Ed Skrein – The Transporter Refueled

September 6, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

In “The Transporter Refueled,” the fourth installment of the “Transporter” franchise, British actor Ed Skrein (TV’s “Game of Thrones”) steps in to take the reigns as leading man from Jason Statham. Skrein stars as Frank Martin, a former special-ops mercenary who is pitted against a gang of femme fatales and a Russian kingpin.

During an interview with me this past week, Skrein, 32, talked about taking over Statham’s role in the action movie series, the inaccurate information that has been reported about why he is no longer on HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” and the excitement he’s feeling when he thinks about the world seeing his next movie, Marvel’s “Deadpool.”

Besides you taking over for Jason Statham in the lead role of this new “Transporter” movie, what do you feel this installment brings that is different from the other three movies in the franchise?

I would definitely say it’s different because we introduce the character of [Frank Martin’s] father (played by Ray Stevenson). It gives my character a lot more back story and some indication as to why [Frank] is the way he is. Also, some of the central characters here and those characters that are driving the plot are female characters. We get to see a gang of these strong independent women in this movie. They take the control away from Frank.

What is it about this series that you think audiences like so much? Does it go beyond the action or is that really the selling point here?

I think it has a lot to do with release. In reality, life is hard and we work hard. All week long we work hard, myself included, and you want that release. Sometimes I sit down and I just want to watch a movie that is fun and takes me away from reality and shows people doing things that we can’t do in real life.

Well, on that note, how much of the things your character Frank Martin does were things you were able to do yourself? Did you get to do a lot of your own stunt work?

I love sports. I train really hard. I train six times a week even when I’m not working. I’m an adrenaline junkie, so I relish the opportunity to get into the physicality of a role. However, I didn’t have any martial arts training going into it, so I knew it was going to be a big task and going to be difficult. I knew I was going to have to work very hard and be the best student I could be. I knew my face was going to be on screen and I knew you could tell when there was a stunt double. Usually, the actor just stands up like a hero at the end of it. I like when actors do their own stunts. I think you can see in this movie that it’s me doing [the stunts]. I’m proud of what we did. These are my baby steps. This was me doing my first couple of months of martial arts ever. You’ll see a progression when you see me in “Deadpool.” After that I hope to continue to grow and continue to improve. I suppose the sky’s the limit.

Any bumps or bruises to report from doing all that stunt work on your own? I’m assuming it wasn’t easy.

Nah, I trained really hard for it and made sure everything was functional. I didn’t want to have any injuries. I wanted to have the stamina to last the whole shoot. The stunt guys I worked with were some of the best in the world. Safety was paramount to everyone involved. I kept safe and never felt in danger. It was very important to me to make a great movie and make great action sequences, but it was also important that everyone went home to their families at the end of the day in one piece. There were a couple of scratches and bruises, but nothing that we couldn’t get over.

If this film does well, would you like to start being looked at for more action roles? Is this genre one that you could see yourself doing long term?

I certainly know that I’m capable of it. I know that if I get to work with incredible coaches I’ll continue to grow and improve. I certainly have the appetite and capacity for it. However, I am born out of independent European cinema and that is where my heart is. I’m so excited because there are a couple of really low-budget projects I’m going back to after this. I’ve already turned down a number of action roles that were extremely well paid. It’s just not what I want to be doing all the time. I’m interested in characters and directors and casts I can learn from. I’m looking for layered stories that are original. I can do the action roles, but I want to apply the same principles to the low-budget independent films as well.

I read that you left your role on “Games of Thrones” to pursue this role. Is that true?

That [report] wasn’t accurate. I wanted to stay on “Game of Thrones.” My plan was to stay and develop the character. I loved the character. But there were some politics involved and I was sad I wasn’t able to continue my role. I would’ve loved to. I enjoyed my time [on the show]. I look back with fondness. But I’m also not somebody who looks back much. I try to stay positive about everything. I’m thankful about where I am today. It would’ve been great to be able to carry on with that show, no question, but I’m thankful for today and don’t look back.

Looking forward, of course, includes your role in the upcoming “Deadpool” movie. How exciting is it for you to be a part of the Marvel Universe?

I’ve always wanted to play a superhero character. I’ve always wanted to be in a Marvel movie. To be honest, “Deadpool” is a dream movie to be in. Tim Miller is a dream director to work for. Ryan Reynolds is a dream actor to work opposite of. You add in people like T.J. Miller, who is one of the funniest men I’ve ever met, and Gina Carano, who is this badass sweetheart, and Brianna Hildebrand, who is this incredibly talented young lady, and Morena Baccarin, who is a great actress and gorgeous to match, it really is a dream come true. It’s also exciting to be able to build on the skill set that I learned on “The Transporter [Refueled].” Tim Miller really pushed me and took me out of my comfort zone. He made me work hard and really got some great results out of me. I’m really excited for the world to see it. I feel we made something that hasn’t been made before in the superhero world and in modern cinema.

You brought up Gina Carano. With all the martial arts you learned for “The Transporter Refueled,” how well do you think you’d do if you went against someone like Gina or Ronda Rousey in an MMA cage?

They would absolutely flatten me. (Laughs) They would destroy me. I’m used to punching without contact. (Laughs) I’m hitting people three inches away from their face. Hopefully it looks real and looks like I’m doing a good job, but I leave it up to the stunt guys who are jumping around and doing great reactions and the sound guys who are doing great sound effects. Ronda and Gina are incredible. I learned a lot from Gina on the set. Her stand up fighting is incredible. I just love watching the way she moves. She’s such an incredible athlete. She’s another reason [“The Transporter Refueled”] was such a great project.

James Ponsoldt – The End of the Tour

August 28, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

Filmmaker James Ponsoldt (“The Spectacular Now”) was immediately drawn to the work of author David Foster Wallace when he read his critically-acclaimed 1996 novel Infinite Jest as a freshman in college. Twenty years later, Ponsoldt jumped at the opportunity to direct “The End of the Tour,” a film adapted from Rolling Stone contributing editor David Lipsky’s bestselling novel Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself about the time Lipsky spent five days interviewing Wallace during the last leg of his Infinite Jest book tour. Ponsoldt spoke to me last week about his new film, which stars Jason Segel (“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”) as Wallace and Jesse Eisenberg (“The Social Network”) as Lipsky.

As a writer yourself, what resonated with you about what David Foster Wallace could do with the written word?

You know, I fell in love with his writing when I was pretty young. He was able to articulate thoughts and feelings and specific experiences that I had that I couldn’t articulate myself. It was stuff of everyday life – sports and politics and music. He wrote about all of those things with thoughtfulness and intelligence and a sense of humor that really respected the minds of the readers. He was the type of writer that made you feel smarter as you were reading him. That’s a really rare thing.

Was this script more appealing to you because it focused on one event that spanned over five days rather than David’s entire life? Is a full-on biopic something you think you could’ve directed?

Nah, I wouldn’t have wanted to. I don’t like traditional, cradle-to-the-grave biopics. I don’t know how you can tell the story of a complicated human life in two hours. It’s inherently very reductive. What I really liked about this was the source material, which was David Lipsky’s book. Lipsky was a very smart, first-rate journalist. David Foster Wallace was a stranger to him, but he was deeply affected by him. There is something very universal in that experience of meeting someone that you’ve admired from afar and have complicated feeling towards because they’re more successful than you. Whether it’s a professional or personal thing, meeting someone who is a big figure in your consciousness but doesn’t think about you as much is something we’ve all experienced. We’ve all been David Lipsky to some degree. It felt like I had an opportunity to make a movie that wasn’t a straight biopic, but instead had a more universal story and didn’t require you to have read Infinite Jest to appreciate it.

We’ve seen some great comedians over the years switch gears and do some solid work in dramatic roles. What was it about Jason Segel that made you believe he could pull off something as complex as this?

I’ve always been a fan of Jason since “Freaks and Geeks.” That show had so many great actors, but Jason, for me, was the emotional anchor of it. He’s really moving and honest in it and has this sweet kind of sadness to him. I think he brought that same energy to other movies like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” Jason is a really thoughtful, complicated guy who happens to be a great writer. So many of my favorite actors, whether it’s Tom Hanks or Jack Lemmon or Jimmy Stewart or Bill Murray or Jamie Foxx or Robin Williams, all those guys were perceived at one point as “funny guys.” But as we all know, people who are funny can also be remarkably complicated.

You don’t have to name any names, but have you ever met someone you personally admired and were disappointed about what kind of person he or she turned out to be in real life?

Yeah, but I’m sure the people I admired that met me were disappointed, too. (Laughs) It goes both ways. People are complicated. The work they create doesn’t necessarily reflect exactly who they are. There is a power dynamic there. If you really love someone’s books or someone’s music and feel like they are personally revealing something, you feel like you know them. But they don’t know you. You’re just a stranger who listened to their album or read their book. I think there is an expectation that people bring when they meet someone who has created something they love. But, yeah, I have experienced that.

I’ve been given 10 minutes to interview you about your new film. Would you allow a journalist to interview you for five straight days?

I don’t think I would. (Laughs) I think I’m too insecure. I think it was really brave of David Foster Wallace to do that. I think it was really brave of David Lipsky to write a book about that time. It was a really courageous thing because he opened himself up to scrutiny. It feels like a very rare thing. I can’t imagine that happening for me at all. I think I’m too much of a coward.

David Foster Wallace’s family has objected to this movie being made, but what kind of reactions are you getting from other people who knew him?

You know, it’s been interesting screening this movie. I’ve met a lot of people along the way who were very close to David Foster Wallace that have seen it. A lot of them have been very moved by the film. I think that sort of speaks to the way that people have very different experiences with movies about real people. I think that’s all OK. I can respect where people are coming from. They all have different feelings. We really wanted to respect his humanity and intelligence and his complicated personality.

Sir Ian McKellen – Mr. Holmes

August 14, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

Over the course of his 50-year-long television and film career, two-time Academy Award nominee Sir Ian McKellen has taken on a handful of iconic characters and molded them into his own in a way very few actors can do with as much consistency and class. From Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield to Shakespearian principal roles like Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III and King Lear to larger-than-life characters including Adolph Hilter (1989’s Countdown to War), film director James Whale (1998’s Gods and Monsters), and Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit franchises, it’s hard to imagine McKellen shying away from any challenge as an actor.

At 76, McKellen continues to impressively tackle these significant roles and seems to be getting better with age. In “Mr. Holmes,” which is adapted from Mitch Cullin’s 2005 book “A Slight Trick of the Mind,” McKellen portrays a retired Sherlock Holmes, the fictional London-based detective made famous by the novels and short stories written by Scottish author and physician Sir Author Conan Doyle in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In this most recent version of the character, Holmes, at the age of 93, looks back on his career and reminisces about his last unsolved case.

During a short telephone interview with me, McKellen discussed his own thoughts about retirement and how the strength of a film’s script indicates whether or not he will accept a role in a movie. We also talked about other recent Holmes portrayals and how his would stack up in both case solving and combat.

Has playing the role of a 93-year-old, retired Sherlock Holmes made you ponder about what you’d like to do yourself when you hang it up as an actor at the age of 93?

(Laughs) Well, acting is a great job because you don’t have to retire. There are always old roles needed, but they’re not often as good as this one. I did take some time out about five or six years ago to wind down. I stopped acting and thought I’d get on with life. (Laughs) But I found out that life wasn’t as interesting as acting. I don’t take every job that I’m offered, of course, but if it’s a really fantastic script like this one was, then I might.

If your Sherlock Holmes character and the versions played by Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch went out together to investigate the same case, who do you think would solve it first? I have to say, I’d put my money on you.

Absolutely, absolutely. They’re dear boys, but they don’t know the half of it. (Laughs) The conceit of this film is that Sherlock Holmes is a real person. There is no fantasy about it. I’m playing what it would be like to be that man with the overdeveloped ego and overdeveloped brain. He discovers over the course of this movie as he looks back to solve the last case that he actually has a heart. There was love there and he missed it. It really is about regret. But something considerable that he learns is that it’s never too late. You can always learn something new about yourself.

Along with solving a case before Downey Jr. and Cumberbatch, could I also count on you to be victorious in a fistfight?

Oh, I think so, absolutely! But I am the most peaceable man possible. I used to get out of boxing when I was a kid in school. I had a bad ear is what I used to say. I can’t bear seeing people getting hit. But, in metaphorical sense, I think I would [win]. (Laughs)

Was everything you needed to portray Sherlock Holmes in the pages of the book “A Slight Trick of the Mind” or did you have room to add some of your own personality and characteristics?

Well, when the script is as good as this one and is based on a novel that is as good as [“A Slight Trick of the Mind”], it doesn’t really need an actor to come along and say, “Oh, I can give this something different.” They probably already thought about it and decided not to include certain nuggets of information the actor might come up with. It was the same with “The Lord of the Rings.” What the actor brings is an embodiment of the character. He gives him a face, a voice, a walk, a look, a mind. The basis for all that is the script. You can’t make a good movie unless you have a good script.

Diablo Cody – Ricki and the Flash

August 14, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

She may have won an Oscar in 2007 for her teenage pregnancy comedy “Juno,” but screenwriter Diablo Cody says she’s definitely not the same kind of writer she was eight years ago. There’s more pressure on her now that writing scripts has evolved from a fun hobby to a real, honest-to-blog job. In her newest film, “Ricki and the Flash,” Cody found inspiration for the title character in her own mother-in-law Terry Cieri, the leader of a New Jersey-based rock ‘n’ roll band called Silk and Steel. Actress Meryl Streep plays Ricki, a lifelong musician who walked out on her family years ago to pursue fame, but never found it. The estranged mother returns when her ex-husband (Kevin Kline) calls and asks her to spend some time with her daughter (Mamie Gummer, Streep’s real-life daughter) who is suffering from depression.

During an interview with me, Cody, 37, talked about the idea of fame and if she’d like more of it, and what it was like to rock out with Streep on the set of “Ricki and the Flash.”

Tell me about your mother-in-law and how she became the inspiration for “Ricki and the Flash.”

I met my husband’s mom a few years ago when I was meeting the whole family. I was so blown away that she was the lead singer of this rock band. She was a grandmother, but she was still getting out on stage every weekend playing the electric guitar and rocking the house. I thought this would be a fascinating jumping off point for a film.

What is her band called?

They’re called Silk and Steel. They play on the Jersey Shore. There in Seaside Heights, New Jersey.

Do you get a chance to see them perform at all?

Absolutely. I’m a huge fan of the band. I don’t get out as much as I’d like to because I have really little kids, but I’m definitely a fan.

Have you ever had conversations with her about her idea of fame and if she ever wanted to make it big?

You know, I think every musician hopes to have wider recognition. We have talked about that. At the same time, what I really admire about her is that even though she is not famous, she is still doing it every weekend just for the love of it. To me that’s true artistry.

What about you as a screenwriter – where does fame come in? Would you like to be more famous than you already are?

No, I actually think it’s sort of astonishing that I have any kind of public presence. Most screenwriters don’t. Just the fact that I’m asked to help promote the movie is enough exposure for me. Most writers are introverts. I’m one as well.

Did you write the lead characters specifically for Meryl Streep and Mamie Gummer?

It wasn’t specifically written for them, but as I was writing the script, I couldn’t help but think, “You know, Meryl Streep would be perfect for this.” But I didn’t allow myself to believe she would do it because it seemed like such a long shot. When she agreed to do it, I was so happy. And Mamie Gummer is so talented. To be able to take that dynamic between the two of them and put it on screen was really a gift.

I don’t think there are many screenwriters out there who could think, “Meryl Streep would be perfect for this,” and actually have a shot at getting her for the part.

Hey, I didn’t think I had a chance either. I’m still in shock.

Looking back to a film like “Juno,” do you ever feel like people think of you as a specific kind of screenwriter? I mean, I think some people will be surprised to know you wrote “Ricki and the Flash.”

I think when you write something like “Juno” that’s a huge hit and has a really distinctive tone to it, people are going to assume that’s the way you’re going to work from now on. But the fact of the matter is, I wrote “Juno” 10 years ago and I definitely have other concerns in my mind right now. I’m older and I’m a mom. I do think that as I’ve matured maybe my writing voice has matured. I would still write another movie like “Juno,” but I want to try different things, too.

Has your writing process changed over these last 10 years or do you confront a new script the same way?

No, and I kind of wish that I could. It’s funny how things change when your hobby becomes the way you support yourself. At the time I wrote “Juno,” writing was just fun. It wasn’t my day job. It was just something that I did at night. The process was very free. I had nothing to lose, whereas now, I feel more under pressure as a writer. (Laughs) I am definitely writing in a different kind of space.

Were you able to rock out a little with Meryl when you were on set?

Yeah, I’m actually in the movie briefly dancing in front of the stage while her band is rocking out. That was a pretty cool moment. It made me think, “What a weird life I have.” I’m a big fan of The Flash, I’ll put it that way.

Wait, is that you in that one scene where the woman is dancing by herself?

That’s me!

Well, you have some pretty good moves, Diablo.

(Laughs) I do not have good moves, but that’s sweet of you to say.

Joel Edgerton – The Gift

August 7, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

In his filmmaking debut, actor Joel Edgerton (“Warrior”) directs, writes and stars in “The Gift,” a thriller that tells the story of a married couple (Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall) whose life is thrown into a frenzy when a man from the husband’s past comes back into his life 20 years later to reveal shocking secrets from when they were kids. During an interview with me this week, Edgerton, 41, talked about the privileged position he feels he’s in as a director who is also an actor, and explains why he thinks the thriller genre is one that has to constantly evolve.

You probably don’t have a lot of say when it comes to the marketing of a film, but when “The Gift” is referred to as a modern day “Fatal Attraction,” how do you feel about that? Would you rather the film stands on its own than be compared to something from the past?

You know, it’s like when you move to a new city and try to compare it to the old city you used to live in. Movies are the same. People will say things like it’s like “Fatal Attraction” meets “Forrest Gump.” It’s an easy comparison and I’m fine with it.

You’ve worked with some very talented directors in your career like Ridley Scott (“Exodus: Gods and Kings”) and Baz Luhrmann (“The Great Gatsby”). How much influence do directors like that have on your own voice as a filmmaker?

Look, I’m in a very privileged position as an actor. I’ve spent so much time on set with these directors. I’d be crazy not to open my eyes and ears to what’s going on around me. Ridley and Gavin O’Connor, who made “Warrior,” and Jeff Nichols (the upcoming “Midnight Special” andLoving”) and Scott Cooper, who’s got “Black Mass” coming up, these guys have taught me a lot just by being in the presence of them. I get a privilege that a lot of other directors don’t get.

We’ve seen you in some great thrillers like “Animal Kingdom” and “The Square.” What do you think it takes to make something work in this genre? What makes a great thriller?

It’s in the spirit that everything is not what it seems and you’re trying to keep an audience guessing and on their toes. It seems to me that the thriller genre really just has to stay ahead of the audience. Maybe that means the genre has to keep evolving. Anything that has been done successfully before, you can’t just do that again because the audience is waiting for that. They’re expecting it. We wanted to take the audience down that “Fatal Attraction” road and at some point start to mess with their perception of what was going to happen next. I think it’s the director and the writer’s job to keep messing with the minds of the audience.

As an actor, what does it take to get into the head of someone as creepy as your character? What kind of mindset do you have to be in?

That all comes in the writing. I was very determined to write a character for myself who was overbearing and socially awkward. He’s a person we’ve all encountered who wants a friendship with us more than we want with them. (Laughs) I was constantly reminding myself as I made the movie that the movie had to be more than just entertainment. Each character had to be real and resonate in some way, particularly in a film like this where the subject matter is about bullying and the way we can be cruel to each other as people. That danger element of my character is part of that subject matter. He’s a victim of bullying 25 years later asking for some kind of resolution.

Were there any specific challenges in having to direct yourself?

Yeah, I’m a very naughty actor, so trying to control me is unbearable. (Laughs) You know it was tough. Directing is very much about planning and using a lot of brainwork and acting is often about gut instinct, at least for me. Trying to bring those two worlds together on the same day in the same person is tricky. But I had a lot of help. I had a great team. My brother (Nash) was there as an outside eye. The challenges were there early on, but I worked out how to make it work. I was very happy with it.

What did your brother think when you told him you were going to direct your first film? Was he like, “Directing is my thing. Stick to acting!”

Nah, there’s none of that. My brother had an incredible amount of enthusiasm for me to direct. Someone once joked that my brother is a film bully. If someone is thinking about making a movie, he will bully you into doing it. He helped me so much. It was never like, “Hey, stick to your acting, man. I’m the director.” He wanted me to do it. It’s the same reason I’m really excited to see him get in front of the camera more. He’s a little too handsome, but it’s great. We love each other and we love encouraging each other.

Chingo Bling – comedian

July 17, 2015 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Trinity University graduate and self-proclaimed Ghetto Vaquero, Chingo Bling, will bring his No Mames Comedy Tour to the Guadalupe Theater July 17. A native of Houston, Texas, Chingo Bling was born Pedro Herrera III to Mexican emigrants who came to the U.S. to achieve the American Dream for themselves and their children. He began rapping under the alter ego Chingo Bling in 2000 and has since rose to fame with fans who enjoy his style of Latino hip-hop and satirical comedy. Chingo took some time earlier this week to talk to the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center about his tour stop in San Antonio and his venture into the stand-up comedy industry.

How exciting it is for you to come perform a stand-up show in San Antonio for the first time?

It does feel like the first time because I’m new to the world of stand-up. It’s a different way of expressing myself and communicating with fans. It’s a different way of getting my ideas out. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do. When I do my music, some people don’t really know how to take me or how to figure me out. It’s like, “Is this guy for real? Is he a joke? Is he making fun?”

What does stand-up allow you to do that you weren’t able to do before when you were doing parody hip-hop and your other comedy?

I feel like I’m able to give people a more pure product because of the nature of the art form. It’s just a guy and a microphone. It’s a totally different experience. There are no backup dancers. There’s no music. I mean, we have music and it’s still a party type of atmosphere, but you can’t hide behind the beat. A comedian’s job is to make friends with everyone in the room and bring everyone in together. There’s a lot of trust involved. I have to make sure people trust that they we are going to go on this journey together. I need you to give me permission to act a fool.

Do you feel pressure because you are new to this type of platform?

Yes, but I think allowing yourself to be vulnerable is the key to good art because people want the truth. People want honesty and if you’re not giving them the truth and you’re not being honest then you are hiding behind something. So in a way you are naked up there. My opinion of good comedy and good art, whether it’s an essay, a novel, or a song, is that it has to come from the heart. It has to be real, especially for my people from San Antonio. You can’t fool them. They know when you’re speaking passionately about something. They know when you believe in something. They know when you’re authentic, because they are. We value that authenticity and being genuine. That’s what we pride ourselves on.

It seems like there’s going to be a lot of laughs happening at your show but is there also a message you want to convey as well? Do you want to spur conversation about real issues?

Yeah, I mean it’s not like super deep or anything like that but I do want to kind of make people think. I do want them to walk away with some kind of substance. I do want to raise some questions. There are certain topics, just like in my music, that I want to tackle in my comedy. I have an audience and a stage and a microphone, so I feel like it’s my obligation to explore different things in a creative way so that these ideas are a part of a discussion.

What are you looking forward to the most when you come back to San Antonio?

Well, hopefully my family can come with me. Hopefully we can all ride down as a family and hit the Riverwalk. I want to show my daughter the Trinity University campus. I want to take a little tour of San Antonio, hit the West side, and stuff like that and just get a feel for the city. That’s usually good for a comedian to do. You want to hit the streets a little bit and get a vibe of what people are feeling and talking about. That way people are like, “OK, this guy knows what’s up. He didn’t just fly in from some far away place and tell a generic joke.”

David Thorpe – Do I Sound Gay?

July 5, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

Ever since he can remember, David Thorpe, a gay man and filmmaker from Brooklyn, New York, has never been comfortable with his effeminate-sounding voice. In hopes of understanding his insecurities and possibly training himself to sound “less gay,” Thorpe made the documentary “Do I Sound Gay?” Through interviews with friends and family, speech therapists and linguists, and celebrities including David Sedaris, George Takei and Tim Gunn, Thorpe examines what it means to “sound gay” and the stigma attached to one’s voice. He spoke to me last week about his new film.

“Do I Sound Gay?” will be available on VOD July 10.

Where are you now in terms of accepting your voice? Has that changed since making the film?

It has changed a tremendous amount since beginning the project. I’m much more comfortable with my voice and what it represented, which was this internalized homophobia and leftover shame about being gay. With that said, I still have moments where I’m self-conscious and I have to bat away that reflex where I think I don’t sound masculine enough.

When do you feel the most self-conscious?

You know, it kind of sneaks up on me. It might be when a stranger talks to me. Sometimes it is around other gay men where maybe I want to appear more attractive. It’s a little bit arbitrary where it comes from. But now I’m much more able to remind myself that it’s nothing to be ashamed of.

What kind of response are you getting from other gay men?

I think the reaction has been overwhelmingly supportive. I hope that’s a tribute to the film because it lays out all the reasons for my insecurities. I hope people see my desire for empowerment, but also my struggles to be empowered. People from all backgrounds, not just gay men, have actually shared their struggles about their voices and aspects of themselves they weren’t comfortable with. It’s been really gratifying to talk to people about their accents or voices that are specific to the area they’re from. When we’re in the south, we would talk about what it means to have a southern accent. When I was in the U.K., we talked about the different accents they have there and how they have stigma and status attached to them. The goal of the film was to say something universal through my own personal story. Voice is sort of a metaphor for all the aspects of ourselves we don’t necessarily find informing to our imaginary ideals.

In the film, you go through a few exercises with speech therapists to see if they can help you sound “less gay.” Did you go into this project thinking you might come out at the end sounding more like Sylvester Stallone?

(Laughs) Yeah, I genuinely was unhappy with my voice in the same way someone is unhappy with their body. I thought I could sound more masculine. I had been uncomfortable with my voice for so long. I just wanted to deal with the issue once and for all. If that meant I was going to be happier sounding like a more typical man, I just wanted to get it over with. I’ve been out of the closet for 20 years, so I figured it was worth a try.

When you’re deciding on whether or not to date someone, is their voice a make-or-break deal for you?

(Laughs) Voice really isn’t a big deal to me at all. I’ve had boyfriends who have sounded more effeminate than me. I’ve had boyfriends who sound more masculine. The boyfriend who dumped me when the film begins was one of the more effeminate guys I had dated.

How do you feel about how the word “gay” has changed over the years? It’s not politically correct say something like, “That’s so gay” if it’s being used as a negative statement. Do you think society has become oversensitive about this specific word or do we need that unwritten rule?

Yeah, using the word “gay” is no longer 100 percent acceptable. I just watched the movie “Ted,” which I enjoyed, but there is a lot of that humor in it. It’s partly tongue-in-cheek and partly not. From what I hear from young people, it’s not cool to use “gay” that way in some places and in other places it’s the norm. One thing I like about the title of the movie is that maybe now when someone says the word “gay” it might have a different meaning. The movie is going to help change the idea of what it means to sound gay and to use that as a slur.

What about a more derogatory term like “faggot?” I’ve heard gay men use this word between each other. Is it a word that offends you as a gay man?

I think we should appropriate the word faggot. I’m comfortable with gay people calling each other faggot and queer. I think “queer” used to be a very hurtful insult, but now it has value. I know that was a struggle when I was growing up in the 80s. “Queer” is what gay boys were called in the schoolyard. I think we should do the same thing with the word faggot. I use faggot in the movie many times because I think it’s important to take that word back.

Since sounding “less gay” was so important to you at the beginning of this film, did you ever think that maybe you could just fake it? I mean, instead of trying to change something inherent about you, why not go the same route as Nathan Lane did in “The Birdcage” or Titus Burgess does in “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and just act straight?

(Laughs) Well, apparently not because I didn’t pull it off! (Laughs) I do think that’s a real question for people in the media and in theater. They need to appear straight in order to get work. I love Rachel Maddow and she sounds very masculine, but I don’t think you’d ever have a very effeminate male newscaster.

Juliano Ribeiro Salgado – The Salt of the Earth

May 8, 2015 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In the Academy Award-nominated feature documentary “The Salt of the Earth,” co-director/co-writer Juliano Ribeiro Salgado, alongside veteran documentarian Wim Wenders (“Pina,” “Buena Vista Social Club”), follows his father, acclaimed Brazilian photojournalist Sebastião Salgado, as he travels to some of most unblemished parts of the world to photograph immaculate landscapes. The film also revisits a lot of Salgado’s more harrowing work from his past when he would work in dangerous places like Rwanda and the Middle East.

During an interview with me at the 2015 South by Southwest Film Festival, documentarian filmmaker Salgado talked about going on a long trip with his father to capture his process as a photographer and describes why he thinks his father is so good at what he does.

What was your father’s initial reaction when you told him you’d be going on this trip with him?

Well, actually, I didn’t want to go. He kind of forced me. I was really scared of being so close to him for such a long time. We had this complicated relationship and he had to force my hand so I could follow him into this Amazon. But it was a great experience.

What did he think about your work as a filmmaker and how you captured him as an artist?

When he saw the footage, he was very touched by it. When you film someone, it says a lot more about the person who is filming than the person who is being filmed. Sebastião saw how his son saw him. He was watching this footage I took of him and his eyes were full of tears. That was an intense moment for both of us.

What do you think it is about your father that makes him stand out from other photographers?

Sebastião has a massive capacity for adaptation. We would land on this airstrip that was in the middle of nowhere and walk two days to get to this village across forests and mountains. We would meet someone along the way and in 10 minutes, even though we didn’t speak the same language, there is already something happening between them. I think that’s the big difference between him and other photographers. He gets integrated into the communities and is capable of being a part of it really quickly. When he makes his photos, he’s not illustrating a fact. He’s photographing a relationship.

Is there anything specific you learned from your experience on this trip?

You know, what amazed me was that when we would go to these places and meet people, it couldn’t be more foreign and distant, but very quickly you realize that we are all the same. Even though you don’t speak the same language, you can joke with them. They have a concept of the outside world. You can have a great conversation with them.

It’s amazing that you were able to create these relationships with these natives without words. What did you find universal in your language?

(Laughs) You know, it’s funny because I remember at the end of the day one of the [natives] took this little piece of wood and started rubbing it with another piece of wood and smoke started coming from it. Then he put the stick on these dried out plants and made a fire. I’m there filming that thinking, “This is essential. This is humanity. This is the beginning of everything.” I was so touched. I felt I was filming this important moment. I was all emotional. Suddenly, they started doing something with their hands. I didn’t know what they’re doing. They started rolling these leaves and start smoking tobacco and chatting with their friends. I thought, “Oh, wow, these guys are doing what I do when I’m out of my editing room in Sao Paulo.” From there, that feeling of distance was gone.

When did you know your father had an occupation that wasn’t like most fathers?

When I was a little child, I knew my father was doing something unique. I would get that from my teachers and my parents’ friends. They would ask me where he was and would look at me astonished when I told them. So, I knew he was doing something that was different. When I was five, he brought home photos that depicted the death of children. I saw the pictures and he had to explain the world to me and tell me how the world was a different kind of reality than the one we had living in Paris. I always understood what he did played a good role somehow.

When you watch your father work and see how passionate he is about his craft, what does that do for you as an artist?

Watching him inspires me a lot. He travels to all these different places and has these different life experiences. His job was to be in between important events, which would become historical, and the audience. I felt his work was making a difference and allowing people to open up to the world. That’s why I set out to be a documentary filmmaker, however big or small.

Have you ever had conversations with your father about how photography has changed so much over the last few years through technology and how everyone who has a cell phone thinks they’re a photographer?

The technique has changed, but I think Sebastião isn’t very open-minded. When he realized he could get a better result with a digital camera, he went to digital. He’s not one of those guys who thinks the past is always better. The fact that everyone can make a photo nowadays is interesting, but it was like that before with Polaroids. Everyone would photograph with a Polaroid camera when we grew up. What has changed is that the important medium is not the newspapers anymore. The internet is the news media now. Maybe photographs have lost their impact in this way.

Have you ever seen your father take a selfie?

No, he hates selfies. He doesn’t get that. I’ve tried to take a selfie with him before, but you can tell he’s forcing a smile.

Tommy Wiseau – The Room

April 22, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

After my interview with Mike, Kevin, and Bill from RiffTrax last week, I received the rare opportunity to travel to downtown Los Angeles for an interview with the enigmatic Tommy Wiseau, writer/producer/director/star of the cult classic “The Room” to talk about the film ahead of the RiffTrax show beamed live to theaters in the United States and Canada on May 6, 2015. We also talked about Tommy’s new sitcom running on Hulu, “The Neighbors.”

To purchase tickets to see “The Room” riffed LIVE in theaters by RiffTrax on Wednesday, May 6, click here: http://riff.me/RoomTickets or visit RiffTraxLive.com.

Special thanks to Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, Bill Corbett and Jeff Whitton at RiffTrax for making this happen, to Greg Sestero for his guidance, Norm Harper for shooting it, and Jonathan Walton for giving us a great place to shoot.

Daniella Alonso – Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2

April 17, 2015 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In the comedy sequel “Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2,’’ actress Daniella Alonso plays Divina Martinez, the straight-edged general manager of Las Vegas’ Wynn Hotel where title character Paul Blart (Kevin James) and his mall cop colleagues hold a national convention and get into some trouble.

“Everything moves smoothly under her command until Paul Blart and all these other mall cops show up,” Alonso, 36, told me during a phone interview last week. “I really liked the character because she has a great arch. She starts off very in control and a little rigid. She runs into Paul and he turns her world upside down.”

During our interview, Alonso, who has starred in such TV shows as “One Tree Hill,” “Friday Night Lights,” and “The Night Shift,” talked about working with James and told me which classic comedy star he reminds her of. She also spoke about her career as a Latina actress and whether or not she got the chance to ride a Segway like her co-star.

Talk about working with Kevin James and sharing some scenes with him. What does he bring to the table as a comedian?

It was wonderful working with him. He has so many ideas. He knows his character inside and out. He’s been working on this script for six years. He knows it better than anyone else. He’s very generous. When you’re working on a scene with him, he gives you so much. He never gives you half of anything. It’s a full performance every single time. He makes sure you’re happy with what you shot. It was very freeing to work with somebody who is so funny. He’s absolutely hysterical. He would make everyone laugh every single day.

A lot of his comedy includes slapstick. Is that kind of comedy something you find entertaining personally?

Yes, of course. He always reminded me of Jackie Gleason. He has that style of humor. It’s his slapstick and his delivery that makes me laugh. I appreciate all kinds of humor. The world needs more of it. I think this film brings that for everybody.

So, what kind of comedy speaks to you the most? What makes you laugh?

I guess I like more of a dry sense of humor. I think “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is one of my favorite shows. I also like the show “The Comeback.” I like shows that are kind of based on reality, but with people that are a little off and quirky and crazy. Those are the kinds of characters that make me laugh.

Were there any opportunities for you on the set to get on a Segway and ride around like Paul Blart?

You know, I’m so bummed because there were, but I was wearing these five-inch stiletto platforms and I was scared of falling off! The last thing I wanted to do was get on the Segway and break my leg. But if we have one at the premiere, I’m getting on it!

Talk about Raini Rodriguez. She’s a young Latina actress in Hollywood. Did you have any advice for her on the set since you started in the industry at the same age she is now?

I love Raini. She is one of my favorite people in the world. She’s so positive and full of energy and life. She makes me smile. She is so talented. I actually went to visit her on the set of her [Disney Channel] show “Austin & Ally” where she directed her first episode. And she’s only 21! She is very inspiring to me. She is a great role model for young girls. If anything, I learned from her.

You’ve worked in a lot of different genres in the last 14 years. How comfortable are you in comedy? Have you figured out all the intricacies of it and how to make something funny?

Comedy is hard. I figured out I have to be the straight person in a comedy because I love to laugh and I love to be entertained. As a straight person in a comedy, you have to be even more serious than you would be in a drama. Kevin is the one that does the humor, but I loved it. I definitely got bit by the comedy bug. What I learned on this set is to always try different things. If it doesn’t work, it’s OK. The most important thing about comedy is to be ready to play.

What have you learned about yourself as an actress over the course of your career?

It’s funny because when I first started, I trained at [the] Lee Strasberg [Theatre and Film Institute]. The teacher told me that it takes 20 years to be a real actor. Back then I thought, “20 years?! No, I need to be an actor now!” But finally I feel like it’s my job. This is my career. I have this confidence now, which is fantastic.

How do you use that confidence moving forward? Is there anything in this industry that you want to do or a dream job you want to book?

I think confidence gives you the freedom to play more. I’ve just given up trying to control things and hope for certain roles. I’m just open to whatever comes my way. If it’s the right thing for me at the right moment, I’ll do it. For me it’s all about the work and never taking it for granted and being in the moment. It’s very fulfilling.

How much more challenging is it as a Latina actress? I’ve interviewed plenty of Latina actresses over the years and some have told me they are pigeonholed all the time. Some have even taken roles they really don’t want to do just because they want to work. Have you gotten to that point where you can say no to things? If so, can you give me an example of something you’ve said no to?

At this point, I want my family to be proud of what I work on. I’ve said no to a couple of films and TV shows with nudity and stuff. I just don’t see the point in it for me. I’ve not done certain projects because of it. In terms of being a Latina, there has definitely been a lot of progress over the course of my career. At the same time, sometimes when I audition for certain things it’s still for the sexy girl that breaks up the couple who’s in love. Or you’re the best friend of the lead role. It’s starting to change though with Jennifer Lopez and Eva Longoria and directors like Guillermo del Toro. There are people who are giving opportunities to other Latino actors. But we still have a ways to go.

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy & Bill Corbett – RiffTrax

April 16, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett – veterans of the cult hit TV show “Mystery Science Theater 3000” – keep the jokes coming with Rifftrax, a web-based repository of downloadable short films and B-movies feauring humorous commentary from the riffing trio. This May, they’ll be back in theaters taking on the disaster known as “The Room” in a special live event being beamed to theaters across the country.

As a life-long fan of Mike, Kevin, and Bill, I tried not to geek out too hard during our interview this week.

Gilbert Gottfried – comedian

April 9, 2015 by  
Filed under Interviews

Comedian Gilbert Gottfried, best known for the scratchy voice work he has used to create such characters as Iago the Parrot in the classic 1992 Disney animated film “Aladdin,” and as the former spokesduck for Aflec Insurance commercials, will be performing stand-up at the Laugh Out Loud Comedy Club in San Antonio from April 10-12. I caught up with Gottfried, 60, earlier this week on the phone to talk about his new podcast, how the entertainment industry has changed over the years, and why he would never accept an offer to eulogize someone.

Do you remember the last time you performed in San Antonio?

God knows. I totally lose track of places I’ve been to. Whenever they show those clips of a politician or rock star yelling out, “I love you, Oklahoma!” and they’re in a totally different state, I completely understand how that happens.

Well, when you think of San Antonio, Texas, what is the first thing that comes to mind?

I think of a tumbleweed going by. (Laughs)

San Antonio sounds like a pretty boring place!

(Laughs) Yeah, maybe an occasional shootout happens, too. I’m used to it though. Usually during my shows someone pulls out a gun.

You started your podcast Gilbert Gottried’s Amazing Colossal Podcast about 10 months ago. So many comedians have taken this route in recent years. What made you want to do it?

I don’t really know. People were telling me to do it and I don’t really give things that much thought. It’s what everyone is doing nowadays, so I thought I would start. I didn’t know what I would talk about, but I really like talking about stuff that has to do with old show business. So, I aimed for that for the most part. So, we’ve had people like Boris Karloff’s daughter on the show. We had [TV and radio personality] Joe Franklin on right before he died. We’ve had Henry Winkler and Adam West on.

Yeah, so far your guests have been pretty diverse. What do you look for when you’re deciding who to bring on?

I look for guests I find interesting to me. Usually the guests that I have on are ones that people haven’t heard of. It was a surprise because I thought no one would like the podcast if they didn’t know the person. But I’ve been getting all these Tweets from people saying, “I had no idea who you were talking to or the people you were talking about, but I loved listening to it.”

Did it ever cross your mind that maybe they love listening to it because you have such a great voice for podcasting?

(Laughs) Yeah, I think I have that classic radio voice. It’s always between me and Morgan Freeman.

Have you ever been asked to do any voiceovers like Morgan Freeman? Would you ever eulogize someone, maybe?

I think one time someone ask me if I would do their eulogy. But I’m afraid those gigs don’t pay much.

That’s why you have to ask for the payment before the guy dies.

Oh, yes. As soon as the guy starts coughing, I want to get paid.

You started as a stand-up comedian in New York City when you were a teenager. Are comedy tours still fun for you or does it feel like a job now?

Sometimes when I’m coming into a new town with my suitcase, I feel like Willy Loman. So, it depends. Sometimes I enjoy it. Other times I just have to force myself.

When you come into new cities, do you try to craft your material for those audiences?

Not that much. Every now and then I’ll say something that has to do with the city. It varies if something hits me. I was lucky enough to be booked in Toronto when the mayor, Rob Ford, was in trouble with drugs and God knows what else. So, I was there right on the day that scandal started. So, all you had to do was say his name and people started laughing and applauding. It’s like the jokes didn’t even matter. Hopefully some big official in San Antonio will be found with a dead hooker when I get there.

Well, the only controversy in San Antonio right now is that our city council won’t allow Uber to operate in city limits. Not sure if you can do anything with that.

(Laughs) See, that’s already funny.

Do you ever think about your comedy legacy as your career progresses?

I’ll have these people say to me, “Isn’t it great that years after you’re dead people will still remember you as Iago the Parrot?” I always think, “Well, I’d rather they totally forget about Iago the Parrot and I just stay alive forever.” (Laughs)

You’ve gotten in trouble for things you’ve said or tweeted in the past. You were famously fired from your gig as the Aflac duck for making what the company thought were disrespectful remarks about the Japanese tsunami in 2011. Do you have a filter as a comedian or is controversy not really something you worry about?

Well, now when think about saying something, I think twice and say it anyway. (Laughs) I guess I’d be more gainfully employed if I thought about it.

Do you feel people are too sensitive when it comes to comedy?

Oh, yes, especially on the internet. I always say the internet makes me feel sentimental for old-time lynch mobs. At least a lynch mob had to actually go out and get their hands dirty. (Laughs) Show business used to be separate from everything else. If we had the internet back then, we’d probably see Clark Gable tweeting that “Gone with the Wind” sucked.

As someone who appreciates how Hollywood functioned back in the day, what do you think about people who get YouTube famous?

It’s scary. Show business years ago featured actors and singers who were big stars. There were newscasters and columnists and writers you’d look up to and listen to. Now, it’s everybody. It’s a weird thing. Nowadays being a star means you filmed yourself squeezing a blackhead and 20 million people watched it on the internet.

Now that you have your podcast going, is there anything else you’d like to try or learn about when it comes to new media or technology?

I have a cell phone that I barely know how to make calls and get calls. I still haven’t figured out how to put people on hold. The technology of podcasts or anything like that, I don’t know what I’m doing.

But at least you can work a toaster, right?

(Laughs) I’m starting to get the hang of that, yeah. Maybe when I’m 80 I’ll know how to make a good piece of toast.

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