Interview: Billy Bob Thornton "School for Scoundrels"

Interview: Billy Bob Thornton
"School for Scoundrels"
Posted: Monday, September 25th 2006 1:11AM
Author: Paul Fischer
Location: Los Angeles, CA

One thing one can say about veteran Oscar nominee Billy Bob Thornton, is that he is often the antithesis of the characters he plays and that can only be a good thing. A funny, smart and savvy actor, Thornton appears to be somewhat typecast of late, playing, well there's no kind way of describing them, but they're assholes, let's face. While many are somewhat redeemable, that cannot be said for his 'Dr P', the unscrupulous character he plays with effortless glee in the Hollywood remake of the 1960 British classic, School for Scoundrels.

Thornton admits that it always remains "a challenge to play those parts, but you know it's a lot a fun because you get to do something you can't really do in real life, or talk to people that way in real life. But it's not that hard to do, because you don't really have to think about it that much. I just played the character as it was written and it was written like that so, you just go out there and do it."

In this version of Scoundrels, Jon Heder is Roger, a beleaguered New York City meter maid who is plagued by anxiety and low self-esteem. In order to overcome his feelings of inadequacy, Roger enrols in a top-secret confidence-building class taught by the suavely underhanded Dr. P. Aided by his assistant, Lesher, [Michael Clarke Duncan], Dr. P uses unorthodox, often dangerous methods, but he guarantees results: Employ his techniques and you will unleash your inner lion.

Surrounded by a band of misfit classmates, Roger's confidence grows and he makes his way to the head of the class, even finding the courage to ask out his long-time crush, Amanda [Jacinda Barrette] . But Roger quickly discovers that star students have a way of catapulting Dr. P's competitive side into high gear. Soon enough, the teacher sets out to infiltrate and destroy Roger's personal and professional life. Nothing is off limits for Dr. P, not even the object of Roger's affection. In order to show Amanda Dr. P's true colours, Roger must rally his new friends and find a way to beat the master at his own game.

While some actors may strive to find a sense of humanity in a character such as this, Thornton said there wasn't much to find. "it didn't really call for much of that, like in Bad Santa and Bad News Bears where I played guys who were kind of assholes but really led with their heart as it turns out, while this guy it's really all about the head. So this was maybe a little harder to play simply because you can't let go and ever show that part of you."

Having now played a few of these darker characters of late, Thornton says, with one more coming out [next year's comedic Mr. Woodcock], it's time they release a unique set of DVDs. "The Asshole Box Set is right there so I think I've done it," he says, laughingly. "So I think after Woodcock comes out I think that's going to be the last one that you'll see from me at least for a very long time."

Over the past 10 years, Thornton has managed to be that unique force in Hollywood: both a leading man and character actor, and that balance suits him just fine, "I can go play a leading man and then in the next movie play an extreme character and people kind of expect that from me, so I think it's good that I started out playing characters because people will always be used to it when I do it. And the other thing is, is when I play leading men they're still characters, which I think gives me a little extra something."

At 51, the challenges for the actor, he says, are to still find "a really good script with an interesting story and interesting characters. I'm not looking for any certain type of things and I'm pretty content with my career so if I can just keep it where it is. I don't really want to be more popular or more recognized, but I would just like to be able to keep it where it is for a while longer." And Thornton, an equally accomplished director, hopes to be back in the director's chair soon.

"I'd like to direct again. I have something that I want to direct but I'm just having a hard time getting it financed. The studios have really cracked down on budgets now and it's really hard to get a movie made, and the one I want to make is about a 25 to 30 million dollar movie. It doesn't seem like a lot but my story is la sort of a human drama, a very heavy story and a period piece, so you have a period drama, which is not at the top of their list for a sure thing, and so if you have one of those they want you to make it for like 12 to 15 million dollars, but if you have a big franchise superhero movie they'll give you 150 million, but anything in between they're really tough about," he says, laughingly.

11 years after the actor astonished moviegoers with his Sling Blade, Thornton continues to ride high with success. He says that he remains surprised as to how his career continues to go from strength to strength. "I get surprised sometimes, but more with the success of a movie. Like we didn't know Bad Santa was going to do so well, just like I didn't know Sling Blade was going to become this iconic movie, so I've been surprised several times. You know what's kind of funny to me is that I'm a veteran now, so when I work with these young guys like Seann William Scott or Jon Heder, they say, man, I watched your movies growing up, so I'm one of these guys that is like, Paul Newman or somebody was to me, and I just find that so amusing."

Asked to recall why he wanted to be an actor in the first place, Thornton laughs. "I don't know and I really couldn't tell you. I just always loved characters and stories, was in drama in high school and just always loved doing it." Born in Hot Springs, Arkansas, Thornton was not exactly encouraged to act by his parents. "Where I grew up they didn't know anything about actors, but my mother always sort of believed in me and believed in all that and supported everything. If my father were still alive he'd probably think it was pretty shocking."

In the meantime, Thornton is very proud of his future acting gigs, including The Astronaut Farmer, about which he remains genuinely enthused. "That's the next movie after Scoundrels and I'm really glad about that because again, that's a drama and it's in between these two comedies. So I think that's real good for me."

The actor adds that Astronaut Farmer is going to go on his list of the top four or five movies that he's ever done. It's just a beautiful movie. I really hope you like it because this is sort of my Jimmy Stewart role. We made it for 12 million dollars, but it looks like a big studio movie. Anyway, it's the Polish brothers and their movies have been darker and this is their first more accessible movie. It's a story of a guy who was in NASA and dreamed of being an astronaut and because of some family problems he had to wash out of the NASA program. Then he goes back to his farm, and since he knows how, he decides to build his own rocket, so it's his struggle as a dreamer in this country right now trying to do that against a system. It's really quite subversive in a lot of ways." Thornton says that this story of a dreamer is something that he could identify with, given his one time dreams of success in Hollywood. "There's no question about it, in that I fit in this part like a glove."

Thornton is also set to star in a film being produced by Brad Pitt's company. "It's called Peace Like a River and we don't have a start date yet for it but we're going to try to do it some time next year."


Interview: Orlando Bloom & Zoe Saldana "Haven"

Interview: Orlando Bloom & Zoe Saldana
Posted: Thursday, September 14th 2006 9:00AM
Author: Garth Franklin
Location: Los Angeles, CA

Orlando Bloom has spent a lot of time in the Caribbean in recent years, and not just filming pirate adventures. The British hunk stars in and produces "Haven", an indie thriller set in the Cayman Islands about a a disapproved of love affair in paradise which turns deadly. Shot a few years back, the film had difficulty finding distribution until the Yari Film Group, the same company behind last month's Summer sleeper hit "The Illusionist", picked it up and is now unleashing it on the world. Bloom, and his co-star love interest Zoe Saldana, sat down recently to talk about the film:

Question: How was it producing and having the film pushed back?

Bloom: That's really a question Bob Yari because he's the guy getting the movie out now. He wanted to, he set up a distributing arm for his company and he wanted to distribute the movie himself, so that's what has happened, and this is the time for the movie to be released. And I'm very, very happy because I've been talking about this movie for a long time, we all have, and I feel very happy that the movie is coming out now. I'm really proud of it, it's an honest little movie; it was a real labor of love on the part of everyone involved. It doesn't pull any punches, it is what it is.

Saldana: It's totally guerrilla filmmaking where everybody's collaboration was really the inspiration every day. I've never been on a set where, the sad part came when you had to wrap for the day. You were like, 'Let's just do one more; we can squeeze this other take.'

Question: What was it like on your off time down there?

Bloom: We had a lot of fun; we were a bunch of kids playing in the sand really with lots of cameras - not that many, but - it was only a small movie; we had a lot of fun. I certainly didn't have a lot of off time; I remember the first night of shooting, I was on the phone to my manager going, 'I've got eight scenes to shoot tomorrow.' I mean, I've never had eight scenes to shoot in a day before. The thing about a big movie is that they allow a lot of time because there's a lot of time to set up the stuff, and this was like, 'We're shooting it now.' If you're not in the moment, the moment's gone. So you gotta be there and ready to go, and I loved that. I love independent movies, I've always loved independent movies, and I've loved all the movies I've been involved in. I've had great good fortune to be involved in them, but this one came from the heart because it was really a family effort.

Question: When you read the script, what jumped out at you?

Bloom: Frankie did this film called Swallow, really emotional, beautiful film. And he brought this script to me, and he actually wanted me to play the character Fritz, which I didn't really kind of relate to. And I said, 'Look, I like the character of Shy, but he's a young Caymanian kid.' He said, 'Give me 24 hours; let me mess around with it.' He came back, and I kid you not, the shooting script that we have is the one he came up with 24 hours later, and it was done so well. It didn't feel like, "Okay, this is a star vehicle moment; we're going to get this and do this like this.' It was done with a lot of integrity and it really gave I think Shy and Andrea a heart.

Saldana: More depth.

Question: Were there any discussions on how ugly to turn you after the attack?

Bloom: I wanted to lose an eye; I wasn't allowed and I should have been because I'm the producer, right? Actually, you know why I didn't? Because there wasn't enough time; the makeup girl did - she's amazing. I work with her all the time and she did an incredible job of doing that scar, which I thought was really effective. But to lose an eye and everything else, it would have taken too long.

Saldana: We would have needed three more weeks of planning or something. I think also with the scar, it didn't matter how intense or how gory it could have gotten because he was known on the island. There were references in the script and the story where he's just a charming man, everybody loves him; whether because the girls think he's very attractive or because he's very graceful. And the same people who put him up on that pedestal, when he loses his looks, those are the same people that isolate him because they don't know how to treat him, so he doesn't really know where to go. It also goes to show where we put our priorities - that a person's heart lies in the features in his face, and if that's disfigured then what's inside.

Question: In the film, paradise turns out to be hell. Do you think Hollywood fame is like that?

Saldana: Yeah, I'm from the Caribbean, so that's what I loved about this story was how accurate Frankie was in terms of the social structure of it and how there's no middle class: you're either rich or you're poor. And the ladder to success is not really a ladder, it's a chain; once you reach a certain level, you can't go back and you can only keep going forward. And also, how accurate he was by showing where we really base our principles; it has nothing to do with the color of someone's skin, it has to do with money and their class. And I think it is very similar to Hollywood; it's a very interesting, symbolic sort of parody - it's beautiful on the outside, everybody wants to be in it, everybody wants to live in Cayman. I mean, I want to be a waitress. The average waitress makes $75-90,000 a year, and she doesn't have to report it; that's amazing. So everybody wants to be a superstar, but once you're living there, you realize you become very comfortable, very spoiled and you start abusing the resources that give you the privileges that you have.

Question: Do you want to continue producing more films?

Bloom: I really enjoyed the creative; yeah, I do. I really enjoyed the creative process of being part of this movie - from the beginning, talking to Frankie about his character with Shy and developing that and whether it was the music or the posters or the artwork or whatever, we all collaborated, we kept the balloon rolling. But I really enjoyed the process of doing that.

Saldana: Nurturing something and caring for it and watching it evolve and delivering it.

Bloom: Yeah, it made me much more emotional.


Interview: Ben Affleck "Hollywoodland"

Interview: Ben Affleck
Posted: Thursday, September 7th 2006 7:32AM
Author: Garth Franklin
Location: Los Angeles, CA

After a relatively quiet last few years, Ben Affleck comes back in a big way in the noir mystery drama "Hollywoodland". The film follows the real life scandal in 1959 when TV's Superman, actor George Reeves, apparently committed suicide.

The Oscar-winning writer has been criticised for many years as being a pretty boy actor, one who is more notable for his looks than his talent. Now at last it looks like he has proven them wrong with a performance that is receiving acclaim for all sectors. He recently sat down with us to talk about his work on the film:

Question: Kevin Smith told us that you were keeping a low profile. What will getting back in the spotlight entail?

Affleck: You see how successful I am. It's just more about [that] I didn't do some movies for a while. I wanted to sort of take a break and keep things quiet and I kind of made the decision to just do the kind of movies that I really like to be in and that I can be proud of being in and not work for money or work to be famous or any of that stuff. I got really lucky that the first movie I did in that period was this one, which turned out really well, actually. I mean, I'm really proud of it anyway. I really like it. To work on this script and work with these extraordinary actors and work with this wonderful director and it feels great. It's great to be up here talking about a movie that I'm really proud of. It's a really nice feeling.

Question: Ben, you're playing a real person. Can you talk about that and how you see George Reeves and why you wanted to play him?

Affleck: Obviously, yeah, George Reeves was an iconic guy because of who he played and that was, in some ways, tragic for him. And that very tragedy and kind of paradox - in the sense that he got the thing that he wished for and ultimately it was very destructive - is part of what makes the story so good and part of what makes the character so good. The onus was on me and on Allen [Coulter, the director] and on the writers to be consistent with who the guy really is, because there is a kind of a burden and a responsibility and I think even moreso because I think of George as a guy who never really got a fair shake. And so I thought it would be the least we could do here to give him his fair shake, finally, that he kind of didn't get in his career or following his death. So I researched it pretty meticulously and there was a tremendous amount of research that had been done before I came on that I was a beneficiary of in terms of the screenplay and Allen and the producers and what they'd done. So I was keyed in to where to look and who to talk to and I wanted to play his as authentically as possible. And fortunately he left behind a body of work that I could look at and watch. I saw all 104 episodes of the television show - 52 in color, 52 in black-and-white. And then So Proudly We Hail!, this movie he did with Claudette Colbert. He had other work. Obviously he was in the beginning of Gone With the Wind. There's stuff available so that was a great help to me. But to not belabor the point, yes, I really wanted to try to treat him fairly and you benefit from a whole wealth of information to draw upon. If I screw that up, I really have no excuse.

Question: Were you attracted to Hollywoodland because there was the ability to tell the true story about somebody in Hollywood who was misunderstood?

Affleck: I was attracted to the project because of Allen and because of the screenplay and because of the actors I was going to get a chance to work with and because the story itself was pretty great. The way that I got into looking at the character, I think that I identify with him for, among other things, this idea of feeling like you were someone other than who the outside world saw you as, the injuries that he sustained, in some ways, from that. There's a lot just about him that he went through and dealt with as a person that I think a lot of people could identify with. I think he was an interesting guy who thoroughly lived his life and that offered a lot of entrees to understanding him and it was a pretty rich character.

Question: This movie is about your life in Hollywood not really going the way you planned. Could you talk about having those moments in your own Hollywood life?

Affleck: There's a line where he says like, 'Should have been enough for a life,' what George Reeves had. For me, it's about the condition of humanity, whereby it's never really enough, that feeling, that ambition that drives you to achieve and people to invent rockets and to build machines and the industrial age and also keeps us perpetually kind of dissatisfied. That sort of grass-is-greener thing and that those two things that at once propel, at the same time frustrate and stifle us and trying to live and manage those two things. It's really that contradiction, contrary impulses, that are universally human and that I think everyone can understand and that are really painfully. I'm like, 'How is my life not living up to my dreams? If I just had this then I'd be happy.' Getting that and finding out that's not the thing. And I think that's really at the root of the thing, for me. I think it really kind of transcends Hollywood, although it's a really good example of that kind of thing, because it's to the extreme.

Question: Is Hollywood a little bit more forgiving today for a bad role and that kind of thing than it was back then? And secondly, do you think that this film will be impacted one way or the other by the release of Superman Returns earlier in the summer?

Affleck: I think Hollywood is really different now than it used to be. There were three networks, one kind of studio-approved magazine and some whistle-stop tours for stuff back then. It was a much more different thing. It had not become - for better or worse - the kind of cult of personality, culture of celebrity, kind of continual carnivorous, voracious machine of 15 outlets - How many of you guys are writing for the Internet? - the Internet, bloggers, gossip, every kind of... there's just additional layer and layer and layers just because there's people out there who are demanding that. So that is a really different facet - almost an immediate news cycle now and there's more mouths to feed, so to speak. And also, there was a kind of, ironically, there was a certain polite distance then. You know what I mean? You'd be Rock Hudson, everybody knew you were gay, but it just didn't get written about. That wouldn't be how it would be now. It would be really different. I'm not sure exactly how it'd be if you were Rock Hudson ... But even then, we interestingly highlighted the kind of beginning of that period, like he got in his car accident and none of the articles mentioned him by actual name. 'Superman Crashes Car, Faints at Sight of Own Blood.' 'Man of Steel Blah Blah Blah.' A kind of wry, sort of schadenfreude, slightly smug, detached putting down of people who are supposed to be elevated and that that practice of journalism - which none of you practice, I'm sure - has grown over the years, but I think that was the very first beginning of having idols who seemed bigger than everything and then the treat of it, the perverse thrill of it, was finding out that they weren't really Supermen, that in fact they were human, and then seeing them be destroyed to prove it and then lamenting them and looking back on the good things they did.

Question: How has being a dad changed your life, and can you tell a little about the film you're directing [Gone, Baby, Gone]?

Affleck: Sure, without going on for too long so as not to bore my fellow members of this panel. I love being a father, it's wonderful. It's changed my life. It all sounds like platitudes and clich�s because they're true. It fast became the most important thing in my life and I reorganized my priorities instantly in a way that feels really good. I love that. My wife is spectacular, a spectacular mother, spectacular everything, so that's really nice.

Question: Can you give any advice to new parents?

Affleck: I am not the person to come to for advice. ... I'll tell you a quick anecdote. Two days ago my wife had to go to work. I was there. I was taking care of the baby. I was trying to make sure everything was going to be okay. She said, 'Okay, I'm running out,' she gave me the baby. She said, 'Okay, you know how to feed her with the solid food?' I said, 'Yes, I know how to feed her.' She said, 'You take the peaches, you stir that up and you put that in with a little oatmeal and then put that in with a little bit of the crushed pears, and you mix that up,' and then she looked at me and said, in all seriousness, 'Is this too complicated?' This is [what] my wife thinks of my parenting abilities. Clearly, I should not be offering advice to anyone else.

Question: Was it too complicated?

Affleck: Actually, it wasn't too complicated, but the fact that she thought it might be speaks to something. What was the second part of your question? Directing. I was just telling Allen before this started that I had a wonderful time doing this movie, and I had the sense, there I was, and I thought really that the whole movie was about me and how I played George Reeves, and my work I was doing and the research that I was doing, my lines, and sometimes I would look at other actors ... and basically that would be the movie. And then I directed my own movie, and then I didn't know whether to thank Allen or apologize to him, because I realized the whole movie is actually about Allen, and what he's done. And this is in my opinion a fine movie, it's beautiful and it's about something really real to me, and I think it's evocative of something that's resonant and that you can't quite put your finger on. And I think that's a testament to - I got to work with spectacular actors who are all sitting next to me, but Allen did a fabulous job, and I just now learned how exquisitely difficult that is, and I've just learned to appreciate it. He is spectacular as a director.

Question: What was it like directing your brother in Gone, Baby, Gone?

Affleck: Horrible. No, he's great, he's a good actor. I'll be back I'm sure at some point [to talk about that film].

Question: Hollywoodland, as far as that period went, the audience was primarily interested in characters and not so much the actors' personal lives, whereas today it seems the opposite. Has that made your job harder?

Affleck: That effort creates a genuineness that then seems like you're invested in the genuineness of that trauma, of the character of Louis Simo, so then it stands to reason that whatever I read about Adrien [Brody, who plays Simo in Hollywoodland] additionally in his personal life I would also be interested in, because it's sort of the same human drama, in fact it's the same character, it's the same face. You become kind of like an actor on a soap opera that you have no control over the script or the direction, you just look at the paper every day and you find out what you did on this week's episode. Adrien's also right in that the actual art of what he does, the actual beauty and the grace and what it take to do that, people kind of aren't as interested in really. It is really interesting, but actually what happens is what everyone wants to know about is the other side. You know what I mean? You don't want to see the sausage getting made, but you like to eat it. That's sort of what's interesting. And it's a shame because I think actually the other stuff is much more interesting.