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Daily Archives: November 10, 2010
His voice — that voice, known worldwide for managing the very neat 21st-century trick of being both iconic and laconic — crackled down the phone lines from Manhattan as I spoke with Harrison Ford about his new role playing news veteran Mike Pomeroy opposite Rachel McAdams’ rookie producer Becky Fuller in “Morning Glory.” Directed by Notting Hill’s Roger Michell, “Morning Glory” is a comedy — and, not coincidentally, Harrison Ford’s work as an old-school anchor is clearly the most fun he’s had in a part in years. I asked him if he enjoyed himself during all of the comedy we see on-screen. “Oh, it’s a hoot,” he said. “It’s great; it’s really fun. It’s more than fun — it’s the best job in the world.”
Ford’s vain, irritated and hard-nosed newsman Pomeroy is plunged into hosting a morning program thanks to contractual obligations and would-be producer Fuller’s unrelenting capacity to never say die. But Pomeroy’s got a few surprises that make him more than just a growl and a scowl. I asked Ford about his character’s penchant for bright socks: Was that, for but one example, a character-building touch in the script? “Oh, they’re not all in the script,” he said. “The socks were a notion I had that we should think that they’re something that we don’t know about this guy who appears to be so much of one thing. It was a kind of thing that was a hint there was another side.”
And when Ford talks about building a character, it’s in the kind of stable, steady language you’d expect from Hollywood’s most notable carpenter turned star: “I read the script. I see what the utility of the character is to the story overall. I see what opportunities I have for development of the character in various scenes. I try to understand the structure of the film and what’s required to help tell the story. And then I create a character out of that stuff. My ambition is really invested in trying to serve the story through that character.”
Still, I asked, when preparing to play a newsman, did Ford watch, say, the nightly news with a more attentive eye? “I don’t think so,” he said. “I think I had an appropriate understanding of the process and a very well-written script. What I didn’t want to do was imitate somebody else doing the news. I wanted to create a specific character, and that depended on really creating the character first and understanding how he might do the news, how he might behave as an anchor.”
And at the same time, things can change significantly for the actor in the time between preproduction preparation and the finished film. According to Ford, everything, for him, can change in the moment when filming: “I think it’s always a question of getting the ingredients prepared and adjusting to taste: ‘A pinch more of this; a little bit less of that; oh look, it might need some of this; look, somebody has already brought this flavor into the room.’ It’s a constant process of adjustment and massaging the material.”
One of the pleasures of the fun, fresh and entirely charming “Morning Glory” is watching Harrison Ford work opposite both Rachel McAdams and Diane Keaton. When I asked Ford if could talk briefly about Keaton and McAdams, his voice took on a very real amused warmth. “Oh, we can do more than briefly talk about them,” he said. “We can carry on forever. I’ve had some very talented people to work with, and credit to them, and also credit to (director) Roger Michell, who managed us all and created an environment in which we all felt very comfortable. Both of them have great comedy chops, and so I was very lucky to be able to work with both of them. The unusual aspect of the story between Rachel and I is the emotional relationship, and I found Rachel to be that rare actress that can keep the comedy up and going and still have an emotional reality to it.”
Ford has of course been in huge hits and a few misses, and is notoriously selective about what films he does. I asked him how he picks projects, what he looks for. “Exercise … for the acting instrument,” he said. “I look for something new, a different way of getting at the muscles, a different way of engaging the audience, a different way of storytelling. I look for a character that I haven’t done before or a movie in a genre that I haven’t visited lately. I look for great people to work with.”
But even as Ford looks forward, his storied past — as Indiana Jones, as Han Solo, as “Blade Runner” Rick Deckard — is always in moviegoer’s minds. I offered that film culture these days seems to be suffering from a slight case of nostalgia poisoning, and he made a low chuckle. Does he, I asked, ever want to say to people — when they bring up his legendary roles from years gone by — “This is what I’m doing now, this is my next film. Let’s not live in the 1980s, the 1970s, even the 1990s”? “I don’t really much care where anybody else lives; I just want to know who my neighbors are,” he said. “I want to keep applying — the audience has changed quite a lot over the years, and I want to be able to be in films that there’s an audience for. If you act in the woods, nobody hears it — is it acting? I never thought it was. It’s not something you do alone; it’s something you do for an audience. I want to be able to not see the money wasted, so my last film that I worked on is ‘Cowboys & Aliens’ with Jon Favreau, and that’s the kind of film, in my judgment, that people are excited about going to these days. I hope people are excited about going to see ‘Morning Glory,’ too, but it’s a different kind of film, a different genre.”
I offered that Favreau seems to have proved with “Iron Man” that he can make a very large film that is also a very good film, and Ford agreed: “That’s what I’m hoping for, and what I’ve seen so far has got me convinced that I was right putting my faith in him.” Finally, I asked Ford, “What’s the last film that you watched, that you weren’t involved in, that really made you sit up and say ‘Whoah?’” “‘The Hustler,’” he said. “I ran across it on television. I was mesmerized by it. I’ve never been a big moviegoer; I’ve never been a student of film, I’m afraid, and it’s a bit embarrassing. I was so impressed with the talent, with the focus and storytelling and acting and photography. The whole thing was just stunning, and it makes me want to go back and watch a lot of older movies.” “Morning Glory” opens this Wednesday nationwide.
In “127 Hours,” James Franco plays Aron Ralston, the hiker who, infamously, found his hand trapped by a fallen boulder in Utah’s Canyonlands National Park and, driven to desperate measures, cut his own arm free to escape. Normally, I’d want to ask an actor who spends so much time on-screen alone about process, or acting, or the differences between solo monologue and two-character scenes — and yet, sitting down with Franco to talk about the film, all I can ask him is the specifics of the effects rig they used to create the illusion his hand was trapped. “It was on a set, but they built the set in a very interesting way,” he says. “They used a scanner … (it was an) absolute replica. When we went to the real place, it looked the exact same. The boulder — we needed different kinds of boulders for various things, but the main one was kept in place by a steel rod, and then they built a space for my arm to go. Then it was like a handgrip, so I could just rest it there when I needed to. I didn’t have to worry that it was going to slump down; I didn’t have to be conscious of holding it in place the whole time. I just put it there. It was a handgrip. Even if I wanted to, I don’t think they would have allowed me to really tie myself in there.”
And while Franco never had to truly share Ralston’s predicament, he did feel like he shared plenty with the man whose story he had to portray. “Aron is a bit goofy, in the best way,” he says. “He has a goofy sense of humor. I guess some people would say I do — I don’t know. At least tangentially, I feel like I can relate to a lot of things. He was at Intel; I grew up with my father in Palo Alto. My father worked in Silicon Valley, so I was around all that stuff. As a high school student I worked in some of those companies as an intern. Aron loves the band Phish, and actually the shirt he’s wearing is a Phish shirt. I wouldn’t say I was a Phishhead like Aron, but when I was at UCLA, I went and saw Phish at Pauley Pavilion.” I joke that during the ’90s, seeing Phish was mandatory with UCLA tuition. Franco laughed. “Is that right? I didn’t realize it was cliché. It was a great show. ”
Of course, much of the film is just Franco — and much of Franco’s role involves him being tired, dirty and hungry. Did he, I clumsily ask, stay awake, go without water, deny himself food? Did he “method it up?” Franco laughed at the phrase, and the question: “Yeah, well, no. As a young actor, I ‘methoded-it-up’ quite a bit, and in some places where I think maybe it was unnecessary. But it might have taught me extremes that I was capable of as an actor, and I think every actor — at least, every actor that tries to push him or herself — does strange things. You want to do things that will make you close to that situation or be able to perform what happened to Aron in an authentic way. But you also don’t want to do things that are going to debilitate you as a performer. So depriving myself of water would only just make me really uncomfortable and not perform at my best. But other things, like doing a 20-minute take where Danny asks me, he says, ‘OK, this is where the character tries to pull himself out with brute strength. Do anything that you can: Yank, pull, bash yourself against the rock, kick it, knee it, anything and everything, and don’t stop.’ To do that for 20 minutes, that’s real. Those are real bruises; that’s real exhaustion after 20 minutes. That’s a real pounding headache because I’m so exhausted. So in that sense, we were method-ing the f— out of it.”
Looking like Morrissey’s older, smarter, nicer brother, director Danny Boyle is animated and affable when he talks about the challenges of making “127 Hours,” a much smaller-scale film than his Oscar-winning creation, “Slumdog Millionaire.” I ask Boyle if it was important, in crafting and telling the story, to keep an eye on the wattage of Aron Ralston’s halo — which is to say, making sure Ralston stayed human and real. Boyle explains his challenges: “I found a way the story was perceived on superficial levels to be incorrect, really. It’s particularly prevalent in America that he’s often looked at as a superhero. You read the story really closely, what he did was superhuman. So it’s that idea that we can turn a person, an individual into an extraordinary example to everyone of something that’s impossible for everyone else: a superhero to lead us all, to inspire us all. The story’s much more inspiring because he isn’t that, I think.”
Boyle also had the challenge of depicting Ralston’s ultimate fate without either skimping on the real labor and agony of the event … or splashing blood around like one of the “Saw” films. “I didn’t want it to be a splatterfest or gross-out, or anything like that,” he says, “but nor was I going to let it be trivialized by anybody — the studio, anybody — who’d try to reduce it, because I thought it’s crucial that you understand that it’s a journey in itself, this 40-odd minutes that it took him, and you have to go through that really to appreciate the power of what drove him to do it. The courage and the resources are not just drawn out of individual super-heroism. It’s drawn out of a collective thing somehow, and his need to get back to people. He doesn’t cut it off so that he can just go to another part of the canyon and go climbing again. He doesn’t do it just to live.”
Finally, Boyle talks about the challenges of filming and long days when he couldn’t even be on-set, working with a small-scale budget: “The stuff that emerges in the end feels appropriate to Aron’s limitations. You can’t tell this with luxury. I always thought that we wouldn’t have gotten a lot of money for it, but I thought even if you could get a lot of money for it, that would be wrong to tell it in that way. You’ve got to have restriction. We got plenty of money for it; it’s a lot of money, anyway. I thought you have to tell it circumspectly — financially. All we could use ‘Slumdog’ for was permission to make the film, really. They were never going to give us a huge amount of money, because they always thought — and rightly, I understand why, and we still haven’t sold many tickets, incidentally — that it’s going to be a difficult film to get people to go and voluntarily give up their time for.” “127 Hours” is currently in limited release.
In a sleek floral-print dress, brown hair in curving waves, smiling in the sunlit spaces of a West Hollywood hotel, Noomi Rapace is completely removed in style, mood and location from her work as Lisbeth Salander in the film adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s Millennium trilogy. For those of you who haven’t been near a bookstore, airport or mode of public transit in the past two years, Larsson’s novels — “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” “The Girl Who Played With Fire” and “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” — have become a worldwide phenomenon. All three books have been filmed in their native Sweden — and played in America — with Rapace playing the series’ stylized, brittle heroine Salander.
The film version of the series-ending novel has just come to America, and Rapace is eagerly doing press while planning future possibilities. Will she feel any sadness at leaving Salander behind? “No, I’m not so sentimental,” she says. “I say it’s always nice to let things go and to move on and leave things behind and accept that this was it, and now it’s time to go on. I did all I could for one-and-a-half years, and I’m done. I’m doing new movies now, and it’s like it’s over for me.”
And Rapace can also rest knowing that it’s not many fans who’ll make a link between her and the pierced, punk-rock and prickly Salander. At the same time, taking care of business while playing Salander was an eye-opener. “It was pretty interesting, because when I shaved my head and all that, people were so rude to me before the movies came out,” she says. “I did all those piercings, and I looked like a teenager. I remember I went into a bank; I was supposed to pay some kind of bill. They were so rude to me. It’s just, ‘F— you.’ If I’m having long, curly hair, if I’m having high heels, then people are so nice. But if you look like a punk rocker with black hair and makeup and piercings, then it’s pretty in a different way. So it was quite interesting to see how much people judge you from the way you look.”
Rapace’s work has gotten her a flurry of attention — and a role in the upcoming “Sherlock Holmes” sequel, joining director Guy Ritchie as Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law reprise their work as the world’s greatest detective and his stalwart medical cohort. “We’re having a great time, and it’s really fun,” she says. “I love them. I think Robert Downey Jr. is just amazing. He’s really good, and he’s such a hard-working actor. We’re working together, and it doesn’t feel like a big studio production. It feels like everybody’s working really close to each other, and everybody wants to do a great film together. So it’s really fun.”
But, I ask, doesn’t she feel she’s come into the middle of a bit of a boys club? “No, the funny thing is I see myself more as a boy,” she says. “I always felt I’m more secure with boys, within the man’s group. I’m the one who’s probably more guy than sometimes the guys. I’m pretty used to being around with guys and with boys. When I was a kid, I always preferred to play around with the boys instead of the girls.” “The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest” is now playing in select theaters.