Parker Sawyers talks about role in “Monsters: Dark Continent”

Parker Sawyers is co-starring in the upcoming film “Monsters: Dark Continent”, which is a follow-up to the 2010 film “Monsters”. Parker also appeared this year in the film “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”. Media Mikes had a chance to chat about “Monsters: Dark Continent” with him and what we can expect.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you get involved with “Monsters: Dark Continent”?
Parker Sawyers: I’ve been acting for nearly three years now and try to hit every meeting I am lucky enough to get. I see it as practice. So, “Monsters: Dark Continent” was another meeting to me. Interestingly, I had a short film to shoot 15 minutes after my meeting time and I was so worried about missing the call time, I don’t really remember what I said or did in the room. Whatever it was worked, thankfully.

MG: Were you familiar with the original film prior?
PS: In preparation for the meeting for Monsters: Dark Continent, I watched the original film, Gareth Edwards’ “Monsters”. I was pleasantly surprised as I watched the two central characters develop a relationship amidst such dire conditions. To me, the original film was about humanity and how even in the face of extreme adversity or in their case an alien invasion we would still find love, fight for one another, and even bicker. Perhaps we’re not much more than that.

MG: Give us some background on your character Shaun Williams?
PS: Shaun is a kid from Detroit. I see him as a multi-talented, cool kid who never got “that break”. He is a sportsman, clever and chilled. Though I now live in London, I’m originally from Indianapolis, Indiana, just a few hours away from Detroit. To play a guy from the Midwest with heaps of heart and a laid back attitude was exciting and refreshing. I think the Midwesterners who watch the film will relate to Shaun and his friends; the hustle, the hunger, the decency, the loyalty.

MG: Tell us about where the film was shot and what was the most challenging aspect?
PS: We shot the film in Amman, Jordan and Detroit, Michigan. The people in Amman are some of the most hospitable and warmest people I’ve ever met. It was my second time being there, the first time was to film “Zero Dark Thirty”. I’m itching to return for a vacation. As for a challenge, I’d say the amount of work that needed to be completed by the end of each day, to stay on schedule. But, we worked hard and Tom Green, the director, never made any of us feel rushed. But, of course, we can read a call sheet and we knew we had a limited amount of time. Ultimately, we made it work. Detroit was cool. Talk about smiling through adversity, the people were wonderfully American and hardworking.

MG: How was it going from low-budget indie to big budget action, “Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit”?
PS: All jobs are the same to me. Whether it’s working with an Oscar winning director or an up and coming talent like Tom Green, I put forth the same amount of effort. I must say though, the Monsters cast was and still is like a family. We stay in touch, attend each other’s birthdays, and cheerlead whenever possible. I’d never had that experience before.

MG: What else do you have on the cards for 2014?
PS: I’m off to Bulgaria in March to film James McTiegue’s spy thriller, “Survivor”. It’s an amazing script and I’m fortunate to be part of the project. Other than that, it’s pilot season, so non-stop meetings as far as the eye can see!

Interview with Brian Mahoney

Brian Mahoney is known for his role as Detective Duffy in “The Boondock Saints” film series. Movie Mikes had a chance to chat with Brian about “Boondock” and what it was like working on the films.

Click here to purchase “Boondock Saints” merchandise

Mike Gencarelli: How did you get involved with “The Boondock Saints” for the first film?
Brian Mahoney: The script was at New Line Cinema at the time. I had a girlfriend who was working at New Line and I was tracking everything that came into that studio. I was reading scripts and that one just caught my attention. The structure of “The Boondock Saints” was just so different. It has a real edge to it. I got on early on when Harvey Weinstein was telling Troy (Duffy) he would buy him during the bidding war with New Line. It was a hot property.

Mike Gencarelli: Your scenes brought out some of the great comedy from the film, was it fun filming it?
Brian Mahoney: [Laughs] Dude I can even tell you how much fun it is hanging out with Bob Marley. First of all he is a kick-ass comedian. I got to be his straight man for two different movies. It is tough. It was clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right kind-of thing. Troy wanted me to be the straight guy who is quiet and smart. It was tough to keep a straight face. There was a lot of funny stuff going on in between scenes. I gotta tell you though, spend ten minutes with Bob Marley and you will ache from laughing so hard.

Mike Gencarelli: Were you excited to be reprising your role in “All Saints Day”?
Brian Mahoney: Yeah, I really was. When I read the script and got to the part where the brothers are hiding in the bar and the detectives come in and we agree to do a mission with them. It called the ‘reveal’ scene. When I got to that I was like jumping for joy. Detective Duffy gets more to do this time. It was a real thrill getting to work with these guys again. They really are a good group of guys.

MG: So your character Detective Duffy has a bigger role in the second film?
BM: It gets better and better. The second film is almost like my coming out party for me as an actor. The first film I was really lucky to be there with Willem Dafoe the whole time. I got to learn from him and whatnot, but I didn’t do a lot. The second film I am more interacting with ‘the boys’ and it is a real thrill.

MG: Fans really seems to dig these films and are always quoting the films, do you have a favorite line?
BM: Yah, David della Rocco is a good friend of mine and my favorite line is when he blows away the cat in the first film as says “Is it dead yet?”. That’s great. You just got to know Rocco and Rocco is as fun as Bob Marley. Sometimes without intending to be. He is a real cool guy and I think a lot of that shows up on screen.

MG: What’s up next? Do you think you will work with Troy Duffy again?
BM: Yeah I hope to be working with Troy again. I think he is going to have a long career. People around town are starting to take Troy more seriously now. He is two for two with his films and the guy has a cult following. As for me I got irons in the fire, I came close to a couple of things. I went up for this cool movie called “Cowboys & Aliens”. I thought I had a chance to work with Harrison Ford. I didn’t get it though it went to someone a little more famous. I am getting close. I just read for a show called “Big Love” on HBO. I got a couple more agents interested in me right now. I also got the chance to do a small part in an upcoming Matt Damon movie called “The Adjustment Bureau”. I had one scene with just me and Matt Damon. I play the owner of a bar called ‘The Fish Market’. It will probably be cut though since a film shoots so many hours of footage and then have to cut to down to 2 hours. If I make it in the movie that cool if not it is still going to be a great movie. The primary thing is I am working on my book right now called “A Cobra Pilot in Hollywood”. It is about my transition from the cockpit to the silver screen. My first career was a military aviator. I am trying to work on that, raising a kid and doing a lot of auditions. It is like crazy time right now.

Click here to purchase “Boondock Saints” merchandise

Interview with Lin Shaye

Lin Shaye is well known for her comedic roles in “There’s Something About Mary”, “Kingpin” and “Dumb and Dumber” and also her horror roles in 1984’s “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and “2001 Maniacs”. She recently stars as Granny Boone again in “2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams”. MovieMikes had the pleasure to talk with Lin about her recent role in the “2001 Maniacs” sequel and also discussed with her about her passion for acting.

Click here to purchase Lin’s movies

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us how you got the role of Granny Boone in “2001 Maniacs”?
Lin Shaye: Well, I have worked with Tim before.  I met him when I did “Detroit Rock City”.  We had a friendship and a good work relationship.  He told me about the movie but like all things you are never sure what is going to happen, but then we got funding.  Originally the character had a whole different concept planned for her.  Tim kept talking about “The Beverly Hillbillies” grandmother and he envisioned her in a coon-skin cap.  When we saw the original place we were going to be shooting it was a living museum in a place called Lumpkin, Georgia.  It is a civil war reenactment museum.  It was fantastic.  When we saw Granny Boone’s “house” it was a white mansion and we rethought it on the spot.  I insisted she needed to be more like a southern belle.  We ended up sewing this outfit together on me just before we shot the first day and Granny Boone was born.  She was a cross between Scarlett O’Hara and a black widow spider.

Mike Gencarelli: What originally drew you to the role?
Lin Shaye: It is a really good story.  It is about these people who are avenging themselves against war.  It caters well to the horror population. Between Tim, the storyline and the idea of this women as Scarlett O’Hara eating people, I thought that sounded good.  So there we were.  The story is quite wonderful.

Mike Gencarelli: How do you feel your character grows or changes in “2001 Maniacs: Field of Screams”?
Lin Shaye: It took almost six years before we got the second one going.  By that time Granny took on this wonderful flavor of a real woman who is trying to bring some peace to herself even in this horrible vicious or gruesome way.  Tim also gave me a lot more to do in the second one.  We filled in her relationship with Mayor Buckman.  They have this odd love affair.  I love the scene in the second one when she is trying to wake him up by singing or being flirtatious and all he cares about is snoring and his weapon, it is the typical male/female relationship.  Granny is more of leader in the second one as well which is lots of fun for me.

MG: What was the most challenging part of your role in “2001 Maniacs: Field the Screams”?
LS: The challenges were more on the technical side.  We had such huge time restraint. We made this movie in like 11 days.  If you can believe that.  Everyone brought there a-game.  It was one of the most amicable sets that I have ever been on.  Tim is a very joyful human being, extremely positive and optimistic.  He really is a fine director.  He made the time restraints easier.  The hardest thing for me personally was the flashdance sequence, since it was kind of written in after the fact.  I remember getting the material and being surprised it was a whole song I kind of had to learn.  Besides me there were three other “gals” and I was  the dance captain so to speak.  They hired a choreographer for us and we had like a few hours to learn it.  It was kind of a nightmare.  We couldn’t learn it.  It was too hard for me and I was ready to give-up.  We were spending all this time and energy and it is going to look like shit I thought.  When we finally set shot it, it seems to work well.  Tim had it all worked out that that is what is great about him.  So that was basically the hardest day for me.  Yet it came out great and I think it is hilarious.  I think the fans are really going to love it.

MG: Are you a fan of horror films in general?
LS: [laughs] I am not a fan at all.  The best horror film to me to date is still, “A Nightmare on Elm Street”, which I do have a tiny part in.  They do not scare me and I have no fascination with blood or guts other than my appreciation of special effects and makeup.  The horror fans are an incredible community.  I just worked with James Wan, who directed the first “Saw” movie.  So I am getting work in this genre but I never question why I just say, “Yes”.

MG: Your role in the original “A Nightmare on Elm Street” is still referenced today as having a major impact, how does that make you feel?
LS: It is no secret Bob Shaye is my brother who started New Line Cinema.  I am proud of that.  I was invited to work on the film.  The teacher was just a little small role with this fun little catch all at the end about the hall pass.  None of us ever know what is going to strike a cord in people.  Sometimes it is the most unlikely kind of thing.  I really try to do my best.  When we did “Elm Street”, I was just excited to be in the movie.  It was big deal for New Line but I had no idea.  The film has had all this longevity and spawned this whole mega-series of films.  Robert Englund became Robert Englund.  People still remember the role of the teacher, though.  I just remembered something actually, I got a review in the New York Times back when the movie came out.  It spoke about the teacher and it mentioned that she was one of the most realistic people in the film.  It was one of those moment and I said “Wow, I got picked out” for such a small contribution.  It is thrilling and exciting.

MG: You also had some very memorable comedic roles in “There’s Something About Mary”, “Kingpin” and “Dumb and Dumber”, did you enjoy working those films?
LS: I love comedy.  It is interesting because I never thought to myself that I am a comedian or I do comedy.  I feel like I am an actor.  I have been told I have excellent comedic timing.  It is just something you feel.  I am very grateful for that gift.  I really do not think of comedy any different than I think about horror or any other genre.  For me it is just finding the truth of the character and expanding their universe.  When I did Magda in “There’s Something About Mary”, I thought this woman is really like agoraphobic and doesn’t really go out.  I spoke to the wardrobe and I mentioned that she should just be in house coats.  I had a whole back story made up for her that wasn’t in the script. She stays with Mary on her couch because she love her like a daughter.  She also has Fluffy that she treats like her baby.  It is through those serious thoughts comes the comedy.  I think it is trying to move your mind outside of the character and from those elements comes things that are funny, scary and sad.  If you are in a comedy you want to sustain the genre your in.  You have to just feel it.  You don’t want to play a comedy too heavy.  That’s tragedy.  But actually that can be funny too depending on how hard you cry [laughs].  I just love acting and the process.  I recently turned down a big role in a movie for a smaller role.  I felt that with the smaller role, I could do something better with it.  I thought what the hell am I doing but the other role opened up my heart.  I thought that is why I am an actor.  That is what I look for.  Acting for me is communication.  If you can make people laugh there is nothing better.  I walked into the theater when we did “Mary” and I remembering hearing the roar and it was so uplifting.  With “Kingpin” also, I didn’t play her to be funny I thought she was tragic [laughs].  But people laughed at her, because she is so damn tragic.  I have been doing this for so long but I still get as thrilled, scared, nervous and excited as I was the first time I ever worked once they say the words “Action”.

Click here to purchase Lin’s movies

Interview with Cindy Morgan

Cindy Morgan is best known as “Lacey Underall” in “Caddyshack”, and “Yori” in “Tron”. This year celebrates the 30th anniversary of “Caddyshack” and the return of “Tron” with its upcoming sequel “Tron: Legacy”. Movie Mikes had a chance to talk with Cindy about her road to becoming an actress and her experiences working on those films.

Click here to purchase “Tron” merchandise
Click here to purchase “Caddyshack” merchandise

Mike Gencarelli: You went from Catholic school girl to Lacey Underall in “Caddyshack”, tell us about that journey?
Cindy Morgan: From Catholic school to “Caddyshack” went this way, I was going to go to the Illinois Institute of Technology which is the mid-west version of MIT. I was accepted in and I wanted to be an engineer like my dad. The year I went, the school had four girls and all guys. I was fixed up for my prom and all I did was study, I said I can’t do this. I made a hard left turn and went to Northern Illinois University. My professor told me one day that I should get into communications. I remember my first time trying it because my whole body went numb. But after that I took everything as a challenge. I spent five years in broadcasting. I was either working in radio or television. If I was on the radio, I was a disc jockey and was FCC licensed sound engineer. On TV, when I did the weather I had not a clue what I was talking about but I had good ratings. From there I ended up doing The Morning Drive radio show in Chicago. I need some more money though so I asked to do more commercials and they told me they weren’t going to put me on camera. I said “the hell with you guys, I am going to LA”. They told me I wouldn’t get a job. I told them I will have a billboard on Sunset in one year. I had one in eight months. After getting a commercial for Irish Springs, I got a theatrical agent got the script for “Caddyshack”. Did you know how much that film was ad libbed? Rodney (Dangerfield) was running through a scene bug-eyed like a comedic juggernaut. Ted Knight kept getting angry. Chevy Chase and Bill Murray threw in their lines. It was crazy. When I finally saw it, it was like watching home movies of a family picnic. But the thing is we were really having a good time.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us about working on “Caddyshack”? Any stories?
Cindy Morgan: It was fun but also a big challenge. When that camera rolls it was even playing field. I was playing a strong character going head to head against these guys. The first scene I shot was the high dive and I can’t dive and can barely swim. I climbed up to the board and set the whole shot and they cut to the real diver. My second shot was the nude scene. It was explained to me and understood it. The night before though one of the producers told me they are going to send a Playboy photographer down to shoot the scene. I told them I couldn’t do it. But the next day there was the photographer. I wouldn’t let him on set and the producer said he was taking away my paid ads and my billing and told me I would never work again. So they did. Nobody knows I was in “Caddyshack”, they know Lacey Underall. I know that I did the right thing though.

Mike Gencarelli: Switching from “Caddyshack” to “Tron”, two totally different roles how did you feel?
Cindy Morgan: It was very different actors. Very different people. Working in Florida with the “Caddyshack” crew was a very different experience then working on the studio lot for Disney. “Caddyshack” was “Animal House” on the golf course. With Disney everything was frame by frame and had word by word laid out. It was a whole different deal. I loved working with Jeff Bridges and Bruce Boxleitner. It was a ground breaking film. When we shot it, it was just a huge empty warehouse. None of the graphics were behind us. The reality we were going to find in these things were in each others eyes. That is all I can say. I am really got I did that film.

MG: What was it like working on the film “Tron”, was it a difficult shoot?
CM: Difficult in a lot of ways. They had specific storyboards and scenes laid out. This was the first time that CGI was ever done. The studio suits were roaming around the sets. With my character in “Tron”, I had to make certain adjustments so I could play her as real as I could. One line I choked on and the audience knows it. I went to the director and said I cannot say this line. The director also happened to be the writer so the line stayed in the movie. The line was “Oh Tron, I knew there was circuit build that could hold you” and the audience laughs every time.

MG: How did you feel when you saw “Tron” for the first time as a finished product?
CM: In the real world I was fine. In the computer world the dialogue was very tough. The graphics were gorgeous though. But as a whole I didn’t know if it would play to a wide audience. I knew it had a special niche. As it turns out that niche kept it alive and it grew and grew. The reality was there because the actors believed it and they were in it 100%.

MG: Can you believe how the film has tested time and still is so popular?
CM: It is so cool that almost 30 years later all of this is happening. I have a big smile on my face all the time.

MG: Give us a hint do you think we will get a chance to see “Yori” return in “Tron Legacy” or maybe its possible sequel?
CM: I think any number of things in possible because the bottom line Mike, it is science-fiction. Anything is possible. They shot footage of me when I was in San Francisco doing promotion. The producers working the viral campaign are all young men. They are paying very cool attention to the internet and what the fans are saying. There is even a ‘Yori Lives’ campaign going on but it is all up to the fans.

Click here to purchase “Tron” merchandise
Click here to purchase “Caddyshack” merchandise

Interview with Cris D’Annunzio

Cris D’Annunzio recently starred in the acclaimed short film “Clemency”, which showed at the 2010 Sundance Festival and won several awards from other film festivals. He wrote and co-starred in the Ray Liotta and Rory Culkin film “Chasing 3000”, which follows the real-life story of two brothers driving across country to see Baseball Hall-of-Famer Roberto Clemente get his 3,000 hit with the Pittsburgh Pirates. While the film was made in 2008, it will get its official release in Summer 2010. Movie Mikes had the chance to talk to Cris to discuss “Chasing 3000” and his flourishing career.

Click here to purchase “Chasing 3000” DVD

Mike Gencarelli: It has not been an easy road for “Chasing 3000.” How do you feel now that it is finally hitting the big screen?
Cris D’Annunzio: It’s interesting. Obviously I’m very excited that it’s finally coming out and hitting the big screen. And yet there’s also…I don’t know how to describe it, it’s not disappointing…I just feel a little bad that it’s taken the film so long to get out there because it’s a really sweet film. I mean, it premiered three years ago at the Tribeca Film Festival. I judge certain things by my wife and my kids’ reaction and they just loved it. I think it’s a nice family, kid oriented film. It’s too bad that it had to take the route it took to get here but, with that being said, I’m really thrilled that it’s going to get a release. Hopefully it will pick up some steam after people see it and it should do real well on home video.

Mike Gencarelli: You co-wrote the screenplay with Bill Mikita. How was that experience?
Cris D’Annunzio: Any creative/artistic endeavor has it’s challenges. Ultimately the story really came to me through Bill. It’s loosely based on his life and growing up with his brother, who is the oldest surviving person IN THE WORLD with MS. The story really touched me when he first told it to me and my experiences with my own sister who, unfortunately, passed away a year and a half ago…she had a disease called Lupus…the experiences that I had growing up. My parents divorced and my mom basically took my sister and I and left. It’s a lot like the story in “Chasing 3000.” Oddly enough, what brought my sister and I closer together was baseball. We both shared a fondness for baseball. The Mets were our favorite team. The experience of writing it with Bill…with both of us bringing our personal situations and our personal histories into it…it’s interesting that we’re talking about this over the 4th of July weekend. It was nine years ago, over the 4th of July weekend, that we locked ourselves in an office at Warner Brothers and wrote the script over a long three day weekend. It’s kind of interesting when you have two grown men sitting in a room crying a lot and writing. It was a good experience.

Mike Gencarelli: You play Principal Motley in the film. Tell us about your character?
Cris D’Annunzio: What happens in the film is that the two boys, played by Trevor Morgan and Rory Culkin, move with their mom to California. They grew up in Pittsburgh and moved to California primarily because the younger brother has this disease and the warmer weather is better for his lungs. Of course the older brother becomes despondent and misses his friends and has a lot of teen angst. He starts to not do well in school and get in trouble and I’m kind of the principal who…not necessarily sets him on the right course but…disciplines him, puts an ultimatum to him. He kind of makes him realize that California is not the place he needs to be in at this moment. So he and his brother “borrow” their mother’s car and head across the country to see Roberto Clemente get his 3000th hit. Hopefully you’ll see it…hopefully a lot of people will see it. The casting director did a fantastic job of assembling a pretty well known cast. It has Ray Liotta and Lauren Holly and Ricardo Chivara from “Desperate Housewives.” The story, I think, touched a lot of people and that really touches me. I think that’s why a lot of people got involved in this project.

MG: Tell us about your one man play “Digging Up Dad”? Any plans to return to the stage?
CD: I just completed the run about a month ago…we ran for about three months. The play was an autobiographical solo show about my relationship with my father and his mysterious death at an early age…he died when he was 48 under very mysterious circumstances. The story is really about me trying to come to terms with that and also the fact that my mother left him when I was 12. At that age I was still developing my knowledge and my opinions about my father and it wasn’t until after he passed
that a lot of his life and what he did and was involved with…it wasn’t until then that I became aware of them. I grew up with it and I was aware of it. And I’ll use the word “mafia” but today I can’t whole heartedly tell you or anybody with any certainty that there is such a thing as the mafia, at least not in the way we think it should be based on what we see on television and in the movies. Maybe that was what my father was involved in but my father certainly wasn’t John Gotti. If anything he was…I would liken him to Paulie Walnuts from “The Sopranos” which was about the level of involvement that he was at.

MG: Your short film, “Clemency” has been hitting the festival circuit. Tell us about it?
CD: It’s a little project that I’m very excited about. It’s an interesting piece. It’s been playing the festival circuit but it’s kind of been categorized as a horror film but it’s really more of a mystery/suspense thriller. The way it’s shot and edited is a lot like the film “Se7en.” It’s about a sociopath in the mountains of West Virginia that abducts and murders some girls. One sister actually escapes and comes back many years later. The guy has spent many years in prison on death row and right before he’s scheduled to be executed he receives clemency from the governor who rules him insane. The sister who survived comes back and poses as a reporter. She gets in to interview him and ends up killing him. I play the murderer, which is a 180 degree turn from the character I play in “Chasing 3000.”

MG: Tell us about your upcoming web series, “Vampire Mob”?
CD: The first episode aired this past week and it runs six episodes. It’s done by some people I got involved with when I did my one man show, the Ruskin Group Theater. Every month they do what they call a “cafe” play. Five writers come in on Friday morning and they’re given a theme and two head shots and are told to write a ten minute play based on the theme and based on the two actors they’ve been given the pictures of. They write the play in the morning, give the play to the actors at noon. They rehearse it from noon until six and then they have the opening night performance at seven and the closing night performance at nine that evening. One of the writers, Joe Wilson, had written a play loosely based on a vampire hit man for the mob and that gave him the idea to do the web series. It’s about a mob hit man who gets shot and makes a deal with the devil not to die. But in choosing to live forever he also has to choose to be a vampire. He figures that since most of the work he does is at night anyway this would be perfect for him!

Click here to purchase “Chasing 3000” DVD

Interview with Derek Mears, Pt.2

Derek Mears is best known for playing Jason Voorhees in 2009’s reboot of “Friday the 13th”. He is starring in this summer’s reboot of “Predators” as the Classic Predator. He is currently filming in Hawaii for a little film called “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides”. Movie Mikes got a chance to talk to Derek again, you can check out our first interview here. This time we got Derek to spill some information about his role in “Predators”.

Click here to purchase Derek’s movies

Mike Gencarelli: In “Predators”, you play the classic Predator, tell us about your role in the film and also the other Predators?
Derek Mears: What I can say about playing Classic Predator is, It is f*&#ing cool! My fan boy mind has been blown. This time around they have some new Predators and there are different races. So far fans have only seen one which is the classic race. They are a little taller, a little leaner, a little darker and their technology is a little more advanced. KNB EFX knocked it out of the ball park with their designs. When I saw their new designs, I thought that they were really really cool.

Mike Gencarelli: Have you seen the other films in the series?
Derek Mears: Of course I have. I’ve seen all the films. Like in our last interview I said, I love horror, sci-fi and comic books.

Mike Gencarelli: How did you prepare for this role?
Derek Mears: I knew I was going to be zipped up in a giant monster suit. I did a lot of endurance training. I was trying to figure out with the character how to make it more fluent and animalistic.

Mike Gencarelli: Tell us a cool story from the set during the film of the “Predators”?
Derek Mears: You got good questions. Damn it, you’re making me think! [laughs]. Let me think…Nimrod (Antal), the director is such a big fan of “Predator” and I remember he was giggling and laughing during the shoot. He yelled out to the cast and crew, “There is a 12-year old fat kid named Nimrod who had a “Predator” poster above his bed and he is losing his mind right now”. His energy and love for the character was so infectious. Sometimes if you weren’t sure how a take went, you would just look at his eyes. He would light up and say “Pancakes”. If you heard “Pancakes” that means you were doing a fantastic job. You would ask, “How was that?”, he would then say “Pancakes, baby!! That was pancakes!!”. So I guess I did a good job [laughs].

Mike Gencarelli: How long did it take to apply the costume?
Derek Mears: To put it on it was about an hour. Some days it was like an hour and a half to get out. When I didn’t wear the battle helmet and just had a mask, they had to glue black rubber donuts over my eyes for padding. Then put my contacts in, so that took a little extra time.

Mike Gencarelli: What was the first thing you thought when you were suited up for the first time in your costume?
Derek Mears: The first thing I thought was where is the zipper so in case I have to go to the bathroom I can relieve myself [laughs]. I was really excited when I put the outfit on because the way it felt and moved, it was made for my body. Sometimes when you wear different prosthetics and monster suits you have to over exaggerate what you are doing. With this it was so super thin and skin tight. Everything read beyond clear and that is all to the artistry of KNB EFX.

Mike Gencarelli: How do you think fans are going to react to this film?
Derek Mears: I think they are going to like it. What the focus of this one was was to get it back to a hard R rating and to make it realistic and not campy whatsoever. They didn’t want to do PG-13 to reach a mass audience. I think it will deliver to the fans.

Mike Gencarelli: Have you heard word about possibly returning for another “Predators”?
Derek Mears: It’s funny, because you hear it every time you work on a film. At the end of the film you hear “Dude, they want to do part 2”. You hear that on every film you work on. I really don’t know if they are thinking about a sequel or not. I hope so.

Mike Gencarelli: What are you currently shooting in Hawaii?
Derek Mears: I am currently shooting “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides” and we are told to be tight lipped about it. All I am able to say is that I am part of the cast and that is it. It is really exciting though.

Click here to purchase Derek’s movies

Interview with Joe Alves

As a child, there are moments that stick out in your life and often lead you in directions you would never have considered. For me, the date September 23, 1975 is one that will stay with me forever. It was on that day that I first saw the film, “Jaws.” For someone that wasn’t really a big movie-goer, I came out of that film with an enthusiasm for films that gave me both a career and a passion for more than 30 years. November 2007 saw the 30th Anniversary of another film favorite of mine, Steven Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Spielberg, of course, also directed “Jaws” but the films also share another major talent, that of production designer Joe Alves.Artistically talented since he was a young man, Alves knew at a young age what career he wanted to pursue. A summer job got his foot in the door and from there he worked his way to the top of his profession, earning an Academy Award nomination for his work on “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” He also designed the look of some of the most popular films of all time and even now his ideas help form the look of today’s films, most recently “I Am Legend.” From the famed Disney animation studio to “Night Gallery.” From Elvis to Jagger. From Junior Set Designer to Director, there isn’t anything Joe Alves hasn’t done on film. While preparing for a film seminar in Denmark, Mr. Alves took some time out to discuss his career and some of his best known films.

Click here to view our ‘Jaws” interview with Carl Gottlieb
Click here to view our ‘Jaws” interview with Keith Gordon

Click here to purchase “Jaws” merchandise

Mike Smith: It’s been 30 years since the release of “Close Encounters.” Did you think while you were filming that you would be talking about it three decades later?

Joe Alves: That’s always a hard question. I get the same question about “Jaws.” Let me just say that “Jaws” was different in the physical sense. With “Close Encounters,” there was a lot of buzz about it because the studio was behind it. The studio was having some financial problems and they needed a big picture. (note: The studio in question, Columbia, was in the middle of a mini-scandal after studio head David Begelman forged a $10,000 studio check he had written to Cliff Robertson. This incident caused a major upheaval at Columbia, both financially and artistically, that lasted for some time. Mr. Begelman committed suicide in 1995. The facts of this matter were documented in an excellent book, “Indecent Exposure.”) The movie started out very, very small. Steven (Spielberg) and I were skiing and preparing for a movie he was going to direct called “Bingo Long and His Traveling All-Stars,” which was a story about black baseball in the 1930s. I had taken a bunch of LIFE magazines and other research and we got snowed in. One night he started talking about “Watch the Skies,” which was based on a chapter of Dr. Hynek’s book (Dr. J. Allen Hynek, author of “The UFO Experience: A Scientific Study”), the chapter on Close Encounters of the Third Kind, where you had actual physical contact with aliens. And I didn’t know if he had a solid script yet or not but I said this sounds much more fascinating then this black baseball movie. Steven said, “yeah, but I don’t have a deal.” Anyway, when we got back to L.A. he got out of his deal to do “Bingo Long” and pursued a deal to do “Close Encounters.” Ironically another director I knew, John Badham, ended up getting “Bingo Long” and asked me to work on it. Steven got Julia and Michael Phillips (the producers of “CE3K”) interested and that was for Columbia. We had always worked at Universal. Anyway, eventually Steven got a deal and he put me on “Close Encounters.” I went over to Columbia and met John Veach, who was the head of production, and he said, “here’s what were going to do. It’s a $4 1/2 million picture. It’s a sci fi movie. And were going to do pretty much everything on the back lot.” But we needed an unusual piece of topography, since the script called for some kind of strange mountain. So they sent me off by myself to scout locations. And right at that time, “Jaws” opened, and Steven got very busy promoting “Jaws.” So I flew to Rapid City, South Dakota and I started driving all over what they call “scenic USA” looking for various odd pieces of topography. I had some notes to see various places; Devil’s Tower, Chimney Rock. So that was basically it, it was a small sci fi movie. Back then sci fi movies weren’t really big movies. They were important movies, films like “War of the Worlds” and “Forbidden Planet” were part of a cult following. Anyway, to answer your question the long way: no. We just thought we were making a very interesting movie.

MS: I’m glad you mentioned John Badham. I love John Badham. I wish he’d do more. (Readers: among my favorite John Badham films: “Saturday Night Fever,” “Dracula,” “Blue Thunder” and “American Fliers.” These days he works mostly in television, most recently on the series “Heroes.”)

JA: I’d known John for quite some time, in fact we worked on “Night Gallery” together, as did a lot of young directors at that time like Jeannot Szwarc. I did “Drop Zone” with John not too many years ago and we’ve always really had good communication. What happened with “Close Encounters” is what happens in Hollywood. “Jaws” became a big hit and that gave Steven confidence that he could make a bigger movie out of it, which got the studio thinking, “wow, we’ve got this brilliant director who made this movie about a shark that everybody thought was going to tank…the studio tried to cancel it four times…so maybe we have hope with “Close Encounters.” And it got bigger. We had started to break down the script to see what sets were needed and I came up with a huge arena and models of it. And the studio head took me to stage 15 and 16 at Warner Brothers, which is the “Camelot” stage, where they had made “Camelot,” and I said to him, “I don’t know if it’s big enough.” And he said “ah, you guys are just inflated by your “Jaws” movie,” and I said no, I’ll make up a model to fit in the stage and I’ll let you judge if it’s going to be big enough, because this is going to be an EVENT. A spaceship is going to come and land. This is going to be one of the most important events in world history. So I made the model and all of the executives came. Begelman was just starting with his problems so it was some of the old guard and some of the new guard…they all came in to look at the model. Now this movie was going to be the saving of the studio. So I gave my pitch and Steven and I told them we didn’t think the stages were big enough and they agreed. When they asked how big we thought it should be we told them four times bigger. So I made a model four times bigger, they came in and looked at it and said “this looks terrific, where are you going to do it?” And I said ‘I don’t have a clue.’ So then we started looking at airplane hangers and finally found the one in Mobile, Alabama. And that’s, briefly, how the thing sort of escalated. What was really difficult was that we needed new technology. We didn’t have that person. We had Lawrence Butler, who was the effects guy for Howard Hughes. He helped bring us up to what was available, like matte shots. We fumbled around for about six months and I did a lot of sketches of alien ships and finally we brought in Doug Trumbull, which escalated the budget more. In the meantime, down the street we had (George) Lucas doing “Star Wars” and they were developing some new technology. I mean we had John Dykstra and Doug Trumbull (working on separate projects) both developing this motion control technology. So it started very, very slow, first with just Steven and myself. Then they assigned a studio manager to do the budget. Michael Phillip was more active at the beginning then Julia Phillips. And after I came back with photographs of Devil’s Tower and other places Steven picked Devil’s Tower, which was my choice too. So I went and started scouting locations. I knew Vilmos (cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, who went on to win an Oscar for his work on “CE3K”) was going to be involved because he had done “Sugarland Express” with Steven. I think Steven originally asked him to do “Jaws” but he didn’t want to do a shark movie. And so Vilmos, Michael Phillips, Steven and I went to look at Devil’s Tower. When we came back I got the art department to start making models and that went on for a number of months. Six months later Trumbull came in with his group. We had decided we would use front projection, which created certain requirements from the art department regarding set pieces and things. But Larry Butler was important because he was the bridge between old technology and new technology.

MS: What led you to a career in film?

JA: Interesting question. I go back a long ways. High school in the early 50s. And I could always draw, from the time I can remember I was always drawing. In fact when I was in the fourth grade I drew all of the seven dwarfs. I can remember going to school and pinning them up on the wall. I was also a musician, I played piano. And in high school they would always have a rainy day amateur session. I’d play piano and others would twirl batons. And I ended up directing the senior extravaganza, which was a lot of different acts. So while I wasn’t really interested in acting I was interested in dramatics…music and art. And I saw a lot of movies. The movie that impressed me most was “An American In Paris.” And I remember coming out with the girl from up the street and I said, “Boy. That’s what I want to do.” I wanted to make movies and design things. So I pretty much decided at 15 or 16 that that’s what I wanted to do. When I went to college I majored in architecture and minored in drama. I then came down to L.A. and went to the Chouinard Art Institute, which was a fairly prestigious art school. It’s now become CalArts. Disney bought the thing. (Note: In 1961 brothers Walt and Roy Disney merged Chouinard and the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music into what is now CalArts). There I majored in motion picture design. Then it’s a real fluke. I needed a summer job and when I came home I talked to a fraternity brother whose father-in-law worked at Disney. So I thought I could give him a call and maybe get a job sweeping the stages. But, he happened to be the guy who did the hiring for the Disney artists and he asked me to bring in a portfolio. I didn’t think I was ready but he hired me and I was at Disney animation for a couple of years. That got me started but I decided I really wanted to work on live action. I started designing sets for a theater called the Hollywood Playhouse and got some recognition there. I built a portfolio and went to the studios. I started off as a junior set designer, then eventually assistant art director. Then art director. Production designer and occasional jobs as a director. And that’s how it went.

MS: You were 19 when you worked on “Forbidden Planet.” Did you look back on that experience when you were designing ideas for “Close Encounters?”

JA: Yes. It’s interesting that something I did so many years ago came back. Even more recently I did two animated movies (one being “Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists”) and even though it was all computer it was the same process where we did a lot of rotoscoping and cell animation. But what you’re really doing is taking two items and putting them together. You’re taking live action and animation and putting them together. It’s the same with CGI, only it’s a little more trickier today. We used blue screen then. Today it’s green screen. We rotoscoped more then but today with CGI you can just blot things out… you don’t have to worry about the background so much. So the same technology applied to “Close Encounters” as to how we were going to put the spaceships in with the front projection. You’re still laying two elements on top of each other, but now you can layer multiple elements because you don’t lose generation. In fact, when we did “Close Encounters” we shot all of the effects in 65 mm so even though we lost a generation we’d be down to 35 mm so you wouldn’t get the degration in the film quality. And that’s the key. Of course, today, with digital, you don’t have to worry about it. When we did “Forbidden Planet,” we wanted to separate the animation…the cell animation with ink and paint…so we rendered everything on paper and we photographed it with the three color strips. So we never got that hard line of animation. We got a more realistic look.

MS: Like most people, I applauded at the end of “Jaws” when the shark is destroyed. But “Close Encounters” was actually the first film that I actually applauded when it ended. The mothership takes off, there is a few moments of silence and you’re sitting there stunned. And then “Directed by Steven Spielberg” hit the screen and the theater literally exploded. It’s a moment I’ll never forget. No matter how many times I watch it I still remember that moment.

JA: Which versions have you seen? All of them? (note: After the success of the film, Spielberg convinced the studio to finance a “Special Edition,” which allowed viewers to journey inside the mothership. Unfortunately, some of the funnier scenes from the original were edited out in this version. The recent 30th anniversary DVD release includes three versions of the film: the 1977 original, the 1980 special edition and a new version combining the 1977 original with five scenes from the Special Edition)

MS: I’ve seen all of them. I remember the original, we stood in line a total of six hours opening night between waiting to buy my ticket and then waiting to get into the auditorium. Getting back to the audience reaction, even though you worked on the film did you have the same kind of reaction when you finally saw the completed film?

JA: Oh yeah. You have all the elements. When you’re working on a film you see the dailies. Of course you don’t see them with music or with the color timing and the sound effects. And you don’t see them in continuity. So we’d see pieces of stuff. And then Doug’s (Trumbull) stuff came in so much later after we’d finished shooting. We were supposed to release “Close Encounters” before “Star Wars.” We were supposed to release it in late April but Doug didn’t get his stuff finished in time. And so we didn’t release until November. And we lost a little bit of impact because “Star Wars” had come out and blown everybody away with the visual effects. And I think because of the delay we lost the Academy Award for visual effects and art direction. I won the British Academy Award against “Star Wars.” A group of Brits, which was sort of interesting. Even Lucas, who came on our set, was blown away. He was like, “God, we never did anything like this…on this scale. We just did little sets and painted them. Most of it was visual effects.” But they were both well done and credible movies. To answer your question, I wasn’t happy with what Steven did later with the special edition.

MS:Thank you.

JA:I didn’t think there was a reason to go into the space ship.

MS:Thank you.


MS:Thank you.

JA:To me it looked like a Holiday Inn I stayed at in Atlanta. You walk in and see all of these floors going up and I just didn’t know what the heck he was doing.

MS: And then they throw confetti on you.

JA: Yeah. I don’t know why but Steven went through a strange period where he kept redoing things. I don’t know why he did that…I just don’t have a clue. Because the ending was the end. There was nothing left to explain. In fact, I don’t even know why he did the last alien coming out. After I finished Steven kept redoing things. Rimbaldi (Carlo Rimbaldi, who designed the main alien for “CE3K” as well as the title creature in “Alien”) created that special alien which was really against what we had originally thought about. In the beginning we had thought about these really playful childlike aliens, which is why we used all these little kids. At one time we had them flying around all over the place touching people. It was a very scary looking alien which was contrary to what the little childlike aliens represented. That’s just my feeling about it. Some directors get to re-cut a movie because they get prestigious enough that they can release the cut that they wanted and not the one the studio wanted. But that wasn’t the case of “Close Encounters.” It was a movie that Steven couldn’t finish. You know what I mean?

MS:Sure. I mean, with Columbia needing the money at the time, “Close Encounters” was it’s big Christmas picture and they HAD to release it then. “Jaws” was delayed during shooting due to the many problems with the mechanical shark, yet you still turned out a pretty good movie. Did the knowledge that “Jaws” did so well despite problems make it easier on the “CE3K” set when the effects weren’t finished in time or you had to deal with unexpected delays?

JA: Not really, since most of Trumbull’s stuff was post production. I was on the film for almost a year before we started shooting. What Trumbull did on the first unit photography was get involved when we did the front projection in the hangar. The set was 450 feet long. When we shot over the set the front projection was important. There was a mountain that we called the “notch.” When Neary and Jillian climb up to the top of a knoll and look down and see the arena, I built that big rock they stand on. It was about seven stories high and was on big rollers. So when they climbed up, what they saw…what we see…is a front projection shot of the main set. We shot the main shots of the arena, with everybody walking around, in 65 mm. and then projected them. Doug was involved with that and with the shots of cars going off the road, things like that. So there wasn’t a lot of delays. After we wrapped principal photography we went back to L.A. and shot some more stuff there. A couple months later, after I was already working on “Jaws 2,” they shot a few more effects sequences, but the effects didn’t really delay principal photography at all.

MS: My understanding is that when Zanuck/Brown asked Spielberg to direct “Jaws 2” he agreed with the provision he be given another six months to finish “CE3K” before he started production. Did he ever bring up “Jaws 2” to you?

JA: Roy (Scheider) didn’t want to do “Jaws 2” but he was under contract. (Note: After “Jaws,” Scheider signed a three picture deal with Universal. His first film was William Friedkin’s “Sorcerer.” Film number two was supposed to be “The Deer Hunter.” However, after the script changed Scheider dropped out and was replaced by Robert DeNiro. Anxious for some continuity between the films, Universal offered to count Roy’s contract as fulfilled if he did “Jaws 2”). I think Richard (Dreyfuss) refused to be involved in it. And Zanuck/Brown, who were the hottest producers in Hollywood at the time with “The Sting” and “Jaws,” had asked me to work on “Jaws 2” and also be an associate producer of theirs, which was sort of prestigious at the time because they didn’t have associate producers like they do today and Zanuck and Brown never did. The also wanted me to direct the 2nd unit. So I went to Steven and he said, “I’d really like you to do “1941.” And he offered me the same thing Zanuck/Brown did. So I said OK but then he said he didn’t have a deal yet. And in Hollywood that’s sort of an awkward thing. You don’t turn down a sure film for a maybe. And I told Steven that I’d rather stick with him but I went on to do “Jaws 2.” And after the 2nd or 3rd week of shooting, they fired the director (John Hancock) and talked about canceling the picture. They asked me if I would go to Steven and show him the sketches I’d done and see if he would do “Jaws 2.” He said he’d consider it but wanted a million dollars and a big percentage and they said “no way.” So I’m working on “Jaws 2” when “Close Encounters” comes out. When I came back to California he asked me again to work on “1941.” He wanted to get rid of the production designer but I wasn’t comfortable. Then Steven went off to do “Raiders” and had to use a primarily British crew. He eventually started using different people which was fine because I wanted to direct.

MS:Which brings me to my next question. As the director of “Jaws 3-D,” was the original concept of the film to be presented in 3-D or was that developed later?

JA: I was in Japan working on a film called “The Ninja” for Zanuck/Brown. Marvin Davis bought 20th Century Fox studios, it was a Fox movie, and ended up canceling most of the films that hadn’t started shooting. So I came back to Hollywood and Verna Fields (the Oscar-winning film editor of “Jaws,” later an executive at Universal) called me and said, “you know, they’re doing “Jaws 3″ and they’re making a mess. They’ve got a dumb script and Zanuck/Brown don’t want anything to do with it. I really think you should get involved. They’ve got a TV producer who bought the rights doing it.” So I went to see Alan Landsberg and he asked if I wanted to produce it. I said no, I’d already done that. I directed 100 days of the 2nd unit on “Jaws 2” and I’d be interested in directing it. He said he’d think about it and asked if I’d work with Richard Matheson, the writer, and see what develops. Richard and I were scouting theme parks because the film was written with a Sea World type theme park environment. And while we were at a park in Florida we saw an exhibit of underwater 3-D photography. And I just loved it, the depth of it. It really bothered me that we were doing a “3.” There weren’t really a lot of “3’s” out there, maybe “Rocky III,” people weren’t as gracious to sequels at that time, which has really changed in recent years. Then it just hit me…JAWS…3…D. That would take the onus off of the “3.” So I made a sketch of the shark coming at us and put “3-D” around it and he liked it and said to take the idea to Sid Sheinberg (the head of Universal at the time). Sid said “this is great, let me show it to Wasserman (Universal/MCA big man Lew Wasserman). So now Universal was very interested in the project. So now I’m going to direct it and I discover that there is no new 3-D equipment…nothing since “Bwana Devil” in the 1950s. So we had to make new cameras. So, no, it didn’t start off as “Jaws 3-D.”

MS: Another film you designed the look for was John Carpenter’s “Escape From New York.” I recently saw “I Am Legend” and couldn’t help but notice a great similarity between their futuristic view of Manhattan and yours, especially in the night scenes. Is it a good feeling to know that your work is still influencing filmmakers a quarter century later?

JA: “Escape” was a very interesting movie. It was a low budget film and my agency was also the agency for John and Debra (the late Debra Hill, Carpenter’s producer). I had just gone through some unfortunate things. I was going to direct a big budget Formula One racing movie. We had scouted locations and were ready to go but then the financing fell apart so the picture wasn’t made. My agent called me and said he had the young filmmakers of “Halloween.” They were going to make a bigger movie and he thought they could use my help. So it turned out to be a good thing. The film’s look was well received by the critics.

MS:This past summer I was on Martha’s Vineyard and Edith Blake (local photographer/journalist who wrote a book detailing the making of “JAWS”) showed me some photos she had taken during the early production days of “Jaws 2” when John Hancock was still on board. The town looked deserted and the mood was pretty dark. How much of the film’s tone changed when Jeannot Szwarc took over?

JA: A lot. John’s concept, and one Jeannot held onto for awhile, was to make a very depressing movie…the shark had put everything into the depths of hell. The economy died because no one was visiting the beaches anymore. It was maybe a little over the top…the colors we had were very somber. Zanuck was never really happy with that concept anyway so when Jeannot came in we threw it out and made it so three years had passed and everything was back together except for Brody, who was paranoid. So we just played on Roy’s paranoia, that the shark was always out there and people were just ignoring it and the kids were having fun. So definitely a big concept change.”

MS:Looking back on “Night Gallery,” was Rod Serling as brilliant in person as he was in his writing?

JA:He was an extremely nice guy. We would see Rod every once in awhile when he would come in to film the introductions. He was a very, very positive guy. I liked him a lot. He was very complimentary to us in the art department…what we were doing visually. He’d always say “you guys are terrific.” Which was very uplifting for me being one of the younger guys on the crew.

MS:I must confess that one of my favorite Elvis films is “Change of Habit.”

JA:Are you serious?

MS:Yes. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the whole “rage reduction” scene. Did you get a chance to talk with him?

JA:Elvis was not the friendliest of guys. He was not very well prepared and Mary Tyler Moore was always sort of pissed at him because he didn’t know his lines. When I worked on “Freejack” with Mick Jagger, Mick was very friendly. Elvis was constantly guarded by his entourage. I know he came off like a warm person but he was pretty well guarded so you didn’t have a chance to hang with him. He would be with his entourage, come on the set, do his lines and then head back to his trailer. Even his fellow actors felt distant from him.

MS:Finally, what’s next for you? When we spoke earlier you were preparing to give a seminar in Denmark.

JA: I’m going to Denmark. A film composer there met a friend of mine and started naming off some of his favorite films and somehow my name came up. My friend told him he had gone to school with me and had played in my band. So here’s a guy in Copenhagen that had played trumpet for me 50 years ago talking to a composer who knows my name. The composer came over here to look for work and we met and he said, boy, it would be great if you could come do a seminar in Denmark. So he contacted the film institute there and they asked if I could come so I’m going to go do an eleven hour lecture, which is going to be a handful. I’ll probably do a day on “Jaws” and a day on “Close Encounters.” I did a five-hour lecture in Kuala Lampoor, Malaysia, a few years ago, so I think I’ll be OK.

Photos on this page are used for illustrative and promotional purposes only and are the property of the copyright holders.

Click here to purchase “Jaws” merchandise

Interview with John Lee Hancock

It’s quite a distance from Waco, Texas to Hollywood, but John Lee Hancock not only took the journey, he completed it. Sports was always a focus in the Hancock family. His father, John Lee, Sr. played college ball for Baylor and had a brief run with the Chicago Cardinals in the NFL. Brothers Joe and Kevin also played college ball (at Vanderbilt and Baylor, respectively), with Kevin playing professionally for the Indianapolis Colts. But when John went to college, it was to study. Armed with an English degree from Baylor as well as a law degree from Baylor’s school of law, Hancock practiced law for four years before he found himself drawn to the world of films. In 1991 he wrote and directed a romantic comedy set against the backdrop of the rodeo entitled “Hard Time Romance.” In 1993 he wrote the screenplay for the Clint Eastwood/Kevin Costner film “A Perfect World.” A few years later Eastwood asked him to adapt the book “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.” Finally the time came for another shot in the director’s chair and he chose “The Rookie,” the true story of fellow Texan Jim Morris, who at age 35 made his major league debut as a pitcher for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. He followed “The Rookie” with a tale close to every native Texan’s heart: the story of “The Alamo.” For his third feature he sticks to reality by highlighting the incredible story of Baltimore Raven Michael Oher in the new film, “The Blind Side.”

While preparing for the film’s Nashville premiere Mr. Hancock took the time to talk with Michael Smith:

Click here to purchase John’s movies

Mike Smith: It’s a long way from the Alamo to Tennessee. What attracted you to the project?
John Lee Hancock: I’m a big Michael Lewis fan (Lewis is the author of several books, including “The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game” on which the film is based). I was aware the book was coming out and I was a little bit aware of the story. Gil Netter (a producer on the film) sent it to me to gage my interest and I thought, ‘well it’s got a sports component to it so I doubt I’ll be interested’ because I’d done “The Rookie,” I’d already done a sports movie. But when I started reading it I realized that, to me, like all good movies it was a relationship drama in some ways and it was an unconventional mother-son story that kind of grabbed me so I threw my name in the hat.

MS: With “The Rookie” and “The Alamo” this is your third film dealing with real people and actual events. Is there something about telling a true story that attracts you to them?

JLH: It’s not on purpose. I love true stories. There’s the element of mortality and living days that doesn’t necessarily exist for me quite as much in fiction. That said, I’ve got other scripts that I’ve written and would love to get made that are made up. But these three happened to come to me. I think we as a society embrace true stories because these people are our neighbors or legends from the past. But they are people like us…flesh and blood. So I do have a soft spot for true stories.

MS: You’ve tackled both baseball and football on film, and your father and brothers had pretty successful college football careers. Were you active in sports?

JLH: I played all the way through high school. My football scholarship offers were to junior colleges so I decided I would go off and have a regular university experience as opposed to playing football. My dad and brother Kevin played both in college and in the NFL and my other brother Joe played at Vanderbilt.

MS: Is your interest, and your family’s background, in sports what drew you to “The Rookie” and “The Blind Side?”

JLH: They both have that component…the engine driving the movie is sports. My dad was also a high school football coach and I grew up around it. I’ve always loved sports. But I never thought that I would do a sports movie. I love sports movies but I just never thought I would do one. Then I did “The Rookie.” I enjoyed it and swore I’d never do another one. I kind of look at this (“The Blind Side”) like it’s a sports movie the way “Jerry Maguire” is a sports movie. It’s a relationship drama that has a sub-plot of achievement in sports. What it’s really about is something else. But it certainly has a sports component no doubt about it. I would tell you I’ll never do another sports movie but then I said that after “The Rookie” and I know myself well enough not to lie to you.

MS: Well I have to tell you that “The Rookie” is required viewing for my American Legion baseball team.

JLH: Fantastic.

MS: You’ve written two films for Clint Eastwood. Has he influenced you in your work?

JLH: Oh gosh yes. I consider Clint my film school…my mentor. He was kind enough to allow me to be on the set for both of those movies. I have an English degree and a law degree and I practiced law and never went to film school and Clint became my mentor. Those days on the sets of those two movies I learned a whole lot, from the artistic angle to the “how to run a set” angle. Practical to pragmatic, he’s a legend for a reason and I owe him a lot.

MS: When you were casting “The Blind Side” how easy was it to find someone as large as Michael Oher to play him convincingly. Were you looking for big guys who could act or actors who were big?

JLH: (laughing) It was very difficult. We set out on a nationwide search that took a long time. Because not only do you have to find someone of that stature (Oher is 6’6″ and weighs over 300 pounds) they have to be able to act and they have to have some of the qualities that Michael had at that time in his life…the gentle giant of it all. It was very difficult because you’re playing a certain age as well. We couldn’t just call an agency and say “Hey, send over all of your six foot six African-American kids who are athletic and can play 17-18 years old.” There are actors that big but most of them are older. So it was pretty much going into the realm of the undiscovered. Quentin Aaron (who plays Oher in the film) had done a couple of videos and a few days on the movie “Be Kind, Rewind” so he had a little bit of experience but not a lot.

MS: I was so impressed with Tim McGraw in this film. As good as he was in “Friday Night Lights,” he has grown so much as an actor. Was he easy to cast? Were there other actors that the studio wanted?

JLH: In casting the character of Sean Touhy I knew it would be difficult because Leigh Anne Touhy is such a spitfire that you want a husband that doesn’t become wallpaper. He has to have his own quiet strength and a good sense of humor. And as I hung around Sean I kept thinking gosh, who is like Sean? Southern boy. Ex athlete. Comfortable in his own skin. A good sense of humor and can laugh at himself. And I thought, ‘you know, Tim McGraw can do this.’ I’d really enjoyed his performances in the things I’d seen him in. We had some chats and I knew he could do it. I really liked their (McGraw’s and Sandra Bullock’s) chemistry as a couple.

MS: Were you given any unsolicited advice from your fellow Texans when you were signed to direct “The Alamo?”

JLH: (laughs) I was steamrolled with unsolicited advice! Everybody has their own distinct opinion as to exactly what happened at the Alamo and everybody holds that story so dear that they treat it as if it’s their own. But I love that. That’s why they’re Texans.

MS: Finally, what’s next for you? Any upcoming projects?

JLH: I have several things that I’ve written that I’d love to do. Hopefully one of them will take. I’m currently doing a re-write on something called “The American Can” to direct, which is a true story set in New Orleans. I’m working with Overbrook, which is Will Smith’s company.

Click here to purchase John’s movies

MS: Once again, another true story.

JLH: Another true one. How about that?

Photos on this page are used for illustrative and promotional purposes only and are the property of the copyright holders.