size of mine. And then I just sat down. He was like... his charisma is so strong. I remember, we were just like smoking for the next day.
Q: Give us a glimpse into the experience of making this film especially since it’s the last film with Gandolfini.
NR: I remember the night that I came to Michael’s house, when he was shooting that scene [in the kitchen between Tom and James — a crucial one near the end of the film]. Michael had started — he was working with James in the morning, and I was going to come in after lunch. They were waiting for me in Makeup, and I just wanted to say hi to Michael, and Tom and Jimmy, and Michael were in the middle of the scene. I got to see. I sat down next to him, and I was looking at the monitor, and I was blown away. I couldn't go. They were waiting for me in Makeup, and my PA was like waving, they need you. And I was like, "No, no, no, I've got to stay."
I couldn't leave. I just felt that it was something happening in that scene that was pure. It was so real, and it was so alive, and every day was different. It was like, there's no way I can go into Makeup. I have to see this!
Q: What it's like when you're working on multiple projects, does that help you go from one to another?
NR: I met Tom maybe two years before we shot The Drop, and we connected straightaway. He said he was a great fan of my work, and I remember when I saw Bronson, and I was so blown away. It was like, "I've got to work with this guy." And we connected, and we were trying to find something to do, and then Fox Searchlight sent me Animal Rescue, as [this film] was called then, and I loved it. I remember I texted Tommy, and said, "This could be it." Really, this is the first thing that we should do together.
Then Child 44 [a film she stars in with Hardy that will be released next year] came along, and I think we had four weeks between The Drop [and that]. But the beauty with a working relationship, when you trust each other, you can allow self to take risks. And you don't know to pretend to know how you don't know. You can allow yourself to be stupid, and to do really bad takes, and I felt that in this whole ensemble, between Matthias [Schoenaerts who plays the crazy Eric Deeds] and Tom, that I didn't feel that I had to prove anything. That I could just come in and work, and explore, and see where it was going to lead us. And that I haven't thought very much - and I love that. That's the perfect work relationship for me.
Q: This film is based a story by author/screenwriter Dennis Lehane (Mystic River). Did you get to speak much with him about it?
NR: I remember Dennis said something beautiful the other day. It was like, “Turning a novel into a movie is like having a child, and then saying, ‘Should I take that arm, or should I take that arm.’” And I can understand that.
Q: Contrast the experience of working with Tom Hardy and with James Gandolfini on this film. They’re two very different actors, and they have two very different styles in the way they approach characters, and the way they express them. Maybe you have insight into them that we don't know.
NR: Well, let me start by saying that I didn't really have scenes with James. It was most directly with Tommy, and I had a little bit with Matthias. I met him on set, and he, what made me really happy, and that I still sort of carry with me, is that when I got to know him, I realized that he was, he'd been doing all those amazing films. He did so much great work, by being in the business so long. And managing to maintain a real person -- to be so grounded, and so loving, so respectful, and so real, and not getting carried away with the weirdness that can infect our business. That is something that I still think about, with him. So that is with me not really working with him, as a person.
Q: And working with Tom?
NR: Working with Tommy, for me - I adore him, and it's quite rare that you meet somebody who you feel like you could do pretty much anything with, because you say, he has my back, and we're on a journey together. And you give each other, and then you can grow.
Q: How this character is alike or different from some of the other characters you've played, because you've played some fairly dark characters, who've gone through some pretty difficult times. Some of them are more victims, and others less victims.
NR: I remember Michael said to me, once, that Nadia -- she is like a broken angel. And in a way, I think that describes her. She's a young woman with a troubled past. She had a relationship with Eric Deeds, Matthias' character, and he's quite a complicated and disturbed man. And I think that she's strong. She has a strength. She was living something bad, really destructive, but she managed to break it and move on. Like you’re kind of forcing yourself to find your own voice, even though she's fragile when we meet her. It can be hard to leave something, even if it's disruptive and not good for you. It's safety, and it's home base. So to leave that, and go into something that is unknown, it can be more scary than to live with something that is not good for you. So to me, she's a strong person. When we meet her, she's trying to find her new self.
Q: Talking about contrasting this character to some of the others you’ve played. like your character in Dragon Tattoo. Lisabeth Salander is a tough character who's been damaged. Even the character Prometheus has those elements in her past. You work with characters like that, and have an understanding of them and that's fascinating. You’re able to reveal the feeling behind those characters. How do you get behind the curtain with these characters.Talk more in depth about that?
NR: I guess I'm kind of drawn to contradictions. It's always more interesting to try and understand someone when they're complicated, in an inner landscape. It feels like most of my characters are a contradiction; they have souls that are like broken mirrors, you know? Depending on where you stand, you will see different reflections.
And I think that Nadia, maybe, she's a very good person. And she's a good soul — that's the angel thing that people see. She doesn't have aggression and violence in the same way as those other ones, and she's not as tough as the one in Prometheus. She has a faith; she's always connected to something that's bigger, to find strength in.
And Nadia only has herself. I think that she's the only person who can heal or cure or help someone like Bob, and start to mend something as broken as him. And I think the same goes with him and her. He's obviously, like, "I'm not going to ask. I'm not judging. If you don't want to tell me, or talk to me about it, it's fine."
And I think that's something. She’s a very normal — normal, what is that? She's also lonely, but for a girl to be lonely, sometimes your loneliness can be attractive to men, and they can find a way to use you. And I think when he was asking, and I remember thinking in the pet store, when he asks, "So are you a dancer?" And she was like...
Q: Did you do any research for this?
NR: I was doing a little bit of research on dancers in strip clubs in New York, to look into that world, because I had a feeling that she wanted to be a dancer, but then ended up in bad places, dancing for men, in situations like that. I like fighters, and I like people who are survivors, and people that are not really. I don't like this perfection, with people.
I try to use myself as much as I can, dig from myself and translate things from me into the character. With Dragon Tattoo, I can't just put on Lisbeth's clothes and now I'm Lisbeth so we can begin to work. It's more like I have to give her a place in me for the time we were shooting.
Q: Everyone is really excited about a Prometheus sequel. Can you talk about the movie? What are your feelings about it, and what do you think about it?
NR: I can't really! I can say that we are working on it, and we all want to do number two.
That it took two decades for the social science fiction book The Giver to be made into an effects-enhanced film well after The Hunger Games, Divergent, and other dystopian teen tales could be viewed either a blessing or curse.
Based on veteran author Lois Lowry’s 1993 young adult novel, the cinematic rendition is directed by Phillip Noyce and stars Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Brenton Thwaites, Alexander Skarsgård, Odeya Rush, Cameron Monaghan, Katie Holmes and Taylor Swift.
Set in a society that at first appears utopian, but is revealed to be a totalitarian dystopia, The Giver follows 18-year-old Jonas (Thwaites), who is about to be placed in his future job by the community’s elders. This future society has eliminated pain and strife by imposing “sameness” on everyone through a regimen of drugs, euthanasia and social engineering, along with the eradication of emotions and artistic expression.
Only one person is allowed to retain a full sense of humanity — the Receiver of Memory, a person who has all the past memories of humankind stored in him before the Sameness, in case these experiences are needed. But by gaining this knowledge, Jonas learns the truth about his society and struggles with its fundamental flaws. To acquire this knowledge, he trains with an old man called The Giver (Bridges). From the Giver, Jonas learns about pain, sadness, war, and other unhappy truths of the world and humanity. He quickly realizes that his community's peaceful state is a fragile artiface, one that is seriously flawed.
This was the book that sort of set the recent publishing trend in motion, having sold millions of copies after it was published in 1993, so one could say all the others owe it a debt. Yet to a less knowledgeable public, this film may seem to be mining already too-familiar territory, and thus has models to follow, or may seem to be just another one in a sub-genre.
The following Q&A is culled from a press conference that included main cast members Bridges, Streep, Thwaites, Rush, Holmes as well as Swift, Cameron Monaghan and Emma Tremblay. Director Noyce, author Lowry, producer Nikki Silver and screenwriters Michael Mitnick and Robert B. Weide were also on hand.
Q: This begins with you Lois. This book came out 20 years ago. When did you think a film might be on the horizon, and was it welcomed?
Lois Lowry: It was 20 years ago, but two years after that, producer Nikki Silver and Jeff came to me. They didn’t come to me personally, [but] their people suggested that we turn it into a movie, as if it would be easy at the time. But maybe good things never come easy — it was a very long haul.
Finally the movie’s on the screen 18 years after that day. Most of the people who are here with us today would not have been a part of it 18 years ago, so good things come to those who wait.
Q: Jeff, you act as producer, and your association goes way back. Why does this resonate with you on a personal level?
JB: It goes back 18 years. I wanted to direct my father in something, and wanted it to be something that my kids could see. They were all young, now they’re all in their 30s. I got a catalogue of children’s books, and was looking at the different covers... I see this photograph of an old, grizzled guy and I thought my dad could play that part. I noticed the Newberry Award stamp on there. I said, “Oh, this might be good!”
I read it, and it knocks me out. It’s a kids’ book, but as an adult I love the story and the themes in it. I’m very excited about it, and I bring it in to tell my wife about it. Then my kids told me, “Oh, we know that book. We’re taught that book in school.” My excitement grew, and then I found out it’s also on the list of banned books, and I then get more excited. It's a little dangerous.
I said, “Oh, this is going be a cinch to get made. Over 10 million copies in 21 countries, the money guys are going to go crazy over this.” That did not prove to be true. The controversy of it being one of the banned books, and selling so many copies, being popular in school -- it freaked them out.
When we finally got the script together, it was very challenging to put this world that Lois had created in the book up on the screen, because so much of it was in the dialogue that this guy, Jonas, was having with himself.
Bob Weide was our first writer. We spent a week or so up at my place, jammin’ on the story. It was challenging, but we dug it. We took it around and the financiers were too shocked, so it took this long.
I’m really so pleased it did take this long though, because this is the right team. We got the right director. Casting is everything — not only the actors, but the crew and certainly our director and our director of photography, Ross Emery. Our director Phillip Noyce was like the key to the cast that we scored. If it was made earlier, Odeya wasn’t born. We would not have had Odeya with us and the whole team wouldn’t have been there. So I’m glad the gestation period was that long. Here we are.
LL: I’m just glad it didn’t take any longer, because I’m 77 years old!
Q: Bob wrote the original screenplay way back when. What were the challenges at that point?
Bob Weide: People have asked me if I felt the pressure of how loved the book is, and all those readers it has. Of course at the time I wrote my drafts, the book was only a couple years old and didn’t have a following. But I loved the book.
A book is not a movie; changes had to be made and things had to be added and revised. But all that was done with the notion of being true to the spirit of the book.
Lois and I were in touch during that time, we had phone calls and I would run things by her, and she’s very non-territorial and not precious about her words. I’d suggest what we needed to change and she said it all sound[ed] good. And as Jeff said, a lot of the book is sort of internalized [with] Jonas’s thoughts and reactions to what’s going on, and how do you put it up on the screen?
The other big challenge, without giving anything away, is in the book. Once Jonas flees the community, the book stays with him on his journey, and then goes back to the community to see how his exodus has affected the people in the community. That basically meant creating storylines.
It all felt quite organic, and years later it was honed and perfected by Michael Mitnick. One thing about our two scripts, our drafts, is that they are seventeen years apart. Michael and I hadn’t met until last week.
When I read Michael’s finished script, it really felt like a true collaboration, as though we had sat down side-by-side and wrote it out together. I read his changes and I felt it was very challenging, but we took a shot at it.
By the way, I suggested everybody should collaborate. That’s the way to do it, because [there’s] no arguing, no firing.
Q: Michael, what were some of the things you brought to the table as a writer of the drafts?
Michael Mitnick: I first encountered the book in fifth grade and the book stayed with me. What I tried to do was be invisible and hopefully be a successful extension of Lois’s voice. There are added beats into the movie, things that are extrapolations of waves that run throughout the book. But what I tried my best to do, and I know everyone did, was to both honor the book and try to make a good movie.
Nikki Silver: Michael always undersells things. Michael came in with a really big vision, to make this a movie for all audiences. Jeff talked about how we started out with this vision of just the book, and Michael really took it and created the film that we see today. Being able to take the spirit of Lois’s book, bring it all together and create a thoughtful summer blockbuster is incredible.
Q: Was there any discussion of changing the black and white visual style that shows the sameness of the society?
Phillip Noyce: No. We just wanted Jonas’s and everyone’s limited perception, and Jonas’s gathering perception of color, and structured the color scheme of the film around that. You don’t have to see black and white when you’re reading Lois’s book, but you can imagine you’re watching the events in color. But we had to make some pretty hard decisions and we laid out the film from first frame to last and then shot it that way.
Q: Meryl, this is a different part from what you've done before, playing the authoritarian Chief Elder. What hit you when the script came in?
Meryl Streep: I like to be the boss, so [Laughs] that was a good thing. I always wanted to work with [Jeff Bridges] my entire career, but I never got the chance somehow. So that was a big, big part of it.
Also, I’m a big admirer of Phillip’s films, He’s pure filmmaker with great taste to bring this to life — especially the colorless parts of it, it would take a great artist. It’s really magical.
JB: Did your kids read the book?
MS: Mine did, yeah. They had a list of required reading over the summer and it’s always [a pain] to get them to do it. But that one was put in front of the two younger ones and they devoured it.
Q: Meryl, when an actor makes a movie, it’s all about the emotions and it’s all about that intensity of emotions. Here, your character is deprived of them. So how do you still build and deliver with that constriction?
MS: It’s interesting to play people who have suppressed emotion, but I felt that the chief elder didn’t take her medication as well on certain days. Do you know what I mean? [Laughs] Because clearly, she had some deep history with the Giver, the Receiver of Wisdom, right? That was something that intrigued me about this script.
That’s sort of the point of the book. You can’t keep things in, you can’t suppress the things that make us human. It’s pointless to try.
Q: Katie, what’s the challenge of portraying a full-bodied character -- Mother (who isn't actually the mother of her kids but one assigned to this particular family unit) -- that is muted and not able to express herself in the ways that we all express ourselves day-to-day?
Katie Holmes: It was challenging. Phillip was reminding us not to touch each other, which I find to be something you just do naturally as a mother and as a human being. That was one of the things.
But I just approached it as a mother whose child is leaving the nest. That’s what kind of made the character real to me. It was interesting to play someone who has no emotion.
Q: Taylor, this is a step for you with offers coming your way. What were you looking for in a script that led you to Rosemary, the apparent "daughter" of The Giver?
Taylor Swift: It was an unbelievable concept that I would get to do this dream scenario where I have a very small role that has a pivotal part in the story. But it isn’t jumping into too deep water your first time in a serious, dramatic movie. And I get the opportunity to work with Jeff.
It was all those things put together: that it was a story that stuck with me from my childhood, by an author I really respect, and that it celebrates all the things that I hold dear, like our history, our music, our art, intellect and memories. That really had a great deal to do with why I wanted to be a part of this.
I’m seeing so many fans write me on Instagram and Twitter and letters, saying that they’re having such a tough time with life because they can’t imagine that we can experience such great pain, intense loss, and insecurity.
I wish I could tell them over and over again that we live for these fleeting moments of happiness. Happiness is not a constant, it’s something that we only experience a glimpse of every once in a while, but it’s worth it. That’s what they’ll take away from this movie.
Q: At the last minute, Jonas finds religion, specifically Christianity. Is that sort of the message of the film? That’s the last image audiences will see when they hear the Christmas music.
PN: Do you think he finds Christianity exclusively?
Q: The last song we hear is a Christmas carol…
PN: But Christmas is not only celebrated by Christians, and Christmas carols are not only sung at that time of year by Christians. I don’t think it was anyone’s intention that he could be discovering Christianity, but rather that he should be discovering home, a concept of home.
In the book, there’s a memory where he experiences Christmas and celebration. I don’t think that he’s become a Christian. That’s certainly not the intention of the movie.
LL: I’ve discovered over the years that many people have given the book as a Bar Mitzvah gift [laughs]. They see it as a rite of passage, the boy taking on the responsibility of manhood. Of course, in the book he’s 12. In the movie, he’s older so it wouldn’t be a Bar Mitzvah. But certainly I never intended it to be a Christian allegory, though some people read it that way.
Q: It took so long to bring out this movie, but technically and visually, the movie’s beautiful. Visually, technically, the special effects — how did you all work this out?
PN: That’s a long story. Lois had conceived a certain type of community, which was based on her experiences growing up in military bases all around the world. One of the places that she lived in was in Tokyo just after the second World War, where she, like Jonas, would leave the walls of the base and venture out into the madness.
Another story she told us was about growing up on Governor’s Island, surrounded by water. When you read the novel, you can see those two influences.
I went for holiday in Cape Town, South Africa, and took a shot of my son on top of Table Mountain. When I was coming home in the plane, I looked at it, and I looked into his eyes as he looked out into those clouds, and I thought, wow, that could be Jonas dreaming about going to the benevolent version of Elsewhere.
That became one of the ideas that we explored, which combined two of Lois’s ideas or experiences to produce this community, one of several communities on top of a mesa, anotherd surrounded by a cloud bank that was a barrier to the outside.
Going to shoot the film in South Africa was a big decision because it meant that the quality of light, the vegetation and everything were just a little different from most of the rest of the world. So the world looks a little different. It looks a little familiar, but there’s something weird about it.
The color schemes were inspired by Lois’s wonderfully visual writing, and Ed Verreaux was our production designer. We sort of had a bake-off as to how those houses would look, starting with the military style, houses of the 1950s that Lois had imagined, and going right through to mid-21st century housing, egalitarian housing as it might be built.
We ended up with about 12 different designs, passed them around [to everyone], including to our writer. She chose the same one as the rest of us, and that ended up being the architectural style.
A lot of it, of course, is CG. A lot of the buildings are not built when we actually filmed, but were built much later, designed by Ed Verreaux, and then built by our CG team. All in the name of sameness, and creating a supposedly egalitarian world, free of conflict. So design came from Lois’s ideas, both written and ideas that she shared with us.
I could go on and on about the look of the film.
Q: Since you’ve all worked on this project so long, how has the film evolved over time or did it stay pretty true to your original vision?
JB: I came to a crossroads on my adventure with this movie. I was going to direct my father, Lloyd, in the movie. I had spent 18 years going through many, many versions of the script, working with many directors, trying to realize the vision that I had. Generally, my vision was very close with the book. The book moved me in a profound way, and I really wanted to do the book justice.
When Harvey Weinstein and Walden Media said, “We’ll make this movie, but here’s how we want to make it,” I said, “That’s different than I imagined it.” I thought about that, and I figured I got a decision here to make.
I can either say, “Bon voyage, guys, I wish you the best of luck, I’m not going to be joining you, but make a good movie,” or I could say -- this is something I do often in my life, when I get to this spot -- how will I feel when I let this go? How will I feel if I engage? I pictured myself letting it go and felt really terrible. Then I thought, "I can engage."
Usually it’s an experiment on myself to practice letting go of control, and almost use it as a spiritual exercise, getting involved. I knew that Harvey was an old-school movie maker. Look at the movies that come out of Harvey’s oven. Also, from Walden. So I figured I’m going to jump in here and just surf this wave here and see what happens. Then the casting started happening, met with Phillip and these guys. That was the big bump for me.
In the book, they’re 12, and for various reasons, some of the team wanted to make the kids older. That was really a struggle for me, to let that one go. Then I met these two, and that started to relax. And then Brenton made a great statement.
In the book, it’s The Ceremony of Twelve. And he said, “It could be the ceremony of the 12th grade,” where kids are 17 or 18. I remember going through that period with my three girls, and that was the age when they were questioning, “What are we going to be when we grow up?” That kind of worked. So it was a constant process of letting go.
Another spiritual question popped up for me. When do you yin and when do you yang? I’m mainly a yin-er. I just go surf, let it go. I came up with an interesting answer to that question: "When do you yin, when do you yang?"
You just take out that “when do you,” then it becomes, “you yin and you yang.” And I noticed, I’m yinnin,’ but every once in a while — it’s rare — I would yang, but it would just kinda come out, and that’s how I shared the project. I didn’t want to suppress that yang, but generally, I wanted to roll and take all of these different changes and different conceptions in line and let them be almost aspects of my larger self.
Q: Did you ever have a conversation about the science fiction implications of this film? Maybe the backstory led to this culture, the post-apocalyptic scenario.
NS: We had a lot of discussion about what the future was. We talked to Lois a lot about it, and what was important to all of us is that the world was headed in a very bad place. And whether the cause was ecological, whether it was world war, it’s unimportant to the story.
What’s important to the story is that we went on a very, very bad path. so we’ve tried a lot of things. Phillip experimented with a lot of ideas, and we left that to what we think are very smart audiences, to try to figure out and have their own interpretation of how we got here.
JB: I was trying to remember what my scenario was, and it went along with Nikki about something terrible happened, or our darker side kind of surfaced, and we put a stop to that by trying to perfect ourselves. This is an example of one of the things we try to get convenient. How wonderful, we have these water bottles. We can drink these whenever we can.
What a lousy idea, to have to have these. They say they’re biodegradable, but they’re not. They end up in the ocean, the fish eat ‘em, we eat the fish. It’s that immediate gratification that’s a part of being human beings. We tend to go that way. That’s a part of who we are.
One of the things I like about this movie and the book as well is that it’s not really shoving a message down the audience’s throat, but it hopefully is provoking them to ask some questions. What are we willing to do for our comfort and our safety, and what is the true cost of that as a human being?
As if it were perfectly titled for her, actress Megan Fox made her film debut in Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen starring opposite Lindsay Lohan. Following that appearance, Fox won the lead female role, Mikaela Banes, in the 2007 live-action movie version of the classic cartoon, Transformers. Based on the many toys and cartoons of the same name, Fox played the love interest of Shia LaBeouf's character, Sam Witwicky.
Reprising the role in the sequel, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the brassy brunette clashed with exacting director Bay, making remarks comparing the demanding filmmaker with Adolf Hitler. Subsequently she was fired from the next film.
She went on to be title character in Jennifer's Body, written by Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody. Along the way, this sex symbol married actor Brian Austin Green, had two children, and did a little image adjustment.
Though she's never been demure, the 28 year-old Tennessean has matured and regained producer/director Bay's approval enough to be cast as intrepid flesh-and-blood reporter April O'Neil against four gigantic mutant ninja turtles and sensei rat.
She is the most human creature in Bay's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles motion-capture version (now in theaters).This TMNT reboot brings the wildly successful, iconic characters to the screen in a live action edition executive produced by Stephen Spielberg.
Recently, Fox came to the Soho Apple Store to discuss her work as O'Neil, how it feels to be working with Bay again, and what she would like to see from women in action films. Between a moderator and serious hard-core fans, Fox gave this audience an energetic, spicy take on on her own love of these characters and this film.
Q: Why is this project so important to you?
MF: I was a child of the '90s, and was a super-fan of Secret of the Ooze and Vanilla Ice, and all things that went along with it. I grew up on these movies, and loved them. They were treasured.
I campaigned really hard to get this movie, because I thought it was going to be the best movie of summer 2014, and it is!
Q: As a superfan, what are the important ingredients that you wanted to see in the new interpretation?
MF: You want to stick with the traditional Turtles as much as possible, because we all love them, and we don't want them to be too different. You have to keep their personalities intact, because obviously that would be a sin to deviate from that.
You have to have Splinter. Once upon a time, Splinter was human, so some people wanted to see that. I did not. I grew up with rat Splinter. And you've got to have Shredder. I wanted to see Krang, and maybe we'll see him in the future.
Q: The movie and the cartoons were both equally formative for several generations of fans. What was your first interaction? Was it the ooze and the turtle rap, and that whole thing?
MF: Yeah, it was "Go Ninja, go Ninja, go!"
Q: It's a great movie, but there is no ninja rap. Were you disappointed?
MF: Well, we have Wiz Khaleefa and Ty Dolla, who did the soundtrack, "Shellshocked". "You're about to get shellshocked."
Q: Obviously, with that original trilogy; you had guys in suits. It's a little different this time around.
MF: Yeah, the foam suits. It was Ernie Reyes Jr. in a foam suit.
Q: Obviously, using techniques today -- performance capture is in blockbusters like this. How was it working with these athletes and actors in those suits?
MF: We had four really talented actors, they were perfectly cast. They were in motion-capture suits, they had helmets with cameras in their eyes all the time. They all wore platform shoes, you know, like those emo/goth shoes, that have the thick soles. They looked ridiculous, and I feel like they had it much more difficult than I did.
It was easy to interact with them. They were four really talented actors who worked through all of that, which was a challenge.
Q: Given your filmography, you have accumulated a very interesting skillset, thanks to the Transformer films. Obviously you had to interact with...
MF: Yelling at nothingness?
MF: "Oh no, we have to get it to the dagger's tip, now!" Remember, that line was in the movie. I've done these movies before.
For me, they're the most fun to do because they're the kind of movies I like to watch. Whenever I'm in a hotel room, I'm going to download Thor or Spider Man. These are my favorite films, so I feel privileged to be in them. I had a good time making them.
Q: The timing got a little weird because you got pregnant right around the time when you were shooting.
MF: We think it's one of the turtles.
Q: It would obviously be Michelangelo, if it would be any of them.
MF: If I was going to one-night-stand it, I think it would be Raphael. Right?
Q: Why is that, exactly?
MF: Raphael is the big bad boy. Not the kind of guy you want to have a relationship with.
Q: Is Michelangelo the one you marry?
MF: No, Leonardo's the one you marry. You definitely date him, but you don't marry Mikey, because he's not going to remember your anniversary. But Leo will. Leo is like the stoic - the good one, the leader, Prince Charming.
Q: Obviously, you couldn't do everything you wanted. Part of the appeal to do this film would be to get back into your physicality, mixing it up with the guys.
MF: I tried to do as many stunts as possible. There was some wire-work, you can't do that when you're pregnant. That wasn't possible. But I had a really amazing stunt girl, and a really amazing stunt team, when I couldn't do stunts.
Q: Do you have a new perspective on the Turtles, not only as part of the franchise, but as a mom? Do you think any young kids would get into the Turtles?
MF: Yeah, but my kids are still babies. The oldest one's not even two. But it was in the back of my mind when I took this.
I think that one day, once he's older, he'll be able to say, "My mom's April O' Neil." That's kind of badass. Or, he'll be mortified and super-embarrassed. I'm not sure which, because I was also bent over by Transformers, and he might not appreciate that as much.
Q: You shot this partially in New York City. The Turtles are features of this city. Did you have a favorite set or a favorite shot?
MF: I guess shooting on the rooftop, because you could see all of New York City.
My favorite scene of this movie? There was this elevator sequence, where the Turtles are on their way to engage in a battle with Shredder, and they have to ride in an elevator for a long time, and it's very tense. They start beat-boxing and dancing; it's a really funny sequence. It doesn't sound like it now, but trust me, when you see it, you'll love it.
Q: With the stamp that Michael Bay puts on films, you know what you're getting. Is that a comfort level for you, returning to this film, knowing what he's going to demand of you?
MF: I think Michael doesn't make small movies, that's for sure. So I knew that it had the backing, and the drive behind it, to make it something that we all [would be proud of].
I think there's a comfort in him, because he does know what he's doing, in terms of this big, giant spectacle type films. He's a genius, with his eye. He's [a visual] genius.
I wanted it to be something in theaters, where people would actually see it. -- where it wouldn't fall straight to the SyFy channel, or On Demand. I wanted people to be able to see it and love it, because I was such a fan also.
Q: It must be awesome to see the finished product. What you experienced on the set is much different. Did you tear up a little bit, watching this one?
MF: I do. I tear up. There's a scene, I think you saw some of the footage, where Sensei is going up against Shredder, and he's losing, and the brothers are trying to save him, and I cry. There's a speech, given by Raphael at the end, and I cry every single time, and I've seen the movie four or five times. It's very good, guys.
Q: How much of a relief is it, from a fan perspective, when you saw the finished product. Because, again, you knew in production, that they're changing this and they're changing that. But it's got to be a great source of relief when you know at the end.
MF: You never know until you see it -- it's completely out of your control. But I saw it, and I was really blown away by it. The 3D is incredible, so definitely see it in in 3D, if you have a choice.
I am super relieved, and I'm very proud of it. This is the most proud I've ever been of a movie I've been a part of. I'm happy!
Q: When you shot this in 3D, did the 3D cameras add a whole another level of complexity?
MF: I don't know things like that. I just put on my jacket and run around!
Q: The jacket is important. The April O' Neill outfit is important. What do we want to get right about this character? Why is she a cool female lead? She's really the eyes and ears of the audience on this one.
MF: It's important not to sexualize April, because if we had done that, it would have jeopardized the audience's relationship to her.
In her mind, she's trying to be Anderson Cooper. In the whole movie, she's trying to get people to take her seriously, to believe that she's trying to be a real journalist.
Q: Do you see any of yourself in the character April O'Neil.
MF: I think I relate to April in that she is not afraid in what she believes in, even though people are telling her she's crazy. Even though people are telling her that she's wrong, she still pursues what she thinks is correct. I have some of that same spirit, as well.
I hope there are no children in the audience, but I've been described as "someone who could give two fucks". April's a little bit that way, as well.
She only gets rescued by the Turtles, that was important to me. Because in most movies, the female needs the help of a stronger, more capable male, and that doesn't happen in this movie. The only thing that happens is she needs a ride from Vern, but that's because she doesn't have a driver's license; it's New York City.
Q: And Vern is played by the always talented Will Arnett, Are you a big Arrested Development fan?
MF: I am. I think he and David Cross on that show are like hall of fame iconic.
Q: You mentioned Krang. Obviously this is a potential franchise -- what would you like to see in the sequel?
MF: There's been talk of Krang, of Bebop and Rocksteady. Of course, there's Casey Jones.
Q: Do you have somebody in mind?
MF: If I were not in this movie, and if he were available, which he's not, I say Andrew Garfield would be a really good Casey Jones..
Q: The importance of a strong female character that is not rescued by a guy -- there's been a lot of conversation about this in recent days.
There really aren't any superhero films with superheroines, even the Marvel films. Do you feel it's time, it's just a matter of time, before we see more of those? What's your perspective?
MF: Do you think I would answer as anything but yes? No, it's not time for women to be in [superhero] movies. Let's take it back 50 years. Here's what I can tell you. It doesn't really answer your question, but it's the answer I want to give you.
They should make a Danger Girl movie, and they should make a Gen13 movie. And then -- I wasn't super into this -- a real freaky audience would go see the Sailor Moon movie, so they should make that also.
If I were a producer, I would make so much money, because I've got my finger on the pulse.
Q: Are you ever going to be a producer?
MF: I don't know what I'm doing.
Q: You're busy with your family, sneaking in work when you can; you've got a full life. Do you have a plan in mind, what the ideal career looks like in the next few years?
MF: No. I'm impulsive. I'm not a planner, I'm not a pragmatic. I can't make lists and circle everything off; I can't do that. I just fly by the seat of my pants. I'm an adventurer.
Q: Everyone is in talks for True Detective Season 2, and everyone seems to be doing HBO shows. Would you like to be in any HBO shows, or anything like that?
MF: I don't watch a lot of TV, I don't have a lot of time, and when I do, I watch like reruns of The Office, to be honest. Or Ancient Aliens, you have to be a genius to appreciate that show.
I don't watch a lot of HBO. I guess I would do it, if it were filmed in Los Angeles, especially, because I have kids, so I'd like to be able to stay close to home.
Q: You said that you campaigned heavily for the role of April. Was there another universe you might campaign for, or any other iconic roles, like the Marvel Universe, or DC comics?
MF: If they were to make a Gen13 movie, I would pursue that pretty hard. Actually, isn't Sidney the one in Danger Girl, that is the brunette with the green eyes. I'd probably pursue that, as well. I've always loved Poison Ivy, but that happened already.
Q: Do you see yourself in a sequel of the Ninja Turtles?
MF: I definitely see myself in the sequel, coming to you in the summer of 2016. I would love to do it!
Q: What has been the most dangerous film, like a scene that you shot that was dangerous as a stunt?
MF: In all of my career? I had a humorous answer, but it would have turned into a terrible news story, if I said it out loud.
Actual stunts... there was a scene in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, where we're in the desert. I don't remember the exact amount of gas, it was something like a 100-gallon gasoline bomb that was going off -- the biggest ever, in film history. And we actually had to run as fast as we could, to avoid being burned. And we looked, and the special effects team were like three football fields away.
It was me, Chi, and Josh Duhamel, who were the only human beings who were anywhere near the explosion. I guess that was the first time I've seen both of them terrified. We were all really scared, because we didn't know what was going to happen when they called "Action!"
Q: Who would you like to work with in the future?
MF: It's a good question. I don't often think about this. I have always been partial to Christopher Walken. I like him! He's really good.
Q: Who has inspired you along your career -- besides the Ninja Turtles -- especially female actresses in the past that you looked up to?
MF: It's a good question, because I consider myself a leader, and not a follower -- not to say that I haven't been inspired. I just feel that I'm a truly bizarre individual, and there h
aven't been many like me, thus far, in Hollywood.
You'd have to take it way back. Ava Gardner was notorious for being a real broad, speaking her mind and doing what she wanted, and that was sort of inspirational to me.
That's the best answer I can give you.
Q: What is your advice to aspiring actors?
MF: You will always have a great many, many, many haters, and you have to be able to survive that, and keep your head up, and protect your own self-image. It's difficult.
The main advice I give is, you have to make sure that you're not over-sensitive, and that you don't seek validation through the opinion of others. Because if you do, this dream will eat you alive.
Boseman & Taylor (Photo by B. Balfour)
Though by no means a perfect film or conventional biopic, the recently released Get On Up wrangles with the complicated life of one of pop music’s pioneers and enduring legends: James Brown, the GodFather of Soul.
If any artist deserves biopic immortalization, it’s the ultimate funkmeister, the late James Brown. When he died On Christmas Day 2006 of congestive heart failure, the 73-year-old star had built a musical legacy both historically and stylistically, defining a whole style of music and dancing as well as having gained — and lost — a financial and professional empire.
The kaleidoscopic nature of the Get On Up press conference offered a look into the making of this film, not unlike the film itself. Held at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, it illustrated the ups and downs in Brown’s life story with the same energy and drive that Brown himself had.
While the film suffers from a variety of limitations — some possibly imposed by Brown’s family — director/producer Tate Taylor (The Help) uses a challenging screenplay by the brother duo of Jez Butterworth and John-Henry Butterworth to envision the life of Brown as a tale of determination at the expense of all else.
Employing a touch of madness, Brown takes control of his life and career in this drama with such manic force that he has affected many generations beyond his own life. Instead of a more accurate version of Brown’s life, warts and all, this film glosses over or compresses actual events and incidents into a structure that serves Taylor’s rendition of this mythic figure.
Attending this press conference were the uncanny star of 42, Chadwick Boseman, who plays Brown, and Nelsan Ellis, who plays his best friend and long-suffering second, Bobbie Byrd. Also on the podium: Dan Aykroyd, who plays his mentor/manager Ben Bart, as well as Oscar-winning actress Octavia Spencer, who plays the madam who was the young Brown’s early supporter.
Rolling Stones founding member Mick Jagger (one of the film’s producers), director Tate Taylor and veteran producer Brian Grazer were also on hand answering questions.
Q: You were involved in this film for a long time. What was it like to prepare the movie, to partner with Mick Jagger on it and finally get it to work?
Brian Grazer: Working with Mick Jagger is one of the greatest thrills of my life.
I read about James Brown about 16 years ago, and I thought it would be amazing to make a movie about James Brown. I transitioned from that point to convincing James that I should make his life story into a movie, and then I owned the rights for about 12 years.
During those years I would have to renew the rights, let James Brown direct me, hire different screenwriters, once upon a time a different director. But it was a long, tedious, arduous process, and when James Brown died, I lost the rights and then they became even further complicated.
Mick and I knew each other before, but a year later he had an opportunity to read the script, and ended up with the rights. [We decided] we would do [this film] together and it's been a fantastic process.
Mick Jagger: Sounds rather arduous. It was much easier for me than Brian. Brian did all this work in the long distant past, and obviously it was very complex. It was much simpler for me because I was asked by a business associate and friend if I would make a documentary about James Brown and I said,“Let me think about that.”
I woke up in the morning and said, “Let’s do a feature" and he said, “What a good idea" but of course, being Hollywood, there already was a feature — there’s always a feature. Whatever you can think of, there's always a feature about it. Then I learned of the script and I learned of Brian's previous involvement, so that's the short version of how I got involved.
Actually, in Hollywood terms, from the beginning of my involvement to this point of having the premiere of the movie on August 1st, it's been a relatively short time. Brian had done all this hard work in the beginning, but since we started the second part of the journey, it's been really quick in Hollywood terms.
Q: Could you explain exactly what you did — were you involved in casting?
MJ: We had this project and had this script, which is really quite a good script. But we inevitably were going to leave the script alone. So we talked about how we could make it better, more relevant, more exciting.
Then Brian and I had to convince the studio that this was a movie that should be made. This is one of the difficult parts. Before you can start casting people, you have to know the studio will give you the money.
So after we had successfully done that, Brian and I talked about casting. We were very pleased to get Tate on board very quickly, and he was very enthusiastic. You never go quite as fast as you want, so it really helps to have someone like Tate who really wants to get going.
We talked about casting all the different roles, and I had the first say in these things, but we were all involved in these areas. It was a very good experience.
Q: Since James had an entrepreneurial spirit, what business that he had created surprised you?
Chadwick Boseman: The most surprising venture was the James Brown Food Stand. I don't know if you all know about that one. It was part of him wanting to recycle money within the black community before it goes outside of the community — to build. It actually was a genius idea. It obviously is not still around, but that was the thing that was the most surprising for me.
Dan Aykroyd: I would say nothing that James did entrepreneurially would surprise me. He was so broad-ranging in terms of his understanding of business, how to handle people, how to handle money, how to balance a book, how to make a tour more profitable than any other artist, and he extended it into the radio stations and the merchandising. He just got it, and he got it from a very early age.
Q: Octavia, your character was one of the few people in James' life who really stood by him and believed in him when he was a kid. Did you channel anyone in your life to get into that character, and why did you want to tell this story?
Octavia Spencer: There was very little channeling that needed to take place in order to understand what she was providing for him.
James Brown was definitely a music icon, and for those of us who are barely forty — that would be all of us — there was so much about the man in front of the music that I realized with the whole idea about him, I knew so little about him as a person. We know how the story ends, but perhaps not how it began and maybe a little bit of the middle.
I was really intrigued by that and the fact that you have this icon in Mick Jagger, this icon in Brian Grazer, and the genius of Tate Taylor; I really had to muscle my way in there.
Q: Mick can you recall when you learned of James Brown, and how that influenced you as a performer?
MJ: My recall of it is about 50 years ago and it’s not perfect. Will you forgive me? But it was a very exciting show.
James Brown was at the Underneath The Stars Festival, but there were many people at the show that were interesting to me for the first time. I'd never met Marvin Gaye before, for instance. I got the opportunity to chat with him. There [were] a lot of us on the show. It was a pretty crazy day.
I'd seen James Brown before one time, at the Apollo, and James was a bit annoyed about not being the last on the show. I was the only one that met him before, of all the people working on the show, including the producers of the show. I have no idea who they were.
I was the fall guy, because I was like 20 or something, so they said, “You go talk to him, you know him, you go call him out." And when you're 20, you say, “Sure.” Now it’s “That’s not my job, that's your job.”
Of course it didn't work. It might have somewhat assuaged him, but it played out and it was what it was. He did this amazing performance and we went on after, but in the end I don't think it really mattered. We had to work harder, and he worked harder, and maybe it was a better show because of it.
Q: How do you go on after James Brown? Did it influence your stage performance?
MJ: He influenced me a lot. Amongst a lot of other people, he influenced me in lots of ways. I could never do the dance routines like James, and I never spent the time and effort that Chad had to do to do the fantastic job that he does in this movie, because I didn't want to be an imitator of that.
But the thing about him that impressed me, as with other people that I was influenced by at the time -- Little Richard being the other one, who is in this movie as well -- was how to interact with an audience, the most important thing.
I’m sure that Chad got some of that into making this movie because James was all about interacting with the audience. It wasn't just your performance, it's about their performance too. It's about how they perform and they react and you react to them, the interplay between the both of you.
Q: What were the challenges in portraying James Brown?
CB: The entire thing was a challenge. When I looked at the role, the reason I was a bit… I was scared, there was no part of it that was just straightforward, easy, like, “you’ve done that before.”
A lot of people will say, “Where you're from, South Carolina” — but [I'm] from the low country of South Carolina, and it’s different. It's just not the same thing. I’ve spent quite a bit of time out of South Carolina.
We went down to Augusta to meet the family, and it’s pretty much on the border between Georgia and South Carolina. I stayed there a little bit longer, and just drove around, saw the family and soaked up as much of it as I could before we started. This was right before we started.
There was no part that was easy. Sixty percent of my fear was from the dancing. 30% of it was the caricatures that have been projected of him, and trying to get past what people think they know. But I don't think there was any easy part [even the other 10%].
Q: Tate, how was it reuniting with Viola Davis, who was Oscar-nominated for her work in your film The Help.
Tate Taylor: It's always a joy to work with Viola and I'll sum it up this way:
When Viola comes to work and there's a certain scene that you know she's going to do, you notice that people in the production office happen to be on the set that day — the accountants, the Teamsters, for some reason they are all walking around and it's a little more crowded. Then she starts to work and it's much like live theatre. Everyone just watches.
I am so fortunate to have her trust and to be able to work with her, because she really is a treasure, one of the greatest actresses on the planet. So to get her in anything I can do is a sheer joyous, joyous bonus.
Q: And Chadwick, what was it like working with Viola, especially in the very powerful scene where James meets his mother?
CB: I’ve worked with her more than once. It was exactly what he said. Once we started the scene, I wasn't thinking, "Viola's in it" or anything like that. It was such an intense scene for me. It felt like she had set up our relationship — she didn't talk to me.
We had a meeting the night before when the scene was being revamped because we both had problems with it. That scene changed. When we were in that meeting, Viola never really talked with me, she only talked with Tate. I assumed that she didn't want to build a personal relationship, she wanted that distance to be there — and it was, when she stepped into the room.
I knew it was over when she took that drink and she gulped it down and I was like “Oh my gosh!" I never really got up. We shot her side in the footage of me standing in that scene first, and then once I sat down, I don't think I got up for six hours.
They brought my lunch to me and I was still sitting in that same seat. They turned the cameras around and shot my side, because I didn’t want to leave the energy and tension that was being built between us. It was a very, very intense moment of filming.
Q: One great thing about the film is that it has a broad swath of James Brown songs, a lot of the best there is. We all have a memory of a James Brown song that affected us or when we had the experience of hearing him or seeing him live. Can you all talk about a song or songs that you remember or an experience of hearing James Brown and how it first hit you or affected you?
OS: I remember being on 22nd and Lehigh Avenue, and someone was playing, "I'm Black and I'm Proud.” I can't remember how old I was, but I'm pretty sure I was not out of [kids] school. What I remember, a guy was at the stop light and the music was blaring, and I remember something in me stood a little bit higher. I puffed my chest out at that song. That was the first James Brown feeling that I really remember.
Nelsan Ellis: "I'm Black and I'm Proud".
CB: Mine is the same, actually. I think that would be it. I'll always remember James Brown playing, being part of the soundtrack of my life. But if I had to pick one, it would be "I'm Black and I'm Proud".
TT: For me it's one song that brings up a memory. Primarily it was my mother's. She was a single mom and she loved James Brown and he was on her record player a lot. As a child it shaped me.
When we started filming the movie, she brought me all of her James Brown records. I had forgotten that she used to play them. They had her maiden name and her dorm room at her college on them, where it said, "Please return to this room."
And it made me think about her challenges, and James's challenges, and it was kind of cool that she listened to his music. She never said that was the reason, but I wanted to use all of them for that reason.
Q: Mick, do you have one?
MJ: The "Live at the Apollo" album was my real introduction to James Brown. I loved every tune and knew them all backwards -- all the intros, the segues, the instrumental segues. What was odd, though, was I had never actually seen him perform, but I had imagined the whole thing in my head, so I played his record to death.
Actually when we were prepping the movie, Chad and I played the very long track called "Lost Someone" where he interacts with the audience on that. That brought it back to the first time I ever played it.
CB: I had that song on Repeat for days, just listening to it over and over. I would leave it on in the crib and come back and it would still be on, because I wanted to walk in and have that playing while we were shooting this movie. There's something about it...
MJ: There's something about it — it’s so emotional, and also you can hear all the audience interaction. It's such a great [number].
BG: When I was in high school I was in a low-rider car club [laughs]. I'd plug in the 8-track, and literally it was the Rolling Stones, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and James Brown. And James Brown's "It's a Man's World" I loved and it resonated [with me]. It had that reverb sound and it would go on and on and on. So I loved that, and I loved "I'm Black and I'm Proud.”
Jill Scott: Well, I'm a child of the '70s and we were a James Brown household. But what really resonates with me is the stuff of the '90s — “Living in America". I love all of the early stuff, but what I like is that his music transcended age groups, and he was able to stay relevant throughout. So those are my two for right now.
DA: I'm a little older than the kids, so we can really get down to it. 1968, Montreal, Canada. The building is gone now, it's called the Esquire Show-Mar. You sat at the bar and the performers would dance along the bar. So during his performance, when Chet Daniel drops the cape on James Brown in "Please Please Please” — [it breaks your heart] — that was a seminal moment for my six friends and me.
We squeezed into one of my friends' mother's Mustang and came down from Ottawa to see the show. There was James Brown's boot heel this far from our beers, dancing up and down the Show-Mar. With a full band, yet they had to pack them on this small stage, the horns, the rhythm — everybody in the band saw early on that I loved them.
Q: What was it about your characters and performances that will stay with you for the rest of your career?
CB: First off, I had to try to get rid of James Brown after each shot. I had to. That was a process that I found I would have to keep. I think there's definitely the responsibility to yourself to be the best that you can be, and the responsibility to your fans that follow you. There's a certain quality that I think he always felt that you should have to pay to see him. I wouldn't take it that far.
If you were seeing his show, he would get his hair done again before he came out because he felt like you should feel like you're seeing "James Brown". He didn't put a cap on like we do today and try to get out before people can catch you. He wanted you to have that experience of seeing him in all his glory.
And there's something to be said for that. It's not just you performing onstage or onscreen, it is a connection that you want to make with people. Before, I would probably be that person who would put on a cap and leave. But I do feel like I can take a bit of that away in some other things.
DA: I would say that I took with me the wisdom, advice, gentle urgings and the bandwidth tuning of our terrific director. I'm going to remember how he directed me in this movie and it's going to help me with maybe lesser talents as I go forward.
OS: I would second that. I would also say that every job is different, every group of people, every character is different, but your process is usually the same once you learn how to do it. You have to make sure that you do the work to ground the person in reality so that you aren't building some sort of caricature or the performance doesn't ring hollow.
You have to connect to the piece, and you can't play your character then judge in some way. So when I read that I ran a brothel, I thought, “Great” because back in 1950, what were her choices? So I thought, “What a great enterprising young woman”, and I was happy to play her.
JS: I really would watch people and get to know their idiosyncrasies. My mother was in an abusive relationship early in her life, and she took us away from that. I couldn't quite understand why she stayed. I have been able to learn some things about that particular kind of woman -- the level of love.
Someone would easily say it's foolishness to stay with someone who is abusive to you. But what I learned about DeeDee is that there is a love that's greater, wider and more powerful than anything I as yet understand in this life, and I will always take that with me. I will always take that with me.
Do I want to be in an abusive relationship? Of course not! But I understand it better as I go on in this life, absolutely. And DeeDee still loved James. Period. I think I do, too.
NE: I'm kind of schizophrenic in that I take a little piece of every character I’ve played whether I like him or not. I take him — or her — with me. I also think you can't judge the person you play, so I learn from the humanity of the people I play, especially the individual character in mind.
Q: How much did you know about Bobby Byrd when the script came to you and how did you prepare for the role?
NE: I knew nothing about Bobby Byrd before the script. I didn't know who Bobby was or that he even existed, so I had to do a search to find out who he was. Man, I fell in love with the dude and I'm very proud to have played him.
Q: You have Bobby Byrd, PeeWee and all the other members of the band -- but why was there no Fred Wesley? Were there legalities or what?
TT: There was. With a story as vast as James Brown, his whole life and the people involved in his life, it's a frustrating embarrassment of riches of all the people that you wish to have in your film.
There was actually a scene where we met Fred Wesley. But unlike a novel, [where] you can have a 700-page book, you can't have a seven-hour movie, and we had to make tough choices.
What really reigned supreme for me and the story is protecting what we didn't know about James, and where an audience could learn versus what they knew. It was hard at times, but we were following that guideline the choices of what we kept in became pretty easy.
Q: Chadwick, Nelsan, and Dan, throughout the movie you demonstrate great chemistry in your friendships. What do you attribute that to?
NE: Mr. Boseman is a great actor, and he's such a generous actor so it was easy to [act] with him.
CB: It's my first time working with either of them. I've been a fan of Nelsan for years. I watched him in True Blood and in roles in movies, so I already knew it was going to be a good chemistry. He seemed to work from a place that was so truthful, and I felt like once we got over the dance rehearsals, there was like [rapport] because we were both feeling similar pain. We went through a hell together.
Dan Aykroyd is a legend, so it was a pleasure to have him on this movie because of the enthusiasm he brought to it and also because he knew James Brown. He was super-cool off set as well. And when I was onscreen with him, it was the most fun. I had so much fun working with him.
I definitely felt like this was an interesting relationship that James Brown had with Ben Bart -- “Pop.” I remember reading in the autobiographies and biographies that he called this white man “Pop.” And the more I read about it, the more I understood the friendship. There was a friendship, and there was a mentorship that Pop had for him. It was easy to have that with Dan because he gave so much.
DA: He’s straight-up lying because he's an ace of an actor. He's a great actor. You get on the set and you're in it together. You're an actor, you face yourself, you're there with the director, in a common environment of creativity, and you just do the work.
It's not hard to love Chad here, for this and of course, for his past work. He did an incredible job in 42, another breakthrough movie about what we should be thinking about in this country at all times.
And he's an enormously lovable and extremely talented man, and my affection in real life for him I think translates in the movie. I think you can see it, because Pop really gave his all for James Brown and they had a really great friendship.
MJ: This is a bit more than a generic biopic, really. So it stands out from that genre a little more. I don't think it's really got anything to do with social networking or being online or being on Twitter or anything else. Either you are compelled by this movie or not.
And I find this movie is compelling, telling the story of this guy, a story of adversity, telling a story of how he's being single-minded, how he's almost obsessed with making himself into somebody from nothing, and the price he has to pay for that. There's always a price to pay for this one single-minded drive to be somebody, and you pay for that in some way. I think this movie shows the price you pay for it.
This is a compelling story. It could have been a fictional story. You could have written it as a fictional piece. The fact that it's about someone who is no longer alive obviously makes it more interesting, but it's the compelling nature of the story.
Q: What do you feel is James Brown's enduring legacy in the music world?
MJ: As someone said earlier, people from all different backgrounds and all different age groups, they all love him. So he's obviously of interest to a lot of people. You would say that he's the most sampled, free, hip-hop artist and all these things. He is all those things.
His actual recordings are still loved and they are still played on the dance floor in various forms or another, wherever you go, and all these different people from all over the world -- all different countries, all different groups, all different cultures -- they all know him.
I've been on tours where we have actually played a James Brown song. Other pop bands you’d think wouldn't relate to James Brown, but they all know that music. They can play those numbers. It's all part of musical history. So if you want to be a musician, this is part of the canon, you have to know this. If you don't know this, you're not complete.
For musicians, and for dancers alike, he's made this huge lasting contribution which goes on. And hopefully, I think, this movie does his legacy justice.
TT: I can't speak the language of music. I get a little embarrassed when people ask me specific questions about notes and bars and downbeats. It's just not in my head. But what I loved, that Chad and I discovered when we went to speak with his daughters -- and this is reflected in the Cold Sweat rehearsal -- is that they said, "Daddy didn't talk music. He didn't read music."
I don't think he ever tried to. He spoke about music from what feels good, and he would explain emotionally to his band. He would utter sounds and say, “Do this, do that.”
And that's really cool. It came from the heart and a feeling, and he may not have had a profound way to articulate it or say it in ways that big musicians would understand, but he made it accessible to me. It made me realize that everybody can do something, they have a right to do something, if they feel it.
DA: As far as connecting with this generation and the next generation, once this movie comes out, it's going to be on iTunes, people are going to be emailing each other YouTube clips of dancing and singing from the movie. You're going to have young people really connecting to this and sending each other their favorite clips.
I think this next generation will really get it about James Brown and I hope this next generation comes out the door, puts their laptops and texting aside and come and spends an hour and a half with us in the theater.
To see The actual James Brown on film see this series as outlined in our preview.
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