“Cargo” Creators Discuss Their Australian Zombie Drama

The Australian-based zombie drama Cargo was released on cinemas down under this month and is currently streaming internationally on Netflix. It follows Andy (Martin Freeman, read his interview here) a father facing down a viral plague outbreak and journeying across the Australian wild to get his baby somewhere safe. Along the way he encounters both natural and human foes and joins forces with Thoomi (Simone Landers), a young indigenous girl who saw her own father taken by the virus. The film was based on a short that debuted at Australia’s Tropfest in 2013. I sat down with directors Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke as well as producer Kristina Ceyton (The Babadook) to discuss expanding their unique zombie take to a feature.

Lauren Damon: What made you approach a zombie film from this father-daughter angle?

Yolanda Ramke: I guess, I mean for us that really was sort of the heart of the short film— was this relationship between the father and the child. And I think we felt like with the response that the short got that that was the theme, like the vibe that was really resonating with people. So we knew that that was something that we wanted to hold on to in sort of a longer form story. And then it was just a case of you know, fleshing that out. And how do you expand that from a seven minute thing to a hundred minute thing? And then also yeah, how do you bring something kind of that you feel might at least have some element of freshness to it within that genre. For us, it was going Aussie and thinking about our culture.

LD: With such a populated genre, you know, “The Walking Dead” would have already been on a couple seasons when you made the short—do you watch other content out there or try to avoid it?

Ramke: Well I think when the short kind of came out, it was maybe the “Walking Dead” was in season 2?

Ben Howling: End of season two.

Ramke: So it was still sort of like at its zenith and it was—but yeah, we were keeping tabs definitely. I think it’s good to know what other projects are doing and just to make sure that you’re conscious of that. And pushing away from it where you can.

LD: Do any of you have small children that influenced this story at all?

Ramke: We don’t, no.
Howling:No. We have fathers though!
Ramke: We have parents!

LD: Parents who would combat zombies for you?

Ramke: [laughing] Yeah, exactly. That’s it. I think they would.

Kristina Ceyton: ‘Dad, can you carry me on your back?’
Howling: We’ve actually both got fathers who are kind of like engineers, mechanic engineer types, so I guess that kind—the ingenuity of that, we’d be fine—
Ramke: Yeah, I think we both think they probably could do something like that.

Cargo Directors Ben Howling, Yolanda Ramke and producer, Kristina Ceyton

LD: Kristina, you also produced The Bababook which had that heavy mother-son theme front and center, was this project like a funny coincidence to go to a father-daughter?

Ceyton: It is. It’s funny, like initially I didn’t make that connection at all on that level because I just gravitated to the story and you know, was really moved by it. I think it is a genre movie that is surprisingly emotional and has a lot of deep layers about exactly the, you know, parent to child dynamic…but yeah, I suppose there’s parallels, but it’s a very different beast in this instance. I think it’s a lot less psychological and this is about survival and about transcending death. And I think what you would do, you know, the length you would go to to sacrifice yourself for love and family and also community on a more broader level. Yeah. I think it’s those things that really resonated.

LD: When expanding from short to feature, what was the decision making process like on how much more to reveal about the nature of this virus? Because the short was obviously very sparse on details.

Ramke: I think we were really interested in the idea of just throwing the audience in the middle of it. And just personally because we love films that do that. And that make the audience work a little bit to kind of put things together. And I think we just also felt within this genres, we’ve seen a lot of stories that were about finding the cure or that sort of thing and we just thought, ‘well that’s been done really well by other films.’ It just didn’t interest us to go there. I think we just thought, how can we carefully deal out bread crumbs and details for people to put the world together and work out what’s going on. And then just let them go on this journey with this father and this baby and this indigenous girl.

LD: Yeah, that indigenous element is very unique to this film, did you outreach to people in those communities to get their perspective?

Howling: Yeah, in script development, we brought a script consultant on, Jon Bell—who is an indigenous writer from back home and he was able to kind of walk us through. We had some ideas which we’d researched but then we’d discuss with him—‘is this feasible? Is this practical?’ Indigenous culture is very sensitive back home because you could never make a blanket statement like ‘everyone would behave like this.’ There’s all these micro-communities that have these different cultures and values and practices. So he was able to help us navigate those waters in terms of what would be the appropriate response. And then on top of that, just with his own experience. Talking about ways that you can use indigenous hunting techniques and things like that.

Ramke: And then from there, once we knew where we were shooting, which was South Australia, it was a case of conversing with local elders in those communities as well. Just to make sure that we were sort of tailoring things to that region. And giving them the script and making sure that they were comfortable with what was happening. Seeking formal permission to use language in the film. And just trying to basically approach it as respectfully as possible.

LD: How did you go about casting Thoomi?

Ramke: She was a find. Our casting director Nikki Barrett had put a call out. So that had gone to a load of very regional communities across Australia and we had kids filming themselves on their phones, having their parents like read the lines off camera in these very monotone voices. It was just super cute. And yeah, we got down to four girls who we did sort of a workshop with and we just felt like Simone from day one was sort of the standout. And yeah, she really killed it.

LD: How did you get in touch for casting Martin Freeman? Had he seen the short?

Ceyton: No he didn’t so we approached his agent. It was just basically the traditional way of approaching his agent and the initial response was ‘I don’t think that Martin likes genre films’ [laughs] But luckily he read the script and really loved it and fell in love also with the story of this dual kind of father-daughter relationship and survival. And I think for him, it was never really a ‘genre film.’ So luckily he was available at that time and just all the pieces fell into place.

LD: Did his casting change anything within the film seeing as he is basically THE whole film?

Ramke: It would have been just very small things. I think at the point that he had come on we were in the process of doing another draft anyway. So just subconsciously as a writer once you know who the actor is going to be and you’re familiar with their work, you can kind of hear their voice a little bit. So when you’re writing dialogue, there’s an element of writing it with that person in mind. But I think also once we knew that we were going to be casting a British actor, which is something we had hoped to do from quite an early on—that also informs some of the more thematic threads of the story, in terms of Australia’s colonial history. And that just absolutely put more meat on the bones I guess.

LD: Can you talk more about Australia’s past in terms of this story?

Ramke: Absolutely. Just in terms of Australia obviously being, a long way back, colonized by the British and there were a lot of ramifications that kind of linger. In terms of social issues and Australia has some work to do, I think, in terms of acknowledging that past. And you know, it hasn’t been handled in a way that some other nations like, I believe, Canada and New Zealand, where there are treaties with their indigenous people. It’s all been quite overlooked. So I think there is still a lot of collective pain that exists in indigenous Australia. And we just didn’t want to ignore that, I suppose. But we also didn’t want to get too preachy about it either. So it was something we could just let sit in the story, just by nature of being English and coming into contact with this indigenous—

LD: And him requiring their assistance.

Ramke: That’s right. That’s sort of like the reversal of the sort of historical context, I guess in a way.

LD: How did you go about developing the other Australians in the film? The human villains, who weren’t present in the short.

Howling: I think in early drafts we just explored a variety of like different antagonists. And then we just kind of blended them together into one kind of more fleshed-out three dimensional kind of person…It was nice to have somebody as a bit of a contrast to the indigenous response which was to go back to the land and traditional ways. And this is somebody who is very attached to western living and can’t let go of it. So it was just in terms of creating that, that split between the two of them and learning his motivation and fleshing it out from there.

LD: When you make a zombie-apocalypse film like this, do you find yourself considering what you would do in this worst-case scenario?

Ramke: Ohhhh…have you ever thought about what you’d actually do?
[laughter]
Howling: That makes you cocky…
Ramke: No, but I think ultimately it would always come back to family though. It would always be about ‘Are my family safe? How do I re-connect with my family?’ and make sure that we’re together if this was to go down.
Howling: But what if they’re already infected??
Ramke: [Gasps] Oh! Well I just can’t even deal with that idea, that would be heartbreaking.

LD: Your zombies are unique in that they’ve got a different design, this orange slime rather than regular blood and gore, what was the thought behind that?

Ramke: Yeah, we didn’t want to do the gory bloody thing. And I think that that just came from this approach that we tried to take to the whole film which was to just to try and keep it as sort of grounded as we could. And as subtle as we could. And that idea of that design aesthetic coming out of the natural environment. The idea that this sort of toxicity in the environment and that it sort of literally affecting the land and that is spreading to the people. So the influence for that was like tree sap was like a visual reference. That more organic kind of reference.

LD: Are you excited that this film with be hitting the Netflix audience?

Ramke: Yeah we are!

LD: Are you guys the Netflix binge-watch types, do you have favorites?

Howling: Yeah, definitely.
Ramke: I loved “The OA”. “The OA”, “Stranger Things”, I feel like there’s some other really great shows that I’m completely neglecting!
Howling: There’s really not much that I don’t binge on.
Ramke: Yeah, you’re a really good binge-er.
Howling: “Dark”, “Requiem”.
Ramke: “Requiem’s” cool, yeah.
Howling: Just recently, actually just the other day I smashed out “Lost in Space.”

LD: Do you have personal favorite zombie or horror films?

Ramke: Shaun of the Dead is my favorite zombie film, actually. But I think in terms of reference points for this film, oh my goodness, we were looking at more sci-fi stuff. So like Children of Men, District 9 and I guess The Road as well is sort of comparable.

Howling: And also Frank Darabont’s “The Walking Dead” season one was out. That’s what really kind of like ignited us back into the zombie thing…he only did season one. That was like a six-part, it’s very different to the rest.

You can watch Cargo now on Netflix.

 

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Martin Freeman on Carrying Netflix’s CARGO

Martin Freeman was last seen on screen this year providing comic support to Wakandans in the blockbuster Marvel smash, Black Panther but this Friday on Netflix, he jumps to the forefront of a very different sci-fi landscape in Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke’s Cargo. This fantastic zombie plague story sees Freeman playing Andy, the father of adorable baby Rosie, who is unfortunately bitten by zombies and is racing against the clock to carry Rosie to safety across the Australian outback.

Cargo made its stateside premiere last month at the Tribeca Film Festival, after which I got to speak with Martin by phone about working in the horror genre, and of course what tech he’d like to lift from Shuri’s lab!

Lauren Damon: Before the Tribeca premiere had you seen the film?

Martin Freeman: I had, yeah. But only a long time ago on a laptop.

LD: I imagine it was more effective with other people around…

MF: [laughs] Yeah, it went down very well actually, yeah. It was very well received. It was late and people need not hang around for questions but they did. I think it seemed very positive, yeah.

LD: With the film going to Netflix next, are you excited? Are you a big Netflix user yourself?

MF: I am a frequent Netflix user, yes, very much so. I think when you make a film initially, you always envision it having a theatrical release. But maybe generations now don’t envision that. But my generation envisions a theatrical release and it’s gets that in Australia. The rest of [the world] is on Netfilx, that platform, and you think ‘ok, well fair enough.’ But then you actually think it’s more than fair enough because way more people are going to see it on Netflix eventually than would do in a theatrical setting. Just the accessibility of it, the ease with which you could see the amount of things you could see, yeah, I’m more than happy about it.

LD: With Cargo filming mainly being outdoors and with your character carrying the baby everywhere, what was the hardest part about shooting?

MF: Probably just getting eaten alive by mosquitoes. That was pretty challenging. Holding babies on my back was kind of alright. Sort of felt like free gym work, really.

LD: So you lost weight by shooting the film?

MF: I probably did. I probably did. I ate sort of reasonably healthily…but yeah I was constantly carrying a backpack.

LD: I assume there were multiple babies to rotate through?

MF: Yeah, two sets of twins. One pair of twins turned out, quite quickly, to be the more amenable pair. And the other pair was used more for in sort of wide shots.

LD: When you’re acting in an apocalyptic film or a zombie film, do you start thinking about the choices your character is making and whether you’d agree with Andy?

MF: Yeah, I think he did everything he could really. Part of what makes it relatable for me is that his actions seem very human.

LD: Do you think about if a zombie plague broke out what you—as Martin—would do?

MF: I haven’t thought about that a lot, no. No, not a lot. I don’t really fear zombies…but when the shit really hits the fan, whatever form that’s gonna come in…No, I guess like everybody else I’d panic [laughs]. Most people just hole up…

LD: Meanwhile, you’ve also just appeared in Andy Nyman’s Ghost Stories. If you don’t fear zombies, what about ghosts and the supernatural?

MF: Not really. I mean I kind of…I’m open to belief in the supernatural if it can’t be empirically disproved or proved. But no, I haven’t ever seen a ghost. I’ve had, you know, the occasional spooky night. Once you hear something that goes bump or bang and you start making up your own narrative for it. And I’ve been rooted to the spot a few times on my stairs thinking ‘is that a ghost or is it a burglar?’ And fortunately it was neither.

LD: Do you have any favorite horror films or ghost stories?

MF: I don’t know if they count it as horror…The first one I saw as a young child was Psycho. So that was when I was about seven and that was—it really affected me a lot. That first experienced of being very very frightened.

LD: In some sequences of Ghost Stories you get to play sinister, which I’m not used to seeing you in that way, was it fun to go there?

MF: Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. I loved it. It’s just always nice to lean into another part of your personality and be able to perform in a different way. Because I think as the film goes on and what I’m doing goes on, it was allowed to get a little more heightened and theatrical. You don’t always, in front of the camera, get the license to be that theatrical and that slightly camp. Your job in front of the camera is usually to be very real and not do any acting at all. Or at least that’s the job I give myself. But to do something a little bit more arch—you know, he becomes a function of the story then, as opposed to a three dimensional character. He becomes the function of the story to do something to Professor Goodman he has to have an effect on [him]. And I really enjoyed, yeah, just having to fuck with Andy Nyman. That was really good fun, yeah.

LD: Between Ghost Stories and Cargo, you undergo some pretty heavy makeup prosthetics, is that fun to get more into it? Or something more challenging?

MF: It is a bit of both, really. It is fun, because I’ve not done loads of it so it’s still—it doesn’t feel too much like the day job for me. It isn’t boring yet to do prosthetics. But yeah, the challenges are just the time it takes and the relative discomfort of it. Just there is a layer between you and the outside world that you’re not used to. There’s a layer between you and the other actors that you’re not used to. I guess with Cargo it was meant to be uncomfortable. And as I say, where we were filming at that time was quite hot…

LD: Yeah and then I imagine being under a bunch of zombie makeup in the hot sun…

MF: Yeah, just getting eaten by mosquitoes and I didn’t get on very well with the contact lenses. I didn’t get on very well with those [laughs]

LD: It looked good!

MF: Good. Yeah, then it’s for a good cause.

LD: Between Cargo and Ghost Stories, which order did you shoot them in? Was it close together?

MF: They were quite close together actually. Yeah, I shot Cargo first and then about a month later I shot Ghost Stories. The month after I came back from Australia, I went up to northern England and shot Ghost Stories.

LD: So you were in like horror genre mode.

MF: Kind of yeah, it sort of worked out like that. And of course it, you know, as far as the actor’s concerned, that’s never The Plan. Because you very rarely have any plan at all other than, you know, be able to pay the rent. It’s just what comes to you that you respond to for whatever reason and I’ve got pretty poor taste in what I like—what I like as a viewer. And what I like doing as an artist….I guess there’s more genre around now than there was twenty years ago. There’s more genre around now. And I’m still from the old school of ‘hey it’s the story’. It has be as story that I like. That I would like to participate in totally regardless of genre. I never give a single second thought to genre.

LD: Speaking of being able to pay the rent—congratulations on being in Black Panther, only the highest US grossing movie ever right now, that’s pretty exciting!

MF: Yeah. Yeah, very exciting.

LD: I am just a giant Marvel nerd, so I’m also wondering, if you could have any of the tech from Shuri’s lab in real life, what would you pick?

MF: Hmmm. Well…anything involving the black sand so it could move around and make shit. If you can picture it, if you can envision it, then the black sand would make it to be like that, that would be very helpful.

LD: What would you use it for?

MF: I’m not sure. Probably just furniture. I like the idea of that. Furniture and shoes.

LD: Just have a nice chair to sit on when you need it…

MF: Yeah, exactly. [laughs] A very nice chair.

Cargo starts streaming on Netflix on Friday May 18th

Black Panther was just released on digital and blu-ray

Icons and Legends of Hollywood on View in NYC

This week New York film fans and prospective collectors have a unique opportunity to check out an array of props and costumes from Profiles in History’s upcoming ‘Icons & Legends of Hollywood’ auction. The auction, set to take place in Los Angeles June 5th, 6th, 7th and 8th, features over 2000 pieces dating all the way back to the silent era.

I got a chance to take a tour of this exhibit which opened yesterday to the public and will be on view through Saturday, May 19th at The Society of Illustrators located at 128 East 63rd Street.

Besides showing costumes from stars of Hollywood’s golden era such as Charlie Chaplin, Elizabeth Taylor and Groucho Marx in startlingly pristine condition, some of the props on view are among the most iconic in Sci-Fi history.

I was first shown Ripley’s spacesuit from the first Alien as well as a helmet worn by John Hurt. They were joined in this show by Ripley’s flamethrower from Aliens, apparently an actual flamethrower!

For children of the 80s and 90s however, I think the real highlights of this collection might well be Michael J Fox’s hoverboard from Back to the Future: Part II (a hole is in it of course because Marty ripped the handle bar off of it), Richard Attenborough’s amber-topped cane from Jurassic Park and a rather roughed up biker jacket from the Arnold Schwarzenegger’s arrival in The Terminator.

This show is truly just the tip of the ice berg for this massive auction which has memorabilia ranging from just a couple hundred dollars to those soaring with estimates over $100,000. However if you’re only looking to drop a couple bucks to take a look at these items up close but not take home, do not miss this show!

The exhibit will be open to the public:
On Tuesday, May 15th, 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM.
On Wednesday, May 16th, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM.
On Thursday, May 17th, 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM.
On Friday, May 18th, 10:00 AM – 8:00 PM.
On Saturday, May 19th, 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM.
Located at The Society of Illustrators 128 East 63 Street New York, NY 10065.

More about Profiles in History: Icons & Legends of Hollywood

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Film Review – “The Death of Stalin”

THE DEATH OF STALIN
Starring:  Steve Buscemi, Simon Russell Beale, Jeffrey Tambor, Michael Palin, Andrea Risebourough, Rupert Friend and Jason Isaacs
Directed by:  Armando Iannucci
Rated:  R
Running time:  106 mins.

Our Score: 4 out of 5 stars

In the Soviet loop. Armando Iannucci brings his breakneck quips and futile power plays to Stalin’s final days in The Death of Stalin, a darkly hilarious take on a moment in history handled by a collection of top notch actors.

In 1953 Stalin (Adrian McLoughlin) sits atop a well oiled oppression machine. He doles out hit lists to his gulags on a daily basis and even among his closest confidants he wields terrifying power. Steve Buscemi’s sycophantic Khrushchev takes personal notes on what jokes bombed in his company so as not to repeat his mistakes. Inconveniently Khrushchev and company find their leader face down and on death’s door in a puddle of his own piss. With no official recourse for succession, the jockeying for power—and chewing of the considerable scenery—begins.

Filling out this Stalin’s cabinet with Buscemi is a dream team lineup of Simon Russell Beale, Michael Palin (my favorite Python!), Jeffrey Tambor and Jason Isaacs. To Iannucci’s credit none of the actors in this film are asked to adopt any sort of Russian or even any shared accent which only adds to the air of chaos in the party and likely is what frees up these actors to stay absolutely focused on the script’s fast and fierce comic timing. Additionally just when you’re getting the rhythm of this first set of yes-men, Andrea Riseborough and Rupert Friend are imported in as Stalin’s wayward offspring to inject even more manic energy into the proceedings. Friend in particular is a revelation as Vasily, a bellowing drunkard who arrives landing insults with surgical precision and more often than not, departs by being wrestled physically from the frame.

I had some hesitation going into this film being pretty much unaware of the specifics of this moment in history and wondered whether that would impact my experience however this turned out not to be the case. The themes of absolute power corrupting absolutely and the pettiness of men are always ripe for political farce especially from the likes of the man behind “Veep” and this spectacular cast.

NBC’s “Blindspot” Goes Global at NYCC

NBC’s hit show Blindspot returned this week for its third season. The second season finale certainly raised the stakes for this year by launching the story a full two years ahead, scattering the show’s main characters across the globe, and increasing the mysteries of the missing timeline. Not to mention a whole new set of glowing tattoos for main character Jane Doe (Jaimie Alexander) to unlock. In case you missed it, the premiere certainly rose to the challenge set down by that cliffhanger. Friday night’s “Back to the Grind” featured no less than a wedding, a knife fight and a boat chase through Venice while reintroducing Jane’s nemesis brother, Roman (Luke Mitchell).

I spoke to the show’s cast and creator recently at New York Comic Con about what to expect for this new season. If you head on over to the Media Mikes Facebook page you can check out the full video interviews (don’t forget to give us a “Like” while you’re there!)

For Jaimie Alexander, Jane Doe’s new set of tattoos were a complete surprise. “I get to the end of the script,” said Alexander, who hadn’t read ahead, “and I was like ‘What!? More? I have more?!'” As seen on “Back to the Grind” one new tattoo already had Tasha Zapata (Audrey Esparza) on edge, which is right in line with Roman’s schemes. “These tattoos are not only about Roman’s end goal…” said creator and executive producer, Martin Gero “but also exposing truths within the team.” Luke Mitchell was excited to take on the role of The Big Bad saying “it’s nerve-wracking and feels like a lot of responsibility.”

It’s not all about the big bad though, as Gero and crew emphasized the James Bond-like nature this new year is bringing. “The world is kind of a scary place right now and we could all use a little escape,” Gero said, “And the show–the show can be scary and serious at times, but it was really important for us this year to have a lot more fun. To bend towards more of a kind of Bond model. The show is very international this year. We shot a big part of the premiere in Italy and we’re shooting in Australia, in Barcelona, all over Africa. So like the show’s going to have a scope the likes of which you’ve never seen, I think, on a network television show before. But then on top of that it’s also just more fun. the show is a lot of fun this year. And we hope it’ll be kind of addictive and great.”

Adding to the fun is the return of fan favorite character Rich Dotcom (Ennis Esmer), who is now working on the good side, though annoying the team all the while. Esmer, who’d appeared twice last season says his return was “a complete surprise.” He joked “It still feels like someone made a mistake at some point.”

Blindspot airs Friday nights at 8pm on NBC

Full interviews are viewable on our Facebook page:
Jaimie Alexander & Luke Mitchell
Audrey Esparza & Ashley Johnson
Sullivan Stapleton & Rob Brown
Ennis Esmer & Martin Gero

Amazon Prime ‘Activates’ The Tick and Lore at NYCC

Fans looking to escape the crowded New York Comic Con show floor this past weekend were taken care of by a pair of immersive ‘activations’ presented by Amazon Prime. On site at the Jacob Javits Center, the streaming service introduced two of its newest series, The Tick and Lore, in style. I was fortunate enough to spend time exploring both experiences with some friends over the course of the con weekend and needless to say, they got me hyped to check out the shows.

My first stop was The Tick’s massive Dangerboat installation on the upper level of the con. Dangerboat is not just the headquarters to the Tick’s nemesis, Overkill, but also has a sentient artificial intelligence all its own (on the show he’s played by geek icon Alan Tudyk). In keeping with that, NYCC’s Dangerboat was also talking and fully sentient and began immediately interacting with my crew when we boarded.

Both of Amazon’s experiences were connected to an RFID wrist tag that we registered before entering. In Dangerboat the tag was used to print out our custom Aegis database ID as well as getting our own tin of FO HAM. Thankfully the tin actually contained “NEAT!” Tick pins and not canned meat. Dangerboat concluded with a fun green screen video op that with yet another swipe of wrist tags was emailed or posted wherever we chose. All told, Dangerboat took my group about a half hour to fully interact with due to the level of options on the various screens, not to mention the funny rapport we developed with a sentient boat(!) which was pretty incredible as far as con setups go. Whomever was the mind behind Dangerboat certainly captured the humor and spirit of the show itself and provided some of the best laughs of the weekend.

About The Prime Exclusive Series, The Tick:
“Bursting with scabrous original storylines that turn on a dime, The Tick is a comedy with kinetic action, a wryly inventive visual style and crisply quotable dialogue. Heroes have flown among us for decades but mild-mannered accountant Arthur Everest (GRIFFIN NEWMAN) one day finds out there are also genuine bad guys in this new Amazon Original Series. He believes he has proof that The City, where he was born and raised, is actually controlled by a global super-villain known as the Terror (JACKIE EARLE HALEY). Destiny soon brings Arthur together with an eccentric, tall, blue-suited muscleman with a mysterious past and list of superpowers: The Tick (PETER SERAFINOWICZ). The title character serves as both the conscience and the unchecked id of the story. Citing the call of destiny, the Tick procures for Arthur a moth outfit with retractable wings and insists that he suit up as his sidekick. He and Arthur are the ultimate odd couple, but may just bring out the best in each other. In their quest to take back The City, the unlikely pair of heroes quickly sees just how complex the struggle between good and evil has become.”
The Tick returns to Amazon on February 23rd 2018

Descending down a level into the Museum of Lore was yet another unique RFID experience and definitely welcome this Halloween month. Based on the hit podcast, Lore sets out to retell the true life macabre stories that inspire some of horror’s most notorious tropes. In a series of interactive rooms, my group tromped through haunted dolls, magical mirrors and werewolves as presented by a trio of delightfully over the top actors. Utilizing our RFID bands, we were rewarded with messages from The Other Side and a cool photo souvenir over a pretty twisted werewolf buffet….

About The Prime Exclusive Series, Lore:
“Sometimes the scariest stories are true. Lore is based on the global, award-winning podcast sensation from creator Aaron Mahnke, and executive produced by Ben Silverman (The Office), Howard T. Owens (The Biggest Loser), Gale Anne Hurd (The Walking Dead), Brett-Patrick Jenkins (Face Off), Glen Morgan (X-Files), Jon Halperin and Mark Mannucci (A Year in Space). Lore brings the podcast to life and tells the real life origin stories that have led to our modern day myths and legends, including vampires, changelings, werewolves, séances and possessed dolls.”
Lore is fittingly debuting on Friday October 13th.

 

 

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.

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

 

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TFF 2017: Executive Producers of “The Handmaid’s Tale”

“The Handmaid’s Tale”, Hulu’s stunning adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel held its premiere screening at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival as part of their Tribeca TV series. The series follows Elisabeth Moss’s “Offred,” one of many handmaids forced to serve a man in a dystopic American society where a wave of infertility has caused women to be stripped of their rights and utilized strictly for reproduction. The series debuted its first three episodes on Hulu on April 26th, with new episodes available every Wednesday. I spoke with the executive producer and showrunner of this brutal and hopefully not too prescient series.

What kind of freedom did you find adapting this novel into a streaming series rather than a regular tv show or film?

Executive Producer, Warren Littlefield: Well look, it’s not network television. Margaret Atwood’s vision, that she created in her book 32 years ago, was a dark dystopian world. And Bruce Miller adapted that and it’s a powerful, dark and very disturbing world and our partners at Hulu did not limit us in what we were able to do. In language, in action and physicality, in sexuality, in brutality. We were able to deliver the message that we wanted to deliver. I think it’s a thriller, I think it’s entertaining but it’s pretty damn powerful, so fasten your seatbelt.

Showrunner and writer, Bruce Miller: I haven’t worked in film very much at all. Almost all my work has been in tv which is much more fun because you could have stories that go on forever. But working in a streaming service, you get the great benefit of not having to have a show that’s forty-two minutes and twenty-two seconds long, but it can be longer or shorter. Which, more than you know, throws the audience off. They don’t know what’s gonna happen when you don’t know how much is left! It could end five minutes from now or fifteen minutes from now and that makes all the difference.

Were you very familiar with the novel before you worked on it?

Miller: There’s a novel?! [Laughs] Yeah I read the book when I was in college, in a ‘New Fiction’ class–which shows you how long ago I was in college. I loved it and I read it a whole bunch of times, completely on my own just as–I was interested in it. So I wasn’t thinking about it in terms of turning it into a television show. And then when I started to get more into writing tv and my career took off, I probably looked at it more in that way. But when I heard they were making a tv show, I was excited because I would get to watch it! Not because I was going to be making it. And then over the years, the show didn’t come out and there were reasons and this and that and you know, I ended up, despite my gender, getting the job. And it was wonderful after having been so familiar with the book but also having been familiar with it in a lot of different time periods. Because it kind of was perennially relevant. Every time I read it seemed like ‘wow this is just the time!’ to read it.

Especially this election year, where it seemed like assailing women’s rights was just a common trend…

Miller: It’s a hobby!

At which point when you were filming, did you realize what a hot topic you were handling?

Miller: I wrote the first few episodes before the election season started and then we were writing all the way through the debates and the election. And then we were shooting you know, in the middle…when Trump was elected president, we were shooting then. It was interesting, we were in Canada, so we had a little bit of a different perspective…But that was all very interesting. I don’t know–I’m sure subconsciously or unconsciously it changes the way you shoot things. But we were just trying to be gutsy. You know when you’re working from a book that showed so much bravery to write in the first place, you don’t want to be the wimp that turns it into a safe tv show. You want to be as bold as Margaret Atwood was. And so it just reinforced that idea that we should continue to be bold because its an important story we’re telling. But really, in a lot of ways like I said, I’m a writer, I’m in the question business, not the answer business. I’m just trying to put interesting questions out there, that doesn’t really change. I mean I certainly saw the relevance and certainly we went from saying ‘oh my gosh’ to ‘we better not screw this up!’ But I don’t know that anybody changed their story tact. I think we just became a lot more comfortable with what we had decided to do.

Littlefield: I think like the character of Offred, who is a fighter, that was our intention. We always felt a lot of pressure to live up to Margaret’s vision because it’s such a strong vision. And I think when we woke up in November in the middle of production, we were like ‘we better not screw this up!’ like…oh my god. But I think we were kind of fueled by [saying] ‘Alright, this is what we need to do.’ And I think the audience will be as well.

Streaming shows often come with binge-viewing, how do you feel about that approach?

Littlefield: Well, I kind of love what we’re doing. Hulu is presenting on the 26th of April, the first three hours, so you engage in a big way. And then each week, they’ll roll out an additional one. And so, I think that that also is really good because you want time. You may want to watch it again and it’s best I think in smaller doses, because it’s complex. I mean the world of television allows you to do complex characters and a complex narrative and we embrace it.

Can you discuss casting Elisabeth Moss in the main role?

Miller: Elisabeth Moss is astonishing in this. I’ve been a fan of hers forever. She has just such a range of skills and I can’t imagine anybody else in this role. She was who I wanted to be in this role from the beginning. She has main circuit cable connecting her heart to her face that doesn’t have an off switch. So whatever she feels bubbles up. But it’s a really interesting role to play because she’s got all this stuff showing on her face that she doesn’t want anybody else in the room to see, but she wants you to see. The best thing about Liz is she likes to be challenged so I got to write stuff that I never would have written for anybody else because everything I wrote that was harder and harder and harder, she loved it! So we got to really push the boundaries of the skills of an actor.

Series star Elisabeth Moss was understandably pressed for time on the carpet, but offered this comment on acting out the defiance displayed by her character Offred:

Elisabeth Moss

“It was important to me, I mean that’s her whole story you know? That she’s so beaten down and torn apart, and has everything taken from her and just will not give up. And she’s so stubborn. And I think it goes up and down throughout the season, to me that defiance that I think we would all find in ourselves if we had to.”

The Handmaid’s Tale continues to add new episodes to Hulu every Wednesday and was already renewed for a second season in 2018.

 

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“Genius” Red Carpet at Tribeca Film Festival

Tonight marks the premiere of the National Geographic Channel’s first ever scripted series, Genius. From director Ron Howard, Genius follows the life of Albert Einstein as portrayed in his youth by English actor Johnny Flynn and later in life by Geoffrey Rush. The first episode screened this week at the Tribeca Film Festival as part of their Tribeca TV series. The pilot seamlessly time jumped between Flynn energetically fighting to become a physicist in his own right without the rigidity of his early school and the elder Einstein beginning to encounter the rise of Nazis later in life.

I got the chance to speak with some of the actors from the series at this red carpet New York screening about their characters and how working on the series changed how they see Albert Einstein.


English actress Samantha Colley portrays Mileva Maric, a physicist and Einstein’s first wife.

Lauren Damon: How much research did you put into playing Mileva?

Samantha Colley: Quite a lot. What I focused on was their personal letters–so the personal letters between Mileva Maric and Albert Einstein but also Mileva Maric and her best friend Helene Savic. When you google Mileva Maric you see these kind of black and white pictures of someone very [Colley stiffens her back] sitting erect on a chair. It’s kind of impenetrable and she seems very severe and harsh. But actually her letters reveal her to be very vulnerable, and loving and soft and riddled with self-doubt but deeply loyal. But it was the letters I focused on.

LD: How important do you think it is that you portray a female scientist, considering the general need for more women in STEM fields?

Colley: It’s enormously important! I mean Mileva Maric is an example of one of many many many women who have been snubbed by the scientific world and their works not being properly credited. There’s a school of thought that Mileva Maric was instrumental in some of Albert Einstein’s fundamental works and never cited. So using her as an example and shedding light on her is enormously important. And I hope it does inspire girls today to go ‘yeah that’s not going to happen to me, I’m not going to let that happen.’

LD: You share your scenes primarily with Johnny Flynn, how was he to work with?

Colley: Amazing. He was one of the most generous actors I’ve ever worked with and we had a real sense of play and trust early on and it was wonderful.

Richard Topol plays fellow scientist Fritz Haber, a man instrumental in the weaponization of poisonous gas in World War I.

LD: So you play Fritz Haber–dubbed the “Father of Chemical warfare”, a pretty daunting title, how much research did you do?

Richard Topol: I did as much as I could about what we know about him and I mean I had a lot of conversations with the writers and the directors and the producers about why would somebody do that? Right? …Like if you imagined living in a country that was at war with the countries all around it and you’re running out of ammunition. And if you ran out of ammunition, your country would be taken over, what would you do?

So to me, it was like he came up with an idea and his pitch was the same pitch that Einstein, you know that the Manhattan project and everybody who invented the atomic bomb came up with which is like ‘Look, we invent this thing, we show people how scary it is, use it once, it’ll never have to be used again.’ So that’s the way I thought about it that made it less daunting to me.

LD: Did you have any misconceptions about Einstein that working on this dispelled?

Topol: I didn’t really have any strong conceptions about him so they weren’t really dispelled. But I was like oh, I was excited to know that this guy was like a kid who never wanted to grow up. So I learned some fun things about him…Also I learned he had a really complicated personal life that I had no idea. And I think that’s one of the interesting things about the show: We know about his genius, we don’t know a lot about the personal and political problems that he had to face.


Mad Men’s Vincent Kartheiser appears in the premiere as an officious member of the US State Department 

LD: How much more did you learn about Einstein in working on this series?

Vincent Kartheiser: I mean I think you’ll hear from a lot of these people, he was a lot more of a scoundrel than anyone ever really–at least that I know–knew. And he was just kind of…he had this ability to lock out all things around him and just focus on the work. So you know, his kid could be slapping him on the leg and his wife could be hollering at him, and the dinner could be burning and he would just focus on the equation. And I think that’s really interesting in today’s world where there’s millions of distractions for all of us and we’re all constantly trying to figure out how to deal with it. He never had to battle with that. He was just always able to focus.

LD: How was working opposite Geoffrey Rush?

Kartheiser: It was wonderful. He’s such a giving actor, and he’s phenomenal. I mean, you’d be having a conversation and he’d be like [calmly] talking about the role, talking about the scene and then they’d go ACTION! And he’d just snap right into it. Just always exploring, always finding new things during the scene, and lots of fun.

LD: Were you also playing a scientist?

Kartheiser: No no, I was playing a person who works for the state department trying to clear his Visa so he could get into the United States…His visa wasn’t something that was just rushed through. I mean relative to today. These special visas…that have been in the news, you know that is these kind of people. Albert Einstein was someone who came in on a visa because of his talent, and his ability to teach, and his ability to give back to our community here in the states. So it’s a good example of how these kind of programs and the visa system works.

Genius begins tonight at 9 on the National Geographic Channel

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.

Louis Theroux on “My Scientology Movie”

British documentary filmmaker Louis Theroux is no stranger to controversial subjects. In his wide-ranging tv career, the unflappable Theroux has immersed himself in subcultures ranging from US TV infomercials to Neo-Nazis and the infamous Westboro Baptist Church. For his first feature film documentary, Theroux acted on a years-long fascination with the Church of Scientology. When the notoriously secretive Church wouldn’t admit Theroux to film their practices directly, the documentary took a much more unique approach. Theroux, director John Dower and crew turned instead to former Scientologists to share their experiences within the church and decided to film re-enactments of their stories. Their filming, including casting their own version of Church leader David Miscavige in the form of actor Andrew Perez, quickly drew the attention of the church. The crew finds itself being tailed, filmed and even confronted on public property. The resulting documentary is at once an entertaining examination of the alleged inner workings of the church as well as a realtime account of the lengths the church goes to to defend itself. The film made its debut at last spring’s Tribeca Film Festival where I sat down with Theroux as well as John Dower and Andrew Perez to discuss their impressions of the church and how the doc came together.

Lauren Damon: Before you started making the film, how much did you know, or thought you knew about Scientology?

Louis Theroux: I think I thought I knew quite a lot—

John Dower: You do know a lot.

Louis: Yeah, I mean but then to be honest with you, I’d first been interested in Scientology you know, more than 20 years ago. And then in 2002 or thereabouts, I made my first approach and took a tour of the celebrity center and basically was in negotiation to make a tv doc that way. That fizzled out. And then about ten years after that, our producer Simon Chinn came to me and said ‘Hey what about a theatrical doc? You know, we could do it on Scientology’ And by then—it was around then that the first book, Janet Reitman’s book,  Inside Scientology came out, I read that…I mean the fact is that you could really make a full time job of kind of reading the stuff that comes out on Scientology. The challenge in a way is to not kind of sink into the quagmire…there’s so many threads that you can follow, you know what I mean?

John: You know there’s stories from the past that could be made to whole films themselves.

Louis: You could make a film about just what [ex-Church leader and My Scientology Movie star] Marty Rathbun did in the 80s.

John: The Lisa McPherson Story…

Louis: The Lisa McPherson story. Or you could do one of Clearwater in the 70s and 80s or Bob Minton. About how he went from being a critic to being a Scientology supporter. Or at least agnostic. I mean it’s a lot of individual…and then there’s whole family stories. Not just Lisa McPherson but other ones…There’s a lot. The challenge is not kind of lack of material. It’s a sort of an overabundance.

LD: And that’s also just before you even get to researching what the beliefs are which is also so involved.

Louis: That’s right.

LD: And then Andrew, what had been your experience?

John Dower, Louis Theroux and Andrew Perez

Andrew Perez: I knew just I’d heard some stories of experiences just sort of on the top—the intro levels of communications and courses. I knew that it was on the surface, or to beginners it was a kind of self-actualization, a kind of self-help, kind of therapeutic…I mean going through past trauma and weeding out sensory things that you associate with that. And seeing The Master. So I did have a kind of a good intuition about the introduction to it and why it makes some people get into it. And also the fact that there was also a sort of deep sea of mystery after that intro couple courses or whatever.

Louis: It’s really interesting because—you know when you read Dianetics, like the kernel of what Scientology is is basically just a kind of take on Pavlov’s dog, isn’t it? It’s just about sort of sensory associations.

Andrew: Yeah.

Louis: And when you read Dianetics, it’s got a volcano and it’s like “This is the most amazing book I’ve ever read in my life!” it’s all “Rome fell because of not having a science of the mind!”…Then you find out it’s all about you stubbed your toe and an ambulance went by and now every time you hear an ambulance, you get a sore toe. And you’re like “That’s IT?!” That’s the modern science of mental health? How could anyone think that that was the answer to life’s mysteries?

LD: Then going back, when you considered doing it as a tv series, what do you think it was that made it warrant making a feature movie?

Louis: That’s a good question. And in a way that’s maybe something John would be better at answering.

John: This is my first feature. Yeah, there are…little nuts and bolts, like I think you need a great musical score for instance. And I do think the music in this film is amazing. The composer Dan Jones did an extraordinary score in this film and it needs a sense of scale. If you want people to play eight or nine quid or fifteen bucks, you know they need to feel like they’re getting something with a sense of scale. And I think Scientology has that built into it anyway. And it needs to be entertaining, it needs to feel like you know, it’s…You can ask Michael Moore, he says about his films he wants them to be like date movies. That people will go on dates. You know, it’s a big deal to go to the cinema these days. And I’d like to think that that’s in our film. I’d like to think that it’s entertaining. It’s got to be, it’s a movie.

Louis: For me, I think also it has to do with like in my tv stuff, it is fundamentally journalism and so I have agency but in terms of my place in the film and how I kind of change and push through the journey through the tv shows, but in this one I really do actually really kind of take the story—take the bull by the horns in a sense. So you’ve got—I’m much more of a protagonist which I think is important for the film to work….You know I’m the guy ‘on a mission’ in a sense.

LD: Had it ever crossed your mind to try and surreptitiously join the church?

Louis: Yeah we talked about it—

John: That was floated at one point.

Louis: Obviously when you’re brainstorming, you don’t—everything’s about ‘let’s talk about…well what’re the merits? What’re the ethics of doing this? How would it feel?’ I think quite quickly we concluded that it didn’t feel right.

John: Bad faith…for something like this.

Louis: Plus you wouldn’t even get to see very much. You know without actually having access to someone inside the SeaOrg and even then it might takes months to really get deep inside…Actually while we were making it, I did go along to the Los Feliz mission to just see what happens when you go in the front door. And just show up and say ‘What is this all about?’ To me it was interesting because I’m fascinated by Scientology but imagining if we’d been filming, it would not have been very interesting. It’s just there is a sort of hard-sell that they do at the church.

Marty Rathbun and Theroux filming an auditing re-enactment

LD: How long were you shooting your re-enactments before you were aware you were being tailed?

Louis: Marty said that ‘This car has turned up before’, do you remember that?

John: I think we were probably being tailed when we didn’t realize. There was a couple of times—that car, that white Toyota pickup truck that’s in that scene—one of our PA’s Shane said ‘I’ve seen that at the hotel before.’ You know, a good few days before. Maybe even on a previous trip. So we were probably being tailed but we didn’t realize.

Louis: The first time Marty tippled that we had been tailed, though I don’t think I believed him at the time, was the day we did the drills at the studio.

John: Oh yeah, he dashed around the corner, didn’t he?

Louis: Yeah, I mean that was the same day as two people turned up filming us who were journalists. I don’t know if they actually were Scientologists but on the same day Marty said ‘This car is suspicious.’

LD: So like a couple weeks in?

Louis: Well no, it was a while, we were filming more than a year. About two months in.

John: So how did they know that we put out a casting for David Miscavige?

Louis: I mean that casting went out on the wire, didn’t it?

John: I guess so.

Louis: So it wasn’t a secret.

Andrew: But yeah that’s one thing that we’ve said was that they knew that you’d done the casting for a young David Miscavige with Marty in the room.

John: With Marty, that was the kicker. So I wonder did they follow Marty the first day he arrived—

Louis: Maybe.

John: So maybe they were following us from the—

Louis: Anytime Marty came into LA, there’s a chance they might have known about it.

LD: Andrew, when you saw that casting how did you react to it? How did you feel knowing you were kind of playing half yourself and half re-enactments?

Andrew: I just came in, I knew they were doing re-enactments, it said like a BBC documentary on Scientology and I just—I knew that they were kind of shooting outside as I was entering, so I was aware of that and I just focused on playing the role. And I didn’t know where it was all going. It was kind of fun…They would go back to England and then they would come back and have some more material for me and it was kind of a workshop at first. Mike Rinder would show up, Marty was normally there. So I was learning through Marty. They were shooting the rehearsals. There’s a lot that you don’t see that was just the process of….So we were in a blackbox theater listening, watching Marty lead some auditing kind of sessions. Then we did that day at the Mack Sennett Studios, a full day of communication TR training and things. But yeah, I knew that there would be some stuff of just me being me…but I just wanted to focus on the role.

LD: Now do you guys have any idea of where all that footage that they shot of you goes?

Louis: I think it goes into an editing suite somewhere probably in Hemet, California and I think they will be piecing it together into some kind of online video.

John: I suspect they’re waiting for the film to be here. It’s already been seen in the UK—been to festivals in the UK, I think they’re more interested about…I have no idea.

Louis: I think they’re waiting to see what happens with our film and if our film reaches a certain kind of having a profile, that they will release their counterpunch.

John: It would be great if—obviously it would never happen but—I imagine theirs is going to be a shorter film given they only filmed us on two or three occasions…It would be great if, you know how they used to have shorts before the main feature? It would be nice to have theirs.

LD: Is the church as prevalent in the UK as it is here?

Louis: No. It exists and it has high profile kind of missions in locations—orgs, they call them— on Tottenham Court Road and by Paddington…but in terms of their actual number of followers, I think it’s really small.

John: No, it’s quite telling that there’s a road in London—Tottenham Court Road— and they have an Org on Tottenham Court Road and actually there was a time when it was very, in 90s even, I worked in the company around the corner and there were always people sitting outside, always people trying to get you to do a personality test but it’s just dead now. There’s like one person at the front desk, which is quite telling in and of itself.

My Scientology Movie is in select theaters, OnDemand and available to stream on Amazon and iTunes starting March 10th. For more information visit MyScientologyMovie.com.

Film Review: “Trespass Against Us”

Starring: Michael Fassbender, Brendan Gleeson, Sean Harris, Lyndsey Marshall, Rory Kinnear
Directed By: Adam Smith
Rated: R
Running Time: 99 minutes
Film4

Our Score: 3 out of 5 Stars

For a man seeking a quiet life, Chad Cutler drums up an awful lot of trouble in Adam Smith’s rural family drama, Trespass Against Us. Set deep in the English countryside, the feature debut from Smith can be tonally uneven but boasts enough solid performances and pops of quality car chases to recommend it.

Michael Fassbender stars as Chad Cutler, the heir apparent to a family of thieves in a caravan park. His father is the blustery Colby Cutler (Brendan Gleeson) who preaches only what his father taught him. In between sending his son and their gang out on robberies, Colby interferes with Chad’s young son Tyson (Georgie Smith) getting an actual school education. It’s a life Chad wishes to escape as he sets his eyes on moving into an actual house with Tyson and his wife Kelly (Lyndsey Marshal). Unfortunately Colby’s infamy looms large over the local population, often stifling Chad’s ambitions. Also impeding his progress? Chad himself. Chad is a caring father, but his whole world has been crime and he’s great at it. Despite his illiteracy, he’s the most intelligent of his crew as well as the best driver–crucial for their hit and run robbery jobs in the neighboring towns. The entire trailer crew becomes endangered when Colby sends them unknowingly to invade a local judge’s mansion.

Fassbender isn’t often cast as the family man (Steve Jobs was hardly the best example) and here it works well. Him and Smith share some touching scenes and I also got a kick out of Chad’s chastising of Tyson at a chip stand. More importantly Fassbender skillfully conveys the simmering conflicts within Cutler. His shark-like grin when dealing with his cohorts is equal parts charming and threatening, belying his frustration with his continued position in this dim gang. Conversely Chad clearly enjoys the thrill of the car chases when he is persuaded to work. Most of the persuasion here carried out by Gleeson’s formidable Colby who growls his way through some good scenes.

The English countryside makes for an unconventional crime story background and Smith does quite a lot with it. The car chases through the village then out into the woods are well shot and thrilling despite their relatively small scale. I’d never seen cows incorporated into a manhunt quite like they are here! At times, the local population can skew too quirky (Sean Harris as a perpetually filthy yokel is a bit much) but the familial drama central to the story keeps things grounded thanks to the strong performances of Fassbender, Gleeson, Marshal and newcomer Smith.

Trespass Against Us is now out in theaters as well as on DirecTV

Film Review: “The Founder”

Starring: Michael Keaton, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, Laura Dern and Linda Cardellini
Directed By: John Lee Hancock
Rated: PG-13
Running Time: 115 minutes
The Weinstein Company

Our Score: 4 out of 5 Stars

A hyper charismatic Michael Keaton drags a pair of wholesome Americans into a deal that they soon regret. No, it’s not Beetlejuice, but rather John Lee Hancock’s The Founder, the true story of the man responsible for making McDonalds the global franchise it is today. Director Hancock is no stranger to selling shrewd businessman stories having previously helmed the Disney-pursues-Mary Poppins pic Saving Mr. Banks. Like Mr Banks, The Founder relies on how charmingly its entrepreneur can overtake a profitable concept from its hesitant creators. In this respect, The Founder zips along on the boundless energy that Keaton infuses into Ray Kroc.

It’s hard to imagine America without the golden arches of McDonald’s. It’s a vision that not even the franchise’s namesake brothers had foreseen when the wily  Mr.Kroc rolled up to their booming San Bernadino burger stand in 1955 to sell his milk shake mixers. Here the brothers, Dick and Mac (played by Nick Offerman and John Carroll Lynch) devised the fast food kitchen as we know it, breaking away from the slower drive-ins of the day. Traveling salesman Kroc has had more than his fair share of drive in frustrations–slow carhops, wrong orders, cumbersome trays–and knows an opportunity when he sees one. “Franchises!” he enthuses to stoney faces of Offerman and Lynch. They prefer quality over quantity. What the McDonalds don’t know about Kroc is he falls asleep to the recorded mantra “nothing is as powerful as persistence.” Which he has in spades.

Despite Kroc’s triumph Hancock does not give Ray a pass on his swindling ways. Played by Michael Keaton (accompanied by his thematically appropriate arched eyebrows), Kroc is a magnetic presence to be sure and like many cinematic villains, fun as hell to watch work. However, the perfectly cast Offerman and Lynch are infinitely more sympathetic. Aesthetically they’re the stoic hound dogs to the fox in the henhouse that is Keaton. John Carroll Lynch specifically tugs on the heart strings multiple times as he watches his family’s vision slip out from under them. A trauma great enough to hospitalize him at one point. And if that weren’t enough, a sulking supporting turn by Laura Dern as Kroc’s first wife, Ethel, goes a long way to showing what an exhaustive personality her husband has always been without the film needing to delve much into his backstory.

Viewing this film from 2016 makes Kroc’s success in his endeavors a foregone conclusion but to Hancock’s credit, he keeps the burger flipping and legal gymnastics interesting. He manages to condense the McDonalds’s “overnight success thirty years in the making” in one balletic montage that really showcases the ingenuity of the brothers in designing their “speedee service model”. In a world where the fast food assembly line is omnipresent, it is somewhat heartening to see the genuine human element and efforts that went into its inception. That the fruits of said efforts were ultimately swiped by a ‘founder’ who hadn’t founded anything luckily let me get right back to regretting the dubious influence the fast food trend had on the dietary habits of millions…but hey, did I mention how much fun it is to watch Michael Keaton?

NYCC 2016: Adult Swim’s DREAM CORP LLC

Have you made your appointment with Dream Corp LLC yet? The mind-bending new series from creator Daniel Stessen is currently admitting new patients every Sunday night at 11:45pm on Adult Swim. Starring Jon Gries (Napoleon Dynamite), Stephen Merchant (“The Office”, “Hello Ladies”), Nick Rutherford (Balls Out, “Drunk History”) and a host of guest stars, the series follows a strip mall clinic that uses advanced technology to invade its patients dreams in order to solve their real life problems. At New York Comic Con this year, the Adult Swim panel was treated to the first two episodes of Dream Corp which blend live action sci-fi and trippy rotoscope animation.

Accompanying the new series to NYCC was creator Stessen with stars Gries, Rutherford and Merchant (who also serves as an executive producer on the show). I sat down with them to talk about this new addition to the Adult Swim lineup.

How did you develop Dream Corp?

Daniel Stessen: I had the concept, been developing it for a while, and created this world and kind of came over to Steve for a little guidance as to how to make it more palatable to a larger audience. Being that he has some–

Stephen Merchant and Daniel Stessen

Stephen Merchant: I think he’s being immodest–or he’s being too modest, I should say, that’s not right. Too modest. I was there as just a friend of Danny’s…to do a voice for this robot [T.E.R.R.Y] that’s in the show and inevitably whenever there’s anything creative going on, I like to start meddling, and just offering thoughts. And we started talking more and more. And it was just for me, it was something I would have done as a friend anyway…but I just thought, you know, let’s try to screw these guys for some money. (Both laugh)

Stessen: And the robot, we love the robot, he was built by Jim Henson Studios…That was one of the more validating moments of my last ten years on Earth, just getting that call that they were on board to build Terry the robot.

Merchant: There’s a really strong visual sense to the whole thing, again largely down to Danny. He’s just got an incredible visual imagination. And so you see that both in the real world–where you see this kind of twisted, eccentric sort of laboratory– and then also when you enter that dream world. And that’s done with the rotoscope animation. When you go on the set, it’s you know, it’s bits of cardboard and people with fake cardboard wings and cardboard jaws and things. All of which is going to eventually going to be animated but which only [Danny] can really see. So a lot of people I think are just stood there and like ‘you want me to what? I’m drowning in spaghetti now?’ And he’s like ‘Trust me.’ So it’s sort of extraordinary, an extraordinary kind of vibe there. Wouldn’t you say people were confused [on set]?

Stessen: It’s just, when people would walk on when we were shooting the dream world stuff, people would walk into an empty room and I would just be like ‘this is going to feel super weird, just trust me, it going to look real cool.’

Can you speak about your characters?

Nick Rutherford and Jon Gries

Nick Rutherford: I play patient 88–
Jon Gries: Nick!
Rutherford: Yeah, Nick as well, who comes to the office to work on erectile dysfunction and pretty quickly realizes that the office itself is kind of dysfunctional.
Gries: What happens is that he has to work for us because he can’t pay for his procedure
Rutherford: Yeah I can’t pay for the procedure and you think that it’s a confidence issue and I don’t have a job so you say–
Gries: A job?
Rutherford: Why don’t you work here? And I’m like this is a terrible place, but I kind of go along with the flow.
Gries: So he’s really the eyes of the audience. Because obviously he’s come into this place that is so–well from some perspectives, would be ridiculous and crazy. It’s not from my perspective.
Rutherford: It’s your life’s work.
Gries: It’s my life’s work. Dr. Roberts has this vision that this is the most transforming and necessary procedure but he’s lost his funding. So now he’s working out of a strip mall because he believes and he knows that it’s working. He knows that he’s changing people’s lives. There’s a little problem here and there but–
(Both laugh)
Rutherford: There’s a lot of problems.
Gries: There’s a couple of bugs that get worked out of the system. But it could be because the system’s really old and we haven’t had the money to update it.
Rutherford: And I think Nick, Patient 88, comes into it and kind of sees a family forming. Because everybody trusts and loves each other. Like there’s, Stephanie Allen plays Joey, his protégé–
Gries: My intern for nine years. No pay!
Rutherford: (laughs) Yeah, Nine year intern. Who loves him and obviously thinks he’s the most brilliant guy ever and he just does not give her the time of day. And Mark Proksch plays kind of the navigator of sorts, I don’t know if you know his work–
Gries: He’s amazing. And he doesn’t ever leave the building. For fifteen years he doesn’t leave the building.
Rutherford: So he’s incredible. And then [Ahmed Bharoocha] plays kind of the nurse and he’s just this big stoner who doesn’t even really care. So Everybody relies on each other in a nice way. So the meat of the story is us working together and growing together and me being thrown into this world. And it being very dangerous, but also fun. And then bringing in these amazing guest stars and throwing them into that.
Gries: He gets attacked by June Squibb at one point. She stabs him.
Rutherford: Yeah she stabs me in the neck with a a screw driver. I’m kind of like the Kenny, I get hurt a lot. (both laugh)

Have you ever had a weird celebrity dream like with [episode one guest star] Dave Coulier?

Rutherford: Yeah that was really surreal.
Gries: I did, I had a weird celebrity dream. I was very nervous, I was about to do a movie years ago and I dreamt that I was in a barbershop. And I was sitting and the man sitting in the next chair was Fred Astaire.
Rutherford: Really?
Gries: True story. And he looks at me and he goes, “Are you worried about something?” And I said “I’m just a little uncomfortable” And he said “Have fun. Just have fun.” I swear to god! And that was like two days before I started shooting Fright Night Part 2.
Rutherford: Have fun out there.

What was it like working with the rotoscope animation?

Dream Corp LLC/Adult Swim

Rutherford: It’s really fun because everything is so grand. You know it’s like now you’re falling off of a hot air balloon, or now you’re running away from your bullies in high school. So you’re playing these large characters, so you just kind of jump into it. Like, I remember thinking when I was very young and being an actor, how it must be really hard to shoot like Jurassic Park when you’re in front of a green screen and then they’re like “and THAT’S a velociraptor” and you’re like “ahhh!” I didn’t feel that at all during the production that that those scenes were difficult thing to do. Because they’re just so silly and fun and you’re wearing kind of a half costume so they can animate it later. Like I’m dressed up like Legolas–
Gries: And literally it was sometimes it was pieces of cardboard, you have cardboard on you almost like a really bad–
Rutherford: Like a play
Gries: Like a kid’s play. But you know it’s all for reference and they’re gonna draw on top of it. And the thing is, knowing how beautiful the animation is also gives you the impetus that when you’re in it, you understand what it’s going to look like, so it helps, it augments. Whatever decision or choice you’re going to make, you can go further with it because you just have that confidence behind that animation. It’s almost like ‘pay no attention to me, it wont be the real me, it will be a better me.’

Stessen: The inspiration came from working with his name’s Michael Garza [of Artbelly Productions] out of Austin, Texas. He worked on A Scanner Darkly, and then a couple other guys on the crew are Scanner Darkly. And one of the woman who was an animator on Waking Life. Which I’m a huge fan of. I saw Waking Life a while back and watched it over and over and over again. Huge inspiration. And we made a short film together that did well in festivals and kind of, we started developing that style in trying to evolve it and I think we’re pushing it forward a little bit and figuring out that we can build things out of cardboard. And make a dragon face. Because all he has to do is draw what’s there. Not that’s all he has to do–his job is to draw what’s there. So we could draw you [all] here and now you’re on a volcano, you know what I mean? So it gives us a lot of flexibility and the fact that with where we are, with little funds, we could do a ton.

What can viewers expect for the rest of the series?

Gries: Surprise after surprise after surprise. I’m not kidding you, it’s different every time!
Rutherford: Yeah it really is. I mean there’s this kind of thread of these different guest stars coming in and getting their therapy as our relationship progresses and as the interrelationships between Joey and Ahmed and…Randy–Randy’s arm gets cut off (laughs)–
Gries: There are things that happen, there’s a continuity within the core group and yet at the same time it’s absolutely ridiculous what happens–but it still stays, it still answers that continuity. And yet the people that come, the patients that come, their stories individually are so different from week to week that it just gives us a whole other area to run through.
Rutherford: yeah There’s like a couples therapy–a gay couple comes in to get like couples therapy. June squibb comes in to quit smoking but then finds out that really just she just wants to have sex.
Gries: And have a baby–and she’s never had sex in her life.
Rutherford: So Roberts appeases that in the dream world–
Gries: You know he says, it’s been a while!

Dream Corp LLC is on tonight and every Sunday on Adult Swim at 11:45pm, with the premiere episode currently streaming at AdultSwim.com

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