Director Jeppe Rønde and star Hannah Murray talk about “Bridgend” at Tribeca Film Festival

Jeppe Rønde’s harrowing new drama Bridgend made its debut during the Tribeca Film Festival this past week with both the director and star Hannah Murray (“Game of Thrones”) in attendance. Bridgend is based on the true story of a massive series of teen suicides that occurred in a small town in Wales. The suicides received media coverage at a point where seventy-nine young people had taken their lives between 2007 and 2012. In the film, teenager Sarah (Murray) moves to Brigend with her police officer father and quickly finds herself running with the pack of local teens who’ve recently lost some of their peers to suicide. They are a wild bunch who borderline worship the deceased and memorialize them in an anonymous online chat. All the while Sarah’s father, like the rest of the community, seeks to find what is causing this horrible phenomenon.

This mystery intrigued director Rønde who spent time in the actual community and eventually shot the film there on location. Rønde and Murray both spoke to me on the red carpet about how important it was to dramatize the town’s story in a respectful manner.

Lauren Damon: You spent time in the actual community of Bridgend, what was that like and did you go there with the goal of developing a film about it?
Jeppe Rønde
: I went there with the–a goal is a strong word–but I went there to try and find out what is this about? And why is this tragedy happening? Which is of course may be a mystery, because it doesn’t make sense. Why do so many youngsters kill themselves? So I was trying to figure out how can this happen? And how can it keep on going?

LD: Was Hannah’s character influenced by a particular story that you found there?
JR: Not particular, but I wrote the whole script through all the characters that I met there. Many of them. And I mixed them into, you know, one character. So you couldn’t do like a one-to-one, ‘oh this is that character’, because I would never be able to do that. Because that would be morally incorrect. So I built it on the reality I met but also making it a fiction which was important to me. Because it cannot be too close to the real people living there…

LD: How did you find filming in the actual location?
JR: Actually to film on the location was very important to me. Because you feel the presence of what is there. The geography is specific. There’s a fog coming, you know every day it rains a lot. And it can feel depressing. And at the same time it is extremely beautiful. And it was easy for me to get the actors into this state of mind that I wanted them to be in.

LD: How much preparation went into your work with the DP to get this very ominous atmosphere?
JR:
Of course we wanted to push forward a feeling of something that would be this collective subconsciousness. Something that’s within us that’s a darkness. So we wanted to put that also into the shot.

LD: What would you want audiences to take away from the ending of the film?
JR: I hope that they will take away from the ending that this is something that is beyond understanding of who we are as human beings. That there’s something in us that we don’t know what it is…that if we do look into it carefully, then we can maybe choose one or the other. Because it is an open ending.

LD: Is this still going on? All the suicide statistics associated with the town seem to come from 2007 and 2012.
JR: Because that’s the only figures that you can find officially. But unfortunately yes, it is still happening. From what I heard and no one really knows, but the media was shut down in 2010. So it’s difficult to say, but you would have to ask the authorities there.

 

Hannah Murray, who currently plays Gilly on “Game of Thrones” had a breakout role in the UK teen TV drama “Skins” but saw the role of Sarah as a wholly different teen.

LD: What was your initial reaction to the script?
Hannah Murray: I’d never done something that was based on you know, based loosely on true events. I felt a huge sense of responsibility and I didn’t really want to get involved unless I thought things were going to be done sensitivly and respectfully. And when I had been offered the part I had a meeting with Jeppe to ask him why he wanted to make this film because I was worried about someone, I don’t know, wanting to do it in a kind of half-hearted way or taking advantage. So when I understood how long he’d taken to research it and how dedicated he was to the subject matter, and how involved he’d become with the community, I thought ‘Oh, you’re going to do this right and you’re going to do this honestly and bravely and compassionately.’ So that made me decide that it was something that it was worth jumping into.

LD: How was it shooting in that location?
HM: I don’t think we could have made the movie anywhere else. When you go there, you feel something very unique about that place and it’s beautiful. It’s incredibly beautiful but in a very bleak way. And there’s something kind of almost mystical and strange about it. I loved being there but it was, yeah you do feel a sort of sense of darkness in the air. Maybe that was because of the story we were telling though, I’m sure.

LD: You have this background coming from “Skins” of acting in the midst of a bunch of wild teens, did you feel a little like you were tapping into that again?
HM: I mean I feel like they’re incredibly different projects in sort of every way. Skins shows a dark side of teenage life but it also shows an incredibly fun and comedic side of teenage life. And in this, I mean, one of my friends saw this movie and described it as a gangster movie. Which I think is a really really interesting way of looking at it. And I think there’s a kind of, there’s a level of tribalism in this world that is so much more severe than anything that related to my teen experience. Whereas “Skins” I could kind of go like ‘Oh yeah, it was fun, we went to parties.” It was very different.

LD: How was it different on set with between the days you had you just acting with the pack of young actors versus the more intimate, intense scenes of just your character and her father?
HM: I mean that was one of the most amazing things about the project was all the different people I was working with were so different in terms of experience they’d had and the types of things they’d brought to these characters. So yeah, I remember every day we had the gang there it was just like this injection of energy and they were so exciting and would throw all these amazing lines that they’d improvised…And they would talk a thousand words a minute. And when I was working with Steve [Waddington] I felt like a child and when I was working with the kids I felt more like an adult because I felt sort of more responsible for them. And then I also had the love story with Josh O’Connor, which was a whole other element to play out…but I love everyone who worked on the film. It was such an amazing group of people.

LD: Finally, congratulations of continuing with Game of Thrones–especially this season’s opener being their highest rated–
HM: Oh was it?
LD: Apparently
HM: Oh that’s great!

LD: Why do you think the audience just keeps growing for it?
HM: I think it’s a REALLY good TV show. I think people put an incredible amount of hard work into it. The production values are really high and I just think David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] and George [RR Martin] are geniuses. I just think they’re so smart…And George created this amazing world in the books and these incredible characters and then the way David and Dan have adapted it is beyond. I think they’re so so smart.

LD: And how many times a day does Kit Harrington have to hear he knows nothing?
HM: He gets told quite a few times. Not by our crew, but I’ve seen people come up to him in the street and that’s allllways the thing they want to say to him.

LD: How about you, do you get fan recognition out and about?
HM: Um, a bit. Less so than I think some of the others. I think because I’m–well, now I have red hair, but I’m normally blond in real life whereas I have dark hair in the show so I can kind of be a little bit more under the radar. But I still, I’m surprised how many people still spot me. I think because there are so many fans of the show.

Murray Langston talks about his new book “Journey Thru the Unknown”

Here’s my Murray Langston story. When I started out in the theatre business one of my responsibilities was to put the new films together and watch them to make sure they were ok. One Friday morning I came in to assemble and screen a film called “Night Patrol,” that Mr. Langston not only co-wrote but starred in, both as Officer White and the Unknown Comic. As the film started I began to panic, as the opening credits were in French and subtitled. After a few moments I ran to the office and called the film company, screaming at them that they had sent me a French print. Thus began a scramble at New Line which ended when one of the film people in the office, who had seen the film, notified his bosses that the filmmakers intentionally put the opening credits in French and assured them, and me, that the film was in English. And it was. Ha-ha on me! And the many people that would come out of the theatre wanting their money back because they didn’t know “Night Patrol” was a foreign film.

Born in Canada, Murray Langston always had a knack for being funny. After entertaining his fellow sailors while working as a disc jockey in the Navy, Langston ended up in California, where he made his professional debut on “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In” doing his impression of a fork. He eventually earned a gig as part of the supporting cast of “The Sonny and Cher” show. But he shot to fame when he put a paper bag over his head and appeared as the Unknown Comic on “The Gong Show.”

In the almost four decades since he slipped that bag over his head he has not only continued to entertain but has helped nurture some of the greatest comedians of his, and our, era. To promote his new book, “Journey Thru the Unknown,” Mr. Langston sat down with me to talk about his career, his influences, and his two beautiful daughters, of whom he is immensely proud. After I regaled him with the above “Night Patrol” story, which he enjoyed, the questioning began in earnest. I should add hear that Murray Langston is always “on” and never misses an opportunity to make you laugh.

Murray Langston: Where are you calling me from?
Mike Smith: Kansas City.
ML: Oh…I’ve heard of it.
MS: I’ve got four or five questions whenever you’re ready.
ML: I tell you what….you’ve got six. And you can’t ask me what the capital of Ohio is.
MS: That was actually my follow up to the first question.
ML: (laughs). Good one. Don’t ask me the distance from the sun to the moon either. Don’t know it.

MS: For those who haven’t read the book yet, tell us a little about what led you into show business.
ML: Two words. Jerry Lewis. He’s what led me into it. Sitting in the theatre as a kid and watching those movies. I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I think he also inspired Steve Martin. He inspired a lot of people. And I’m so grateful because I’ve had a wonderful life…and am still having a wonderful life.

MS: That’s all that matters.
ML: Exactly. I’m enjoying every minute of every day.

MS: You are originally from Canada, which has also given us great comic minds like Dan Aykroyd, Mike Meyers, Jim Carey. What is it about Canada that makes people so funny?
ML: I don’t know. Maybe it’s the cold weather. We just wanted to get out of there and comedy was a good way to do it. You know, when you do shows in Canada the people aren’t really applauding, they’re just trying to keep warm.

MS: I can’t think of anyone that has an appreciation of comedy that doesn’t know of the Unknown Comic. When you would do your live shows you would open as the Unknown Comic and then, after a break, would return to the stage as Murray to finish the act. Were there any bits you felt more comfortable doing as the Unknown Comic rather than as Murray or vice versa?
ML: Not really. The Unknown Comic was more a visual act. I’d do impressions with the bag or magic tricks. Really, except for a few one-liners all of the jokes as the Unknown Comic were related strictly to the bag. Once I took the bag off it was a completely different show because I would talk about things that were happening in my own life.

MS: The book has a great collection of photographs. I think a lot of the people that read it are going to be shocked because they’re going to recognize you instantly by your moustache and realize you entertained them on many, many sketch comedy shows. Do you have a favorite guest star that you worked with on these shows?
ML: Obviously a huge moment for me was when I got to work with Jerry Lewis on “The Sonny and Cher Show.” That show was four and a half great years. I mean I got to meet everybody. From Ronald Regan to O.J. Simpson. All of the great musical acts that came along back then. “The Sonny and Cher Show” is definitely a highlight of my life.

MS: You mention often in your book the influence Jerry Lewis had, not only on you but on so many other comedians. Is there another comic actor around these days that you think could be referred to as having achieved “Jerry Lewis” status?
MS: You know who almost did that…Jim Carey, who I worked with a couple of times in Canada. I would say that he came pretty close to it for a few years. I’m one of those guys that, whenever somebody can get up on a stage and make people laugh for 45 minutes or an hour, I’m going to appreciate them because I know what it takes to do that. I really like Louis C.K. In fact, someone told me that he’s said he only became a comedian because of the Unknown Comic…because of watching me in his early years. I love his work. I love a lot of people’s work. Like I said, anybody that can do it I’m a fan of.

MS: I’ll understand if you can’t answer this one. Did you ever go on a secret mission with Chuck Barris when he was with the C.I.A.?
ML: (laughs loudly) Yes. No, Chuck told me that when he was writing the book he thought it came off as boring so he paralleled his true life story with a fictional one just to make the book more entertaining. And it certainly worked. It made for a good movie. But none of that stuff was true. And I hope people know that now.

MS: Finally, as you approach age 70 you’re still going strong. What do you have coming up?
ML: I just finished a play. And I’m getting ready to perform at the Wolf Trap Theatre. Is that in Vermont?

MS: Virginia. It’s very nice.
ML: I have a couple more joke books coming out, plus I currently doing the audio verison of “Journey Thru the Unknown.” I’ve got a joke book about Donald Trump and another one about the Kardashians, so I’m always busy. Plus I’m always looking out for my two daughters. (NOTE: Mr. Langston has two daughters: Myah, a singer/songwriter and Mary. Mary has Down Syndrome and is truly the light in her father’s life) My oldest daughter (Myah) just signed with Capitol Records and has a record coming out soon. They’re going to be HUGE! Her band is called My Crazy Girlfriend. And it’s really interesting. I wrote in my book how my influence was Jerry Lewis and the next thing I knew I was working with him. From the time Myah was 8 or 9 years old she was a huge fan of Brittney Spears. She idolized her. And now she’s been a back-up singer on her last three albums. That’s an interesting parallel, I thought.
MS: How is Mary?
ML: Mary is doing great. She’s the joy of my life. I’m picking her up from school and she’s spending the weekend with me.

MS: She’s an angel.
She is my angel. She makes my life worth living a hundred times more.

Book Review “Journey Thru The Unknown” by Murray Langston

Author: Murray Langston
Paperback/467 Pages
Publisher: BearManor Media
Publishing date: November 19, 2013

Our Score: 5 out of 5 stars

If you were alive in the 1970s you invariably were a fan of the Unknown Comic. Best known for his appearances on Chuck Baris’ “The Gong Show” television program, the Unknown Comic took a simple prop, a paper grocery sack, placed it on his head and never looked back. “Journey Thru the Unknown” tells the story of the man under the paper sack, a very funny man named Murray Langston who, in his almost 70 years, witnessed and, more importantly, helped shape the modern world of stand-up comedy.

Langston tells his story in a unique way, highlighting every year since his birth. That being said, the first chapter, entitled June 27, 1944, is the shortest, with his main recollection being that it was very hard for him to find work. This is the style Langston employs throughout the book. Whether recounting a meeting with his idol Jerry Lewis, or expressing a father’s love for his two daughters, Langston manages to add a little humor just when it’s needed.

From his early days in the Navy, where he entertained his fellow sailors as a radio DJ to his debut on “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In” to “The Sonny and Cher Show” and beyond, there doesn’t seem to be a time when Langston wasn’t making someone laugh. And along the way he met, or worked with, some of the greatest names in comedy, including Steve Martin, Pat Paulsen, Ruth Buzzi, Tim Conway, Jim Carey, Ted Knight and so many others. The book is also packed with photos – a virtual who’s who of comedy. As someone who enjoyed the various variety shows of the time, including “Sonny and Cher,” I was thrilled when I instantly recognized Langston’s mustached face as someone I had thoroughly enjoyed watching. Reliving his stories with him made me enjoy him all over again!

Joel Murray talks about working with Bobcat Goldthwait on "God Bless America" and Disney/Pixar's "Monsters University"

Joel Murray is the youngest in his family of actors including Bill Murray and Brian-Doyle Murray. He is the star of Bobcat Goldthwait’s latest film “God Bless America” and he is voicing the character Don Carlson in Disney/Pixar’s upcoming “Monsters University”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Joel about growing up in the business and his work on the films above.

Mike Gencarelli: What did you think about “God Bless America” upon your first reading?
Joel Murray: You heard the story from Bobcat (Goldthwait), right? He was having back surgery, so I brought him over dinner and the first three seasons of “Mad Men”. Middle way through season two his wife said “You know, Joel could play Frank”. So he sent me the script but didn’t say a part or anything. I read it and told him it was great and I really liked it. I told him that I liked what he has to say and that it was time for a film like this. Then I asked him, “Who are you thinking about, you want me for the guy in the office?” He said “No Frank…the Guy!” I jumped at the thought of having the lead role in the movie, which doesn’t happen too often. Actually it has just happened once, really [laughs]. My first thought was hell ya! But then I had a couple of moments thinking that there could be some repercussions from this. I agree with about 95% about what he says in the movie. So I just thought “Why not?” My only fear was that seven Westboro Baptists would come visit me at my house. [laughs] But other than that I wasn’t too worried. What I love about his work is that all of his movies having something to say. So many comedies today are just like an extended shit joke.

MG: You’ve worked with Bobcat Goldthwait going back to “Shakes the Clown”; how was it with him behind the director’s chair again?
JM: When I worked with him on “Shakes”, it was his first movie and he was in clown makeup the whole time. You didn’t really think about him as an auteur, he was playing a drunken clown running around in make-up. On this film though, I was able to work hand-and-hand with him the whole time. I directed some stuff in the past and he was open to anything that I had to say and add. It was a fun relationship. It is awkward having your buddy give you a role that you didn’t audition for.  He didn’t give me a lot of notes or anything. All I kept getting from him was “Yeah, you really got this guy down!”

MG: How did you prepare for a character like Frank?
JM: I thought Bob has written it for himself. So I was kind of playing Bob in a way [laughs] but with his normal voice. I had a friend shoot himself in the mouth about 6-8 months before this came up. So when we started shooting, a couple of the scenes we did first was me with a gun in my mouth. That really takes you to a real interesting spot as an actor…a real depressing spot for that matter. So starting from there, I found a dark place to begin with and had a gradual upswing from there. His is never really that happy or excited though in the film. But starting from the darker corner was a good way to go as an actor.

MG: Was it challenging to blend the satirical comedy with the violent action?
JM: How do you blend it? Well, anyone that takes the violence in this film too seriously doesn’t get it. They also may be part of the problem that we are trying to kill. When you have a car montage in the middle of the film dancing around on the map of America, you know it is not taking itself that seriously. To do some serious acting on this, the comedy of it brought something to it. I grew up doing comedy and I have been fortunate enough to get into some serious roles as well in “Mad Men” and “Shameless”. So I’ve got to do some straight acting. It has been interesting to try and I have also learned a lot from my peers and my brothers. I watched my brother Billy (Murray) in “Broken Flowers” and I thought to myself “He’s seeing if he can do absolutely nothing and if it would work” [laughs]. Also in “Lost in Translation”, he was so introspective. So I just didn’t want to overplay it and keep it kind of close. I have a very expressive face, so I don’t need to be too over the top. But Bob was consistently giving me the thumbs up. So I guess it worked.

MG:  Speaking of your family, how was it growing up as the youngest in a family of actors? Do you feel that comedy comes easy?
JM: It was natural at home. Everyone was funny around the dining room table and that is where some of the comedy started in our house. You learn from them. I had some of the funniest people in America in my room growing up. There was also a high standard with them. I did plays throughout high school and college and when I got into improv, it wasn’t that easy but I had my background to draw from. I remember one of the first times my brother Billy came to see me at the Improv Olympic. I remember riding home with him and it was one heck of a quiet car ride, like I just struck out to win the World Series [laughs]. So they are a tough group to impress but we all created our own funny. There is stuff you saw on “Saturday Night Live” and from movies where you think that you grew up with that. I had more noogies on my head then anybody being the youngest [laughs].

MG:  Lastly, tell us about your role Don Carlson in “Monsters University”?
JM: The first trailers didn’t really show any new characters. In the new trailers, I am the guy with the mustache in the cloak that is evoking the initiation rites. Don Carlson is a student in his 40’s that has been laid off and decided to go back to college and learn the computers. So he is in this lame frat with the other guys but he is 20 years older than them all. He was a fun character. He is a little bit Minnesota-ent and sounds a little bit like my brother Brian-Doyle Murray but not exactly, I swear [laughs]. I didn’t go there!

James Murray talks his role on truTV's "Impractical Jokers"

James Murray is star of truTV’s hit practical joke reality series “Impractical Jokers”. Better known as Murr, on the show he is with his best friends Joe Gatto, Sal Vulcano and
Brian “Q” Quinn. The show is just finishing its second successful season and building up a lot of steam behind the show. Media Mikes had a chance to chat with Murr about being a joker and his favorite moments on the show.

Mike Gencarelli: Let’s start with the origin of “Impractical Jokers”?
James Murray: The four of us all went to high school together, so we’ve been friends for over 20 years. We went to an all boys Catholic high school. So there wasn’t a way to be distracted besides playing pranks on each other. For as long as I can remember we have been doing that. I met Joe freshman year in religion class. Every time the teacher would walk down the aisle he would drop his nose on her without her realizing. We ended up doing that in the first season of the show also. A few years ago, we came together and decided to come up with an idea for a TV show. We have been performing together for years doing sketch comedy as The Tenderloins. We came up with the idea for an upside down prank show, where the jokes on us basically.

MG: Does it ever get too embarrassing for you to do what the guys tell you?
JM: I am sure. In the show we reject things all the time because it is too embarrassing. I think the fun of the show is seeing what our breaking points are and what we simply won’t do. My mother raised me to be a gentleman, there is just somethings I will not do or say [laughs]. And of course my best friends know every single one of the things that I won’t do or say.

MG: The show must be filled with outtakes, any cool off-camera moments?
JM: I will tell you, there are some challenges we film that never see the light of day, for reasons we cannot anticipate in advance. Sometimes things seem funnier on paper then reality. Perfect example, last year we were filming this challenge and the idea was funny. We had to go to a children’s park where kids are playing and parents are pushing kids around in stroller. You know how parents baby talk to their kids? The challenge is you have to go to a parent pushing a kid in a stroller and baby talk to the kid and then baby talk to the parent and get them to do the same back to you. Seems funny on paper…but guess what happens when four middle age men with no children on their own attempt this. It was funny, a S.W.A.T team descended on the park in minutes and told us to get out [laughs].

MG: What has been the highlight joke for you this season?
JM: I think my favorite/most embarrassing moment was when I was getting punished and they secretly took me back to our old high school. They called a general school assembly, which is like 600 students called into the auditorium. They then strapped me to a lie detector test and asked me questions you can only imagine. The first was “Is your name James Murra?y”. The second was “Do you get your back waxed?” Which I do since I am hairy Italian but I just don’t want America to know that I do [laughs]. But now they do.

MG: When you started with this did you ever see it being as popular as it is, especially with the truTV Impractical Jokers app?
JM: The app is pretty sweet. You can actually call us up directly. We were each given a phone and if we are available we will pick up and chat with a random fan. I think we always hoped it would be popular and do well. It is good to see that people like it and the word is spreading.

MG: How do you feel about all the International spin-offs of this show?
JM: We love that. I get to travel around and consult on the different versions. It is pretty sweet. It is amazing to think that the guys and myself have created something that is spreading around the world. So original productions of the show are on the air in the UK, Quebec, Brazil, Belgium, Holland, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Lebanon and a few more. It is just pretty damn cool.

MG: With season two ending this month, any world about a third season?
JM: We will see. I will leave that up to the networks to decide. The show is doing well and I feel that there is an appetite for more. So hopefully we will have the privilege and honor to give it to them.