The Cast and Director of Netflix’s Okja

Have you met Okja? The titular “super pig” is at the heart of Director Bong Joon Ho’s newest feature which is currently streaming on Netflix. The imaginative film follows Okja, a creature genetically engineered by the shady Mirando Corporation (headed by a boundlessly enthusiastic Tilda Swinton) as a source of new consumable meat product. In a longterm PR move, this super pig is farm-raised by a young girl in Korea named Mija (Seo-Hyun Ahn) until, unbeknownst to Mija, she is scheduled to make her big trip to NYC where Mirando aims to cash in on their investment. What follows is a wild journey to the city where Mija encounters a radical PETA-like eco-group, the ALF, as well as some harsh realities of this film’s version of the terrifying food industry.

Last month, cast members Tilda Swinton, Seo-Hyun Ahn, Lily Collins, Paul Dano, Steven Yeun and Giancarlo Esposito gathered in New York along with Director Bong to give their insight on making the film and its message.

Some minor spoilers

Seo-Hyun Ahn carries the film as Mija, an acting and physical feat, her and Director Bong spoke via translators about developing her performance:

Ahn: [I] was always thinking how Mija would perceive all of the things that are happening and [I] would say [I] was there as an intermediate state and Director Bong helped [me] constantly think about why would Mija do this? And what would Mija think? That sort of helped [me] in maximizing how Mija would think in the story.

Director Bong: Ahn is very experienced and she’s very energetic and focused. So She has enough energy to confront Tilda or Paul. And because of this high energy whenever we were shooting the scenic mountain scenes, [I] tried to distract Mija as best as [I] could. Whenever [Ahn] was focusing on the script, [I] would distract her by talking about catering and talking about snacks in the snack corner. [I] did [my] best to distract her as best as possible because if you try too hard then there are times that the performance doesn’t come out right. And because there are so many great actors and actresses around, she might have been pressured into giving a poor performance. [I] did [my] best to try to relax her as much as possible.

As Lucy Mirando, and later Nancy Mirando, Tilda Swinton enjoyed working with her Snowpiercer Director Bong:

Swinton: It’s a very simple and relaxed business when working with someone like Director Bong who invites a kind of playfulness and as he just described , a kind of relaxedness in all his company, not just the performers, but in all departments. What he knows…is he wants people to be relaxed and really bring something fresh and creative. And that’s an environment that I love. It’s like a kind of playpen, it’s like a sandbox to me, it’s like kindergarten. Especially working with him, he’s my playmate.

The Mirando sisters are reminiscent in their emphatic, almost cult-leader like energy of Swinton’s Snowpiercer character Mason, she discussed their similarities:

Swinton: Yes we worked on Snowpiercer together, Director Bong and I, and we kind of whipped up this insane burlesque, Mason, who is supposed to be beyond any reality but as it happens, it seems that we were behind the curve [laughs] With this one we wanted to come at the idea of a fool-clown-villain in a slightly different way. We wanted to find different ways—the different faces of high capitalism and exploitation. And so we decided in fact to split it in fact, either into a schizophrenic—I mean I sometimes wonder whether there are two people here, whether actually there isn’t one. You know because let’s face it when Lucy fades away, Nancy appears and vice-versa. So we wanted to look at two different ways of messing the world up. So we have Nancy, who is the—she doesn’t fall far from the tree of their toxic, horrendous father. And then Lucy, who is so determined to be different. She’s driving 180 degrees away from Nancy and trying to be all user-friendly and “woke” and squeaky clean. And lovable. So it was an opportunity to look at these two different faces. But I suppose you know, especially when you’re working together and your collaboration over projects, the conversation is kind of the same conversation that just evolves and goes into a whole new area. All sorts of conversations we had about Mason just sort of moved into conversations about the Mirandos. So yeah, they are cousins of a sort. And they ALL have teeth. [Laughs]

Director Bong is no stranger to centralizing creatures as metaphors in his stories, after his successful feature The Host, and he spoke about using them in that way:

Director Bong: [I’m] always drawn into creature films and creatures. However in The Host, the creature was a monster who attacked people and in Okja the creature is a very intimate friend of the protagonist Mija. They sleep together, they have a lot of interaction, they hug each other and because of this interaction, it required a lot of cutting edge visual effects work which was [my] first challenge. So it’s a pig and now in retrospect [I’m] wondering when [I contemplate why I] chose a pig as the animal. [I think] there’s no better animal than the pig that humans associate with food. Ham, sausage, jerky, etc etc. But in reality, pigs are very delicate, sophisticated and smart and obviously clean. [I think] that the way the two perspectives we have when we look at animals are all coalesced inside a pig. Through the one perspective, we look at animals as family and friends, as pets. And the other perspective is when we look at animals as food. And [I believe] these two perspectives co-exist inside a pig. In our every day lives, people try to separate these two universes apart. We play with our pets in the day and at night, we have a steak dinner. But in this film, we try to merge those two universes together and try to create this sense of discomfort…A creature film is a very effective tool to create special commentary and to get commentary in the world that we live in.

Lily Collins and Steven Yeun are both play part of the fictional eco-group led by Paul Dano and they talked about their views of such groups and animal rights activism in light of doing the film:

Collins: I’ve always been weirdly interested in food documentaries so during the prep of this movie, I watched more and Director Bong gave us all this ALF handbook. We saw lots of really difficult images of animals and treatment and the facilities…And I’m not a red-meat eater anyway, so it wasn’t that I changed my food habits or my eating habits but I definitely became more of a conscious consumer in many other types of products. I think the great thing about this film though is that it speaks to so many different types of themes—you know, nutrition and environment, politics, love, innocence lost. There’s just so many different things to be taken from this film that I think are dealt with in a way that never tutorialized [sic], but always just prompts conversations…I think what Director Bong is amazing at is taking so many different things and presenting them to you. Never telling you how to think, but if you leave the theater thinking something, we’ve done our job right.

Yeun: …I really enjoyed working with director Bong. Mostly because he likes to just tell it to you how it is, with all the gray. And so, when you get to dive into [something] like the ALF, I know that we were playing a characterization of people that are really doing stuff like this, but I feel like one thing it sheds a light on–at least for myself–was why does an individual sign up for something like this? And they’re all different. Especially in our little subgroup of the ALF. Every single character had a different reason for being there. Or had different ethics that were willing to go far or less than the other person next to them. And I think it an interesting study in that regard because sometimes you see the ALF, as they intend, to just be this giant glob organization, or anything in that way. But when you pick apart the specific individuals that take part in something like this it’s interesting to see that not all the interests necessarily align.

Animal rights groups in real life sometimes draw criticism for their tactics and in this film we see the ALF arguing for non-violence while taking part in it, Director Bong on that contradiction:

Director Bong: There’s definitely a level of contradiction within the group ALF. Even in the film, the ALF shout that they hate violence but you can see throughout the film that they constantly inflict it. They have a very noble cause and you can understand the cause. But the film also portrays them to at times [to] look foolish and portray them making very human mistakes. Simply put, [I think] they’re humans just like us. Even Lucy Mirando. She doesn’t feel like she’s a pure villain or villainess in the pure sense. She also has flaws and a fragility. There’s a moment in the dressing room scene where Lucy talks to Frank and she raises the super pig jerky and says ‘its a shame that we have to tell these little white lies’… That was an honest moment on her part. Whether that be the Mirando Corporation or the ALF members, [I want] to embrace them within the boundaries of humanity where they have flaws or they make mistakes. Actually every character in this movie is pathetic except Mija and Okja.

Dano: And how complicated it is to put a beautiful young girl in the middle of all that contradiction, you know? it’s really one of the special things about the story….I like that the film to me, even though it has many topical issues, I don’t think it’s overly preaching. It’s too complicated for that. Even Mija eats chicken stew, or catches the fish and throws the little fish back in. That’s such an important detail for this film to be true. And even though it has a fantasy animation-comic-book-graphic-novel sort of level to it, I like the truth in the contradictions.

Finally the cast gave their initial response to this project:

Collins:…You know, you sit down with Director Bong–my first meeting with director Bong was at 11am and he orders ice cream and starts talking about this pig, and I go ‘OK, I think I know what I’m signing on for!?’ [Laughs] And I fell in love with the idea that he could see me as this character and I don’t think a lot of people would have been able to see me as someone like this. But it’s so much. It’s a love story, it’s a drama, it’s a comedy, it’s an action movie, it’s a fantasy movie. It’s kind of everything you’ve ever wanted to see in one movie. And yeah…It was a moment of enlightenment really, when you read it.

Giancarlo Esposito: For me it was in many ways a return to innocence. Odd for me to say after having played [Mirando corporation lackey] Frank Dawson, but this story is so absolutely beautiful in its very connected relationship message. It doesn’t matter what that relationship is. It could be a child with their goldfish in the tank who is their best friend, or it could be Okja. But that warmth, that sensitivity and that understanding that’s developed in that relationship, for me, guided me back to thinking about my loss of innocence. When did I grow up? And how could I unlearn that growing up and see the world in a new light? Many times we are so smart, that we are ignorant and they say that education is learned ignorance. We, as performers who fantasize about telling our stories, that will make a comment on our–a social comment, a political comment, an artistic comment– through our creativity, are gifted with our ultimate gift to still remain somewhere in our heart and soul, that beautiful child that Mija is.

Swinton: I didn’t read the script for a long time because I was privileged to be a part of the cloud of the idea before it ever came to script stage. I remember very clearly Director Bong, when we went to Seoul for the premiere of Snowpiercer, he drove us to the airport the following day and leaned over the back of the seat of the car and showed me this drawing of the pig and the girl and that was it. That was three years before there was a script. But even before that moment, I have to say that one of the bonds we share is a great love of the master Hayao Miyazaki, in particular My Neighbor Totoro, and in fact we regularly sing the Totoro theme tune. It’s a thing we do. And so, the second I saw this drawing, I saw that. I this as an opportunity to fill to that homage. But also we talked about the twin sisters in Spirited Away, which I think was the seed of the Mirando sisters. Yeah, so I was, you know, I was in before it existed. Put it that way.

Conference has been edited for length and clarity. Okja is available to stream now on Netflix.

Tim Thomerson talks about his new film “Asylum of Darkness” and some of old favorites

Even if you don’t recognize the name, believe me when I say you know Tim Thomerson. From the hilarious television show “Quark” to supporting roles in such films as “Iron Eagle,” “Rhinestone,” “Near Dark” and “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” to his starring performance as Jack Deth in the highly popular “Trancers” series, he has made good movies better and bad movies watchable.

While promoting his latest film, “Asylum of Darkness,” Mr. Thomerson took the time to talk about his long career and even indulged me in talking about some of my favorite films/performances of his.

Mike Smith: Can you give our readers a short introduction to your character in “Asylum of Darkness?”

Tim Thomerson: I play a detective named Kesler, which is a name director Jay Woelfel uses in many of his films (this is not the first time Mr. Thomerson has played a character with that name).

MS: Are those the roles you tend to gravitate too? Cop or soldier or someone else in authority?

TT: It’s really the paycheck that gravitates me to a role, you understand? (laughs) Any kind of money that they will give me that allows me to do what I like to do will count. No, no. I’ve known Jay for a long time and he’s a good guy to work with. Very easy to work with. I know his cameraman and I’ve done three movies with him. He knows my work and it was a pretty easy character to play for me. I just threw another trench coat on and parted my hair on the other side and wore glasses. I’m pretty sure in some scenes I’m wearing glasses. Probably because I’m reading my script off-camera. Like Brando. (laughs)

MS: It worked for him.

TT: It sure did, didn’t it!

MS: “Asylum of Darkness” features one of Richard Hatch’s last performances. How was he to work with?

TT: Richard was a good guy. I knew him for a long time. We had done a film together called “Unseen Evil,” which Jay had also directed. That was the first time I had met Richard. I knew who he was from “The Streets of San Francisco” and “Battlestar Galactica.” We’re both from California and he was an old-time surfer. I surf so we struck up a friendship. He was a real cool guy to be around. I would see him all the times at conventions and we would talk. He was a very mellow guy. The quintessential California person. The “Jeff Bridges” guy. Not from “The Big Lebowski” but Jeff in real life.

MS: I’ve got what I consider five of your best roles in films that fans may have missed but are definitely worth seeing. But before we talk about them, do you have a favorite role or performance of yours that you’re most proud of?

TT: Typically I never watch my work. If I happen to catch something, or if there is something I want to see to make sure I pulled it off…was I good in it or was I shitty in it? Did I do it how I was trained? (NOTE: Mr. Thomerson studied with the great Stella Adler for four years. Among her other students: Marlon Brando, Robert De Niro, Elaine Stritch and Harvey Keitel). I guess one of my favorite roles was a character I did on “Hill Street Blues,” where I played a slum-lord named Nat Rikers. The role was the farthest I’d ever gotten from myself. I worked really hard to become this character. That’s one of my favorite guys. Then there was a little movie I did that Bryan Cranston directed called “Last Chance,” where I played an alcoholic writer, kind of an Ernest Hemingway-type guy. He gets writer’s block and gets back on the booze. He goes to A A and becomes a truck driver. Bryan and his wife produced it and we shot it out in the desert outside Palm Springs in a place known as “Methadonia” because there are so many meth labs out there. It’s a good little movie about a guy who’s involved with a girl who’s stuck in a bad marriage. But working for Bryan, and the direction that he gave me, like I said I usually don’t sit and watch my stuff, but the best direction I got from him…I was kind of stuck because I usually play bad guys or comedy guys. But this was a real person and I had to drop all of the “tough guy” snarls and just BE this guy. So Bryan told me, ‘just say the words. Just talk.’ And I thought, “Wow!” Nobody had ever told me that before. Bryan took the time to say that and that’s all he had to say. So that is also one of my favorites. Those are two of the things that I actually saw and I said to myself, “I believe that guy is real.”

MM: OK, I’m going to give you the title of a television show or film that you appeared in and just give me the first memory that comes to mind.

TT: I’m ready.

MM: “Quark.”

TT: Oh man, that was fun. That was a lot of fun. It was really one of my first jobs. I mean a legit job. I had been doing stand-up for awhile and I think I had just done “Car Wash” before that. It was so much fun. We only did eight episodes. It was great to work with Richard Benjamin. Buck Henry created the show and wrote some of them. It was the first time I got to work with Geoffrey Lewis, the great character actor, and Henry Silva. And I got to work with Ross Martin, who was great. It was a fun show to do and it was fun to play that silly character. And it was pretty hip stuff. And it was funny. I mean, even doing it was funny. Richard Benjamin was such a funny person. And we had great directors. Directors who had been doing television comedy since the beginning. We had Hy Averback, who had done “Sgt Bilko” and “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” It was the 1970s but we had guys that had been working since the 50s and 60s. Everybody laughed on the show. The crew and the cast. It was fun. Really fun.

MM: “Carny”

TT: “Carny??” Nobody knows that movie. Any time you get to work with Gary Busey it’s going to be a trip. There were a lot of really fine actors in that film. Robbie Robertson wasn’t too bad for his first film, but we had Jodie Foster and Ken McMillian and Craig Wasson. We filmed it in Savannah, Georgia at a real carnival. We worked nights. For two months. And two months of night work – in Savannah, Georgia in the deep South – can make you crazy. Working on that movie was fun. I had known Gary so to work with him was fun. He was a real good guy. It’s so funny you picked that one. Nobody knows that movie, which is a shame because it’s a well shot movie. Jodie was still a youngster so, when we were filming at night, they’d shoot her stuff then shoo her off the set. Get her away from the insanity! Because when you work until 4 or 5 in the morning, that’s when the party started. Bunch of stunt guys and crazy electricians. It was pretty nuts. I had a lot of fun on that movie.

MM: “Honkytonk Man”

TT: Well, of course, I got to work with Clint (Eastwood). That was a mind blower for me because I’d always been a fan. And, of course, he was so cool. We shot it on the east side of the Sierras in the oldest city in California called Genoa. Working with Eastwood….I mean it goes by so fast. (Does a pretty good Clint Eastwood impression) “All right Tim, we’re going to shoot your close-up. Step on in here. Are you ready?” I said, ‘yes sir, I am” and we did one take. That was it man. We were gone. He flew me in and flew me out. What was fun about working on that movie was that Clint’s son, Kyle, was also in it. Years later I was skiing on a mountain one day when a guy ski’d up to me and said (gruff voice), “Hey, how you doing?” And of course, it was Clint and his son. I didn’t recognize him at first because he had a buzz haircut because he was working on “Heartbreak Ridge.” He had the G.I. Joe cut, you know? And I kept standing there thinking, ‘what is this big guy looking at me?” Then I recognized Kyle. The guy I was skiing with said, “You know Clint Eastwood?” And I just said, “Yeah.” It was just a great experience. I also worked on a movie he produced called “Ratboy” that Sondra Locke directed. It was just fun being around him, no matter how little the time was. And talk about a quiet set. No bullshit…everybody doing their job. That really impressed me.

MM: Finally, one of my guilty pleasures. I don’t know WHY I love this movie so much. “Rhinestone.”

TT: (bursts out laughing for quite a long time) Did you just say “Rhinestone?” You’re not from Kansas City. You must be from Dixie.

MM: I grew up in Tampa so maybe that helps.

TT: I’ve got to tell you, I once was told that “Rhinestone” and another film I was in, were called the worst movies of the 1980s. (NOTE: I’m thinking the other film was “Metalstorm,” a 3D extravaganza that is pretty much on every “Worst Films” list. But I got to work with Dick Farnsworth. Dolly Parton. Stallone gave me the job. I never knew that until years later when his brother, Frank, told me that. I’d known Frank for a while and one night he said to me, “you know, my brother gave you that job in “Rhinestone.” And I was like, “are you shitting me?” And he said, “uh uh.” Then one time, later, Sly walked up to me and said (Mr. Thomerson also does a fine Sylvester Stallone impression) “I really like what you did in that ‘Trancers” movie. It was a great set. Not complicated. No drama. We knew each other’s beats and rehearsed if. And then Dolly…you just don’t get any better than her, she’s such a neat lady. That was a lot of fun. And the fact that I got to work with Richard Farnsworth. Such a great man to work with.

Chris Gethard: Career Suicide

Chris Gethard is a multi-talented comedian and actor (Don’t Think Twice, “Broad City”) who’s worked extensively in NYC’s improv scene at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theater as well as having his own successful public access show, aptly titled “The Chris Gethard Show”. This weekend Gethard premiered a much more personal type of special on HBO with Chris Gethard: Career Suicide. In this touching, and darkly hilarious special, Chris uses comedy to detail his lifelong struggles with depression and anxiety including his brushes with suicide. The show held a special screening and talk-back at New York’s Tribeca Film Fest, featuring Chris, fellow comedian Pete Holmes (HBO’s “Crashing”), and moderator Ira Glass (NPR’s “This American Life”). I spoke with them on the red carpet about the development of the show and using comedy to cope with more difficult issues.

Besides hosting NPR’s “This American Life” podcast (which Gethard has appeared on), Ira Glass produced Don’t Think Twice.

Lauren Damon: Working with Chris on Don’t Think Twice, did you see the development of his show at all?

Ira Glass

Ira Glass: I mean, it’s funny, Don’t Think Twice…Chris is such an amazing actor. He’s so for-real in Don’t Think Twice, and that character does have a lot of overlap with who he is in real life. And who he is in this special. My main thing with the special is I’ve seen him develop it. I saw like a super early version in the basement in Union Hall, and then saw when it was up on stage. So I’m really curious how it translates to video.

LD: With the heavier themes, I feel like we have a need for that in comedy because things seem sort of dire in general…

Glass: It’s true…But I feel like the whole trend in comedy has been comedians getting super real about stuff that’s going on, you know. And I feel like when you look at the people…who are doing the most work right now, it’s like Louis CK and Tig Notaro and Mike Birbiglia, Aziz [Ansari]…You know that’s people talking about stuff that’s pretty real. Which I like because I like a real story. I think when somebody can tell a story that’s super funny but also is really a real thing, and emotional, it’s just like what could be more entertaining? That’s everything a person could want.

LD: That’s basically the best episodes of “This American Life”…

Glass: On a good day, yeah. On a good day. The formula on “This American Life” is we want it to be really funny, with a lot of plot at the beginning, then it will get kind of sad and sort of wistful at the end, then like throw a little music under it, you’re done!

In Don’t Think Twice, Gethard played Bill, a comedian coping with a hospitalized father on top of dealing with general anxieties of where he fits into his shifting improv group.

LD: In Don’t Think Twice, your character did a lot of the heavy emotional lifting, was your show already developing kind of around that time?

Chris Gethard: It’s funny because [Don’t Think Twice director] Mike Birbiglia was the one who kind of threw down the gauntlet and said ‘You should do a show about this side of yourself.’ I would talk about it to a degree in my work, but he was the one who was like ‘You got something here, go for it.’ So the experience of Don’t Think Twice and this show kind of went hand in hand. I was opening for Mike on the road, he developed the film on the road [and] during that process is when he really said ‘You should really go for it, I promise you, give it a shot.’ Really the first time I attempted the show was in an effort to sort of prove Birbiglia wrong and say like I don’t know if people are going to laugh at this. But I have learned never to doubt Mike. And those things really did dovetail nicely and springboard off of each other.

Chris Gethard

LD: How did Mike respond to it?

Gethard: Oh he’s been so supportive and I think he was–he also, as far as these off Broadway shows that are kind of comedy but that go serious, I think he really has helped pioneer that in the past few years. So I think he was very proud and flattered. I always give him a lot of credit as far as walking in his footsteps. So I think he was very psyched that I went for it. i think he also had a little bit of glee that his instincts were correct and mine were not. So thank god for that.

Pete Holmes had his own hilarious HBO comedy special (Faces and Sounds) as well as starring in their series, “Crashing”

LD: How do you know Chris?

Pete Holmes: It’s funny, I thought more people would ask, but here we are at the end of the line and you’re only the second person to ask, so it’s still fresh! It’s still a fresh answer. I was a fan of Chris, I would see him at UCB –actually not far from here, right around the corner. And then I took improv classes at UCB and Chris was actually my level 3 teacher because I had heard that he was so wonderful. And he was. I actually think Chris likes to downplay what a wonderful improv teacher he is because obviously he loves to perform more. But it’s almost a shame that we can’t clone him, because he’s such a great improv teacher.

LD: Your stand-up is a lot more silly and irreverent in contrast to the work Chris is doing in this special and I love that there’s space for both

Holmes: That’s nice, there is space for both! And I really love this show. It’s not the sort of stand-up I do but I also on my podcast [“You Made it Weird”] love to get very deep and weird and uncomfortable so I love seeing it in the live version with the laughs.

Pete Holmes

LD: On “You Made it Weird”, have you had any especially surprising guests?

Holmes: That happens all the time actually. For example The Lucas Brothers, the twin guys from 21 Jump Street movie…I [didn’t] know them that well either and they’re kind of low energy [in the film] and then they came on and were like the most high-energy, introspective, eloquent amazing guests. And you know, I didn’t really know them that well. So one of the things that I love about the podcast is that happens over and over. Your expectations just get completely blown out of the water.

The better answer would be Aaron Rogers, the quarterback for the Greenbay Packers…I didn’t know him either, but here comes a quarterback. And J.J. Redick who’s a basketball player just did it. And whenever these athletes come on and just kill it just as hard as the comedians, it makes me happy.

LD: With Chris being your teacher and then you had an HBO special and series first, is that kind of funny to you?

Pete Holmes: [laughs] I beat my teacher! It’s so funny, Chris and I had another thing where I did a talk show for Conan–he talked to me about this on his episode of my podcast. [Chris] was like when they gave you the talk show after Conan–which lasted about a year–he was like they were talking to me about [doing it] Like we’ve been competing in ways we didn’t even know! So I’m happy that now we’ve both landed at HBO, it’s not one or the other, but we can both be here. [laughs]

Chris Gethard: Career Suicide is now available on HBO, HBO Now & HBOGo

Christian Bale, Oscar Isaac and “The Promise”

Director Terry George’s new film The Promise, which opened April 21st, sets a love triangle between an Armenian medical student (Oscar Isaac), an American journalist (Christian Bale) and the Armenian-born but raised-in-Paris Ana (Charlotte Le Bon) against the backdrop of the end of the Ottoman empire. The drama unfolds amidst the oft-under discussed Armenian genocide that took place beginning in 1915. It is a controversial subject that George and his cast hope the film can shed light on, even going so far as to donate all the film’s proceeds to human rights charities.

The cast, which also includes James Cromwell and Westworld’s Angela Sarafyan, gathered at their New York press conference to talk about what the film meant to them and some of the pushback making a movie on this subject can draw.

Conference discussion edited for article length.

Why did you decide to take this movie and what kind of approach did you take to your role?

Oscar Isaac

Oscar Isaac: For me, to my shame, I didn’t know about the Armenian genocide before I got the script and spoke with Terry. So it was new to me. And to read about that–to read that 1.5 [million] Armenians perished at the hands of their own government was horrifying and that the world did nothing…Not only that but to this day it’s so little known, there’s active denial of it. So that really was a pretty significant part of it. Also the cast that they put together. And then to learn that 100% of the proceeds would go to charity was just an extraordinary thing to be a part of.

My approach was to read as much as I could to try to immerse myself in the history of the time. And also in LA there’s a small museum that a few of us got to go to and see some stuff. And then for me, I think the biggest help was I had these videos and recordings of survivors that would recount the things that they witnessed as little boys and children. Whether it was seeing their grandmothers bayoneted…or their mothers and sisters sometimes crucified–horrible atrocities and to hear them recounted with, almost they would sound like they had regressed to those little kids again, and that was heartbreaking. So I did feel some responsibility to try to tell their story.

Christian Bale: And for me, continuing off what Oscar was saying, you know he was talking about the documentaries where you can see survivors talking about these horrific experiences that they’d seen their loved ones, families, that had been very barbarically killed…And to try to get into that mindset, to try in a very small way to understand the pain that they must have gone through, and the fact that people were telling them they were lying about what had happened. And they had witnessed it with their own eyes, had all of that emotion, but there were people who refused to call it what it is, a genocide. There are still people who refuse to call it that. We have yet to have any sitting US president call it a genocide–Obama did before, but not during–the Pope did, recently. But it’s this great unknown genocide, and the lack of consequence may well have provoked other genocides that have happened since. And for me, it became startlingly relevant because as I was reading the script and in the same way as Oscar was, learning about the Armenian genocide as I reading this–embarrassing, but I think we’re in the same boat as many people– I’m reading about…Armenians who were being slaughtered under siege on this mountain, and I’m watching on the news and it was the yazidis under siege, being slaughtered by ISIS… And just thinking this is so relevant…and so tragic, it’s very sad that it is still relevant.

Charlotte Le Bon

Charlotte Le Bon: By watching documentaries, I talked a lot with Armenian friends that I have in France…Also it was really present, just like Christian was saying–A couple months before the shooting I was in Greece just on a holiday, I was on Lesbos Island, who is the door to Europe through Turkey, and it was the beginning of the massive arrival of the refugees. And they were coming like a thousand per day, it was really really impressive. And I didn’t know about it by then. And I just remember being in the car and watching hundreds and hundreds of people walking by the street…and it was really really moving to see that. The only thing I could do was just like give them a bottle of water, you don’t really know what to do. And a couple of months later I was on set and recreating the exact same scene that I saw just a couple of months before.

Angela Sarafyan: I had known about the Armenian genocide because I grew up hearing stories from grandparents–the stories they had heard from their parents about their grandparents. So doing this film was very very close to my heart because it was a chance for me to give some light to that world in a very different way. It’s never existed on film, it’s a very controversial issue. So what I got to do was really look at the time and look at what it must have been like to live in that time. The simplicity of what that village was. And kind of survival and the romanticism of living in a small place. And learning how people survived in the atrocity. I didn’t really have to go through some of the horrendous things that you see, but I loved being able to kind of investigate that simple life. And I read more, because Terry had introduced so many books and scripts and material on it. So that was it.

Did the Turkish government give you any problems? Any kind of pushback?

Christian Bale and director Terry George

Terry George: I had a very healthy exchange with a Turkish journalist in LA, a representative of the Hollywood Foreign Press, who presented that the Turkish perspective is that a genocide didn’t happen, that it was a war and bad things happen and lots of people died on both sides…I pointed out to him that that’s exactly true but in the case of the Armenians, it was their own government who was killing them. So we talked…and you know, we had this thing where IMDB was hijacked, we had the sudden appearance of the Ottoman lieutenant movie four weeks ago that was like the reverse-mirror-image of this film right down to the storyline. And there’s a particular nervousness in Europe about the film and about the current situation…So it’s an extremely embroiled subject. But our idea, as always with any of these subjects, get it out there, let some air in, let’s discuss the thing. I’d be more than willing to sit down with any representative of any Turkish organization and talk this out in terms of our different perspectives and present our perspective on it. So we want to bring air to the subject rather than hide away…let’s have this discussion.

Bale: Maybe I shouldn’t say this but don’t you think also though that’s there’s kind of a false debate been created–a bit like climate change, you know?–as though like there’s as strong evidence on one side as on the other? There isn’t. There isn’t as strong of an argument. And then similarly with this. The evidence just backs up the fact that it was a genocide.

Was there a scene that particularly moved you?

Bale: Terry and Survival Pictures decided not to show the full extent of the barbarity of the violence that was enacted during the genocide. There were multiple reasons for that that I’ll let Terry explain. But there was one scene where Mikael, Oscar’s character, he sees many of his family members and also members of his home town who have been slaughtered…that was a very emotional one I think for many people that day. So seeing Armenians who were directly connected, or had family members who knew that their origins had come–that their families had gone through that previously–that was a very affecting day for I think for every single one of us on the film.

George: …Just as I did on Hotel Rwanda, I was determined that this be a PG13 film. That teenagers, schools, people who might be squeamish about the notion of seeing an R-rated genocide movie, that the horror be psychological. And that put the burden–and carried magnificently by both Oscar and Christian on that scene–the horror of the genocide is told through how Oscar conveyed those moments of what he found in his face…

Christian, your character is a journalist who experiences questioning over everything that you’re reporting, did the relevance of that today go through your mind?

Christian Bale

Bale: Yeah yeah of course I mean that was sort of developing during filming and then obviously has become much more present in the news–What’re we calling it now? “Post-truth” era? Just how important it is to have a free press for any democracy. So yeah, that’s another aspect of the film that’s become much more relevant.

I’d love to know more of your thoughts of the web hijacking of IMDB and RottenTomatoes against this film, who do you think organized this or do you think these are individuals?

George: You know it can’t have been 50,000 individuals decided, after we had two screenings in Toronto, to [rate] us 1 out of 10. Seems like a miraculously spontaneous thing to happen. So I definitely think that was a bot, or a series of bots that were switched on…Then we had the contrary reaction from, which I genuinely think was 25,000 votes from the Armenian community–because we didn’t have a bot going–voting 10 out 10. It brought in to highlight the whole question of, not only IMDB, Rotten Tomatoes…just the whole question of manipulating the internet, and manipulating reviews and people being swayed by that. And it’s a whole new world.

For any of the actors, in your research, can you talk about any of the unsung heroes that you found out about? Secondly, can you talk about how this movie may have changed your outlook on specific causes you’d want to support as a person?

Bale: There’s Aurora Mardiganian , she’s a real Armenian national hero…who the award is named after as well, who’s a phenomenal woman who went through real tragic circumstances but came through and told her story with film as early as 1919…She was phenomenal. I mean talk about a fierce, strong woman who overcame phenomenal tragedy. She was very inspiring.

James Cromwell

James Cromwell: I think Morgenthau [Cromwell’s character] is pretty impressive, I didn’t know anything about him when I started. And also you can’t leave out the fact that there were consular officers all over Anatolia who were also sending briefs back to Washington. And that’s one of the reasons that we have the record that we have. Morgenthau’s biography, his memoirs, and these reports which were eyewitness reports.

It strikes me as amazing that today there are no people with that sort of moral outrage as part of our state department. There are ambassadors to Yemen, there are ambassadors to Sudan and Somalia and Assyria and Libya and you hear nothing. No one stands up for the people who are being oppressed all over the world now as far as taking responsibility in the way Morgenthau took responsibility. Wilson was supportive, but not the legislature, not congress. Congress was against him. And after Wilson, Hoover was very much against him, against supporting his work and against establishing the Armenian state.

So as far as a cause is concerned, it just shows us that at the top, down to the average citizen, we have been so desensitized to the suffering of people, that we cannot recognize ourselves in the other. Which is one of the reasons you do a film like this. That it has a narrative at the core, so that the audience can come in and feel what other people feel. And that by doing that you do what Shakespeare said: ‘Hold a mirror up to nature; to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body of the time his form and pressure.’ That’s what we do…

Oscar Isaac and Angela Sarafyan

Sarafyan: For me personally, it would be in my family, the orphans really. Because all of my, I guess great great great grandparents were orphaned. They didn’t have parents left, they were all taken away. So the mere fact that they were able to survive and then able to kind of form families…One of them fled to Aleppo actually to start a family in Syria, and it seems like it’s coming full circle with people today fleeing from Syria to find refuge in other countries. So I find them personally as heroes in my own life. And the mere fact that they were able to survive, form families, have a sane mind–because I think that kind of trauma changes you genetically. So I guess they really would be the heroes and for me doing the film was kind of continuing that legacy and making it kind of live forever. Instead of it just being a story that was told, it kind of lives in cinema and it will be an experience for people to watch and have as their own.

Vincent D’Onofrio talks about his new film “In Dubious Battle”

The Marine recruit slowly going mad. The Norse-God looking garage worker. Orson Welles. A farmer inhabited by an alien bug. A New York detective. These and dozens more are characters created by Vincent D’Onofrio. From “Full Metal Jacket” to “Adventures in Baby Sitting.” From “Ed Wood”, “Men In Black” and the long running television series “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.” From “Jurassic World” to the current “Daredevil” and “Emerald City” series, D’Onofrio is a true chameleon, adapting his talents for every new challenge. In his most recent work, he stars as London, a man with the ability to inspire and lead others, in the new film “In Dubious Battle,” based on a novel by John Steinbeck and directed by James Franco. Mr. D’Onofrio took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about the film, collaborating with Stanley Kubrick and what he’s working on next. Or as much as he can.

Mike Smith: What attracted you to the project?

Vincent D’Onofrio: Well, James is just an awesome dude. There’s that. And it’s something different. To do this kind of movie, out in the fields with a very low budget. No frills. Everybody there is there because of the author of the novel. The novel itself and what it means today. Just wanting to be there and participate. Knowing that it’s going to be a very unique variation of this novel in a style that lends itself to what the novel stands for in the first place. Unity.

MS: Had you read the novel before you were cast? And if not, did you read it to get a sense of Steinbeck’s take on your character, London?

VD: That’s a good question. I’m pretty sure I read it when I was younger because when I did read it a lot of it seemed familiar. Maybe because I’ve read so many other Steinbeck novels it seemed familiar. I can’t say for sure I read it as a youngster but I did read it.

MS: You have also directed in the past (Mr. D’Onofrio directed the 2010 horror film “Don’t Go in the Woods”). Is it easier – or more comfortable – for an actor to work for a director who has a true understanding of the acting process?

VD: No. All directors are different. You have to learn that. As a young actor I think you want a director who understands acting but you actually want to work with different kinds of directors. Some directors want nothing to do with your performance. Stanley Kubrick wanted nothing to do with your performance. He didn’t want to discuss the story other then how you were going to approach a particular scene. But that had to do with the writing of the scene and not the performance of it. Not what the result of it was going to be. He didn’t want to discuss it. Now we did re-write some scenes. Not just me but Matthew Modine and Lee Ermey with Stanley. We would come up with dialogue and Stanley would sit there with a typewriter and write it all. And once he wrote it would stick. There was no improvisation after that. It’s different each time and you actually welcome that as an actor. Different kinds of directors are exciting to work with. I loved that James was an actor and that he was in the film and directing at the same time. It’s really comforting to act with the director.

MS: The film has a great cast of actors. Is there anyone you haven’t worked with yet that you’d like to?

VD: Oh my God…there are so many. It would be ridiculous of me to even start the list. We could talk about that all day, Mike. All day. There are so many great actors that have since passed away. There are so many young actors today that I love. There are so many actors from my generation that I love that I haven’t worked with. From the generation right before me…it’s a thrilling business to be in and to be the peer of great actors is so interesting and so uplifting.

MS: What do you have coming up next?

VD: My gosh! I think the last thing I did that isn’t out yet – I think it’s still in editing – is the remake of “Death Wish.” Eli Roth directed it. Bruce Willis plays the lead in it and I play his brother. Not much more I CAN tell you. Everything is so hush-hush. I may do a play before the summer. But I Tweeted about it and got in trouble. You can’t talk about anything these days. It’s such a bummer. I’ll just say I have a lot of stuff coming out. A lot of stuff in the can.

Indie Film Director Patrick Rea Talks About “Arbor Demon”

At 37-years-old, Director/Writer Patrick Rea is already making a name for himself in horror circles around the country. Since graduating from the University of Kansas in December 2002, Patrick has made dozens of short films and collaborated with other directors and writers on even more. He’s starting to get his footing as a feature-film director and took time out of his busy schedule to talk with MediaMikes about his latest film, “Arbor Demon,” which was a part of the Panic Fest lineup in January and premiered on video-on-demand on February 3rd.

Jeremy Werner: Not to steal one of the questions from one of the fine folks that attended Panic Fest, but I loved the answer you gave at it. So I have to ask, where did the inspiration for “Arbor Demon” come from?

Patricka Rea: It was a combination of things. When my wife and I were dating, we went camping one night at Lake Perry, near Lawrence, Kansas. In the early hours of the morning, there was an altercation that occurred between two other campers near our tent. After the fight ensued, one of the campers decided to hop on a rusty four-wheeler, with a deer skull on the front, and drive angrily around the campgrounds, narrowly missing our tent. My wife and I were pretty freaked out, but to cut the tension, I joked that it would be funny if something came out of the woods and attacked them, so we could get a good night’s sleep. That was where the seed of the idea came from. Once Michelle Davidson and I actually started writing the screenplay years later, my wife was pregnant, so the story really shifted to dealing with a woman’s pregnancy, along with being trapped inside a tent.

JW: What was it that Davidson brought and added to the script?

PR: Michelle is a great screenwriter and a terrific partner. Our process is really about going back and forth with ideas and solving problems within the story. She added so many layers to the script and really brought a fantastic female perspective. The movie is primarily a female driven story, and Michelle took that aspect to the next level. She also is a mother of two, and has a lot of experience to draw upon.

JW: I remember hearing that this script, including the name of the movie, has changed over time. What was it that changed and why?

PR: The original title of the film was “Enclosure”. It has played at a number of film festivals with that title and will continue to carry that name overseas. The biggest reason for the change was that distributor wanted the film to be more visible to consumers on Video On Demand. Since the film now starts with an “A”, it will be higher up on the listings.

JW: The creature in the movie, you really don’t get a good look at it until the end. But when you do, you notice all these different look quirks about them. What hand did you have in crafting the creature and what inspiration did you draw from?

PR: Davidson and I worked hard to come up with a fresh take on the monster. I enjoy drawing, so I sketched out ideas for the design. Eventually, we hired Megan Areford (“VHS: Viral,” “Cooties” and “Sharknado”) to handle make-up effects. She took my initial artwork and made some of her own sketches, which were incredible. From there she started working on the actual prosthetics for the creature and we communicated over Skype.

JW: Since the woods and nature plays a role in the movie, was there anything you manipulated in the woods you filmed in?

PR: I would say that we spent a good amount of time just trying to find unique trees and formations in the woods that would enhance the setting and story. But, in terms of actual manipulation, we built a small forest, designed by Production Designer, Leslie Keel (“May,” “Red” and “Welcome to the Jungle”) on a soundstage around the tent. This was to create the illusion that we were still in the woods when shooting all the tent interiors. This also allowed us to control the lighting and sound.

JW: What horror inspirations do you draw from when writing and directing?

PR: The early work of John Carpenter has always been a big influence on me, from the framing of the shots, to the pace and storytelling skills. I’m also inspired by directors like Wes Craven, Sam Raimi and of course Steven Spielberg. At this point in my career, I like to read about the challenges they faced while making their films. It helps me feel better when I have various roadblocks to overcome during the process.

JW: You’ve done a lot of shorts in the past and a handful of full-length movies…which one do you tend to gravitate more towards and enjoy working on?

PR: Well, I prefer doing feature films, but I love making short films. Short form filmmaking allows me to experiment with new equipment, crew and ways of telling a story. There are a lot of films that I don’t think should exist outside a smaller duration, so I tend to gravitate to those types of projects between features. I think I’ll always make short films, if nothing else to keep my storytelling skills sharp. Making a feature can take years, so it’s good to keep putting out shorter work in order stay on everyone’s radar.

JW: Obviously, this is your career. This your passion and love. What’s something outside that horror genre that you’d be interested in experimenting with and what are you working on next?

PR: I’m working on a number of things, including a CBS kids show titled “The Inspectors” which airs on Saturday mornings. Right now, Michelle and I are getting our next horror feature off the ground, that is a fresh spin on the imaginary friend story. As for experimenting, I really want to direct a high-concept sci-fi film. Just waiting for the right project to come along.

“Arbor Demon” is available on demand here.

Film director Jeff Santo talks about “This Old Cub”

It’s late June, 1972. I’m in my first season of Little League at a park in Morton Grove, a suburb of Chicago. I come to the plate with the bases loaded and when the pitch comes in I swing as hard as I can. I hit it a long way but, because we’re all kids, there is no outfield fence. If I want a grand slam I’m going to have to leg it out. I chug around the bases and as I get to third base my coach yells at me, “Jesus, you run like Santo!” I slide home safely and go home the hero. At home it dawns on me what my coach said. He was referencing Ron Santo, the third baseman of the Chicago Cubs. It also dawned on me that, a), when I wasn’t pitching I played third base and, b), I had been given uniform #10, which was Santo’s number. I took that to be fate and for as long as I played baseball – I stopped at age 54 – I wore #10. My son, Phillip, also wore #10. My grandson, Hudson, who just turned 6 months old, has already worn #10. To say we worship at the church of Santo is an understatement. I’ve carried one of his baseball cards in my wallet for decades and even got him to sign it in 1998.

After a brilliant career, Ron Santo went on to endear himself to new generations of Cub fans by providing commentary on the radio. Ronnie was a homer through and through and some of his best remembered calls are when he let emotions overcome him. What many fans didn’t know was that Ron Santo battled diabetes every day, including when he was playing. However, he was so scared that the team would not think him healthy enough to play that he hid the disease from the public until long after his playing days ended. Despite a brilliant career, Santo was never elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame during his years of eligibility. When I lived in Baltimore I would occasionally strike up a conversation with Brooks Robinson, arguably the greatest third baseman ever. He would agree with me that Santo should be in the Hall of Fame and every year, before the voting, I would write a letter to the voting committee and remind them that if the greatest third baseman of all time thinks Ron Santo should be in the Hall of Fame then he damn well better be. Sadly, they ignored me.

In 2003 Santo’s name was placed on the ballot for the Veteran’s Committee. Even though he placed first in votes, he never received the required amount for induction. Santo’s son, Jeff, a filmmaker, decided to honor his father by producing the documentary film “This Old Cub.” It followed his father as he went to the ballpark, greeted fans and, most importantly, continued to battle diabetes, a disease which eventually claimed both of his legs. The film ends with Ron receiving the news that he had not been voted into the Hall of Fame. Proceeds from the sale of the film are donated to the JDRF and to date over a half-million dollars has been raised.

It was five years ago, on December 5, 2011, that the Golden Era Committee gathered to vote on ten players in their final chance for induction. The only player to earn that honor was Ron Santo, who was elected as a member of the class of 2012. Sadly, just a year earlier, on December 3, 2010, Ron Santo passed away at the age of 70. As I posted on Facebook that day, I cried all the way into work that morning.

After Ron’s induction into the Hall of Fame, Jeff Santo revisited his film and created a “special edition,” which includes a final interview with Ron as well as highlights from the ceremony where his number was retired, the dedication of a statue to him outside Wrigley Field (Phillip and I traveled to Chicago for that event) and, of course, his Hall of Fame induction. Since the Cubs FINALLY won the World Series, I thought I would speak with Jeff about the film in the hopes that new Cub fans will seek it out.

Mike Smith: I have to ask…how big is your dad smiling today?

Jeff Santo: He’s definitely smiling man. We miss him. We miss him everyday. But I could feel him during the postseason. You could just feel his presence. Our family took a trip to Chicago for the World Series and we had an awesome time. It really brought back a lot of memories. For my brother and I Wrigley Field was basically our playground. To go back and see dad’s statue and all of the things they had done with Wrigley. They’ve made it a cathedral. And to see all of the people with their number 10’s on…it was amazing. Our dad is in our hearts all of the time. And especially during the World Series. He was there and we felt that strong presence all of the way through it.

MS: Most people know of your dad because of his baseball career but I thought that the bigger message in “This Old Cub” was his on-going battle with diabetes. How important was fighting that battle to him?

JS: It was right up there with winning the World Series or getting into the Hall. My brother and I can always remember him having to take a shot every day before he went to the ballpark. It was just what he did. We didn’t know it was a debilitating disease that may cause him to lose his legs in the future. Or that he had a 25-year life expectancy. We had no clue about that growing up. We just knew that dad took his shot in the morning and then went out to do his business at the ball park. That was it. Of course I learned more after we grew out of our childhood days. Doing the film…to be able to go back in time to see what he did and what this disease could do to a person. To know all of the adversity he went through and how he fought hard to become the ballplayer he was. That was another level that he rose to. As a son watching your father go through that it’s heartbreaking but then you’re inspired by how he handled it and it just makes you a better person. Being his son I can say that. So in the movie we really wanted to show what he overcame without sentimentalizing it. We wanted to show him as a man and what he did accomplish. I wanted to approach the story as a filmmaker and not just be a son making a film about his father. My dad always said…and I remember this from way back…he accepted having diabetes. If he didn’t accept it he couldn’t have gotten through it. It was like, “I know I have this disease now how do I deal with it?” When he first got it in the minors he wanted to ignore it. He didn’t want to take insulin. But then he had to accept it and ask how could he still maintain the level of play as a ballplayer and get through this and work it out. He had to test himself. He had to see how low he could go before he had to take a candy bar. Back then they didn’t have glucometers to check your blood sugar levels. He took that fight on. “I have this. This is who I am. Let’s go.” It was a part of his life and he always knew it was a part of his life.

MS: The “special edition” of “This Old Cub” includes footage from your dad’s Hall of Fame induction. How bittersweet was that honor?

JS: It was very bittersweet. It was sad not being able to see him on the stage. His wife gave an excellent speech but it was sad not being able to see him there. He so wanted to be up there and we all knew that. It was sad. It was tough going out to Cooperstown I have to tell you. Now the World Series was different. We enjoyed it because so many other people were enjoying it. I think the Hall of Fame was sad because so many other people were sad that he wasn’t there. I know he’s glad he’s there but I think it was ridiculous that he couldn’t get in before he died.

MS: They missed out on a hell of a speech.

JS: They missed out on a hell of a moment! For someone that so appreciated his baseball career and his life. It would have been a great moment. But everyone knows he should have been there and that was gratifying to us.

MS: I used to talk with Brooks Robinson when I lived in Baltimore about your dad and he thought your dad should have been in the Hall.

JS: Brooks is in the film. And that’s exactly what he said. And if someone like that says he should be in…come on! I mean you can’t get any better than Brooks Robinson at third base!

“This Old Cub” is now available in the comfort of your home on Video On Demand. You can also order it here. To learn more about Diabetes or to make a donation to the JDRF, click here.

Fred Williamson Talks About His Film Career and the State of the NFL Today

They called him “the Hammer.” While playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, Fred Williamson was one of the most feared defensive backs in the history of the NFL, finishing his career with 36 interceptions in 104 games. He retired in 1968.

That same year he followed fellow football star Jim Brown to Hollywood, appearing on such television series as “Star Trek,” “The Bold Ones” and “Ironside.” In 1971 he had a recurring role as the title characters boyfriend on “Julia.” He made his feature film debut in the Academy Award winning film “MASH,” and later appeared in several classic “Blaxploitation” films, including “Black Caesar,” “Hell Up in Harlem” and “Three the Hard Way.” He also appeared as a Vietnam vet in an episode of “The Rookies.” A few years later, that character was featured in his own film, “Mean Johnny Barrows.” The story of a troubled Vietnam veteran trying to make it back in the world, the film preceded “First Blood” by six years. The film was also Williamson’s directorial debut.

Since then, he has appeared in such films as “From Dusk ’til Dawn” and “Starsky and Hutch,” as well as a series of films featuring ex-cop turned private eye Dakota Smith.

Mr. Williamson will appear at the Kansas City Comic Con from Aug. 12-14. Prior to his appearance he took some time out to speak with me about his “rules” for making films, the state of today’s action films and why the NFL isn’t what it used to be.

MIKE SMITH: At age 78 you are still working steadily.

FRED WILLIAMSON: I make three movies a year.

MS: Is it as fun and exciting now as it was when you started your career?

FW: It’s more exciting because I control what I do now. Most of my films I direct and I write the stories. I hire three or four writers to write the script and I take the best parts from each writer and rewrite the whole thing myself. It’s more fun and more creative.

MS: Do you still make sure you get the girl and don’t lose a fight?

FW: That’s only two of my three rules. Number three is you can’t kill me either. You can’t kill me, I don’t lose a fight and I get the girl.

MS: I see you have another Dakota Smith film coming out.

FW: Yes, I have a new film called “The Last Hitman.” I also have a film that I made in Berlin called “Atomic Eden” and after that I have a film called “Check Point.” I have three films coming out in the next six months.

MS: You’re coming back to Kansas City this weekend. I assume playing in Super Bowl I would be your favorite memory of your time here. Do you have others?

FW: All the time I spent there in Kansas City contributed to my creative years in football. I had a great time in Kansas City. Kansas City was a challenge. You have to remember that this was in the 1960s, so the racial prejudice was very strong there and in other communities at that time. But for me that was motivation…it was what helped make me as great as I was. Someone telling me I couldn’t do something was an extreme motivator for me.

MS: Looking at the way football is played now – you can’t hit in training camp, only one practice a day, defensive players appearing almost afraid to hit for fear of being fined – do you think the game has gotten better or worse since you played?

FW: The game would be more expensive for me if I played today because I’d probably get a $25,000 fine the minute I stepped on the field. (laughs) The “Hammer” tackle would have gotten me kicked out of the game and fined $25,000. I think the thermometer is if you – the refs – can hear the tackle, it’s illegal. If you can hear the pads hit up in the stands, it’s a 15-yard penalty and a $25,000 fine for unnecessary roughness. It’s the changing of the game. That’s why you don’t see that many hard tackles now. Guys are reaching in and trying to stop them with their arms because they really don’t know how to tackle anymore. And these running backs are gaining more yards because no one wants to hit them. They run through arm tackles because most of them are strong runners so they just run through arm tackles.

MS: Nobody seems to know how to wrap up anymore.

FW: You can’t take a chance anymore. Wrapping up means laying your shoulder into him. You can’t wrap a guy up until you stop his momentum, and you have to stop his momentum by cracking him. But now if you crack him too hard it’s a penalty. How do you stop a guy without being able to hit him first? You can’t stop him with an arm tackle.

MS: How do you feel about the action films of today. Are they better now or worse then your films of the 70s and 80s because of being able to use computers?

FW: Computer things are boring, man. Who wants to see some guy jump out of an airplane and land on a moving car when you KNOW that’s not real? That’s not possible. To me it’s boring. They are losing their audiences because now the special effects are the star of the movie. Why do they pay a guy $20 million when the effects are the star of the movie? They need to go back to the days of Robert Mitchum. Gregory Peck. Richard Widmark. Burt Lancaster. Guys like that. You saw how they walked and how they talked. It wasn’t the fact that they could fly through the air or bounce off of a building or just miss getting run over by a car and then getting up and shooting the bad guy. No, no, no. Let’s go back to reality. There’s nothing real in those films.

MS: Thank you again for your time. I hope you enjoy your time back in Kansas City.

FW: I’m looking forward to it. I’ve got a lot of old friends there and a lot of former players that still live there so I’m looking forward to recapturing that experience.

Director Matt Brown on “The Man Who Knew Infinity”

In 1914 a self-taught math genius named Srinivasa Ramanujan left behind everything he knew when he boarded a ship that would take him from his life in Madras, India to Cambridge University in England. He was drawn to the prestigious school via a correspondence with English mathematician G. H. Hardy who recognized Ramanujan’s enormous potential not just for discovering known theorems without any formal education, but for seemingly cracking brand new ones.
Their collaboration is charted in director Matt Brown’s new feature The Man Who Knew Infinity starring Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons as Ramanujan and Hardy. Despite the left brained subject at hand, Brown’s film delves further into the very human story of a man faced with living in an entirely new world. Patel and Irons make for a compelling duo experiencing a huge, but ultimately fruitful, culture clash. The pair are supported by a roster of talented actors including Stephen Fry, Toby Jones and Kevin McNally. The road from Robert Kanigel’s book of the same name to its film adaptation was one that took over twelve years to travel and Brown spoke with me on the phone about how it all came together (Spoiler: It didn’t involve shoehorning in an unnecessary romantic subplot!)

Lauren Damon: First off, speaking as someone who knows nothing about math, you made a very touching film!

Matt Brown: [Laughs] Thanks, I don’t know much about it myself so thank you.

LD: Since this is your second feature since 2000, how long ago did you come across Ramanujan’s story and what made you decide to make it?

MB: Well…my aunt was a member of a book club and about twelve years ago I was visiting her and she introduced me to Robert Kanigel biography. I had done a small film right out of school that I never really got to finish and so this was my first sort of opportunity to do a little bit of a bigger film–or we were hoping it would be–but it was a long road. I mean it was twelve years trying to get this film made so I sometimes joke that I think I was nervous to go through the process of having to make another film and I picked maybe the hardest film in the history of the world to try to get made. [laughs]

LD: I read that you had had an interest in World War One, which this story takes place during but it’s not really the focus…

MB: No it doesn’t, it’s just with–You know I’d read Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks and I was really fascinated by the period, as anyone that has read that incredible book might be afterwards, and this was set against the great war and that just sort of got my attention for a second look at it. Once I’d read it, I really fell in love with the human story and the relationships. You know, as a writer, you’re always looking for conflict and drama and it just had two characters that couldn’t have been any more different. So it drew me in. I was drawn into the isolation that Ramanujan was going through…This illness and everything he went through was something I could really relate to because I was helping caretake actually for my brother at the time. I was helping with his wife because he had cancer. He subsequently got better and wrote all the music for the movie, so it was a happy ending.

LD: That’s amazing.

MB: It was pretty amazing.

LD: There are many biopics that handle these mathematical geniuses–like Theory of Everything or A Beautiful Mind–did you look to any of those?

MB: Sure I guess like over the years, I couldn’t not have. You know it was over such a long period of time, and I’m a movie lover so I’ve them all at this point, I think! [laughs] And it’s funny because we all have perceptions of films and they’re not always totally accurate what our perception is of what the film was. I remember watching Beautiful Mind one time to try to see how they portrayed the mathematics visually in it. And it was shockingly small, the amount actually. It was like the one moment where he adjusts the tie, and he makes the pattern of the tie work. And it was like small and subtle. I don’t even know if there was another moment in the movie that did it besides doing lots of math on the chalkboards. People writing furiously. You know and I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do a film that was organic. Anything we tried to do we wanted to do it in the camera. And it was really important to me to just portray the mathematicians as multidimensional human beings that weren’t crazy and weren’t like frenetically insane and were actually, you know, complex flawed characters. So I didn’t need to make it into something it wasn’t already. I think just trying to be authentic to what the story as more than enough. I mean this had so much drama: Man breaks caste, leaves his country and his home, gets trapped by the war, goes all the way to England only to find that the one person that brings him there is emotionally completely unavailable…And how these two had to come together.

LD: Throughout the film, so many of the actors have to speak so passionately about what their characters are working on. Did any of them delve into studying what they were talking about?

MB: Yeah they both spent some time trying to–Well, first of all I just would say it was really important to Robert Kanigel who wrote the book that I philosophically understood some of what was going on with the mathematics. And certainly I came to respect them as artists, pure mathematicians. It was really important to Jeremy and to Dev. Jeremy, I know read A Mathematician’s Apology, they both read the biography and I think that they both wanted to do right by this story. So they, they did a lot of research on their own and they worked with [mathematician] Ken Ono who came to set and worked with me while we were shooting which gave the actors a lot of confidence that the script was right. That when they would point at a formula or when they would look at the notebooks, everything was exactly right. And you know it’s one of those things that afterwards you know people always say that ‘well, the math people of the world will love your movie’ but I’m like ‘well, actually you don’t take that for granted.’ It’s really been humbling that I can have Freeman Dyson or Steven Strogatz be like ‘You got us. You did it.’ You know and that really means a lot to me. And so that aside, I want the movie to touch people that are not mathematicians. It’s very important that–that’s who I made for was for people like me or you or anyone that doesn’t know math and maybe we could just respect it as an art form and come to see their passion with it. Really the movie is about acceptance and the human story.

Jeremy Irons with director Matt Brown

LD: Meanwhile, I feel like Dev Patel probably wasn’t so much a household name until after Slumdog Millionaire in 2008, but you had the rights to the story for so long, how did that casting come together?

MB: I mean it’s been, it’s just been a process. I think when we started Dev was  you know just had  done [Slumdog Millionaire]. It was so long ago. You know, we went through different actors at different points over twelve years trying to get a movie made. But you know I think it was sort of–I have to think that there’s a plan for these things in some sense. And I knew that I wasn’t gonna compromise on the film in terms of the overall authenticity of it. I mean I’ve mentioned to the press at different times that [producer] Ed Pressman really stood by me when we had been offered opportunities to make the film if we would have Ramanujan fall in love with a white nurse to get it financed. And we didn’t do that. So I think there’s just a bigger plan at work and it happened the way it happened. Dev was ready to go at the right time and committed to it and felt like this was a character–he saw the nobility of the character and it was really important for him to play this role. And it’s a different kind of role for him than we’ve seen him in before and he does it brilliantly.  And for Jeremy, I think it was an opportunity to revisit something in a different way as an actor for him. And he, his performance is just so pure and beautiful.  I’m just humbled to be part of it.

LD: You also have an amazing supporting cast with Stephen Fry, Toby Jones…

MB: Yeah and Jeremy Northam, all those guys. You know, Stephen Fry is amazing–they’re all amazing–but Stephen you know he had his own project, for ten years trying to get it made,  and when we found out that we were gonna be making the film I reached out to him and I said do you wanna maybe join our team for this? And he did! And he flew all the way to Chennai for a weekend. Just took two days to shoot, to play Sir Francis Spring in it. And it was such a big thing for the movie to have the first time you see British actor to have that kind of gravitas that Stephen Fry could bring to it. That authenticity was a really great gift that he gave the film. But they were all wonderful.

Dev Patel and Stephen Fry

LD: How long were you filming in India?

MB: Not long, about nine days. Which was really…it was hard because it was an independent film and you obviously get compared to I don’t know, movies like–I mean, I’m really flattered anytime anybody ever mentions like the John Nash film for instance that was about fifteen times our budget [laughs] you know? So if it’s even in the conversation. But you know, we had a very short shoot compared to those kind of movies and we did twenty two days in England and then we had to say goodbye to our crew after we’re in a great rhythm. And then we switch to India, to Chennai, which is nothing like Madras in 1914. It was a real challenge and a brand new crew all of the sudden which is Indian and goes to a totally different rhythm. It was a tribute to my team–my production designer Luciana Arrighi, the cinematographer [Larry Smith], my costume designer [Ann Maskrey]– that they all came out alive and in one piece. [laughs]

LD: I’ve read now that you’ve also adapted an Ian Fleming biography, are you actively working with that?

MB: No that’s something I had written a while back. That’s, I’m not really sure what the state of that. I think that they said that that was going into production this year though so that was exciting. I have another movie called London Town that I think is in the Los Angeles film festival right now and then doing, I think it’s having a premiere maybe in Cannes. And that’s about falling in love with a band for the first time. A young man coming of age story with the band The Clash and Joe Strummer. Jonathan Rhys Meyers stars in that.

LD: That’s quite a change from Mathematics and World War One!

MB: Right? But you know what, it’s not though. That’s the funny thing, I thought the same thing then I was thinking about it more and more…It’s socially conscious kind of and it’s about artists, you know, so in a weird way it isn’t so different. But yeah, it is different because it’s a little easier on the face of it to rock out to Joe Strummer.

I screened The Man Who Knew Infinity as part of the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. It is currently in limited theatrical release with national expansion in the coming weeks.

TFF: Keegan-Michael Key on “Keanu” and the Upcoming “Don’t Think Twice”

Keegan Michael Key rose to fame on Comedy Central with Jordan Peele on their hit sketch show “Key & Peele”. The television duo rode off into the sunset of that series this past September but they’ve already reteamed on the big screen in the action comedy Keanu which opens today. The film finds the pair fighting drug gangs to recover Peele’s character’s stolen kitten. Keegan was in attendance at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival to premiere Mike Birbiglia’s Don’t Think Twice which he stars in alongside Birbiglia, Gillian Jacobs and Chris Gethard. On the red carpet, the hilarious Key was glad to joke about working with the many felines of Keanu as well as his role in the touching improv-centric Don’t Think Twice.

Lauren Damon: So how was it working with that cat?

Keegan-Michael Key: The cat was super difficult. The cat—lemme explain to you—this cat, you wouldn’t believe how fast this thing became a prima donna like ‘Nah, I’m not gonna eat cat food anymore. I’m only going to eat caviar. The salmon has to be from Alaska.’ I mean, it’s like what are we doing?? It took like—I can’t believe we got the movie finished to be quite honest with you. [laughing] In real life, it was seven cats. So the thing is it was each cat was given the job of doing a particular thing. So some cats run from point A to point B. Some cats really relax and chill out in your arms and some cats put their paws up and go ‘meeeeow!’ All this kind of stuff. So they were actually not as hard as you would think. Especially for kittens. Like they’re trained. They always say it’s hard enough to ‘herd cats’ well, imagine herding kittens! But we had amazing trainers. Really amazing trainers. And a lot of kibble. [Laughs] Like a lot of cat food and catnip to keep ‘em in line. 

LD: Was it a relief for you coming off “Key & Peele” to get to work with Jordon so soon again?

KMK: Oh yeah! And also it’s easier even though a movie’s longer, it’s easier to play one character. You know, it’s easier because there’d be times you’d be in wardrobe and looking in a mirror but learning lines for a different sketch as you’re like ‘I’m dressed like an Egyptian pharaoh but these are the lines for the gangster!’ You know, and so just to play one character and have there be an arc was really helpful.

In Don’t Think Twice, Key plays a member of an improv troupe who snags a job on an SNL-like comedy show, seriously affecting the dynamic of the whole group.

LD: Did the theme of Mike’s film–that idea of “going above” your peers [in having your own comedy show]–resonate with you? Had you experienced it from either side?

KMK: Yeah, it resonates with me. I think that because you have to remember at the end of the day, do everything in your power to just to make it be about the work. Because the success will trip you up. If you start thinking things like you’re better than somebody it’s of no use to anyone. It’s not helpful, it’s not kind. And so I think that what I’ve been trying to discover or negotiate is just working. Work as hard as you can. If somebody else is at the same level or different level works—does work that inspires you, let that continue to inspire you, even if you’re ‘higher than’…you know? That doesn’t mean anything. That’s not real. Those are just labels. Good art is good art no matter what level it’s being made at.

The cast of Don’t Think Twice

Keanu opens in theaters April 29th (read our review here). The fantastic Don’t Think Twice is scheduled for release this July.

Tom Hiddleston and Susanne Bier Premiere AMC’S The Night Manager

Tom Hiddleston and Olivia Colman in “The Night Manager”

“The Night Manager” recently completed its first series run in the UK to much critical acclaim and strong ratings throughout. Fortunately for American viewers, the series gets its stateside premiere tonight on AMC. Based on John Le Carré’s 1993 novel of the same name, “The Night Manager” follows Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) an ex-soldier-turned-titular-customer-serviceman in a posh Egyptian hotel. He’s presented with the opportunity to help British Intelligence agent Angela Burr (Broadchurch’s Olivia Colman) take down jet-setty guest and illegal arms dealer Richard Roper (a superbly sinister Hugh Laurie) from the inside of his operation out. Outraged by Roper’s behavior, and with some very personal motivations as well, Pine swiftly accepts. What follows is a taut spy thriller that features an amazing cast that also includes Elizabeth Debicki and Tom Hollander.

The series premiere screened this weekend as part of the Tribeca Tune In series celebrating television. I caught up with Hiddleston and director of the series, Susanne Bier, for a quick chat on their red carpet.

Susanne Bier is an Oscar winning director (2011’s Best Foreign Language film, In a Better World) who was eager to take on this project in any capacity. “Well I mean, this project I would have done had it been a puppet show!” Bier enthused, “Because I love John Le Carre and I love the novel. But I was also very tempted to do TV. I mean the format of doing six hours as opposed to two hours was just really tempting and really interesting and compelling.”

With the show having already gone over so well in England, Bier was looking forward to opening it up to a new audience and maybe a new perspective on it:  “I think there’s always different perspectives. I mean American audiences are responding just as [excitedly] about it up til now, so I hope so!”

One of the chief changes made from the novel to the series was the switching of British Intelligence agent Burr from a male to a female character. For Bier “Part of it was updating it. Part of it was the fact that by updating it we could take it out of the sort of public school white heterosexual world and maybe actually have a bit of the diversity which is where the world is actually at.” And of the brilliant Olivia Colman, the director added: “And she was absolutely the right choice for it!”

Tom Hiddleston

With Tom Hiddleston‘s Pine reporting to Olivia Colman’s Burr, I wondered if the actor saw a pattern of his recent projects whereby his characters’ fate was in the hands of his strong female leads (Such as Jessica Chastain in Crimson Peak or Tilda Swinton in Only Lovers Left Alive) . Hiddleston—who, it must be said gave thoughtful answers to the entirety of this NYC press line— took some time to reflect on those roles before answering  “I haven’t thought about it consciously in the work. I mean…it seems very true to life, doesn’t it? For men to be in relationship to women? [laughs]” He paused again, “I don’t know that they are, how was it you phrased it? Their ‘fates were in the hands of women’–it’s an interesting interpretation!…It rings true to me that each character would have specific relationships to women, but I would never—I would have to think about it longer to think of it whether his fate were in their hands…It is a new interpretation and I’m not disagreeing with you. My point is I think everyone is responsible for their own actions and that responsibility in each of those characters is shared out. I think Pine’s responsible for what he does and he would never discredit Burr by saying that [the mission] was her idea. He does things on his own volition that he’s responsible for and Pine’s fate is in Pine’s hands.”

As for looking back on his recent characters, he did stipulate: “The only instance who I would say that you brought up is [Crimson Peak’s] Thomas Sharpe who is governed by a very toxic relationship with his sister and out of the sense of duty and codependency he feels trapped. But again, his fates not in her hands, I just would question…I suppose I’m being pedantic about phrasing. But I think everyone’s fate is in their own hands.”

Hiddleston not only stars in “The Night Manager” but he took on the more demanding role of executive producing as well which he “loved,” adding “It recomitted my engagement with the material in a very serious way. I loved the extra responsibility. Responsible for the story, for the script, for the thing running on time and it just gives you greater–to me–the extra responsibility made me give even more commitment. So yeah, hoping there will be more of that.”

The Night Manager premieres tonight at 10pm on AMC.

Sitting down with “Everybody Wants Some!!” stars J. Quinton Johnson, Glen Powell and Wyatt Russell


Described by its writer/director, Richard Linklater, as a “spiritual sequel” to his popular 1970’s set film Dazed and Confused, Everybody Wants Some!! follows the fun times being had by a small college baseball team in 1980. To promote the film, co-stars J. Quinton Johnson, Glen Powell and Wyatt Russell sat down with me at the Alamo Drafthouse Theatre in Kansas City. Johnson enters the room in full voice, performing a song he literally just wrote. Powell, the most outgoing of the group, sits between the other two, eager to chat. Russell, a former hockey player and the son of Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn (he has his dad’s eyes) busies himself with his phone. And so we begin:

Mike Smith: What was it like going back in time to 1980?

Glen Powell: It was a transitional time and everything. Clothing. Presidents. Everything was kind of shifting and changing. Our relationship with the world was changing and I think this movies about guys who were shifting from either college to the real world or high school to college. And that shift not only in their world but in the world at large is what the film is about.

Wyatt Russell: So it’s AWESOME! [everyone laughs]. I mean we talked about the clothes and the hair and the music. I think everything was much sexier then I just love that era.

GP: Nowadays we have social media…smart phones… so when you go to parties today everyone has their phone out to show how good time they’re having. But in that era it’s like having a good time with these people right here.

WR: I’m at the Bieber concert!

J. Quinton Johnson

J. QUINTON JOHNSON: I’M AT THE BIEBER CONCERT!!!

[Note: Justin Bieber was in Kansas City the same week as the guys]

GP: And when we’re having a good time, we’re also athletes on the dance floor. Rick [director Richard Linklater] told us that back then athletes were peacockers, in every sense of the word. When I was an athlete, we were almost wallflowers. You go to practice and then you go home and do your thing. I mean these guys are drinking beer. Today it’s much more competitive.

JQJ: You’re not going to be out at the club.

WR: I played hockey. When I played in Europe it wasn’t a problem going out for a few drinks. But when I played in the states it was pretty rigid. Back then it wasn’t for a career you were going to make a lot of money and become a brand and sell a lot of clothes.

GP: Rick also talked about the body type of an athlete back then. Today everyone takes supplements…they’re all almost like Adonis, they’re all shredded. Back then Rick said we would’ve been in what you would call pretty good shape. I mean you are athletes but you just don’t look like one. It’s a different body type now.

MS: Was it easy to film the baseball scenes? I mean you all had participated in athletics before, right? Wyatt, you played hockey…

JQJ: I played basketball.

Glen Powell

GP: I played football. On the set we would have baseball practice every morning. We had a couple guys who had played professional ball. One had played for the A’s, and a couple of played in college. So those guys helped out the guys who might not have had that much baseball experience. We also had to do a skills video as part of our audition. I think Quinton had the most entertaining non-baseball video.

JQJ: I mean I was an athlete. I could catch a ball. I could throw a ball. But I wasn’t a baseball player and Rick knew that instantly. So what I did is I added more flair as an artist. Again I played basketball so I threw a dunk in there. And I kept trying to throw in more as a person. I was juggling. I had a shot of a dog running through the park, set to the tune of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town.”

GP: I was filming Ride Along 2 so I went to a batting cage and filmed mine. And then I just laid a bunch of 80s music on top of it. Mine wasn’t nearly as fun as yours.

Wyatt Russell

WR: I had like five minutes to do mine because I had a go somewhere. The casting director called me on Friday and said you have to have it in… By 5 o’clock… On Friday. It was a big festival going on and all my friends were out of town. I didn’t even have a baseball glove. So I ended up going to my brother’s house and had him film me using my seven-year-old nephew’s glove.

MS: The film is full of great 80’s music. Did you listen to any particular songs to get into the feel of the era?

GP: Yes. Rick gave each of us and iPod nano with 100 songs from 1979 and 1980 on it. And so were ever we went… whatever we did… we listened to the music. And if we are in his game room playing ping-pong we listened to the music. It was a big part of getting us in tune with the times.

Everybody Wants Some!! is now playing in select cities. For tickets, visit everybodywantssomemovie.com

Director Jon Cassar Talks About His New Film, “Forsaken” and the Possible Return of “24”

You may know the name Jon Cassar from his Emmy Award winning association with the popular television series, “24.” But when he’s not putting Jack Bauer through his paces, he’s taking the reigns of one of the best Westerns of the past decade.

“Forsaken,” which Mr. Cassar directed, boasts a strong script and an even stronger cast, including Donald and Keifer Sutherland, who star as father and son. Mr. Cassar took some time out to talk to me about “Forsaken,” the return of the Kennedys and what may be next for “24.”

MIKE SMITH: What attracted you to “Forsaken?”
JON CASSAR: Actually I was there when the project was born. A few of us were sitting around on the set of “24” talking, waiting to set up a shot when we started asking each other, ‘what would be a great thing to do once “24” ends?’ Eventually we all decided, ‘let’s do a Western together.’ So that’s really where it started. Once we decided on that Keifer came along. He wanted to do a film with his father so everything just worked. I’m happy to say that I was there at the inception. We got a brilliant writer (Brad Mirman) who not only wrote us a classic Western but also a touching father/son story. So by then I had Keifer, I had a great script and THEN I get Donald Sutherland? There’s no way I wasn’t going to be involved!

MS: Any trepidations about taking on a Western? They seem to be so hit and miss these days.
JC: Yeah, of course. I mean you do worry about it. I mean at one point it was the most popular film genre’. The most popular television genre’ also. I mean, it’s amazing how many popular television shows were Westerns. But it did, of course, begin to fall out of favor, all though it is making a little bitty comeback over the past few months. But you’re right. But I knew I had a great Western story. And I knew I had a great father/son story that people could connect with. I knew that relationship was really the heart of it and if we did it right I knew if would connect. And it’s fun doing something that isn’t a true CGI film. It’s fun doing something where the effects are more simple.

MS: What was it like as an observer to watch Keifer and his father work together?
JC: It was great. I’m very fortunate to have had a front row seat to watch Keifer and Donald working together. From the first time it was fantastic. They are both veteran actors and, in my opinion, two of the best actors of our time. To watch them work together was a pleasure. As it was watching all of the actors. Demi Moore. Brian Cox. Michael Wincott. They are all so experienced. I was very lucky to have a front row seat and watch them work.

MS: Keifer. Michael Wincott. Greg Ellis. You used quite a few of your “24” company in the film. Was that because you already had a good familiarity with them and their work?
JC: Absolutely. First of all, you have to know that all of the actors in the film were basically my friends. I didn’t have a studio dictating who was going to play what part. We actually got to pick who we liked. A lot of them were Keifer’s friends. And of course, by having done “24,” they knew me so it made the connection easier for sure.

MS; The recent return of “24” was very successful. I’ve heard rumors that Fox is considering re-booting the show. Is that something you plan to be involved with?
JC: Nothing is official yet. I am involved and we have talked. I can say that if it goes forward I won’t be involved in the pilot but I do hope to be involved in the series. However, at this point I’m not.

MS: What else are you working on now?
JC: A few years ago I did a mini-series called “The Kennedys,” which was an eight-part mini-series that starred Greg Kinnear as JFK and Katie Holmes as Jackie. We’re doing a sequel to that, called “After Camelot,” based on a book. It will deal with what happened to the Kennedys after John and Robert died. It’s mostly the Jackie story and it follow her during her marriage to Onassis as well as John Jr. and Ted Kennedy. It will encompass all of that history. We shoot that soon in Toronto. It will run on the Reelz Channel. It’s actually a fun project for me to do because we’re re-creating all of the history that we all grew up with.

Chantel Riley Talks About Broadway’s “The Lion King” and Her Role in the New Film “Race”

Born in Toronto, Chantel Riley’s path to stardom began when she realized she wasn’t doing what she truly wanted in her life. She is now. Since 2012 she has starred as Nala in the Broadway musical “The Lion King” and last year was able to take time off from the show to begin her movie career with a pivotal role in the new Jesse Owens bio-film RACE.

During a break in her busy schedule, Ms. Riley took the time to speak with me about the physicality of “The Lion King,” her role in RACE and why one day she hopes to be able to “ease on down the road!”

MIKE SMITH: Tell us a little bit about your background? How did you end up on Broadway?
CHANTEL RILEY: I’m originally from Toronto and I went to University in Toronto. After school I pretty much got a 9-5 job but after about a year and a half I realized it definitely wasn’t my thing. (laughs) Because I was a performer. I had taken dance lessons and I had grown up singing in my church. I just had an idea that something else was out there for me. I had no idea what it was but I knew I needed a change. A friend of mine told me about an open casting call they were having in Toronto for “The Lion King.” I had never auditioned for anything before in my life. This was my first time doing anything like this. So I went to the audition and got a few callbacks, which was very exciting. I had a couple well extended lunch breaks…I kept having to go downtown for these callbacks. A couple months later I got a call from my agent and they wanted me to audition to be part of the cast of “The Lion King” in Germany. So I flew to Germany, did the audition and booked the job on the spot. I did the show there for about a year and then I auditioned again for Julie Taymor, who directed “The Lion King” on Broadway, and was offered the role of Nala in New York on the Broadway stage. And here I am!

MS: So basically you’re just like Shirley Jones…you just show up and you’re on Broadway!
CR: (laughing) Exactly!

MS: You’ve portrayed Nala for quite a while now. Do you have to prepare anything special for yourself to keep the performance fresh? I can imagine doing the same thing 8 shows a week for a couple of years might get boring after awhile.
CR: Yes I do. I keep occupied by taking classes and making short films. These things keep me thinking outside the box. I also use what I learn from the classes and the films and bring it with me on the stage. It gives me a new sense at how I look at each performance every night. And this also gives me the chance to try something new. Every night we have a new audience. So it’s a great way for me to try new techniques and to find different ways of performing.

MS: I’ve never seen the show on Broadway but I’ve seen photos and the occasional video clip. It’s a lot more than just standing on a stage and singing. Is the show more difficult physically as opposed to musically?
CR: The show is very physical. We’re constantly on stage and we play lions and zebras and other animals. My role has me constantly running around. If Nala isn’t jumping on-stage she’s jumping off-stage. There’s a lot of activity. AND singing. I sing two songs in the show. We sing live and the dancers are moving non-stop. So it is a very physical show.

MS: You have an important role in the upcoming film RACE. What is your character’s relationship to Jesse Owens in the film?
CR: Quincella Nickerson was someone who was very close to Jesse Owens. She was not only his friend but a huge fan of his. She was a socialite whose father owned a huge insurance company in California. At that time that was pretty huge…that an African-American could be that affluent. She spent a lot of time with Jesse…attending parties and things. There were rumors going around that she and Jesse were engaged to be married. They spent a lot of time together. So we see a lot of that in the film…a lot of her in the film.

MS: If you could play one role on Broadway, either current or a show from the past, what would it be?
CR: Definitely Dorothy from “The Wiz.” I think that would be such a fun role. It would be so exciting. And it’s such fun music. That would be so much fun!

MS: What do you have coming up next?
CR: I’m working on a new short film with James Brown-Orleans, a fellow cast member from “The Lion King.” We’ve done a lot of short films together. Our most recent film, “Teacher’s Nightmare,” just won the Wendy’s International Short Film Award for Best Drama. That’s pretty cool.

A Conversation with Deadpool’s Greg LaSalle

If you’ve made the right decision this Valentine’s Day weekend and have checked out Deadpool then you may not have heard Greg LaSalle but you definitely saw him. Sort of. LaSalle is one of the tech wizards behind the Academy Award winning MOVA Facial Performance Capture system used in bringing Deadpool’s X-men reinforcement, Colossus, to the screen. While Colossus’s body and voice were provided by actor Stefan Kapicic, LaSalle stepped in front of the MOVA cameras to give the metallic facial performance.

The morning after Deadpool made its New York debut amidst a Deadpool fan costume contest, I sat down with LaSalle for a conversation on Deadpool, other Marvel films and this amazing process used to bring characters such as the Incredible Hulk and Thanos to life.

Lauren Damon: Did you go to the fan premiere last night?
Greg LaSalle: Oh yeah, that was a lot of fun.

How many Deadpools showed up?
LaSalle: Oh you mean the people who dressed up? Oh I don’t know, I think there were quite a bit. I think they chose like seven of them or something, it was pretty funny. One in a tutu, I mean…it was hysterical.

Are you someone who goes to conventions in general seeing that?
LaSalle: No–
“Avoid them like the plague!”
LaSalle: [laughing] No, it’s not that, you know it’s just I have so many things to do. I don’t get a chance to do that very often.

Can you talk about what MOVA Facial Performance Capture is?
LaSalle: I’ll start by telling you first a little bit about what motion capture actually is–which is where you would wear the reflective markers. And that system, those systems were actually developed to deduce where a skeleton is moving. So as those cameras became higher resolution, people started shrinking the dots and gluing them to people’s faces. The data set you get from that is only like 200, 250 points. So a friend of mine in the bay area decided that he would fund the development of research to find out how to actually capture the entire surface of the skin deformity and that’s where MOVA comes from. That development.

So it’s super high resolution, it captures about 7000 data points, all the wrinkles, all the subtlety of the performance is captured. So it’s basically like capturing a scan per frame of the film of the actor. And then about two years ago Digital Domain developed a technique to take those and apply them mathematically to a computer generated character. So the entire performance gets carried over so it really looks, you know, all the performance is captured.

I heard that it’s captured through paint instead of dots?
LaSalle: We apply, it’s invisible makeup in white light that just is applied as a random pattern and then the system has strobing black lights and white lights. So certain cameras take a picture when the black lights are on and all they see is this random pattern makeup. And that’s what’s used to create the scans and track the points across the face.

Seeing as you worked on both Avengers and Age of Ultron and a couple years had passed between them, did the process for capturing the Hulk change? If you worked on the Hulk?
LaSalle: I did, in the first Avengers that’s what it started out as actually, it was before filming was working with Industrial Light and Magic to capture Mark [Ruffalo] to see how he would move as the Hulk. On set they used a bit of different technology so this new technology that we used for Colossus is actually the first time it’s been used. This mathematic transferring of the performance. Things like in the past, like in Avengers, we surveyed the actor. We’d get all the information about how the actor’s face would move and then companies would build a rig which is just a way of animating and when you run a slider, the lip goes up and it goes up as if it was the actor. But it doesn’t have all the subtlety and nuance of the variation in a performance. The new technology the does.

Did you have any hand in that Hulk-smashing-Loki scene?
LaSalle: Well we only specialize in the facial stuff, so only the expressions part of–but that was my favorite part of the first Avengers movie. That ‘boom boom boom!’ [LaSalle does some pretty accurate Hulk smashing motions] It’s a shame though to see Tom Hiddleston beat up like that because he’s such a nice guy.

You captured his face for that? Wasn’t it just grunting?
LaSalle: Yeah yeah…It’s so many years ago now and we’ve done so many things that I can’t remember exactly what we did. If I remember correctly, they put a pipe with some foam on the end and they kept [jabbing motions, laughing] like they’re pushing the back of [Tom’s] head so that he’d [jerks his head]…It was very strange!

What did you work on for Age of Ultron?
LaSalle: Actually I only did the–Thanos. Working with Josh Brolin.

Also on Guardians of the Galaxy too?
LaSalle: Mhmm.

I don’t know if Marvel would let me ask you but when is he coming back?!
LaSalle: That’s really funny because I was convinced while we were filming Age of Ultron that they’re gonna–I just have this feeling that something will happen. I mean he’s like the baddest dude in the whole universe and they have to do something–

Yeah coming up of course we have [Captain America] Civil War, that’s Earth-bound but [Thor] Ragnarok is coming and that’s out there! He’s waiting in the wings…
LaSalle: I mean I wish I could say. I’m not privy to those kinds of things to begin with. But it would be really cool to see a bad ass movie with Thanos. I mean they have so many characters and so many things to do. Kevin Feige–he’s the president of Marvel–knows this universe probably better than Stan Lee and he has this all mapped out in his head. He knows exactly what he’s doing.

Do you keep up with the other projects in between what you’re working on?
LaSalle: I don’t actually like actively keep up. I look for within the industry, what we could work on and how we could pull things off.

So working as Colossus, you’re performing his scenes and they just transfer your face into his?
LaSalle: Yes, in simple terms, yes. It creates a scan first and then this fancy math transfers that by figuring out where–you teach it ‘Okay, this is where the center of my cheek is and this is the center of where Colossus’s left cheek is’ and it mathematically calculates what else is going on in that area. It transfers it.

How did it come to be this split performance where you’re on the face and Stefan Kapicic provides the body and voice?
LaSalle: Tim Miller understands this technology really well, so he figured he could take the best of what different people had to offer and Frankenstein all that together. And he was adamant about having an authentic Russian voice. I believe he even recorded another and he just didn’t like it and then he found Stefan. And I think it works extremely well. It’s a pretty cool way of using the technology.

What was the most fun about being Colossus?
LaSalle: Well I’ve known Tim for a long time and I just like working with him. He’s fun, he’s actually a lot like Deadpool in his comedy and the way he’s sarcastically funny. So I enjoy working with him on that. But I also did the tests which we did like six years ago so it’s been really awesome to see it finally get made. So just the general overall feeling of being happy about that.

Was Tim involved at all in how Deadpool was treated in [2009’s] Wolverine?
LaSalle: No

Was there discussion about just getting away from that entirely?
LaSalle: Tim is a huge comic book fan. He reads a ton, he likes graphic novels. He knew that he wanted to take what’s on the page and have that be what’s in the film. He wasn’t going to mess with it, he wanted to–as a fan he knew that that’s what everybody wanted to see. That’s what he wanted to do.

How instrumental was Ryan Reynolds also in getting this?
LaSalle: I think it was a collaborative effort because they all have their understanding of the character so they–and Tim is great that way. I know he had people that they discussed it: ‘This is what I’d like to see, this is what you’d like to see’ and then they figured out a way to get that all to happen.

This is your second time in front of the camera [after an appearance Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb] is this what you’d like to do more of?
LaSalle: Well I think it’s fun, I’ve been acting for a while and that’s why Tim gave me the part. But I like to do both. I think it’s fun to play the computer generated characters because you get to do really wacky stuff. And then but I also like really small, intimate type live action things. So I’ve been shooting a few short things.

What’re some of your favorite films this past year?
LaSalle: Oh, I liked the Big Short, I liked Trumbo if you’ve seen that. I thought Trumbo was really good.

Yeah, it was weird to watch that in the context of “Award season” since there’s so much of Oscar in the storyline…
LaSalle: I know! You gotta block all that stuff out. Well it’s so interesting too. I mean it’s doubly cool that it’s true.

Do you have more acting roles coming up?
LaSalle: I just finished filming, ironically with Blake Lively [married to Reynolds]. A movie with her called All I See is You which there’s what we call invisible effects. It’s a live action movie but they wanted to use this new technology to drive her newborn baby being born and a character that she sees in her head. So I played both of those parts.

Playing a fetus?!
LaSalle: Not the fetus! As soon as it’s born I had to do the scenes of taking the first breath of screaming and crying and opening the eyes and looking around. They wanted all this subtlety. They figured a live performance would do that more than trying to animate all that subtlety into it.

[This next question features discussion of a specific Deadpool moment, so for the SPOILER-shy, skip down past this one!]

Does that mean you had anything to do with Deadpool regrowing a baby hand? [A brilliant moment after Deadpool cuts his off to escape Colossus’s handcuffs]
LaSalle: (Laughs) No! No. It’s so funny because I’d known that he cuts his hand off for a very long time but I never go to see anything–I only knew because Colossus ends up with his hand. And I never knew what happened. So when he cut his hand off, the first time he saw the movie it was like ‘OK now how does it grow back? How does it grow back?’ And then they even made that funny, it was awesome. I didn’t know what to expect because I don’t like to see the movie until they’re completely done because there’s just so many things that pull you out of it, you know? So I wanted to wait til it was done and I think that all this talk–the blood and the guts and the R-rating, it’s perfect. I don’t care!

It would be weird if you had this much violence and then just no blood, it’s annoying when PG-13 movies do that–
LaSalle: Plus it’s there because it needs to be, a couple of short seconds and it’s not gross. It’s just real.

[Spoiler over!]

Back to Deadpool , considering there are so many films now in the ‘Marvel Universe’, what do you think is most appealing about this character, what does he bring?
LaSalle: Well I think his authenticity to the original character. And the comedy. I mean I think there’s a lot of funny stuff in the Avengers movies and some of the other stuff, but that’s what Deadpool’s character is built around. And I think that that just makes it’s different and stand out.

If Deadpool had to be pitted against any of the Avengers, who do you think would win out?
LaSalle: Oh…This might sound bad but I think Deadpool is way smarter than those other characters. So I think he’d win a lot of stuff. Because he thinks differently than they do.