Steve Carell & Robert Zemeckis – Welcome to Marwen

January 30, 2019 by  
Filed under Interviews

It’s seems like it has been a natural transition for actor Steve Carell to jump around genres—from comedy to drama and back—over the last few years. Best known in his early career for his role on the hit TV comedy series “The Office” and movies like “Anchorman” and “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” Carell has also shown audiences his serious side in projects like “Beautiful Boy” and “Foxcatcher,” the latter of which earned him an Academy Award nomination in 2014.

Combining comedy and drama, too, has been something Carell has been successful doing in films like “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Dan in Real Life” and “Vice” where he portrays former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld in writer/director Adam McKay’s political satire on former VP Dick Cheney.

In his newest film, “Welcome to Marwen,” by Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis (“Forrest Gump”), Carell is once again given the opportunity to mix comedy and drama (and some action sequences, too) with the true story of Mark Hogancamp, a New York man who, after a vicious attack leaves him brain damaged, finds comfort in interacting with a doll-sized, WWII-era town (and its action-figure residents) he builds in his backyard. Through this recreation, Mark is able to create a whole new world where he is the hero of his own story and uses the hobby as a way to heal.

During a sit-down interview with me, Carell and Zemeckis talked about what makes a film like “Welcome to Marwen” special and why Carell was the perfect actor for this touching story.

Steve, when you heard about Mark’s story, what resonated with you the most about what he had gone through and what he was doing with his life?

Steve Carell: What resonated with me the most was his sense of decency—the fact that he endured so much suffering and pain and that he was able to keep a sense of human kindness and generosity to his spirit. That, to me, was the sign of an exemplary human being. He’s like that in person. We went up and met him and I’ve stayed in touch with him since. He’s just a good, decent guy.

I know you had the chance to meet Mark. What was it like going into that backyard and seeing the town for yourself?

SC: Well, his whole house is very similar to the house that is depicted in the film. It’s a magical place. I won’t lie. He has such a fertile imagination. It’s all there. It’s surrounding him. It’s a world that he lives in and that he uses as a way of healing himself. At the same time, he is also very aware of how other people perceive it. It’s not like he’s just in this world and has no context for how odd it may seem to other people. He has a really good sense of humor about it.

Robert, what was it about Mark’s story did you feel lend itself to create this sort of hybrid live-action/animated film?

Robert Zemeckis: First of all, it was a heartwarming and heartfelt story about this guy who suffered this tragic incident and healed himself. That’s what appealed to me the most. There’s this whole story that goes on inside our hero’s mind where he’s got this adventure going on in this “doll world.” I thought it lent itself to being able to expand his story into something that could be a pretty interesting and compelling feature movie.

You hadn’t done an animation since “A Christmas Carol,” so did it feel good to go back to that?

RZ: Well, animation isn’t really the right word. Animation is where a bunch of artists create a character. We used performance capture. That means the actors who are playing the live-action characters and have a doll in the movie, their performance is what drives the doll. It’s a more sophisticated performance capture than what I did in the Polar Express days.

Has technology since “The Polar Express” blown you away?

RZ: Digital cinema is all based on computer power—horse power. So, it’s getting more and more sophisticated every moment.

SC: The two of us, actually, right now are performance captured.

RZ: We’re not really here.

SC: No, we’re not here. We’re still back in Los Angeles, but that’s how real this seems. It’s really good.

So, what was it like seeing your rendered character for the first time?

SC: How could you not love to see yourself depicted as a really studly doll? It was fantastic.

Robert, can you brag on Steve a little?

SC: Yeah, can you? Come on!

Why did you choose him for this role? What did he bring to the table?

RZ: Well, he brought a few things to the table.

SC: (Laughs)

RZ: He’s a magnificent comedy actor and a fantastic dramatic actor.

SC: Humanitarian. Kindness. I love animals.

RZ: And he’s got this kind of everyman quality. He fit the bill perfectly. I knew he could do both—the swagger and the fun of the doll and the empathy and bring the emotional power to the human character.

SC: It’s mostly about my swagger. I walk into a room and you just see the swagger.

Steve, everyone knew you for your comedic roles when you started off. Then, you came into drama and got an Oscar nomination for Foxcatcher. Has that been a seamless transition? How did that work for you as an actor?

SC: I didn’t really have an agenda behind it. I just wanted to do good things and be a part of movies and TV shows that illicit a response—whether it’s making people laugh or making people feel something. It’s been fun. Seamless? I don’t know. I just roll with it. I’m just thankful every day that I get to do this stuff.

You’ve been an action figure before. You can go out and buy Gru (his character in the “Despicable Me” franchise). You can buy a Brick toy (his character in “Anchorman”).

SC: Yeah, I’m sure there is a bobble head out there.

Which of your other characters in your career would you like to see become an action figure? Do you think it would be fun to play with a Donald Rumsfeld doll?

SC: (Laughs) Yeah, or maybe my character from “Foxcatcher.” the “Foxcatcher” action figure. I doubt that’s going to be a big Christmas seller.

Or “Little Miss Sunshine.”

SC: Sure, you could do the whole cast and have the VW bus. [Mark] was definitely my favorite because I get to play this alter ego. From Mark’s perspective, it’s the idealized version of who he would be in the world, and that’s kind of exciting. I think a lot of people would love to see that—to visualize that. It’s something that everybody does—imagine themselves in this kind of heightened state. So, [Mark], by far, is my favorite.

Marina de Tavira – Roma

December 17, 2018 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In “Roma,” Oscar-winning writer/director Alfonso Cuarón’s most personal film of his career, Mexican actress Marina de Tavira plays Sra. Sofia, the fictionalized version of Cuarón’s own mother, who was a supportive presence in his life growing up in Mexico City. “Roma” tells the story of Cuarón’s upbringing form the perspective of the woman who helped raise him, his nanny Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio).

During an interview with me last week, de Tavira talked about why she feels Cuarón cast her for the role of Sofia and the message she hopes a film like “Roma” conveys about caretakers like Cleo.

Like Alfonso, you also grew up in Mexico City. How much of what he portrays happening in the city during that time are things that felt authentic to your own upbringing?

A lot of what was portrayed in the film was my childhood life—the movies, the streets, the music, the phones, the toys. It really took me back to my childhood. It moved a lot of things inside my heart.

What kind of conversations did you have with Alfonso about his mother and how he wanted you to portray her in this film?

We had very long conversations before we started. We talked a lot about her and her story and her biography and children. We talked about Cleo and when she entered [their family’s] life. I understood why he chose me. I could really relate to what he was talking about. It had a lot to do with my own mother’s story and my grandmother’s story and with my own story. He told me not to work from an outsider’s perspective and to trust that it was inside me. That’s how we worked together.

Did you know someone like Cleo growing up—someone who helped the family as a nanny or housekeeper or someone who helped take care of the kids?

Of course. It was part of my childhood and it is part of my life as a mother now. I didn’t have a “Cleo” that was there forever, but my mom did. She was called Nana Sosi. She took care of my mom and her sisters and she also took care of us and all the grandchildren. Right now, a woman named Guadalupe lives with me and my son. She is a woman from Vera Cruz and she is my family. My son and [Guadalupe] and I make life work every day. It’s part of our life. It’s the way we live.

Many times in the United States, women like Cleo and Guadalupe are pushed into the shadows because they are undocumented workers. In the age we’re living in right now and with this administration that is vilifying immigrants daily, do you hope a film like “Roma” will show people that many of these women are a big part of the cultural fabric of this nation?

This movie is sending the message about what we should acknowledge and what we should be grateful for. But I don’t think being grateful is enough. Being grateful means having responsibility and making changes and working in a direction where we can legally acknowledge this kind of work. We should work on their working rights and on their insurances and their schedules. They should be able to have a retirement. We should all do it. It’s about really making a change.

As a Mexican actress, how proud are you of Alfonso—someone from your home city that has found a way to break barriers and make quality films at the highest levels of Hollywood? Before Alfonso and Alejandro Gonzalez Iñarritu and Guillermo del Toro came around almost 20 years ago, it was a rarity. It still is.

I think he is an incredible artist. He’s crossed the border and has been successful. Right now, what I most admire about him is that he came back and did a film in his country about his people and his family and his memories. He made a film that will be seen all over the world. That is what impresses me. He is putting this story in the spotlight and we are talking about it. That’s why I am so grateful for him.

When I was watching this film at the theater, it felt epic—watching these amazing black and white images on the big screen. When you’re making a film like this, does it feel as big as it looks? Can you feel the scope of it or does it feel more intimate?

It felt totally intimate. The big part came when we saw it. Alfonso works with us in a very special way. We are never aware of the camera. It felt as if we were recreating life itself. When I saw it, I certainly understood the purpose. He made the mundane and everyday life epic. That’s something very few artists can accomplish.

The final scene on the beach is probably the best scene I saw this year of any film. I don’t want to know how it was accomplished, so don’t tell me. I just want to know what that day was like on the set and shooting something so emotional?

It was particular. We had lots of rain and wind the day before. We weren’t able to do it. When we were finally able to do it, they had to build a very huge peer that was over the sea. We knew we didn’t have a lot of chances to get it. The light was perfect. This was the moment. I had very specific indications of when to go out and when to go in. My heart was beating fast because I didn’t want to be the one that got it wrong. There’s so much going on. Even if you have a small part, you have a huge responsibility. And that’s only the technical part. On the emotional side, Alfonso knew that was going to happen. He talked about it. We let the emotions flow and they came huge.

Jon Heder – Napoleon Dynamite

November 30, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

For actor Jon Heder, starring as the awkward title character in the 2004 indie cult classic “Napoleon Dynamite” was more of a blessing than a curse.

“Because of it, I’ve been able to form a career,” Heder told me last year prior to his first-ever visit to San Antonio for Alamo City Comic Con. “I know actors who would kill for that. You are remembered for something — always.”

This week, Heder returns to the Alamo City for the second year in a row, this time for a conversation and special screening of “Napoleon Dynamite” at the Tobin Center. Joining Heder for the event will be actors Efren Ramirez and Tina Majorino, who played Pedro and Deb in the film, respectively.

I recently caught up with Heder again and talked about what he thinks Napoleon’s social media habits would be like today, why ligers are a totally logical animal and if he still has sweet tetherball skills.

When you get a chance to share “Napoleon Dynamite” with fans, is it more special when co-stars are with you?

That’s what makes it so fun. It’s a reunion for ourselves. It’s always such a treat to see Tina and Efren. I don’t hang out with tons of Hollywood people and co-stars. I mean, sometimes I see people, but I have my family and that’s pretty much who I stick to. So, we get to reminisce about the movie, but it’s also just about catching up and seeing each other.

I think some people might be disappointed to know that you don’t go barhopping with Will Ferrell (his co-star in the 2007 comedy “Blades of Glory”) regularly.

[Laughs] Maybe we’ll do that for the movie’s anniversary or something.

Did you know anyone like Napoleon when you were in high school?

I pulled a lot of inspiration for Napoleon from my younger brothers, but also from that loner kid who loved to do drawings and thought he was good at drawings but really wasn’t. I remember kids like that, for sure. The drawings in [“Napoleon Dynamite”], I did myself. I tried to copy the style that I remember kids drawing in school.

I wonder how much those drawings would go for today at Sotheby’s.

It would be sweet if it was in — the ones of dollars!

Do you think Napoleon would be someone who would attend his high school reunion, or would he be one of those guys that falls off the face of the earth?

I’ve asked myself that a lot — what would he be like today? Everybody is on social media, so you almost wonder if he would be, too. I think he would probably be using [social media] like most people do — convincing themselves that their life is better than it actually is by posting only the good things. I don’t think he’d be very good at it though. He’d probably just post pictures of food.

Before you were married, did you ever use the line, “I played Napoleon Dynamite” as a pick-up line?

I was actually already married when I made “Napoleon Dynamite,” so I never got to use that line! I don’t know if that line would’ve worked. If I used the line on my wife, it would’ve probably had the opposite effect. She would’ve been like, “Forget that and leave me alone!”

I have to admit something: I only recently found out that ligers are real animals. I was shocked. It was like when I found out narwhals were real animals.

I had never heard of a liger before I made the movie. In the movie, we represent them and draw them as if they are just magical creatures. But if you think about it, you’ll realize, “Well, if you breed a male lion with a female tiger, you’re going to get something!” And a liger is what you get — minus the magic.

How are your tetherball skills these days?

I was hanging out with some family friends during the summer and was at a birthday party of someone I didn’t know. They had a tetherball pole in their backyard. Some of the kids looked at me and said, “Hey, let’s play tetherball.” I was like, “Why are you asking me and not anyone else? Tetherball sucks!” I mean, it doesn’t suck, but it’s not as fun to play as bocce ball. I was like, “No, forget it. I’m just going to cream you if I play you!”

If Pedro ran for president in 2020, would you vote for him?

I probably would. He’s a good guy. We need someone with a pure heart. It would be great to have someone like that in office — someone who is actually a good person.

Chuck Liddell – Silencer

November 24, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighter Chuck Liddell has had a busy year. Not only has he been training for his third career fight against Tito Ortiz, a fight that headlines Golden Boy MMA’s debut event in Inglewood, California, tonight, he also starred in “Silencer,” and action thriller that hit DVD/Blu-ray and Video on Demand this past September.

In “Silencer,” Liddell plays Nelson “Nels” Salvatore, a henchman for a gang leader who is the target of a retired hitman looking for revenge. The movie also stars Ortiz, Liddell’s MMA arch nemesis, although the two don’t share a single scene.

During their first fight in 2004, Liddell became the first fighter to knock out Ortiz. Two years later, he got the best of Ortiz again and won by TKO. Although they may be deep into the twilight of their fighting careers, the animosity between the two men is still strong.

During an interview with me a few weeks ago, Liddell talked to me about his newest film and how tonight’s fight is shaping up.

How do you decide what movies you want to do? Is there something specific in the script that usually resonates with you or are you like your co-star Danny Trejo and will do anything someone offers you?

I really dug the character they wanted me to do. He’s a cocky tough guy. That’s never been me and I don’t like playing those characters, but my management told me that if I want to get into film, I’m going to have to play people I don’t like. It turned out I really had a good time working on this film.

A lot of actors like to play the antagonist in a movie because sometimes it’s a more colorful character. It sounds like you don’t feel that way.

Well, I like to play the bad guy, but I think this character is a punk. He’s not a real badass. He’s just trying to be one. I mean, he’s kind of tough, but he’s still a punk. He’s one of those tough guys that is trying to be tougher than he really is. I’m not that kind of guy. I don’t have to tell you how tough I am. You know it when you talk to me. I don’t have to prove to anyone that I’m a badass.

How do your fight scenes in “Silencer” compare to real ones you’ve experienced in the Octagon?

You can still get hurt doing fight scenes in movies. In movies, you’re trusting the person you’re working with will not hurt you. When you go out to fight in the ring, I have to protect myself. If you hurt me, it’s my fault. In the ring, I’m in charge of myself. I’m trusting myself not to get hurt. In the movies, I’m trusting you not to hurt me. But you want to make everything look good in a movie, so there is always a chance you can get hurt.

You and Tito are both in this movie, but you don’t have any scenes together. Why?

I had no idea he was in the movie at all. I thought someone was kidding with me when they sent me the poster and it was me on the poster with Tito. Someone asked me, “You did a movie with Tito?” and I said, “No, I didn’t.” I thought they Photoshopped Tito in the poster. I’m a professional, so if we had to do scenes together, we could’ve worked it out.

You’ve beaten Tito in the ring twice. Why get back into the ring for a third time when you don’t really have anything to prove?

It’s not about him. I just missed fighting. I miss everything about it. I miss training. I got excited about fighting and started getting back into shape. I want to go out there and show people that I can still fight.

You say it’s not about him, and that’s probably true from your side because you’ve said you want to continue to fight after this third match with Tito, but for Tito, he’s saying the opposite. He’s saying he’s only focused on you. From his viewpoint, do you think this fight is only about you?

Yeah, I think from his point of view it’s all about me. I’ve seen him out at restaurants and when he sees me he looks all heated and upset. I’m like, “Man, we haven’t fought in a long time. You have to relax a little bit.” I’m like, “Save that for the fight. I don’t want you to use all that energy out here.” I beat him twice and he can’t handle it. That’ll be with him forever. So, it’s going to be really bad when we’re done with [the third fight].

He’s said in the past that he doesn’t think he got a fair shake the first two times he fought you. How do you respond to that?

I don’t understand what was unfair about the last two times we fought. He talks about all sorts of stuff. I don’t know what that means. In the first fight, he got knocked out and in the second fight he quit, basically. The second time I was pounding him on the ground and [the ref] was like, “Move or I’m going to stop [the fight].” He looked up at the ref like, “Please, stop it.” So, he stopped it. He quit. I don’t know what he wants to complain about. I’m sure he’ll find something to complain about this time, too.

How do you see your acting career moving forward? Would you like to go the route of someone like WWE star Dave Bautista who has worked on some big movies like “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Blade Runner 2049?”

I would eventually like to work on huge projects, of course. I would actually like to do some comedies. I think, eventually, that’s where I’m going to go. I’m all in for the action [movies]. I’ve found a bunch of different ways to get killed so far. I just want to get out there and try to make it big.

Nicholas Gonzalez – The Good Doctor (TV)

October 1, 2018 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In the hospital drama “The Good Doctor,” actor Nicholas Gonzalez plays Dr. Neil Melendez, an attending surgeon who manages the surgical residents at the fictional San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. Season 2 of the TV series begins Sept. 24 on ABC. At the end of the first season, Dr. Melendez has learned how to trust his residents more, including main character Dr. Shaun Murphy (Freddie Highmore), whose autism and savant syndrome makes him a medical genius.

During an interview with me last week, Gonzalez, 42, talked about what makes “The Good Doctor” different from other hospital procedurals, explained how he was able to balance the production of two TV shows, and shared why he thinks his animated show “Bordertown” was cancelled after only one season.

What can fans of “The Good Doctor” expect from Season 2 and your character Dr. Melendez?

They’re going to see Melendez in a bit of a transition in a sense. He is no longer with his fiancée (Jessica Preston played by Beau Garrett). He’s decided that while he wants children at some point in the future, he still needs to learn how to be a good husband. For him, medicine is who he’s married to right now. He realizes that’s where his focus needs to be. We’re going to see more of [Melendez’s] home life. There is going to be a nice little surprise in the first few episodes. I’m really excited to see that world get fleshed out.

What do you think makes “The Good Doctor” different from other hospital TV dramas that have come before?

I think sometimes the hospital dramas can get a little soapy. They can gloss over the medicine. I think we give a healthy dose of it. These are very smart and high-end doctors. But we also give a bit of character. We give a peek in to their home lives and their romantic relationships and the real grappling that takes place in these doctors’ minds, whether their fighting with morals or office politics.

As you read the script for Season 2, how did you react to the decisions the writers made with your character? Did you get excited about the things you liked and groaned at the things you didn’t?

Well, it’s a collaboration. I think so much attention gets thrown to the actor that we forget about the producers and writers. All these guys have such an input in building this story. I’m just a part of it. For me, if there is something I don’t like or that doesn’t resonate with me and the character, that’s an easy conversation where I would call up [executive producer] David Shore and we’d talk about notes. He sure as hell doesn’t need notes because he is brilliant, but we talk about it. But there are sensibilities that are connected with [Melendez] that I know because I live in his skin.

How did shooting Season 2 of “The Good Doctor” affect your schedule for shooting “How to Get Away with Murder?”

That was crazy. What was supposed to happen when I got cast on “How to Get Away with Murder” was that my character was supposed to be a villain throughout that whole third season. But when I [booked] “The Good Doctor,” that really changed everything because I was suddenly unavailable as much as they needed me. So, I missed out on playing that character fully. I would finish shooting [“The Good Doctor”] in Vancouver, hop on a plane and go down to L.A. and shoot all my scenes in one day [for “How to Get Away with Murder”]. It was difficult, but I welcomed it.

You’ve done a lot of TV shows in your career – some that last a few episodes; some that last a season or two. When does working on a TV show feel like home and not just another gig? I’m assuming you felt that when you were working on “Resurrection Blvd.” back in the early 2000s, yes?

I’ve had some moments on different shows over the years, but feeling like a true family where everyone comes together, the last time for me was probably “Resurrection Blvd.” Nothing has come close to that feeling of family and camaraderie until [“The Good Doctor”]. It’s a different kind of connection, but it feels like family. It feels like home to me.

Another show you were involved in recently was the animated comedy “Bordertown,” which only lasted one season. Why don’t you think audiences responded to it as much as you would’ve liked?

I think the audience responded, but I don’t think Fox did a lot for it. There wasn’t a lot of publicity that could’ve been done. [Executive producer] Seth MacFarlane surely didn’t do a lot of publicity or talk about it. We didn’t get a lot of help. Once the show [got cancelled], you started to see how timely we were. We had a ridiculous [U.S. presidential] candidate running with the promise of building a border wall. If anything, I think the world needs [a show like “Bordertown”] right now. It’s through humor that you can show just how ridiculous the situation is that we’re currently in.

Boyd Holbrook – The Predator

September 14, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

In “The Predator,” a reboot of the franchise that started with Arnold Schwarzenegger in the original 1987 action movie, actor Boyd Holbrook takes the lead as Quinn McKenna, a former Army Ranger who goes to battle alongside a team of ex-soldiers in a fight for their lives against a group of the extraterrestrial title characters.

During an interview with me this past week, Holbrook, who is featured as one of the main antagonists in “Logan” and in the Netflix series “Narcos,” talked to me about starring in a film with a built-in fanbase, movie reboots and whether or not we should take President Trump’s proposed Space Force seriously.

Prior to our interview, I was asked not ask questions that did not pertain to the movie or Holbrook’s career. This included questions about the controversial scene that was cut from the film, which included actor Steve Wilder, a friend of director Shane Black, who is a registered sex offender in real life. When actress Olivia Munn found out about Wilder’s criminal history after the film was completed, she asked for his scene be cut from the final film. The studio granted her request.

Besides “Logan,” this is the only film you’ve starred in that already comes with a built-in franchise history. Do these types of films put more pressure on you as an actor to get it right since there is already a fanbase eager to see what you all come up with?

Yeah, I guess so. I mean, at this scale, there are budgets, so there is obvious pressure financially. Creatively, I leave a lot up to the film gods. We definitely tried. We had a fun time and a good crew and cast. We tried to make [the movie] new and exciting and reinvent it.

What do you think should be the basis for rebooting a franchise in Hollywood these days? Of course, there are no written rules for when a studio can reboot something. Is it all a matter of having someone like director Shane Black come in with a new vision for the story? Is that all it should take?

Absolutely. It’s like a play. Plays are put up in different cities with different actors and people enjoy them just the same. I think with [“The Predator”], it was Shane Black and his vision. We’re all here because of the original version. He had a lineage and linkage to the original film (Black played the character Hawkins in the 1987 film). He was a part of that. As he’s grown as a filmmaker, he came back and had his own vision three decades later.

So, if your military team and Schwarzenegger’s team from 1987 were dropped in the same jungle to fight the Predators, which team would have the most survivors at the end?

Obviously, my team. Which do you think?

We’ll yours has more brains and Schwarzenegger’s has more muscle.

Yeah, buff don’t mean tough.

Speaking of buff, did you get a chance to reenact that famous handshake between Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers from the original movie?

Oh, yeah. We were always trying to throw in little homages and anecdotes to recall the original film. We were always trying to do something.

I don’t know if you believe in life on other planets, but is the idea that Predators actually exist somewhere in the universe justification enough to take President Trump’s proposed Space Force seriously?

Listen, if there is a Space Force and they’re spending a billion dollars on it, I think you need to take it seriously and look into it a little more. That will be the ultimate war. I think there is life out there. We’re finding bacteria on Mars. I’m fairly confident in saying there’s probably life out there somewhere.

I have to go back to “Logan” really quick. In my opinion, I thought that film transcended what superhero movies had been about for the last 30 years. Did you know you were making something so different while you were shooting that film?

I knew we were doing something where we could see what those claws were really capable of. I knew that it was going to change the dynamic [of superhero movies] quite radically. I knew we had a great script and then, obviously, the great direction by James Mangold.

What are you looking for in career in Hollywood? Is there something specific you’d like to do that you haven’t done yet?

I want to have a well-rounded career. I started out doing indies. I’ll always do indies. I want to jump into the big vehicles sometimes, too. I want to do love stories and comedies and action movies. You have to shake it up and never get comfortable. I’m excited about the things I’ve done and for the things that are coming out. I’m never going to get comfortable.

James “Murr” Murray – Impractical Jokers (TV)

September 6, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

The concept for the TV show may seem painfully simple: four lifelong friends compete in ridiculous challenges in order to embarrass, and ultimately punish each other. But the chemistry, looseness and ridiculousness of the show make “Impractical Jokers” one of the funniest shows on TV. As an extension of their show, the four guys involved are currently on their Impractical Jokers: Cranjis McBasketball World Comedy Tour, which makes a stop for two shows in San Antonio on Saturday, September 8. spoke with one of the jokers, James “Murr” Murray about the show, the upcoming “Impractical Jokers” movie, and being a best-selling author.

I wanted to start by talking a little bit about the comedy tour you are on now. For fans of the show who haven’t seen you guys on tour, what experience can they expect and how can they expect it to be different from the TV show?

The tour, I think, is the funniest thing we do. When you film a hidden camera show you have no idea how its working. We have no idea if the fans like what you’re doing. It’s hidden camera and we’re hiding in the back or the basement somewhere. We come from a live tour background, so when we’re on tour, it’s a great way to interact with the fans. The live tour is our friendship on display. It really is. We have a giant screen behind us. We shot hidden camera challenges just for the live show that you can’t see anywhere else. It’s basically like stand-up comedy with all four of us on the stage at the same time. We’re having fun with the audience. It’s a lot of fun.

As a fan of shows like “Nathan for You,” anything that Sasha Baron Cohen has done or anything that involves unsuspecting people, I have always wondered about the risk of becoming too big, where everyone knows you and it becomes harder and harder to do challenges in public. Is that something that you guys are cognizant of or had to adapt to?

That’s a good problem to have. It means that the show is doing really well and we’re doing our job right. It will be interesting next year when the movie comes out. We just shot the “Jokers” movie and it comes out next year in theaters, so we’ll see. It has changed the show a bit. We don’t do baseball stadiums anymore. We don’t do boardwalks. It’s harder to do malls. It changes the way you produce the show because we hide more and its rare that you see two of us together somewhere. But it’s a good thing. The show is constantly evolving.

Do you feel like that need to adapt and evolve has kept the show fresh or made you guys think about different or more unique challenges?

For sure. I think what keeps the show fresh and unique is our own drive. We made a pact in Season 1 that if we ever felt the show was getting repetitious or stale, we’d stop doing it. We owe it to our audience to constantly evolve the format and push it in new ways with different styles of challenges or format busters. We try to do it every season and advance the show. That’s the fun of making a show like this. We produce so many episodes a season that we have a chance to play around and test things out and see what works, so it’s a lot of fun.

In terms of punishments, it feels like a lot of prep work goes into that. Is that something where you guys are thinking about punishments year round and making notes about what you want to do?

Yeah, it’s funny the way punishments evolve. One of us will leave set for a couple of minutes to the restroom or something and when we come back to the set you’ll hear the other guys go, “Shhh, shhh, shhh, shhh.” You know they were conspiring when you left. A lot of what’s happening in our real lives inspires the punishments.

Speaking of punishments, it seems a lot of the time they can be silly and ridiculous but others are completely excruciating to watch. Do you have a favorite type of punishment that you like to see go down?

I love to watch Joe do something physical, like Captain Fatbelly where he’s riding on top of a tram or the one that aired last night. We built him into a massage chair at the mall, which was so funny. It was the funniest challenge in the show’s history. Seeing Sal get scared is very funny. For me, I like when they punish me in a way that attacks my emotions and my ego. My pride, if you will. I like those psychological ones, where I’m walking into a room thinking it’s going to be a body building competition and it turns out that I’m walking into Danica McKeller, who is Winnie Cooper from “The Wonder Years” in a dress, looking gorgeous. It’s psychological. It messes with my mind. I like those ones the best.

In terms of the movie, is it something where you were trying to go bigger with it, or different, more edgy? What were your goals with the movie with the new format?

I think the time is right. The audience wants to see us push the show even further. The movie is bigger than a big episode. It has a narrative, a beginning and an end. There’s a structure to it, even moreso than the TV show to help get us on this journey. That being said, 85 percent of the movie is a hidden-camera movie. We’re improvising, which is a lot of fun, honestly. I will say, something slightly different than the TV show, the movie has multiple punishments throughout, which is great fun. You get to see us squirm a lot and punishments in the movie were spectacular. They hit all the right marks.

You were saying that the live comedy show is good because you don’t get that instant audience response when you’re filming the show. But with a movie, you get one shot. Did you guys spend a lot of extra time writing for the movie or thinking about the punishments?

Yeah, we put a ton of planning into it, which you always do when you’re working on a movie. It was kind of like the beginning of the TV show in a lot of ways. It was the four of us writing. In Season 1 of the TV show, it was a small show. We had no staff. We were literally calling locations to get them on board. We were writing all the material. I mean that loosely, of course. There is no script for the TV show. It’s improvised. But we still think of all the punishments and challenges. In the movie, it was back to our roots. It was the four of us in a room for a month coming up with ideas for the movie and secret punishments. It was fun.

One thing, too, that seems to be the case is the support of your network. Your show is on all the time on TruTV. It feels like there is an extension of the show as well, through the After Party or the specials and documentaries. How great is it to have the support of the people behind the scenes to know that not only your show is in good hands but they are letting you extend it beyond having just a 30-minute TV show once a week.

Are you kidding me? That’s it. TruTV continues to be an amazing partner. The fact that they funded the movie…the network has been so supportive from the beginning, I will say. I can’t imagine the show with another network. And they are willing to take big risks. For a network that has never produced a movie to take the risk to make a movie is a huge, huge show of support and confidence in the brand and the guys and I. It’s not bad. We are forever thankful to them. When we pitched the show to them several years ago, they made good on their word. They said, “This is the show we want to define TruTV and the direction we want to go in” and they made good on that.

In terms of the brand expanding, you guys have an after show, you’ve got a tour, you’ve got a cruise. There’s a lot of stuff that gives the fans more content or access to you guys. Do you feel like that’s important for not only your growth but interacting with your fanbase?

Oh, sure. The guys and I come from a live-comedy background. We are a comedy troupe called The Tenderloins. We have performed live for many, many years. So, going into live touring was a natural common sense expansion for us. From there grew other, cool opportunities. I think a lot of it is having the right team around you that knows how to get these opportunities. Our management team and agents look for these cool extensions of the brand. As the tour grew, a natural question was, “Wouldn’t it be cool to hang out and party with fans and go on vacation? What if we went on a cruise?” It’s just these natural questions that you ask yourself. And the after show was the same kind of idea. We really clicked with Joey Fatone and he’s been in a couple episodes of the show. He felt like a good fit for our show, cause we don’t really have guest cameos but on the times we do have cameos its been based in reality. He’s a similar kind of guy as us. And Danica McKeller is steeped in our history. I had a crush on her growing up so she was a natural extension of what we do. The show is very organic. It has to stay that way for us. So, the opportunities that we have now are a combination of how awesome our fanbase is and how they support us, how amazing the network is, and how great our team is that thinks about the questions like, “What would be a cool fan experience to do next?” The four of us have wanted to do this our whole lives and to have the ability to do something cool like this made us think, “What else could we do that is cool like this?” What if we could do a Hawaii episode?” I’ve always wanted to go and never had the money to go!

A few months ago, you had a novel come out that you wrote, “Awakened.” I was wondering not only what that experience was like to foray into a completely different world, but what the response has been and how you feel about now being an author.

The crazy part of the novel is that it is very similar to how we developed “Jokers.” I wrote this fast-paced, action-packed thriller 14 years ago. This was before TV. I had a BS job working from home and I spent a year of my life writing this book. Like “Jokers,” the guys and I are regular guys who had no contacts in publishing. I had no agent back then. No lawyer to represent the project. After a year of writing, I sent it to every publisher in New York. And you ready for this? It got returned to me unopened. No one would open the envelope to read it. I have no problem dealing with rejection if I’ve been considered. But to be rejected without having someone look at it is a tough pill to swallow. It sat on my computer for 14 years. Fourteen years later, because of the fanbase and how amazing they are, I sent in the same book and the publishers at Harper Collins ended up buying the trilogy from me. I always believed in the project. I always thought that the book was really good and action packed and exciting to read. I will say, I’ve been really pleased with the fan response and the reviews online are amazing. Not just fan reviews, critical reviews are great, great, great. And the book is a best seller. It has been really rewarding thing, I must say.

Ben Dickey – Blaze

August 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

During his tour across Texas to promote his new biopic “Blaze” on late singer/songwriter Blaze Foley, first-time actor and musician Ben Dickey made a stop in San Antonio last week for an acoustic concert and a special screening of the film.

I caught up with Dickey in downtown San Antonio to wax philosophical and talk about what turns him on as a musician and why he’s going to keep acting for as long as the industry will have him.

Where did you start your research when you landed the role of Blaze Foley? Does it start with the music?

I’ve known Blaze’s name for 20 years, but I learned a lot about his music. I spent a lot of time with it. I did go look around at some of the places he had lived. What I read about his time in Texas was that they were sort of on the run from his father. There were a lot of people in his life that were generous enough to offer up information about him.

Something I love that this film explores is the idea about where songs come from and how there are so many more we’re never going to hear. It’s really a sad thing to think about, isn’t it?

It confirms this notion of infinity. Somewhere you can hear those songs, in my opinion – somehow, someway. In some way, those songs are echoing through this multiverse that we’re supposedly living in. With [Blaze Foley], we missed out. It’s one of those wonderful, striking mysteries.

How do you feel when an artist passes away and then years later, someone opens up a filing cabinet and finds a trove of his or her work that they never finished or released? Is that something you welcome or would you rather that work stay buried?

There’s so much posthumous [Jimi] Hendrix stuff. I’m a huge Hendrix fan. There was a record that came out called Voodoo Soup. Somebody added things to it willy nilly to make it sound like a full band. Everyone that I’ve talked to who worked with Jimi said that he would not have wanted that. He would’ve been super bent out of shape about it. But then there’s the other part of you who thinks, “Well, maybe that’s what it would’ve sounded like – maybe.” I don’t know what the guidelines are, but I was sure happy when John Lennon’s demos came out.

As a songwriter, do you have your own trove of unfinished work that you have stored away that you may or may not ever get to again?

I have tons of stuff. I write constantly. Sometimes my partner, Beth, will go, “Whatever happened to [that song]?” I’ll go back to it and go, “Oh, yeah, that’s a great song.” The thing I’ve always wanted to be in this life is a musician that can work. I love being in a studio and being with musicians.

So, when you don’t finish a song, or you put it to the side for whatever reason, why do you do that?

Sometimes it’s just clear I’m having trouble with it. When good songs come, they come whole. On my first solo record, I released a song that I was fond of, but it was long and meandering and I didn’t know how to make it a song. When I was making that record after my band broke up, I was like, “Screw it. I’m going to work on it.” The producer was like, “It’s the only song on the record that doesn’t move with the rest of the album.” So, songs like that can get away from you. But you can also surprise yourself. Once I start thinking about a song too much, I lose perspective.

How has the process of making an album changed for you over the years?

Well, as soon as we finished shooting “Blaze,” I wrote like 40 songs for my new record and sent them to Charlie Sexton, who produced it. This was the first time in my life doing this. He was like, “These 10 songs are the record” and I was like, “OK.” I surrendered it over to him because he’s a master. The songs he picked were not the ones I would’ve picked, but this was an opportunity to make a record with someone I love and revere. We made a very interesting record. It forced me to treat [the songs] differently and consider them differently. He was like, “Dude, you’re going to write 40 more and we’ll do this again.”

Blaze was a very philosophical musician. It’s evident in his lyrics. In today’s music industry, do you think a song has to say something meaningful to stay relevant?

I don’t know that it has to, but my ears perk up when it does. Now they can do an algorithm to create a country song. John Prine just put out his most recent record and it resonates with people I would probably enjoy visiting with. No offense to Katy Perry or anyone, but a new pop song that is an amalgam of beats and sequences that has been proven to turn on people on dance floors through a weird mathematical equation doesn’t do anything for me.

You’re currently promoting “Blaze” and you have another film called “The Kid” you’ve also completed. Is acting something you’re going to continue to do along with your music?

I had no idea I was going to be in [the film] business and I don’t know how long I’ll be able to maintain it. I want to keep working and discovering, so if I’m lucky enough to be put into that position, I’m open to it and ready for it. People keep asking me, “What if the movie part takes over?” It’s never going to diminish the fact that I love music. I really can’t tell you how stunned I still am to have this pivot in my life. I don’t want to screw it up. I’m knocking on wood, but I’m still rockin’ and rollin’ like I always have.

Aneesh Chaganty & Sev Ohanian – Searching

August 31, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

During their time in the School of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California in the early 2010’s, Aneesh Chaganty and Sev Ohanian found some minor success as writing partners when they made “Seeds,” a two-minute short film they shot on Google glass. A couple of years later, Chaganty and Ohanian found themselves in a meeting with the production company that financed the 2014 virtual horror movie “Unfriended.” The company was looking for filmmakers to take on their next computer-driven project.

The producers’ initial pitch, however, didn’t interest Chaganty. He didn’t want to follow the same blueprint laid out by the few tech-minded thrillers and horror movies that had come before. He wanted to do something new and different.

Chaganty and Ohanian were given that opportunity with “Searching,” an effective and unique thriller displayed exclusively on the screens of devices like iPhones, laptops and hidden cameras. The film, which is directed and co-written by Chaganty and co-written and co-produced by Ohanian, tells the story of the disappearance of 16-year-old Margot (Michelle La) and the great lengths her father David (John Cho) goes to find her by following her digital footprint.

I sat down with the filmmaking duo late last month in Austin to talk about their groundbreaking film, how they think their social media-heavy thriller will hold up once the featured platforms are dated, and their decision to cast Cho in the lead role.

I loved the opening scene of this film. It’s great to see a pair of first-time feature filmmakers understand that capturing an audience on an emotional level is important to make a film work. Was that your intention from the start?

Aneesh Chaganty: It was in that sequence where we realized there was a potential for this story to be emotional, cinematic and engaging. One day I texted Sev and said, “I have an idea for an opening scene.” He texted me back and said, “I have an idea for an opening scene.” And we pitched each other the exact same opening scene – a five-minute montage that takes you through a bunch of years of [this family’s] life.

Sev Ohanian: The idea was that if audiences watched that opening sequence, they would forget that what they’re watching is all unfolding on devices and they could just get sucked into the story and characters and emotion.

Do you consider “Searching” and the other couple of films that came out before it that use technology in this way its own subgenre?

AC: I consider [“Searching”] a thriller. What we wanted to do was tell a classic thriller in an extremely unconventional way. We wanted to elevate the thriller. What makes it really interesting is that it’s told on screens. I think once you hit a certain number of films [of this kind], you’ll be in a subgenre.

Yeah, since this is only the third or fourth film that has been made this way, I don’t think we’re there yet. This is like when “The Blair Witch Project” came out and everyone was trying to figure out what they were watching. Then, somewhere down the line, it was labeled a “found footage” movie.

AC: Yeah, when found footage came into the picture, it had a lot of flexibility. It was just a camera. Here, you’re talking about the same visual constraints. If you’re not finding a way to drastically change the concept, it will be a subgenre that will get old very fast. What we tried to do [with “Searching”] was make it the most cinematic, extreme version of itself.

What is your relationship like with social media? How did your tech savviness influence the script?

SO: We’re pretty tech savvy. We’re on all the usual social media, but we’re not the posting five times a day trying to get likes. One of our guidelines was to try to make the movie feel grounded. Early on, we decided we would use real websites and social media platforms to get into the story.

I recognized about 90 percent of the websites. I had never heard of YouCast though.

SO: In real life, it’s called YouNow. But, yeah, we had never heard of it either. As we were writing the story, we knew we wanted to have David stumbling upon Margot’s diary – where she keeps all her honest secrets. We didn’t know what that [platform] would be. Aneesh stumbled across YouNow and it did the exact thing we needed it to do. Teenagers can record themselves for up to like eight hours and strangers can message them and buy them presents. We’re talking thousands of teens. This was two years ago. Now, every social media platform has a way you can go live. For us, we just explored and looked for things that would make the story work.

Were you at all worried that any of the social media platforms you chose to feature might be considered out-of-date once the movie was released?

AC: We knew the moment we shot this film it would be a period movie.

SO: It’s probably the quickest turnaround for a movie from extremely modern to period that has ever been made.

AC: I mean, already, Facebook looks different than it does in the movie. YouTube looks different. Archaeologists might discover this movie in a few years.

SO: We should bury it right now.

Do you think “Searching” is going to hold up 20 years from now?

SO: I’m going to answer this in a humble and non-bias way, but I think it will because we put so much emphasis on classic storytelling. It’s a whodunit. It’s a mystery. It’s a father-daughter story. That will, hopefully, elevate it and make it stand out.

You both are filmmakers of color. Was it a conscious decision to hire a lead actor who might not get the opportunity to do a film like this in Hollywood?

AC: Yes, we wrote the role specifically for John Cho. He’s a wonderful actor and he doesn’t get enough roles. Both of us grew up watching stuff that we didn’t recognize ourselves in. It was less of a story about race and culture and more of a story about mystery. Those are the films I wish I saw myself in.

SO: We immediately recognized the opportunity we had to cast a character and a family at the center of this story whose race is never talk about in the film. For us, that was our way of saying, “This is a movie I would’ve loved to watch when I was younger.” In order to change the way things appear on screen, storytellers have to diversify as well. Both of us plan to extend opportunities to storytellers with similar backgrounds. We are hearing a voice in Hollywood right now asking for change. That voice has never been louder than it is right now.

Now that “Searching” is out in the world and getting great reviews, I’m sure you know you’re going to be getting a lot more phone calls for other projects. If you were given an opportunity to make a major blockbuster – the next “Jurassic World” or a “Star Wars” film – would you take it?

AC: Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been making short films. I’ve always made them the way that I wanted. They’ve always been my babies. For me, I don’t want to relinquish that creative control over a project. One thing I decided when we were making “Searching” was that the next film I do shouldn’t be a massive step up in budget, so I could always maintain some sort of creative control. If someone were to offer me “Jurassic World” right now or another big franchise, I would probably say no. There is one big exception though: “Mission: Impossible.”

With a 65-year-old Tom Cruise still kicking ass!

AC: Yes! That’s Tom Cruise in his prime! If they called me for “Mission: Impossible 7,” I already have ideas for stunts. I can’t wait!

Kelly Macdonald & Marc Turtletaub – Puzzle

August 24, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

Late last month, I spoke to Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald (“Trainspotting,” TV’s “Boardwalk Empire”) and director and Oscar-nominated producer Marc Turtletaub (“Little Miss Sunshine”) about their new independent drama “Puzzle.” The film tells the story of an unfulfilled Connecticut wife (Macdonald) who seeks out happiness away from her mundane life. She finds it through the art of putting together jigsaw puzzles with Robert (Irrfan Khan), a puzzle aficionado from New York City.

What resonated with you about this story and what did you hope to reveal about Agnes on screen?

Kelly Macdonald: I was very interested in [Agnes] when I started reading [the script]. I found it quite emotional. It was pretty much all there in the writing. What I hadn’t realized was how much of a joy it would be to play Agnes on this journey on her own. Even if she’s in a room full of people, she’s alone. It’s heartbreaking.

Marc Turtletaub: I was drawn to the writing and to the subject matter. It’s about a woman over the age of 40, which we don’t see very often. As I watched this character, a woman who dotes on her husband and her two teenage sons in suburban Connecticut, it reminded me very much of my own experience growing up and my own mother, a woman who doted on my father. As I read the script, I thought, “I know that woman. I know this story.”

Do you consider what she is going through a sort of mid-life crisis or would you define it as something else?

KM: I think it’s a coming-of-age story rather than a mid-life crisis. Her mid-life crisis will come much later in life. (Laughs) I think she’s looking to grow up. She hasn’t been given the space to do that.

MT: I see it as her finding who she is more authentically and finding a passion for this most unlikely of things. I never thought jigsaw puzzles would interest me as a moviemaker, but once I read it, I realized it really wasn’t about jigsaw puzzles. It’s about a woman and the relationships she has with other people. Once I realized what that was about, that’s what became really interesting to me.

Did it have to be puzzles? I mean, wouldn’t it be the same film if she took up basket weaving instead?

MT: She could’ve been doing anything. If she followed her passion and it was needlepoint or field hockey, then through that, she would begin to find who she is. And then she’d begin to find her voice, just later in life.

KM: Absolutely. It could be anything. I think that’s the good thing about the film. Puzzles are the thing that opened her life up in a way that she didn’t know before. It’s not about winning a puzzle competition. It’s about people being given room to change. She’s been sort of stuck in time.

Kelly, how important is it to build chemistry with your leading man prior to shooting the film and what was your experience like working with Irrfan?

KM: I think it’s pretty important. You can never tell if something is going to work on the screen or not. He’s an amazing actor and he arrived with such energy and enthusiasm. He’s a very physical actor. His body language is great when he’s in character.

MT: I think their chemistry was there immediately. That’s what happens when you cast great actors. I chose not to rehearse with any of the actors because I wanted what came on the screen to feel fresh. What you see is the first time it’s actually being conveyed. It makes it feel real because in the movie they’re really meeting for the first time.

Marc, was it a conscious decision when casting to choose actors who would create a biracial relationship? If so, how do you think that dynamic enhances the story?

MT: I think it enhances it. It wasn’t conscious. I just wanted great actors and I got them. I think it adds in a sense that Agnes is entering this whole new world in New York City. The environment has to be different. The fact that Robert is Indian and speaks with an accent only makes the world that much more exotic and different from her upbringing. So, without consciously thinking that, I think intuitively I knew that. Having the opportunity to work with someone as special as Irrfan added tremendously to the project.

Kelly, I heard there was a team of people on set whose job it was to build all the puzzles. Did you feel bad when the script called for you to break one to pieces?

KM: (Laughs) I felt bad for the prop department, I have to say. They had some late nights preparing these puzzles. It was a lot of work for someone.

MT: As you’re prepping the movie, you’re thinking about the puzzles. In one scene, you might have to have five or six or seven versions of that same puzzle. The prop people are the unsung heroes of the movie.

Kelly, I saw that you’re reprising your role as Merida from “Brave” in the “Wreck-It Ralph” sequel later this year. Does this have anything to do with the fact that “Brave” beat “Wreck-It Ralph” for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2013?

KM: (Laughs) I don’t think John C. Reilly is trying to get me back or anything. (Laughs) I’m so happy they called me. I never thought that would happen. [In the sequel], she’s more Merida than she’s ever been.

Marc, your next film as a producer is “You Are My Friend,” the Mr. Rogers’ biopic starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. Besides being one of the greatest living actors today, what led you to him to play this iconic role?

MT: Tom is an iconic actor – maybe the iconic actor of our generation. To have the opportunity to work with him in a role, which is also iconic, is such a special thing. The pairing of the two felt almost inevitable. We’re really happy that Tom wanted to make the movie.

Bart Layton – American Animals

June 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

In his 2012 documentary “The Imposter,” filmmaker Bart Layton added reenactments to support the interviews he conducted with the film’s real-life subjects to tell the story of a French con artist who impersonated a missing boy from San Antonio in the late 90s. He flips the format with “American Animals,” the first feature narrative of his career, by enhancing the film with documentary elements.

“American Animals” follows four college students who plan a heist to steal an assortment of rare books and manuscripts from inside their university’s library.

I caught up with Layton last week to talk about his new film, the legwork it took earn the trust of the main players and why he decided to tell this story in a way no one has ever really tried to tell a true-life story before.


How did you come across this story in the first place?

Initially, I read about it in a magazine. I was intrigued by the story. It was extraordinary and already sounded like it was a movie instead of reality. The more I read about it, the more bizarre it became. The perpetrators weren’t the usual suspects. They were fairly well educated, smart young men from good families.

How did you connect with the young men to see if they’d be interested in having a film made about what they did?

I wrote to them while they were in prison trying to understand more about their motivation for doing it. I already thought it was a great story, but I wasn’t sure it was a story that warranted being turned into a film or something that I wanted to spend a couple of years of my life doing. But when I received letters back from them and they talked about their motivation and their misguided search for answers, I realized that it was a more personal story.

Were you surprised that you received responses from them?

I was confident that we would get to them and that they would respond favorably. At that point, we were just making conversation. I began this very unusual pen pal relationship with all four of them. I knew they had all done very stupid and self-destructive things, but I was really surprised by the people I met through these letters.

Why did you decide to include documentary elements in the film? Was there precedent for a narrative like this?

No, there really wasn’t a precedent. That’s why it was so exciting to me. There’s not a template for something like this. The reason I wanted to do it like this was because it was an extraordinary true story, but if you turn it into a narrative, it becomes a more disposable story. You have that suspicion that everything has been adapted with a very healthy dose of artistic license. With [“American Animals”], I wanted people to be constantly reminded that it is a true story with real people. When you invest in them and the story, you engage in a slightly different way. I think it was important to see who you are dealing with – the real people. Most of us come out of the cinema after seeing “I, Tonya” or “Molly’s Game” and immediately we start Googling the real people wondering, “What do they really look like?” and “What do they really sound like?” With [“American Animals”], the intention was to make sure you felt like you really connected to the characters.

Do you think it takes away from a film that is based on true events when you find out the characters aren’t like the people in real life and that more artistic license was taken in those aspects?

In my opinion, it really does. If you’re watching something that is supposed to be a true story and you’ve invested in it for that reason and then you realize you’ve been given a Hollywoodized version of it, it certainly takes away from it. Don’t you think?

Yeah, I think certain aspects of a story can definitely be overdone by studios. Did you find yourself having to make those kinds of decisions with “American Animals?” Is anything Hollywoodized?

That’s what was the amazing thing about the story. You really didn’t need a whole lot of exaggeration or embellishment. Of course, I wrote it and in doing so you have to condense a couple of years into two hours, but I was very keen to the accuracy of [the story].

I agree with you on the overall outcome of the film. I think the most Hollywoodized part of it was done on purpose where the guys fantasize about what a perfect heist would look like. Was it fun shooting your own short “Ocean’s 11” movie for that scene?

It was absolutely great fun. That was exactly the idea of it. At that point, they’ve gotten so far into the movie, they’ve become unattached to reality. That was one way to illustrate that.

Do you think your documentary “The Imposter” could’ve been shot in the same style as “American Animals” or do you think that the film’s main character was just too bizarre to not have him on screen for most of the film?

Yeah, I think you’re right. I also think that [“The Imposter”] was so preposterous of a story and so unbelievable on so many levels. When that film came out, there was a bidding war for the remake rights. Of course, no one has figured out how to do it as a fictional version because it’s so hard to believe. So much of it is about ambiguity and what people believe. A lot of it is about self-perception.

As you move forward in your career, do you think these stranger-than-fiction type narratives are going to continue to be the ones that resonate with you the most or would you like to branch out into something else?

I think probably, but the next thing I’m doing is not a true story. It does exist in a similar space. There is this sense of moral confusion with the central character. For me, I want to find a story that is a real page-turner that you desperately have to know what happens next. At the same time and more importantly, I want something that takes you to an interesting conversation about the culture and how we live. [“American Animals”] is a story about how we have to leave a mark on the world and how we have to be special and do something remarkable or you may as well not exist.

Esai Morales – Superfly

June 22, 2018 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

In “Superfly,” a remake of the 1972 Blaxploitation film “Super Fly,” actor Esai Morales (“La Bamba”) plays Adalberto González, the new leader of a Mexican drug cartel who supplies product to the mentor of the movie’s lead character Priest (Trevor Jackson). Morales said Adalberto “fancies himself as a cool, calm and collected version” of the previous cartel head.

“I’m not reinventing the wheel with this character,” Morales, 55, told me during an interview last week. “I’m providing the weight that is necessary in a story to know that the stakes are high.”

During our interview, Morales talked about the criticism that comes for Latino actors who choose to play drug cartel characters, why he thinks TV shows and movies about the cartel industry are currently popular and whether he’ll follow in the footsteps of his “Superfly” director, who goes by the moniker Director X, and change his name. We also talked about the U.S. administration’s delayed response to the tragedy Hurricane Maria brought to Puerto Rico late last year.

I’m sure you know about the criticism that comes any time a Latino actor plays a character in a drug cartel. Benecio del Toro is getting it for reprising his role in the “Sicario” sequel. The popular Netflix show “Narcos” gets criticized for its portrayal of Latinos. Do you think the criticism is valid?

Well, at one point I agreed with [the criticism]. But I realize now that drug dealers are kind of cool, not in real life, but the personas have been glorified and humanized. You realize that the biggest and the most powerful drug dealers on Earth are not Latino or black. Latinos and blacks did not invent the drug business. We’re the scapegoats. The biggest ones are corporate and governmental. Look at any one of the major, big pharma companies that have been fined for criminal activity.

Did you shoot your scenes in Mexico?

I don’t know if I can answer that, but no. But we made it look like Mexico.

I was wondering because last year one of the location scouts for “Narcos” was kidnapped and murdered. A location scout for the “Sicario” sequel was also kidnapped while in Mexico.

I just worked in Mexico in Tecate, which is about 45 minutes east of Tijuana. It was extremely safe. When you’re in big productions, maybe you draw attention. The film I was in was very small and it wasn’t about the drug industry.

What do you think it is about these kinds of TV shows and movies that have studios making so many of them recently? I mean, besides the “Sicario” sequel, “Narcos” and “Superfly,” there was “Gringo” earlier this year; “Loving Pablo” is coming out soon; Netflix’s “Drug Lords,” “Kingpin,” “Cocaine Grandmother” with Catherine Zeta Jones. Why so many?

I think it’s because of the success of shows like “Narcos” and others. We can really go back to Tony Montana in “Scarface”…

…which is getting remade.

Well, good luck. I hope it goes well, but it’s hard to touch that one. But I think [there are more cartel movies and TV shows because] it’s a trend – power, violence, extreme risk, danger. These are the elements of the classic gangster films. In the 1930s, you had James Cagney in “Angels with Dirty Faces.” Now, we have different personalities portraying the Pablo Escobars of the world. Our society is obsessed with power for better and for worse. The power of the cartels is immense, and it is mesmerizing and is something audiences, obviously, have not gotten tired of. Because that’s where the industry is going, people like Benecio and myself are not going to get left behind when there are good characters to portray. If anyone likes to say we’re extenuating stereotypes, I would say that I agree with you except we play more than that. We play presidents, matriarchs, billionaires, business leaders. I’ve played the chief of police of the Chicago PD on “Criminal Minds.” I would understand if [cartel members] were all we played, but right now it just happens to be in vogue. I would be more reluctant to play these characters if they were written terribly as just people to hate. So, calm down. I don’t want to be incarcerated into playing roles that only appease our community. I don’t want to be limited to that.

Is there any chance you could follow in your “Superfly” director’s steps and change your name to Actor Equis?

I like the name Director X. It has a revolutionary feel to it. Many years ago, I thought about changing my name to something more understandable or mainstream or Italian. But I decided that instead of changing my name, I wanted to change how people with my name were viewed. I wanted to try to broaden what it means to be a leading man or character actor by keeping Morales and Esai.

You’re originally from Puerto Rico. We now know that there were a lot more deaths in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria than first reported by the U.S. government. What do you want to see this country do to help its citizens moving forward? It feels like they’ve been abandoned by this administration.

I’m very dismayed by the response, despite all the real efforts of a lot of great people that are there that gave their all. I know people that went to visit folks with FEMA. I know people with the Coast Guard and the National Guard and Army reserves over there. I went there quietly. I didn’t want to make it about me, but I wanted to assess the situation and figure out how I could help. It’s a complicated situation. I do believe the president could be more conscious of who Puerto Ricans are and had a quicker and more adequate response so the death toll would’ve been minimized. But I don’t think we can shame or insult this administration to doing what we believe is the right thing. I think we have to outclass our opponents and ignore opportunities to engage with them in ugly debates.

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