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.

A “Hateful” Conference with Quentin Tarantino, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and More

Quentin Tarantino’s eighth film, the aptly titled Hateful Eight, is now open in its limited release ‘Roadshow’ engagement for the next two weeks across the US and Canada. For film lovers, Tarantino is harkening back to a style of movie presentation in ultra wide 70 millimeter film that comes complete with a musical overture and intermission. It’s a must for Tarantino fans and I can’t wait to revisit this shocking murder mystery in the old west very soon.

Hateful Eight centers around ‘Hangman’ John Ruth (Kurt Russell), a bounty hunter chained to his bounty, the devious Daisy Domergue (played with absolute venom by Jennifer Jason Leigh). The angry pair’s stagecoach is stranded in a blizzard in the mountains of Wyoming en route to Domergue’s date with the gallows. They take shelter at the only inn midway to their destination where they are locked in with a host of other shady stragglers bearing their own secrets. Tarantino ratchets up the claustrophobia and tension from an extremely strong screenplay in the hands of a brilliant cast.

Seven of the Eight joined director Tarantino and moderator Josh Horowitz (MTV) prior to the film’s release at their New York press conference where the enthusiastic director discussed his thoughts behind the roadshow format and basically received high praise from his all-star cast including Russell, Leigh, Bruce Dern, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demian Bichir and Walton Goggins.

Tarantino, an emphatic supporter of film over digital described how he and The Weinstein Company set up the Roadshow:

QUENTIN TARANTINO: The Weinstein Company has done an amazing thing–Just to put it in perspective, Warner Brothers put their entire weight behind Christopher Nolan when he did Interstellar. Never the less, they only played in about 11 venues in the course of his 70mm run, we are playing in 44 markets in 100 theatres with our roadshow. And not only that, they literally are some of the biggest and funnest big movie palaces still left. Like you know, The Music Box in Chicago, The Hollywood Theatre in Portland…I think it’s the Fox Theatre in Detroit, Cinerama Dome for 2 weeks in Los Angeles…It’s just really wonderful. And the places that didn’t–all the places that have 70mm capabilities we utilized them, but then other places we just moved the screens in. And moved them in and created it and I remember even talking about it when we first had a discussion. It was like ‘We should be like Neil Diamond coming into town…we should be like Book of Mormon coming into town!’ We go into big venues and maybe they don’t even show movies anymore but we’ll set up our big screen and we’ll set up our projectors and we’ll let ‘er rip! And I mean it has been a herculean effort but they pulled it off. We are screening in 100 theatres between US and Canada. I’m very very proud…

We’re trying to do this like the old school roadshows where…the normal version of the movie that plays, the normal release version–which, by the way when you think of movies like Laurence of Arabia or Ryan’s Daughter or anything, we’ve all probably seen the regular release version–but the roadshows had an overture, they had an intermission and they were a little longer. Ours is about 7 mins longer just for the roadshow version. But you also get…really cool programmes. And they all come with their own pin up ready for your locker of different Hateful Eight people.

Past Oscar nominees Bruce Dern and Demian Bichir were thrilled to be working with Tarantino for the first time and spoke about the opportunity to do so:

DEMIAN BICHIR: I think you know, the first that you’re curious about [is] how everything is gonna work out. Not only because you have this huge director’s name in front of you but with this amazing cast of actors. I remember the first time we had this table reading, you always want to one day say a Tarantino line on film, so I was already very happy and excited about it. But then to listen to every single line in the mouths and bodies of all this group of fantastic actors, that was beautiful. And not only that, I remember at the first reading that we had at this hotel back in Los Angeles, going back home and telling my girl everyone is so damn fucking nice! Because you know, a small fish can be lost in a big ocean unless they embrace you, unless they treat you well. And the first thing that made me very happy when I actually met Quentin was to find a warm man, a very generous loving man, and then you know, the whole thing was a confirmation of whatever I’d thought always. You know, the biggest artists are the nicest.

BRUCE DERN: I’ve been very lucky in my career but this guy, he does a couple things the others of the people I’ve worked with didn’t do: He has the greatest attention to detail I’ve ever seen…The other thing he does is he gives you an opportunity as an actor and everybody behind the camera as well a chance to get better. A chance–his material is so good, so original, so unique if you will, that the big part of it is you’re so excited that he chose you and NOT Ned Beatty or Jimmy Caan [laughs] So that you’re excited to go to work every day. And like with Mr Hitchcock for a few days, I had this every day with Quentin. You’re excited to go to work every day because he just might do something that’s never been done.

Later DERN added: I think that if there’s one thing I might say, the man obviously has a magnet. And what the magnet does to actors is you’re so drawn to him. And we haven’t brought up my main reason why is his reverence for what went before. His respect for the industry…is just mind boggling. And he means it. And if you dared question him, he will put you in your place and tell you facts about stuff that you never even knew was made. And that was the delight for me. And there’s that kind of thing you don’t get very often.

Joining Tarantino again were former Reservoir Dogs Tim Roth (also of Pulp Fiction) and Michael Madsen (featured in both Kill Bills). These ‘vets’ talked about re-teaming with him.

TIM ROTH: Well, I mean the man is the same. But yeah, I was around sort of at the very beginning and then I have this huge break from working with him. So I did get to see in a highly impactful way how his world has changed. How his, the set has changed…and the kind of circus atmosphere that kind of exists on his set. The crew has so much more knowledge of cinema and how to tell his stories. So I saw that big leap. And that was very exciting. It’s different, when we made Reservoir Dogs, I think we made it in about five weeks or so.

TARANTINO: In particular the case of Reservoir Dogs, I was probably the–along with the PAs–I was the least experienced person on the set. Tim and Michael both made a lot of movies by that time. I was just getting through the process.

ROTH: Well you did pretty good!

MICHAEL: Thanks Quentin, I wouldn’t even have a career if it wasn’t for you.

MADSEN elaborated on how he viewed his role as the shady ‘cow puncher’ Joe Gage: I read a biography of James Cagney and he said that if you play somebody who’s very noble, you should probably try to find a mean streak in that person. Or something dark that they’re carrying around. And if you play somebody who’s very evil you should probably find something good in that person. So there’s always a duality of what you do. And the best thing about making a picture for Quentin is that he let’s your character have a duality. If you’re capable of doing it.

Death Proof‘s KURT RUSSELL spends much of Eight chained to Tarantino newcomer JENNIFER JASON LEIGH, Russell explained working within this dynamic.

KURT RUSSELL: Well, first when Jennifer and I started to rehearse, we didn’t really think there would be much of a problem with the chain. We didn’t think it would represent anything much either and nothing could have turned out to be further from the truth. Everything that we did was informed by how that chain was dealt with. And so we had to learn to sort of get the Fred and Ginger of it all together. And that informed their relationship. So for me there was John Ruth and for Jennifer there was Domergue and together we were gonna be this team. Which we felt there was, like anything else, if you’ve been chained together for a week-week-and-a-half, 24/7, you’re gonna know about that person. And the Stockholm syndrome’s gonna set up pretty fast. And it did. In fact over a five month period of time, the Stockholm Syndrome between Jennifer and I set up. It informed everything that we did…
I just want to say one other thing and we haven’t said this but, it was an unspoken thing, this will be the first time she’s heard me say this: Because of who John Ruth was, everything when that clapper goes bang, shouts ‘Action’, that chain is MINE. I own it. Because of that, I felt that as soon as ‘Cut!’ that chain was HERS. We had to have a balance. And boy, I’ll tell you something, I really appreciated what she was going through. You turn that chain over to the other person, it wasn’t easy.

JENNIFER JASON LEIGH: I’m not as good a dance partner!


LEIGH elaborated on delving into the character of Daisy:
So much of it obviously is on the page because you’re dealing with such a great script and such a great character. With Daisy there’s a lot that’s mercurial and we had to find. And we wanted to find it together. And so much of Daisy is informed by John Ruth because she is always reacting with him because of what he’s done–The chain, the hits–what might she get from that. Where, you know…she thinks she’s a lot smarter than John Ruth, and actually she is. [Laughter] But there was–she kind of feels like she’s playing him a lot of the movie but there’s this one moment in the movie– and this is what’s so great about doing a Tarantino movie and what’s so great for all of us actors is that we’re always being surprised by everything–There’s a moment where it all shifts. Where John Ruth isn’t just a putz. You know, like a fool that she is just so much smarter than. He’s suddenly very smart and very dark. When he goes and gathers all the guns from everyone. And then she has to rejudge him, just like everyone else in the movie. Everyone in the movie is terrible and hateful. Everyone in the movie you also care for, they have their…maybe their weakness is the good part of them in a certain way…And I just remember the day we shot that scene ’cause Daisy is having a blast. I mean, yeah, she’s going to the gallows but she knows she’s not going to the gallows. She’s got it figured out. But in that moment, it’s not so clear anymore. And that was so exciting as an actress, to not know that was coming. To read it on the page and yet when I felt it happen in the room, I swear my blood went cold. And it was just like phenomenal.

WALTON GOGGINS, who plays Chris Mannix, the new Sheriff of the town (and in my opinion the MVP of the Eight if we had to choose one) also praised Tarantino’s scripts when asked if there was ever any improv of alternate line suggestions:
GOGGINS: There’s no improv in this press conference. He wrote everything. [Laughter] No, no, why would you mess with perfection? You know, we say that because it is. You know it’s every actor’s dream to get an opportunity to say a Quentin Tarantino monologue. Or a line of dialogue. But there is no need to change it. Even to add a ‘the’ or an ‘and’ or a comma, it really is perfect the way that it comes out of his imagination.

Eight actually went through a few drafts, especially after a live read was held in 2014 featuring much of the cast. I asked Tarantino how that live read affected how the film ultimately turned out:
TARANTINO: Well we altered a lot because it was only the first draft. And one of the things about the movie is I wanted to actually do three different drafts of the film. And so this live read was just from the first draft. Which is different than I normally do. Normally I write these big, long unwieldy novels and there’s the beginning and here’s the middle… And the middle’s always great because now you’ve committed to writing so much now you know more about the characters than you ever could before you start writing. And then there’s the end and kind of, by that point the characters have just taken it. So they always dictate the ending to me.
I mean, I’m doing genre movies, so I have an idea where I’m going at the end. I mean at the end of Kill Bill, I thought it was very possible she would kill Bill, alright? [Laughter] But how? Why, exactly? How you feel about it, that was very open to question. But that’s the good thing–one of the reason’s I like genre is because I can explore a lot of different things, but I still kind of have a road that I’m traveling to some degree or another. But this one I wanted to do differently. I wanted to spend time with the material. More time than I normally spend ie through the beginning, middle and end. So I wanted to you know, even go through the process of telling the story three different times.
And I can just give you an example: In the first draft, the Lincoln letter, which is a motif that plays out through the film, it was only dealt with once. And it was in the stage coach. Now, I knew I wanted to do more with it but I wasn’t ready. And I didn’t have any obligation to have to do it in the first draft. I could kind of find it on my own. And then in the second draft, it appeared at the dinner table scene. And in the third draft, it appears later the way you see it in the movie.
But just to give you another example, Daisy’s end in the third draft–which is what is in the movie–was where I thought I wanted to go in the first draft. But something stopped me from going there with her in that first draft. I almost felt I didn’t have the right to do that to her yet. Because I didn’t know her well enough. Not by just the first draft. So the second draft, and not in a tricky way almost just in an emotional way just as far as I was concerned, I wrote the whole second draft from Daisy’s perspective. Alright, just emotionally. Not in a tricky prose way, but just an emotional way. So I could really get to know her. I wanted to be on Daisy’s side for an entire draft of the story so I could really feel I knew her. And then after I feel I knew her, I could do what I needed to do to her.

To find out just what Tarantino did to Miss Daisy Domergue, go catch the roadshow while you can. It’s a thrilling movie mystery experience and one of my favorite films of 2015. Tickets and more information are available at:
Meanwhile, the regular release goes wide on December 31st.


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Director Todd Haynes and Stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara Speak about ‘Carol’


The works of author Patricia Highsmith have been crafted into some truly great films including Alfred Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train and Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. This weekend, Todd Haynes’s latest film Carol from Highsmith’s The Price of Salt adds to these successes with brilliant work from a cast lead by two-time Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett and Oscar-nominee Rooney Mara. Blanchett plays the Carol Aird, a wealthy soon-to-be-divorced socialite in 1950s New York who begins a complex relationship with Mara’s younger shop girl Therese. The two navigate their feelings for one another while being challenged by the social norms of that time period. I attended Carol’s New York press conference this week where they, along with screenwriter Phyllis Nagy and fellow castmates Kyle Chandler and Jake Lacy joined moderator and WOR Radio film critic, Joe Neumier to discuss the film.

Director Haynes began the conference by discussing his approach to Highsmith’s work and this powerful romance at the center of the film:

Todd Haynes: I really was taking it on, as if for the first time, looking at the love story. Something that I felt I hadn’t really ever accomplished directly in my other films. And that really began with reading The Price of Salt, Patricia Highsmith’s beautiful novel, and the gorgeous adaptation of Phyllis’s script that first came to me with Cate attached. So it was quite a bundle of incentives when it first landed with me in 2013. But love stories are, you know unlike I guess war which is about conquerring the object, love stories are about conquerring the subject. And so it’s always the subject who is in a state of vulnerability and peril at some level. And through much of Carol that is the character of Therese who occupies a much less powerful position in the world in Carol…is younger, is more open, is sort of experiencing this woman with a freshness that is different from Carol’s life and experience. But what I loved about this story was how what happens between the two women really moves them through a series of events which change them both. And ultimately by the end of the film, it’s shifted sides. Carol is the one who comes to Therese with her heart on her sleeve at the end of film. So all of that made a lot of the smaller elements of looking and who’s being looked at and who is doing the looking and all of those questions, something that was very conducive to the cinematic language.

I asked Cate Blanchett, who had a supporting role in The Talented Mr Ripley in 1999 if she had studied Highsmith’s work in preparation for that film and how her perception of Carol changed upon revisiting it for this role:


Cate Blanchett: Yeah it’s one thing entirely reading a novel and quite another when you’re then reading it again when you’re going to play a character in the book. I mean I read everything of hers I could at the time we were making Ripley. It was actually, much to shame, the first time I’d ever encountered her work. But I also was very interested in you know all of the sort of filmic incarnations of her work as well…And there’s some wonderful observations and parts of internal monologue–well more internal monologue that Therese has–but observations of Carol that’re in the novel that were really really useful to read. I just read at the time, the first time I read the book as a reader but to then to try and make that stuff manifest was really exciting.

Screenwriter Phyllis Nagy actually got to speak extensively with Highsmith before she passed away in 1995. Moderator Neumier followed up with Nagy as to whether Highsmith was nervous about this novel becoming a screenplay for film:

Phyllis Nagy: Well she was dead by the time this came to me. So we didn’t have that conversation…[laughs] I’ll have it with her later tonight. She didn’t like many of the film adaptations of her work.
Cate Blanchett: Didn’t she?!
Phyllis Nagy: Oh no, she couldn’t stand them. Especially Strangers on a Train.
Cate Blanchett: Oh what does she know!?
Phyllis Nagy: You know from her perspective–the guys trade murders in that book and in the film of course they don’t and it was one of the first arguments we had when I said ‘Oh, I love Strangers on a Train!’ she said [frowning] ‘Hmmm’ really with disgust. But she liked aspects of the films, Robert Walker she loved and she thought Alain Delon was extremely attractive, of course. So I hope that she would find this entire enterprise extremely attractive. I think she would. I think we are all of us not betraying the intent and the tone of the work. Which, really I think is the only thing you can do to be reverent to a source material. Everything else is up for grabs.


Rooney Mara praised Haynes’s film for portraying Carol and Therese’s romantic relationship honestly without preaching:

Rooney Mara: I think one of great things about the film is that it’s not a political film, it’s not a film with an agenda, it’s not preaching to the audience. So people are allowed to just watch it for what it is which is a love story between two humans.

Later, she addressed whether or not Therese having an older female lover lessened the chances audiences would see the age gap as something Carol was exploiting.

Rooney Mara: …Would it ever feel predatory? It’s not like I’m 17 years old. You know, Therese is younger than Carol and she certainly is–they’re at different stages in their lives but I don’t think that she’s so young that it would be…it never felt predatory to me and I don’t think it ever really would have, male or female.

Rooney’s character at the start of Carol is already in a relationship with an over-eager boyfriend Richard, played by Jake Lacy who spoke about Richard:

Jake Lacy: Todd spoke a little when we first met about the idea that, for Richard the world is there to take, you know. He’s young, he’s in New York, he’s first generation American. He’s smart, he’s handsome, he has a job and a girl. You know, the world is his for the taking and yet it slips away from him. And sort of without knowing it, thank god that it does because otherwise…he’s fifteen years or ten years earlier than Carol and Harge and that world if he and Therese stayed together and created a life like them. It wasn’t a life anymore, you know?…To me, for Richard the idea of a dream that then falls apart, or that someone is not willing to be a part of that dream and trying to wrangle them into it…

Kyle Chandler plays Harge, Carol’s husband who is grappling with losing his perfect family in his divorce from Carol. Chandler spoke about the importance of playing his character without making him stereotypical:

Kyle Chandler: …It allowed me, I think at some point I realized that it could be a stereotypical character very easily. And [to] portray what you would imagine Guy from the Fifties under these circumstances…but what happened was at some point, the worst possible moment in a man’s life or a woman, when they’re in love, and they realize they’re not in love anymore. And this character never realized he wasn’t in love anymore. He was always in love and he was intensely in love. And he also had this little child. Not just his wife, not just his child, but his family unit. So important to him, and so important to say nothing of his social status and what he was. But he refused to give that up. So that…allowed me I think, to stay within that and never lose love or respect; But still be very confused on what is going on. Which goes back to that one direction that [Haynes] gave me when [Sarah Paulson’s character, Carol’s ex-lover Abby] is walking in the room and I look across and I go, ‘Who ARE you?’ basically.


Paulson as Abby, Carol’s ex-lover, is one of Carol’s strongest bonds in the film, who she actually calls upon to pick up Therese when they hit some obstacles. Paulson spoke about her character being in this tricky situation.

Sarah Paulson:
…I do think, I wonder what I personally would do if someone I loved and still had feelings for, if I was called upon to come in and rescue the person that she currently loves…I don’t know, I don’t know. It was to me a very big testament to her friendship and her love and I think the desire to be around Carol and in Carol’s orbit no matter what. I think that Abby’s sense of society–and I don’t mean literal society but her community, her friendships, you know they were probably quite narrow at that time. So to lose something like that would be…the consequences of that would be too enormous. I just started thinking about things like that…

Haynes also commented on how a modern audience views all of Carol’s female relationships versus how people within that time period in the film would have seen it:

Todd Haynes: There are also things that a modern audience has to keep reminding ourselves we’re quite different at this time, counterintuitively. Where an older woman could invite a younger woman to lunch and it was absolutely totally appropriate. Where she would have never invited the head of the ski department to lunch. Or they could check into a motel together as two women but if they were a heterosexual unmarried couple, checking into a hotel at this time would have been a scandal. So there’s ways in which the morays and the codes of the time are also things that we’re learning and reading against their actions and gestures.

Carol is now in theaters, you can read my 5-star review here.

Paul Bettany discusses “Shelter” with stars Jennifer Connelly and Anthony Mackie

Paul Bettany may be known as one of our finest English actors, with roles in such major films as A Beautiful Mind, Master and Commander, The Da Vinci Code and of course, Marvel’s Avengers franchise. What he also is however is now a fifteen year resident of New York City with Oscar-winning wife (and Beautiful Mind co-star) Jennifer Connelly. The city, which Bettany loves, is currently facing a homeless crisis which sees 60,000 people seeking public shelters nightly. The majority of them families.

The actor had been developing a story about judgment and redemption for his feature directorial debut, but it wasn’t until Hurricane Sandy hit his home city that Bettany honed in on filtering his story through the lens of the homeless experience. The result was Shelter, which Bettany describes as a “moving optimistic story,” and stars Connelly as Hannah and Anthony Mackie (Captain America: Civil War) as Tahir, a pair of homeless people from completely different worlds now residing in New York City. They come together to help each other face their pasts and the everyday trials of living on the streets. An impassioned, opinionated Bettany joined Connelly and Mackie this week at the New York press conference for the film.

One particular homeless couple focused Bettany on where his story would go:

Paul Bettany: “I live in a really nice apartment I moan about because I’m now a New Yorker…outside this apartment was this homeless couple. A black man and a white woman, she was blonde. And I would see them, we would see them, we would pass them on the school run. My children would say hello to them, they’d say hello to us, and that was kind of the extent of it. And I have to, I’m ashamed to say, that day by day, their poverty became more and more acceptable to me and they became invisible. Before they actually disappeared. And then Hurricane Sandy hit and we never saw them again. There was a mandatory evacuation of our area of Tribeca and they used to live in a tiny little piece of like a ‘park’–it’s laughable, it’s smaller than this room–on the corner of Canal Street and the West Side Highway. And they used to live under a plastic tarpaulin and I noticed that they seemed to complain a lot less about their circumstances than I did and I admired that. And then I really couldn’t see them anymore and I felt the instinct to write about them. But I didn’t know who they were. And then I thought, well wait a second, maybe that would be a really good way to discuss judgment because I find our response to homelessness really puzzling. It’s a peculiar response that people have.”

This “peculiar response” was loudly voiced this week by New York’s own Police Commissioner Bill Bratton who had advised city dwellers to ignore panhandlers and not spare them any change in order to get them off the streets. At the press conference Bettany, who spent three years developing the script for Shelter and by extension working with and researching organizations that support the homeless, was asked to address this idea, firing back:

Bettany: “I’m not one to say anything rude about anyone else but, that’s a fucking stupid idea. To ignore a homeless…The homeless. Especially when there’s 60,000 of them on the streets—staying in shelters—in a city that’s home to more billionaires than any city on Earth, you know…I can’t believe that someone would say ‘ignore homeless people.’ And frankly, it’s absolutely the reason I feel it’s urgent. Obviously I spent three years bleeding it into a movie that’s trying to talk about exactly that. So forgive me if I get a little bit heated about it. Because that sort of mentality just drives me up the wall.

They’ve been ignored for too long. I’ll just tell you this, if you are a family on the brink of eviction, you’re 80% less likely to be evicted If you have legal counsel. But there is no right to legal counsel in a housing court. It would cost the city $12,500 to grant that family legal counsel. The average stay in a shelter for a homeless family once they have been evicted costs the city $45,000. So not only does it seem to be morally the right thing to do, it also just seems fiscally a smart thing to do, right? You’re thinking outside the box…

All of these figures that I have my head you know because I’ve been really thinking about this for a long while, I say them in front of audiences and I can just—I know that they’re mind blowing and then kind of numbing and that’s the interesting thing about narrative. Narrative can breath life into those figures that can be baffling. And peculiarly they become more meaningful the smaller they get. Which is why Shelter is just about two people. And two people who need forgiveness and who are deserving of forgiveness. Cause you know what? It’s not just those 24,000 children [staying in shelters] because when I say it, I always I feel the audience go ‘[gasps] Not children!‘ but actually we’re all innocents. We’re all worthy of forgiveness. And we’re all fundamentally deserving of a home”

For Connelly and Mackie, working on Shelter refocused their perspectives on the struggles people face.

Jennifer Connelly: “There’s no group of people that isn’t entitled to the same basic human rights as the rest of us…It reminded me how much I need to strive to remain aware and to keep seeing those people. And to keep seeing what’s happening around the world. And to keep you know, to be conscious of how blessed we are to worry about the silly things that we worry about most of the time. When people are worrying about where they’re going to sleep and how they’re going to feed their kids and will they make it through the day. Important to think about.”

Anthony Mackie: “The level of judgment and the lack of humanity I saw in myself was disgusting. Every time I would walk past a homeless person I’d be like ‘Get up, get a job! Get off drugs!’ I never took into account what that person had been through or what happened to get that person to that place. And it just really blew my mind, you know, learning what I learned about homeless shelters and just the idea of finding a warm place to sleep at night, it reminded me of the prison system. And the idea or the lack thereof of rehabilitation in the prison system. You know just trying to get a good night sleep within incarceration… And it was just troubling and eye opening. And I never really took into account the number of families.

You know when I was a kid we used to do this feeding the hungry at my church every other Saturday and it blew my mind one day when I was you know, like scooping out food and this kid from my school was there. I was like ‘Holy sh—shibbity jibbit! That dude we go to school together!’ And somewhere between that moment of realization and appreciation for what my dad sacrificed for us to have and me becoming ‘Anthony Mackie’ I lost it. And this movie really made me realize. And it was very humbling and very sickening to see that within yourself. And so now I make my kids go and scoop chicken on the weekends. And if they don’t do the right thing, I take their shit from them and give it to other kids. [laughs]”

Connelly immersed herself in organizations that reached out to those struggling:

Connelly: “Coalition for the Homeless, that group of people were really helpful to me. I spent time with them, talking to them and visiting shelters and going out on their food runs. Which, every night they deliver meals and stop at set points around the city and people rely on those meals so you can meet people coming in. And I heard a lot–I met and watched and learned from a lot of people. There’s a place called the Lower East Side Harm Reduction Center, which started out just as a needle exchange program, and it still is and also has health support services and outreach programs, and overdose prevention and a number of other programs. I spent a lot time there at their location, and going on their walkabout talking to people. Yeah, people were very generous with their stories and with their time. So I was really listening to people, watching people and hearing their stories.”

As for the actual making of the film, Bettany made the considerable leap from acting to directing. I asked him if he’d turned to any of the impressive directors he’s worked with in the past (a list including Joss Whedon, Ron Howard and Peter Weir) for advice when he began this project.

Bettany: “No. No I didn’t but they were the biggest resource for me in showing them early cuts of the movie. Ron Howard, Darren Aronofsky, lots of people that I know–David Koepp, and not just directors, Joss Whedon, Johnny Depp…Just loads of people that I’ve worked with and trust and really whose–who I really admire. But I did that afterward.

You know, I really kept my eyes open as an actor, I’m really interested. You know I see it, you see it when you meet a young actor first day on set, you can see whether they’re gonna be the sort of actor who’s gonna bullshit that they know what they’re doing [laughs] or asked loads of questions. And I was really inquisitive and I wanted to know ‘hey, what’s that do?‘…I was that sort of an actor when I was them at that age. And so I’ve been watching and one of the things that I’ve really noticed with the great directors and actually I first saw this, recognized in Peter Weir, is he knows who’s telling the story. Whether it is the actors holding the responsibility or whether it’s the camera crew holding the responsibility. And if it’s the actor holding the responsibility, every take is the actor’s. And by that I mean there is no complicated techni-crane move that’s going to move in on you during your speech and come in and catch a tear rolling down your cheek and eight out of ten of them are out of focus. ‘Cause all of those takes are for the crew, because there’s this complicated camera. Every scene that is held by the actors is just simple simple camera work. Nothing can be out of focus, every take can be going to you the actor. Just generous, every take. Every take. And then when it’s the camera crew, you better be on your fucking mark. Because they’re the ones telling the story, right, they’re the ones responsible for it. So I thought about that a lot and tried to figure out who was the most important. (It was me. [laughs])”

Connelly was asked if she’d like to turn the tables and direct Bettany eventually, but it seems unlikely:

Bettany: “Do you want to direct me? I can’t imagine anything worse, I’m very difficult.”

Connelly: “I have no eminent plans to direct anything although I’d imagine it’d be something that I’d find–it intrigues me but I’m not nearly ready to, I don’t think–”

Bettany: “I’d be terrified!”

Shelter opens in limited release and on VOD November 13th