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Daily Archives: May 18, 2011
On the second day of this year’s Cannes Film Festival, one actress emerged as the frontrunner for acting honors — Tilda Swinton, playing a mother living in the wake of her teen son’s killing spree in the film version of Lionel Shriver’s novel “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Directed by Lynne Ramsay, “Kevin” is a stark and grim story of guilt, shame and sadness — and yet Swinton’s performance is full of as much light as it is darkness, and contains hope with the hurt. I had the chance to speak with Swinton in Cannes about the film’s long, challenged production and about the specific challenges it offered her as an actress.
“There was no script when I was first talking to Lynne about this film. The script evolved during the course of our developments. I would say that the rollercoaster moment — apart from the rollercoaster moment yesterday, when we first showed the film to an audience — was probably when I read the book. (I) was so caught by this material, the taboo that Lionel Shriver, in her novel, approaches — the idea of a woman in this predicament of having a baby that she doesn’t have a bond with. (When) I realized what (Shriver) was dealing with, it felt to me such uncharted territory — certainly in terms of fiction, in terms of cinema — that it’s really new territory that’s a taboo subject.”
For all of the tension and trauma in “Kevin,” Swinton didn’t find herself especially haunted. “I’m always reminding people that making films is easier than watching them in the sense that we have a long time and bite-sized chunks to chew things through. We were aware that what we wanted to do was keep the entire territory of the film ambiguous … because of course the film is a fantasy. It’s part reverie; it’s certainly nightmare. Who knows if it’s true? I think very early on, I hope, the audience becomes clear that we’re not dealing in truths, we’re not dealing in facts, we’re not in the court of law, we’re not dealing in any kind of judgment. We’re dealing with a human cesspit of worst-case scenarios. We’re entering the woman’s psyche, really. It’s a virtual notebook of all the possible ramifications she could imagine.”
Swinton was also delighted with the fact the film was at Cannes: “What’s the downside of that? That’s the best news we could have got. Literally. It was what we dreamed of. Making little independent films — this is a little independent film with the modest ambition of breaking new ground cinematically. It’s really, really tough out there, particularly now, to get cinema like this out there and into the cinemas. It’s a little bit like you need to take your pig to market, and if you get into a big competition slot in a big festival, particularly Cannes, you get a juggernaut driven up to your door, and you get to sit in a very plush cabin as your pig is ceremoniously driven to market, meaning the cinemas. If you don’t, then it’s really tough.”
“The very fact that you’re all here talking about it and thinking about it, that’s all we ask: We don’t want much more than that. The fact that it’s well-received is almost too much to ask.” In our dwindling time, I ask Swinton if she reads her own reviews; her ice-blue eyes smile. “I will read them eventually. I don’t necessarily read them in the middle of a day like today … but I like to hear that it’s all going very well.”
As the distracted-but-doting father in ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin,” John C. Reilly plays an affable, warm man who may not have all the facts; as the title teen, Ezra Miller is magnetically malevolent. But sitting down to talk about the film, the two laughed and complimented each other on their press-day wardrobes. Reilly, in a blue jacket and straw fedora, laughed as Miller flipped over copies of that day’s “Metro” paper that featured Miller’s face on the cover: “I’m just a little perturbed by sitting and looking at what looks like a jury of my peers that are myself staring back at me. It’s a little strange to me still; I guess I’m not acclimated.” Reilly explained how “I prefer to be overdressed than underdressed. My self-esteem is low enough; I don’t need to drag myself down further.” He nodded towards co-star Miller: “You don’t know what that’s like: You’re a golden child.”
Reilly felt lucky, though, as he explained coming on board the film: “I was obsessed with Lynne Ramsay for years and years. I loved ‘Ratcatcher’ and ‘Morvern Callar’ and it’s been some years since ‘Morvern Callar’ came out. I was like, ‘What happened to that woman? I’ve got to find out what happened.’ I called my agent at the time, and I said, ‘Here’s the directors I want to work with.’ The first person I said was Lynne, and he said, ‘Actually, it’s funny you mention that. She’s just written the script, and she wants you to do it.’ And here we are at Cannes.
Reilly and Miller both praised how Ramsay and co-writer Rory Kinnear transformed Shriver’s original novel — which is written as a series of letters — into, as Reilly put it, something new, “Instead of this corny voiceover treatment of a diary kind of thing.” Miller shuddered: “The horror of voiceover.”
Reilly didn’t take a Cannes debut for granted, but he also didn’t think it was that unlikely: “We had high hopes, and Lynne has had good success here at Cannes in the past; Tilda is beloved here. I knew — if the movie came together in the way that Lynne wants it to — ‘I think we have a shot there.’ When the news finally came — and it came late; they don’t really let you know until right before — it was much celebration around the world, because all of us are scattered all over the world right after we shot it.”
Less happy, for Miller, was trying to get into Kevin’s toxic mindset. “For me, it was about really trying to create the internal conditions of someone who’s, in a certain way, neglected, and how that development tracks from an incredibly young age. Adolescence — which is where my Kevin appears — is the moment when everything you felt throughout your childhood takes on this very distinct black-and-white clarity and you feel so righteous and certain in your course of action. Kevin is furious that there’s so much inauthenticity that he’s been treated with his entire life. Essentially for me the most important thing was really having no judgment of him whatsoever, just fully feeling all of that constantly — which was, indeed, a little traumatizing.” Miller laughed: “But in a good way.”
In 2006, actress Famke Janssen walked the red carpet at Cannes with the world debut of “X-Men: The Last Stand.” In 2011, Janssen’s back at Cannes — but this time as a first time director hoping to find distributors and buzz for her film “Bringing Up Bobby,” which stars Milla Jovovich and Spencer List as a mother and son whose life of cons and crimes comes to a sudden, wrenching end.
Speaking in a rooftop garden, Janssen explained that making the jump from acting to directing wasn’t an impulse decision. “I’ve wanted to do this for a long time, waited for the right moment, opportunity, time, all of that. About 15 years ago when I thought of heading in that direction, then my life got detoured and I got into acting. But because it was so hard and so challenging, I applied to film school … got accepted, and then I got offered the part in (1995 Bond re-boot) ‘GoldenEye.’ So I have been acting for all these years now and hoping that there was going to be the right time to do this.”
Directing, though, was far more challenging than anything Janssen’s ever done; as she explained, “You have to keep going; no matter what happens, you have to keep going. Because it was a 3-year process — I had to raise the money myself and do all of it — at some point I was too deep into it, and there were many tears shed over this movie. It was so hard, there were so many disappointments and so many challenges and I sacrificed so much: I hadn’t worked as an actress, and I hadn’t been making any money, but I was so deep into it. You have to keep moving forward.”
Still, I asked, it must make it easier to raise money as Famke Janssen than as, say, an unknown citizen. “It probably does. I think those things can probably go both ways, because, unfortunately, the perception people may have of me might be different from who I am in reality, because I’ve done movies like ‘X-Men.’ For the larger audiences, I am known for the more action-y genre type films than I am for some of the independent films that I’ve done, so maybe some of these people would have had the perception that wouldn’t really have helped get money on the table for this film. I was extremely serious about it, and I had a very strong vision and idea of how I wanted to shoot the film. That helps, certainly. That got me the money in the end.”
Being in the Cannes market is very different from being part of the formal festival, and Janssen knows it: “It’s very different. I was not at the screening yesterday, because I had been warned about that, that as a filmmaker, it’s not a good place to be. People walk in and out at random — or probably not so random. 5 minutes: ‘I don’t like this movie.’ Or 5 minutes: ‘I’ve got to go see another movie.’ Or whatever the reasons are — but disheartening for a filmmaker. Yes, it’s very different to be at the market. I’ve been on the other side of it: I’ve been on the glamorous red carpet.”
Different, but welcome: “It’s so liberating to me, because what I find when you come to places like this as an actor and you’re in the spotlight, it’s all this fuss to get you ready, and it’s these little fluffy bits — they want sound bites; they want pictures of you looking good. It’s in those moments that you feel very much out of place, because it’s not really how I am. How am I supposed to survive in an environment like this? It feels awkward. I’m the person who walks around in her sneakers all over New York; I’m not really that glamorous of a person. That part is not really the part I enjoy. I really enjoy the part, funnily enough, of going to work really early in the morning, getting some coffee while I’m getting my makeup done, or going to set as a director and calling action at 5 o’clock in the morning and getting down and dirty and all that stuff. This feels good to me; this feels fun, and I actually get to speak in a few sentences as opposed to some sound bites and express my views and opinions. That’s nice.”
One of the big-name premieres at this year’s Cannes Film Festival is “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” which offers the blockbuster franchise a high-profile debut and offers Cannes no small amount of press and heat. I had the chance to talk with the stars and crew of “On Stranger Tides,” including new cast member Pénelope Cruz, who plays Angelica — a clever ex-lover and comrade of Johnny Depp’s Capt. Jack Sparrow.
While Cruz has worked previously with both director Rob Marshall (“Nine”), and with Johnny Depp (“Blow”), “On Stranger Tides” meant she had to do several things she hadn’t before, from swordfights to 3-D. But did she have fun? “I have to say, the whole thing was a great adventure. It was six months long, and we went to four different places: Hawaii, L.A., Puerto Rico, London. Beautiful locations. Every day was unique and a big, big adventure.”
Also new to the film are Sam Claflin, as missionary Phillip, and Astrid Berges-Frisbey, as the mermaid Syrena. I asked Claflin how exactly, on a big 3-D blockbuster’s set, he tried to create connection and chemistry with Berges-Frisbey? “I was really in love with her.” He was, of course, joking. “No, I think we got to know each other very well. There was chemistry, I felt. We got on so well off-set as well as on-set, we knew how each other worked. I think generally we understood each other.
“We worked a lot with Rob Marshall and built that relationship with him. He helped us along the way, really made these characters come to life. It’s the mistrust, and then they start trusting each other, then something happens and there’s mistrust again. It’s like a normal relationship, which is really enjoyable to explore. Writers worked their socks off to make it.”
I asked Berges-Frisbey if, reading the script, she thought it was the opportunity of a lifetime … and then, on-set, felt that joy diminish as she realized just how much time she’d be spending fully underwater, half in water, or at the least very damp. She laughed. “I couldn’t guess that it would be hard like that, like it was for me. At the same time, it was so interesting to have the opportunity to defend a character (who’s) so amazing. In a way she’s not really human, so I learned so much in this movie in diverse departments. There’s so many things you can do only in a pirate movie,(only) in (a) ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ movie, so it was amazing.”
Both Claflin and Berges-Frisbey are having new experiences with “On Stranger Tides” — not just the scale of the film making but the level of press, and the film’s Cannes premiere. Are they excited, or terrified? Claflin laughed: “It’s a very fine line between terrifying and excited. The adrenaline rush — I’ll never forget watching it for the first time … shaking. I don’t know whether that’s nerves, because I’m like, ‘Yeah, can’t wait.’ Generally, the whole journey so far has been very excitingly nervous — that’s the feeling generally. It’s nice to be able to go through it with Astrid, for me, personally. It’s nice to be able to hold each other’s hands going, ‘We’ll be okay, we’ll be okay.’”
Making “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides,” for director Rob Marshall, was a daunting prospect after musicals like “Chicago” and “Nine.” How important was it, I asked, to have Johnny Depp as a collaborator and co-conspirator? “It was everything. He is extraordinary, I have to say. For me, I’ve never met anyone like him. He’s such a genius; he’s such a creative force. He’s really a throwback to another time: He’s such a gentleman. He comes on the set and shakes everybody’s hand. What an amazing leader to have with me. I felt spoiled, to be quite honest.”
Ian McShane, as the pirate Blackbeard, also felt the challenge in the film’s scale and scope — especially when in full costume. Most interesting, for McShane? The detail, taken from legend, of the tips of the braids on Blackbeard’s beard being on fire. “There were no flaming tips when I put (the beard) on. You’ve got a safety concern. We tried it once with a smoke effect under the beard. We came out on deck, it was one gust of wind, and it looked like somebody was under there smoking a huge Havana cigar because the smoke kept blowing from nowhere. We decided to do that in CG. They added that afterward, because it was physically too difficult. That beard in its natural form was difficult enough — because it came with 3 pieces, it had to be kept under my own and glued down and then stitched and anchored with magnets. It was quite a performance, but it made the character.”
McShane also got into the joy of it all, fake beard or no. “Acting is such a fun thing to do, if you like it. It’s really good. You get lucky to do it, (especially) if it’s something like this, which is like a childhood fantasy. I remember seeing Burt Lancaster pirate films as a kid, loving them — then they went out of fashion for a while. The first one, with Johnny’s iconic performance as Jack Sparrow — that’s what it is — it’s a terrific, comic performance. He’s the reason why we’re all here.”
And the film’s demands even inspired McShane to both pass on a vacation and to get back from the disabled list. “I had just come back from doing this big series called ‘Pillars of the Earth’ last year, and I had just had a rotator cuff operation. I was settling into 5 months of nice rehab at the beach here where I live, and they came, Jerry (Bruckheimer, producer) and Rob (Marshall): ‘Will you do Blackbeard?’ Which inspired me to do more rehab, so the arm was in good shape by the time we started doing (the) fencing.”
Still, I suggested, it must be flattering to join a huge franchise like the “Pirates” movies as the bad guy. “Very flattering, and as long as you’ve got the right costume and the right look, you’re onto work. I do think that’s the important part of it. It’s immaculately done, marvelous detail. That’s the magic, because it gets you in the mood, gets you into the background of the character and what you’re doing, and base of reality to explore this madness that’s going on, the search for the eternal fountain of youth — which we all want, I guess.” McShane pondered for a moment: McShane pondered for a moment: “I don’t think I do anymore; I’m very happy.”