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Daily Archives: May 11, 2011
In the Kristen Wiig comedy “Bridesmaids,” a big part of the comedy is the ensemble cast around Wiig’s manic maid of honor. Part of that group, which includes Rose Byrne, Ellie Kemper and Wendi McLendon-Covey, is Melissa McCarthy’s Megan, whose take-no-prisoners, no-holds-barred bluntness means she steals every scene she’s in. McCarthy, a veteran of L.A.’s infamous Groundlings comedy improv group, explained when we met that after years of development, the call that the script was going into production — with her up for a role — came as a shock.
“They said, ‘Why don’t you come in and read for this part, Megan.’ I got it, and I thought, ‘Oh my God, she’s out there and, as weird as it sounds, is maybe right in my wheelhouse.’ People think she’s so odd, but she’s kind of similar to the women I always do at Groundlings that I love — I love me some Midwestern eccentric women. I guess I’ll say it that way.”
While keeping to a film’s script is different from improvisation, McCarthy also knew that “Bridesmaids” would give her room to stretch. “I think it’s a delicate balance. It’s not that loose and free. If you’re lucky enough to get a fantastic script, and there’s fully formed characters, then you can improvise. You’re changing the joke or the noun. You get more freedom when you already have such a great roadmap to go with. You have to wrap it up.”
“I can’t tell you how many times once Paul (Feig, director) would yell ‘cut,’ (and) I was like, ‘I’m sorry, that’s a four-and-a-half minute story that is never going to see the light of day because I can’t talk about my love affair with a dolphin for six-and-a-half minutes and expect (it) to show up somewhere.’ You do have to keep it brief, get your points out, and hopefully have it be funny.”
If Megan’s dialogue comes as a surprise to the audience, that’s in no small part because it often came as a surprise to McCarthy. “I guess I don’t know why I say a lot of the things I say. It just seemed like when I was in the mode of Megan, I took the first thing that came to my mind. I thought she was so confident, if I thought it, it must be the truth. I would just say it.”
McCarthy also loved being part of an ensemble — as I noted, it’s called “Bridesmaids,” not “Bridesmaid.” “I think with Kristen and Annie (Mumolo) writing it, the movie and the way the set was run speaks so much to what kind of women they are. How smart, how funny, and also how incredibly kind and confident enough to never need this to be mine, this to be yours, and let’s ration it out. Kristen, a lot of times, said, ‘Do you feel OK with this? Do you feel like we’re going in the right direction?’
“Kristen’s crazy. She’s in the lead in the movie and also is like, ‘Do we all have waters? Did you get a water?’ I’m like, ‘What are you doing, worrying about who has water?’ Literally, that’s who she is. I’ve known her for 10 years, and nothing has changed about her. She’s still this incredibly nice woman that now the world knows how funny we’ve always known her to be.”
Like all Judd Apatow-produced films, McCarthy promises much, much more when the film comes to DVD: “There is a 22-hour cut of this movie. I’m waiting for the miniseries to come in. I really am anxious to see the DVD. They’ll have to have 16 hours of fantastic bonus things on it. Rose (Byrne) and I were talking before that we keep coming up with whole scenes that we’re like, ‘Oh my God, that’s not in the movie. What happened to that?’”
Based on a four-page Raymond Carver short story, “Everything Must Go” stars Will Ferrell as Nick Halsey, a salesman in free fall. Nick’s back on the bottle after a few rough months of sobriety, fired from his job and locked out of his house by his wife — with everything he owns on the front yard. Directed by Dan Rush, the film is a tough drama with some rough-but-real laughs and is an excellent showcase for Ferrell’s more serious side.
Talking with Ferrell, I asked him if the film’s origins as a slight short story worried him, or if it gave him room to explore. “I think this piece of material is too long to base (a film) on. It should have been a two-page story,” he cracked. More seriously, Ferrell noted, “That’s where the smart writer, director and producers don’t reveal that to you, and lazy actor doesn’t read the short story before reading the script. I just read it as a script at first, not having any idea who Carver was — I’m not familiar with his work at all. I fell in love right away with the material.”
“Then, in doubling back and reading the short stories, that’s when I had your reaction, which is, ‘Wow, how did Dan (Rush, director) create this from such a short piece of work?’ But it made me love the script even more, because I thought he so masterfully captured the tone of Carver as I read the rest of his short stories. I thought (Rush) really nailed the stark quality.”
For all of its laughs, “Everything Must Go” will confound any audience member expecting comedy more in line with “Anchorman” or “The Other Guys.” Did that give Ferrell pause? “It’s definitely not on my menu of concerns, but more importantly, I have to have a firm belief that people are astute enough, aware enough, smart enough to figure out that this is just a different movie,” he said. “I think the tone of the promotional campaign shapes that. If you’re a movie fan, you’ll draw insight from interviews and that sort of thing. That having been said, I would never not do this for fear that people would be concerned and think they were seeing something they weren’t. ”
Ferrell doesn’t worry about facing the same kind of backlash that, say, Bill Murray did for moving to serious drama with “The Razor’s Edge” in 1984. “At least maybe I’ve softened the underbelly with something like ‘Stranger Than Fiction,’ he said. “I guess it’s always a concern. You’re always going to see the things or hear about the things written like ‘Another comedian tries to be serious’ and that sort of thing. In the interviews I’ve done, it feels like there’s an awareness that that’s an old story and not that exciting to write about.”
So, moving on. I asked Ferrell how exactly did he prepare to play someone who’s ruined his whole life? “I really haven’t experienced something, fortunately, the way this guy has,” he said. “It was really, I would say, through the strength of the material. I don’t know. I just had an innate sense of how this guy should be played. For me, it was really relying on those moments where I felt isolated and alone, which I can draw upon. There has been a time of my life — we’ve all had those feelings where we’re figuring out what’s going to be next. I guess I fell back more on that than my alcoholic past — my nonexistent alcoholic past. We collected stories of people we knew that had been through this and are still dealing with it. I really did get super-drunk one night and filmed myself just to see. I’ve never really done anything that method, in a way, and just to see if there was any transformation that happened. Watching it back, I’m really just a happy drunk. I’m not really Nick. But there was still stuff to glean from it in terms of the physicality of things and things like that.”
Last June, a group of journalists were invited to the campus of Cal State Dominguez Hills just outside of L.A. to visit the set of a film from a second-time director. Of course, that second-time director happened to be Tom Hanks …
With Hanks both behind and in front of the camera, “Larry Crowne” is the story of a man who’s lost almost everything — his job, his marriage, his sense of self — and finds a new kind of, yes, community at community college, falling in with a scooter gang led by Gugu Mbatha-Raw. On the day of the set visit, the scooter crew was filming a brief discussion where Mbatha-Raw offers Crowne’s bona fides to leader Wilmer Valderrama and then rolls out. Hanks was asked if he was doing his own stunt scooter-ing.
“Well, I get to brag about it now. ‘Yeah, I did my own stunts,’ he said. “Most of the time doing your own stunts means that you fall and you look bad. You get to jump across a creek or something like that. We roll pretty dangerously here. But, yeah, you know. You have to be careful.”
I asked if the insurance company representative goes off-white when told the director-star has to be signed up for stunt insurance. Hanks laughed. “You know, we’re so low-budget, I don’t know if we have insurance,” he said. “My brother doubles me in a couple of things that we’re doing off somewhere else. And we do have a couple of stunt drivers for when we have a really, really big pack. Because we have, at most, I think close to 30 scooters going at the same time in some of the stuff. But everyone’s an experienced scooter driver, or at least wrote down on their resume that they are experienced scooter drivers. One of our girls, I think, got her license the day before. So she was a liar, but we let her keep her job anyway. But it’s fun. There’s no way around it. ”
For Hanks, “fun” seems to be a big part of doing “Larry Crowne.” “We’ve been talking about this for the last four or five years, and the idea has just been stewing after the really kind of big, massive, huge-scope projects like ‘The Pacific’ and the ‘DaVinci Code’ movies. The idea being just to do a run-and-gun smaller film that I had in my head. No one is making movies like this right now. No one gets laid. There’s no gambling or tigers involved. Nothing explodes. No one gets punched in the face. It’s almost like you just take the rock and roll sequences out of ‘That Thing You Do.’ So it’s a character analysis as well as a situational one.”
So, I noted, Larry loses his job, he goes back to school, he joins — and here I nodded to the scooters while referencing the 1957 Brando biker pic “The Wild One” — the mild ones … Hanks looked at me askance: “You just coined that phrase? ‘The Mild Ones?’” Mockery aside, I continued, how hard is it for Hanks to get in touch with that kind of life change? “I’m pretty successful. I don’t have quite those pressures,” he said. “Well, it is all relative. That is one aspect of it. And, look, all these things are biographical somewhat. I remember losing a job and feeling horrible about it. I remember very well the anxiety of not being able to pay your rent and trying to make a plan over a long course of time. And also, quite frankly, public education — specifically junior college — changed my life. Now, I wasn’t 53, but the atmosphere that I remember is distinctive and still pays off now. And I think that whatever motion picture you’re doing, whether it’s a huge budget that opens day and date nationwide on 60,000 or something like this as well, it still has to hold the mirror up to nature.”
Hanks is also diving into social media and was asked about his own tweeting, under the name @tomhanks. Does he enjoy it? “Yeah. I’m gonna tweet you guys right now. Lemme get a picture of you. I’m gonna call you guys ‘The Mild Ones’ …”
We’ll have more from the set of “Larry Crowne,” with Hanks, Mbathaw-Raw and Valderrama, closer to the film’s July 1 release.
Last August, in a junkyard in Grand Rapids, Mich., Jesse Eisenberg — not yet an Oscar nominee for “The Social Network” — was being threatened by gorilla mask-wearing armed toughs, who closed their threats by demonstrating the explosives they’d strapped to him by exploding a stuffed animal. Over and over again.
It was all for the upcoming action-comedy “30 Minutes or Less,” of course, which sees Eisenberg reunited with “Zombieland” director Ruben Fleischer. Eisenberg plays a pizza delivery guy forced into bank robbery by low-life crooks Danny McBride and Nick Swardson, given 10 hours to rob a bank or be blown to bits by the explosives-stuffed vest they’ve locked to him. Eisenberg spoke with the press about keeping his energy up in the face of terror and repetition. “Sometimes it’s easier than others,” he said. “Don’t drink coffee in the morning, ’cause then you’ll have, like, peaks of energy and lows. I try to maintain, like, a low-level exhaustion all day.”
Eisenberg had also researched his character’s world: “The pizza place where we’re filming the movie, they let me go out with this guy Alex, who they thought most similar to my character. I was surprised to realize how similar he was. He was as sarcastic and self-aware as the character is. It was a perfect match for my character, also for the kinda basic logistics of how it is to deliver pizzas and who the customers are. These guys who kidnap me in gorilla masks are surprisingly not far off some of the people we met that evening.”
I noted the old proverb that nothing concentrates the mind like knowing you’re going to be hanged in the morning. Is that part of his character arc? “Yeah, the emotional center of the movie is this character who has never done anything in his life,” he said. “He has a line: ‘I’ve never even quit a job, just waited around to get fired.’ He’s in love with this girl who’s his best friend’s sister. He’s never told her. He’s just kinda ridden through life lazily. This metaphorically lights a fire underneath him to take a stand and spend these 10 hours doing everything he should have been doing the last several years.”
So, which is tougher: running from zombies for Fleischer or racing to beat the clock? “This movie is more, at least for my character, serious in tone. ‘Zombieland’ was a little more fun. This one has to be played pretty much straight. This one is a little more exhausting because it’s set in the real world — there’s no winking to the audience, with this one.”
Eisenberg wasn’t worried about finding laughs in a crime inspired by a real — and grisly — case. “I guess the more seriously you play something, if the context is funny, then it will be funny, and it doesn’t really require you to be explicitly humorous or silly. There are some scenes in this movie, because of the grave situation, that are naturally that much more funny. For example the last several days we’ve been filming this bank robbery where Aziz Ansari and I have to rob a bank and everything that can go wrong in the bank does go wrong. It’s because the two of us are so panicked and freaked out and taking it so seriously that it’s really funny.”
Also funny? Pizza delivery in Grand Rapids, as Eisenberg noted with a laugh: “Somebody gave us a $5 ’cause they liked ‘Adventureland.’” We’ll have more from the set of “30 Minutes or Less” closer to its Aug. 12 opening.
In the festival breakout hit “Hesher,” Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the title character, a strip-mall Rasputin with long hair, amateur tattoos and a trail of chaos, cigarette smoke and heavy metal in his wake. Hesher winds up becoming part of the life of a young boy (Devin Brochu) and his father (Rainn Wilson), both dealing with a tragic loss, as Hesher becomes a force for change — for good and for ill.
Speaking with Gordon-Levitt in Beverly Hills, I asked him how much anthropological research he got into Hesher’s heavy-metal mindset. “It’s funny, because on the one hand, you talk about an anthropological study of the stereotypical hesher” — slang for “heavy metal obsessive” — “but actually, I don’t think this character has that much to do with that stereotype,” he said. “I think on the surface he’s easy to reduce to that, and I think he likes it that way. To me, that’s not what the character was about. I wasn’t interested in embodying a stereotype. I wanted him to be unexpected; I wanted him to be a surprise. I grew up listening to Metallica, so that didn’t take any extra research.” ‘Hesher’ Trailer
A big part of the performance is the sheer physicality of it: wordless glares and movements. I asked Gordon-Levitt about playing those. “I always love moments without words. I love words, too. I guess I like them both,” he said. “A character like this where you can accomplish, you can communicate the story without having to speak — that’s cinematic. One of the things that movies can sometimes do that other mediums can’t do as well. We wanted him to come off a little magical, perhaps. At the same time, I knew the filmmaking would accomplish that. I made it my duty to make sure he stayed a grounded human being and not feel like you were watching a symbol or a stereotype, but that you were watching a unique, individual person. I think it’s that dichotomy that keeps it interesting.”
In keeping with the film’s world — and based on Gordon-Levitt’s admission of his own metal past — I asked him to name the top three heavy metal albums of all time. “‘Kill ‘Em All,’ ‘Ride the Lightning,’ ‘Master of Puppets,’” he said. Really? An all-Metallica top three? Gordon-Levitt smiled: “They’re called Metallica. You asked for heavy metal albums.”
With “Hesher” filmed before “Inception” — and with Gordon-Levitt just signed to take a role in “The Dark Knight Rises” — I asked if this was the kind of career he was hoping to have: moving between big- and smaller-budget films. “To me, it’s less about budget and more about the material, the filmmaker, the intention, and the passion and love for telling stories,” he said. “Whether that happens in a big-budget movie or a small-budget movie is less important to me.” If need be, Gordon-Levitt will take the smaller trailer or the less expensive lunch? “I’ve done movies without any of that, any of those amenities. That’s not what I do it for,” he said. Finally, I asked Gordon-Levitt if he had the ultimate metalhead automotive accessory. He laughed and shook his head: “No, I do not have a tape deck in my car.”