Thursday, December 28, 2006

Nicollette Sheridan Goes Undercover-- Code Name: The Cleaner (Q & A)

As mentioned earlier, I covered the press junket for the upcoming spy comedy Code Name: The Cleaner starring Cedric the Entertainer, Lucy Liu and Nicollette Sheridan. Here Nicollette, who also stars in the popular hit ABC series Desperate Housewives, talks about the film, what's happening to Edie on DHW and dancing in her panties on's what went down...

Q: So what attracted you to this? Why did you want to do it?

Nicollette Sheridan: It would have to be that big, bad, cuddly, brilliantly talented Cedric the Entertainer.

Q: So he convinced you or it didn’t take much convincing?

NS: Well they sent me the script and everything I’ve ever seen Cedric in, he just warms your heart and we did a read through of the script here at this very hotel. And while we were doing the read through and our parts came up, we just started riffing and playing and there was just a chemistry that was undeniable and I thought this is going to be a lot of fun and it lived up to everything I thought it was going to be. I was sad when it was over.

Q: Was it in the script that you were going to have to do that little scene for him in your panties and bra?

NS: Yes, I was.

Q: So how did you practice?

NS: There was no practice. No, I put on those little knickers, covered myself up in a robe, got to the set and thought, (crying voice) ‘I don’t want to do it.’ And of course I had to because I was being paid and I dropped the robe. It was about a good five minutes of feeling extremely uncomfortable but then you realize that you’re just another girl in another set of bra and panties and Cedric made me very comfortable. He was very, very supportive. (Laughs) He liked the lingerie.

Q: He said he didn’t mind seeing it done over and over again and inventing reasons why it should be done again.

NS: And so I had no idea what I was going to do. So the music starts and I start dancing across that room. Now I’ve seen Cedric dance. We’ve played around a bit and he’s got those moves. (imitates his moves) He’s got it going on. So I’m trying to do a couple of those thinking ‘No, I’m way too white to pull off that.’ Mortifying. So I just came up with my own crazy little dances and every time I’d come across that room, he’d get up and start riffing on what I was doing and they ended up with a pretty tame version of those.

Q: Oh, so the stuff may end up on the DVD then?

NS: You never know. You never know. Hopefully I have some sort of approval.

Q: Did you eat at all the day before that scene or were you at all like ‘Oh my God, I’m going to be parading around in my panties.’

NS: Gosh, I had been so busy I hadn’t worked out in quite some time and about a week and a half before I thought ‘Who am I kidding?’ You know, standing in the mirror and going, ‘This, as big as a Cadillac, on the screen?’ So I started running, running on that treadmill, running to work, running to the market, running with my dog, and luckily there’s a mountain in Vancouver called the Grouse Grind which is a very painful experience. And whenever I would have a little time off, I would just get my ass up that mountain, huffing and puffing and panting by the time I got to the top, and so it would have been nice to have had another six months.

Q: So how difficult was it still doing [Desperate Housewives] and doing the movie at the same time?

NS: It was chaotic but when you’re doing two things that you love, your adrenaline gets you through it. And I really didn’t feel that pressured nor exhausted at the time, but the moment it finishes, it’s like, ‘Okay, I’m ready for that day off.’

Q: So do you like working on comedies? Is that your thing now?

NS: I love doing comedy and I’ve been very lucky. I’ve worked with some amazing comedians but nobody like Cedric though. He just never stops. He never does a scene the same way twice. He’s just constantly got that sense of humor and that crazy mind of his working at full throttle.

Q: What was the craziest thing [that Cedric] did on set?

NS: (Laughs) Cedric’s Cedric. He’s always surprising. Really from the moment we arrived on the set ‘til we left, it was an experience. It was… there were a lot of jokes. Cedric travels with his posse known as "The Church" and he had a little song that he sings ‘Church is on the move.’ And so after work, you know, we’d all go and have a drink together, shake a leg together, bust some more of those moves that I could’ve done on screen, damn it, should’ve done! Yeah, the whole experience was very connected. It was really a group of people in a very creative environment having the time of their life.

Q: What about the scene with Lucy in the middle of the night at 3 o’clock in the morning shooting this bubble bath thing? I mean she said she was saying ‘Alright, enough! We got it!’ Was it painful for you?

NS: Yeah, it all culminates in this fight scene we have with Lucy Liu and me. Lucy and I basically choreographed the scene together with the help of a stunt coordinator and we really wanted it to be brutal and authentic. None of this girlie cat fight business, slapping and hair pulling and nail breaking, you know. This was going to be the real deal. So as we got close to shooting that, Cedric has these fantasies throughout the film so of course he comes up with the Cedric male fantasy of us in a bubble bath trying to lure him in. Uh huh. So at first Lucy and I thought, ‘No, it’s not going to happen’ and slowly we warmed to the idea because it was befitting with the fantasies that occurred throughout the film and once we established how we would do it and what we would be wearing, it would be an unusual take on a brutal fight scene. And it was, so yes, to get to your question, it was freezing, we felt a little idiotic being in this parking lot in cold weather with people all around blowing bubbles and just trying to make something funny happen and hopefully people will like it.

Q: Was she a good partner? I mean in that way. She’s got a sense of humor.

NS: Oh, she’s fabulous. I wish we’d had much more to do but our storylines really didn’t cross paths. You know, people are likening it to “The Bourne Identity.” They should just call it “Mistaken Identity.” (Laughs) Nobody is who they appear to be.

Q: So can you say anything about what’s coming up on Desperate Housewives? You dumped Mike because he was a supposed murderer.

NS: Well, when people come out of a coma, they tend to get agitated and be aggressive and so I don’t think Mike really was what Edie signed up for after he came around and the thing that really pushed her over the edge was sitting in that jail cell with him, or outside of the jail cell, because it took her back to her mother and her mother was an alcoholic and was in jail for many different things, and I think that she just really panicked when she was there confronted with this situation yet again and basically made up her mind at that moment that she just couldn’t take it.

Q: What’s ahead for her? What do you want to see? Is there going to be another guy?

NS: Well I was just told that she’s going to do something that is really going to cause an uprising with all of the girls on Wysteria Lane and I think it’s a damn good idea. So, yes, there is something to look forward to.

Q: The stuff you did on Knot’s Landing gave you a little head start on everybody that’s on this one now, on Desperate Housewives?

NS: You mean as far as having an audience.

Q: Well, that but also doing that kind of dramatic television soap opera?

NS: Well Knot’s Landing”was a nighttime drama. We don’t use that soap opera term. (Laughs) My character on that was really a role model for women. Women would constantly come to me saying how Paige helped change their lives because Paige was a business woman, she was strong, she was smart, she was in a man’s world holding her own, and I loved that about her. You know she was more of a role model versus Edie who… I don’t know if anybody should be following in her footsteps per se. But she is outspoken and she knows what she believes in and she will say it as it is and if you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen.

Q: Have you and Eva [Longoria]discussed engagements and weddings plans and all that kind of stuff?

NS: We haven’t yet. We haven’t. I was just in Australia.

Q: Have you seen her ring?

NS: I’ve seen pictures. It’s beautiful. He has good taste. I’m not sure how much involvement she had in it but I think she was surprised. Yeah, I’m happy for her.

Q: It says in your bio that you like Shakespearean theater.

NS: Yeah, you know I grew up in England and schooling is very different over there. So I went to a preparatory school where when you go on an outing, it’s not to the beach. (Laughs) It’s to museums, it’s to go to the theater, the Royal Ballet, the Royal Shakespearean Company, and so I grew up on that and when I moved over here, I was always drawn to… English was my favorite subject and there were plays that were put on at school but if anybody ever wanted anything to do with Shakespeare, it was sort of in my blood from childhood. So at some point I supposed I’m going to have to hit the stage.

Q: If we dropped you in London for two weeks, would we hear a different Nicollette Sheridan accent?

NS: (with British accent) When I go home, the accent does come out. It does. Yes.

Q: What’s the funniest movie you’ve ever seen? What really makes you laugh whenever you see it?

NS: Oh lord, that’s a tough one, isn’t it?

Q: I’m getting a lot of Caddyshack. Some people are saying Borat because that’s recent.

NS: I haven’t seen it yet. I don’t know. I’m going back in time trying to think what…

Q: What about The Party with Peter Sellers?

NS: Oh yes. Brilliant. Well, that was a good one. Oh yes, Monty Python, I grew up on them in England.. Holy Grail. Absolutely. And Eric Idle is just fabulous. Yes, I have the pleasure of knowing him and Spamalot Oh, from the moment it started at the beginning, I started laughing and I never stopped. I left with the worst stomach ache from laughing so hard.

Q: It says here you’re developing projects for film and TV. What have you got in the works?

NS: I am. Before I started Desperate Housewives I was penning a comedy that I think is unusual and smart and a very funny, sordid relationship and so, even though I don’t have the time now to do that because it would be an impossibility to do two shows at once and ABC would never let me out, I still want to get that on air because I think it could be something special.

Code Name: The Cleaner is in theaters January 5th, 2007

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Isley Brothers Live-- Still Funky After all these Years

...Posting a piece elsewhere about Jimi Hendrix and,more recently, James Brown (below) got me thinking about the Isley Brothers and how they fused R&B and rock back in their early days...I think it started with "Twist and Shout", their first mainstream hityou can really hear it on cuts like the original version of "Who's that Lady", "Fight the Power" and "Live it Up"...I got turned onto their stuff as kid while listening to the sounds pumping from the rent parties down in my uncle's basement and later, I'd check the Isleys on TV shows like American Bandstand, etc...nowadays the group can be checked on those "Power" R&B formatted stations where I couldn't imagine a lot of their guitar-laden early stuff would ever see the light of day...if you're unfamiliar with their funky stuff from the 70s-80s you should definitely check The Greatest Hits, Vol. 1 but if you've already been there, the album I'm checking right at the moment is The Isleys-- Live which holds "Work to Do", a sweet-ass version of "Lay Lady, Lay" and a medley of CSNY and Jimi Hendrix (!) on "Ohio/Machine Gun" cut back in '73, it clearly encapsulates where the Isleys were heading...continued

Monday, December 25, 2006

Rest in Peace James Brown (1933 – 2006)

...I just got the news that James Brown had passed and it’s hard to know how to feel because, simply put, he had always been around; a part of my musical world; somewhere, doing his thing…his body of work stretches back to the mid 50s to the present and, truth be told, there must be literally hundreds of albums and compilations released during the various stages that his career run has been through…you might not know it, but this is the guy who brought the world Bootsy Collins (he incorporated Collins to play bass and his brother, guitarist, Phelps “Catfish” Collins, both members of Cincinnati’s Pacemakers back in 1969) which also augmented the direction Brown was heading in at the top of the 70s: Funk..continued

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Prairie Home Companion-- Feelin' Good is Good Enough

...It's rare that we get to meet our heroes and she-roes in the flesh but one day I got to meet three of 'em at once (one of the latter and two of the former) when I covered (what we now know was) director Robert Altman's last film before he passed, A Prairie Home Companion...for me, the initial draw was Garrison Keillor who's weekly Public Radio show that the film was based on and named after, so I took the gig but the way things worked out, when I got to the hotel, I found out that I'd be in a press roundup with Keillor, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin which was a bonus..."what's the musical connection, punk", you ask? Well, I listen to public radio a lot when I'm writing and I got hooked on Keillor's radio show by accident because it was just on the radio station I checked on the regs when I moved back to LA to pursue what I'm doing now...over the weeks, I found that there's a wealth of traditional American music like jazz, bluegrass, etc. that, though it gets overlooked, is picked up by a grip of artists all over the world...from Australia to Austria but the music wasn't the only thing that pulled my coat on Keillor's show that has been broadcast on public radio since March 1978...

...younger heads might grouse that their grannies listen to this show and if yours does, then she's a lot hipper than you give her credit for because, if you love music, you'll be all about this show...if you write, you'll dig on the stories from Lake Woebegon, Guy Noir and the skits and sometimes the topics Keillor touches will touch you in ways you won't foresee-- like it did yours truly... December of 2003, it was Christmas all kinds of things were going wrong and I pushed through all that with the help of this one story, check it out when you have the time because Keillor was at the top of his form on this one...of note: it was the story of when he'd first arrived in NYC, ostensibly, to become a writer for The New Yorker that really put the hook in me-- you can find that in the News from Lake Wobegone segment (1:44:55 on broadcast timer) when concert pianist Emanuel Ax performed Claude Debussy's "Claire de Lune" at the end of the tale, I was steeled on the whole concept and I've been listening to dude's shows on the weekend every should check it because there's always something new to learn...about ourselves.

Lucy Liu's Going to Kick Your Ass-- Code Name: The Cleaner (Q & A)

Although she's known the world over for her appearances on screen as Alex Mundy (Charlie's Angels) and O-Ren Ishii (Kill Bill Vols. 1 and 2) Lucy Liu's more than just another ass-kicking pretty face as I found out in a roundtable sesssion over at the Four Seasons last week, she's got a degree from NYU, she's producing films and, oh yeah, acting in a film or two as well...In January 2007, she's set to appear in the spy-comedy Code Name: The Cleaner, opposite Cedric the Entertainer and Nicollette Sheridan which she was in town supporting last week. Here's what went down...

Q: Did you enjoy the action element of this movie?

Lucy Liu: I enjoy it. I love doing it, but I think they love me doing it more because I was like, ‘I don’t think that we should do that much fighting, you know.’ They were like, ‘You have to do fighting!’ And actually when I did the test for the movie people were just like, ‘When the fighting started, they were so excited about it.’ I wasn’t there for the test, but my managers went, and they’re like, ‘There’s just an energy that radiates from the audiences when you just start doing action.’ I was like, ‘Uh, how is that possible!’

Q: So you’re from Queens?

LL: Jackson Heights. Mmhmm. I went to P.S. 145. [laughs]

Q: Do you think being from Queens helps you play this tough character?

LL: I grew up in an area where there were all kinds of people. It was very diverse and people in New York are very direct. They don’t beat around the bush. They’re like, ‘What’s going on? What do you want?’ [Laughs]. It’s not that they’re impolite. They’re just very direct, and they don’t have time to like, you know, mess around, and I think that this character is very spicy and very sassy, and I think that I enjoyed playing her because she has that little quality of directness, and you know I think that people in Queens also gesticulate. They talk a lot with their heads and their hands, and so she does this little pawing thing with Jake because it’s like a physical thing, and people who are involved in relationships are physical, whether they’re holding each other or pawing at each other you know what I mean.

Q: So is being sassy and direct different from how you are in real life?

LL: I still think I have retained that. I think I just took to a little more extreme in the movie. I don’t think if I disagree with someone I’ll start doing the windmills on them! At least not the first or second time. Maybe the third time they’re not listening, then the windmills come out.

Q: The director was saying the night of the bubble bath scene with you and Nicolette, it was wet and cold.

LL: First of all we shot it at like 3 in the morning. We were doing nights and you know we’re in lingerie, and the scene was supposed to be in the kiddie pool. It’s like, ‘Okay, kiddie pool, winter, lingerie -- we need to put some bubbles in you know because it’s more fun with bubbles.’ And bubbles kept disappearing. They just kept like literally dissipating, so they had to keep filling the thing with bubbles and shooting and shooting.

Q: How cold were you?

LL: Freezing. They had a robe once we got out of the pool. I literally at one point in the film was like this [does the ‘cut’ gesture across her throat], meaning, ‘That’s the end. You’ve got enough romping in the pool for you guys, for the fantasy moment.’

Q: We heard all the crew showed up that night.

LL: Oh yeah. All of a sudden everyone’s there at 3:00 in the morning. Normally, people are like, ‘I’m going to bed!’ Suddenly everybody’s there. Like it was a dance party. I was like, ‘Hello!’ We were the only people that were onstage. [laughs]

Q: What’s the Charlie Chan movie that’s coming up?

LL: Well the Charlie Chan movie, it’s been 6 years in the making, and we’re still working on the script, but there’s definitely going to be some action in it. I think that’s going to be important. It’s going to be modern day and it’s going to be Charlie Chan’s granddaughter, so we’re going to try to modernize it.

Q: What about Kung Fu Panda?

LL: Kung Fu Panda!

Q: Sounds like an action-animation movie.

LL: Yeah it is. Jack Black is the lead as this big giant panda and there’s all these other animals who have been training all their lives and suddenly he’s The Chosen One. And everyone’s like, ‘How’s this giant panda The Chosen One?’ He trains with all of these animals, and she is this beautiful snake, and she’s got these lashes and she works with umbrellas and stuff like that, like tools.

Q: What about your other projects, Watching the Detectives, Devil to Pay, and Rise?

LL:: I think Devil to Pay is not happening right now, and Rise is something we shot awhile ago, and Watching the Detectives is a romantic comedy that I shot with Cillian Murphy over the summer, so that’s an indie, a very small movie. They’re all really different.

Q: Is that what you look for when you pick projects – like you want it be different from your last one?

LL: Well no, I don’t try to do things that are that different. ‘Oh, I did a comedy. I can’t do another comedy.’ It’s more if I’m drawn to something I’ll do it, but I don’t always say, ‘Okay I only want to do comedy, I only want to drama, or I only want to do television.’ I think it’s just nice to mix it up. As long as you connect to it, I think that’s the most important thing.

Q: Did you know Cedric before you started working together?

LL: No. We had lunch together. They wanted me to do the movie. I said, ‘I’m not sure.’ Because the girl was pretty straight at that point, and we had lunch together, and I just fell in love with him ‘cause he’s just amazing and warm and you know he tricked me. [laughs]. He spiked my drink! And I was like, ‘Alright, I’ll sign on the dotted line!’ No, you want to be around him, you want to be in his energy, you want to be in his space, and he also was very open to my creative ideas, and that’s also such a huge plus for me to be able to say, ‘Okay well I can get in here without someone slapping my hand saying, ‘No, no, no you shouldn’t get yourself involved in that.’” He wanted me to get into the character, and he allowed me to go in, and we rewrote the whole character and added the martial arts, and I think that makes it interesting. Even if it seems like the same movie that maybe has been out before in some other form, for me, it was a different process because I was allowed to come in and be involved beforehand in the pre-production part of it, and then also be in the production part of it, so to me that was something worth doing, that was something worth investigating.

Q: Do you have to train for a movie like this?

LL: No, because I just felt really comfortable doing stunts and things like that. I’ve done it before and to me it was so much easier because the majority of the movie isn’t stunts for me. The majority of it’s more comedy, and I just threw the choreography together and did the action. It wasn’t as difficult, no.

Q: Do you go to the gym?

LL: Oh, I like to do Pilates a lot. Well I haven’t worked out in a year, but I went to the gym like -- I’ve been here just the past couple days. I go to do Pilates, but I’ll probably start doing Pilates again because i haven’t been in LA for awhile. I’ve been living in a suitcase [laughs]. Literally my luggage was so embarrassingly dilapidated that I thought I should get some new luggage, and then I realized this just means I’ve been traveling. I mean what are you going to do? The whole thing’s [acting, is about] following a part.

Q: With your action background, do you think you intimidate other actors who don’t do that as often?

LL: Not generally.

Q: Cedric said he was intimidated.

LL: Cedric is just a kitty. He’s just doing that [acting scared] so I can give him a hug. ‘No, I’m not going to hurt you!’ Cedric’s got some moves! Did you see? [Imitates Cedric’s scream] He was doing like the washing windows [action move] thing. You know what I love about him is he doesn’t hold himself back and he doesn’t mind humiliating himself. He loves to play and make fun of himself which makes him so accessible, which I love that too about him.

Q: Is a guy with a sense of humor important to you?

LL: Absolutely. That’s actually the #1 priority on my list. A sense of humor, be able to not take himself too seriously. Food is key. Just be open to trying all kinds of things. Like I don’t like a person who’s a picky eater ‘cause if you’re a picky eater, you can’t travel with that person, You can’t go to a party with that person. It’s like going out with a vegan, I don’t know a fruitarian or something, someone who only eats fruit, it’s like, ‘Oh my god, take you to brunch, that’s it!’

Q: How many languages do you speak?

LL: I speak Chinese, I speak a little bit of Spanish, a tiny bit of Italian, a little bit of Japanese. I learned Japanese for Kill Bill, and I started taking Italian on my own. I took Spanish for 6 years in school, and I grew up speaking to Chinese.

Q: Weren’t you a language major?

LL: Asian languages and cultures.

Q: Does that background help you get into your roles?

LL: I think it’s helped me be less racist. I’m not sure if that’s the right word, but I think it’s really helped me understand. I think when you grow up Asian-American it’s difficult because you don’t know if you’re Asian or you’re American. You get confused, and I think when you speak the language, you just can associate with that culture so much easier and you don’t become, ‘I’m going to dye my hair yellow, and I’m going to put blue contacts in, and I’m going to be somebody that I’m not.’ And not that there’s anything wrong with that. I just think you can assimilate to both and not feel that you’re outcast because if you’re in the business, and you don’t speak Chinese than people say, ‘You’re a banana, you’re yellow on the outside, white on the inside.’ And it’s like I can do both. Maybe I’m not as fluent as I could be, but I can still assimilate if I get to speak the languages often with people because they’re not as many people who speak Mandarin.

Q: What music are you listening to?

LL: Oh, let’s see. I was listening to a mixture of things, but one of my friends put together a Bob Marley compilation, which was amazing because we had been painting together and he put together a whole compilation of Bob Marley and like a remix of Sade, which is incredible. It was really beautiful. I was like, ‘Where’d you get that?’

Q: You play a waitress in Code Name, and I know you were a waitress in real life. Were you like, ‘Don’t put me back in that waitressing uniform?’

LL: No, I was like, ‘Bring me into it! ‘Cause I am good!’

Q: Were you a good waitress?

LL: Of course! Yeah. I was a cocktail waitress and at that time I had spilled countless drinks on people. Luckily they were vodka tonics so they weren’t like bloody Marys. People were never happy about that, and I don’t drink coffee so I never knew the difference between, ‘Oh, okay, so there’s no more decaf. I’ll just put a little caffeinated in it.’ ‘Cause there was the orange and then there was the brown top. Who knew? I learned the hard way, but other people learned harder because they had to actually deal with my antics.

Q: Where did you waitress?

LL: It was in Michigan.

Q: But you got your tips, right?

LL: Yeah, but I think when you’re younger you just try to get by and when you’re older you want to make sure everything’s done well. When you’re younger, you’re like, ‘Give me the damn tip!’

Q: I bet you’re a good tipper now.

LL: Yeah, absolutely!

Q: Would you go from movies to TV?

LL: Of course, yeah. I went back and did Joey for a few episodes. I think television now is so much more advanced, and some of it’s even better than some of the films I’ve seen out there, the way the storyline is and the way the characters are developed, and it’s beautifully shot. I love The Sopranos. I think it’s a great show. I think if there’s something interesting and it’s challenging, why not try it? It shouldn’t have anything to do with the medium itself; it should have something to do with your interest in it.

Q: Do you want to direct?

LL: Absolute. Yeah.

Q: Any projects in the pipeline on that front?

LL: There are, but I don’t like to talk about anything unless I’ve done it. I like to walk the talk and that sort of thing, so when it’s out, it’ll be out. You’ll see it.

Q: A lot of actors say it's difficult, is it easy for you to do comedy?

LL: I think it’s something I love doing. I don’t know that it’s easy. I think it’s something I really, really enjoy. If I had the opportunity to do more of them I would. I just think there’s something really wonderful about making people laugh, and it’s such a great feeling to have the ability to transform somebody because if you just watch people sometimes, and you go to a bar or you go to a home or something, people are glued to the television, and you see them reacting or discussing or laughing. It’s like that’s the power of entertainment to some degree. You can change somebody’s mood or atmosphere or bring unity because laughter in a room brings people together ‘cause then you’re like [pretends to poke someone] ‘Ah, yeah, it’s so funny!’ It suddenly becomes like a discussion. It’s just like a wonderful gift and that’s not easy to do. That’s not an easy thing to accomplish for sure.

Q: What do you like about working with comedians?

LL: I think working with a comedian is wonderful because they just know that you don’t have to stick to the script, but I think there’s other talented actors there that don’t maybe have the opportunity to do that, but probably could be very, very funny, but it just depends. Some people feel more comfortable sticking to the script. I like to sort of go off of it sometimes for comedy because you never know what’s going to come up.

Q: You were a producer on this. What’s the difference between acting and producing?

LL: I think that you have a little more say in it when you’re an executive producer. I think when you’re a producer you really have a lot of say, and you’re there from the very beginning. I think as an executive producer, you can go in there and really have an opinion without worrying that someone’s going to be like, ‘Why is she taking over the set?’ You can actually go in there and have a creative point of view and you can participate in a way that could be very helpful -- or not 00 but you can participate. [laughs] You know it depends on how they acknowledge what you have to say, but I think it gives you a certain amount of freedom and you feel like you’re part of a team, and you’re looking at the movie on an overall level as opposed to, ‘How am I getting through? How’s my plan? How’s my schedule working out?’ You see everyone’s schedule overall, and it becomes more of a universal thing.

Q: Did working with Drew inspire you to produce? I know she’s really involved with Charlie’s Angels.

LL: She’s so involved, yeah. This was a very different process becuase she really came early on for Charlie’s Angel and started from the very, very beginning. This movie had already been greenlit and they had a director onboard, so at that point for me it’s just mainly character input and creative input about fights and things like that, so it wasn’t that involved, but something like Charlie Chan which I’ve been working on forever, that’s something that I started from the very, very beginning, so there’s so many different levels to it. It was such a funny thing to come on as an executive producer on something that went so quickly when I had been working on something for 6 years and still it’s in the works!

Q: How close is the Charlie Chan movie to being made?

LL: It’s not. [laughs] I mean who knows. It’s been 6 years, so by the time it comes out and it gets made, but for me it has to start with the script. If you have some substance, then you have somewhere to go, but if you don’t it’s like, ‘Let’s just not rush the process to get something out there because then it will just be a waste of money and it will be terrible!’

Q: You take roles not made specifically for an Asian woman. What would you say to a young woman of color, like yourself, who wants to get into the business?

LL: About transcending that [racial barrier]? I think the important thing is to acknowledge that if you do play people from another country or from your own cultural background, that’s okay. A lot of people say, ‘Well you cant do that. You’re perpetuating a stereotype.’ I think the most important thing is just to work on something that you care about, and as work comes along to make sure that you make choices for yourself, not because this is something you feel comfortable in. You should keep doing it. It’s just important to continue to work because work begets work, and if you stop trusting yourself and start listening to other people, you’re going to get lost in the mix because everyone has a different opinion for you ,you know what I mean. Even you in the scope of 3 minutes could have 3 different opinions. Like, ‘Oh my god, I’m completely confused.’ And you have all these different ideas. Can you imagine how 6 people come into a room and tell you what you want to do, and they have 3 different opinions each, and it’s like 3 times 6 [is] 18 and it’s so confusing on top of your own thing, and I think you have to listen to your heart and I think sometimes when you live in a city, and you’re surrounded by people all the time who have [a] different career trajectory or how they started out. Everyone’s different and unique. You can’t follow a formula. Like in comedy or in television or films, there is a certain formula -- first act, second act, third act. But in your life is a very different thing, and you can’t follow anything but your own heart but people say, ‘Ah, that’s really schmaltzy,’ but it really is true. I think people are so willing to give up their lives for fame and for career that they end up giving themselves up because after all the time has passed you don’t know who you marry, you don’t know who you are, and I think you can only be an artist if you are portraying part of yourself or a reality of something, even if you don’t relate to the character at all, and there’s a molecule of that person in you, then you just take it and you just expand it. But if you’re just putting it on like a shirt, it’s never going to be something that the audience is going to embrace because it’s going to be false and people can smell that. People can detect when something is false; they just don’t buy it.

Q: Do you think learning about your culture helped you maintain that sense of self?

LL: Absolutely, absolutely, if you deny who you are and your roots, even if you were born here and raised here, and you don’t speak the language, that’s okay. But don’t ever deny. Like you need to know who you are. You need to recognize where your background is from. I think it’s important. Just for yourself. It makes you more whole. It does.

Code Name: The Cleaner is in theaters January 5th, 2007

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Happy Birthday Frank Zappa (1940 – 1993)

Monday, December 18, 2006

The Jim Henson Experience: Emmet Otter’s Jugband

..if you grew up in the 70s and early 80s like I did and you watched all those Schoolhouse Rock interstitials and TV shows like the J5, Sid and Marty Krofft and the Muppet show, then you were unwittingly availed to a wide-reaching plethora of musical genres and it probably still affects the way you absorb tunes today…around this time of year Christmas Specials became especially ubiquitous and one of my all-time favorite musical kiddie shows, a Charlie Brown Thanksgiving/ Christmas notwithstanding, was Emmet Otter’s Jugband Christmas…Long before there was an Elmo, Jim Henson, the Mack Daddy who brought us Sesame Street, and his puppet masters rocked wild with the tunage, taught a grip of budding music freaks to believe in themselves and to always try to do the right thing…that’s hella tight read the rest

Saturday, December 16, 2006

In Rocky Balboa -- Milo Ventimiglia = "Baby Rock"

Last week I got a chance to screen Rocky Balboa which was written and directed by Sylvester Stallone who also resumed the role for this, the final installment of the fictional fighter's story. I will admit that I approached this film with a bit of trepidation because I simultaneously did and did not know what to expect from it. Further, to be honest, I thought that since the end of the Cold War, movies like these had the wind taken out of their thrust...hd become played and dull as dishwater because there simply wasn't anywhere else to take an audience with the subject-matter. I will man-up and admit that I was wrong to jump the gun on that front because there really is a need for these types of film, now more than ever because cynicsm and apathy are riding tall in the saddle once again -- so maybe Stallone saw the need and tapped into his old bag of tricks for this last entry...whatever's clever...I think the film's worth seeing...

The Rocky saga has become such a deeply embedded part of American pop culture zietgeist and national conscience that it's hard to imagine a world in which the story of "the Italian Stallion" wasn't known by everyone but, indeed, there was such was such a time, back in the mid-70s to be precise. Thirty years ago, Stallone was a nobody actor working on the screenplay for this first Rocky, a draft of which got picked up by a studio. He then had to fight tooth and nail to play the lead in the film because no one was feeling his no-name status. Still, he persevered and got the gig...the film went on to become an international cinematic phenomenon in ticket sales-- Stallone had written and starred in a sleeper hit as Rocky went on to garner 10 Oscar nominations and was awarded the Best Picture statue, over iconic films like Marty Scorsese's Taxidriver validifying Sly's vision of what the film could become.

On December 20th Sylvester Stallone with close the final chapter in the life story of the fictional fighter Rocky Balboa. It's been three decades since "the Italian Stallion" managed to crawl out of the sewers of South Philly and into the upper eschelons of the sport he loved. In Rocky Balboa, set in the present, the story's thread finds the former champion well beyond the glory days heralded in the previous Rocky installments. These days, the ex-fighter spends his evenings reliving his past by telling old boxing tales and anecdotes to the patrons in his restaraunt, Adrian's, named in honor of his late wife whom he still mourns in a profound way.

His son, Robert, Jr.(Milo Ventimiglia), also has emotional problems-- brought on from living in the long shadow his famous father's past seems to cast over everything he tries to accomplish. In short, "Baby Rocky's" trying to figure his own life out and would rather not get help from his pop. Well past his prime, his body and fists shredded from years of fighting in the ring, a humbled Rocky tries to keep his pride alive by remembering the good old days with Paulie (Burt Young) his only real friend in the world and Adrian's brother. In his heart of hearts, Balboa knows that he's got one last boxing match left in him, he's got a beast in the basement that must be fed; he's still a fighter. This isn't the greatest fight film every made, mind you (Rocky II was a bit better) but I thought it was a fitting end to the tale of one of pop culture's major filmatic icons-- Stallone really fills in the blanks with his portrayal by dropping a grip of emotional hurt-bombs in the sequences shot with his son (played by Milo Ventimiglia) also, the treacle is kept to a minimum and the self deprecating manner in which the main role is handled will reel you in before you even know it.

After launching his career with supporting roles on TV shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Sabrina the Teenage Witch (and a recurring role in David E. Kelly's Boston Public) Milo Ventimiglia officially made his thespian bones when he joined the casts of two critically-acclaimed small-screen shows: American Dreams and the Gilmore Girls. Now that the Rocky production is receding in the rearview, Ventimiglia is refocusing his energies on his role in as Peter Petrelli in NBC's acclaimed drama series Heroes on which his character and a few other regular joes discover that they all possess super-powers and abilitiesl...I also covered press last week with the Sly and Milo and have already transcribed both sessions because I learned a little bit about the actors in each, I'll post Stallone's in a day or so. Read below if you'd like to read some of what went down with Milo, who talks about both the film and Heroes...

Q:So did you grow up watching these Rocky films?

Milo VentimigliMV: I did. I was negative one when the first one came out (laughs) but by the time the second one and third one came out-- I pretty much grew up in the "Clubber" Lang Ivan Drago era, that was more my time...I've always been a fan of the films...I've always enjoyed them, I thought they were great. I thought it was a really stunning story of how if you march in the right direction and your heart is full [of ambition], then you'll succeed.

Q: And what was it like working with Sly?

MV: It was frightening and exciting all at the same time. When you first come on the set where it's literally like "oh my God, I'm in the room with Sylvester Stallone" but he disarms you...he makes you laugh and he's very kind and warm-- warm-hearted...he created a world of comfort.

Q: Here's the guy who originated the Rocky role and he brings along that legend and everything. I'm wondering what sort of mentorship scenario went on between you and Stallone?

MV: I think I had the great, good fortune to watch Sly, the artist -- to truly watch him, in all arenas. As an actor, not very many people get to see him turn that character on and they don't understand that he's playing a role. And when he turns that role on, there's this slow look in his eyes and a sweet smile on his face and to read the script that he wrote and to see him composing the shots-- I took it as an opportunity to quietly watch and to quietly and quietly observe someone that created this world. That knew this world so very well and, at the same time, [was] comfortable enough to where, if I had ideas, I could go up and I could talk to him. He really did create that environment that was welcoming of ideas and welcome to suggestions and welcoming to bringing ideas that were going to better the film-- that were going to make it [more whole] and more real, more accessible to anybody. That's what these [Rocky] films really are, they're accessible to people...I still have phone conversations with him, we touch base and check in with one another and I guess I learned like a month ago that he watches the show that I'm on and that's kind of an amazing thing when you hear about this person that you got to work with, that you've been looking up to for so many years, was actually following what you're doing-- it was really a nice thing to know.

Q:Did he give you any acting lessons on how to portray Rocky's son?

MV: You know, I do remember [that] the both of us had a little problem with our mouths, crooked mouths.(laughs) I remember him telling me (in a deep Sly Stallone/ Rocky-ish voice) "Your mouth is warmed up because it's cold out" -- the two of us, while we were filming in Philly, we were standing in front of the heat lamps, and we were both like "rowr-rowr-rowr" (demonstrates with mouthing exercises) moving our mouths because otherwise, they freeze up which is kind of nice because, you know, we got to bond on tha, you know-- we both got the crooked mouths, it's below 32 (degrees) and your face freezes up. So he and I, before a take, when we're outside and it's Philly and it's cold and we're both like "rowr-rowr-rowr." He gave a lot of good advice, he really just created that warm, welcoming environment to [in order to] bring this character to life-- to do something amazing and magical with it that hadn't been done before.

Q: In the film baby Rocky is embarrassed by what his father's trying to do. You ever have that happen to you in real life? What would you do in that scenario?

MV: I think that ignoring something that's bothering you is putting a band-aid over the Grand Canyon-- you know, it doesn't really cover it. It doesn't really heal...of course I've had family and friends and people who have put me in embarrassing situations but I think [that] when you talk to somebody and you're up front with them and you tell them how it makes you feel, with anything, hopefully there's an understanding and a warmth to not do that again.

Q: Could you talk about the emotions you felt during the scene outside the restaraunt where you're both having it out-- a lot of people might not take the father/son relationship seriously until that point in the film.

MV: We were sitting and talking in [Stallone's office], before we started [to shoot] the film, just talking about individual scenes and that particular [one on one] scene came up and we started discussing what were Robert, Jr's problems, what he was doing with his life, their relationship, everything-- his world. And Sly said to me "It's not about how hard you can hit. It's about when you get hit, can you keep moving forward" and it's funny to see that line, literally, at the top of the trailer. And it relates so much to what the kid needs to hear and that emotion that was going on in that scene-- I know that both Sly and I were welling up [with emotions] because there was so much coming to a head at that moment. So much importance on that one conversation...that's going to build on top of or serve as a starting point for where this father/ son relationship goes. I looked into Sly's eyes during that scene and man, he was right there and I'd be damned if I wasn't going to give it right back to him... Everyday I just tried to show up and do the best work that I could do and for me, I was just fortunate enough to be in some great company.

Q: You mentioned that you were negative one when the first Rocky came out, and Rocky, the character is such a big part of the pop culture here in America what was it like, or describe the feeling that it was like when you found out that you got the role.

MV: I met Sly, actually after my audition, a week later I met Sly, and I had just moved back from New York and I had gotten into a car accident the night before. And I remember me driving away in my fully dented up car, I'm at the back of my house and I'm like "ahhh, I think that went well, I don't really know-- I got to get my car fixed, I've got to unpack some boxes." So, I kind of put my mind off of it. About an hour and a half, two hours later, I got a phone call from my agent and he's like [starts humming the beginning of "Gonna Fly Now/ the Rocky Theme"], you know, and I was like "did I get it?" And he was like, "yeah, you got it! You got it!" he's like, "I got off the phone with Sly, like fifty minutes ago", I'm like, "that was an hour ago! You couldn't have called me an hour ago?" And he was like, "I was at lunch." [laughs] I've got to tell you, as an actor you're constantly chasing the jobs, you're constantly chasing the work, [so]when you finally get the job it's a very gratifying feeling. And what's important, I think, for a lot of actors is not chasing the jobs, it's actually being on the set and working-- that's your job...physically, when I get a job I'm like "oh, I've got so much work to do" but it was really an exciting thing. It was an exciting time.

Q: How surprised were you at how well your show's been doing and what's coming up next for you?

MV: If I were to say how surprised I was at how well the show is doing, I would probably look like an idiot. From the first day of reading at the script, I was blown away by it...I had everything, I had the writers, the production team and all the directors that have come through-- it's really just grown into this wonderful world. And it does stretch across, American influence or American appreciation where I hear about people in the UK or Australia just really looking forward to the show, having seen bits and pieces of it...if you were blown away by what has happened in the first season, you'll really be blown away by what happens in the second, when there's a bit of fairy-dust sprinkled on everything and excitement and you're like "are they really going to do this? Oh my God, they just did it."

Rocky Balboa releases nationally on December 20th, 2006

Monday, December 11, 2006

Curtis Mayfield: Superfly Fantistic!

I was just checking Massive Attack's Blue Lines LP and when I got to "Be Thankful for What You've Got" I felt like chillaxin' on the scene in a gangsta lean...the time was nigh for a little pimp-tastic funk, so I immediately clicked over to Curtis Mayfield's Superfly Soundtrack when that Hammond B-3 started bubbling at the top of "Little Child Runnin' Wild" my shirt collars got longer and my Nikes turned into platform boots...Curtis Mayfield was on fire when he sat down and plucked out the cuts on this joint which is chock-a-bloc with funk classics that have been sampled more times in the hip hop game than you can say "Funky Drummer"...I'm checkin'out prime cuts like "Pusherman", Freddie's Dead" and "Give Me Your Love"...while there are a couple of dated instrumentals on here ("Junkie Chase" and "Think") the unadulterated funkiness of the cuts mentioned earlier validifies the fact that Curtis Mayfield was way ahead of his time and everytime I listen and take a look back...I know that he was.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Gong Li & Zhang Yimou: Curse of the Golden Flower Review, Q & A

Directed by Zhang Yimou (Hero, House of Flying Daggers)Curse of the Golden Flower takes place over 1,000 years in the past, during the rule of China's Later Tang Dynasty. Historically considered to be one of the more ostentatious and capricious regimes, the storyline picks up at the gates of the Imperial Palace, as the Emperor (Chow Yun Fat) returns from the battlefront-- where he's been staving off the Mongolian hordes-- under the pretext of celebrating the annual Chong Yang (chrysanthemum) Festival. Soon,however , it's apparent that the relationship between the Emperor and the Empress (Gong Li) is beyond strained and then there's all of the family secrets. It quickly becomes clear that everyone has a skeleton in the closet and there's a byzantine thread of deception and darkness, so pay attention because clues are everywhere-- listen for the Emperor's explanation of the squares in the circles.

In spite of her ailing health, The Empress, the Emperor's second wife, has been involved with her stepson, Prince Wan (Liu Ye), who, in turn has been having trysts with a courtesan himself. As all of this unfolds, Prince Jai, the second son who's been on the frontlines with his father for years is pulled in two directions as riddles unfold and he must decide whether to stay faithful to his mother or to his exalted father-- who's also been brewing plans of his own. Cinematographer Zhao Xiading's eye for shots is crisp and goes beyond the norm and then some as the camera lens captures vivid yellows, reds, blues and greens in palace corridors and culminates at the chrysanthemum festival sequence. The curse of the Golden Flower encapsulates all of the pageantry and flourish of a time that's only been duplicated on silk-screen prints and ancient folklore. To delve any deeper would ruin the viewing experience, so I won't but I will say that director Zhang Yimou keeps things rolling with a couple of wiggy sub-plots and twists-- the Crown Prince's tale is especially esquisite to discover, off-the-chain battle sequences with thousands of armored warriors in the royal courtyard and mysterious ninjas too. Set for release in the US in late December, The Curse of the Golden Flower is a film lover's flick as it is told with both visual and verbal beauty while handily taking the viewer to place that's simultaneously dark yet full of brilliance; unimaginable, yet oh so familiar...

Here's a part of the transcript from the press session with Gong Li and Zhang Yimou (and their interpretors) over at the Regent Beverly Wilshire...

Q: Why did you change the period of the film?

Zhang Yimou: It’s indeed based on a modern drama called Thunderstorm, which is one of the most famous works from the contemporary canon of modern Chinese texts. It’s written by Cao Yu and set in the 1920s and 30s and is a key work in modern China. It’s so important in fact that students of dramatic art in China are actually trained with this. It’s part of their kind of basic repertoire, that they must perform Thunderstorm during their student days. So this is a work that I’ve been long familiar with and it’s so popular it’s performed basically every day in China. If you picked a random day, like today, it’s probably performed in some city in China, you will find a performance of Thunderstorm. And it’s a story about the way that people are twisted and pushed and they struggle to survive under the feudal system in China. And it has very strong characterization of very powerful characters that are featured there and I thought it would be interesting to take this modern play and transpose it to pre-modern China, to the Tong Dynasty, and not just any dynasty, but they most glorious, blended, colorful place where all of this external beauty is heightened, and that would be the ultimate juxtaposition to this dark portrait of humanity that the play is unveiling.

Q: Was the drama hard to maintain?

Gong Li: For me the process was kind of like being in a bullfight where they stick the bull and keep taunting and exciting the bull until he’s just in a frenzy and he’s ready to fight. For me it was like that every day. I’d get all excited and the director, of course, was the bullfighter and I was the bull, to get me really charged up to perform in the play and then after we’d finish it I’d get off work and go home and have a nice sleep and the next day get up and start the whole process over again.

Q: The casting process?

ZY: When I was starting to cast and thinking about who I should cast for the emperor and empress in this film it was really quite clear. There were two people that really were suitable for these roles, and that was Chow Yun-Fat and Gong Li, who without question are two of the greatest contemporary Chinese actors working today. They both have incredible power and very strong acting abilities and very rich experience and I really couldn’t think of anyone else I would rather have do these roles other than them. I was very lucky that when I called them they both agreed to participate in this production and so we had our two leads. For the other characters in the film it was a little more difficult because we really needed actors with a lot of stage experience and were very well versed in dramatic art because this is, after all, adapted from a play. So we were looking around for various people and for the third son we cast Jay Chou, who is a pop sensation throughout Asia, he’s from Taiwan. He actually came at the recommendation of my producer and I suspect there was kind of a business strategy there because of the marketability of this young face. He’s truly a young king in the pop world of the entertainment industry. And there was something really wonderful about his performance. There was a simpleness but really a power that comes through in his performance.

Q: How long did it take to get in the costume?

GL: For the whole process every day of getting ready including hair and makeup and costume it took maybe about 3 hours total. By the time I got to the hair stage I finally began to feel ready and like an empress, and the bullfight is ready. By the time we got onto the set with the color scheme and everything is very red and gold and splendid, the bullfight really took off after that.

Q: Importance of color in the film?

ZY: Color is indeed very important in the scope of this film. Especially gold colors and jade colors and you see that very prominently displayed throughout the visual scheme of the work. And this comes from a saying we have in China where gold and jade are on the outside while the inside is dark and rotting. And that’s the theme we really wanted to emphasize here. Although we have this splendid exterior packaging, what’s going on inside is very different and very dark. So to emphasize that we even got this gold color dust from Tibet and from all different places and we used that in the various set designs. We also had these glass handicrafts, which were sometimes in the form of pottery vessels, also you see them in the columns in the palace. And the real version of this glass handiwork is actually very expensive and we couldn’t afford to use the real thing for the whole film so we actually spent about 4-5 months experimenting with different replacements that could be less expensive, but could still capture that opulent feeling. So in the end we used that as well to heighten the splendid and beautiful feeling of the Tong Dynasty. And the color is not just for show, it’s really the theme of the work. It emphasizes this very strong discord between form and content, between the darkness of the family and this beautiful glitter that is all adorning the outside. And I think in the end that really heightens the tragic feeling of the story and of these characters.

Q: Was it a relief to shoot in China after Miami Vice?

GL: Yes, going back to film Curse of the Golden Flower we did it very smoothly and efficiently so it was a very good experience and we were very happy with it. As far as being satisfied, actually I feel a little unsatisfied in Curse of the Golden Flower in my own part in the film. I wish it were longer. I wish they would give me another 20-30 minutes and I could actually do an even better job with the performance.

Q: Were the locations enhanced at all or were they all real?

ZY: The exteriors are all real locations. The palace that you see for most of the film is actually a set palace that was built 7 years ago in the Jo Jung Province(?) in a place called ???. This palace was actually under construction during the filming of Hero. They had already started making it and it was supposedly for some other film, I don’t know which one, but in the end nobody used it because it was too big. And they finished construction on it about two years ago and it was just sitting there because no filmmaker knew what to do with such a massive location. In the end we finished the screenplay for this and we thought we should use this place. So that’s where most of it was shot, or the exteriors anyway. The interiors were shot in a studio in Beijing and we tried to make everything look as realistic as possible and one place we did use CG was in some of the battle sequences. We had between 800 and 1000 extras. These were actual soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army that were actually working for us as extras. And some of the scenes we actually needed more people so there were a couple of scenes where we used CG technology to duplicate people and make them look like there were more people in the scenes, but we were very reserved in the way in which we did this. And there is probably about 12 or maybe 20 shots at the most where we have CG people created in there. Most of them you see are real people and real battle sequences and that’s something I’m actually quite proud of because one of the things I think I do well is taking limited human resources and making them look much bigger, getting more bang for my buck and making them look much more than they really are. That’s something I’ve always prided myself on doing well.

Q: What is the relationship between this film and your older ones, particularly Hero?

ZY: I think the major difference between these sets of films are Hero and House of Flying Daggers are really in the tradition of traditional martial arts films and they very much follow that tradition. This film, however, is quite different because it’s more of an amalgamation of a melodrama and an action film and that’s something I very consciously wanted to do. The plot, the story, the characterization, all of this comes from the original play, Thunderstorm. And with that I was given a wonderful foundation upon which to build on, but then by taking it and setting it during the Tong Dynasty and all of this splendid, opulent set design I really was able to take it somewhere much further. At the same time I wanted to make sure those splendid scenes were always at the service of the screenplay and service of the characterization and we never got lost in the middle. So I think it was an interesting amalgamation of these different genres. One thing that’s really a shame is all the things I had to cut in this film. I shot a lot more of this splendid opulent stuff that I showed you in the film, but precisely because everything I wanted to show you was in service of the story and service of the characterizations, there were certain scenes that just didn’t work with the pacing of the film. For instance we did one scene where we show Chow Yun Fat and Gong Li’s characters getting dressed and you see them putting on all 5 or 6 layers of their clothing one at a time. It’s a beautiful scene and for the first time you get to see what they are wearing underneath all of those layers of clothes, because you often don’t get to see the under layers of clothes, but the thing is it affects the pacing of the film. And my rule is that anything that affects the pacing has just got to go. We have to maintain the integrity of the story.

Q: How many crew and actors did you use?

ZY: The crew, including all the drivers and the cooks, over 200 people. And with all the extras it was well over 1,000...

...Curse of the Golden Flower is in theaters December 29th...

Monday, December 04, 2006

Fast Food Nation: Richard Linklater and Eric Schlosser (Q & A)

Q: With the book, did you ever set out to maybe make it more documentary than a mockumentary? Is it a mockumentary?

Eric Schlosser: No, it's a drama.

Q: Drama?

ES: Yeah, I spent about a year and a half meeting with documentary filmmakers and I worked really hard to get a documentary set up and I wasn't able to do it in a way that I felt comfortable with. I came close but I wouldn't sign over the rights to my book unless I felt that the filmmaker was going to be empowered to do something very tough and uncompromised. There was never an arrangement that met that criteria so I was fine with there never being any kind of film based on the book. The book was so much more successful than I ever thought it would be and it was in that period that I got approached by this British producer Jeremy Thomas about doing a fictional film which seemed like an unlikely idea, but he has made so many amazing films. I had a respect for where he was coming from and I started thinking about how it might work and then met with Rick and once it was clear that Rick wanted to do it and that he would have total creative control and that the money would come from outside of Hollywood, that's when I signed over the rights to the book and so it's kind of an unexpected path to the screen but I really feel like the film Rick made has integrity and is completely uncompromised and it's ... I feel very happy with how it's going.

Q: Do you feel people crave for the truth or revelations but then they starve when it comes to actually doing something against it?

ES: You know...(to Richard Linklater) What do you think?

Richard Linklater: People like all of us, you mean?

Q: Just humankind. Do we crave to know? I felt, me personally included, we like to be blind.

RL: To certain things. Yeah, I mean I think we have our areas of interest that we want to get at the truth and then there's others things. We're all guilty of it like just look at the way you read a paper. Like okay, here's a section you want and then there's these pages and pages of genocide in the Darfur region. You know, sometimes you just don't have the psychic capacity to take in all the horror and pain in the world so you willfully put your blinders down. We very selectively do that as functioning people in this world I guess. But I in general want to know the truth behind everything. I think that's a great place to start whether it's a government policy or whether it's what's behind the corporate product we're asked to consume. The truth and the full effects and what it really means is a great place to start and then you can really make your decisions based on that, but when people are so willfully ignorant and entire industries just rely on people's lack of [awareness] and not wanting to know. So I think that's a lot of the food industry in general, but it changes. People are becoming more aware that there are these global ramifications to something so innocuous as a fast food purchase. Once you realize 'Oh gosh, it is a big world and there are some workers and there's a lot of issues here with the environment and the animals and not to mention the health of the food you're buying and that's when...It's very complex, but I think people are slowly waking up. It starts among educated, well-to-do people, then it just sort of trickles down so ultimately it's a big class issue. I think the ultimate poor tax on this culture... It's bad enough being poor on every level but then to be unhealthy because you are poor when you don't have to be. You know, that's kind of the huge ethical dimension to this I think.

Q: What do you hope people will take from your film?

RL: Wow, um, what they'll take? I hope they care about the people in it, you know, the characters. It's a character piece. I hope they'll spend this hundred plus minutes and get a glimpse of and feel on a human-like connected level to these people who are in our media landscape forgotten. You're not supposed to think about them, you're not supposed to care. So if it makes you care about people, and in particular I think the Mexican workers in our country that are currently being demonized, they're a cut above terrorists. In fact, our terrorist money is kind of going against them now if they ever build this wall which I don't think they will or I hope they don't. If you can just put a face to it because we're all disconnected and it's pretty abstract. You can't really... It's one thing to read something but until you see that picture or you see that connection, it's no coincidence that we're not allowed to see coffins with flags over them from Iraq because then... or a parent maybe going to greet that coffin and that's a poignant moment we don't want anyone to share in because you might care, you might start questioning. And it's the same thing in this industry. You're not supposed to really think at the end of the line that there's cows getting shot in the head as we speak, you know, the billions of animals every year raised for human consumption and slaughtered and that's just the fact. You don't want to think about it but it's probably healthy for everybody if you do. So, I don't know, just a general awareness, but hopefully just think about the people in the movie, I hope. I don't know.

Q: You said yesterday after the screening that you were actually shooting at an actual meat packing plant, that those people were not extras, that they were workers. How did they let you...did they read the script? You know, you would think they don't look so good in this so...?

RL: Well, where we were shooting, we weren't wasn't a critique of them. We were shooting in Mexico and we were saying this is the U.S., you know, this is a plant in the U.S. So that sort of left them off the hook.

Q: So it's a plant in Mexico?

RL: Yeah. They liked the story I think of the Mexican workers down there. We sort of emphasized that. But no, they didn't read the script. We just kind of described it to them. You know, they only let us in for a few hours here and there under really extreme limitations.

Q: Did you try to shoot in any plants in the U.S?.

RL: No, I don't think we even...we didn't even attempt to. Eric's friendly and I met a guy who had a plant here and even he wouldn't let us. He liked us and he liked what our film was about but he couldn't let us use his facility so we knew people who don't particularly like the existence of Eric's book wouldn't be much more helpful.

Q: There was an ongoing comparison of social class during the film. Like the scene where all the Mexicans who just arrived are all in this one room and then it changes to Don Anderson who's unpacking his suitcase in his room.

RL: Yeah. (laughs) I'm glad you picked up on that, how you... the transportation. [means contract between how each arrives at their location]

Q: I think that was brilliant but do you think the lack of interaction between social classes is what creates sort of this ignorance of the issues that is happening right under our noses?

RL: Well, I mean we're certainly disconnected from one another and I think it's always been that way to some degree and I don't know if that's... It's hard to say if that's by design or if that's just the way it is but I think it's just important for the Don Henderson's of the world, Greg's character, to at least be aware. It's one thing to, you know, if you don't interact much, but one another thing to be actively doing things that aren't compassionate or that don't help people. So I don't know, if you're completely ignorant, you're not helping anything.

ES: I think it's an interesting point though because we do interact. I mean we could be in here right now and someone would drop off the tray, and the interaction would always be on our terms, you know, 'Thanks for bringing it. Now leave.' Or, you know, 'Here's a tip.' But in terms of that worker as a person, that worker as someone with a life and family, it's discouraged, it's hugely discouraged by the hierarchy that we have at the moment. You know, Don interacts with the workers but it's all very formal. So much of what my own work has allowed me to do is to lead [leave?] my normal, upper middle class life and to go into other worlds and to see people in context and it's very humbling. It's like... It's left me feeling 'there but for the grace of God go I.' I mean I have ancestors who are immigrants and I have ancestors who I'm sure were dirt poor and it's just a very... No matter how wealthy and powerful you are it's a good reminder of how fragile it is and hopefully that creates compassion instead of denial. Your question (referring to earlier question), you know, my answer would be, 'I'm amazingly optimistic. I genuinely believe and so much of what motivates my work is that once people know, things will be different, and the only reason that things are as bad as they are is because there's so much denial and complacency. How do you cut through all the bullshit that the mainstream media is feeding you as distraction and diversion and just try to tell people what's happening and when they see it, I think most people are good and decent and they act differently or they think differently or they vote differently. But then maybe I'm deluded but that's what...

RL: When people are given the facts, they're very capable of acting in the common good. I think it's just natural to our species and survival if you're given the facts and what you need to do, people as a whole - all 3 hundred million of us or 6 billion of us -- can and will act in a way that's positive like that but not when you're distracted and you're just not connected to the problems.

Q: Immigration is an issue right now and everyone is seeing whatever they want to see? Are you still able to keep your optimism and what is your view on immigration? Is it going to change?

RL: I don't think it's going to change. I think it's been going on for hundreds of years. I think if you're an Irish Catholic coming in to the U.S. in 1860, people throwing stuff at you and calling you a dirty scumbag and 'go back where you came from,' but you get a job and you slowly build your life here, then your kids do better than you do hopefully, and it's a big sacrifice people make when they come to a culture and I'm always touched by the hope people bring with them. If I think of this movie, I think of the hope our three Mexican workers bring as they come across the border. They're very hopeful for their future and I think someone like Don Henderson, Greg's character, he's more in a way insecure than they are. He has something to lose. He's got this middle class life and he's just a few paychecks away from losing his mortgage and he has a family to support so I don't know. I think we all have this ability to hope for a better future and that's always been the immigrant experience and it's a pretty brave one. And I think that' just kills me in our current climate to see people demonized and all they're doing is responding to this borderless, global economy that we live in now and no one kind of understands these factors. If you're a farmer in Mexico and because of NAFTA your crop is not worth 70% of what it used to agreements...all this stuff happens way above you and then they're hiring in Colorado at this plant, they're running an ad on your radio station, you know, in Spanish, and you have friends who are working there. It's just like c'mon that's free market. And up here they've broken the unions in the last 20 years, they've taken away the benefits, they've reduced the wages and the conditions are so bad, and then the company can sit there and go, 'You know, Americans just don't want to do this job.' I mean they did for the last 75 years, but 'Americans don't want to do this anymore.' I mean that's putting out a help wanted sign and so when workers are coming in...if our culture really cared, they would make it illegal to export those jobs, those American jobs. I mean that's a...I just see it as a help wanted sign and they are hiring and people will fill those jobs. But it really pains me to see the people... You know, all of us are just reacting to these forces that are so much bigger than all of us. And to be demonized and actually penalized, the ultimate penalty, you know, death. People die by the hundreds now in the desert. It used to be 60 a year and now it's like 460 a year and next year it'll probably be 500 and if they ever start building a wall, it'll probably be a thousand and it'll be two thousand. I live in Texas. Every year someone's... you know, there's a truck found on the side of the road with people suffocating and half dead and abandoned. It's a nasty world but it's very abstract to people and it's easy for some politician to just demonize the most vulnerable people in our whole economy. So I think it's a real immoral tone and people who talk about protecting borders, it's just crazy to me for people who want to work hard. You know I've already been in Europe with this movie and they say 'Oh well, the immigration.' I said, you know, it's ironic when you're in Paris and they're talking about all your problems with immigrants and you're saying, 'Weren't there riots here last year? Your city was on fire due to these problems. I don't think that's going on in the U.S.' Even the protests of May 1st were peaceful, marching, just letting everyone know, 'Hey, we're here. We're taking notice.' On that day, the entire media industry shut down by the way.

ES: You know, the film is a really dark film but I want to fight against any kind of disillusion. I mean I stay optimistic. You've got to look at who's doing this and why they're doing it. There's a huge bait and switch tactic going on. These guys are saying, 'You know, the problem are the Muslims, the problem are these illegal immigrants, the problem is the gays, the problem is the liberals. And that's always a way of diverting attention from what the problem really is, you know, and who's responsible for the problem. So once we start falling for these tactics, for these diversions, for demonizing one group after another, once we just see through it we say, "Well, I think there's a bigger problem and that's not the real problem.'

RL: Yeah, but unfortunately it takes just a little bit of analytical power to see through that. We all have that knee jerk person in us that it's just so much easier to blame someone else than actually look at a bigger picture. We're so encouraged not to analyze like the causes and effects of this. We're encouraged to analyze and put all of our critical thinking towards things that don't mean anything, you know, television shows, sports, movies, you know, things that truly aren't life and death issues for any of us, we put our certain power to but are we putting any time and effort into things that truly matter for the health of all of us. It's not much. It's completely inverted.

Q: Do you want to put a solution out there? Does the movie even offer any solution?

RL: I think the movie does. I think you have to leave the movie thinking there's a problem out there and I hope you can't be completely divorced from it. Like with our food, certain issues you can say, 'Well, they're taken care of.' You know, you can feel divorced. We vote every day with our food choices whether you want to or not. Like I don't know how many people voted today, whatever percent, not even 50% I'm sure. But we do vote, whether you like it or not, every day so at the consumer level I think that's where it's going to happen and so awareness can beget a consumer demand in the market. It's only programmed really to respond to that.

Q: How has your relationship to food changed in general, not just fast food? Also, how do you eat your steak? Raw, medium or well done?

RL: (laughs) Well, Eric can answer that. I haven't eaten meat since 1983. ES: Medium rare.

Q: And your relationship to food in general? Maybe you question more now what you put into your body? RL: I do. My choices to not eat meat a long time ago really didn't have anything to do with health. It had to do with animal rights, environment, workers, things like that. Health, I guess, was just a side benefit to that. But I've learned a lot more. Maybe it's being a parent. You become more aware. A lot of interesting conundrums when you talk about feeding an entire planet. You know, it's frightening to me everything I read about. You know, like it takes 1,300 gallons of fresh water to go into one burger - the production of that meat and everything. Millions of people a year die for lack of fresh water around the world. Can we take our fresh water and ...? That's just one instance. I mean there's all these issues but you look at our entire food supply and you say, okay, it's really disproportionately and maybe irresponsibly allocated worldwide to feed the entire planet. A few people are eating really well. A lot of people are dying needlessly. It's like 'ahhh!' Q: What are you working on next?

RL: I don't know. You know, I have four different projects, you know, scripts kind of semi-ready to go, all of them, but I really don't know. Hopefully next year some time I'll be in production but I'm not sure which it's going to be. It's a wide variety of projects too.

Q: It seems like every filmmaker I've ever spoken with always has three or four things and they're waiting on either financing or whatever.

RL: You're always waiting on the financing so I'm right there. That's me. That's where we always sit, hat in hand, begging for money, something out of Dickens, you know.

Q: Thank you. RL: Good talking to you...
Fast Food Nation is currently in theaters...

Martha Gellhorn & Ornette Coleman: A Dynamic Duo

...Everyone's heard outrageous tales of people paying their dues while trying to make their way in the world. Out here in L.A., there's no shortage of those because everyone's on the make in this town so, at any given moment, you're bound to run into somebody who'll do whatever it takes to get them one step closer to their desired goal -- whatever the cost. Let's face it, we've all got our crosses to bear but that doesn't mean that we should silently take it in the pants, cross our fingers and hope for the best. I've long embraced the fact that the only consistency in life is inconsistency-- no doubt, kid...

"If you don't have anything to write about, try hanging yourself", Ernest Hemingway once said when asked if he had any words of wisdom for scribes mired in the mental cul de sac of writers block. "If you succeed, then your worries are over. If you fail, then you'll have something to write about." I'm more than certain that Martha Gellhorn's bones are break-dancin' whenever someone utters that last one, considering the creative hell she went through after marrying the old man and the sea; the pain she must've had to endure as a writer married to him had have been soul-deadening...In her day, Martha was a courageous woman of letters and traveled all over the world to cover wars, people and current events in a time when most sisters (black, brown, white, yellow or whatever hue's appropriate) couldn't do a thing for themselves...this is a chick who hid in the catacombs with the French Resistence and wrote about it with a vengeance...I'll repeat: she hid in the catacombs with Le Resistance, player!

...the above alone qualifies Gellhorn as a rockin' writer but there's more to it than that. The articles she penned and the assignments she took made her quite the trailblazer, to be certain (her short stories and essays were hella tight too, yo-- I'd recommend taking a gander at her juxtaposed recollection of visiting Haiti to get a real grasp of he skills with the typewriter), too, I recall reading a Gellhorn piece she'd written about living in the shadow of her ex; always feeling like she had to prove herself over and over and over to no avail...despite the tone of that one piece, Gellhorn kept on writing, even when the chips were down. You can't get very far in this world sans a thick hide and Martha was one tough bitch (and I call her that with the utmost sincerity, no doubt)...

...Ornette Coleman, the avant garde jazz-man/ saxophone guru, came out here as a member in an outfit from Texas who summarily kicked him out of the group once they heard him "get loose" during their first live performance on stage-- they'd hired him without auditioning him. Stranded in a city where he knew nobody, dude was forced to take odd jobs as was feeling what he was reaching for as a musician-- Coleman would eventually resort to the glamorous, high-profile life of a lift operator in a department store; a job he held for many years. If put in the same position, many would've thrown in the towel, tucked tail and scampered back to Texas but not Coleman. Homebiscuit didn't just bite down hard on the pillow of reality and take it in the keyster, he held on to his day gig: working the elevator-- he religiously practiced on his axe in his car, in the building's parking structure, during his breaks until he'd mastered his muse and found what would become known as Free jazz -- that's dedication, son.

...The sleeper must awaken: I've always felt a strong connection with people like Gellhorn and Coleman because, they forged ahead even when the odds were stacked against them. Mind you, they weren't "stay-the-course stumble bums" sticking to an unknowable game plan because they hadn't thought things through. Artists like these accepted the fact that there was a larger, force at work; something greater than them that had to be tapped into and acquiescence to the status quo was not an option-- I try to strive daily to have the kind of creative beef someday but still I'm well aware, like the fictional horseman in the Robert Frost poem..."there's miles to go before I sleep...miles to go before I sleep...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Richard Pryor (12 01, 1940 – 12 10, 2005); Happy Birthday Daddy Rich!'s the birthday of "Daddy Rich", that's right, Richard Pryor (no relation) who remains, to me, the unequivocal king of comedy...that's saying something coming from a dyed-in-the-wool George carlin fan...To be certain, Lenny Bruce started making provocative waves in the comedy world with a couple of revealing bits but Pryor dropped into that tube and rode the peak straight on up to the comedic shoreline...and broke through it...the recent spate in the media vis-a-vis the whole "N-word" thing holds on extra dab of bitter-sweetness because it seems, looking back, Pryor took the usage of that word to extremes at times (during the 70's) and then turned around and used it in a bit (on his Live on the Sunset Strip set) to explain how it helped him heal during a trip to Nairobi-- "I looked outside the plane and thought 'wow! they fuck over your luggage in Kenya, just like they do in LA!' "...

...a few years ago I worked on a project and had to do some research on Rich's life story and learned he made some serious lemonade out of the lemons handed to him in life-- growing up while his family ran a brothel, getting molested by a neighborhood tough, later dealing with addictions brought on by the lifestyle of living out of a suitcase, on and on-- when his backstory really began to flesh itself out I was amazed he'd even survived for as long as he did Read the rest here