John Leguizamo – Chef

May 23, 2014 by  
Filed under Chaléwood, Interviews

When it comes to food, actor John Leguizamo considers himself a pretty adventurous guy. It’s easy to be when you live in New York City and can order in just about anything you want from any country in the world.

“New York is the mecca of ordering out,” Leguizamo, 49, told me at the South by Southwest Film Festival this past March where he was promoting his new indie film “Chef,” directed and written by and starring Jon Favreau. “You can order Latin, Puerto Rican, Mexican, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Ethiopian, Afghani, Jamaican. It’s all great. It’s all quick. It’s ridiculous.”

Food plays a major role in “Chef” where Leguizamo portrays a line cook named Martin who helps a down-on-his-luck chef (Favreau) start a food truck business after he loses his position at a trendy restaurant.

During our interview, Leguizamo and I talked about how he handles himself in the kitchen and how he thinks Favreau did behind the camera of an indie film after making blockbuster-type movies over the last few years.

How are you in the kitchen? Are you a good cook?

I’m not a bad cook. I’m a functional, common sense kind of cook. I can do the basics. I can make a burger. I can definitely make coffee; nice, simple stuff. I do one great dish, which is a Latin roasted chicken. That’s my secret weapon. My wife loves that.

Did “Chef” make you a better cook?

This movie definitely taught me how to cook a lot better. I have mad respect for chefs now. You can’t get those kind of results in the kitchen without a few years of training. You have to know how to cook meat to the exact, perfect temperature. All that stuff is precise, man. I worked in a lot of kitchens to prepare for this. What I loved about it was the respect and camaraderie [the kitchen staff] has for each other. These chefs have mad respect for their crew, which is mostly Latino. They even said, “No one works as hard and is as loyal as my Latino cooks.” It was a beautiful relationship.

That’s not what we see on reality TV cooking shows. You always see the hard-nosed chef yelling at his staff. That doesn’t seem to be true at all in your experience.

Well, I mean, there are always yellers. There are directors, producers, actors who are yellers. So, there are also chefs who are yellers. But a lot of them aren’t. When you work with [directors] Baz Luhrmann or Jon Favreau, they don’t yell. They don’t get angry. They just ask more of you, but they do it in more of a coach-like way. I mean, there are coaches that are yellers, so I guess it just all depends.

Who have you worked with that is a yeller?

I’ve worked with a lot of yellers.

I mean, being a yeller doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing. Some coaches who yell also inspire their players.

Yeah, but I’m not going to name names. (Laughs) I don’t think they want to see themselves in that light.

What cuisine do you resonate with the most, especially since your Latino ethnic background is so varied?

Oh, I love Puerto Rican food. But I love all Latin food, whether it’s Dominican or Puerto Rican. It’s my soul food. I really love world food. I love Ethiopian food, man. You eat it with your fingers. You get sourdough pancakes. It’s like Indian food, but not a greasy. I love Indian food, too, man.

With “Chef,” director Jon Favreau is returning to a more independent film like he directed in 2001 with “Made.” This is far from the giant tent-pole projects he’s done in the past few years like the first two “Iron Man” movies and “Cowboys & Aliens.” How do you think he did on set going back to a more intimate film?

I think the budget [on “Chef”] was big enough for him to play with. All the money went into the production. None of it went into the actors’ pockets. (Laughs) But, yeah, he did a fantastic job. He’s used to the big budgets, but he still knows how to operate a smaller one. A lot of directors lose that ability because they’re so used to having everything they want. When it’s a smaller movie, you don’t have those opportunities all the time.

Is that easy for you to do as an actor – go from something as grand in scale as, say, “Moulin Rouge!” to a smaller film like “Empire?”

You know, you forget. I just went and did a whole bunch of smaller films and you forget how many pages of dialogue you have to do a day. You really have to be prepared for the smaller movies because there is no time for overtime. You have to get the coverage when you’re there. You have to work a lot harder on an independent film, but you’re never bored.

Something we see in the film is how much the food-truck industry has blown up in the past few years. If you ever go to a food truck to eat, do you go for the quick and easy stuff or are you the kind of guy that only wants food from the gourmet food trucks?

I like more of the fun stuff in a food truck. If I want fancy, I’ll go to a restaurant. (Laughs) My son and I always go eat these Swedish waffles that have speculaas and all these amazing toppings on it.

Well, in New York City, you’ve always had hotdog carts, but now they have gourmet hotdog vendors that are piling on more than just sauerkraut and mustard on their hotdogs. It’s easy to pay $12 for a hotdog now.

Oh, yeah. They have every kind of food truck in New York now. They have coffee trucks and Mexican food trucks. In New York you can always do international because you have everyone there from every part of the world.

What about shady food trucks? Are you brave enough to try food from a food truck that has a little less upkeep than the average one? I mean, it might look a little unsanitary, but the cooks are really working hard in the back.

Uhhhhh. (Laughs) I gotta be told [a food truck] is good. If I don’t hear about it, if there’s no word of mouth, I’m not going. I’m not adventurous like that. I mean, I’m adventurous with the type of food, but I’m not adventurous with the quality of food.

For more SXSW 2014 coverage, click here.

Jason Bateman & Kathryn Hahn – Bad Words

March 21, 2014 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the obscenity-laden “Bad Words,” actor Jason Bateman (TV’s “Arrested Development”) takes on a dark comedy with a bit of a mean streak and chalks up his first feature film as a director. Seeking revenge for something audiences aren’t privy to until the end of the movie, grown man Guy Trilby (Bateman) finds a loophole in the national spelling bee rules and weasels his way into the competition where he grudgingly befriends a fellow speller (Rohan Chand) and teaches him that there just might be more to life that spelling 10-syllable words. Kathryn Hahn (TV’s “Parks and Recreation) plays Jenny Widgeon, a reporter trying to uncover what is actually motivating Guy to go through the trouble to beat a bunch of eight year olds in a spelling contest.

During an interview at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival, we talked to Bateman about his foray into the directing chair, and asked Hahn how comfortable she is in real life dropping a few F-bombs every now and then.

Cody Villafana: Jason, did you find that working in TV for so long gave you an advantage to where you’re learning from different directors over the course of a season rather than one director over the course of a film shoot?

Jason Bateman: Yes. Certainly actors have a great advantage in that if they want to transition into directing we work with a ton of directors. Other directors don’t ever work another director so they have no idea whether their process on the set is slow, fast, inspiring or boring. So, we get to cherry pick all these things. The other advantage of working in television is that you usually have a pretty short schedule and you’ve got a high page count to shoot every day. You’ve got to be good, fast. With comedy, that sometimes is even more difficult because you’re trying to make it believable but heightened believable. So, you’ve got to make scenes work really quickly with the blocking, with the performance, with where the cameras are. So that’s really helpful with directing cause you’ve gotta be pretty nimble.

Kiko Martinez: Kathryn, this film, of course, got a rated a hard R for some rather salty dialogue. Some people might say the classier the woman, the less she curses. Would you agree?

Kathryn Hahn: No! I like a broad!

KM: What are some life situations you’d have to be in to start letting the expletives fly?

KH: (Laughs) Oh, I mean, anything! Name your poison! I love a swear word. I really do. But I have the two peanuts at home. I have to edit myself big time because they take it all in.

KM: Jason, your co-star in this film, Rohan Chand, seems like a very mature young man. With that said, was it challenging to curse with him around, especially when the expletives were aimed his way?

JB: Not really. The film wasn’t improvised. He and his parents knew everything that was coming. They were certainly prepped for it. I had extensive conversations with him and his parents about the kind of tone and spirit of all these prickly scenes and where it was coming from and what the deeper, slightly more sophisticated agenda was that was at play underneath, hopefully the whole movie and certainly Guy’s journey. I just asked them to trust me that I was going to build a film aesthetic that wasn’t going to feel gratuitous or arbitrary to the audience. This wasn’t going to be something embarrassing, hopefully. This was a drama to everyone inside the movie. This guy got his feelings hurt and he wasn’t properly equipped to deal with that. We, the sane audience, laugh at his inability to manage his life. But it is a drama to them. We hoped that would be the spine of the movie so those more prickly things would feel a little less sophomoric.

KM: Kathryn, you’re known the comedies you’ve made over the last 10 years, including “Step Brothers” and “Anchorman.” How funny were you actually allowed to be during your time in the school of drama at Yale University? I would’ve guessed it would be more classic theater training.

KH: Not funny at all. (Laughs) There’s nothing funny about Yale. (Laughs) No, we did a lot of comedy. We laughed a lot. We had an awesome class. I loved my class there. We had a clown teacher out there who was important to us. We did some commedia. We didn’t do a lot of improvising. That didn’t happen for me until after I graduated. I never took any improv classes or anything like that. I think being introduced to [director] Adam McKay and that group cracked that open for me. I will never forget that experience at Yale. It was such a rigorous, blessed three years. I didn’t have to worry about anything except the work that was in front of me. I mean, we were rehearsing plays at 1 a.m. It was heaven, heaven, heaven. I didn’t have a television. It was the best. I will hold that experience to my heart forever. I was just accruing loans. (Laughs)I knew I would eventually have to pay that off, but you didn’t really have to think about it while you were there. It was pure. But, yeah, comedy is hard. Really hard. But we had a ball.

CV: Kathryn, where do you feel like your character’s interests lied? Do you think she wanted to see him succeed or getting the story or do you think there was any growth with that throughout the film?

KH: That’s an interesting question. I think she starts off just trying to find out why and then I think she gets invested. I think she gets invested and when she finds out why he’s doing what he’s doing…I think she really, really wants him to bail. I think that’s what pushes her over at the end. They both moved into something deeper with each other at the end because she sees that he was able to move past it and grow up. I love a movie that is about the underdogs – the fringe. None of the people that you meet in this movie are at the cool kids’ table, which I love. It’s its own beautiful world that has its own power structure and dynamics and politics. It’s so complete. Guy and Jenny are really frozen adults. You see [Guy] on that stage and he’s a man-child. He is frozen in this petulant child. Now you know why, but that’s why I think some of the things he does to those children are bad. Obviously he’s smart enough, but I think he’s lashing out. We find out he is smart enough to get through that spelling bee on his own merit and yet he still does these reprehensible things to these kids, so there’s a lot operating. He doesn’t trust himself. What I love about the casting is that those kids really meet him as equals on that stage. It’s really strange he’s like a kid on that stage with them. That’s such a tricky thing to pull off.

“Bad Words” screened as a part of SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey & Nacho Vigalondo – Open Windows

March 19, 2014 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo and actors Elijah Wood and Sasha Grey know that someone is probably listening to their phone calls and watching what websites they visit online, but they don’t really mind. Actually, they might mind, but it’s not like they can do anything about it. All of them agree that if you want to be a functional citizen in this technology-centric world, you’re going to have to give up some of your privacy sooner or later. Vigalondo explores some of those timely themes in “Open Windows,” his new thriller that sets in motion a dangerous game between a mysterious computer hacker and a young man (Wood) whose evening turns extremely bizarre when he is given the opportunity to spy on his favorite actress (Grey) from his very own laptop.

During an interview at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival, I got a chance to sit down with Vigalondo, Wood and Grey and talk about how having total privacy is a thing of the past, and what they dislike most about having an online presence today.

Some of the marketing materials I recently received for the movie call it the “‘Rear Window’ for the 21st Century.” Is that distinction something you’re comfortable with or would you rather this film stand on its own?

Nacho Vigalondo: Well, I’m a big [Alfred] Hitchcock fan, but I don’t consider him a big influence on this film. I mean, you can’t escape from Hitchcock.

Elijah Wood: Well, [Hitchcock] is so pervasive. He’s part of the fabric of cinema.

NV: Yeah, it’s like saying, “I breathe oxygen.” Well, of course you breathe oxygen. As a filmmaker, I think you are condemned to breathe Hitchcock. It’s part of your DNA from the very beginning. I don’t feel comfortable with “‘Rear Window’ for the 21st Century.” I get a little scared.

What about you Elijah? Is selling a movie like that something that is hard to live up to?

EW: Well, to a certain degree it’s to be expected. This happens with all media where something comes out, whether it’s a record or a film, and people try to contextualize it. What is the easiest way to reference it so people can understand it? It happens in all art forms. So, it’s one of those things that I sort of accept.

The film brings up a lot of interesting themes about technology and privacy and things of that nature. Would you like moviegoers to come out thinking about those more complex ideas, or do you want this film to be consumed solely for its entertainment value?

EW: I feel at its core, regardless of whether it’s on a computer screen or not, it’s a thriller. That’s something we can all relate to in terms of cinema and storytelling. I think if people walk out of the movie with a sense of our relationship with technology and what that is, that’s fine. But I don’t think that’s the intention of the film.

NV: I like the idea of making films that can work both ways. It’s your choice if you want to find something much more profound or interesting in the movie. I don’t care if someone thinks my movies are hollow or meaningful. I’m OK with both.

EW: I think both are definitely there – our relationship to technology and the way we communicate. I think one of the more interesting elements of the film is the moral ambiguity of having an online presence. I mean, we can be moral and innocent individuals and then do things online, that if we were faced with the same actions in real life with actual people, we may not do those things. My character ends up becoming complicit in his actions that he wouldn’t do in real life. But there is a distance that you have online that allows you not to be accountable for your actions. If there is any commentary to this movie, I find that element to be the most fascinating. I think we’re all guilty of doing or saying things online to people that we wouldn’t do or say in front of their face. Instead, we would write a fucking crazy comment about how much we hate them.

Elijah, as a young actor, do you feel like having that online presence is necessary? Nowadays, if someone doesn’t have a Facebook page, it’s almost like they don’t exist to a certain faction of people. Is it important to stay valid in that way?

EW: To be valid in it, no, not really. I mean, part of me wants to quit all of it.

NV: Yeah, I know what you mean.

EW: But there are certain elements of it that I love. There are elements of Twitter I think are very interesting. For me, I think Twitter is the easiest way to connect with someone without a middle man. You meet people who are of a similar mind, who you may not meet naturally. Also, Facebook is interesting because you can keep in contact with people you don’t see all the time. But I could also imagine quitting all of it. It’s a lot of noise.

Nacho, what about you? How much does social media play into your everyday life?

NV: I do have an active presence on Twitter. But you will never hear from me about things that are useful for my career or my image. It’s not helping me as a filmmaker. It might be helping me as a person, but there is no strategy behind it. I’m not promoting myself through Twitter. I’m just posting myself, which is not the same thing. Posting yourself can be appreciated by people. Sometimes people can see that you are a human being. Maybe they can find a connection. It’s not a tool. It’s almost a weapon – a weapon you can use against yourself.

Is the whole idea of privacy something you think about? I mean, when you get up in the morning, are you worried that the NSA is really listening to your phone calls?

EW: It’s just such an abstract idea. I think we understand this as a conceptual thing. It’s probably happening, but it’s so abstract. It’s not like there is someone peering through your window, which is a physical thing that would be very creepy. Yes, the implications are scary, but I also feel by having a presence in the online space you’re automatically giving away some kind of sense of privacy. I think we’re being naïve if we don’t recognize that. I think by having that understanding, we should have a greater responsibility for the fact that we are having public lives online. Mainly, I think the youth need to recognize that. I think people who are younger are sort of flippant about the shit they’ll share with the world. I think it’s important to have a sense of responsibility with who you are in that space.

NV: I think we have a schizophrenic relationship with privacy. If you see a science fiction movie from the 80s about a future dystopia, one of the big fears is being watched and losing your privacy. Now, we have shown that we really don’t care about privacy at all. We don’t give a fuck about it. We know big companies are selling our data to even bigger companies, but we’re OK with that because they’re giving us free stuff.

What about you Sasha? Do you get on your cell phone and worry if someone is listening to your calls?

Sasha Grey: I grew up really paranoid, so, yes, absolutely. (Laughs) But, honestly, I have a feeling that if you’re on the internet at all – if you shop online or use social networking – you’re sort of giving up your right to privacy. I don’t agree that it’s right. I think we have to accept that if we are going to be part of the online community.

EW: I totally agree.

SG: It is scary though.

NV: (Turns to Sasha and Elijah) I haven’t told you this. You know what happened to me two weeks ago? I met a girl who was having an online relationship with someone who was impersonating me through a fake email account for years.

EW: Stop it!

NV: It was so disturbing. I read all the emails. This guy was pretending to be me and asking for photos for a movie.

EW: No!

SG: Oh no!

NV: Yeah, I had to talk to the police and everything. That really freaked me out.

What do you feel is the most annoying thing about technology these days? For example, for me, if I look for a pair of khakis online, I’m buried in khaki advertisements for the next two weeks. Isn’t that something we could live without?

SG: (Laughs) That can be obnoxious, especially if somebody sends you and email and you open it and then you’re being targeted for ads for whatever that email is related to. You’re like, “I’m not even interested in that!”

EW: Yeah, or LinkedIn.

SG: LinkedIn! Oh, LinkedIn is the worst!

EW: I am tired of getting LinkedIn requests.

SG: Yeah, I don’t know you and I don’t want to be on LinkedIn!

EW: Yeah, I’ve got my own file to get in contact with people. I don’t need LinkedIn!

Sasha, you’ve been doing more mainstream films for a few years now. What are you looking to get out of this new career now that you’ve put the adult entertainment world behind you? Have you felt the cutthroat nature of this industry yet?

SG & EW: (Laugh wildly)

SG: I’ll answer the last part first: Yes I have, absolutely. But I have a pretty strong backbone. I’m used to putting up with bullshit. At the same time, there are always great people like Nacho and Elijah to work with. That’s what I look forward to. I look forward to cultivating relationships with people I admire. With [“Open Windows”], I was a fan of [Vigalondo’s last film] “Timecrimes,” so when I heard Nacho was making another film, I had my manager get in touch with his manager. It’s not always that easy, and it wasn’t along the way. It still took several months and I didn’t know if I was going to get the part. I always feel more comfortable when I get to meet with the filmmaker beforehand and develop some sort of communication because that’s what helps you along the way. Once you start filming, that relationship is already there even if you’ve only met a few times. Sometimes going in blindly to auditions, you’re just another person in the room. So, I want to keep acting and keep challenging myself. The hard part is to get those roles, but I’m down for the challenge.

EW: I see you as a filmmaker, too. You’re such a cinephile. You’re so motivated by your love of movies. I see you eventually moving beyond acting into something else in the realm of cinema.

NV: It should seem obvious that someone who works in movies would love movies, but it’s not like that. [Sasha and Elijah] really like movies. It’s really interesting to share opinions with them. I really hate meeting people who make movies but don’t really like watching movies.

EW: How could you be in this industry and not love movies?

SG: They love fame.

EW: I guess. I just couldn’t be satisfied with acting alone. So much of what motivates me as an actor is working with people like Nacho and being a part of cinema. That has more to do with what I’m doing than just filling a role.

“Open Windows” premiered at SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.