Odeya Rush – Lady Bird

January 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the critically-acclaimed, Oscar-nominated drama/comedy “Lady Bird,” actress Odeya Rush (“Goosebumps”) plays Jenna Walton, a pretty albeit slightly arrogant student who attends the same private Catholic high school as Lady Bird (Saoirse Ronan), but isn’t very interested in anything outside of her social circle. In an attempt to change her social status, Lady Bird decides to snub her best friend Julie (Beanie Feldstein) to hang out with Jenna and her popular crew.

During an interview with Rush, who also starred in 2014’s “The Giver” with Meryl Streep and 2015’s “Goosebumps” with Jack Black, the 20-year-old actress talked about working with filmmaker Greta Gerwig on her first film as a director, what kind of student she was in high school and what she ultimately wants out of a career in Hollywood.

Greta Gerwig was already a really great actress and screenwriter, but now she’s added directing to her repertoire. What did you see from her on set in this new role?

Being a great creator and awesome person makes her a great director. I think she is an artist and such a talented writer. I’ve really loved all the movies she’s written and acted in. I think she’s very intelligent. You can tell by the acting choices she’s made. She directed [“Lady Bird”] at a perfect time. We had this incredible script and nothing really had to be changed.

What message do you think “Lady Bird” is trying to convey when it comes to fitting in as a teenager?

I think what is amazing about Lady Bird is that you don’t just see her in one place. You don’t see her in this one clique that defines who she is. I think in high school you go through different phases. Some people have the same friends their entire life and others like to try out different things. You hang out with different people or join different clubs. I think Lady Bird is so driven and has this badass mentality and doesn’t let any group define her. What’s cool is that you can’t put Lady Bird in a specific place in high school.

Were people able to put you in a specific place in high school? What kind of teenager were you?

My high school was in a small town in New Jersey, so our high school actually started in the seventh grade. We didn’t have a ton of kids, but I feel like I was pretty much friends with everyone. I hung out with a group of good girls. But I think we all got to a place where we didn’t have cliques, especially since the school was small. I think we all just got to a point and said, “You know, I think we should just all be friends.” The more the merrier!

What specifically attracted you to your character Jenna?

I think Greta’s writing is so great. When I read the first line in the script, I already knew how to say it. I felt this girl’s essence through the page. It was really smart dialogue. I could really understand her as a person just from reading it. She gave every character their own storyline and struggles and pain.

I know you said you hung out with everyone in high school, but would that have included Jenna?

I’m always nice to everyone. I have a lot of acquaintances, but I wouldn’t be close to her. Probably not, because I think that energy rubs off whether you want it to or not. It can really affect you. I think I would be friends with someone like Beanie’s [Feldstein] character (Julie). She is a really joyful spirit and not judgmental. I think those are the type of people I’m attracted to more.

Do you think independent films like “Lady Bird” are more attractive to you at this stage of your career, or are you hoping a huge $100-million franchise comes knocking at your door?

I just like movies that have good scripts and good people attached to it. I think that’s what ultimately makes your experience good. The movie “Goosebumps” had a big budget, but the director, Rob Letterman, was a really awesome person, too. That always trickles down to the rest of the crew when you have someone great directing the movie or if your co-stars are really great. For me, it goes back to the intention of the script and what kind of message it’s sending out and if I’d be working with someone I’ve been a fan of for years like Greta.

The relationship in “Lady Bird” that everyone loves, of course, is the complex one between Lady Bird and her mother. What do you hope audiences take away from the dynamic between Saoirse Ronan and Laurie Metcalf’s characters?

I think this movie shows that these relationships aren’t perfect. They don’t follow the same pattern all the time. A lot of times with family you can get into a huge fight and two seconds later you’re sharing a laugh or a hug. I think with family, you show each other more of those colors. A lot of times when you’re at that age when you want to battle and you get into fights with your family or your mom, it shouldn’t be viewed as super heavy. I think it’s really about that age where you want to feel free and your parents are really scared to let you go because all they want to do is protect you. I look back to that age and it’s not super heavy. It’s just all this tension bottled up. I think you have to go through that tension to see that sometimes you just need time away from each other.

You’re fairly new to Hollywood. What would you say you’ve learned about yourself in the short time you’ve been in this industry?

I think I’m just really grateful that I had a normal upbringing and that I always surrounded myself with genuine people. This industry is so up and down and you never really know what’s going to happen. When you have a movie that’s doing really well, everyone is really super nice to you. When nothing is going on and you’re a hungry actor auditioning, which is what I was a few months ago, it’s different. I think it’s about surrounding yourself with people who are constantly there for you. I think it’s about constantly loving yourself and knowing that you’re self-worth isn’t measured by how many people see your movie or how many movies you’ve done.

Shaul Schwarz & Christina Clusiau – Trophy

January 15, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the documentary film “Trophy,” filmmakers Shaul Schwarz and Christina Clusiau turn their cameras on the hunting industry and take an in-depth look at why hunters and environmentalists are at odds when it comes to finding the best way to conserve wildlife species. One of these hunters featured in the film, Philip Glass, is on a personal journey to hunt the Big Five (buffalo, leopard, elephant, lion and rhino). Glass considers himself a conversationalist because he says the money he spends on hunting goes back to local communities to help conserve the wild animals. It might sound like an insane theory to some anti-hunting activists, if it weren’t true. Many times, the hundreds of thousands of dollars hunters spend on hunting big game is spent on protect the same animals being hunted for sport.

During an interview with me last year at the South by Southwest Film Festival, Schwarz, Clusiau and Glass talked to me about the controversial subject and how hunting elephants and rhino is actually helping conserve their species.

As documentarians, I’m sure you followed the story wherever it led you, but how did the it evolve for you on a personal level? Did you notice your own opinions changing?

Christina Clusiau: When you start making a documentary, it’s really about what you’re interested in, what you’re curious about and how it affects you. But as time goes on, it becomes about the characters and the lives that are involved. It also becomes about the viewer. It’s interesting to go through that process and hand the film off and let it have legs. In turn, you’re changed not only from your own perspective, but it also changes you in how other people are receiving the film.

Something loved about this film is how balanced it is. When it comes to documentaries, especially ones about the environment, they can be very one sided in my opinion. Was that a goal from the very beginning – to present a case for both sides and let the viewers decide?

Shaul Schwarz: I love stories that challenge me. I think I was always taught as a journalist to be very open to the other side. It seems so basic, but we are living in strange days where everybody likes to scream their own thing and not listen to anybody else’s voice. I think in this film, we prove that we need to give the viewer a chance to listen and to see what different sides think, especially with “environmental docs.” Not to mock them because there have been some great ones out there that have won the Oscar, but they’re usually very one sided. That’s the honest truth. We made it a point to make you question things and look deeper and not tell you how to solve things.

Are you worried that some viewers might find it frustrating that you’re not giving them the answers? You see a documentary like “The Cove” and by the end of that film viewers understand what the filmmakers are trying to say without question. With “Trophy,” you leave it up to the viewer to do the work.

SS: I’m not worried. I’ll be happy if they [see the film] and are challenged. I think [the film provides] some solutions to each problem. We try to guide you to make up your own mind. I think if you come into the film one way, you’re not necessarily going to come out of the film the same way. I think that goes for both sides. I think some hunters will come in and they’ll leave scratching their heads and think about what they just saw.

CC: There’s not one simple solution. It’s much more complex than that. I think we really learned about the complexity that is within these worlds. We went in with one notion and left with another. I think it’s important to show that it’s not so simple.

SS: If someone told me three years ago that they were going to propose that the way to save rhinos is to cut their horns off and legalize the trade [of rhino horn], I would’ve thought they were nuts. But I don’t think that now. If we can get away from the idea that only one side has all the answers and talk about solutions, then we’re taking huge step forward.

CC: It’s such a polarizing subject for many people, so to get these two side to talk is most important. Maybe through these conversations, there will be some creative solutions that come out of it – solutions that maybe people didn’t think were viable before talking about them. Maybe there is a way to bridge the sides.

What about you, Philip? As a hunter, did you come out of this film with more of an understanding about the other side and their concerns about big game hunting?

Philip Glass: I really enjoyed hearing from the ecologist in the documentary, who is a middle-of-the-road kind of guy. I know my side, the hunting side, and I know the anti-hunting side, so hearing that middle-ground figure was interesting. That opened my eyes. I think what Shaul and Christina were trying to do with this story was to create this conversation among these different groups of people. That was very cool to me to see that happen.

This issue is complex enough, but during the film you decided to start quoting Bible scripture to support the reasons why you hunt, and I almost screamed at the screen like, “No! Why do you want to make this more complicated by adding religion to the conversation!?”

PG: (Laughs)

I bring this up because, as the film shows, there are people who believe that rhino horn can cure many ailments and diseases. Do you believe that?

PG: I don’t think rhino horn has any medicinal qualities at all, but if what is going to save their species is to cut off their horns and sell them, then we have to come to terms with that. But, no, I think [that belief] is crazy, but it’s been around for three or four thousand years, so we’re not going to change their minds.

Right, so what I’m getting at is that some people might think you’re crazy when you paraphrase scripture and say that “man has dominion over animal.”

PG: Sure. Some people don’t believe that. Some people say any hunting is abusive and wrong. But that’s simply just not the case.

After all this, do you still plan on killing a rhino?

PG: Yes, certainly.

So, where does it end for you? I know you’re passing these interests on to your son, so if he came to you and said he wanted to hunt big game, too, would you be in favor of that?

PG: I’d be for it, but I don’t know if I would pay for it. (Laughs) But that is going to be up to him and what he wants his personal journey to be. My personal journey is not just hunting the Big Five, but also hunting in the wildest places in the world – hunting in the most remote places in Africa and Asia. What is my end game? As long as I’m able physically and financially, I want to go all around the world.

SS: I think it’s important for people to go into this film to not get too caught up on how their feelings are different from whoever else. Let’s say all these hunters are completely crazy, out of their mind, barbaric. They should be asking, “How can I use that to help conserve animals?” That’s an interesting question. If you rule that out completely, I think you’re wrong. If you buy into it completely, I think you’re wrong, too.

So, Philip, for people that don’t understand, how does killing that elephant we see you kill in the film help conservation?

PG: That elephant was not a trophy. I paid all that money and went over there and did that hunt and just took a picture. I didn’t take anything home. That’s always the argument used again us: You want that trophy for your wall. But I didn’t do that. I gave them all the money and the meat and the tusks because it was their property. I didn’t even get to choose the [elephant]. I think that is the greatest example of conservation because I didn’t get anything out of it. I gave them the money and [hunted] the animal they requested according to their biologists.

CC: I think it’s really utopian from a Western perspective to think that if we just left these animals alone, they’re just going to exist and exist and exist. I think in today’s world, it doesn’t work like that. There’s so much loss of habitat and so much human encroachment, so the solution to conserve may not be in your mind to kill something to conserve it. It may not be the way you want to think about the world. But in reality, in certain areas and certain places, the wildlife itself is their only source of revenue. If there is not an economic value on an animal, no one is going to want to look after it. If you’re in one of these places and a lion comes in and eats your goats and that’s your only source of revenue, you’re going to want to kill that lion. In some of these remote areas, that could really be their only source of livelihood. So, they have a hunter come in to hunt that lion. The money that the hunter brings in actually provides a lot more than just the trophy itself. In the Western world, we have this perspective that the lion is Simba, the elephant is Dumbo. Maybe that’s not the way we should be thinking about these things.

SS: To be clear, we’re not advocating that hunting is the only solution. We’re not saying that. I don’t think most hunters would claim that. It’s a complex effort, specifically in Africa. This idea of, “Just leave it alone,” is uneducated.

Q’orianka Kilcher – Hostiles

January 14, 2018 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Native American actress Q’orianka Kilcher was only 14 years old when she made her breakout performance as Pocahontas in Terrence Malik’s 2005 historical drama “The New World.” Since then, Kilcher has starred in a number of films and TV shows, including “Sons of Anarchy,” “Longmire” and “The Power of Few.” Later this month, she can be seen in TNT’s new period drama “The Alienist” opposite Dakota Fanning and Daniel Brühl.

Along with her new role on TV, Kilcher, whose father is a descendant of the Quechua-Huachipaeri people of Peru, stars in the Western drama “Hostiles.” Directed by Scott Cooper (“Black Mass”), the film features Oscar winner Christian Bale as Joseph Blocker, an Army captain who is ordered to escort a Cheyenne chief and his family back to their tribal lands to ensure their safe return. In the film, Kilcher plays Elk Woman, the chief’s daughter-in-law, who is making the journey with her husband Black Hawk (Adam Beach), young son Little Bear (Xavier Horsechief) and sister-in-law Living Woman (Tanaya Beatty). Along the way, she encounters a grieving mother, Rosalie Quaid (Rosamund Pike), with whom she shares some of the film’s most emotionally resonant scenes.

During an interview with me last month, Kilcher, 27, talked about how “Hostiles” speaks to the issues facing a divided country, how disappointing it is when studios cast non-Native actors in Native roles and why today’s society needs to stay positive, especially during this turbulent time across the political landscape.

“Hostiles” is in limited release and expands nationwide January 19.

Was there anything specific about the script that resonated with you?

One of the things that stood out to me was the title. We all have the capability of being hostile. [But] if you look at somebody that you deem as your enemy, and then put yourself in that person’s shoes under the same circumstances, would you react any differently? That was an interesting moral thought. When I read the script, it made me think, “How do we need to be to see the world that we want to see?”

How do you feel your character fits in to the narrative on a deeper level?

My character specifically has this relationship with Rosamund Pike’s [character]. We start off as enemies and are brought together because we’re [both] trying to survive. Because of the environment we’re in, we’re thrown together and forced to see one another within that state of chaos. Banding together, we see the similarities we share. We see each other as mothers. We see things in each other that reflect one another. It comes down to just being a human being and recognizing another human being in front of you.

How do you think “Hostiles” speaks to the current state of the U.S. and how we are so divided as a nation politically?

There are underlying notes throughout the film that are very relevant today. We need to start focusing on the things that bring us together rather than the things that divide us. We need to realize at the end of the day we’re all brothers and sisters and we’re all related. We all live on this beautiful, blue planet. [“Hostiles”] shows the beauty of nature, but also the destruction done by man. When bad things happen, too often people will turn their cheek the other way or try to find a way to justify it to make themselves feel better. But we need to realize that to have a clear understanding of your future and where you’re going, you must have a clear understanding of your past and where you come from. By looking at your history, you can learn from your mistakes.

Most of the roles you’ve played in your career have been for indigenous characters. When you land a role that has not been written for a Native actress, is that something you wish would come along more often?

I’m proud to be indigenous. I’m proud whenever I can represent an indigenous woman in a film. I feel as an artist, it’s my responsibility to continuously help pave the way and push the boundaries and break down those barriers within society and within Hollywood of how indigenous people are portrayed on film. I’m very appreciative of any of those roles I get. However, I am very thankful when I am cast in other roles, too, and I don’t have to wear dreamcatcher earrings or a little feather in my hair to tell people that I’m Native. When I’m cast in a non-Native role, those decisions move our community forward because we’re not being cast just for our race. You start to get cast because your work is good and speaks for itself. It becomes more inclusive. I am happy that Hollywood is becoming more open to inclusivity. We still have a long way to go, but we’re taking little steps in the right direction.

So, how can Hollywood and actor like get studios to take even bigger steps?

There are a lot of voices starting to rise. I think it’s starting to get so loud that [studios] can no longer not listen and not hear us. There’s becoming a demand for [diversity]. The power goes back to the people. We have all the power and control if we come together as a community. I believe one small action a day multiplied by millions is what truly changes the world. It’s our responsibility as a society to push those changes we want forward, otherwise we’ll stay where we are.

How do you feel when a non-Native actor is cast in a Native Role? For example, when Rooney Mara was cast as Tiger Lily in “Pan” a few years ago?

You know, it’s a fine line. I respect Rooney Mara and I think she’s a fantastic actress. But sometimes it is upsetting because there aren’t that many roles to begin with for Native American actors. If those are the only roles you get to go out for and they’re once in a blue moon, then a lot of Native actors get disillusioned and disappointed. You’re like, “There isn’t a lot to begin with and now you’re taking the few opportunities we have away from us.” It’s a complicated thing. At the end of the day as artists and filmmakers, it’s our responsibility to make the right choices and to think about how we want our industry to change and how the choices we make ourselves affect that change.

I have to ask you this since you actually played Pocahontas in a film. How do you react when President Trump continuously calls Senator Elizabeth Warren Pocahontas. Do you think using that name is akin to a racial slur?

I almost have no comment for that because I don’t want to give it power. It’s quite sad to see what’s been happening. But at same time, I’m very hopeful as a young person because I see a bunch of young warriors being raised in the time we are living in right now. I see young superheroes and young environmental activists. Things have gone so wrong in so many ways, people can no longer ignore it. I feel like even though some of the things that are going on are quite horrendous, in a way, it’s also waking up the world.

What do you hope the current administrations realizes about indigenous people that you don’t think they understand right now?

Indigenous communities have a lot to offer because we’ve been living in harmony with Mother Earth for thousands of years. We think about our future generations and are not shortsighted and just think about the here and now. We think about tomorrow and what we’re going to be leaving behind for our children. Indigenous communities should not be seen as an obstacle to progress, but rather a necessity to progress. We are all in this together. All the issues facing the world today are not confined within borders. They affect all of us. It’s up to us to decide whether or not we acknowledge it now or later on when it’s too late. I think there are many things that need to be addressed, but right now it is a time for hopeful awakening for a lot of people who have been sleeping for far too long.

Coral Peña – The Post

December 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews, Uncategorized

Imagine working in an industry and landing a job where you’re placed in the same space as someone who is the best at what they do. If you’re an artist, imagine sharing a studio with Gerhard Richter. If you’re a writer, imagine looking over Cormac McCarthy’s shoulder as he completes a short story. If you’re a musician, imagine recording an album or jamming out with Paul McCartney and Bob Dylan.

While very few people will ever get the opportunity to do something that amazing, it’s a scenario Dominican-American actress Coral Peña found herself in earlier this year when she was cast in director Steven Spielberg’s new political drama “The Post” and given a role where she would act alongside three-time Academy Award winner Meryl Streep, who is considered by many as the greatest actress of her generation.

“The Post” tells the story of the Washington Post’s decision to publish information from the Pentagon Papers in 1971 after courts ruled that the New York Times stop publishing the leaked documents. The film is told from the viewpoint of country’s first female newspaper publisher, Kate Graham (Streep), and Post editor, Ben Bradlee (Tom Hanks). In the film, Peña plays Nancy, a young government employee with the U.S. Department of Justice, who meets Graham at a U.S. Supreme Court hearing where the publishing of the top-secret files and freedom of the press were to be debated.

In her scene, Peña absolutely holds her own with living legend Streep. The scene starts with Nancy accidentally bumping into Graham who is waiting in line to get into the court. Nancy lets her know there is another entrance she can use to get in. Although Nancy is working for, as Streep’s Graham describes, “the other team,” she voices her approval of Graham’s decision to publish the papers, which revealed that the U.S. government had lied to the public and Congress for years about the reasons the country entered into the Vietnam War.

“My brother, he’s still over here,” Nancy sadly tells Graham as they walk down the hall to the court. “I hope you win. Besides, I like someone telling these guys what’s what.”

In the following scene, Nancy is seen getting berated by her boss for showing up late to court, although her tardiness is not her fault. The two scenes work wonderfully together as audiences see Nancy recognizing the courage of a powerful woman in an industry run by men, followed by an indication of the fight that still needs to be had for women to be given the respect they deserve in the workplace.

During an interview with me, Peña, who was born in the Dominican Republic and immigrated with her family to New York City’s Harlem neighborhood when she was a baby, talked about landing a role in a Spielberg film, how she was able to stay calm for her scene with Streep, and what she thought about having the only speaking role in the film by a person of color.

“The Post” has a limited release December 22 and opens wide January 12.

Talk a bit about the audition process for a film like this and how you booked the role.

[The audition] was pretty standard for such a big film, which was surprising. I went in once and met with the casting director. We did the scene a couple of times and she asked me a few questions about myself and then I walked out. Then we found out [the role] was down to two people. They kept asking me, “What is your availability?” I was technically under contract with the [Fox] show 24: Legacy. I think they were freaking out about my availability. I kind of knew leading up that there was a possibility that they would choose me. Then I got the call. I don’t think anyone really knows how to react when someone tells you you’re going to be in a Steven Spielberg movie.

When did you meet Steven Spielberg on the set and what was that experience like for you?

I was on set the day before I had my scene [with Streep]. I saw someone bee-lining towards me. I turned and it was Steven Spielberg walking in my direction. I was like, “Oh my gosh, he’s walking right to me!” He comes up to me and he goes, “Hey Coral! I’m so excited you’re here. It’s going to be a great day tomorrow. I just wanted to introduce myself.” I thought, “You don’t need to introduce yourself, you’re Steven Spielberg.” Then, I saw him talking to Meryl in the corner and he turns and starts to wave me over. He was like, “Come over here!” So, I go over and he’s like, “You guys have a scene together. I wanted to introduce you to each other.”

So, were you nervous the next day when it was time to shoot your scene with Meryl?

I wasn’t nervous because in my head I kept thinking, “If I make this really normal, I won’t mess up.” I was so calm and everyone else on the set was freaking out. I would do my scene and go back to my chair and eat a snack and everyone was like, “What the heck?!” [Actor] Zach Woods (HBO’s “Silicon Valley”), who is in the movie, asked me if I was a child actor because I was so calm. But, yeah, everyone hung out and treated me like I was part of the main cast. Everyone that was working on this movie was so passionate about it. You have these really big names and incredible actors who were there to make art and do a job. There was not one person that had any sort of ego. From the beginning, there was this tone that we were here to make something great, and also to have some fun.

How did you feel being the only person of color with a speaking role in the film? Were you conscious of that fact?

This is something I knew very early on, especially since we were doing a movie based on real events. Every person is based off a real person. And surprise! This is what America looked like during that time. A lot of these high-profile positions were white people. This is really the only fictional character [in the film]. It was kind of amazing they had room for this character.

Since your character is fictional, how did you go about creating her from what you were given on the page? Did you have conversations with anyone before shooting?

I was able to talk to [co-writer] Liz [Hannah], and [co-writer] Josh [Singer] and Steven [Spielberg] a little about the role. They were all open to talking. Liz told me that my character was in the original script. She’s named after Liz’s mom. Steven felt like she was an important character in an important scene because above all else, this is a feminist movie. It’s about women supporting women and not always having the opportunity, but seeing how they are the powerhouses behind so many events. He felt Nancy and Kate’s conversation meant that no matter what side you’re on, you should be happy that there is a woman on one of those sides. It was really exciting to play that out.

When did you become a U.S. citizen? How did that decision come to fruition?

I got the opportunity to study abroad in London. I went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA). I got a Visa to go. When I was there, I didn’t really have the chance to travel so much. It bummed me out because I saved all summer to explore. When I came back the U.S. after studying, it was time for me to renew my permanent residency. It’s about the same price to renew your permanent residency as it is to get your citizenship. Then, I got really lucky because I was still a student at the time, so I was able to apply for a program that allowed me to get my citizenship for free as long as I was a full-time student. The fact that I could now afford to be a citizen on top of realizing that it’s hard to have a Dominican passport to travel brought me to the conclusion that I should become a citizen.

What do you embrace the most from your Dominican background?

The music. I think when you grow up as a Dominican-American and you wake every Sunday morning and your mom is blasting some bachata or merengue and you’re just trying to sleep, you ending up saying, “Ugh, I hate this music!” Then, when you get older, you realize, as much as you try to listen to other music, you always go back to [Dominican music] because it brings you joy. Now I’m like, “Oh my gosh, I’m turning into my mom!”

What do your parents think about your early success in Hollywood?

I grew up with my mother, but I do know my father. I think my father is really proud of me working so hard. My mom is happy as long as I’m happy. She doesn’t know anyone [in Hollywood]. I told her, “I’m going to be in a movie and Steven Spielberg is directing it and Meryl Streep is in it,” and she had no idea who anyone was. Even my grandmother knew who they were. My mom was like, “Well, it’s because your grandmother watches more TV than I do!” But I think for my mom, it’s all the same just as long as I’m happy, which is really great.

You’ve only been in the industry for a short time, but have you learned anything yet about diversity in Hollywood and what being Latina means going forward?

I started working professionally only about two years ago. In college, I got so nervous because of my last name, which is clearly Latin. I thought I might change my last name for SAG (Screen Actors Guild) to be more ambiguous. Upon graduation, I found out it was really great to have a Latin last name. I think we’re getting so many Latin writers and producers and people behind the scenes now. They’re allowing [actors] to be Latin, but not constantly defined by their Latinness. I can see that [diversity] has gotten better, but there’s obviously a long way to go.

Do you anticipate any challenges as a Latina actress in this business?

It’s hard for me to imagine with the way the industry is going that I would get any backlash for my last name. But I feel lucky that we’re in an age where if I did, I could speak out about it and not be punished for it. I actually talked to a professor about changing my name. He told me that now is actually the time to be an individual. He said people are really excited about individuality and that I shouldn’t change it. I don’t think I would’ve anyway because I know I would’ve been a lot happier representing my true self instead of having to hide behind ethnic ambiguity.

So, what do you ultimately want out of this industry?

As an actor, I think the main goal is to always have the opportunity to tell amazing stories. One of the things I took away from working on “The Post” is now I know that when I finish a project, I want people to go, “Oh, I really liked working with her.” I want people to see me and think, “She is going to do her job well.” Hopefully, that’s how people view me.

This interview was first published at Remezcla.com on December 21, 2017.

Chrissie Fit – Pitch Perfect 3

December 19, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

When she joined the “Pitch Perfect” franchise for its first sequel in 2015, Cuban-American actress Chrissie Fit was just happy to be there. Not only was she being added to a cast, who three years prior starred in the original surprise hit ($115 million at the box office on a $17 million budget), she also became the first Latina to be recruited by the Barden Bellas, a competitive a cappella group at the fictional Barden University where the first movie is set.

In “Pitch Perfect 2,” Fit was cast as Florencia “Flo” Fuentes, a foreign exchange student from Guatemala and one of the newest member of the Bellas. Although it was a big step to write a Latina character into the script, the role didn’t come without criticism. In a few questionable scenes, Flo makes an insensitive joke about deportation and dying at sea, explains to the other girls that she had diarrhea for seven years (presumably from the water quality in Central America) and reveals that when she was nine years old, her brother tried to sell her for a chicken. Right.

Now, in “Pitch Perfect 3,” which reunites the Bellas after graduating from college on a USO tour in Europe, audiences learn that Flo has become a successful entrepreneur, opening a franchise of mobile organic juice trucks. As an actress with some “Pitch Perfect” experience under her belt, Fit said she felt more comfortable to sit down with producers and the screenwriter and director to talk about the development of her character and her desire for those stereotypical scenes to not be a part of the new film.

During an interview with me last week, Fit, 33, spoke about making her character a more natural part of the singing group, how she feels now that the trilogy is over and what big Hollywood sequel she currently has her sights set on. We’re looking at you, Tom Cruise.

“Pitch Perfect 3” opens nationwide December 22.

Now that the “Pitch Perfect” trilogy has ended, does it feel more bitter or sweet?

It’s a little more bitter than sweet. Although, I do feel like people are hopeful that there will be more [movies]. Who knows? We would do these movies forever because we love working together. We have become a family in the last couple of years. [This franchise] isn’t like a typical Hollywood movie. Here, you have 10 strong, diverse women at the center. It’s been a joy for me to do these films.

Do you think Flo Fuentes could carry her own spin-off movie?

Maybe. There is so little information that people know about Flo. In this film, you get to see a little more of her business savvy ways. I think there are a lot of possibilities to expand and grow. I think audiences would be interested in knowing her backstory a little more. It would kind of be cool to get a prequel to all of this – to see where the girls were before they were Bellas and how they eventually became the group. I mean, they’re doing it for “Star Wars.” Now, we’re getting a Han Solo origin story, so why not, right?

What was it like being the lone Latina singer in the group? Were you conscious of it?

I was definitely conscious of it. Representation is the most important thing. The more you see Latinas on the big screen or small screen the better. Being able to be someone young girls can look to and relate to and see themselves in is so important. It’s an honor. Since the beginning, I was very proud to be a part of this strong group of women.

Your role received some criticism in the last film for some of the stereotypical elements to your character. Does the film stray away from those types of jokes now?

In the second film, I saw her in the center of all these white girl problems. In this film, before we started shooting, I sat down with the director and talked to the producers and writers about it. I knew it was a risk that maybe I wasn’t going to get as many jokes, but I let them know that I wasn’t comfortable doing any of those [stereotypical] jokes. I think the longer you’re on the set, the more power you have. I was very grateful that everyone was as conscious of it as I was. [In “Pitch Perfect 3”], we wanted to make Flo a more natural and organic part of the group. We don’t have to point out their differences at every turn. I think you see that in this film. It’s a positive image that I want people to see of Latinos in Hollywood because that’s my reality.

Were there specific jokes in the script that you didn’t want to do or are you speaking more generally?

I’m speaking more generally. There was already evidence that [the production] had gone in a different direction. Also, we had already made those jokes, so we needed newer material. Flo is actually the one character that is the most together from the Bellas after college. That was very cool to see. So, as far as deportation [jokes] or “in my country” [jokes], we definitely had time to improvise and change those [jokes] if they were there. Flor is an entrepreneur in this movie. I thought that was a cool thing for the character – to represent the hard-working communities that I’m a part of.

See she that you also have a solo on the soundtrack.

I sing “Feliz Navidad!” It was so fun. I do it a cappella. I was trying to get them to singing a Spanish song in the movie. But we do have a Spanish song on the soundtrack, so that’s really cool. I also get to sing a lot more in [“Pitch Perfect 3”] than I did in the second film. On the soundtrack, you can hear me sing a lot more, too, which is awesome. I sang most of the bass line in the second movie, but I got more singing parts in this one.

I saw some video of you and cast members running around to the song “Danger Zone” in front of some military airplanes. Do you have a pitch to get cast in the upcoming “Top Gun” sequel?

We were just at a military base doing “The Today Show.” I just posted a video of me walking in slow motion in front of a helicopter. It’s pretty legit. I think I should at least be considered [for the “Top Gun” sequel]. I think Tom Cruise’s character (Maverick) should’ve fallen in love with a Latina and had a daughter who is trying to get into flight school. I’m as reckless as he was. Then my dad has to be my Goose up in the air at one point, but not die. Doesn’t that sound like a great film?!

Stephanie Andujar – Marjorie Prime

December 18, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

Breaking out in the Academy Award-winning film “Precious” in 2009, actress Stephanie Andujar continues to hustle in an industry she loves and is always on the lookout for opportunities to branch out in different directions.

In her latest film, “Marjorie Prime,” a sci-fi drama that stars Lois Smith, Jon Hamm, Geena Davis and Tim Robbins, Andujar, 31, plays Julie, a caretaker for the title character Marjorie (Smith), an octogenarian who finds comfort in conversing with a virtual image of her late husband Walter when he was a younger man (Hamm).

During one emotionally-resonant scene, Julie, a character who is not seen in the original play from which the film is adapted, confides in virtual Walter about conversations she and Marjorie have about growing old and even communicates with him in Spanish.

A few weeks ago, Andujar jumped on the phone with me to talk about her role in “Marjorie Prime,” what helped her develop the character and how she’s still grinding it out in Hollywood after eight years. She also talked about a few new enterprises she has been working on and how it all fits together under the new Andujar label.

How did you come upon this role in “Marjorie Prime?”

Billy Hopkins was the casting director for the film. He also did “Precious” and some other projects that I’ve been in. I guess he thought, “You know, maybe Steph will fit this role. Let me bring her in.” So, I had an audition. I read a few lines for the character. In the play, they only mention my character Julie. You never see her on stage. [Marjorie Prime director] Michael Almereyda, actually wanted to develop her and give her more of a heartbeat and include her in the family dynamic. That’s when my character evolved. Thank goodness he wanted to add another element to the role.

Talk more about that family dynamic. Julie seems like she’s very close to the family, but Geena Davis’ character, Tess, doesn’t seem completely sold on her. How did you see how she fits in that dynamic?

Yeah, I think I’m seen in [Tess’] eyes as a daughter, but then she is also the daughter of Marjorie, too. For me it was like I was trying to gain the love and the attention from a mom that we all want. But then [Tess’] father is there in this way that is artificial, but comforting. I think it’s interesting how our human emotions interact with technology. You can’t help but feel it’s real in some ways.

Since Julie isn’t physically in the original play, how do you go about developing a character like her for the film version? Did you have conversations with Michael about who she is?

Yeah, Michael had this vision for her background where [Julie’s] father passed away. Her Bible and beliefs have been comforting and soothing for her. It’s how she handles her loss and how she copes with it, yet she is trying to share it with Marjorie, but [the family] is not really having that. The director wanted to build on that. I added to her story a little bit, too. I felt she should approach them, but not try to overpower [Marjorie] with her beliefs. It was really interesting, especially [the scene] where she confides in Jon Hamm’s character, Walter. You get to hear a bit more of her backstory and what she’s dealt with.

When I interviewed you for “Precious” back in 2008, you talked to me a little about your own father, who had just passed away. Did you use your own experience to influence your character in any way?

I always think of my father, no matter what – every day of my life. I miss him so much. There were times on set that I was thinking of him. I’m always thinking of him as a guiding force in my life and my family’s life. I always have him in my heart. [Julie’s background] was something I could relate to. I was taking it all in because it was also sad, too, with what was happening with Marjorie’s character. All those dynamics added up to making it emotional for me. Normally, I’m a happy person. With this film, you can have those interjections because it’s normal, but there was this constant feeling like, “This is some heavy material. What we’re dealing with here is pretty deep.”

Now that you’ve been the industry for a few years, does it still feel like a hustle?

(Laughs) Every day is like a hustle! (Singing) Hustlin’, hustlin’. (Laughs) Yeah, man, I feel like it’s always a constant grind. It’s always a constant hustle. You always want to elevate and grow with what you’re doing. That’s why I created a one-woman show on my digital platform (“StephA: One Woman Show”). It’s on YouTube. I went there creatively so I could spread my wings and show my comedic range as well. A lot of the projects I’ve done have been on the dramatic side. So, this [one-woman show] is to show people that I can be funny, too. I wanted to give a little fragment of what my life is like when you see my show.

Do you think creating your own material like you’ve done with “StephA: One Woman Show” is something a lot of young actors need to do to get themselves out there?

Yeah, I’m a firm believer that you should create what you want and do what you want. The resources are there. It’s like the Golden Age of Social Media – of YouTube and of streaming sites. It’s there for us, so do it! It’s a great outlet. It lets you put out content that you hope is received well and people enjoy. I have fans that’ll tell me, “Yo, Steph, I didn’t know you could do this.” Fans are always looking for something, so you never know if something you create is something they would like. Hopefully, it will pop off from there.

Do you want to use the show as a calling card?

Yeah, exactly. It’s a reference for anyone who wants to see my work, including my family. It’s a family effort. It’s under my Andujar Productions, which I created with my family about two years ago. Now, we have a TV show and my brother is helping me produce music videos. My mother and sister are producers, too. Your family is your most honest critics. They’ll give it to you straight. You can always take their word. My mom is my manager now because she’s my biggest fan.

What else do you do to get your creative juices flowing?

I sew. My grandmother gave me a sewing machine, so I’ve been sewing away! I’ve been making garments. I like to dress up and feel a little fancy. I actually sewed a dress for the “Marjorie Prime” premiere that was in August. My sister has a fashion design background, so I guess it’s in our blood that we know how to sew. My sister helped with the pattern and design for the dress and I sewed it myself. We pulled it together for the premiere. It came out great. [Sewing] is something I want to keep on developing. It’s a lot of fun.

So, if you’re on the red carpet wearing something you made and a reporter asked you, “Who are you wearing?” do you say, “Stephanie Andujar?”

Yeah, it’s actually Andujar Couture because it’s by me and my sister. The tops that I make are more just me, so that would be part of the StephA Collection. But for the dresses, Andujar Couture is going to be the moniker for it.

What celebrities would you like to dress in the future?

Everybody! I’m happy if anybody wears my stuff. I would be so honored. I make my dog clothes, too! I would be so excited. It’s for everybody and anybody.

Oscar nominations are coming in a few weeks. If not enough minorities are nominated, do you think we’re going to get another #OscarsSoWhite backlash?

I just hope the right people are represented no matter what background you come from. I base it on talent and the best performance. It shouldn’t be about anything else. I do want more Latinos and minorities to come and shine and bring their projects to the table, so that way they can help the next generation. If you’ve got the talent and you can perform, shine, no matter where you come from. If one day I can be there to rep Latinos, I’d be happy. It would be an honor. I may not win, but I’m here for my people.


Aimee Garcia – Lucifer (TV)

December 15, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

We’re 10 episodes into the third season of “Lucifer,” Fox’s drama-fantasy-comedy series featuring the Devil (Tom Ellis) working as a police consultant and nightclub owner, and one of the highlights of the show has been the performance of Mexican-Puerto Rican actress Aimee Garcia and the development of her character Ella López, a forensic scientist for the LAPD.

Since joining the cast as a regular last season, Garcia’s role as Ella has expanded into her biggest since her three-season turn on the hit Showtime series “Dexter” where she played the title character’s nanny Jamie Batista. In the nine episodes that have aired so far this season, audiences have learned (spoiler alert) that she is a geeky fangirl, has been banned by a casino in Las Vegas for counting cards and hears voices in her head. Garcia’s role will continue to grow this season and feature her in what she calls an “Ella-heavy episode” in late January.

“I can’t think of another character in any sort of media who is like her,” Garcia, 39, told me during an interview last week.

In what many TV critics are calling Garcia’s best episode this season (Episode 6, “Vegas with Some Radish”), Ella goes to Las Vegas with Lucifer to find his missing ex-wife. While there, she “busts out the bling” while helping Lucifer look for a murderer, but also finds time to play a little Blackjack and dress up like a Vegas showgirl in purple sequin and dance to Frank Sinatra’s “Luck Be a Lady.”

During our interview with Garcia, who also had TV roles on “George Lopez” and “Trauma,” we talked about finding a steady gig on TV again, how she felt seeing Latina fans of the show dress up like her character at comic cons and about an extremely interesting meeting she had with other Latinas in Hollywood in Eva Longoria’s living room.

“Lucifer” airs Mondays at 8pm on Fox.

What has it been like watching yourself in Season 3?

The writer of the episode usually hosts a viewing party. If we’re not shooting anything, we all try to get together and support each other and watch it. I love watching my fellow cast members. They’re great and funny and heartbreaking. I love watching them do their thing. I try to be pretty objective [on myself]. I’ll watch myself and be like, “Ah, that could’ve landed a little better.” Or I’ll watch and be like, “Ah, that was funny!” I’m not a tortured artist.

How does it feel now that you’ve found a home on TV like you’ve had in the past?

It’s nice. We have such a fervent fan base. We always hold steady. We beat higher profile shows. It’s nice to have a family. I’ve been at Warner Bros. since “George Lopez.” It’s been a home away from home for me. I feel super lucky to work in L.A. [The “Lucifer” cast] get along so authentically. I hope it radiates through the screen. Because we have that chemistry and camaraderie, we really want each other to shine. It’s a complete joy to come to work.

What is it like portraying a Latina scientist on TV?

When I signed on [in Season 2], I knew [Ella] was a woman of faith and of science. That was enough of a nugget for me to dig into. She a scientist and I love representing Latina scientists. Someone mentioned to me that Ella López is the only Latina scientist on TV right now. For me, she should be one of hundreds. But that was special to me – to be a professional Latina scientist who is a woman of faith and science and working with the Devil. That was enough for me to jump on board. Since then, we’ve learned so much more about her. Every time I open up a script, I’m learning something different about Ella. She’s really fun and smart, but she can also get ghetto. She’s full of surprises. That’s what makes her so fun to play. I think, by far, Ella has been one of my favorite characters ever.

Is there something specific that makes your character special?

I love that she doesn’t lead with her sexuality. She doesn’t even have a love interest. How many female characters on TV don’t have a love interest? She’s in her own lane. That’s why I think the fans really latch onto her, especially the Latina fans. One of the most touching things I experienced at comic con was seeing young Latinas and dress up like Ella. They could’ve dressed up like Harley Quinn or Wonder Woman or other superheroes who can stop planes or plunge into oceans, but they decided to wear glasses and a top knot and carry a scientific toolbox. They were dressing up like Ella López because they thought she was that cool and interesting. That completely warmed my heart. People are very affected by what they see. If what they see on TV is a professional Latina scientist who is not self-conscious and not defined by a man, then sign me up!

What other Latinas in the industry inspire you? Who is doing good work right now?

America Ferrera’s [NBC sitcom] “Superstore” is funny. She is a producer of the show. Gina Rodriguez (“Jane the Virgin”) is winning awards left and right. Gloria Calderón is creating shows like “One Day at a Time.” We actually all got together recently as Latinas. [The meeting] was spearheaded by Eva Longoria (“Telenovela”) and America and Gina. They got us all together – Rosario Dawson (“Sin City”), Zoe Saldana (“Guardians of the Galaxy”), Gloria [Calderón], Justina Machado (“One Day at a Time”), Jackie Cruz (“Orange is the New Black”). It was 25 Latinas in Eva Longoria’s living room talking about how we as Latinas have so much power to create content and to change the landscape.

So what happened? What came out of that meeting? Do you all have a plan now to change the landscape?

We thought, “Oh my God, with all of our Instagrams and Twitters combined, we could reach 100 million people! That is a lot of power!” It was such an inspiring group to be a part of. We heard each other’s stories and I thought, “Wow, if we all go to each other’s movies and promote each other’s films, there’s nothing we can’t do.” I feel like I’m part of a growing movement of strong Latinas. It’s a new era and a very exciting one. I think it’s one that is not going to be just a chapter, but a permanent change. They brought up a good point during the first meeting that if anyone has any content, they can take it to the various women in that room who have production companies. Gloria [Calderón] said that anyone who has a story to tell should become a content creator. If something is successful and headlined by a Latina, then they’re going to want to make more. We want to help mobilize that and move it forward.

What’s the next step? Is this going to be something you do every month?

We’re going to get together once a month, which I think is important so we know who is working on what projects. We’ve started building a network. It was the first step in a bigger plan to create more support and start to have influence on what Hollywood understands, which is box-office success and ratings. You do that by doing the simple things. For example, if you’re on a TV show, ask if you can direct an episode. Eva said, “Ask if you can direct. You’ll have a director’s credit and you’ll have experience behind the camera.” It didn’t even occur to me to ask! Because I went to that meeting, I thought, “Oh, maybe I can and should direct an episode of “Lucifer” in Season 4.” It was so inspiring. It’s really a positive, pro-active movement. It showed me that I wasn’t alone. I’m not the only Latina carrying the flag for the entire Latina community. We all have each other’s backs. It was such a heartfelt, long overdue powwow. I thought, “Wow, this is the beginning of creating a Latina mafia and it’s pretty dope.”

Juliette Danielle – The Room

December 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

For the last 14 years, all actress Juliette Danielle has wanted is for her debut in Hollywood to be forgotten. While that might not be the usual reaction for someone starring as the lead female role in her first film, not every actress has had the misfortune of saying it was for the 2003 drama/unintentional comedy “The Room.”

Despite being considered by critics and fans as one of the worst movies ever made, “The Room” has gone on to develop a massive cult following across the world and commands interactive screenings much like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” where fans show up dressed in costume and wielding props.

In “The Room,” Danielle starred as Lisa, the deceitful fiancée of main character Johnny (Tommy Wiseau) who tears his world apart when she begins an affair with Johnny’s best friend Mark (Greg Sestero). The making of “The Room” has been adapted into a new film, “The Disaster Artist,” directed and starring Academy Award-nominee James Franco (“127 Hours”) as Wiseau, the director, writer and star of the original cinematic catastrophe. Actress Ari Graynor (“Whip It,” “Youth in Revolt”) stars as Danielle.

This past March, Danielle, 36, and her husband packed up everything and moved from Los Angeles to San Antonio. I caught up with the new Alamo City transplant to talk about “The Disaster Artist,” how it compares to her real-life experience on set and if she thought “The Room” would be the as popular as it is today.

What brought you to San Antonio nine months ago?

We just wanted to get the heck out of Los Angeles. I grew up in Sugarland, Texas, so it has been a dream of mine to move back to Texas for over a decade. We spent a lot of time looking into the different big cities. San Antonio stood out above the rest. I love the growing economy, great infrastructure and I really like the culture and food. Plus, my dad lives here! So, we packed a carload of four cats and took three days to drive from L.A. to San Antonio. We were fortunate enough to become homeowners a few months ago, something we never could have done in California. We are so happy to call San Antonio home.

Now that you’ve seen “The Disaster Artist,” what did you think about it?

I wasn’t sure how I would feel, but it was completely surreal. Overall, I loved the film. I think they did an incredible job. One of my favorite things was the impeccable attention to detail on the wardrobe and set. I felt transported! And James [Franco] did an amazing job. The scene where he debuts the famous “white hat” once shooting began, I felt like I was back on the set in real life.

Do you feel like the film is about the making of “The Room” or is it about more?

I think the story was really about Tommy and Greg. It’s a beautiful story of friendship, adversity, perseverance and ultimately fame. Those few months on the set of “The Room” changed the trajectory of my life forever, whether I wanted it to or not. Someday soon, I hope to share things that happened from my perspective.

What did you think about actress Ari Graynor’s portrayal of you?

Ari was amazing and I loved her. I wouldn’t have changed anything. I was not asked to be involved, but I did speak to Ari before she started shooting. I talked to her about how much the initial premiere [of “The Room”] hurt me. I was watching it for the very first time and all I wanted to do was get up and run out of the theater.

What is something “The Disaster Artist” got right and wrong from your real-life experience?

The wardrobe and set were spot on. I also loved how they included the wardrobe and makeup characters. They were actually my safety net on set. I don’t know if I would have made it through the filming without them. There were a lot of events that were combined, but I think it makes sense for storytelling purposes.

When you were making “The Room,” did you think you were making a bad film?

We knew that we weren’t making a wonderful film, but we never thought anyone would see it. I mean, there are so many bad films that get made that no one ever sees. We clearly underestimated Tommy.

What was the moment when you realized “The Room” had turned into a cultural phenomenon?

All these years I have secretly wished it would just go away. But even after 15 years, it just keeps coming back! In Los Angeles, I would get recognized in the early years. Then I would see celebrities talking about it. Once I went to London and saw it was playing there. I used to have a fan mail box and I received mail from everywhere. I have fans all over the world.

If someone told you that they’ve never seen “The Room,” would you recommend they see it?

I would never recommend people see “The Room” for obvious reasons. I have forbidden my friends and family from seeing it, but I encourage them to watch “The Disaster Artist!”

Anything else you’d like to add?

I want my fans to know that I appreciate them, especially the ones who have been there from the early years. The ones who have followed me through the years have given me a lot of room to grow and have an identity that is more than just “The Room.” I do wish newer fans would try to be more respectful when finding and communicating with me on social media for the first time. Those are my pages that I moderate personally.

Richard Linklater – Last Flag Flying

November 27, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

As divided as the nation is today on the political spectrum, five-time Oscar-nominated filmmaker Richard Linklater (“Boyhood,” “Dazed and Confused,” “Slacker”) hopes his latest film, “Last Flag Flying,” finds a balance and shows audiences from opposite sides of the aisle that a majority of Americans love their country and that patriotism doesn’t have to be defined under one set of guidelines.

In “Last Flag Flying,” Linklater tells the story of three Vietnam veterans on a heartbreaking journey. After his son is killed in the Iraq War, Doc Shepherd (Steve Carrell) tracks down his two old war buddies, Sal Nealon (Bryan Cranston) and Richard Mueller (Laurence Fishburne), and asks them to attend the funeral with him. Plans change, however, when Doc decides he wants to bury his son in their hometown and not at Arlington National Cemetery. The trio set off on a road trip up the East Coast where they reminisce about their time in the military and attempt to exorcise demons from their own past.

I caught up with Linklater, 57, to talk about his new film, why there now seems to be a litmus test for patriotism, and the need for a transparent government.

Normally, movie audiences will get the war film, but very rarely the post-war film. Do you think it’s harder to sell heroism when you can’t see it on the battlefield?

Yeah, it’s a different notion, isn’t it? [Post-war films] don’t take the hero and sacrifice him for his buddies. I think we have to understand what went on [in these wars]. We have to respect what they lived through. They put their asses on the line. [“Last Flag Flying”] isn’t about traditional heroism, which I wasn’t interested in at all. I don’t really trust that. We know what heroism is. That’s what soldiers do. They’re there for their buddies.

Did you try to stay balanced with some of the more polarizing issues the film presents or did you want to take the opportunity to inject some personal opinions as a filmmaker?

It is kind of a balance — a tonal challenge. It’s a bit of a minefield of politics when you talk about war and committing American citizens to battle and the toll it takes on the people involved. It’s a tough subject. I think the film ultimately expresses that a lot of people come out of the military with their own love/hate relationship with it. Nobody thinks about the military more than the military itself. They sign onto this big, abstract mission and then they can’t predict what exactly is going to come out of it.

We live in a society now where people are defining what patriotism should be. What’s your take on these kinds of litmus tests?

Who are we to judge someone’s patriotism or what their experience is? I think from the start, everyone is a patriot and loves their country. After we realize that, we can have these kind of differing opinions about how to proceed through certain issues. Everybody wants to judge so quickly these days. They don’t even take the time to inform themselves. It’s always a typical discussion about freedom of expression and other people’s views about what it means to be a patriot. Patriotism has a lot of different forms. There’s a political divide — blind patriotism versus a more critical patriotism.

What led you to the trio of Cranston, Carrell and Fishburne? Did you cast for each character individually or was is more about the ensemble?

We just tried to get the best person for the part. You float a script out there and you hope you get a response. I was just blessed that these three guys were available and that they wanted to do it. They really wanted to work with one another. Working with three guys at the top of their game is what it felt like. I couldn’t be happier. They left everything on the battlefield.

We’re inundated with the 24-hour news cycle, however, we still don’t get the full story about what is happening in the wars the U.S. is fighting in. What is it going to take to get answers?

Honesty and transparency go a long way. Families need their answers and we need our answers, too. We’re paying for [these wars]. We have the right to know what our country is doing around the world and why. Then, we can decide if that’s really what we want to be doing. But once you find out you’re being lied to, it all changes. This subject deserves our deepest, truest inquiry and scrutiny. But there’s always a big force against that. It’s painful. Each life is very precious and everyone deserves full disclosure.

Chaz Bono – American Horror Story: Cult

November 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

It was always a dream of actor Chaz Bono to star in the hit FX Network anthology “American Horror Story.” A fan of the series since season one debuted in 2011, Bono, transgender activist and son of singer/actress Cher and the late singer/politician Sonny Bono, wanted to take his promising acting career to the next level.

After he starred as a hoarder/junkie in the 2016 independent film “Dirty,” Bono visualized somehow getting the footage of that performance to “AHS” creator Ryan Murphy. He thought if Murphy saw him playing an unusual character like the one in “Dirty,” he would give him a shot in an upcoming season of “AHS.”

Although it took a couple of years to get his tapes to Murphy, Bono’s plan worked and he was cast in the show’s sixth season, “American Horror Story: Roanoke,” as Brian Wells, an actor who portrays an inbred cannibal for a made-for-TV documentary.

Bono was then invited back for season seven, “American Horror Story: Cult.” In the current season, which wrapped up November 14, Bono plays Gary Longstreet, a grocery store cashier, Trump supporter and cult member who is kidnapped early in the season and forced to cut off his own hand so that he can make it to the polls to vote for Trump. Spoiler alert: Gary doesn’t make it to the final episode of the show. In Episode 10, he is disemboweled outside an abortion clinic.

Bono, 48, recently spoke to me about his role on the show, his decision not to play trans characters, and which horror film director he hopes to work with in the future.

“American Horror Story,” of course, is known for bringing actors back to play different roles when a new season comes around. When they asked you back for season seven, was there any role you would’ve said no to?

I would’ve been happy to do anything. The only thing I don’t do at this point in my career is play trans characters. That’s the only thing that would be really difficult for me to do. But they knew that. When I found out they were bringing me back I was thrilled. It sounded like a lot of fun and challenging and different, so I was excited.

Talk about your decision not to play trans characters at this point in your career. Could that change in the future?

I consider myself a character actor. That’s what I love about acting — to disappear into a character who is very different from myself. That’s the type of career I would like to have. I would never want to get pigeonholed into playing trans characters, so I’ve just stayed away from that. In the future, if a trans character came up that was an amazing character, I would have to think about it at that point. But at this point, it’s not something I want to do.

Speaking of characters who are different than you in real life, Gary seems to fit the bill. Is that what was most interesting about the role?

Actually, of all the characters I’ve played in my career, Gary is probably, in a lot of ways, the closest to me — at least he was at the beginning. I mean, [in season seven] I look like myself and sound like myself and wasn’t hiding behind any kind of makeup. At the beginning, I wanted to portray him as a regular guy — a white, working-class guy, not some horrific person or monster or anything like that. I wanted people to get to know him like that so his transformation [into a cult member] would have an impact. The character was a lot more subtle than what I did in “Roanoke.” I got that from the page, but I also wanted it to be bold.

Have you heard from any Trump supporters about the role?

(Laughs) I haven’t specifically heard from Trump supporters. Nobody has identified themselves to me as a Trump supporter. There’s a lot of people who really like Gary a lot, so I’m going to guess they voted for Trump. But I haven’t had anybody specifically say to me, “Hey, I’m a Trump supporter and I think your portrayal of Gary is really good.”

What did your mom think about you playing a Trump supporter since everyone knows she’s not fan of his?

She thought it sounded great. We talked about it a lot. I always like to document everything with pictures and stuff, so once I started working on the show, I had a lot of cool, behind-the-scenes pictures to show her. She’s been so supportive of my acting career from the beginning, even when I was doing smaller stuff here in LA. So, she was really excited.

“AHS” has been renewed through 2019. What is it about the show that has kept it on TV for so long?

“American Horror Story” has depth to it. There’s isn’t anything like it on TV. When it came along, it was this weird, crazy, interesting show with great actors. I think that’s why fans of the show love it so much. As an actor, I love working on it because there isn’t another show where I would get to do this kind of stuff. I get to work with such talented actors and such a phenomenal crew. In both seasons, I’ve spent a lot of time around the makeup trailer. What those guys are able to do with makeup is just insane. When I was a kid, I was into all of those old, classic horror movies like “Frankenstein” and “The Wolf Man.” I thought maybe I wanted to do monster makeup when I got older.

Is there anyone in the horror genre you’d like to work with in the future? Do you like more classic horror or are you into the gory kind of stuff?

Blood doesn’t freak me out and it doesn’t draw me in. For me, it’s always about interesting stories. I loved [filmmaker Rob Zombie’s 2016 film] “31.” I never saw a lot of Rob Zombie’s stuff before, but I watched that movie and I just loved. I wanted to play every one of the bad guys. Even the victims were good. The concept of it was just weird.

Is he someone you’re going to send your footage to next?

I’ve actually told my manager several times to please get my stuff to him. I know he’s a little controversial, but “31” is great.

How do you feel about non-trans actors playing trans roles? Actor Jeffrey Tambor always gets accolades for his role in “Transparent.” How do you feel about roles like that?

On one hand, seeing somebody transition can make sense and be appropriate, but I think it’s time that we get away from this idea of men playing trans women. I think it gives people the wrong idea. I don’t think people have a good idea of what a trans person really is or what a trans person looks like. On the other hand, I know that I don’t want to be stuck playing trans parts. If I wasn’t trans, I probably would love to play a trans person because it would give me the opportunity to play something different. As an actor, I have a totally different feeling about it than I do as a trans activist. I can see both sides.

Julio Macat – Daddy’s Home 2

November 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

When it comes to awards for the best cinematography in Hollywood, directors of photography working in the comedy genre rarely get a glance their way when it comes to end-of-the-year recognition. That doesn’t bother Argentinean cinematographer Julio Macat, however. He lives for the work itself and doesn’t see awards as something that has eluded him during his 30-year career in Hollywood.

Over the last three decades, Macat has been the man behind the camera in a handful of popular comedies, including “Home Alone” and “Home Alone 2: Lost in New York,” “Ace Ventura: Pet Detective” and “Wedding Crashers.” His most recent film is “Daddy’s Home 2,” the sequel to the 2015 Will Ferrell/Mark Wahlberg comedy, which he also photographed.

During our interview, Macat, 58, talked to me about working with director Sean Anders for the third time, what Mel Gibson was like on the set and if he thinks cinematographers working in the comedy genre should get more respect in the industry.

How did you get involved with “Daddy’s Home 2?” I know you’ve worked with director Sean Anders before, including on the original film.

Yeah, this is our third time working together. We also did “Horrible Bosses.” I thought the original “Daddy’s Home” was a really nice comedy that doesn’t go for the grotesque or have swear words. It elevates the acting performances of people like Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg. I love the movie to begin with. It was fun and it was so well received by the audience. It was fun that we could do it all over again in a sequel.

But the old adage is that sequels are never as good as the original. Did you worry about that?

You always worry that a sequel could fall flat or won’t be as good as the first. With this movie it was the opposite. The additions of John Lithgow and Mel Gibson elevated the movie to another level. It’s like you’re driving along and all of a sudden, here you go again. They had to find somebody tough enough to play Mark Wahlberg’s dad. I think the casting was good. You could not work with better, more talented actors. These guys are incredible. They brought their A game. We all had a good relationship as director and cinematographer and crew. Everybody set the right mode for comedy to happen. Comedy is not an easy thing to do.

Is having a longstanding, working relationship with a specific director the dream of all cinematographers?

It is. It’s really good because you have a short hand. I’ve worked with other directors on more than one occasion before like with Tom Shadyak (“Ace Ventura: Pet Detective”) and with Adam Shankman (“The Wedding Planner”). It’s nice to be able to cut to the chase. There is a trust that already exists, especially on this film because it was a Christmas movie. We wanted to set that feeling for the holidays. It was a perfect setup for some really fun comedy. What makes every comedy great is the heart involved. Will Ferrell makes it even better. But it’s the heartwarming moments that make this film.

We’re at the end of the year, which means it’s awards season. Not many cinematographer who do work on comedies like you get recognition at this time of the year. Do you think the industry gives enough credit to cinematographers who work in the comedy genre?

You know, it’s an interesting question. I’ve learned through the years not to read your own press. I’ve learn how at end, you just have to please yourself. I don’t approach photographing this movie any different than I would a drama. The beautiful Christmas setting would still be beautiful. The moments that are supposed to be more dramatic aren’t going to be lit less dramatically. So, I wish there was more recognition for the comedy genre, but we don’t do this for awards. We’re trying to do the very best job we can do as cinematographers, make the actors look great and shoot scenes that are proper for the story. This is what we live for. In the end, we’re our own worst critics. For me, the award is that people will see it and feel it.

I’m a big Mel Gibson fan. I was glad he was able to get the recognition he deserved last year when he was nominated for directing “Hacksaw Ridge.” Do you think the industry has forgiven him for his past indiscretions?

I believe so. He is very professional. One of my favorite moments was at the end of the movie, he came up to me and everybody and wanted to take pictures with everybody. He said he didn’t know what to expect when he came on the set of something that was more on the light side, but he immediately felt everyone had their act together and that there was no ego. He did a tremendous job. He’s really good in the movie. It’s not for me to say [if the industry has forgiven him], but all I can tell you is that he was super professional.

You’re colleague Roger Deakins is 0-13 at the Oscars. Do you think this year is finally his year?

If I can vote twice for “Blade Runner [2049]” I would. I think Roger, who is a friend, deserves the Oscar. I thought he did a tremendous job of taking what was originally super tricky – all of those wonderful things that were done on the original – to the next level. I think it’s exquisite work. I have no doubts that he’s going to win the Oscar.

Pekka Strang – Tom of Finland

November 2, 2017 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the biographical drama “Tom of Finland,” Finnish actor Pekka Strang stars as Touko Valio Laaksonen (aka Tom of Finland), a revolutionary and controversial Finnish artist known for his homoerotic fetish art and the influence it had on 20th century gay culture. Many of his illustrations featured naked or scantily-clad gay men in uniforms or tight outfits (police officers, sailors, bikers, leathermen) engaging in explicit sex acts or placed in homoerotic scenes.

During his career, Tom of Finland’s work was published in a handful of magazines around the world. His work hit the mainstream in the early 1970s when gay pornography wasn’t considered as taboo anymore. In 1979, he and his friend Durk Dehner co-founded the Tom of Finland Company, and later the Tom of Finland Foundation, which preserves, collects and exhibits homoerotic art.

Today, a number of permanent art collections across the globe retain work by Tom of Finland, who passed away in 1991, including the New York Museum of Modern Art, Rhode Island School of Design, Art Institute of Chicago and Museum of Contemporary Art, among others.

During an interview with me late last month, Strang talked about the research he did to play the role of such an influential artist, what he feels Tom’s art gave to the gay community and how a film like this might be able to help more LGBT films hit the mainstream in the future.

“Tom of Finland” was selected as Finland’s official submission in the Best Foreign Language Film category for the 2018 Academy Awards.

How much did you know about Tom before you were cast in the film?

I knew the basic stuff, but not that much, actually. I knew about his drawings and his art. When I got the call from casting, I started to Google everything I could find on him. He led a tremendous and really exciting life.

Was there something specific that drew you to this project?

He was a visionary that grew up in Finland in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. The world wasn’t like it is today. This man was from a small town in Finland and created this universe that didn’t exist before. That was something that was really exciting to me. He was successful in everything he did. He was a successful officer in the war. He was a boss at his ad agency. I wanted to find out what really made him tick.

Besides Googling him, what kind of research did you?

I did quite a lot. We have a great library system in Finland. The first thing I did was get a hold of every book that was written about him. I also met up with some of his friends that knew him.

I read that you also met with Durk Dehner in Los Angeles, yes?

Yes, Durk was such an important part of Tom’s life. I got to hang out in the same places Tom did in Los Angeles. I had my morning coffee where he had his morning coffee. I’m from Finland, so I knew where he came from, but where he came to was different. That’s what gave me the most for this film – being able to hang out with the guys from the foundation and being in that house.

As an actor, did you try to inhabit Tom as a character or did you want to delve deeper than that?

Everybody works in different ways. It’s all about the end result for me. I’m more of a technical actor. I try to get as much information as possible. I feel like I got to know my interpretation of Tom. We opened the film really close to his hometown in Finland and I got to meet [Tom’s] nephew and I saw that he was crying. For me, that was one of the most important moments because I realized we got something right. We captured something true about Tom.

What do you think it was about Tom’s art that spoke to people?

I can’t speak from an inner perspective, but I’ve heard the stories about when he came to L.A. for the first time and how there were long lines of people coming to say thank you because they felt they were getting the recognition that they’re not alone. It didn’t only have an impact on the gay scene, but in people’s lives all over the world. I can understand because when you look at his artwork, there is so much joy and pride in the work. [The men in his artwork] are openly happy about having sex with each other. I think that was something revolutionary. He helped so many men all around the world.

It brought the lifestyle out of the shadows and into the mainstream, right?

Yes, so many of those pictures became almost like public property. It’s wasn’t a niche anymore. It became a symbol for sexual freedom. When the movie open in Finland, people started to discuss these things in a different manner thanks to his artwork.

Hollywood has become more and more accepting over the last few years about LGBT cinema. Do you think a foreign film like “Tom of Finland” can help that progression even more?

I hope so. This might sound stupid, but I actually forgot we were making a gay movie. I felt like we were just making a movie. In Finland, I’ve seen a lot of people outside of the gay community come to see the movie. I hope it does the same in the U.S. Politics are changing and it seems like they want to go back to a more conservative time. I hope this film helps people be open-minded and look to the future. We can’t go backward. I hope there is more diversity in movies and stories. I hope “Tom of Finland” is part of that.

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