Interview: Scarlett Johansson "Match Point"

Interview: Scarlett Johansson
"Match Point"
Posted: Thursday, December 22nd 2005 5:12PM
Author: Paul Fischer
Location: Los Angeles, CA

With the Golden Globes looming and the awards season in full swing, Woody Allen's Match Point is shaping up as a strong contender, with star Scarlett Johansson a favourite as a Best Actress winner. This often sardonic tale of adultery and infidelity offers food for thought, and causes the beautiful actress to ponder on monogamy in Hollywood, as she revealed to PAUL FISCHER.

Scarlett Johansson, casually attired in jeans and a loose, white blouse, drapes over a couch in a Los Angeles hotel room, looking relaxed and in good humour. And for good reason. Critically acclaimed for her portrayal of an American actress in London, whose adulterous affair with a social climbing ex-tennis pro has dire consequences, the beautiful actress confesses that monogamy and Hollywood don't necessarily go hand in hand. "I don't think human beings are monogamous creatures by nature," the actress concedes. "You have to put a lot of effort into a relationship with somebody. People cheat for different reasons with some constantly needing to kind of reaffirm their status as a dominating person; while other people are unhappy in their relationships but they're co-dependent on a partner." While not being too direct about her own relationships, Johansson does admit that actors have a tougher time than most keeping faithful. "I think it's hard for working actors general just because they're so damn moody," she says, laughingly. "Also you're away from people constantly and having a relationship with somebody on the phone is miserable. So it's difficult in that sense to say, hey, guess what, I'm going off with this really sexy guy to do this very sexy movie but I love you and I'm going to be thinking about you when I'm rolling around in bed with this other person. Not only that but also I think that sometimes you get really overwhelmed by your emotions when you're working and so it's hard to differentiate how you feel when you're working from how you feel in real life in that moment," the actress confesses, justifying why it is actors find it tough to have monogamous relationships with one another, "because you're constantly thinking in somebody else's head as well as a film set being a very incestuous kind of place. I mean you've got the makeup artist sleeping with the DP who is also sleeping with the wardrobe person."

In Match Point, Johansson has some passionate and torrid moments with her leading man, Irish hunk Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, and has no problem engaging in some wild sexual on-screen love scenes, atypical for a Woody Allen film. "I'm not conservative or anything if it's tastefully done. Besides, I mean Jonathan is very gorgeous and everything so it wasn't that difficult," she adds, smilingly. Nor was it tough for the actress to say no to the idea orf working with Woody Allen. "I've always been a fan of Woody's probably before I was supposed to be watching his movies. I was planning on taking the summer off and I got this call from my agent who mentioned that Woody is shooting a film in London in a week and I was like, Woody? - Oh, my god, I couldn't believe it." While she would have done the movie script unseen, Johansson did respond to Match Point. "I don't know why I responded to it and I don't know if I have the vocabulary to explain why I like any project. I just responded to the dialogue and the character and I thought, okay, I can play that and I felt I was capable."

The experience was so stimulating, that she re-teams with Woody on his next project, as both co-star and director. "We wanted to act together and we wanted to do a comedy together because we had a lot of fun on set, and there was a kind of funny banter between us, so when we were making it I said, that I would love to act with you some time which would be so much fun, and he agreed." She said working with him as an actor "was the same except I got to see him more. It was a little bit different doing a comedy with him because he he's a comic genius."
While it seems that Johansson is at her best doing smaller films, she is not giving up on mainstream Hollywood, despite the failure of The Island. "That was the only science fiction film I'd ever read that I felt was worth doing. I think it bombed because it was just very bad marketing, domestically, because it did really well internationally. . But I mean I'm doing The Nanny Diaries, which is certainly commercially viable, and then I'm doing a film called The Prestige, Chris Nolan's film with Hugh Jackman and Christian Bale. Then I'm going to do a Neil Jordan movie so it's sort of all across the board." And Johansson, who has been working steadily since her adolescent debut in The Horse Whisperer, says she doesn't look at her spate of success with any degree of objectivity. "I still don't really think about the future that much. I'm surprised that I haven't been found out really and I just continue working and hope that I can keep working from job to job, nor do I have some grand plan. I mean when you get older and you start to think about it as more of a career, having to balance an independent film with something that's more commercial, it's still making movies."

As busy as she is, one wonders how the actress has time for any kind of a personal life, but while still enjoys the dating scene, unlike the male central character in Match Point, she doesn't view marriage as an economic necessity, and is not immune to the idea orf that particular institution. "I think marriage is a very romantic idea, but when you look at it as an economic necessity I think that's different for different people. But someday when I decide I would like to have children with somebody I think it would be nice to be married."

Match Point is "a winning combination of sex, mystery, brilliant writing and first-rate acting that all adds up to one of the most erotic and exhilarating movies in years." (Maxim). Chris (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is being torn apart by his desire for two very different women. Marrying Chloe (Emily Mortimer) will bring him a life of wealth and success, but his true passion lies with his brother-in-law's fiancee, the stunningly sensuous but unpredictable Nola (Scarlett Johansson). Pulsing with tension, Match Point rides the dangerous line between ambition and obsession to an ending as surprising as it is chilling.


Interview: Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Keaton "The Family Stone"

Interview: Sarah Jessica Parker, Diane Keaton
"The Family Stone"
Posted: Thursday, December 8th 2005 9:49AM
Author: Paul Fischer
Location: Los Angeles, CA

Sarah Jessica Parker may have risen to stardom as one Carrie Bradshaw in the award-winning Sex and the City, but the actress proves her versatility as an unsympathetic character in the ensemble comedy The Family Stone. Funny and consistently surprising, Parker, wearing a pink shirt dress, a cameo buckle on her belt, and wavy hair, talks life after Sex, along with her formidable Oscar winning co-star, the legendary Diane Keaton, with Paul Fischer.

Question: Some audiences will undoubtedly leave the theatre not liking your character, compared to "Sex & the City's" Carrie. So what is the legacy of that TV show?

Sarah Jessica Parker: I love that we live in a country where people can have different opinions like it's so hard to feel alone. I think it's wonderful. It's cool. I would say I'm not burdened by this legacy of "Sex & the City" or Carrie Bradshaw. I'm happy to have to work hard as an actor to remind people that I was a working actor before that show, and that this wonderful thing happened, and I'm thrilled to be part of something that people connected to, women especially. And I've never thought about those things in my past. I think it wouldn't serve me to do so now. I think it's incumbent upon me to try to be smart and make good choices and work with good people and work my ass off when I'm working with good people and I have to let everyone have their opinion afterwards. But this is what happens. You make a movie or you're on a show and then you have this experience and everyone tells you what you did. They tell you what you did. That's allowed. That's the experience of being human and subjectivity. That's it. We can only do what we'll do, and I can only do the best I can do.

Question: Was part of the reason for playing this character is to be far removed from Carrie Bradshaw?

Sarah Jessica Parker: Yeah, but not arbitrarily. I wasn't just saying, "Among you, who are different ..." It was this part in this film that was, this person that was so radically different from Carrie Bradshaw, and frankly unfamiliar to me as a person. I've never met anybody like Meredith, but it was also the fact that she was also this beautiful -- I love the way that she was written, but larger piece was equally important. It's fine to have a great part, but not so fine to have a great part in a mediocre script. This was a double whammy in a great way. This was a great part in a great script, with great people, and those opportunities, I don't think, in my experience, don't always --

Question: How do you prepare for a character like that, that you have no identification with? Your Imagination?

Sarah Jessica Parker: You draw on imagination, but I have this beautiful script that was so clear to me who she was. The same way you tel any story, whether someone is familiar or not. I've played lots of people who I didn't know: mothers with many children who found themselves in terrible situations. Or lots of circumstances that are unfamiliar, but if you don't have training and don't have a method, the most helpful thing for me to do is simply tell the story as you understand it and hope you have a great director. In our case, we had an extraordinarily gifted director.

Question: Diane, you were the first person signed up for this?

Diane Keaton: Apparently. So they say, but it's not true. No, she was (points to Sarah JP). Because you know how long this movie's been around? Forever. It's been like --

Sarah Jessica Parker: But you were the official first. (they talk over each other a bit here, hard to hear)

Diane Keaton: I guess it was officially me, but she read it first and loved it. And they couldn't quite get it on for some unknown reason. And then when I signed on, then they gathered together everybody, because then they pretended like they had a movie, but they didn't until they got everybody else. My belief about that whole thing is that when people hand you scripts and go, "Oh, so and so is attached." Then that means that you're an actor, "Oh yeah, so and so is attached, so I better read it." That's all it gets you, is the reading. And I think that that's what they had. They laid it on her again, and then she said yes, which is fantastic because I remember when they were talking about that. Frankly, I never thought the movie was going to get on. I thought, "Yeah, right. I've been down this road a few times." Every time I would, Tom would say, "No, it's going to happen." I'd say, "Are you sure, Tom?"

Sarah Jessica Parker: Well, you know what happened? The reason I think he felt so confident was that Michael London came along. All of a sudden the whole thing was elevated, and then Diane came along, and it got very real ...

Diane Keaton: Yeah, Michael London is a big, huge --

Sarah Jessica Parker: He's one of the heroic, less remembered parts of this story, I think, because before he was part of the movie they just kept having these false starts.

Diane Keaton: This is completely true, and enough isn't said about producers who are really good at the job. Michael London's an excellent producer.

Question: Diane, you didn't treat Sarah well?

Diane Keaton: I wasn't kind.

Question: You didn't tell anybody that you were going to do this to the poor girl, so why ...

Sarah Jessica Parker: Why pretend now? Wouldn't it be a better story if we wouldn't be in the same room together even? I'm so damaged.

Diane Keaton: I'm an Irish Catholic. And you know what that means. Teasing is the best thing in my life. My father used to torture me with teasing, and now I'm carrying the legacy on. My whole life, the greatest pleasure I ever had was constantly repeating it over and over, to my delight and nobody else's, that she's the bitch from Bedford. I told them they should title the movie "The Bitch from Bedford." Nobody listens to me ever! I was "Trust me, Tom. It's 'The Bitch from Bedford.'"

Sarah Jessica Parker: It used to be called "Hating Her."

Diane Keaton: It was.

Sarah Jessica Parker: It used to be called "Hating Her," actually, before that, it was "F-ing Hating Her." Do you remember that?

Diane Keaton: "Fucking Hating Her"?

Sarah Jessica Parker: Exactly.

Diane Keaton: No, I didn't know that. I thought that ... but this was my greatest joy of the whole entire movie. Plus she had to room with me. We were roommates. By that I mean we were in the makeup trailer every morning at five.

Sarah Jessica Parker: No, let them take from that what they thought. You just corrected yourself. We were lovers. The tension was so intense that I thought the best way to solve this problem was to make love. (laughter)

Question: How was that then?

Diane Keaton: Special. Very special. I'm a special needs lover!

Question: You'd think you'd know better than that to have the press have a quote like that.

Sarah Jessica Parker: There are so many worse things that I could say that aren't true that are just provocative.

Diane Keaton: I would be honored, frankly. (laughter)

Question: In great dinner scene ...

Diane Keaton: Oh thank you for saying something nice. I love you. I worship at your feet. Wasn't it a good scene though?

Question: Every gay man in American will want you as their mother...

Diane Keaton: Good. I'm ready. They can have me. I'll be happy to be their mother. I don't know what to say, but could there have been a better gay couple in the world? Were gay people better represented by those two actors? They were so moving. Ty and Brian -- Ah! I love them so much, and their baby at the end -- Oh! I mean, life goes on, and that baby's in great hands.

Question: Diane, did you tell the cast that you were going to do this to Sarah?

Diane Keaton: Oh yes. No, it was a formal -- I'm just teasing. I'm kidding.

Sarah Jessica Parker: I was -- and I'm not just saying this for your sake, that if there was some sort of documentation, I'd be perfectly willing to show you. I kind of felt privileged to be on the receiving end of this snarky, funny, kind of cruelty, but not really. You know, teasing. I was actually, "Oh, that's a shame. She doesn't like me." No seriously, because I a few years ago, that would have been me sobbing in a room. Seriously. That that is the wisdom of the ages. Simply going on and saying, "This is the way she needs to work. I don't have a process that I'm going to impose on her, but I'm perfectly happy to make her feel comfortable." Whatever works for her. And I went home and I told people -- not people, but my family who were concerned about me -- I'm like, "It's okay. It's actually okay." Honestly, because it was funny. It was like, "Oh, she's going to do that to me. Alright."

Diane Keaton: Come on. Give me a break. It's a form of love. It's my idea of affection. No? No, I'm not getting anybody?

Sarah Jessica Parker: It wasn't cruel. Like I said, it was kind of I felt like, "Wow. She thinks I" -- that's what this idea that she has that it's a form of affection. It's not unfamiliar. I have brothers. I have a husband. It's fun to make fun. It's fun to poke fun. You have to have an implicit understanding that this is what it is. It's swordplay.

Diane Keaton: Yeah.

Question: Does this help you be empathetic towards this character?

Diane Keaton: Oh yeah. That's interesting.

Sarah Jessica Parker: I assumed that that was her point. I thought that that had something to do with it, and it was valuable to know what it felt like to not be warmly embraced like Diane Keaton.

Question: Isn't this a traditional thing in film, like Westerns, where the actors playing good and bad guys stay separate?

Diane Keaton: ... circle around each other, yeah. Well, first of all I've never... yeah, I agree.

Sarah Jessica Parker: But sadly she wasn't afforded the opportunity to really complete it. Like, it was an unfinished, the circle was not complete because she did, we did spend -- we were put in a trailer by ourselves the two of us for hair and makeup, which is pretty intimate experience.

Diane Keaton: Yeah, it really is.

Sarah Jessica Parker: And so by that time, I basically, I don't know. I felt like I was forced on you and then I don't know. I feel like there's so much that we love talking about. We could talk non-stop easily about everything in the world. And Diane is interested in everything in the world.

Diane Keaton: We want a morning talk show.

Question: If the internet is any indication, you're going to have a milestone birthday coming up in a couple of months.

Diane Keaton: I am. I am going to have a milestone birthday. I'm going to be 60 - yeah.

Question: I'm curious how you, you know, how you feel about that - if you're looking forward to it...

Diane Keaton: You know, I feel in a very... you know, it's so strange because those birthdays - I remember at 30, when I was 30, that it was devastating. It was a hideous nightmare. I was forgotten by my loved ones. My sister, Robin - Robin wherever you are - (Laughter). She let me down. She forgot about my birthday. I completely collapsed. I was just... and ever since that 30th birthday, the debacle, the ruination of my whole emotional life, it's been getting better (Laughter) and every fucking decade I feel just a little bit more secure. I mean I think that that's nice but the... the one thing about turning 60 is that I'm completely consumed by time now because I realise that I'm 60. So it's all about time - so time is so darn precious. So I just want to do every single possible thing I possibly can in every way. I wanna, you know...

Question: Like what?

Diane Keaton: Cherish my kids more. I want to like experience the school experience but at the same time, you know, I wanna make sure that I read the paper - and, oh, did you read the Joan Didion thing and then, ohblablablah - and you didn't see Monument Valley and are you going to go... you know, it's so damn exciting. I mean the point about life is that as you go along it gets more and more and more and more and more compelling, interesting, dramatic, touching, tragic, you know, moving, exciting, lovely, divine, light - the play of light on a window - da, da, da, da - and on and on. And so I really feel that it's, um... it just makes you savour life more and more as you... as you go along. So... but, but in terms of my specific 'what am I going to do on my 60th birthday'... I'm terrified that I don't know what to do. I've started thinking maybe I'll go to Monument Valley or do something like really interesting - go see the west - because I loved when you mentioned the west, I am consumed by the west and I, you know, I love westerns and I love John Ford - I mean I love America and the west and...

Question: When you talk about time being precious, I mean, now talk about playing this character who's going through dealing with her mortality and...

Diane Keaton: I gotta tell you, look, I gotta tell ya. When I saw the movie the first time and I saw that picture - that they cut to that picture at the end, you know, they pan over to that picture of me when I was 27 - that picture was taken by my mother.

Question: Wow.

Diane Keaton: I can't stand it. And, you know, I... that moved me more than anything in the movie because that picture was to me about my mother and that I felt... I had the strangest feeling when I looked at that picture - which I hate that picture. But I had this feeling that, you know, that's the best acting I've ever done in my whole entire life is that portrait that my mother took. So the whole thing about motherhood and, you know, your sense of honour to your mother had such resonance for me in that moment, and I just thought that Tom Bezucha captured that in such a lovely way about, you know, life going on and... and for me personally my mom took the picture, I'll never forget that. It's my favourite moment in any movie that I've ever been in is my mother's photograph of me because she took it.

Question: Family sounds very important to you.

Diane Keaton: Oh! I love my mother - forget it!

Question: Sarah, what's going on with you now? Are you working at the moment? Are you taking a break? Are you spending time with your family?

Sarah Jessica Parker: I did a movie after The Family Stone, and then I start a movie on Tuesday.

Question: Which one did you finish and what are you...

Sarah Jessica Parker: I did a movie called Failure to Launch which we shot in New Orleans for a few months. And then, Tuesday I start a movie called Spinning Into Butter, which was a very acclaimed play - a very controversial play in New York about five years ago by a playwright named Rebecca Gilman. And it's about a racial incident at a liberal arts college, on the east coast, and this woman who's the Dean of Students I'm playing and really... it's about racism and who we really are.

Question: Are you able to find time to balance being wife, mother and actor these days?

Sarah Jessica Parker: I do my very best. My son, you know, is my priority, is our priority, and, you know, it's very complicated - as any working mother in this country will tell you, and probably less complicated by the fact that I, you know, can afford help and really good child care, unlike a lot of working women in this country. but I still - I don't think I can talk about it - just this endless conflict and this feeling of somebody's, you know... I think women would generally like to be all things to all people and make certain everybody's taken care of - and I don't mean in a kind of martyr way but rather it's just... it feels best if you feel everybody is simply taken care of. And so, you know, that can't possibly be true all the time and so you have to resolve that, you know - so I do my best.

Question: Can you each talk quickly about what the holidays are like for you guys at your homes - are they huge celebrations, are they intimate gatherings? What goes on?

Sarah Jessica Parker: Mine has been basically the same my whole life, it's really about family. I have a really big family and it's grown over the years as the grown up children have been married and have children of their own and I'm very close to my family and I see my family all the time during the week and talk to them all the time and, you know, this time of year just has such nostalgia and we just really like being with one another. So anytime I walk across the threshold of my parents' home it's like the place where I'm most relaxed and happy and my son's there now and it's just a perfectly wonderful time.

Diane Keaton: I had a father, Jack Hall, Irish - that's the Irish Catholic side - Jack Hall was consumed by the beach and every week we'd drive down to the beach, and his whole dream in life was to have a house at the beach. So he got a house at the beach where he died. And every year we go to the house at the beach and that's what we do. My mother's still alive and we go down there and we just, you know, hang at the beach. And we're all together and it's really our way of celebrating Christmas is just to be there at the beach.

For anyone who views holiday gatherings with equal parts joy and dread, The Family Stone offers plenty of comedy to identify with. Writer-director Thomas Bezucha's slapstick premise begins when Everett (Dermot Mulroney) brings his fiancé Meredith (Sarah Jessica Parker) home to meet his family for Christmas. It's an instant disaster when parents Sybil (Diane Keaton) and Kelly (Craig T. Nelson) agree with their gay, deaf son Thad (Ty Giordano, who is actually hearing impaired), pot-smoking son Ben (Luke Wilson) and daughters Amy (Rachel McAdams) and Susannah (Elizabeth Reaser) that Meredith is way too uptight to be welcomed into their family. Meredith recruits her sister Julie (Claire Danes) to help her thaw the Stone family cold front, and after building a solid emotional foundation for his holiday comedy, Bezucha starts to stack the deck with plot developments that, while heartwarming, border on the absurd. You either go with the movie's flow or you don't, and with this appealing cast (featuring some really nice work by Keaton, Nelson, Parker and Danes) it's easy to forgive Bezucha's unlikely blend of yuletide cheer, petty animosities, and romantic tables turned in the blink of an eye. Toss in a case of terminal illness and you've got a sad-happy tearjerker that works in spite of itself. If you don't recognize at least part of your own holiday clan in The Family Stone, you probably haven't been paying attention.


Interview: Heath Ledger "Brokeback Mountain"

Interview: Heath Ledger
"Brokeback Mountain"
Posted: Wednesday, December 7th 2005 3:34PM
Author: Garth Franklin
Location: New York, NY

If 2004 was 'The Year of the Law' (Jude Law that is), 2005 is 'The Year of the Ledger' it would seem. After brief forays as a gay cyclist and a medieval prince on TV series such as "Sweat" and "Roar", Aussie actor Heath Ledger was pegged as one of the next big young hunks to hit Hollywood back in 2000. Coming off comedy hit "10 Things I Hate About You", the actor scored a high profile role as Mel Gibson's son in "The Patriot" and followed that as the lead in actioneer "A Knight's Tale" and a small part in the acclaimed "Monster's Ball".

Then the gild came off the cage. 'Tale' underperformed, Ledger's next three follow-up films "The Four Feathers", "The Order" and "Ned Kelly" all bombed. Whilst a high profile relationship with fellow Aussie and rising star herself Naomi Watts meant his name was still being mentioned in the press, career wise things seemed rather quiet.

This past year changed all that, the now 26-year-old Ledger went back to work with a vengeance and ended up scoring or sharing the lead role in four major projects which opened in 2005 including skateboard drama "Lords of Dogtown", Terry Gilliam's twisted fantasy "Brothers Grimm", and adult comedy "Casanova".

The one that's garnering most interest though is "Brokeback Mountain", Ang Lee's haunting tale of a romance between two cowboys in 1960's Wyoming. Aside from the controversial subject matter, the most frequent comments around the film surround Ledger's powerful performance which many are already citing a likely Oscar nomination and a good chance to win. The actor, who recently had a daughter with 'Brokeback' co-star Michelle Williams, spoke with press in New York about the film:

Question: Did you approach your character from the physical standpoint?

Heath Ledger: Definitely. I actually thought it was a gift not to have words to play with. It definitely restricts what you can express. You are stuck with what's on page. In a sense, I had the freedom to say what I really wanted. In fact, I can make my own decisions and come to conclusions about this character from the physical point of view. First of all, I had to go in and discover what was causing this inability to express and to love. What was the culprit in that? I figured that it was some sort of a battle, and the conclusion I came to was that he was battling himself and battling his genetic structure; he was battling his father and his father's father's opinion and traditions and fears that have been passed down and deeply imbedded in him. So, once I had that and a few other things, I wanted to physicalize it cause that was all I was really left with. I wanted it to be hard for him to express and I think any form of expression had to be painful. I wanted him to be a clenched fist; and therefore my mouth became clenched too. A lot of the physicalization was lack of posture, but with the lack of posture in his mouth; in the words, it escapes his mouth.

Question: What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

Heath Ledger: Well, the challenging thing for me I think was in preproduction, figuring out what to do with so little time. I guess the aging process was probably what I thought was one of the important aspects, because without that, the whole story goes up shit creek without a paddle. And also, it had to be so subtle the aging process. Physically aging between 18 and 40 is fairly slim and subtle, and also for Ennis, the character I was playing; he didn't really evolve emotionally either within that age at the time. I used my accent to voice the tone of the voice at the beginning of the film when he's younger; it's pitched a little higher and it's a little more useful and energetic and enthusiastic and it slowly kinda gets deeper and deeper and raspier and more fixed and tighter towards the end. I thought that was just a subtle vehicle I could use to age. The easiest thing I found was being a ranch-hand, being a horse backup. I can ride backwards if I had to. I'm very comfortable with horses. I love horses and I have grown up around farm-hands and even if I was born in Perth, Western Australia, there's something very universal about anyone who's on horseback night and day. There's a universal trait. Even physically, when you are on horseback night and day, when you get off that horse, you are still walking as if there's still a horse between your legs.

Question: Does this film reinstate your belief in Hollywood because for awhile there, you felt as if you weren't being challenged enough with the roles you had or were being offered?

Heath Ledger: It's definitely given me hope. The whole year was about reigniting enthusiasm for myself because I did The Brothers Grimm followed by Lords of Dogtown, then Brokeback, then Casanova, and then Candy, which is a love story between junkies; and I think before that I was really bored with the choices I made and with the movies. I was just in the industry. Everything was just boring and it was starting to get stale and I was getting a plateau of nothing. This was my year to handpick things for the first time. I really wanted to put together a collection of quality work.

Question: Was that "Monster's Ball" that changed it all for you?

Heath Ledger: "Monster's Ball" was the first time I felt like I had to something about it; and what I had to do was essentially nothing. At the time, I just boiled it down, take off the shine, and destroy it a little bit.

Question: Who was the biggest supporter and biggest detractor in you playing this role in regards to the gay aspects?

Heath Ledger: No one was trying to detract me from it. Everyone was very supportive of it. I understand everyone else or people found it risky. I hate to call it "daring" or "brave"; firefighters are daring and brave. I'm acting. I didn't get hurt and I'm not mentally wounded from this experience.

Question: In looking back at the ranch-handlers you grew up with, do you think any of them might have been gay?

Heath Ledger: No, but I have a very good friend of mine, who's actually an uncle of mine. I didn't base this character off him, but he's gay. He's always struggled with his sexuality. He's like 60 now but back when he was younger, his dad kicked him of the Perth and said to him, "Go to the hospital and get fixed or you're not coming back to the family." My uncle said, "I can't get fixed" and his dad said to don't come back and he left and hasn't been back since then, but he's also the most masculine person I know. He's the head of arm wrestling federation and he goes to cage fighting. So that was definitely a good example of the level of masculinity, the range of masculinity; there relationships that occur with him. It's purely masculine and it was important for Ennis to be that.

Question: Did you have any connection to Ned Kelly, the Australian outlaw on horseback that you portrayed and this particular sexual outlaw that you in this film?

Heath Ledger: I guess not. Ned Kelly was extremely expressive; physically, violently. He dictates this incredibly expressive manner about his cause and he was very in touch with what he was fighting against; whereas Ennis was very unaware about the battle within him. I knew the battle within so I tried to do the investigation and I chose to ask the questions about him but he has never asked these questions and that's part of his problem. He's unaware of this battle within him and so essentially as an actor, once I gathered all this information about him, I had to then perform as Ennis and forget the information I learned and essentially think less.

Question: To follow up on that question, did you model your voice in the film on any other performance you may have seen?

Heath Ledger: For one, it was something I remembered about Australian ranch-hands; they always liked talking like this. (Changes his voice) But I think it in Australia, it's just to keep flies out of your mouth, but it was something very clenched about it. When I found this accent, I had to find a regional accent and my mouth was moving everywhere when I got it, but that was part of physicalizing his battle and it was an extension of what was within him. I just tried to that and as many as those aspects as possible.

Question: Ennis is not an outwardly emotional character. Can you talk about the different feelings he had with Jake's character, Michelle's, and even Linda Cardinelli's character?

Heath Ledger: I guess the quick answer to that is that I think most of the emotions or love within Ennis is purely potential. It's within him and he never really expresses. That's the tragedy of this story and that's the tragedy of each one of those love affairs. I think the only time you get to see this potential or slither of how he could express is when he's with his children; because his children are the one area where he feels safe and allowed to love the way he naturally feels he can love them. With his wife, his love is slightly manufactured. It's more traditional and it's him conforming, but it's not true love. His love for Jack is true in a passionate love, but he hates the way he loves and it's forbidden. Essentially, he's like a homophobic male in love with another man. He's very fixed in his ways and he's left lingering in between the role.

Question: Did this film change your idea of the American western at all or the western hero?

Heath Ledger: Not at all. I'm not a big fan of western movies and I really don't like cowboy-indian movies. I have never watched them. We're borrowing this iconic figure because it is so tightly connected to masculinity and the surroundings and that was the point; that loves transcends all and all its environment.

Question: How did you prepare on an emotional level for the big tent scene?

Heath Ledger: The way we looked it and the way it is is that there are not actually love scenes for the sake of doing a love scene. There are actually stories within each of those moments. The first moment for Ennis was very poignant because it had to be rough; it had to be fighting. He was almost ready to punch him. Once that all settled it had to be this innate passionate adrenaline. It just takes over him. There's another moment in the tent where it was really important to show a glimpse of Ennis in a vulnerable state. It is true intimate love they have for each other. It has to set up the tragedy for the story. It set up the freedom of Brokeback Mountain.

Question: Did you have to reshoot those scenes a lot to get it right?

Heath Ledger: I don't know. I think Ang has been telling everyone that we did 13 takes. I don't even know which scene he's talking about, but I generally haven't taken notes of how many takes for any scene. It doesn't seem like we did a lot of takes.

Question: Do you think Ennis could be happy with Jake's character, Jack?

Heath Ledger: I don't know. Maybe externally, he would have been seen happier because he was never confronted or tested in any way and he could have continued to live in denial. I'm sure inside he would have be hallow and rusty and alone. I think he was ultimately internally happier for having the experience because in his life he experienced true love.

Question: What did you take the role when others in the past had said no?

Heath Ledger: It was a beautiful story. It was a story that hadn't made it on the screen; which is rare to come upon a script so beautifully well written and hadn't been told before. It was very exciting to tell a new story. Ang lee is attached to it. I don't think I would have done it if it were in anyone else's hands. He was the perfect director for it and that's really. I looked at it as a wonderful opportunity to get in the head of this character. I never saw it as a huge risk that everyone else was seeing. It's all relative to the person you are and how relaxed you are with people and the people around you. I was very happy to tell a story that hadn't been told and I thought it should have been told.

Question: How was working with Jake?

Heath Ledger: Wonderful. I couldn't have asked for a better person. He comes from a beautiful family and he's a wonderful actor.

Question: What kind of mindset does a straight person need to be in to see this film?

Heath Ledger: Just a regular straight male. Anyone who fears this... they are not going to come out of the movie and suddenly... it's not a disease. It's not contagious. They should understand that it's a story of pure love. They don't have to be a hero. They don't have to be brave like us. I guess a little bit of maturity is being asked for because society has been immature in the past. That's about it.

Question: Is there any particular Ang Lee movie that made you do this?

Heath Ledger: I think all of them as a whole because he's so diverse. He's got such an attention to detail for different forms of life and society; I knew he would be able to capture this world. He's a smart man.

Question: The first seven minutes of the film is totally silent. When you are working with an auteur like Ang Lee, what did he tell you to get that great shot where you are sitting out there waiting for Randy Quaid to show? How was setup built?

Heath Ledger: It's an interesting example because the way Ang directs, I have separated the experience of the two. Like when he's in preproduction, he's very thorough and voices his opinion and observations to you that he has on your character and the story and loads you up with all this information. You go away and digest it and process it and come out with your character; and during that process we don't sit around as a cast in a room roundtable and openly discuss everyone's plan. His plan as a director is very private. He'll take us to the side and give me little bits of information and then take Jake aside and do the same thing. Essentially, when we are outside the office and our characters are looking at each other and thinking, "Who's he" and "What's he been told", that's when our character meet on film. Ang set it up as situations that capture as oppose to recreate.

Question: What's next for you?

Heath Ledger: Nothing really, just raising my daughter and that's enough work and has been most enjoyable.

Question: How would you feel if you got an Oscar nomination for your performance?

Heath Ledger: I think it's a great honor to be in a movie that's been well received. The only time it's presented to me; the idea of a thought is like today. Michelle and I definitely don't really sit around worried about it. It's also a little surreal; kind of a strange concept to me that one performance or one movie can be compared or competed against another and that's what this strange little season does. Each performance and each movie is running a different race. It's a different sport. We all train for different sports and we all start from different points. There is no one finished line at the end. It's an award season of opinions, so it's full of false sense of success and failure.

Question: If you win, would you say something profound? Like Tom Hanks did for his win in "Philadelphia".

Heath Ledger: No. I'm not going to pretend to be some great wise person. I'm just a kid from Perth who's acting. I'll probably thank my mom.

Question: Did Jake put on weight for the aging process? On screen, it seemed like you didn't and he did.

Heath Ledger: Going into the movie, Ang really wanted me to build up. He wanted me to get bigger and stronger and I was trying to convince him that masculinity come from maturity and I thought that Ennis was a poor dirt ranch-hand. He doesn't go to the gym and he certainly doesn't eat big meals. In fact, when you get older, you get thinner. I thought he would look more desolate and lonely than someone would be in a Calvin Klein commercial.

A sad, melancholy ache pervades Brokeback Mountain, Ang Lee's haunting, moving film that, like his other movies, explores societal constraints and the passions that lurk underneath. This time, however, instead of taking on ancient China, 19th-century England, or '70s suburbia, Lee uses the tableau of the American West in the early '60s to show how two lovers are bound by their expected roles, how they rebel against them, and the repercussions for each of doing so--but the romance here is between two men. Ennis Del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) are two itinerant ranchers looking for work in Wyoming when they meet and embark on a summer sheepherding job in the shadow of titular Brokeback Mountain. The taciturn Ennis, uncommunicative in the extreme, finds himself opening up around the gregarious Jack, and the two form a bond that surprisingly catches fire one cold night out in the wilderness. Separating at the end of the summer, each goes on to marry and have children, but a reunion years later proves that, if anything, their passion for each other has grown significantly. And while Jack harbors dreams of a life together, the tight-lipped Ennis is unable to bring himself to even consider something so revolutionary.

Its open, unforced depiction of love between two men made Brokeback an instant cultural touchstone, for both good and bad, as it was tagged derisively as the "gay cowboy movie," but also heralded as a breakthrough for mainstream cinema. Amidst all the hoopla of various agendas, though, was a quiet, heartbreaking love story that was both of its time and universal--it was the quintessential tale of star-crossed lovers, but grounded in an ever-changing America that promised both hope and despair. Adapted by Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana from Annie Proulx's short story, the movie echoes the sparse bleakness of McMurtry's The Last Picture Show with its fading of the once-glorious West; but with Lee at the helm, it also resembles The Ice Storm, as it showed the ripple effects of a singular event over a number of people. As always, Lee's work with actors is unparalleled, as he elicits graceful, nuanced performances from Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway as the wives affected overtly and subliminally by their husbands' affair, and Gyllenhaal brings surprising dimensions to a character that could have easily just been a puppy dog of a boy. It's Ledger, however, who's the breakthrough in the film, and his portrait of an emotionally repressed man both undone and liberated by his feelings is mesmerizing and devastating. Spare in style but rich with emotion, Brokeback Mountain earns its place as a classic modern love story.


Interview: George Clooney "Syriana"

Interview: George Clooney
Posted: Thursday, November 24th 2005 1:16PM
Author: Garth Franklin
Location: New York, NY

Right before Matt Damon came in to talk with the press about his new political drama, "Syriana," written and directed by Stephen Gaghan ("Traffic"), his co-star George Clooney enters the room. The older actor then proceeds to give his friend a hug, and then blatantly gives one of his ass cheeks a good squeeze. The always fun and playful Clooney is everywhere these days and this year has become more than ever known for his politics and his work becoming intertwined.

Such is the case with "Syriana," in which he plays a near-retired CIA agent named Bob Barnes who sets out to assassinate Prince Nasir (Alexander Siddig) as an undercover mission. But after a strange set of occurrences, Bob finds himself questioning the work he has done for the CIA his entire life - and becomes the target of much blame by the agency. As he tries to find the reasons for this seeming betrayal, he discovers a much bigger conspiracy involving the United States' relationship with the oil industry. He's already made headlines being very vocal about the 35 pounds he gained for the role and a spinal injury he scored as a result of a fight sequence gone wrong.

Clooney: By the way, Matt Damon has a very nice ass.

Question: Is it true?

Clooney: Well, you know, he's hot. Were you gentle with him? Because it's been a tough week.

Question: Why?

Clooney: He didn't get...

Question: Sexiest man alive of the year?

Clooney: He ran a very strong campaign.

Question: What about you?

Clooney: I've surrendered my crown. I felt that in the event that Matthew [McConaughey] can't serve, for any occasion, Brad [Pitt] and I are willing to take up the sash.

Question: Do you have hanging in your house a big photo of the cover that says "Sexiest Man Alive"?

Clooney: It's actually directly over my bed!

Question: Do you get discounts when you're sexiest man of the year?

Clooney: Yeah, you get People Magazine at cost...

Question: So if you get nominated for an Oscar for "Syriana," would it make all the physical strain on this movie worth it?

Clooney: Let's put this one to rest: I've never been there to the Oscars. I don't know anything about them. I really don't. It's not, for me, something that I even understand or look at or talk about. I'm also uncomfortable with the idea of people comparing art. For instance, I look at David Strathairn and I don't know another actor in the world that could have played that part. He did it beautifully. I look at Phillip Seymour Hoffman and I don't know another actor that could have played that part. I don't know how you compare those two guys.

Question: But don't you think it would be a personal victory for you after all those years of struggling?

Clooney: Do you know what the truth is? We then take away the actual victories that I'm having which is that "Good Night, and Good Luck" is making money and is the best reviewed film of the year. We're really excited at the idea that it's part of a broadcast discussion. It ends up on Brian Williams' news and they start talking about issues. It's fun to have Les Moonves, who's a good friend of mine, cornered into answering tougher questions. He's a friend of mine and he enjoys it. I win for that. So I feel like it's been a great time.

Same thing with this film. It's being reviewed very well and we've been having a really enjoyable time in the idea of the debates being raised. To me, that's the issues.

Question: We don't see you hurting your back in the film?

Clooney: They cut it out.

Question: Is it because it's going to become part of some lawsuit.

Clooney: No. What, I'd sue myself? I want to sue me! You know what I'm really angry at? I sold it to Britney Spears. [laughs]. You don't see the full kick over when the desk falls over. But it was my fault. It was during the punch scene and I'm taped to the chair, which was my idea; not my brightest. But it was the right idea and then he pretended to hit me, and he did everything right, and so I threw myself over the side and that's where I cracked the side of my head and tore everything.

Question: Are you feeling healthy?

Clooney: I've been better. But it's a slow process.

Question: Have you had any operations?

Clooney: I've had just two operations. I've done these things called blood patches where they shoot blood into your spine. That's fun.

Question: What did you actually do? What is hurt?

Clooney: I tore my dura which is a cranial spinal fluid leak. Mostly it just hurts. It's not dangerous so much but it doesn't feel good. It makes your head hurt. It doesn't hurt your back at all but your head hurts a lot because your brain thinks, which I've been saying for years. But maybe it's not that active.

Question: Do you have any mobility? Like playing basketball?

Clooney: I play a little basketball which is dumb but I miss it. I can't take it to the rack anymore, which is a little frustrating to me because I have no outside shot, so I have no game anymore. I can still do some things. I can't ride motorcycles which I really like and always done. So that's slowed me down a little.

Question: Matt said that when you were gaining this weight, you were a different person. You were constantly depressed. You weren't grabbing his ass...

Clooney: Well he was lonely. He needed someone to cuddle in Dubais which, you know, doesn't go over so well in the Middle East.

Question: But was it depressing?

Clooney: Yeah, it was depressing. I was having a bad year in real life. A lot of bad things were going on in tough times. It wasn't hard to be depressed. I thought it was a good space to stay in while I was doing this film because the character of Bob feels like he's been deserted and betrayed all along. I wanted to fit into the wallpaper and not be noticed at all. That's what I'm most proud of.

Question: Why did you come up with this idea? To gain 40 pounds?

Clooney: Well it started as I was going to play Bob Baer. Bob had a beard and was heavier. Then, he found out I was playing him and he got in shape. When we decided it wasn't going to be Bob Baer, that it was going to be a different character, we felt as if this guy has to be somebody that isn't instantly recognizable, and I'm instantly recognizable, so we wanted to change it. I'm sort of happy at the idea that people when they first see me in the movie, or when they first see the poster don't even know it's me. To me, that makes me proud.

Question: How did you lose the weight?

Clooney: I did this unique thing called "stop eating." Swell up like a tick was what I did. It's not as easy because I'm physically not able to do so much.

Question: What went through your head when you saw yourself in the mirror?

Clooney: Because there were so many issues going on and I had done it to myself, that didn't bother me at all. I was less comfortable with the idea that I was a jock, and I missed playing basketball and doing the things I really enjoy.

Question: Are you surprised that a major studio is supporting this film financially? It's almost an anti-America movie...

Clooney: I don't think it's an anti-American movie. I think it's a pro-American film. It should be what we make. The whole idea of America was based on descent and raising questions. It's why we left King George. It's your right or duty to question and ask questions. I don't think we provide any answers, we just ask a lot of questions. But was I surprised? I couldn't believe it. It wasn't like, "Hey, great, let's go do this." They didn't jump on board and go "Fantastic!" I've been with them for fifteen years and I was going to grow a beard and gain 35 pounds and go "Great! I'm thrilled!" But I will say this: It went surprisingly smooth for them. I think one of the big surprises for anyone is that you see a film like this coming from a studio. I think that's a good thing. Studios used to make films like "Harold and Maude" and things like that.

Question: Do you have a favorite film of all time?

Clooney: Favorite film of all time? That's a tough one. It's a dual. It's two because they go hand in hand which is "Fail Safe" and "Dr. Strangelove." I think they're brilliant films and they say a lot. They talk about issues of nuclear proliferation and it's also they're so brilliantly made. One of them is hysterically funny and the other is terrifying. I just think they're beautifully made films.

Question: Has there been one this year that has blown you away?

Clooney: I haven't seen everything yet. Of the films I've seen recently, I really liked "Capote." I thought he did a great job with that. I haven't seen "Walk the Line" yet, I hear that's really good.

Question: What did you like about "Capote" in particular?

Clooney: What I liked about it strangely was what we did in "Good Night and Good Luck" which was it wasn't a straight biopic. It's taking a very specific moment in someone's life and talking about that, which I think is an interesting and good way of doing it. I think most people's entire lives aren't all that fascinating. It's usually two years in your life that you've done anything fascinating. So I thought that was good.

Question: Speaking of politics and Hollywood, you were big fans of Trey Parker and Matt Stone and they really poked fun of you and celebrities in general in "Team America." What did you think about that?

Clooney: I'm a big kid. If I'm going to speak about things, or talk about things, or raise issues, or ask questions, or ask that we raise questions before we start a war, and get put on the cover of a magazine and be called a traitor, if that's going to happen - I know it's going to happen. I'm a grown-up. I could sit in my house in Italy and drink wine and have a good time. I can stick my neck out a little bit and get slapped a little bit and I have to take it. The thing about demanding freedom of speech and this is a problem that happens with some actors who have been on the side of the aisle that I'm on, which is you're going to demand the right of freedom of speech, which you should and have every right to, you can't say, "Don't say bad things about me." You have to take your hits. So they're my friends. Remember, I helped get their show on the air. They're friends of mine. They came at me, so fair enough.

Question: Is "South Park" your favorite show?

Clooney: No, no. That's not true. My favorite show is Jon Stewart. He still kills me. He still makes me laugh. He did a bit the other night and he showed the suicide bomber couple that went and blew up the wedding and the lady's bomb didn't go off. And Jon Stewart shows her, of course, in jail and says that she can rest assured that her husband is up in heaven banging 70 virgins. It's just so good and he's so smart.

Question: Now that Matt's engaged, have you given him any advice?

Clooney: Don't you think I should be the one passing him advice? "Matt, here's what you have to do." Because I've been engaged so often. I've given him no advice. We like her, she's a nice girl so that's a good thing.

You know, someone started a story that Brad was getting married at my house. We tried to spread the rumor for a minute. I wanted to get everyone to send helicopters to my house and dress a bunch of kids in tuxedos and have like a kids wedding there. Everyone would climb over and be like, "Get in closer!" But everybody actually figured out it was a made-up story. It was pretty funny.

Question: We hear you're joining "Desperate Housewives"?

Clooney: I'm joining "Desperate Housewives"? Well, you know, if this film flops, I may. I may have to.

Question: For the kids at Nickelodeon, if you could any pet in the world, what would you be?

Clooney: I'd like to be a shi-tzu because I want to hear those kids say "shi-tzu".

Syriana is an oil-based soap opera set against the world of global oil cartels. It is to the oil industry as Traffic was to the drug trade (no surprise, since writer/director Stephen Gaghan wrote the screenplay to Traffic): a sprawling attempt to portray the vast political, business, social, and personal implications of a societal addiction, in this case, oil. A major merger between two of the world’s largest oil companies reveals ethical dilemmas for the lawyer charged with making the deal (Jeffrey Wright), and major global implications beyond the obvious; a CIA operative (George Clooney) discovers the truth about his work, and the people he works for; a young oil broker (Matt Damon) encounters personal tragedy, then partners with an idealistic Gulf prince (Alexander Siddig) attempting to build a new economy for his people, only to find he’s opposed by powers far beyond his control. Meanwhile, disenfranchised Pakistani youths are lured into terrorism by a radical Islamic cleric. And that’s just the start. As in Traffic, in one way or another all of the characters’ fates are tied to each other, whether they realize it or not, though the connections are sometimes tenuous. While Syriana is basically a good film with timely resonance, it can’t quite seem to measure up to Gaghan’s ambitious vision and it very nearly collapses under the weight of its many storylines. Fortunately they are resolved skillfully enough to keep the film from going under in the end. To some viewers, Syriana will seem like an unfocused and over-loaded film that goes, all at once, everywhere and nowhere. Others will find it to be an important work earnestly exploring major issues. In either case, it’s a film that deserves to be taken seriously, and it’s likely to be one that will be talked about for a long time to come.


Interview: Ziyi Zhang "Memoirs of a Geisha"

Interview: Ziyi Zhang
"Memoirs of a Geisha"
Posted: Wednesday, November 23rd 2005 11:59PM
Author: Paul Fischer
Location: New York City, NY

Ziyi Zhang has come a long way since our first encounter a few years back while promoting her villainous turn in Rush Hour 2. The epitome of gracious elegance and donned in a Marc Jacobs black velvet jacket, over a black silk camisole with jeans, Zhang speaks a more hesitant English this time around compared to her complete lack of the language demonstrated during the Rush Hour press junket. " I've been learning English very hard", Zhang acknowledges quietly. "Actually, I'm doing a Chinese movie right now in Beijing and just every day I try to find five hours to study outside at the hotel as I just try to learn more" the beautiful actress concedes, smilingly.

In a New York hotel room, the actress is here to promote her starring role in the Rob Marshall-directed screen adaptation of the best-selling novel, Memoirs of a Geisha in which she assumes the title role of a young woman's final transformation from impoverished servant to elegant geisha in 1930s Japan. Zhang admits that her toughest challenge to play the distinctively Japanese character was "the language because English is my second language and when I got the news that I got this role, I wasn't sure I could do that," Zhang concedes. "Because a long time ago, some friend from the film business who is Chinese, told me that it's impossible to act in a second language because that would be a barrier as you just cannot get into your character deeply enough. But after filming this movie, I have to say that's not true as I felt that I could get into Sayuri's mind. What the person said to me made me really push the work extra hard and I think I should thank him if my efforts show in my performance" Zhang explains.

As to getting into the mindset of such a complex and culturally distinctive character from herself, the actress says that her biggest challenge was having to "really understand what you are saying, which is why I really think Rob did a great job. He made some very intensive training for us, and so about two months before we started shooting, we had to learn how to walk, bow and all the small, subtle gestures in order to become a convincing geisha, not to mention having a very intensive dialect class."

Zhang also researched geishas and disagrees with the criticism that the film romanticizes the life of the geisha. "I think geisha are artists as well as very strong and independent" she maintains. "Of course they live in a very special world and have a very strict code of conduct. For instance, if they loved somebody, they had to hide their true feelings. I think, if it were me, I couldn't do that, I'd just tell the person. I couldn't wait for ten years!" she adds laughingly. "They are very brave and not at all like servants, but very well respected in Japan."

Zhang specifically describes her character in 'Memoirs' as someone who "at the end, became the greatest geisha in the Hanamachi because she had a very difficult childhood, was psychologically and physically abused by the people who took her and she had a very tough start. But, because of The Chairman, who showed her kindness, from that very small act, she found strength to survive and, for the rest of her life, became very determined and so tried to find that same kindness again. In the film I had many chances to cry aloud but, for who she is, she always held back and didn't like to show people her sadness, which is typical of the Japanese. For Sayuri, because of who she is, she's internally very strong." Asked if Zhang could relate to her in any way, the actress pauses. "Yeah. Last week I watched the movie in L.A. and, at the end, I cried. I just couldn't stop and I was so embarrassed. My agent and my manager were all there and I just had a runny nose and tears. I was just like the audience and felt like Sayuri sitting there watching her whole life, so finally, I could cry for her."

Zhang has evolved as one of China's biggest stars despite beginning her artistic life as a dancer, she quietly recalls. "When I was 11 years old, I went to the Beijing Dance Academy and had six years training for traditional Chinese dance. When I was 17, I had to decide to continue the dance or go to another college and, for me, I just felt I couldn't see the future for myself because I have to say that, in my school, I wasn't a good dancer", she recalls smilingly. "In my school I was in the middle so I think I couldn't become a very good dancer so maybe I'd try to learn something else. Some friends said 'why don't you try to go to the Central Drama Academy, which is a very good acting school?" The rest, as they say, is history. Though making a name for herself as an action star, Zhang is happy to cut down on the action. "Actually I'm quite happy with what I'm doing now and I like tragedies, and dramas as opposed to action. For me, it's much easier physically but I think I still have the ability to do action movies and I guess I don't mind doing both. If I have a good script for an action movie, I would love to do that." Zhang admits to being surprised by her attained level of success. "I've never felt that one day I could become an actress, because my only dream was to become a kindergarten teacher. When I was at the college in my second year, I was so lucky, in that Zhang Yimou discovered me and I did my first movie. The next year, I did 'Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon' and suddenly I became an actress with a lot of people taking an interest in me. I think I will be always grateful to those great directors who helped me before, since I think today I have results because of those great directors."

Zhang then laughs when asked if the Chinese media thinks she has sold out making American films. "If they like me, they're happy for me, but If they don't then they don't." Zhang has played many a tortured character throughout her career and finally yearns for a change. " I would love to try a princess. I really love 'Roman Holiday' and Audrey Hepburn, because she's so sweet and elegant. I love that movie because I had thought if I could make the same story, I would love to change the ending. The end would be somehow they get together, she could do something different and run away with the guy." Ah so Zhang is a romantic at heart, it seems. "Oh yes, I am very romantic."

A Cinderella story set in a mysterious and exotic world, this stunning romantic epic shows how a house servant blossoms, against all odds, to become the most captivating geisha of her day.

"... a visually stunning adaptation of Arthur Golden's best-selling novel." (Barry Caine, OAKLAND TRIBUNE) The director of Chicago, Rob Marshall, transports us into a mysterious and exotic world that casts a potent spell. A Cinderella story like no other, MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA stars Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Michelle Yeoh and Gong Li. "Gorgeously photographed, meticulously directed and hypnotically acted. MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA is luxurious, ethereal and intoxicating. It will leave you breathless." (Rex Reed, NEW YORK OBSERVER)


Interview: Taye Diggs and Anthony Rapp "Rent"

Interview: Taye Diggs and Anthony Rapp
Posted: Tuesday, November 22nd 2005 6:56PM
Author: Paul Fischer
Location: New York, NY

A little over a year ago the musical Rent reinvigorated Broadway and helped to redefine the essence of the musical theatre. Now, director Chris Columbus brings the play to the screen making it even more relevant to today's moviegoers and takes a risk by casting most of the original show's leads. At the time, Taye Diggs and Anthony Rapp were unknown, fledgling actors on the way to critical acclaim. Today some are better known than others with Diggs best known amongst the original stage cast. The pair reflected on their respective memories and analysis of the Rent phenomenon to Paul Fischer in New York.

Question: What's the key difference for you between the play and the film?

Rapp: The key difference is that you can get close in on the charactersin a way that you simply can't on stage. The use of close-ups, reaction shots, there's an incredible new level of intimacy into the actual lives of the characters. The play, I think that's partly why so many people see it over and over again. As you get more and more familiar with it it keeps revealing itself, but in film it's right there. There's no question in anyone's mind about the nature of the relationships or the plot points, which sometimes when people saw the play they were a little confused by things or didn't quite get everything, but they were still so shaken or moved by it because it was so intense. What's different are the technical aspects of it. On stage technically you have to project out to an audience. On film you just have to allow the camera to record. Technically, there are differences. Other than that, in both mediums you're telling a story or in a scene with another person you're expressing something from your core to another human being. All of the rest of that is more or less the same, and then it just becomes a matter of levels of expression of it, degrees of intensity.

Question: What about the tango scene?

Rapp: In the script I thought it was really smart and interesting and fun, and I was curious about how it was all going to turn out. It required a lot of rigorous rehearsal with Tracy, and I couldn't have had a better partner. We both are not great dancers, and we both needed a lot of rehearsal. Taye's a real dancer, he's like a gorgeous dancer. He wouldn't have needed nearly the rehearsal that we did.

Question: (question about doing vocals)

Rapp: We prerecorded everything because logistically it's almost impossible to do, especially with rock 'n' roll music. They could do it in "Hedwig" because John Cameron Mitchell is in a band so all the instruments are feeding live and it's not the same kind of ambiance going on in the rest of the room, whereas we're on the street. It would be nearly impossible to record our vocals live and hear and feel the music. We had an incredible experience in the studio where we could take time in a way that we couldn't with the original Broadway cast for budgetary reasons. And there's this thing called comping, which I never learned before, where you do six takes of a song and they literally take a word or a line. That's kind of cool to sit in the studio with Chris (Columbus) and our producer and in a way you're crafting your performance, the performance that's going to be on film, you're really choosing with them what it's going to be.

Diggs: The same way they do with scenes, where they take the editing and cuts and what not, so it's very interesting.

Question: When they said they wanted the original cast, did you think that was just lip service?

Diggs: There had been talk about a film ever since we began doing the play. Personally, I never thought that they would go - because at the time none of us had any film experience so none of us had any draw.

Rapp: Speak for yourself.

Diggs: You're actually right. I thought it was all lip service. The closest we came was Spike Lee, and I remember he had a meeting and he made a whole big deal because he met with all the original cast members, but it was made known to us that he didn't have any real intentions of casting.

Rapp: And then literally on the cusp of it happening they couldn't agree on a budget and then the rug got pulled out.

Diggs: We heard through the grapevine that there were names like Justin Timberlake.

Rapp: I didn't feel it was lip service at all. The meeting I had with them, right away within 10 seconds, I mean I was knocking on wood and crossing my fingers, but I felt like it was going to happen.

Question: Do you feel like your villain is humanized in the film?

Diggs: That's one of the positives of being able to use film. One of the main differences is that it's much more intimate so you're just able to see all these characters far more closely than you did on stage. I think you're just able to zone in and hone in on specific characters at specific times, and it allows you to see more of them and the different aspects that they possess, the subtleties.

Question: (about Jonathan Larson's passing away)

Rapp: We had a dress rehearsal, and it was an incredible dress rehearsal, which isn't always the case, sometimes they're disastrous, but this was literally like screaming, standing ovation, and Jonathan was crowded around by scores of people after the show wanting to talk to him. That already was something very unusual and special. There was a New York Times reporter there that night who was just going to be reporting on "La Boheme," but he wound up being so taken by the piece that he wound up then having an interview with Jonathan. So all of these, you had a sense in the air that this was going to turn out well. For me, having known him for over a year, I was like very proud of him. I kind of wanted to talk to him after the show but I couldn't because of all that going on, so I was like, oh, I'll see him tomorrow. And then the next morning I woke up and there was a message on my voicemail from the artistic director that sounded very grave. I was like, did somebody get fired?

Diggs: That's what we all thought. We all thought that the show was going to be canceled or that we all were getting fired, because they told us to all come to the theater.

Rapp: Before I had a chance to call anyone else my agent called me and told me that she knew the news that Jonathan had died because they were in the same office. I mean, it was incredibly shocking. Weirdly, it all made some sort of cosmic sense, that he had poured his whole being into the show and there it was, that that was the point of his life. That's what we said as a way to comfort ourselves. And then we gathered at the theater, and I don't know if Taye remembers this but there was a moment when we were sitting on stage and we didn't know what to do, we were sitting silently, and Tim Wild, the original music director, suddenly starting sobbing, like galvanized sobs, and Taye just put his hand on his shoulder. Those were the kind of moments, just being there for each other. And then the question became what do we do tonight? That night was our first preview. It became pretty clear, Michael Grief and I, Jen Nicola were all talking. We couldn't keep the theater silent, that became pretty clear. We didn't want to do nothing. We wanted to do a sing-through of the show at least so it would be filled with his songs and his music. We invited his friends and family and they came and it was a packed house. Of course, everybody was in shock. We were sitting at tables like this and sort of singing the show, and lo and behold, we did this huge rocking number and it got a huge ovation, and the laughs got laughs. All the joy that's in the piece was just as present as it had ever been.

Diggs: I'll never forget. We all started singing at a long table just like this, and then slowly, it started with Daphne singing "Out Tonight." Ah geez.....can you finish? Because it always gets me really emotional.

Rapp: We were singing but we couldn't sing anymore, so she got up and just started dancing on the top of the table. And the Tango Maureen, we kind of got up and did a little short version of it. By La Vie Boheme we were all up on the table just doing the number. There was just no denying that that joy and passion was just as present that night in the face of this incredible sorrow as it had ever been. And then in Act II, because it's much simpler, we decided to get up and do it. We came out and did the lines from Seasons of Love, and that was when ... you know, when you sing your throat has to be open and when you cry your throat closes up. So that was the first occasion we had to really learn how to sing when your throat is closing up.

Diggs: We lost our voices.

Rapp: But then Gwen Stewart who was playing the soloist somehow sang through that whole thing, and then Jesse Martin in the I'll Cover You reprise. When we all couldn't make a sound, he sang through it. Having that experience of no matter what getting through it for their sake, for our sake, and then at the end of the night when we were done singing the show there was the most absolute silence I've ever experienced, to have hundreds of people singing in total, complete silence, not moving a muscle, and then finally someone said, "Thank you, Jonathan Larson," and that was kind of like the release, and then people moved. It was an unforgettable night, and it was the beginning of the rest of it. And then it became a task of figuring out to finish the piece that was unfinished. We did the best we could under the circumstances, and then with the film we've gotten to refine it even more and clarify things.

Question: With the film do you now end a chapter in your life?

Rapp: Yeah, the movie's forever. We've said it before, but it's a miracle we got asked to do it, and to do in the circumstances we got to do it with so many of our friends and with a director who passionately cared about it. There's nothing calculated about any of the decisions that went into making this movie. It was I think on Chris's part an act of courage. I know people will be skeptical, we were skeptical, with Chris's track record would this be material that he could tackle. From moment one of meeting with him he said, "This is going to be the most important film I'm ever going to make" and I'm like hmmm. I don't think people just go around saying that kind of thing.

Question: Why do you think the film will resonate for contemporary audiences in the same way that the play did?

Rapp: I just think that the themes are timeless, and that any time when you're dealing with the larger questions of what it means to be alive and what it means to be a part of a community and what you do in the face of struggle and loss and love, I think those are questions that anyone can relate to. In today's very divided political climate I think any piece that presents a real tapestry of human experience in the way that "Rent" does can only forward the conversation instead of splitting people apart.

Diggs: And simply put, you know, good is good. Why are people today still buying Ray Charles, not to compare us to these amazing singers, but something can be timeless, and if it's quality it stands up throughout time, and I think this is definitely, to say the least, quality.

Question: Was there any concern when the first one of you was cast that this might end your marriage?

Diggs: (laughs) Noooo. I remember thinking, it was weird, but before I knew what Chris was going to do with it it was a issue of.....I didn't want to sign on unless I knew that this piece was going to be in the right hands, and he gave me some indication by agreeing to use all of us. But then I read the script. I couldn't imagine speaking some of the songs that we had sung, so that freaked me out, so for a while I didn't know whether or not I was going to do it, but we had agreed that regardless it would just be good for her career because I had done a few more films and she had not. We kind of had made that agreement that it was something she should do regardless of whether I was in it or whether it was going to be good or not. But luckily, we both did it, we both stayed together.

Question: Has she done a couple of movies?

Diggs: Yeah, she's done a couple. One is called "Ask the Dust," that's Colin Farrell.

Question: When's your next one?

Diggs: My next one coming out is a movie called "Rent." I'm doing a play now and we're developing a TV show for ABC. I dipped my toes in it (TV) and the water was nice and now I'm going to come on as an executive producer and have more to say.

Question: Do you still get death threats because of your inter-racial marriage?

Diggs: Do I STILL get them? We got one. You really shouldn't believe what you read in the press.

Question: Do you think people will go see the film given that there are gay relationships in it?

Rapp: I think some people might stay away. The show has played all over the country, and it's pretty much sold out everywhere including small towns, so you never know. A friend of mine lives in Nashville, and "Rent" was there, it was a subscription series and they sent out a letter to their subscribers saying this play has this, this and this, and you can turn in your ticket and get a refund, and there were people who took them up on that offer, but then other people bought those tickets. I grew up ..... (tape turns over).....there were kids in my high school who needed to see our lives mirrored to us and we did not have much opportunity. One of the first opportunities we had was Alternative Nation on MTV. That was like a little lifeline for us, frankly. I believe in my heart that there are all kinds of those people in all of these towns. I know this anecdotally, because I read the Internet and check out what people are saying. They're literally from all over the country, and all over the world people have experienced this play.

Question: Do you feel fewer people are coming out now?

Rapp: No, they are. They never were before. There are still some high-profile people who are in the closet and they may always be, and sometimes it's a matter that their grandmother doesn't know and so they're dealing with that as much as they are anything else. If you're in the public eye you have an opportunity to make a difference. It's an opportunity that borders on responsibility. I think there's a difference between lying and keeping quiet. I do take issue with people who actively cultivate another version of their lives that's not true, but I also feel bad for them. I can't imagine that it's a very pleasant way for them to live. I know Ian McKellen talks about how much freer he feels as an actor in the years since he's come out. What you have available to yourself is yourself. If there's parts of yourself that you're hiding and you're not dealing with in yourself, to me you're bound to express things in the character. Part of the reason I always did it, I worked with Larry Kramer, and he's a very galvanizing person as you can imagine. I came out in a bio of a playbill, it wasn't like there were lots of spotlights shining on me. When "Rent" happened it was just part of my life anyway, and it was a way to do some work that I always wanted to do which was to reach out directly to young, gay people and give them some opportunity to have a mirror held up. I know that's something that's made a difference in their lives because they've told me. There have been people since - Ellen and Rosie and Nathan Lane and many, many more. I wasn't the first, but I was in the vanguard.

Question : What do you think of outing?

Rapp: I think outing is an invasion of privacy. But I do believe that if you're a political figure who's actively campaigning for the dissolution of gay rights and you're gay, I do believe that there's a possible place then to be outed as a hypocrite.

Question: What's the interaction with "Rent" fans like?

Diggs: It's exciting when someone says something. Tracy has an interesting story where she was a "Rent" head herself, and that's just been an amazing success story in itself. She auditioned for the show a bunch of times, loved the show, saw it a bunch of times, stood in a line that wrapped around the building, lost her voice and then got called back. Now she's got her face on the "Rent" movie posters. It's very exciting. What we all have to remind ourselves is that we were there once and how important and amazing it was to see people that we once looked up to. When I first met Denzel Washington or whoever it was very impressive and it really gave me a newfound energy to keep pursuing my dream, as corny as it sounds. I think it's important for all of us to remember that.

Rapp: I always used to say back in the day when there was so much hype and attention that when people came up to us they came up to us because we really touched them and had been important in their lives. It's a little different than if we had been a Spice Girl, not that there's anything wrong with being a Spice Girl, but it's different. That's more about the flash and excitement of it. Not that they weren't excited, but they were mostly coming up to say thank you for inspiring or moving them. It makes it sweeter.

Rent, the show that in 1996 gave voice to a Broadway generation, has finally become an energetic, passionate, and touching movie musical. Based loosely on Puccini's La Bohème, it focuses on the year in the life of a group of friends in New York's East Village--"bohemians" who live carefree lives of art, music, sex, and drugs. Well, carefree until Mark, an aspiring filmmaker (Anthony Rapp), and Roger, an aspiring songwriter (Adam Pascal), find out they owe a year's rent to Benny (Taye Diggs), a former friend who had promised them free residence when he married the landlord's daughter. Roger has also attracted the attention of his downstairs neighbor, Mimi (Rosario Dawson), while Mark's former girlfriend, Maureen (Idina Menzel), has found a new romance in a lawyer named Joanne (Tracie Thoms). Philosophy professor Tom (Jesse L. Martin) finds his soul mate in drag queen Angel (Wilson Jermaine Heredia). But because this is the late-'80s, the threat of AIDS is always present.

The remarkable thing about Rent the movie is that nearly 10 years after the show debuted on Broadway, six of the eight principals return in the roles they originated. They're a bit older than would be ideal for their characters, but they do have the advantage of having learned the show directly from creator Jonathan Larson (who died of an aortic aneurysm while the show was in previews), plus they started young--we're not exactly talking Sarah Brightman and Michael Crawford here. Alongside a polished performance like Rapp's--sometimes observer-commentator, sometimes participant in two of the score's showstoppers, "The Tango Maureen" and "La Vie Boheme"--the two new additions (Thoms in place of Fredi Walker, Dawson in place of the edgier Daphne Rubin-Vega) slip comfortably into the ensemble; the pivotal Dawson makes a seductive case as Mimi when she tempts Roger in the mesmerizing "Light My Candle" or burns up the stage of the Catscratch Club in "Out Tonight." Moviegoers who have an aversion to people who break into song while walking down the street probably won't have their minds changed by Rent (even if they are singing rock songs), and the gritty subject matter and lack of big-name stars make it unlikely to cross over to general audiences the way Chicago did. But fans of musicals should find "Seasons of Love" as stirring as ever, and the show's passionate admirers--the "Rentheads"--probably couldn't have wished for a more sympathetic director than Rent fan Chris Columbus, or a more faithful representation of the show they love.


Interview: Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson "Get Rich or Die Tryin'"

Interview: Curtis '50 Cent' Jackson
"Get Rich or Die Tryin'"
Posted: Tuesday, November 8th 2005 12:31PM
Author: Garth Franklin
Location: New York, NY

Born in Queens during the late '70s, Curtis Jackson famously went it alone when his single mother was found dead under mysterious circumstances before he could hit his teens. The orphaned youth was taken in by his grandparents, who provided for him but not enough that the man didn't end up amassing both a small not so honourably earned fortune and a lengthy rap sheet. The birth of his son though changed his outlook on life, and Jackson began to pursue rap seriously. He signed with JMJ, the label of Run DMC DJ Jam Master Jay and began learning his trade under the name '50 Cent'.

In "Get Rich or Die Tryin", Jackson plays the role of Marcus, a drug dealer who was shot nine times and left for dead, but resurrected to become a successful hip hop artist. A parallel with his real life? The man himself spoke about both to us in New York recently:

Question: Did this film feel like therapy for you to relive your life again?

50 Cent: It was therapeutic. There were things in my life that I hadn't put a lot of thought into. The film forces you to go back to certain places in order to make reference to the emotion, which you are supposed to display on actual screen. Some people think it should be easier to play a role based on your actual experiences but I think it might be more difficult because sure you have to research and figure out how your character would react to certain things and having yourself to make reference to; once you get yourself in that mood, there's so much of you to judge in character, when you get to that point it's difficult to get out of it and go to the next thing because it's a real experience.

Question: Although the film is a fictional story, how much of your life is in the film?

50 Cent: It's about 75% actual.

Question: Is there anything that isn't true?

50 Cent: Not really because in working with Terry Winters, I had the option to change things. What's fictional is the part where I'm so much in search for my father. I got to the end of the film early in my life and I felt like I'm supposed to be able to do that without that assistance at this point. The things that my father would have been able to help me at probably would have been when I made the decision to go out and hustle. Because he wasn't physically present to provide guidance at that point, I don't think it's necessary at this point. I'm a grown man now.

Question: There's a line in the film that's not meant to be funny when the guy who shoots your character comments, "I shot him nine times." That scene is about something that actually took place in your life and folks are laughing. How do you feel about that scene?

50 Cent: It's something to smile about once you get past it. For me, I lost something before I got shot and I found out afterwards. My grandparents had raised me Baptist and bringing up religion in any form would be a good way to run me out the room. My lifestyle wasn't coinciding with the religious beliefs I was raised, the way I was raised to believe; so after being shot nine times, having things happen to you so don't have to answer to the questions leads you to believe in the higher power at that point.

Question: How do you feel about your performance?

50 Cent: I feel great about it. I know that it's not 50 Cent up there. Me as a writer, I haven't shown many dimensions as I show in the actual film. They haven't seen me in vulnerable points. I'm usually aggressive. Hip-hop is aggressive; the nature of it, the battling and stuff like that so you don't get a chance to show those characters, that portion of you.

Question: What was harder, being naked in the love scene or being naked during the bathroom scene when you are being attacked?

50 Cent: The bathroom scene. Being naked with a woman is better than being naked with five men. (laughs) You know what I mean? We were supposed to shoot the scene above the waist and they had us put on these biker shorts that was exactly the same color as our skin and we went and got in the water and what happened is even if the fabric was matching your skin complexion, once it gets wet, it gets darker and changes. Jim was like, "This is not going to work." And he said to me, "You think you can take it off?" I was like, "You gotta be kidding me, right?" He then said, "Listen, if you do it, everybody would do it."

Question: Were you driven by money?

50 Cent: Well, when you grow up without finances, finances seem like the answer to all you problems. It's not until acquire it, that you realize that there are always obstacles in life. Your argument between you and your girlfriend could stem from bills or her deciding to buy shoes when you don't think it was the right time to do that because with finances, if you are rich, you don't have those arguments.

Question: What do you think is the biggest misconception people have about you?

50 Cent: That I have bad intentions. Just telling the truth makes me the worst person that they have seen so far. If you look at a newspaper and all the things that they show you, they choose what to show you everyday. If I could just take one week and pick the two hospitals in my neighborhood and keep track of everyone who comes in with gun shot wounds or stab wounds or any type of violent crime, you will understand why music is so aggressive.

Question: If you couldn't play the role of Marcus, what other actor do you think could have played the part and why?

50 Cent: Jamie Foxx. I've met him and I think he's cool, but I would want him to spend time with me so he understands the actual role he would be walking into.

Question: How was working with Terrence (Howard)?

50 Cent: Terrence is also incredible, but don't tell him cause his head would get big. (Laughs) He's exciting to work with. I think he has a lot of information people don't know.

Question: How do you balance being a gangster and a rapper?

50 Cent: When I'm writing my music, I'm writing from Curtis Jackson's perspective and in the film, if the dialogue says I'm a gangster, then I'm a gangster. There are points that I'm saying and doing things in the film that I wouldn't do. If not, then I wouldn't be acting at all. There's a scene in the film where I tell my grandparents that it's their fault, well, in my head, I felt like it was their fault. If I didn't have to hide the gun, then I wouldn't have misplaced it in the wrong place and brought it to school and got caught, but I would never say those things to my grandparents because I was raised to respect my elders.

Question: What about the soundtrack?

50 Cent: The soundtrack is great. I actually took concepts for the records from the scenes. I didn't just go ahead and write what I wanted to write just to make a good record. The overall mood of the film and the actual title I had for it before "Get Rich or Die Tryin" was "Hustler's Ambition" and we ended up not using it because of Terrence Howard's Hustle and Flow, and we went with the current title. There's a scene in the film with the younger version of my character is looking through a storefront at sneakers. At the point, he's window shopping. I based the song, "Window Shopping" based on that. I just didn't write it from the artist's perspective. I wrote it from 50 Cent's perspective.

In Get Rich or Die Tryin', rapper Curtis "50 Cent" Jackson presents himself as a rap superhero, encased in muscular flesh like armor, his face impassive as a mask, reaching out to destroy his enemies with his unique talent. The plot, though based on Jackson's life, is standard--a gangster breaks from his youthful life of crime to triumph as a rapper--but there's vitality in the details: Jackson's girlfriend helps him pull free the wires holding his jaw shut when he's recovered from being shot in the face; a startling, brutal fight by naked men in a prison shower. Jackson even has his comic-book moment of transformation when a razor blade is thrown into his cell, encouraging him to kill himself; instead, he uses it to carve his rhymes into the walls. Unfortunately, as an actor Jackson only has two sides, gangster hard or oddly childlike and vulnerable. This second aspect falls away from the movie as Jackson assumes power, leaving only the cold, impassive face of a tough guy. That's the fate of superheroes too--they become the mask they present to the world, which is both their dream and their fate. Terrence Howard (Crash, Hustle & Flow) livens things up as a volatile prison friend. Also featuring Bill Duke (Predator) as a raspy ganglord and Joy Bryant (Honey) as Jackson's girlfriend. Capably directed by Jim Sheridan (My Left Foot, In America).