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Daily Archives: December 7, 2010
Angelina Jolie, looking the model of the modern movie starlet in Paris, isn’t ashamed to admit that a lot of the reason for signing on to her latest film, “The Tourist,” was purely scenic. Even before “The Lives of Others” director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck was signed to direct, the Venice and Paris settings inspired her to step into the space in her family’s schedule left by the collapse of husband Brad Pitt’s “Moneyball” to take a role as a woman of mystery embroiled with Johnny Depp’s roaming Wisconsin math teacher.
“Brad’s film was delayed, and I said, ‘Well, is there anything out there that shoots in a great location? Because I don’t want to drag all the kids to another tough place for right now, ‘” she says. “They said, ‘There’s a film that shoots in Venice and Paris.’ I said, ‘Fantastic. Send me that one. What is that?’ And then, hope was, we’d find a great European director, and Florian was my favorite and my first choice, and it all just came together.”
Jolie winds up spending the majority of the film wearing beautiful ensembles in beautiful locations — again, while not exactly a difficult gig, also something demanded by the script and the Hitchcock-lite tone the film was shooting for. “I knew that we had to try for something elegant and beautiful,” she says. “It’s not a great, intellectual film; it’s not a big, emotional, deep film — it’s a lovely caper, so it had to be beautiful; it had to be special and fun. The scenery, the clothes and all that was important, so we had to figure that out.”
No costume or piece of couture, of course, was as important as Jolie’s co-star Johnny Depp. “He’s such a brilliant actor,” she says. “He’s just brilliant and sort of natural. He’s so giving. So it was just a pleasure. It was so much fun.” Perhaps too much fun. When I ask Jolie if there are lengthy scenes on the cutting-room floor of her and Depp cracking up, she smiles a knowing smile. “Very lengthy takes of that,” she says. “There were very angry producers and a lot of wasted film between the two of us just not being able to contain our laughter.”
There also, I suggest, had to be plenty of lost time from the difficulties of shooting in Venice’s palaces and canals. “There was,” she says, “but as an actor, we were kept from a lot of that. We kind of come out when it’s all sorted, and you think, ‘Ah, it looks so beautiful … As if by magic. Look at that: Venice is lit up at night, and the canals are perfect.’ So the crew really takes the credit for somehow making it work and figuring it out.”
Considering the end of the year’s slew of darker, dour dramas intended for Oscar consideration, I ask Jolie if she hoped that “The Tourist” and its light, bright charms would be a chance for moviegoers to enjoy something glossier and lighter during the holiday season. “I hope so, yeah,” she says. “I hope that people see it that way, and have some fun.”
Sitting down to talk in Paris, Johnny Depp — hair still at Capt. Jack lengths, gold teeth still plugged in his head from working on “Pirates of the Caribbean IV,” and the most tan human being in a 500-mile radius — is a far cry from Frank Tupelo, the perfectly average middle-American math teacher he plays in “The Tourist.” Was it, I ask, a pleasure to play someone so extraordinarily ordinary? “Oh, most definitely,” he says. “That was what intrigued me. I loved the story, to sort of attack this thing ahead known as the ordinary man. Not too many highs, not too many lows; just kind of glides along through life. This guy is put into a situation that’s completely abnormal and highly sensitive and unpleasant.”
And Depp also relished creating a part from the original script — an exercise that gave the world’s most eccentric movie star a chance to work out some ideas of his own. “The idea was to make him really the everyman, the math teacher who has a slight amount of obsessive-compulsive disorder and his weird routines and things like that in the script,” he says. “The idea was to take this guy, this normal guy, and put him into these situations that are certainly less than normal, these kind of high-stakes situations.”
Beyond playing a classic thriller protagonist — the average man in a deeply odd circumstance — Depp also relished the chance to work with director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck in his studio film debut and with Angelina Jolie. “I watched ‘The Lives of Others,’” he says, “and I thought Florian’s work was really teetering on the flawless, just kind of up in the ranks of ‘Chinatown.’ Incredible work. I just thought to see this guy enter this arena would be interesting, so I was very intrigued by that, certainly. And then the opportunity to work with Angelina — I admire her greatly.”
I ultimately ask Depp if playing in a film with so much old-school glamour — with Tupelo leaping across Venice’s tiled roofs running for his life or showing up at a black-tie gala to try to save the day — was, for him, the biggest pleasure of starring in “The Tourist.” “Most definitely,” he says. “I mean, yeah, of course. Because there’s a sliver of it that initially reminded me of Hitchcock, like ‘North by Northwest,’ this guy that ends up in these situations that seem to go worse and worse and worse. There’s a (sense of) classic cinema to it. I think Florian really stuck to that.” “The Tourist” opens nationwide this Friday. You will be calling your travel agent to price out trips to Venice by noon Saturday.
As Dickie Eklund — the ex-pro-boxer turned crack addict in “The Fighter” who inspires and hinders his brother “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg) in his pursuit of glory years later — Christian Bale is guaranteed Best Supporting Actor acclaim at the Oscars. Gaunt and goofy and jangling with energy, Dickie’s a scene-filling presence — which inspired me to ask Bale what it was like dealing with the real, raw, riled-up Dickie Eklund on-set. “I love the research that you get to have with it,” he said, “but I’ve never done this before, where I’ve actually had the guy standing on the set with me. That could be awful, could be great. It ended up being great for this. I liked Dickie an awful lot. When we first met, I think he was a little suspect: Who the hell was I; why should I be playing (him)? I was looking at him going, ‘Is he going to end up being a thorn in my side, or is he going to sabotage the whole thing?’ We ended up really liking each other. We sat down, had many conversations, hung out together and laughed for a little at Mark’s place, and I wish I could have that experience on every movie that I did.”
Bale explained how he also had plenty of time to train, including hopping into a ring at co-star Wahlberg’s home. “I had a good amount of training with Dickie and Micky in the ring at Mark’s place. Losing the weight was really great because it allowed me to adapt to Dickie’s fighting style, which is very different from how I would fight, given my body type, in acquiring the squirreliness he had and getting into body language — when he’s nonstop moving.”
You can, of course, train to play a boxer — but how do you train to play a crack addict? When I asked Bale how many calories he could feel himself burning playing Dickie’s twitching, tense ways, Bale broke into an agitated boxer’s stance, bobbing and weaving and punching — “the moves,” as he called them — as he gave his answer: “Lots and lots, and also, you’ve got to be fit if you really want to do the moves well; you’ve got to be fit doing the moves. But with Dickie, he never stopped moving. The guy’s just burning up calories all day long.”
But for all of the heavy themes of family and redemption and addiction in “The Fighter,” Bale noted that there’s laughter and light in the film, just as there was on the set. “I’m sure possibly there were takes that maybe David chose to not use because it was too funny,” he said. “There’s that great thing in tragedy and comedy: They do go hand in hand. It absolutely does. With Dickie, he’s got this buoyancy, this lightness, this Tigger-like kind of bounciness to him: No matter what situation he’s in, he’s kind of charming you into forgetting what it is that he’s actually done. That is what makes him so wonderful. When you meet Micky and Dickie and you think of the whole story, I don’t think about crack addiction and that deep sort of world; I think about the two of them and the love that they have for each other. And of course, the mess-ups again and again and again; the loyalty, but the in-fighting between them, the dynamics of families where it’s become unhealthy and trying to shift it around and how painful that is. Ultimately, Micky and Dickie, they’re great company. You get the two of them alone together, they’re just hilarious.”
Mark Walhberg isn’t just the star of “The Fighter.” He’s also one of the producers, a title born out of his long-standing determination to bring the true story of Boston-area boxer Micky Ward to the screen. It wasn’t an easy labor. When I asked what making “The Fighter” took, Wahlberg shook his head and gave a low exhale. “It took all the passion I could muster, and a total of about five years to bring it to the screen,” he said. According to Wahlberg, the problem wasn’t finding financing from Paramount, but, rather, the right talents. “We had the support of the studio. It was about finding the right cast, the right filmmaker and people really being willing to commit and go to that place. It’s not an easy thing to do. I just kept fighting and fighting and scraggling and kicking and clawing, and we ended up doing it for about half the money and half the time — but I think ultimately we were able to make the best version of the film.”
Intriguingly, Wahlberg didn’t pack muscle onto his frame for “The Fighter” but, instead, trained to lose weight to drop into a lighter class of boxer just like Micky Ward had to for his bouts. Wahlberg explained how the process was a battle in and of itself. “It just takes a lot of discipline. I was up to the challenge because I wanted to look like a guy who could win the title. It was just hard because you’d get in shape and you’d feel like you were ready to go, and then the movie would fall apart, and you’d have to start over again, and I didn’t want to go back and start over again and lose all that time. I just kept going and continued to train throughout all the films that I did. I was willing to train and to maintain that.”
And director David O. Russell, who worked with Wahlberg on “Three Kings” and “I Heart Huckabees,” was a steady point for Wahlberg to look to. “I never have to worry about what’s going on in the back of his mind. He’s always going to be completely honest and very direct with me,” he said. “It saves a lot of time. We don’t have to be precious with one another; we’re like brothers, and sometimes truth hurts, but you’d rather have the truth. I can’t wait till we go do it again. He’s writing another film that hopefully we’ll go and do together. Hopefully (‘The Fighter’) is just the third of many.”
In a number of scenes in “The Fighter,” Wahlberg’s Micky Ward genuflects and makes the sign of the Cross before or after his bouts. Wahlberg, whose troubled past has given way to a present of family and faith, explained how that was taken from the real Micky Ward, but his answer also revealed that thanking God as part of one’s work wasn’t an act or a impulse he was a stranger to.
“When (Dickie Eklund and Micky Ward) were out here living with me for the time that they did, living at my house, every morning we’d start our day off at the church. We’d go in, we’d say our prayers, and then we’d go running from there, about 8 miles.” So, I had to ask, between the comedy success of “The Other Guys” and Oscar talk around “The Fighter,” does Wahlberg feel like it’s been a pretty good year? He smiled with a warmth it would have been impossible to imagine a few short years ago. “Every year above ground and not behind bars is a good year, but, yes,” he said. “I’ve had an amazing year, and I really feel like I’m coming into my own. I have a wonderful family, and I couldn’t be any more blessed.” “The Fighter” opens in limited release this Friday.
If any film’s been a late entry into the Oscar race this year, it’s “The King’s Speech,” a rousing drama telling the story of when England’s King George VI (Colin Firth), thrust onto the throne just when England was on the verge of war with Germany, worked with unconventional speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) to learn to speak through a lifelong stammer — and give the kind of address to the English people needed to rally a nation at the beginning of its darkest hour. Director Tom Hopper, who previously shot the much-praised “The Damned United,” a soccer behind-the-scenes drama, spoke with me by phone a few weeks ago.
What, I asked Hopper, was the biggest pitfall he worried about when making “The King’s Speech”? His answer was swift: “Lots of things. The short list? The stammer — Colin and I talked a lot about the risks. The risk is that it is comedic, the wrong way. Stammers are often used in comic films, like ‘A Fish Called Wanda.’ The risk is that it is too slow, (or) the risk is that it’s so agonizing to watch you don’t want to be in the cinema anymore because it’s just painful. Or, you go too minimal because of these fears and then you don’t think there’s enough of a problem to make a film about. So I think the thing I’d probably be most proud of in the movie is the conducting of the stammer — the decision about when it’s more pronounced, when to put it back, and the rhythm of those choices, and keeping the pace of the film so that people remain in it while also being truthful about the stammer. I think that was definitely a big, big challenge.”
A challenge — and an opportunity — also came when, just nine weeks before production, there was an unexpected treasure trove of documentation: “My production manager does a lot of research, (and he) found Lionel Logue’s grandson living in London — and he had in his attic the diaries of Lionel Logue. They were handwritten account of his relationship with King George VI.” But while there was scrambling to get that material into David Seidler’s screenplay, Hopper explained, it also made for some of the film’s finest moments.
“A couple of the funniest lines in the film were written by King George VI and Lionel Logue. For example, at the end of the big speech, at the end of the movie, Lionel turns to the King and says, ‘You still stammered on the ‘W.” The King says, ‘Well, I had to throw in a few so they knew it was me.’ That always brings the house down, that line, in every screening I’ve been to. The last time those lines were spoken out loud was by King George VI and Lionel Logue, and it was literally a quote from the diary. So the truth is, if you embrace research, it yields many great things.”
And even after standing ovations at Telluride, Toronto and AFI Film Fest Los Angeles — among many others — Hopper never thought his movie would become the smash it’s poised to be on the strength of its buzz. “You could never expect it,” he said. “It’s been so overwhelming. One would be frankly crazy if one expected that to ever happen, because it’s so extraordinary. I read it as a play script, just as Geoffrey did. We both thought it was a movie. The very first day of the shoot, we did the scene between Geoffrey and Colin when their characters meet for the first time in a consulting room. I wanted some of their first-day nerves on the shoot — it helps the kind of quality of the first encounter between them.
“In that scene, I had the very strong sense that Colin was giving the performance of his lifetime on that very first day, and I thought that what I was involved in from these two men was extraordinary. I kind of felt they would get an acknowledgement in it somehow, critically, whatever. But in terms of the overall film, it’s been wonderful.” “The King’s Speech” is now in limited release.