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).