G. Annable & A. Stacchi – The Boxtrolls (DVD)

January 23, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

They earned an Oscar nomination in 2010 for their first stop-motion animated film “Coraline” and another for their second film, “ParaNorman,” in 2013. Now, Laika Studios has officially gone a perfect three for three by earning their third Best Animated Film Oscar nomination this year for “The Boxtrolls.” The film is adapted from author Alan Snow’s book “Here Be Monsters!” featuring series of bizarre creatures, including the 17th century title characters who live under the streets of the fictional town of Cheesebridge and only ascend to the surface to collect trash so they can invent things underground.

During an interview with “The Boxtrolls” directors Graham Annable and Anthony Stacchi, we talked about how they were able to decide what from Snow’s 500-page book they wanted to include in the film and how actual cardboard boxes helped with the animation process. They also explained why “The Boxtrolls” is not as dark as Laika’s last two projects.

“The Boxtrolls” was recently released on DVD/Blu-ray this past Tuesday, Jan. 20.

The Boxtrolls are peculiar little creatures. What drew you to this project initially?

Anthony Stacchi: Well, in Alan Snow’s book “Here Be Monsters!” there are a whole bunch of characters that live underneath the city. There are boxtrolls and cabbageheads and Trotting Badgers and Rabbit Women. But we felt from the very beginning that the most original characters were the boxtrolls – so timid, but very mischievous little inventors who live underground and will only come above ground so they can collect junk to build their machines. Their relationship with the little boy in the story (Eggs) had a lot of heart and told a great story about family.

When it came down to deciding what creative liberties you would take from Alan Snow’s original story, what kinds of conversations did you have about what should be included or left out or changed?

Graham Annable: Well, Alan’s book was over 500 pages, so it gave us a cast of thousands. Even during a few early attempts to incorporate everything in the book, we realized we were going to have to narrow the story down a bit and carve it into something that would work for a 90-minute feature. We thought the boxtrolls were the most compelling creatures. The emotional story of these trolls raising this little boy, Eggs, became the thing we centered on. If you look at a character like Snatcher (Ben Kingsley), he is very similar in the movie to what he is in the book. If something didn’t contribute to the story of a little boy being raised by boxtrolls, then we just had to cut it out.

With 500 pages at your fingertips, that sounds like a kid-in-a-candy-store type of situation for a pair of animated film directors.

GA: Exactly. Alan is a fantastic writer. He really loves Charles Dickens, so [“Here Be Monsters!”] is a very Dickensian story. The world he built worked really well for an adventure film. The story lent itself to make a movie of this scale. Previously, the movies Laika made had been a bit smaller, but this was a much bigger movie. We were very lucky that we were the third film out of Laika and that they had a state of the art digital arts department and that everyone in the stop-motion department was ready to do a film like this.

Was there anything you really wanted to keep in the film that the script or budget didn’t allow?

GA: Most of the stuff we really, really loved, we were able to hold on throughout the entire process. There is a great performance by Madame Frou Frou in the middle of the film. At certain times, it dropped out of the movie, but we kept striving to put it back in. We got the pick of the pack.

AS: In a few versions of the script, there was a giant armored War Rat, but it reduced the number of characters and the things we needed to focus on, so it ultimately went away. It’s originally what Snatcher was going to ride on into the town. But the character wasn’t fitting into the context of the world we created. So, the War Rat became the “Mecha-Drill” instead.

When animators make movies that feature characters that are, say, lions, they usually study real lions for inspiration. For robots, animators probably look at gears and other mechanical devices. Was Alan Snow’s boxtrolls the starting point for your version of the creatures? How did you decide how they would move and speak and do everything else?

AS: Well, we had a lot of animators running around wearing boxes for a while.

GA: Trying to figure out the movements and the attitudes of the boxtrolls, the animators did gravitate to looking at a lot of animal references. There was a lot of monkey-type behavior in the boxtrolls early on. We were trying to find something a little more animalistic, but early tests of the boxtrolls moving really strangely became just too weird.

AS: Yeah, we thought since they are already strange in the way they wear their boxes and hide in their boxes and put things in their boxes, they didn’t need any additional strange movements.

Were both of you able to get into a pair of boxes yourself?

AS: (Laughs) Yeah, before we asked the animators to do it, we had to wear them first.

Weren’t cardboard boxes the best thing to play with as a kid?

GA: Yeah, we’re hoping we spark the most inexpensive Halloween costume for years to come. It’s pretty easy to make a costume if all you need to make it is a cardboard box.

Laika’s first two films – “Coraline” and “ParaNorman” – had some scarier themes than most animated films. Do you think “The Boxtrolls” follows in that trend? If so, why do you think the company is attracted to these types of stories?

GA: I think there is less scary stuff [in “The Boxtrolls”]. There is no supernatural element. There’s no Other Mother in another world. There are no zombies. We knew when we read Alan’s book that this was going to be a brighter story and that it wasn’t as dark as the first two films. Travis Knight, the CEO of the company, doesn’t go looking for particularly dark films. Laika just wants films that have a really full range of emotion for kids. The sadder moments are usually sadder than your average animated film. Hopefully because of that, the emotional depth of the movie is deeper and the brighter and happier moments are that much brighter.

What were your thoughts when Oscar-winning composer Dario Marianelli (“Atonement”) came on board for this film, making it the first animated movie of his career? I’m sure you guys had some big ideas for him.

GA: Yeah, we were really lucky. There were a couple of instances when we were really excited to get some of the voice talent we got on the film from Sir Ben Kingsley to Nick Frost to Richard Ayoade. We had our wish list of people who we really wanted to do it. You don’t always get who you want, but we lucked out. Most of the people we asked were into the idea. The same thing was true when we reached out to Dario Marianelli. We loved his work. He does big, serious period films like “Atonement” and “Anna Karenina,” so it was a high hope that he would do it. We lucked out because when we showed up to meet him in London to discuss it, he was as excited about it as we were. He has three young daughters and had been hoping to do an animated film that they could go see for a long time. We sort of got him at exactly the right moment.

Whenever you hear about the animated film industry, you sometimes hear terms like “Disney Universe” or “Pixar Universe” to describe the style and look of the films and how each of them sort of fit in with the others from that particular studio’s canon. Do you feel like you are there with Laika yet? Is that something you even want to do – create a “Laika Universe?”

AS: I think when people hear that it’s a Laika film, they know it’s going to be challenging and unlike anything they’ve ever seen before because of the marriage of this age-old art of stop-motion animation and the latest special effects and rapid prototype printing. I think they have an idea of the quality and the craftsmanship they will see, but I don’t think Laika creates a universe where all the films feel like they can take place together. Laika has a very distinctive look and style that is very unique to itself.

Anthony, what did you help render as a young visual effects manager in “Back to the Future” back in 1985?

AS: (Laughs) You know, back then I was at Industrial Light & Magic a few year before they transitioned completely into digital effects. So, at that point, they were still doing optical effects. So, a lot of it was hand-drawn, hand-animated elements like when the car transitions back into time or when you see lighting or electricity. That was all hand-drawn. So, that’s what I was doing. I was just a young animator at that point working in ILM’s effects animation department. I was there up until they did “Jurassic Park.” Then they got rid of all us guy with pencils.

What about “Ghost?” Please tell me you helped create the shadow demons.

AS: Oh, no, someone else did the shadow demons. I did a lot of the transitions whenever the characters would pass through walls or their hands would pass through things. They needed a hand-drawn element to do that. “Ghost” was the first job I worked on at ILM.

John Powell – How to Train Your Dragon 2

January 2, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

British composer John Powell broke into the Hollywood scene in 1997 when he wrote the score for the blockbuster action film “Face/Off” starring John Travolta and Nicolas Cage. Since then, Powell has gone on to write more than 50 movie compositions over the last 17 years, including “Shrek,” “Mr. and Mrs. Smith,” “X-Men: The Last Stand” and the first three film of the Jason Bourne trilogy. In 2010, Powell earned an Academy Award nomination for his work on “How to Train Your Dragon.” Last year, he returned to write the score for the critically-acclaimed follow-up, but found the process a lot different compared to previous gigs he’s taken when composing for a sequel (“How to Train Your Dragon 2” was the 10th sequel he’s worked on).

During an interview with me, Powell, 51, talked about how “Dragon 2” director Dean DeBlois wanted him to start from a clean slate with the second film and how it was helpful for him to get that creative freedom. He also spoke about why he’s decided to slow up a bit in Hollywood over the last couple of years and revealed some of the sneaky things he’s been able to get away with as a composer.

You revisited two movie franchises last year with “Rio 2” and “How to Train Your Dragon 2.” Is writing a score to a sequel easier because you have the original template you wrote sort of in place and have something to work from?

In the past it has been, but those two were a bit different. I only wanted to do “Rio 2” because I enjoyed working with everybody the first time. (Laughs) I’m sort of trying to avoid writing for films for a while and concentrating on writing other things for the concert space. But when [director] Carlos [Saldanha] asked me to do it again, I did it because I just loved the musicians and loved everybody involved. I’ve done a lot of sequels. Like for the [Jason] Bourne sequels, the third one (“The Bourne Ultimatum”), everyone said, “Well, we like the first two movies, so just do more of that.” In the case of “Dragon 2,” it was very different. Our very thoughtful director (Dean DeBlois) is the one that said, “Make sure you get a fresh start and have as much creative input as you would if it was a new franchise.” That saved me from the traps you can have with a sequel by not allowing anyone to campaign for any of the music from the first movie.

Is that unusual for a composer to get that kind of freedom? I would think the production would want to use a lot of the original score.

Yes. Normally, if the first movie was successful and they liked the music, you’re job for the second one is kind of done for you. I think [composer] Danny Elfman came up against the same thing in “Spider-Man 2” (2004). He wrote all this new music, but they wanted the same stuff from the first movie. In this case, my director basically protected me from that. So, as we reintroduced ourselves to the world of “Dragon,” every idea and theme is taken from the first movie and used in about the first seven minutes. When we meet our two heroes again – Hiccup and Toothless – what we did was use some of the music for the first movie, but it’s more refreshed. After the first seven minutes or so, it’s all new material for all the new scenes that follow this new story. I would only use music from the first film after that if it felt appropriate – some of the heroic themes for each of the characters at certain moments. But, really, most of the rest of the film is new material.

You mentioned that you wanted to take a break from writing film scores. What brought you to that decision?

(Laughs) I know this sounds strange, but one of the reasons was because my son was about to become a teenager. I thought, “You know, he really hasn’t seen that much of me.” I’ve been working on three or four films a year since he was born. I’m not going to get much more time with him. So, I decided to calm down for the last couple of years. He’s a teenager, so things are going to be complicated anyway. I thought I would need all my patience with him that I might’ve used for complicated directors and producers. (Laughs) That was part of the reason. Another reason was that I thought I was going to get stale. I didn’t want to write scores that might’ve been more interesting if I had more time to think. I did have a break after “Ice Age 4,” so in that time I had a chance to go back and study and re-equate myself with why I enjoy music. I definitely think “Dragon 2” was the beneficiary of that. There is stuff in “Dragon 2” that I probably wouldn’t have thought of if I didn’t have a chance to sort of re-ponder.

Yeah, it amazes me when I see a composer who is credited with four or five films in one year. In 2008, you actually came out with six film scores (“Jumper,” “Horton Hears a Who,” “Stop-Loss,” “Kung Fu Panda,” “Hancock,” and “Bolt”). How does someone manage to keep up with all that work and make sure the music for each of those films doesn’t start running into each other?

You know, it’s partly about where you are in your career. I got to a point where I had a few hits and people really wanted me, so you get the opportunity to work on better and better films. I worked on “Happy Feet” for about four years prior to those movies, but while I worked on that, I was working on all these others films. Once you get into that groove, you’ve got your mind in a certain place to be creative and excited about every project and can put a lot of energy into it. I think “Dragon 2” is film No. 52 for me, so as you get older you want a chance to sort of rest a little longer. (Laughs) I think when you’re busy you’re sort of excited that you’re working on great films with interesting people, so you don’t have any problem with the fact you’re so busy. After a while though, it starts to sort of take a toll on your body.

I didn’t realize how physically demanding it was to write a score.

(Laughs) Well, it’s not like digging a ditch. It’s not like doing manual labor or being a doctor. You have to remember, this is a lot of fun to do. A lot of times, it is very easy to do. A lot of composers won’t tell you that, but it is.

Really? What do you mean?

Well, a lot of times they give you a temp score and they just want it to sound like the temp. That’s why so many scores in Hollywood sound so generic and derivative. You’re not allowed to be creative. One of the things I spent a lot of energy on was trying to sneak interesting things past everybody. I would try to think of things they hadn’t heard yet and probably didn’t want, but tried to figure out how to write it in a way that it would work for them. (Laughs) I find it exhausting to write because I don’t want to write what everybody else writes. I want every score to be different. I could probably churn [scores] out a lot easier if I was lax about it. When I’m working on a film, I’m on it nonstop for about three months and I’m thinking about it all the time. My wife has spent most of her life looking at these blank stares on my face.

So, what subliminal messages have you snuck into a score in the last 20 years that you haven’t told anyone about?

I do tend to throw fun stuff in when there is a choir singing. Ahs and oohs are fine, but sometimes if there is something that will work rhythmically and you want to put words to it, it gives it more bite. So, I like to play around a lot with Latin phrases. In “X-Men: The Last Stand,” there is a lot of Latin. There is some stuff in there about [director] Brett Ratner. So, I would have the choir sing something about how the director is sexy and the most gorgeous man in Hollywood.

Wait, so all of this stuff about Ratner is in Latin?

Oh, yes. It’s all in Latin so you would never really hear it. (Laughs) The great thing about Latin is that nobody really speaks it. Even if it’s in English and is sung by a choir, it’s hard to hear.

Anything sneaky in “Dragon 2?”

In “Dragon 2,” there is some stuff in Gaelic. My family comes from the north of Scotland, so my grandmother spoke Gaelic. When I was young, she would sing something called “mouth music” (puirt á beul), which are these sort of working songs. So, I found 17th century poems and had them translated into Gaelic. That’s what you hear, for instance, when Hiccup and his mother are flying around.

Because your original score for “How to Train Your Dragon” was so well received and earned you an Oscar nomination, did you feel pressure to recreate that success with this one?

It wasn’t so much me thinking, “Oh, I got an Oscar nomination for the first one, so I have to get another one.” It was really about [director] Dean. I really didn’t want to let Dean down. He is a wonderful man. Also, I had been working with [producer] Jeffrey Katzenberg for a long time – since DreamWorks was first formed. So, they really liked the first score. There is an audience that really liked the first score, too. So, the first thing you think is, “Well, I better not fuck this up.” (Laughs) Honestly, if they had turned back to me at the last minute and said, “You know, let’s just go back to the first score,” I would’ve done it if they really felt it would’ve supported the film in the best way. I just wanted to write new material and make it as successful for the movie as it possibly could be and for a listening audience as well.

Maria Valverde – Exodus: Gods and Kings

December 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In director Ridley Scott’s biblical epic “Exodus: Gods and Kings,” Spanish actress Maria Valverde (“La Mula”) plays Zipporah, the wife of Moses (Christian Bale) whom she meets when he journeys to Midian on the Red Sea. After their marriage, Moses returns to Egypt to help free the oppressed Hebrews from the Pharaoh (Joel Edgerton) and his army. During our interview, Valverde, 27, talked about working with Scott and Bale and her experience playing strong female characters. We also talked about her role as Maria Theresa Bolivar, wife of Venezuelan political and military leader Simon Bolivar, in the film “The Liberator,” which the country of Venezuela chose as its official entry for the upcoming Academy Awards.

In your two most recent films, “Exodus: Gods and Kings” and “The Liberator,” you play strong female characters. What do you think attracts you to these types of roles?

I think it’s because I am a strong woman. (Laughs) I don’t know. I really admire them. I admire that kind of woman. I want to be one of them. The both have something in common in that they have amazing men in their lives. It doesn’t make sense if you are a strong woman, but you have a weak man. I think the best balance is if both are strong.

Both films are epic in scale. Which of them felt bigger when you were on set?

Well, in Venezuela for “The Liberator,” I felt like I was in paradise. You feel like a tourist. It didn’t feel real. But, yeah, both of them were big movies. Both movies were two of the best experiences of my life.

Talk about working with a director so highly regarded as Ridley Scott.

Well, first of all, I was very overwhelmed about him wanting me in his movie. I met him several years ago because I worked with his daughter [director Jordan Scott] on a movie called “Cracks.” I felt very grateful in the way he was talking to me and all the respect he was showing me on the set. It was like a dream for me. I don’t think I’ve woken up yet.

If you go back to the 1956 film “The Ten Commandments,” your character was played by actress Yvonne De Carlo (TV’s “The Munsters”). Did you think about the history behind this character, not only in a biblical sense, but in a cinematic sense as well?

Yeah, I think you have to be aware of the character you’re trying to play. You have to know what you’re doing. But you also have to be in the moment. Working with Christian Bale, I think it’s important to be in control. I think you have to take care of that more than you do thinking about the history of the film or the character.

What was your experience like on the set with Christian Bale?

He’s an amazing actor. I want to be like him. I can understand why he is in the position he is in Hollywood. I admire him more than ever because now I know how he works.

Now that you have a taste for an American-made film like “Exodus,” is that something you want to do more of or are you comfortable spending most of your time in Spain?

I don’t feel comfortable anywhere. (Laughs) I just want to travel and be in different parts of the world. I want to work in China and in Bollywood and all over! I want to have fun and don’t mind where I do it.

Tell me what it was like playing a real person like Maria Teresa Bolivar in “The Liberator.”

For me it was a very interesting character because when read the script I was impressed with who she was. We had to create an amazing woman who believes in love. Maria changed Simon Bolivar’s life forever. It was a risk taking this role because there was so much pressure on me. I had to be that woman. I travelled from South America to Venezuela for the first time. To play Maria, I had to fall in love with her country. It was very important for me to do that.

What ultimately made you fall in love with the country of Venezuela?

I went and visited Angel Falls. It is the most amazing place I’ve ever been. It was like paradise. I was overwhelmed by the natural beauty.

Did you spend any time with Edgar Ramirez before filming to help create the chemistry you both would need in front of the camera?

We met each other for the first time during the audition. He was very helpful and kind. During rehearsals, we had an amazing time. We were very close because we had to create a good team together. I admire him very much.

Did you do a lot of research for your character or the history of this time period?

I did, but there is not so much information about her. We had a chance to do what we wanted with this character. [Director] Alberto [Arvelo] and I would talk about what kind of woman she has to be. She is a woman you can fall in love with. We created her and made her happen. It was better that way because I got to give her everything I had.

How excited were you when you found out Venezuela chose “The Liberator” as its official submission for the Academy Awards?

It was a big shock. It was amazing. When you have a film like this, you always want the best for it. In Venezuela, it was a very successful film. Success can come with the Oscars or wherever. I just want everyone in the world to see it.

The Iron Sheik – Sheik (VOD)

December 12, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

From bad guy pro wrestler in the 80s and 90s to a present-day social media and pop culture star, Hossein Vaziri, best known in the ring as the Iron Sheik, has led an extremely interesting life. In the new documentary “Sheik,” filmmaker Igal Hecht takes audiences through the ups and downs of Vaziri’s career, which includes bouts with substance abuse and becoming the most hated man in the sport of wrestling for most of his career.

During my interview with the Sheik, we discussed the time wrestling promoter Verne Gange offered him money to ignore the planned loss to Hulk Hogan in 1984, which launched Hogan into what many refer to ask his “Hulkamania” years, and if he thought his role as the Sheik was a negative stereotype for Iranians.

When promoter Verne Gange offered you $100,000 to break Hulk Hogan’s leg, was there ever a moment when you actually thought about doing it?

[No], for the respect to my boss Mr. McMahon. He feed me, take care of me. The hand that feed me, I never cut that hand. I help him make the Hulkamania. Everybody in the locker room know I could beat the fuck out of the Hulk Hogan, but I help my company and my company never forget me this way.

During your WWF/WWE years as a heel with so much heat, what are some of the worst things you heard from fans in the audience during a match?

Bubba, somebody come with a gun to the arena and try to kill me 7-8 times. I get stabbed in the Louisiana and also I start riot in the Texas. Everywhere I go they try to kill me.

Do you feel the Iron Sheik persona you made popular during you WWF/WWE years fed Americans’ Islamaphobia and created a negative stereotype that spurred hatred? If so, why did continue to play that character beside the fact that it was your job?

My job to be bad guy. I was believable Iranian bad guy. I am in the show business of the wrestling. My job to do this. The people don’t know the wrestling is the real or the fake. I have to always protect myself.

If the WWF/WWE used current events to create rivalries during the 80s – for example, the Iranian conflict/Iran Hostage Crisis helped your character become more hated – why do you think that practice it’s not really done in today’s WWE? Why haven’t we really seen a heel created as an Islamic fundamentalist or terrorist during the 00s and 10s?

Today different era for all TV, not just wrestling. Thing change, the business change. Mr. McMahon know what the fans want. I was perfect place, perfect time.

If winners of WWF/WWE matches were not predetermined, which wrestlers do you think would’ve given you the best fights?

Kurt Angle, Bob Backlund, Brock Lesnar, [and] Bruiser Brody, God bless him.

What do you remember the most about the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich and the tragedy that took place over there? I know you were helping to coach the American wrestling team. Were you in Munich when everything happened? What was going through your mind at the time?

I love I help the U.S. team in the Munich. I work very hard to help America and I remember what happen. It broke my heart and I never forget the people all very, very sad about the terrorist.

Did you ever hurt anyone intentionally or unintentionally with the camel clutch?

Oh, Bubba I can’t tell you, but, yes hundred time it hurt people.

You drug usage has been well documented over the years, but did using things like cocaine and marijuana ever spur you to use performance enhancing drugs like steroids during your days in the WWF/WWE?

Back then part of your job is your body. You have to do whatever you have to do to get over with the crowd. Everybody try little bit to give them extra push. This was part of all sports not just the wrestling. You know what I mean?

So many WWE/WWF wrestlers have died tragically at very young ages. Which of your colleagues’ deaths has impacted you the most over the years?

You know, this sport toughest sport. My friends and my brothers, they die. Break my heart. Curt Henning, I love him forever. Road Warrior, Hawk, Big Boss Man, British Bulldog, Owen Heart. Many of them I live with, I train with, I party with. Forever in my heart I love them.

Christopher Lloyd – The One I Wrote For You

December 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

Best known for his role as scientist Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown in the “Back to the Future” trilogy, actor Christopher Lloyd, 76, has been keeping busy with a number of TV, film and voice roles over the last 30 years. In his newest film “The One I Wrote For You,” Lloyd plays Pop, the supportive father of Ben Cantor (Cheyenne Jackson), a coffee shop barista who decides to enter a reality show competition for songwriters and follow his dream to become a musician.

During an interview with me, Lloyd talked about whether or not he identifies with the main character and if there ever was a time in his career where he felt uncomfortable playing a role. We also chatted about hoverboards, “Back to the Future” and what he thinks about cosmologist Steven Hawking saying time travel was probably impossible.

How did you enjoy shooting in San Antonio? Had you been here before?

I had actually been two San Antonio a couple of times before. The first time I was able six years old. My other brother was a fighter pilot in WWII and he was based outside of San Antonio somewhere. My father, mother and I took a train ride from New York City to San Antonio to see him for his graduation.

Is it nice to get out of Los Angeles when making a movie? These days, as I’m sure you know, you can make a movie anywhere. So, is it nice to shoot something in a city you maybe haven’t been to in a while?

Yeah, location shooting definitely takes you places you didn’t necessarily see yourself visiting.

Have you ever made a movie that was so dependent on its music? I know you played a musician before on a show like “Fringe” and there are great musical scenes in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “The Addams Family,” but here the music is a major part of the narrative.

Yeah, it’s the plot really. It’s the story of a relatively young man who is married and has a 10-year-old daughter and had a really strong desire to be a musician and a songwriter. His heart is really into it.

The main character’s personality in this film changes when he gets on a reality TV show. In your almost 40-year career, has there ever been a time someone wanted you to be something you weren’t as an actor?

I always wanted to be an actor by the time I was 13 or 14. I sensed that’s what I wanted to do. I never wanted to look for another career. Sometimes I have been encouraged to be in a project that I don’t really feel comfortable about. But it’s usually turned out OK. When you do something you’re not comfortable with, you have to come out for that role very convincing. You have to reach down and find what it’s going to take to make it happen. So, I don’t have the same experience as the young man in the film because I never gave up on it. I’ve never had to be talked back into it.

Are there any examples you can share where you didn’t feel comfortable in a role?

I was once cast in a play in a role I didn’t feel comfortable about at all. I almost wanted to give notice and quit the show. I was embarrassed and didn’t feel like I measured up to the demands of the role. But like I said, when it comes to being on the stage, you can’t just shy away from the audience. I mean, every role I do, like any actor, is a new one – a new character and a different situation. There is always the fear of failure. You’re trying something new. It’s just part of the game.

I saw pictures of you at the premiere of “The Theory of Everything.” What do you think about Stephen Hawking saying he is not convinced time travel is possible?

(Laughs) Ah, well time travel in the “Back to the Future” series is pure speculation and fantasy. Stephen Hawking has such a profound knowledge based on science. He’s probably right. What Stephen Hawking has done with that mind of his is staggering. I felt the film was really well done. I thought it was great.

You had a great cameo earlier this year in Seth MacFarlane’s  “A Million Ways to Die in the West.” Would you consider that one of your favorite cameos you’ve made over the years?

That was really a lot of fun. It was like a pocket-sized cameo. I haven’t done many of those, but it was a real thrill being on a set of the Old West.

Something I recently saw you in is a fake hoverboard infomercial with HuvrTech and Tony Hawk you released earlier this year and also the fake apology you made after people thought the product was real. Did it surprise you that a lot of people missed the joke?

I think a lot of people were genuinely disappointed that it wasn’t real. They thought the hoverboard had been created and that they’d be able to go out and buy one pretty soon. I felt a little bad about that. But I heard there are some advances in the development of a hoverboard, so it may happen yet.

Well, I don’t know if you’ve heard about this, but last month engineers at a company called Hendo, after its 18th prototype, were able to get a hoverboard one inch off the ground but the board can only be used on a special magnetic surface. Are you finally going to be able to get a good night’s sleep knowing the hoverboard finally exists?

Yeah, I feel if they’ve gotten that far – however limiting the circumstances – they can get the hoverboard to hover one inch above anything. (Laughs) It’s a step in the right direction. Those kinds of inventions take a while to evolve.

This past October, producer Bob Gale told Yahoo Movies that he would never make another “Back to the Future” film. Are you glad Bob has not entertained that idea despite studios asking him to do it?

For me, the writing and concepts in “Back to the Future” were so strong and the movies were so thrilling. I don’t know if they would have a problem making another sequel to “Back to the Future,” but I feel like “Back to the Future III” really completed the story.

Have you kept up with Michael Keaton over the years after starring with him in “Mr. Mom” and “The Dream Team” in the 80s? He’s getting some major Oscar buzz this year for his role in “Birdman.” Have you seen the film? What did you think?

I hadn’t seen [Michael] for a while, but I went and saw “Birdman” and he was there, so it was really great to catch up with him. I think his performance in “Birdman” is extraordinary. I think the role is so original and passionate. I think he is wonderful in it. I think the movie was revolutionary because of the way it was shot in all those long takes that somehow included all these close ups. Michael brought this energy to a role that I think was probably difficult to pull off. I thought he was absolutely brilliant.

Cheyenne Jackson – The One I Wrote For You

December 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the family musical drama “The One I Wrote for You,” actor Cheyenne Jackson (TV’s “30 Rock”) plays Ben Cantor, a coffee shop barista and family man who decides to rekindle his dream to make it big as a musician by competing in a reality TV show for songwriters.

During our interview, Jackson, 39, and I talked about singing on film for the first time and what he thinks about reality TV shows  like “American Idol” and “The Voice.”

What resonated with you about the role of Ben Cantor in this film?

His story and his personal journey resonated with me. He felt like he wasn’t living up to his potential. Although he seems to change in the film and leave his family, he was doing everything for them. I also loved the simplicity of the story. It’s a love story about a family. It’s simple.

I know you are a musician yourself, so did that sweeten the pot to take on a role like this and show audiences another talent you possess?

Yeah, I’ve never sung on a film before. I did sing a little on “30 Rock,” but that was just for comedic effect. I was also on “Glee” and never even sang. So, yeah, I was looking forward to being able to sing in a movie.

What about the music itself? Was there something that spoke to you about the genre or lyrics you were performing in this role?

Honestly, because I am a songwriter and a bit of a music snob, I was a little worried when I heard the writer of the movie was also the songwriter. They sent me the demo CD of about 12 songs and I had a lot of trepidations until I pressed play. I was thinking, “Please don’t be bad. Please don’t suck.” And the songs were great. I really connected to many of them.

What kind of conversations did you have with screenwriter/songwriter David Kaufmann about singing these songs, which I’m sure were very personal to him? Did he give you any advice or did he want you to just run with them?

Yeah, character wise, I had to find a way for these songs to live and to let them organically come from him and not just be these random songs. I think it’s especially obvious for the title song. Immediately, I knew where he was coming from. We had lots of conversations and did a lot of research and work.

Again, being a musician yourself and seeing how hard it is to break into the business, what do you think about reality TV talent shows like the one that your character competes in? Do you think it’s a good route to take to make it in the music industry?

I don’t like a lot of reality TV. I don’t like TV that is all about people just being horrible to each other. That kind of behavior is not something I want to see. But when it comes to reality TV where people are talented and there is an actual contest, I think those shows can be a great tool. But often it can be a double-edged sword for the kids who go on “American Idol” and win or get second or third place. They think, “Great! I’m going to be a star now.” But, as we see, 99 percent of the time, that’s not the case. I think the shows can be useful, but you really have to think about it if you decide to go down that path. You have to know that it’s a tough thing.

One could argue that there are so many music reality TV shows now, the whole concept is just diluted. Would you agree?

Yeah, I think there was “America’s Got Talent” and “American Idol” and “The Voice,” but after a while there were more like [“Rising Star”] with the Wall. Yeah, I couldn’t get into that one. I tried. I think when it’s overly saturated, it loses its specialness. That’s why when “American Idol” came out, it was so fresh. We were all just glued to it.

How do you think you would do on a competition like that? Would you have considered something like that earlier in your career?

I would not have considered it. I’ve actually been asked to do a couple of reality TV shows. I’m in this for the long haul. I want a career in all different aspects. I want to continue to work on Broadway and continue to work on films and TV and continue to do concert work. If I get more notoriety or fame through one of those, and that helps my longevity, great. But I’m not interested in doing a quick reality show type of thing where you have this pop of popularity and then you really don’t have anywhere else to go but down.

Gabriela de la Garza – Cantinflas (DVD)

December 5, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In the biopic “Cantinflas,” Mexican actress Gabriela de la Garza plays Russian ballerina Olga Ivanova, the sister-in-law of Mario Moreno (AKA Cantinflas), a Mexican comedic actor who broke into the entertainment industry in the 1930s and rose to fame over the next four decades. Cantinflas is portrayed in the film by Spanish actor Óscar Jaenada (“The Losers”). The film, which was México’s official submission for the upcoming Academy Awards, follows Cantinflas from his humbling beginnings performing in traveling tent shows to the biggest role of his career in the 1956 adventure comedy “Around the World in 80 Days,” which won five Academy Awards including Best Picture.

During our interview, de la Garza and I talked about how she was able to land the role of Olga and explained who she turned to when she realized information on Olga was extremely limited during her research.

“Cantinflas” was released on DVD and Blu-ray Dec. 2.

How did you get involved with this project?

Well, this is my second time working with [director] Sebastian del Amo. I worked with him on his first movie, “El fantastic mundo de Juan Orol.” He actually called me and told me about this project a long time ago. When I found out it was going to finally happen, I recorded myself and sent it to the producers. That’s how I got the part.

What was your experience getting to portray someone like Olga Ivanova?

It was a joyful experience. I had a chance to work with a Russian dialect coach for the accent. Even though she doesn’t have a thick accent, I had to practice it. I also had to practice dancing. Sharing the set with Óscar [Jaenada] and the rest of the actors was great.

Not only was Olga a dancer, she was a comedian, too, right?

Yes, I would consider her one of the most important comedians in Mexican history. I knew this film was going to be an important one in the Mexican industry, so I definitely wanted to be part of it.

How much of Cantinflas’ history did you already know? I’m assuming you grew up watching him.

Yes, of course. Everyone in México knows about Cantinflas. I grew up with his movies and his TV series that you could see on Sunday mornings. My grandfather (Manuel Tames) was an actor in the Golden Film Era in México. He was a very well known comedian. Something that was challenging was that we didn’t have a lot of information on Olga. If you Google her or look for information in magazines or books, you won’t find anything on her.

You’re right. I tried doing some online research on Olga prior to this interview and didn’t find much. Were you finally able to find any information on her to help with your role?

Well, we found a photograph of Mario and Valentina and that’s how we knew what she looked like. Even though my grandfather died a long time ago, my grandmother, who is still alive, had a good memory and told me stories and anecdotes about Olga.

Wait, your grandmother actually knew Olga?

Yes, she knew her. She had been to parties at Cantinflas’ house in Acapulco. My grandmother told me she was a very kind and dedicated woman. She even told me about her accent. That was a very cool experience for me to have all that information from my grandmother.

How old is your grandmother now?

She is 97.

I’m guessing she must’ve been pretty excited when you told her you were going to be in a film about Cantinflas, right?

You can’t even imagine. She has all these photographs and all these old letters from Cantinflas to my grandfather. She showed me everything. It was a good experience for her, too, because she had a chance to remember all these stories.

What was it like watching Óscar transform into Cantinflas during the making of the movie?

Everything was inspiring with Óscar. He is a professional. Playing Cantinflas was a very big challenge. Cantinflas has this very specific accent. Not anyone can do it. Watching him on the set and realizing that he was becoming Cantinflas was really amazing. He gained everybody’s respect. I really admire and learned a lot from him.

Stephanie Andujar – Orange is the New Black

November 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Although she didn’t land a role in the first season of the critically acclaimed show “Orange is the New Black,” auditioning for the Netflix series paid off for actress Stephanie Andujar (“Precious”) when the casting director called her in to read for another role a few months later. In Season 2, Andujar gets significant screen time during a series of flashback scenes in two episodes as a young Rosa Cisneros. During these scenes, viewers are given a look into the shady past of Miss Rosa (Barbara Rosenblat) and learn how she ends up in prison.

During our interview, Andujar, 28, talked to me about how she felt after her initial audition for Season 1 and what she did to help her capture the essence of Miss Rosa through a younger version of the character.

Season 2 of “Orange is the New Black” can currently be seen on Netflix. The show has been renewed for a third season.

“Orange is the New Black” is such a popular show on Netflix. How did you land this gig on Season 2?

Well, I was actually called in by the casting director to read for the role of Young Rosa because I had auditioned for “Orange” before. I auditioned for the [Lorna] Morello character, which is now played by [actress] Yael Stone, who is brilliant. Finally, the Young Rosa part came along. So, it ended up working out.

Were you disappointed that you didn’t get the Morello part when you initially auditioned?

No, I don’t think I was disappointed really. I was happy that I got the opportunity to get in front of these great casting directors. I thought, “You know, if this part doesn’t happen, maybe there will be another part.” I had this feeling after I auditioned that maybe they would call me for something else. Thank god Young Rosa came along!

Did you watch Season 1 before getting the role on Season 2?

Yes, I was already becoming a fan! I was already into the show and then the audition came about. I really hoped it would work out. Then, boom, I ended up booking the part.

How important do you think it is for a show like “Orange” to be able to dramatize the backstories of some of these characters?

I was happy that everyone could see the origin story of how Miss Rosa ended up in prison. It’s interesting that she is this strong Latina woman that everyone was underestimating. Backstories are everything. It makes everything so cohesive. It allows viewers to feel closer to the characters.

In Season 1, Miss Rosa had a small role, so I was surprised her character was explored as much as she was in Season 2. I felt in Season 1, she was very hard to read. Did you feel the same way?

I definitely thought there was some mystery to her. I thought she must have had this crazy thrilling life prior to prison. (Laughs) She is this strong Latina woman who had a husband and then had another husband and went through a lot of heartache trying to be this leader. I was glad she had that mystery, so when Season 2 came around, you could really be introduced to Miss Rosa. I think it was a brilliant introduction.

Do you think Rosa could’ve done something with her life if she had made different decisions or if she hadn’t been caught?

Possibly. I think she could’ve owned her own enterprise. (Laughs) I think it would’ve been something major. You know, I’m not sure. I was just really focused on Young Rosa. I wanted to make sure people knew what kind of person she was. It worked out.

When you got the part of Young Rosa, did you revisit actress Barbara Rosenblat’s performance as Miss Rosa to try and mimic anything she did for the character?

Yes, I was able to go on set when they were filming and see her perform one of her scenes. I wanted to capture her mannerisms and facial expressions and voice. I listened to her voice over and over for about two or three weeks before filming. I listened to that accent and made sure it was embedded in my mind. (Laughs) It was fun research. I really just dove in there to make sure I gave this character life.

Did you get to have any conversations with Barbara about the character?

Not really, but she did come up to me one day when I was filming one of the backstory scenes. She was like, “I had to come and see who my Mini-Me is!” I was like, “Oh my god. It’s great to meet you Barbara! Oh my god!” (Laughs) It was a great moment.

Without giving too much away, what do you think happens to Miss Rosa after her final episode in Season 2?

You know, there are so many fans who were touched by that ending. So many fans cried. You just want her to live out the rest of her life. She went out with a bang.

Do you think you would make a good bank robber in real life? Did they teach you any of the basics to rob a bank on the set?

(Laughs) Well, they did tell me how to hold the gun at one point. I don’t think I would have the same guts as Rosa. I don’t know if I could do something that outrageous. It was a lot of fun to do it on a set though.

Francis Lawrence – Mockingjay – Part 1

November 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

For filmmaker Francis Lawrence, getting the opportunity to continue making sequels to one of the most successful movie franchises ever was something he hoped for after taking over for “The Hunger Games” director Gary Ross in 2013’s “The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.” Completing the series with the two-part final film “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay” not only gave Lawrence the chance to see the project all the way through to the end, it also allowed him to explore some of the darker themes of author Suzanne Collins’ third book. In “Mockingjay – Part 1,” Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) reluctantly becomes the leader of a resistance against President Snow (Donald Sutherland) who has taken Peeta (Josh Hutchinson) and turned him into a propaganda tool for the Capitol.

During an interview with Francis Lawrence this past week, I talked to him about whether or not he thinks waiting an entire year for “Mockingjay – Part 2” is too long, the tough decisions he had to make when actor Philip Seymour Hoffman passed away before production ended, and what theme interested him the most from Collins’ book.

I’m sure because this is such a huge franchise and fans of the books and movies were probably watching your every move, things could get a bit stressful for you as a filmmaker. What was the scariest decision you had to make about these last two “Mockingjay” films?

You know, oddly enough one of the scariest decisions was one that I thought the fans would be appreciative of, which was putting Effie (Elizabeth Banks) in the movie. Effie really doesn’t make an appearance in the book [Mockingjay] until the end. We definitely wanted her to be in District 13 with everybody. We really wanted to incorporate her into this movie. That was a big change from the book. It was scary, but I really thought the fans would like to have Effie there.

There is a scene in the film where Katniss is making a propaganda film, which calls for Jennifer Lawrence to act like she doesn’t know how to act. What kind of direction did you give Jennifer to make her look like a bad actress?

Well, we actually tried [that scene] a bunch of different ways. We all knew it was going to be a scene with levity and humor. We spent two days shooting that scene and really let Phil [Seymour Hoffman] and Jen [Lawrence] improvise quite a bit. We had a huge range in terms of the level of levity in the scenes. We went from super naturalistic where she’s not acting badly at all to scenes where she acted really, really bad. In the editing room I had loads of possibilities. I wanted to make sure the tone of the humor fit the rest of the movie.

What about the scene where Katniss sings the song “The Hanging Tree?” Jennifer said recently that she was not comfortable shooting that scene. Was it just a matter of doing it and getting it over with or was it difficult?

Yeah, she was not happy. But Jen being unhappy is a minor issue in terms of the film. I mean, she knew she had to do it. (Laughs) She didn’t enjoy it. But she has a great voice. She sings in key. She sings in tune. She has a great texture to her voice. We had the Lumineers write the melody from the lyrics in the book. It was a nice, simple song, but it was definitely not her favorite thing.

Actress Julianne Moore said recently that she became very popular with her kids for taking on the role of President Alma Coin. Did you earn any street credit with anyone when you signed on for “Catching Fire” and these last two films?

Yeah, I have a nine year old and an 11 year old. They were just getting to that age where they started caring about movies. I remember they had this school camping trip right around the time I had just gotten the job [to direct “Catching Fire”]. The theme of the camping trip was “The Hunger Games.” This pop phenomenon has swept through and all their friends knew the movie and the books. So, the fact that their dad was making the next one, they thought that was pretty cool.

You have to know waiting an entire year to see how the film ends is going to be torture for hardcore fans of this franchise (“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2” opens in theaters Nov. 20, 2015). I know you don’t make those decisions, but do you think that is too long?

I don’t think it’s too long. I think one of the benefits of shooting back to back is that we can turn another big movie around that quickly since we’re already working on it. I think longer than a year would be tricky. I think a year is about right. I think it really builds up that anticipation and makes people want to go see it. When the movie comes out, you sort of get saturated by it. I don’t think you’d want to come out too soon [to see the next movie].

Google just came out with a study that says moviegoers who are interested in action movies are more likely to care about who is directing the action movies they go to see than moviegoers who prefer other genres like comedy and drama. If that is true, how would you feel if your name starts being recognized as an action film director? Would you like that or would you rather not be labeled in that way?

I’d like to be known as a director of movies people like. (Laughs) I don’t know if I’d like to be labeled as just an action director. I’ve done different kinds of things. I don’t know if I’d want to be pigeonholed as one type of director.

What did you have to tell actress Natalie Dormer to prevent her from shaving her entire head for her role as Cressida?

Ah, well, she and I had a conversation when we hired her and the first thing she said to me was that she was prepared to shave her entire head. Oddly enough, she and I had the same ideas for the look of her character. We started thinking that maybe she shouldn’t have her entire head shaved. One of my references was my costume designer from “Catching Fire” (Trish Summerville). She has the side of her head shaved. She had this great look. It was perfect for tattoos on the side of her head. I always thought of Cressida having this irreverent, sort of punk-like attitude, so I thought it would work. So, we agreed on shaving only half of her head.

What does it mean to you as a filmmaker to continue working on a franchise with such a strong female hero at the center? Do you think characters like Katniss are too few and far between in movies these days?

Yeah, it’s rare to see a female hero. To be a part of that is fantastic. One of the keys to that is Suzanne Collins writing an amazing story with amazing characters. Then, when you have someone as talented as Jen Lawrence and Julianne [Moore], it makes it really appealing.

We, of course, lost a great actor in Philip Seymour Hoffman this year, who was an important part of this series. What were some of the tough decisions you had to make since he hadn’t entirely finished shooting “Part 2” before he passed away?

Well, honestly, he was almost done with his work. He had two dialogue scenes left – one for “Part 1” and one for “Part 2.” We never thought about doing a digital version of him. He was one of the greatest actors, so to try to digitally recreate one of those performances would’ve been really foolish. So, we rewrote those scenes and gave his dialogue to other actors.

Will his character feel complete when the series is over or do you think it will be obvious that things were reworked in the script?

Yes, he feels completed. I mean, would I rather have had the other two scenes with him in them? Yes, absolutely. But I think his character feels complete.

In the film, we see Katniss struggling to decide if she wants to be a part of this resistance. To me, that showed how war really isn’t just a black and white issue. Was that a key element you wanted to highlight in the film and make moviegoers understand there was more to leading a rebellion than what you see on the surface?

Yes. That is definitely straight out of the pages of Suzanne’s book. It was one of the most appealing things about this movie. Quite honestly, it’s one of the reasons I got involved in these films. It not only shows war, but the consequences of it. I think the theme you’re picking up there is something that is even more explored in the next one. So, when I was asked to do these two films it was really exciting because A) I got to see this [franchise] through to the end and B) I got to work with these sorts of themes. What you just brought up is one of the biggest themes for me. War is not always clear and not always black and white. War is really messy. Even if you feel like a revolution is needed, it’s not going to be pretty.

Natalie Dormer – Mockingjay – Part 1

November 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

In “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1,” actress Natalie Dormer (TV’s “Game of Thrones”) plays Cressida, a film director who, along with her production crew, is asked to create propaganda material using Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) as the leader of the rebellion against the Capitol. Through these films known as “propos,” Cressida and the rest of the rebels hope to encourage more people to join the fight against tyrannical President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

During my interview with Dormer, 32, we talked about how different a character like Cressida is to her role in “Game of Thrones” and why she feels it’s important to challenge herself throughout her career. She also explains the smart strategy she would follow if she ever found herself thrown into a brutal competition like the Hunger Games.

Other than this franchise being such a pop cultural phenomenon, what attracted to a film like “Mockingjay?”

Yeah, it’s this blockbuster saga, but the writing is so well done, too. It’s done at such a high level. It’s rare that you find such compelling material next to such commercial viability. I was a huge fan of the first movie. An extraordinary cast had been gathered for the previous movies and extended even more with “Mockingjay.” It was an honor and a privilege to be a part of that.

What did you like about your character Cressida and what she brings to a story like this?

She is a tough girl. She’s pretty far away from the long skirts and the long brown hair of Margaery Tyrell (her character in “Game of Thrones”), who I’ve been playing for the last few years. I wanted to shake it up a bit. I wanted to shake up people’s perception of me and my perception of myself. (Laughing) Shaving half your head and running around with a gun for nine months is a good way to do that.

Were you ready for the more physical aspects of your character, especially since you’re so proper in your role in “Game of Thrones?”

Yeah, it was a long time coming. I’m quite a physical human being. Don’t get me wrong, I love playing Margaery Tyrell, but to have the opportunity to get out there and get physical was great. We’ll see a lot more of that in “Mockingjay – Part 2” to be quite honest, but to play Cressida was very interesting.

Yeah, you’re playing someone who is sort of making a movie inside a movie.

Yeah, as an actor you spend so much time working with directors, people who cut and edit and manipulate material. So, it was intriguing to me to play someone who works on the other side of the camera as well.

You said you were a fan of the first film. Were you a fan of Suzanne Collins’ books as well or did those not come onto your radar until the movies started?

I didn’t read the books until I attained the role of Cressida. But upon reading them, I was so impressed with them. I think the secret to Suzanne Collins’ success with “The Hunger Games” is that she doesn’t talk down to the younger members of her audience. She appreciates that they are fully capable of grappling with the big social and political themes that are present.

Do you think if you were forced into a competition like the Hunger Games in real life you would survive?

(Laughs) I’d like to think so. Dormer by name, Dormier by nature. I’d probably find a nice corner and sleep through it all. It’s a skill you learn as an actor when you have 5 a.m. pickup calls to sleep pretty much anywhere during the day. I’m a great napper. So, you’d probably find me somewhere in the arena sleeping away until the last canon went off.

You mentioned how you want to shake things up and do something different. Is that important for you as an actress right now – to challenge yourself and not get too comfortable with the roles you’re taking on?

Yeah, I think it’s really important to challenge myself. I’ve been very lucky in my career. I’ve managed to parallel run different mediums. I’ve done theater work and then also film and television and have been able to keep all three going. I’m very grateful that I’ve had all those opportunities. It would be great if I could keep my hand in all three mediums going into the future.

What are you looking for when you decide on your next project, whether it’s on the stage or screen?

I look at the script and the quality and arch of the journey. I look at the character. Sometimes something that scares you a little bit or something that will challenge you or something you’re not sure you can do convincingly is a good sign that you should probably do it. The only way to grow is to be a little scared of something and overcoming it. I’m looking forward to doing my next films “Patient Zero” and “The Forest.” I’ve got some interesting roles coming up in the immediate future.

What do you think it is about these sort of fantasy-based films like “The Hunger Games” that attract audiences?

Fantasy and science fiction, which I’m a massive fan of, allow you to analyze and explore the deepest, darkest parts of human nature and political and social structure from a safe distance. You don’t have to actually carry that baggage of that world. That’s what interests me the most about the genre.

Kirk Cameron – Saving Christmas

November 15, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

Although his new film “Saving Christmas” is being marketed as a battle against the supposed War on Christmas in the U.S., actor and evangelical Christian Kirk Cameron actually has something to say to his fellow churchgoers instead of merely proselytizing to non-believers like he’s done in past films. Delivering a different type of sermon in “Saving Christmas,” Cameron, best known for his roles in the 80s TV show “Growing Pains” and in the “Left Behind” film franchise, explains why Christians should embrace many of the Christmas icons, including Santa Claus and Christmas trees and gifts, that some people feel diminish the true meaning of the season. Cameron says many of these holiday symbols can be traced back to religious foundations.

During a short interview with Cameron via phone last week, I talked to him about whether or not he really feels there is a War on Christmas in this country and if he thinks God can speak to people through TV shows like “Duck Dynasty.” Unfortunately, with only eight minutes for the interview, there wasn’t much time to challenge many of his beliefs with follow-up questions.

I think some people might be surprised when they find out the intentions of this film. “Saving Christmas” sounds like you’re arguing against the commercialization of the holiday, but you’re actually defending things like Santa Claus and Christmas trees. Why did you decide to take this approach?

Christmas is my favorite holiday. It’s my favorite time of year. It’s that time of year where people are a little bit more kind, generous and compassionate. Donations go up all over the world for different charities. It’s great. There is something in the air. It’s almost magical. I think it’s because we know something really important happened. Something happened 2,014 years ago that split time in two. That was the birth of one person (Jesus Christ). That’s what we celebrate at Christmas time. I don’t want anything to dampen or muffle that. I want people to sing and laugh and be filled with joy. That’s why I made “Saving Christmas.”

Are there still elements of the way Christmas is celebrated today by the mainstream that you hope would go away? I mean, were there any other issues you researched that didn’t have the roots you were looking for?

Of course, there are things that people do every single day of the year that are not good ideas. At Christmas time, that really is no different. Christmas, of course, is about the birth of a baby in a manger and who he is and what that means to us. Christmas can be overshadowed by your gingerbread cookies and all the presents and a sense of religious superstition that if I have a Christmas tree somehow I’m doing a bad thing. It can be overshadowed by Santa Claus or we can talk to our kids about how Santa Claus, St. Nicholas, was an amazing man who knew exactly what Christmas was all about. In fact, he defended it by putting his life on the line. “Saving Christmas” really helps people understand how all of these celebrations and traditions are not only good, but they point us to the very reason for the season if you look at them with the right set of glasses.

Where does Catholicism come into play in this story for you? St. Nicholas is someone you defend in the film and the legendary status he has gained over the years, but you don’t mention his Catholic roots. Why?

You have to remember that back in the days of 325 A.D…we had a universal church. Whether you are Catholic or Protestant or whatever it is, the true issue is genuine faith. Anybody can go to church and put a sticker on themselves and say I’m this or that, but genuine faith in the Lord Jesus is what we’re talking about. Clearly, this man Nicholas was a man of genuine faith. He defended some of the key things we now have. That’s what I want people to think about this Christmas. It should bring joy to you and your family.

Do you really think there is a War on Christmas? Do you take issue with someone saying “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas” or fighting to remove nativity scenes in public places?

Here’s an interesting story: A couple of days after the website for “Saving Christmas” went online, it got hijacked by an anti-Christmas group out of Turkey of all places. They put up all kinds of things to try to just obliterate Christmas and its meaning. Of course there is a lot of antagonism towards Christmas. Christmas is the foundation for our country. It’s the foundation in the way, historically, we see family and faith. Christmas is so important. We should never let it be damaged or restrained or hijacked. We need to amplify it and sing Christmas carols from our rooftops.

You’ve never back down from a challenge to debate somebody whose beliefs are on the opposite end of the spectrum as yours, including agnostics and atheists. I’m assuming 10 times out of 10 no one’s mind is changed, so why bother? What do you get out of it?

I don’t think that’s true. I don’t think that 10 times out of 10 minds aren’t changed. People want to hear good sound arguments. Many people want to understand truth and will change their mind if they hear it.

Here in Texas, newly-elected Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick has said that God can speak to the masses through pop culture in TV shows like “Duck Dynasty,” a show whose cast I’m sure you know supports your new film. Do you believe that God can speak to people through TV shows like “Duck Dynasty?”

It’s so confusing for so many people in terms of hearing God’s voice because people claim to be speaking for him these days and these voices seem to contradict one another. What I can tell you is I went to go visit the “Duck Dynasty” family. They are some of the most genuine, authentic people I ever met. Sometimes I wonder if they even realize they are on a TV show because what you see is what you get. That’s just who they are. They’re living out their lives. A lot of people really relate to them. I’ve been a big fan because of their authenticity.

Baymax – Big Hero 6

November 7, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

Nothing says superhero extraordinaire like a big, fluffy healthcare robot named Baymax in the new Walt Disney animated film “Big Hero 6.” Created by San Fransokyo Institute of Technology student Tadashi Himada (Daniel Henney) to cater to the health and well being of patients in need, Baymax is recruited by Tadashi’s younger brother Hiro (Ryan Potter) to find the true identity of a supervillain who is wreaking havoc on the city of San Fransokyo. During an interview with me at the Walt Disney Animation Studios in Hollywood a few weeks ago, I spoke via satellite with Baymax about his life as a robot. Baymax even found some time for a full body scan when I complained about injuring my hand before our interview.

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