Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Leland Orser & Riley Stearns – Faults – SXSW 2014

March 12, 2014 by  
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For his debut feature film, director Riley Stearns didn’t have to look far to find his leading lady. As a starring vehicle for character actor Leland Orser and co-starring Stearns’ wife, actress Mary Elizabeth Winstead, “Faults” tells the story of a cult expert who, at a cost to her concerned parents, kidnaps a woman who has enlisted in a cult and attempted to “deprogram” her. In a sit down in Austin where “Faults” made its world premiere at the 2014 South by Southwest Film Festival, the trio and I discussed the recent onslaught of cult films, how the film found its tone, and the one scene in the film everyone was intimidated by.

Riley, at the premiere last night you said that you had written the script about a year ago, which is a rather quick turnaround. I wanted to start off by asking what the process has been like, starting with a script a year ago moving through and having your premiere last night.

Riley Stearns: It’s surreal, in the best possible way. When something happens that fast, you almost don’t have time to process it, which is kind of nice too when its your first feature. It’s not knowing what to expect and trying not to have expectations period. When it happens that fast and when you get into South by Southwest, you’re just along for the ride and its really nice. Honestly, it’s a little bit of an out of body experience. Last night, I didn’t even know what I was saying during the intro. It was better than when I introed my short at Sundance. I was scared out of my mind at Sundance. Because I had gone through it with the short, I was a little better last night.

Mary Elizabeth Winstead: You don’t have time to overthink it, which is a good thing.

RS: Overthinking. Exactly. You don’t do that.

I want to start off with the script. I know the script was on the Black List and for both Mary and Leland, as actors, what attracted you most about the script?

MEW: For me, it was reading the script as it was being written and, of course, I was along for the ride before it even started. Once I read the first few pages I was like, “Oh my god.” [Riley] had done these short films and they were all great and it was so clear from the first page of the script that he had found his voice and he had found what he was meant to be doing and the tone he was meant to be doing. I was so excited that he found that and couldn’t wait to read the rest of it. When I read the whole thing I was really excited and really scared to play this part. I really wanted to be right for him and for this script that was so incredible. I could not have been more proud and excited that we were going to go on this adventure together.

Leland Orser: It’s one of the best scripts I’ve read, period, and it’s one of the great characters. To me, it’s the classic tragic hero and there was no question in my mind it’s the kind of thing you’d give your right arm for. A script like this doesn’t come across your desk every day. I kept looking over my shoulder and wandering if I was being punk’d. “Who’s fuckin’ with me here?” you know?

RS: Not a lot of stuff, I’d say, is from one character’s perspective the entire time. For better or for worse, we’re with Ansel the entire time.

LO: There’s 69 scenes in the film and he’s in 68 of them.

As far as the subject matter goes, I’ve noticed lately that we’ve seen a lot more movies about cults. We’ve had “Sound Of My Voice” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene.” What exactly drew you to the subject of diving into cults and the people in them?

RS: There have been a lot of films in the past few years that do have that subject matter but even though they had done it, I knew the way that I wanted to do it and the tone and the world that I wanted to live in. I had something else to say about it and I love both “Martha Marcy May Marlene” and “Sound Of My Voice” and “The Master,” but I knew that there were other deprogramming films like “Holy Smoke” and “Split Image” and both are really great, but I didn’t watch those before I wrote the script. I was aware that they were out there but I didn’t want to be influenced by them or say I can’t do this because they already kind of did it. That’s something that you get in your head and say “I have to be different.” Instead, I let it live and do its own thing and I think that there’s more than enough room in the world of cult films for another cult film. I think people enjoy it and I think people are innately fascinated by cults. That’s how you get involved with groups like that. There’s a mystique about it that is weird and creepy and interesting. There’s so much stuff there to work with.

I want to talk about the tone of the film, especially with Leland. A lot of the funnier scenes in the film are with your character but you almost play them pretty straight. What did you think of the tone and implementing comedic elements and finding the right balance?

LO: It was very challenging. We talked a lot about what influences, what inspirations, what characters, what films to reference. We had those in place. We’d watch them. We’d talk about them. We talked about what we wanted to be influenced by from particular sources. I knew all along that humor was important. You can do a film humorless and go for virtual hardcore stripped down drama. As an actor, to play humor or comedy, you have to play truth. It’s only funny because it’s true. It was a fine line to walk. I had in the back of my mind Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin. I didn’t want to, like, do a funny walk but it was something silent about the pathos of Ansel. They were out there somehow in my sphere of consciousness. If you can establish the tone in the beginning, you can take the audience anywhere. If you can get them laughing, which means that they are feeling for the character, you can do whatever you need to do with them for the rest of the ride.

So you all felt that the opening scene was pretty essential for developing the tone?

RS: The first 10 pages I ever wrote of this movie was that scene and it didn’t change at all. That was always the movie to me. That opening scene tells you exactly what you’re in for. It’s sad. It’s funny. It’s a little violent at the end. It’s also a deliberate shot. We want to tell you there are going to be a lot of long takes, and it’s performance driven. It kind of said everything I wanted to say. But when you’re writing it, you’re not thinking about it that way. You’re just like, “This is how you set up like Ansel.” When something like that just happens it’s nice and it definitely influences the rest of the film.

LO: When we shot it, we knew we were going to do it in one take. We knew there was a zoom. We knew there were certain foods and condiments that needed to be consumed. You know, you just sort of go, “Okay, let’s try it and see what’s gonna happen.” And it’s a long sequence. At the end of it, when it was finished and Riley yelled, “Cut,” everybody burst out, including myself, laughing because it was so fuckin’ funny.

RS: People we’re applauding. There were crew members who were applauding. It was just raucous. I posted an Instagram with you from that but with you blurred recently and one of our crew members posted “that was my favorite scene that I’ve ever shot in a film.” So we had fun with that. We shot pretty much chronologically so it was near the beginning of the shoot so it set a good tone from the crew.

LO: And it made us laugh.

RS: Yes. Which is good. And very important. And you didn’t have to eat too much that day. You can be the first person we tell that Leland ate 30 vegan pancakes in the diner scene and…

LO: …and didn’t hurl.

That’s impressive.

RS: And I felt terrible. But it was him! I kept saying “On this shot, you’re not actually on screen.” And hes like “I’ll eat anyway.”

Everyone: (Laughs)

LO: They were good!

Mary, in your performance, you get to show a lot of sides and a lot of different emotions. What was it like playing a character where you could change from scene to scene?

MEW: It was really great. It was simultaneously really exciting for me and really scary for me because I just didn’t know if I would get it right or not when we were working on it. It seemed really daunting to me to get all that right without going into some sort of culty territory. I was really afraid of it coming across as spacey or cliché. But as soon as everything came together and the cast came together and the costumes and the sets…as soon as I walked into that environment I was like, “Oh. This is just what it’s supposed to be.” And the rest of it was so stress free and fun. I enjoyed every moment of it and got to revel in this character. It was one of the best set experiences, acting experiences that I’ve ever had.

What about the shoot? Most of it takes place in a hotel room or around the complex. Was it a fast and quick shoot?

RS: It was an 18-day shoot, pretty much. It moved fast. We had to know what we were going to do. We had to be prepared. Everyone knew their lines. You show up, you do the work and that’s how I like to work. If we’re going to do it, let’s just do it.

Leland, when we meet your character he’s kind of in a bad spot, so to speak. Did you feel at any point he was in control and the cult expert he claims to be?

LO: The thing with Ansel is that just when you think he hits his bottom, he finds another bottom and another bottom that goes lower and lower and lower. When we meet him, his life is out of control and yet he is in his own way controlling all the things that he can control. We slowly watch him really completely lose control. But at a certain point in the film, he’s 100 percent in control. When he meets Claire, he’s 100 percent in control. But we find him at a very low point in his life. Ten years past the loss of his career and his wife but then he meets her parents and recaptures control.

RS: So he thinks.

Were there any particular moments from the script that you really looked forward to shooting and one that you saw that might be difficult to shoot?

RS: I think we all know what the most difficult scene was.

MEW: The most daunting scene.

LO: There’s one scene in the film, [the bathroom scene], that is 12 pages long and it loomed.

MEW: It was towards the end of the shoot.

LO: It was in the pit of my stomach the entire time. Like, “It’s fine, it’s not until next week.”

MEW: And we had always talked about rehearsing it too and we were like, “We have to rehearse that scene. We gotta get that scene down.” We just never got around to rehearsing it. Then we got to the day and said, “Okay. We’ve never said these lines out loud to each other. Let’s just get out here and do it.”

LO: I dreaded it. I was scared of it.

RS: You guys did it. And it works because you guys were afraid of it, I think, and you gave it that respect that it needed.

LO: It’s an entire movie in 12 pages. It’s an entire narrative arc within the film. So many things happen in that scene and again, the responsibility…you just want to get it right. When the camera is on and images are being captured, you want to be where you’re supposed to be when that’s happening. All of you, together. All the technical aspects. The performances of both actors. It’s very, very, very intense.

RS: My scene that I was looking forward to shooting the most was this scene. (Laughs) Because as a director when you get to sit there and watch two people perform, you don’t have to do anything. I mean, you do. But when they’re getting it and you get to sit back and watch things work, it couldn’t be any cooler. It’s the best thing. When they surprise you, it’s the best.

“Faults” premiered at SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

Nicolas Cage and David Gordon Green – Joe – SXSW 2014

March 12, 2014 by  
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Premiering at SXSW this past week, “Joe” brings Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage back to his indie roots in the title role as the hard-living, hot-tempered, ex-con Joe Ransom, who is just trying to dodge his instincts for trouble – until he meets a hard-luck kid played by Tye Sheridan (“Mud”) who awakens in him a fierce and tender-hearted protector.

The story begins as Joe hires teenaged Gary Jones and his destitute father onto his “tree- poisoning” crew for a lumber company. Joe might be notoriously reckless with his pick-up, his dog and especially with women, but he sees something in Gary that gets to him: a determination, a raw decency and a sense of resilience he can barely believe in anymore. Gary has truly had nothing in life – he’s never spent a day at school – yet something drives him to take care of his family, to keep his sister safe when his father turns monstrous, to hang onto hope of a better future. Joe and Gary forge an unlikely bond. When Gary finds himself facing a threat greater than he knows how to handle, he turns to Joe – and sets off a chain of events that play out with the brutal inevitability of tragedy and the beauty of a last stab at salvation.

Shot on location in Texas, the film features Nicolas Cage, Tye Sheridan, Gary Poulter and Ronnie Gene Blevins leading a cast made up of a mix of indie actors and non-actors cast off the streets of Austin, Texas.

“Joe” screened as a part of SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

SXSW 2014 Review – Animals

March 12, 2014 by  
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Starring: David Dastmalchian, Kim Shaw
Directed by: Colin Schiffli (debut)
Written by: David Dastmalchian (debut)

Jude (David Dastmalchian) and Bobbie (Kim Shaw) are always chasing their next heroin fix in the indie drama “Animals.” Living in their decrepit 1980s sedan parked outside Chicago’s Lincoln Park Zoo, the couple fences stolen CDs, poses as wedding guests to raid the gift table, and con potential johns in an elaborate prostitution scheme, all in an effort to scrape together enough cash to purchase more of the narcotics that are rapidly destroying their lives and their relationship. They imagine themselves the happy couple one step away from figuring their lives out, when the reality is their lifestyle will likely end in arrest or death.

Written by Dastmalchian (who just picked up a prize for Special Jury Recognition for Courage in Storytelling at SXSW for this film) crafts a bleak narrative of a young couple truly in love and truly destroying one another, but isn’t afraid to let Jude and Bobbie have a few moments of real happiness. Director Colin Schiffli keeps the film grounded in reality, poking his camera in between the seats of their crappy car to catch the desperation as money runs outs or the drugs don’t work as well anymore. If there’s anything that doesn’t ring true, it’s that Dastmalchian and Shaw are probably a little too clean and pretty to be destitute heroin addicts living day to day in their car outside a zoo. But that’s a minor quibble, and doesn’t do anything to dampen the emotional impact of the denouement. Here’s hoping Schiffli and Dastmalchian keep telling stories together.

“Animals” premiered at SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

SXSW 2014 Review – Sequoia

March 12, 2014 by  
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Starring: Aly Michalka, Dustin Milligan, Todd Lowe
Directed by: Andy Landen (debut)
Written by: Andrew Rothschild (debut)

When Riley (Aly Michalka), a brash young woman from a broken home, is diagnosed with stage 3 oral cancer, she decides to forego chemotherapy and the indignity of having surgery to remove her jaw and instead chooses to end her life on her own terms: swallowing a cocktail of pills and slipping away peacefully amid the majesty of Sequoia National Park.

Riley’s carefully orchestrated plans begin to go awry when she crosses paths with Ogden (Dustin Milligan), a kind-hearted would-be musician/missionary. Just as attraction sparks between them, Riley burdens Ogden with the helping her carry out her suicidal agenda. Meanwhile, Riley’s sister (Sophie Bairley), having known of Riley’s plans to kill herself, spills the beans to their father (Todd Lowe), mother (Joey Lauren Adams), and mother’s boyfriend (Demetri Martin), sending them all off a mad dash to save Riley’s life.

Riley’s arc exists almost entirely independent of the rest of her family, giving “Sequoia” the feeling of two movies going on parallel to one another instead of part of the same narrative. Riley’s and Ogden’s journey is melancholy and heartfelt, the frame filled with the natural beauty of Sequioa National Park. On the other hand, the scenes of Riley’s family coming to her rescue feel as though they’ve been stretched too far with too little story. The script attempts to draw out the 3 and a half hour journey from Los Angeles to Sequoia to an overnight road trip by throwing in a confusing detour for Demetri Martin’s (the only cast member who feels out of place) character just so Riley and Ogden have a realistic amount of time for their relationship to blossom.

Faults aside, “Sequoia” is a wonderful dramatic showcase for Michalka, previously known for Disney Channel fare and supporting roles in comedies like “Easy A.” And Milligan shines in a role that would be easy for those godless liberal monsters in Hollywood to mock: a young, white Christian male. Their relationship, while likely doomed no matter if Riley’s suicide attempt is successful, feels as authentic and beautiful as the park the film shares its name with.

“Sequoia” premiered at SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

Virginia Madsen – The Wilderness of James – SXSW 2014

March 11, 2014 by  
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In “The Wilderness of James,” which had its world premiere at SXSW this week, Academy Award nominated actress Virginia Madsen plays the mother of a James, (Kodi Smit-McPhee) a boy who explores the city of Portland while dealing with the death of his father. With our phone interview taking place the night after the Oscars, I spoke with Madsen about her awards run with the film “Sideways” as well as discussing the aspects of parenting a teenager, and working with Smit-McPhee.

Since we had the Oscars last night, I wanted to see if you had any favorite memories from the awards run you had with “Sideways,” which was almost a decade ago.

Oh, I have so many wonderful memories of that. That was everything I dreamed it would be when I was 5 years old. It was a perfect day from the moment I woke up and I think Estee Lauder sent me this massage with a bath of rose petals and I had a Versace dress. I stepped on the red carpet with all these actors that I admired and I was with all these people that I made a movie with. It was an extraordinary experience and even down to when they open the envelope and you have the loser cam in your face. It was really hard not to laugh because you always wonder what that’s going to be like when they’re filming your reaction. I was quite certain that Cate Blanchett was going to win. I was 99% sure that she was going to go home with the gold statue so I was really happy for her. I loved her performance so much and she’s an actress that I’ve admired so much and I thought she should have gotten the Oscar for “Elizabeth.” Even that was perfect. I loved that whole experience. It was a wonderful ride and a wonderful film. I made it to the big dance! I got to be Cinderella! And I didn’t have to be home at midnight.

Switching gears to “The Wilderness of James,” how did you become involved with this film?

Well this was a standout script. It was very well written. It was a beautiful story and most of my work has been in small independent films. This was a tiny, tiny budget with a first time director. I knew Kodi (Smit-McPhee) as a young actor.  But it was the script that brought me to this project. Everyone was passing it around because it was so good. I’m always drawn to good writing. I was looking for material and new filmmakers. I wanted to work with first-timers. That’s exciting to me because they are so passionate.

The film is largely about James having some difficulties dealing with the loss of his father. How did you feel that your character was dealing with the loss of her husband?

That’s such an interesting question because that was something that we didn’t really have the time to illustrate. We didn’t have too much time to tell my story. She’s obviously a very capable woman who sort of moved on because she had to. She had to take care of this very special, sensitive child. I think she put all of her focus into that and not her own grief. That’s what you do as a mother. You don’t think about your own business. You think about them. She has a successful business, this wasn’t a woman in grief. This was all about her son.

We do see her often drinking wine and it’s even something that James brings up. Did you see that as hinting towards your character not having good coping skills?

We wanted to be very careful with that because we didn’t want to make it seem like his mom was an alcoholic. But mom is spending way too much time alone. Both of these characters are spending way too much time alone. They’re not moving on. So that was the one place that I got to illustrate her dysfunction. She’s alone at night, he’s asleep. That was her routine. She drinks too much. But during the day she’s functioning. She wasn’t a drunk. But that’s when you saw the chink in her armor. Women who do that in secret, when their kids become teenagers, they know that’s what you’re doing. So it’s very obvious to him what his mothers problems were. I thought that was very revealing.

It almost feels like there’s a couple of losses going on in the film. You have the obvious physical loss of a father and a spouse but you also have your character who seems to be losing control of James. Can you talk about where you felt your character was as far as her mindset of trying to keep James in line or did you feel like she was losing him at all?

That’s what happens when you have a teenager. You do lose. My son is grown, but I had just gone through that with him. I think in many ways, teenagers are teaching their parents to let them go. As parents, it’s a fine line between letting them have their freedom and still having the keys to the cell. You kind of have to be a jailer sometimes. You have to know when to hold them and when to let them have freedom. She was in this delicate place of trying to let him stick up for himself. But also, hoping he wouldn’t kill himself in the process. Because I had just been through that as a mother, I loved being able to play that. She’s a really good mother. She wasn’t hysterical the way I was in real life. (laughs) She was very together, trying to let him do his thing. But also, girls are very emotional and very hormonal when they go through that. Boys are full of secrets. Boys get quiet. But boys are reckless and they do things that endanger their lives. And sneaking out is a part of that. So much of what they go through at that age, we know nothing about. Any parent who thinks they know all about their teenager is lying to themselves. They are in a huge amount of denial. And I loved his whole secret world that he discovers and how as a young boy he discovers himself. A parent can’t do that for their child. When they are at that age, they are still a child, but they are becoming a young man. So I loved the story of what a boy goes through during that year. When they come out the other end of it, it’s not usually with one cathartic moment, but they are better for having gone through it. It’s hard to see them do that as a mother, but they have to. It’s a vision quest, in a way. We don’t live in a time when a man would go to battle or go on a walk about. We live in modern, urban settings, so the boys have to go through it internally and they have to act out in all kinds of crazy ways. You see all the kids in the movie going through their own version of that. Whoever said that high school was the best years of their lives is a sad, pathetic person. (laughs) It’s the worst time! It’s the hardest part to go through! I loved that they investigated this story not as a bad kid or not as “let’s play rock and roll and do some ecstasy!” It’s far more complicated. It’s not just rebelling against your parents, it’s finding yourself. They rarely show that in movies. They show a lot of adults having a “coming of age.” They don’t tell those stories very well with teenagers and I thought this movie did that so beautifully.

I interviewed (co-star) Kodi Smit-McPhee last week and he talked a lot about really loving shooting the film in Portland and how it was a character in the film. Did you feel the same way?

I loved being there. It was cold and very rainy. It’s a very unusual place. It has it’s own personality as a town. It’s a very young town. Their motto is “where young people go to retire.” There’s a lot of artists running around. There’s food trucks everywhere. You feel like you’re living in this big artist commune, in a way. Our filmmakers were from Portland and we felt like we were in our own little bubble. We had the keys to the city and the town was so glad to have the film there and I think there’s some things in the movie that are certainly universal when it comes to this teenagers tale, but there’s also a lot of things that are specific to Portland.

Close to the end of the film, there’s a really emotional scene between you and Kodi that is great.

Isn’t he wonderful?

Yeah, both of you are so great in it. What was it like working with Kodi in that scene in particular?

Kodi’s got more than talent. Kodi’s got a lot of skill and he knows how to access his emotions quite easily. He’s an actor who arrives with all his lines memorized. He comes to work having done a lot of homework and that’s very unusual for a young actor. Sometimes they think that they need to behave badly in order to be a good actor and bad behavior has nothing to do with acting. Kodi comes to work with everything worked out, man. But he’s very, very open to direction. So we had a very quiet set and Kodi just sat there and simply told the story. He didn’t put frosting on it. He didn’t put too much emotion into it. I just sat there and listened. It was so simple, what he did. It took me decades to learn how to be an actor like that, to keep it simple and tell a story. Kodi already knows how to do that, so that was really beautiful to watch an actor work like that, no matter what age. It was really beautiful to watch him and I sort of felt like his mom. I was so proud that he could accomplish that. It was like listening to someone read a poem. He’s really something.

“The Wilderness of James” screened as a part of SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

Jenny Slate – Obvious Child – SXSW 2014

March 11, 2014 by  
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Most people will know Jenny Slate for her smaller character roles on shows like “Kroll Show” or “Parks and Recreation.” Or perhaps even as the cast member who accidentally dropped an F-bomb during her very first SNL appearance a few years back. But after many years of guest roles and live performances, the very funny and very talented Slate is ready for the spotlight and it shows in her upcoming film “Obvious Child.” In our sit down conversation at the SXSW festival in Austin, Jenny and I talk about tackling the tough subject of abortion head on, using comedy as a way to heal, and what her ultimate dream project would be.

Since this is one of the first films where you’re really in the lead, I wanted to start by asking about what the process was like of making the movie and taking it to Sundance and getting distribution and everything.

The script was being worked on for a while and I was lucky enough to be consulted and be involved with it, so I felt very close to the script once we got started. In terms of carrying the film and being the lead actress, that just was such a dream. It is really nice to be able to go to work every day and to be needed and to have a character you can plug into so consistently. I think there are different reasons why people want to be movie stars or have the main role and I came out of the shoot itself, which was 18 days, being like, Yeah, the reason why I want to do this, now I know more than ever, is because I love the consistent of being active on such a high level and that your work needs to be done and needs to be good. A lot of the jobs I have, I’m the guest star in. I like the work that I do, but somebody else could have done it. I like this because I felt like the job was mine and nobody could have done it the way that I did it. That’s how much I got to dig into it. Other people could have done a great job, but I made it my own. Finding distribution and getting into festivals was more Gillian (Robespierre) the director and Liz our producers job. I tried not to think about it. Whether or not it would get into places. I didn’t see the cut or do ADR where I saw the film. I felt like when we wrapped, that was enough for me. It was such a good experience that I reminded myself that what is important to me is the experience and not what the experience leads to, because why would you do that? Why would you take away from it? I tried to think about it casually, but once we got to Sundance it really hit me that other people will see this now. Something that was so private and so precious. It’s really nice when people see it.

Your character in the film is a stand up comedian. How close is her material to yours in your stand up career?

The style is the same. I’m very personal. I’m sort of an oversharer. But the stand up itself is Donna’s. It’s about her life. Gillian had written some and then had points she wanted me to hit on and I improvised off of her points and the scripts. So in that way it is my style because that’s the only way I know how to do stand up. I was concerned with the stand up not seeming real, so I was very happy to lend my style to it. The subject matter itself isn’t really like my stand up because I don’t talk about relationships. I don’t have anything really funny to say about my relationships with my husband. I try to keep my marriage out of it because it’s too special, but I love to tell stories about my childhood because it’s a way to get to know people and for them to get to know me.

One thing I found interesting about the movie was that your character makes her decision to get an abortion and any back and forth she has is off camera. She makes a decision and she goes through with it. Was that intentional, to show her making a decision and sticking with it?

Well, that was her experience. We didn’t take any parts out. For Donna, she’s not ready to be a mother. It’s not right for her. It was a mistake that she got pregnant and she’s going to have the abortion. She jokes about it. Like “maybe I should start my beautiful life with him.” She knows she shouldn’t. She’s clear on that and a lot of women…that’s not the issue that they have. It’s the logistics. It’s the pressures of society. What I would be most concerned with if I was going through this experience is that when the opportunity presents itself to have or not have a child, you have a lot of different lives and life options that are suddenly laid out in front of you. Just because you decide not to do them doesn’t mean you’re not affected by that choice. I think because womens rights are being so limited by some people, there’s the feeling that we have to be very, very, very fierce and not let anything bother us in terms of the decisions we make about our bodies. But it is okay to let things bother us. That’s our right, to have a full human experience. And that’s what Donna has as well. There are tears; they are just about a lot of different things. Not just about a baby or no baby.

There’s a scene in the film where Donna folds this experience into her stand up and the first thing I thought of was (comedian) Tig Nataro doing an entire stand up set about her breast cancer diagnosis. I was wondering if you pulled any influence from that and also are you the kind of person who looks at humor as a cathartic experience for sad or dark things.

This was written before Tig did her show. Tig’s a friend of mine and I was really, really moved by her performance but this was before that. It’s kind of a strange coincidence. But I like the comparison because I like what she did. I do think of humor as a way to become more agile in situations that are more stiff. I tend to be in a constant state of catharsis. (laughs) I’m not very repressed. When I want something to go out, it just goes out. I’m sensitive and I cry a lot and I laugh a lot and I’m loud and sometimes really quiet. It’s all happening. So mostly doing stand up is the same delight that a child has when they have a hair brush and they are standing in front of a fireplace singing a song for their family. It’s just delight. I think I use stand up as a way to be the most happy. I really like people to look at me. (laughs) I really have a “look at me!” thing. So it’s an appropriate way to do that because it’s annoying in life to be like that all the time.

So the relationship between Donna and Max seems like it shouldn’t work. It’s unexpected. What was it like playing that and what were your thoughts when you saw that in the script?

I love it. I love imagining her being like, “Your friends are so nice, but so weird. Why are you at a sports bar on the upper west side?” I like that they have different worlds and that what they have in common is the way that they communicate. They have a connection immediately. I like that they are both smart people. I think that’s often the basis of a good relationship, even if you have different lifestyles. Both people are interested in how the other person is intelligent. I think their relationship works and I love an odd couple. I was delighted by it. I was really glad that wasn’t just like a hot hipster. He’s like a hunky jock wearing khaki’s. I think that’s perfect.

You’ve mentioned that this is a very interesting time for this movie to come out given the political issues and women’s rights. Do you feel any sort of responsibility for telling this side of the story or this point of view? Do you feel like you’re doing a service?

Well…you know, we’ve said that the film is not an agenda movie. It’s not an “abortion movie.” But I think that all women and all humans have the responsibility to make sure we have equal rights. So yeah, I feel that responsibility very greatly. I’m happy to be involved in a project that depicts a safe procedure. And honestly as a woman, I’m just happy to be involved in a movie that depicts this type of female character in general. You know, very multi-dimensional, very human, very smart, flawed in non-stereotypical ways. There’s a lot of responsibility if you’re somebody that’s creative, because it does matter what you put out into the world. It does. I think that. And I think that the more I can create things that can encourage people to stand up for their rights and to treat each other well and to have self respect, I think that’s something I can be something satisfied with.

After you’ve had this experience of taking the lead role and going to work and having everything on your shoulders…Is that something that you are going to keep doing more of? You’re so great in your small roles on “Kroll Show” or “Parks and Recreation.” Which direction would you like to head?

I’d like to do it all, honestly. I’d really like to work every single day of my life because it also means that I get to be playful and creative. I get bored really easily and lonely very easily so I like to be on sets. I always knew even as a kid that I would belong and be happy. Right now I’m filming a series that’s on FX, and that’s my first regular role. So I guess in my dream world I get to be on my series and go back and pop into “Parks and Rec” and “Kroll Show” and “House of Lies” and “Bob’s Burgers” when I can. And make like, 2-3 really good movies a year. That’s what I would like.

And continue to do stand up?

And continue to do stand up. And I was saying to my mom this morning that I would really like to be on a shampoo commercial where my hair is really beautiful or a commercial where I wash my face and someone thinks of me as a woman with clean hair and a clean face.

“Obvious Child” screened as a part of SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Wilderness of James – SXSW 2014

March 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Even though he is only 17 years old, Kodi Smit-McPhee could certainly be considered a seasoned actor. Breaking out in 2009’s “The Road,” Smit-McPhee has shown ability to act beyond his years in films like “Let Me In,” and the upcoming “A Birder’s Guide To Everything.” His latest indie venture, “The Wilderness of James,” which is a story about a boy exploring a city and new people in the wake of the loss of his father premieres at this years SXSW festival in Austin. I spoke with Smit-McPhee about dark themes in his movies, the difference between working in indies and studio films, and a quick fascination with sharing the same name.

Publicist: Cody, You’re on with Kodi!

Hey Cody!

Hey Kodi! How ya doin’?

(laughs) Good, dude. I’m gonna interview you today.

Oh…that would be awesome.


So I’m going to start off a little dark, if that’s okay with you.

No problem. I’m used to it.

For such a young actor, a lot of the films you have done have had some dark themes in them. Does getting to act in those types of films appeal to you?

Definitely. I always try to choose quality stories that pull strings within me or ones that I know will make an audience think or go to different places. I think most of the dramatic stuff is in that area. I just love the feeling of being able to go there within a movie and not having to obviously go there in real life. Then everyone in the audience gets to go on that emotional adventure. I’d definitely like to spread it around. I want to do some comedies and stuff part of the time.

Kinda staying on the same thing, I’ve noticed that in “The Road,” “A Birder’s Guide to Everything,” and now “The Wilderness of James” your character has had a parent who has died. Is that difficult to tackle? Where do you draw your inspiration for that?

Interesting thing you picked up there. It’s such an interesting thing, acting…literally having to pull something out of nowhere that you’ve never experienced before. Especially horrible things like that. Really it’s just the same kind process every time. I just read the script as much as I can and I try and choose all of the information out of it as possible and try and get as much thoughts from my character out of the script. From there, I’ll create the character myself and start pulling things out of the box. I think it’s within just knowing the character so well and jumping in and out of it that you can go to those places. It’s just after getting the wisdom of the character that you get that freedom.

Were you able to use anything you learned in those previous movies to help understand James as a character?

James is a very different character. I’ve never really played one like it. All of my characters have been inside themselves and thinking a lot, but James is that times a million. He’s really created a world for himself and it’s just about him going about his normal life while trying to live this crazy one that he’s created. The film also captures Portland and the vibe of Portland so it’s a real mixed feeling. It’s cool.

In the film, James has a morbid fascination with death that we see. Did you take that as a way of him coping with the loss of his father? What was your take on that?

Definitely. I think what’s happening James’ life is going extremely deep and I think it may happen all around the world when people deal with these things. I think he took on that horrible vibe of what he saw his father do and that was his only way of dealing with it. Being obsessed with death and keeping that with him, because that’s all he knew of his father, kind of. It’s the last thing he left behind. As he says in the movie, that’s his wilderness, not his own. So James needs to move on. So that’s what its all about. How he dealt with it and how he let go.

Along those lines, he has sort of a rebellion in the movie. He’s hanging out with some people who probably aren’t the best influences. Do you think that continues on the theme of not having the best coping skills?

Definitely. I think after that happened to him when he was younger, it had an extreme domino effect on his life and how he interacted with people and I think he got extremely comfortable within himself.

What about building James as a character? I know you said that you like building your own characters. How much input did you have on building James?

What was prominent in the script was that it was extremely explanatory of James’ thinking and it really gave me a lot to think about. I think the script described him really well and then when I got to talk with (director) Michael [James Johnson] and got to talk about his point of view on the character and I was grateful that he let me do my thing with the character and take it to different places.

What about the relationship with Evan Ross’ and Isabelle Fuhrman’s characters? One of them isn’t really the best influence on James, but James also seems pretty isolated. How did you see those characters interacting with and impacting his life?

I think that it’s a mirror image of real life. It shows you have to go to different places out of the box to then come back and change things. It just shows how he starts leaving the house and following the sound of the wilderness. Exploring Portland with those kind of character misfit characters. I think it’s really showing that life was trying to get him back on track and that was the only way to do it. To let him be himself.

You’ve brought up Portland a few times. A lot of times you’ll hear people describe cities as characters in movies. Did you feel that way about Portland?

Oh, absolutely. I totally think Portland was such a big character in the movie. Even just when I’d have meetings with Michael…I’d only been to Portland once, for “The Road,” and we were shooting in totally different areas so I didn’t get the feel of real Portland. Michael had such a love for his hometown and he would always explain it to me and I was like “Man, I can’t wait to get there.” It’s one of the coolest experiences of my life. It’s such a cool, young, hip town and I totally think it played a big part in the movie.

Did you ever get the feeling that James was in over his head, so to speak? Like he was taking on things that he shouldn’t have been doing considering his age?

Absolutely. Absolutely. I think obviously after what happened to his dad…that’s an extremely serious thing, but he then created a whole negative vibe within himself and created a cockiness and a thing he had to portray every single day of his life…just going deeper and deeper within the rabbit hole until he hit a wall and he has to split off and go through his town and meet crazy people to be free and go back to being normal. That’s awesome that you picked that up. I totally agree. He created a horrible, cocky characteristic for himself.

I think the scene that sticks out to me the most is towards the end of the film where you’re having this really emotional scene with your mother in the film, Virginia Madsen. At this stage of the career, do you enjoy having these roles where you’re in every scene and you have the responsibility of carrying the emotional weight of the movie. Do you see that as a challenge? How do you approach that?

I always see those little parts in the script as like…you get a feeling of like…that day is going to be something different within me and that’ll be a bit of a challenge but it’s kind of like you can only control it within the moment. I think that’s what all acting is about. Once you get the wisdom of the character, and once I know it so well…and usually you do those things at the end of the movie, once you’ve been on the whole journey with the character. We did that by the end of it and I knew James so well and I was so ready for that moment. I do like that. I never really think of that as holding the emotion upon my shoulders but just another moment that will connect things together and have people feeling a lot of emotion. I really like that.

The last couple of movies of yours have been smaller independent films. On the horizon looking forward, you’ve got a lot of bigger budget studio movies coming up. I’m sure you like them equally, but what is the difference between the approaches for those two types of movies?

They definitely are two different kind of worlds and processes. I feel like indie films, the process itself is always really fresh and finding itself and always such a fun, kind of youthful adventures. It’s usually a first director, or shot in a small town where every one knows each other. There’s always quality stories running through the veins of indie films. But also, there’s some really great studio films out there. The first studio film I did was “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” and that was definitely a different experience. There’s so many people and it’s everything times a million. It’s also the same great people and great experience. I love both and as long as there’s quality stories between both genres, that’s totally cool with me.

I saw “A Birder’s Guide to Everything” at Austin Film Festival in October. I liked it, I thought you were really good in it. Is there anything that sticks out to you about that film? Was it one of the first films that you felt that you were in charge of emotionally? Or what was that like for you as a milestone as an actor?

“A Birder’s Guide to Everything” was exploring different bodies of characters I could do. Also, working with Sir Ben Kingsley was insane. That was amazing. I think that was a film that reminded of the nostalgic “The Breakfast Club” and “The Goonies” and “Stand By Me.” I love those films so much. So to kind of create one of those in a new generation was a really cool thing to do. I think that character was something I’ve never played before. Kind of nerdy, still vulnerable and something horrible happened in his life as well. It’s about growing up and dealing with things.

You’ve been acting for most of your childhood and you continue to do so. Do you think that there’s a key to transitioning from child actor, to teenage actor where you are now, to eventually going on to be an adult actor? Or do you think it’s a natural progression?

I think it’s a bit of both. It’s obviously natural because we’re going to change and the roles have to evolve and change with you. It’s always a little bit of a tough transition but it’s really about the team and choosing quality things that are smart to do. It’s kind of a game to switch to the transitions. But I think I’m really happy with what I’m doing and I think the transition worked out really great and I’m still changing and doing different things. I still have to show people my comedy and I’m really enjoying myself.

“The Wilderness of James” premiered at SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

SXSW 2014 Review – No No: A Dockumentary

March 9, 2014 by  
Filed under Uncategorized

Starring: Dock Ellis
Directed by: Jeff Radice (debut)

Perhaps best known for throwing a no hitter in 1970 while tripping on LSD, former Pittsburgh Pirate Dock Ellis participated in his fair share of substance abuse during his 11 year MLB career. In “No No: A Documentary,” director Jeff Radice chronicles the growth, prominence and struggles of Ellis’ life.

With a story as fascinating as throwing a no hitter while under the influence of LSD, “No No” spends a surprisingly small amount of time on the game itself. Being a circumstance that has likely never happened before or since in sports, there is so much information left untapped. There’s also a lot of information about how “everyone” in baseball was taking performance enhancing drugs before they were outlawed. Once again, the film might have benefitted from a closer look at Dock’s ability to compete at the major league level while either high or drunk during every game he ever played, according to him. After his career ended, Ellis also became a drug counselor and spoke out against his actions as a drug addict. As has become a theme, the film spends such little time on that element as well, which is arguably the most interesting part of the film.

While “No No: A Dockumentary” has plenty of old footage, 70’s music, and interviews with those closest to Dock, and even Dock himself, the film suffers from a lack of narrative focus and perhaps too wide of a scope into the aspects and details of Ellis’ life. Still, it’s an interesting story and well put-together, even if it feels like something that would be better suited for an ESPN’s “30 For 30” series.

This film screened as a part of SXSW 2014.

For more coverage of SXSW 2014, click here.

SXSW 2014 Film Coverage

March 9, 2014 by  
Filed under CineBlog


Chef | by Kiko Martinez
Only Lovers Left Alive
| by Kiko Martinez
César Chávez
| by Kiko Martinez
Bad Words
| by Cody Villafana
The Grand Budapest Hotel | by Kiko Martinez
Silicon Valley (TV) | by Cody Villafana
Frank | by Cody Villafana
Soul Boys of the Western World | by Jerrod Kingery
Boyhood | by Cody Villafana
Animals | by Jerrod Kingery
Sequoia | by Jerrod Kingery
No No: A Dockumentary | by Cody Villafana


John Leguizamo | by Kiko Martinez
Mike Flanagan – Oculus
| by Kiko Martinez
Angus Macqueen, Guillermo Galdos & Anabel Hernández – The Legend of Shorty
| by Kiko Martinez
Diego Luna – César Chávez | by Kiko Martinez
Michael Peña, America Ferrera & Gabriel Mann – César Chávez | by Kiko Martinez
Wes Anderson – The Grand Budapest Hotel | by Kiko Martinez
Jason Bateman & Kathryn Hahn – Bad Words | by Kiko Martinez & Cody Villafana
Elijah Wood, Sasha Grey & Nacho Vigalondo – Open Windows | by Kiko Martinez
David Dastmalchian, Kim Shaw & Colin Schiffli – Animals (Video) | by Jerrod Kingery
Robert Rodriguez – From Dusk Till Dawn (TV) (Video) | by Kiko Martinez
Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Leland Orser & Riley Stearns – Faults | by Cody Villafana
Nicolas Cage & David Gordon Green – Joe  (Video) | by Kiko Martinez
Virginia Madsen – The Wilderness of James | by Cody Villafana
Jenny Slate – Obvious Child | by Cody Villafana
Kodi Smit-McPhee – The Wilderness of James | by Cody Villafana

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