A week or so ago Ryan, from The Matinee, put a call out for volunteers to be a part of his continued series of interview based feature: Falling For the First Time, where he talks to people about cult and historical films who’re now just catching up with them. I decided to throw my name in the hat and decided to finally put the 1980s dark comedy Heathers in the “watched” column on the spreadsheet of my life in film. Here’s the discussion that ensued.
To say Jeremy Piven is a workaholic is quite an understatement. You would think the “Entourage” power player would slow down after his hit show ended its run earlier this summer, giving him a well-deserved break. But instead he’s thrown himself into more work, running from film sets to award shows, even hitting the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year to promote his new film, “I Melt With You.”
Piven describes the film as “The Big Chill” meets “Apocalypse Now” and while male bonding is the glue that holds all three films together, there are some polarizing dark turns that set “I Melt With You” apart from those earlier comparisons.
The buzz for the film started at this year’s Sundance Film Festival where its first public screening sent moviegoers into a wild ride of drugs, sex and other bad decisions. Directed by music video magnate Mark Pellington, the film’s soundtrack and use of classic rock seeps deep into the story of four childhood friends who come together for a wild weekend that climaxes with dark skeletons being revealed.
The following is my conversation with Jeremy Piven about his work navigating the film world post “Entourage” and why it’s almost impossible for him to take a break.
Q: Since you’re obviously doing a lot of interviews back to back, is that something you can get used to or do you see it as part of the job?
Jeremy Piven: Like acting, I think it’s your job to be present for every question and answer it like it’s your first time.
Q: Was it a conscious choice to follow up “Entourage” with another story of male bonding and bad decisions?
Piven: What initially attracted me was the script. I had just finished “Entourage” and was about to take a break but after reading the script I knew I had to do it. As a stage actor and part of a stage family growing up, I knew walking away from this role would be sacrilege.
Q: How did the male bonding of “Entourage” compare to the male bonding of this film?
Piven: This felt more like a Cassevetes film to me in the sense that there were no trailers back then or intrusive materials and that’s what we tried to do on set. We were all there because we loved the script and wanted to be a part of it. We got to shoot chronologically and we all bonded as a result of that and it allowed us to do our best work.
Q: Wow, that’s almost unheard of these days.
Piven: You’re right and it was all geared toward making the best film possible. It’s a story about people facing themselves for who they really are. Who they thought they would become and who they really are.
Q: Did it get a little crazy on set?
Piven: Well one night we all had a huge, extravagant Korean BBQ feast for lunch and the next scene we shot was all of us running naked into the ocean. It was a lot of fun but probably not the best idea.
Q: The film seems to be very polarizing. Was the script divisive too or did the film turn out that way in the editing room?
Piven: You have to understand, I’ve dealt with more rejection than most people. Auditioning is like getting on your knee and proposing and of course they reject you anyway. We wanted someone taller. I was a fresh face winner at 40 so at this point I’m lucky enough to be doing movies I love, even if they’re not for everyone.
Q: What kind of collaboration did you have with director Mark Pellington to bring that performance out of you?
Piven: He’s so well equipped in many different ways so he can grab a camera at any time and shoot you. He understands this story so intimately and the music also plays a big role in this movie that marrying the two was perfection.
Q: How did you prepare for some of the film’s intense, drug-filled scenes?
Piven: I knew I could go there but it was an emotional root canal. I was so thankful this was an 18 day shoot because it was thrilling, exciting and emotionally draining so you don’t want to drag that on too long. It was like “The Big Chill” meets “Apocalypse Now.”
Q: How do you decompress from something like that?
Piven: I immediately went on vacation after the shoot was over and after a day I went on to shoot “Spy Kids 4” and a Miley Cyrus movie. So in other words it’s hard for me to take a break.
Q: Which of your films do you feel is the most underrated?
Piven: I hope it’s not this one.
“I Melt With You” opens in limited release December 9 and is also now playing on video on demand.
Actors Paul Rudd and Zooey Deschanel have worked together before but according to them, it’s their new film “Our Idiot Brother” that finally gave them the best opportunity to collaborate in the best way possible. In the film they play siblings at polar opposites, one’s a care-free optimist (Rudd) and the other is a controlling mess (Deschanel).
These are obviously only movie characters because the opposite is true in real life. Upon our introduction, Paul Rudd is just as charming and smart as his movie character is not. And as for Zooey, she is the picture of politeness, with her legendary blue eyes lighting up the room the instant we meet. We’ve come to discuss “Our Idiot Brother” and it’s story of the black sheep titular character at odds with his demanding sisters but our conversation quickly turns silly and random in the best way possible.
Q: Paul, your character is seen as an idiot by most people in the film but you play him down the middle without actually being stupid or offensive. How did you find that balance?
Paul Rudd: I think the character is very smart. One of the misnomers of the title is you look at the character and think he’s some stoner idiot when in actually he’s a sharp guy and makes a conscious decision to live his life a certain way. I liked the idea of playing someone who was fun and non-judgmental which is different from some of the parts I’ve played recently.
Q: What made you commit to the film so quickly?
Zooey Deschanel: I would’ve signed on to read the phone book for Paul because I love him but I also liked that my character was so conflicted and at a time in her life when she had to make a real decision for the first time.
Q: You two have obviously worked together before. What is it about that working relationship that keeps you coming back together?
Rudd: I’m a fan of humor when it’s used to convey something dramatic and vice versa. We like a lot of the same stuff and we’ve remained friends. Also, I like coming to set and working with people who I can trust and are a lot of fun to work with.
Deschanel: I had done a short film years ago with Paul and the director Jesse Peretz is an old friend of mine. I was also in a music video Jesse directed when I was 20. Weirdly, it was called “Idiot Boyfriend.”
Q: Can you talk about the “Knocked Up” spinoff you’re starring in?
Rudd: I like working with Judd (Apatow) obviously and it will be interesting to see how this old character with a new set of circumstances turns out. I liked playing that part and feel after “Knocked Up,” Judd felt he had more to say with those people.
Q: Since this is a big ensemble, did you have any time to prepare or rehearse with each other?
Deschanel: No time whatsoever. Normally if you get any time to rehearse you’re lucky but because this was such a quick shoot we didn’t have any time for that. If you get to meet the director before shooting you’re lucky.
Q: And the ensemble cast must have been a family or its own, right?
Deschanel: One of the things I liked about the movie is that everyone can relate to the story of a big family having differences and fighting with each other and how they intersect with others.
Q: Was there a lot of improv on set?
Deschanel: That’s a question a lot of journalists like to ask and let me say, it’s our job not to crack up during a scene. There was some improv but a lot of it happens at the end of scenes. A lot of it was shot as written because there are so many storylines that you have to keep them really tight otherwise you let the scenes run too long.
Q: Which of your films do you feel is the most underrated?
Deschanel: I did a film called “Winter Passing” a long time ago. I worked so hard on it and it didn’t get seen as much as other movies. It’s a dark film and a lot of times these films find their audience later on and hopefully it will too.
Q: What do you consider working hard on something?
Deschanel: I think throwing yourself emotionally into something works for me. I don’t use my personal life as inspiration for something but you are using your own emotions. The situation is pretend but the emotions are real.
Q: Do either of you have idiot brothers?
Deschanel: No. But the sequel could be called our beautiful, intelligent, brunette sisters.
Q: What’s the one question you hate being asked during interviews?
Rudd: That one!
Deschanel: Leading questions that are telling me how I feel. I also don’t like it when journalists make statements disguised as questions. It makes me so uncomfortable and want to rebel.
“Our Idiot Brother” is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD.
Seeing Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek reunite for the new animated comedy “Puss in Boots” has proven to be a bittersweet affair for film lovers. Some have embraced the “Shrek” spinoff as a lighthearted good time at the movies while others are disappointed the pair aren’t killing Mexican drug lords in a “Desperado” sequel.
The bad news is “Puss in Boots” has absolutely nothing in common with Robert Rodriguez’s Mexico trilogy of guns and corruption. The good news is “Puss in Boots” does have loads of comedy and action, albeit family friendly. This sits just fine with Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek who feel that a good balance between darker and lighter fare is the best way to please as wide an audience as possible.
The two actors recently revisited San Francisco on a nationwide promotional tour for “Puss in Boots” and entertained questions from myself as well as other local journalists. The schedule was tight and a bit draining on the pair but they were more than happy to get the word out on “Puss in Boots.” Another cause for celebration, the film enters its second weekend of wide release today with no other family entertainment in sight.
The following is my conversation with Banderas and Hayek where we discuss cats, going crazy in a sound booth and the many ways Salma can rock a panther bikini.
Q: What was your reaction when you found out Puss in Boots was getting his own movie?
Banderas: It was a mixture of emotion because the news was given to me at the Cannes film festival right after the premiere of “Shrek 2.” Mr. Katzenberg saw the reaction of the people and said that the character had a lot of potential and wanted to explore the possibility of someday making his own movie.
Q: You’ve both collaborated several times before. Do you remember your first impressions of each other?
Hayek: We met at the “Desperado” screen test in Los Angeles and I was super excited because it was the biggest break of my life. I remember it very well because my dreams were about to come true and I was going to meet Antonio Banderas. He was super nice and calmed my nerves but apparently he had to do that with all those other girls who came in to audition. I remember it really well and he says he doesn’t remember it until a week later when I showed up to the set in a bikini.
Banderas: That I remember very well. I remember a woman coming toward me in slow motion in a panther bikini and I thought, wow!
Q: Since you two met shooting “Desperado” that brings up the obvious Robert Rodriguez connection. Do you both plan to work with him again and what’s it like on his sets because he tends to shoot very fast.
Hayek: For me, it was my film school and he has great chemistry with Antonio. They’re both very fast so I’m always trying to catch up.
Banderas: I think the worst enemy for an actor is to be self conscious and Robert helps us with that.
Q: How energized do you get when you’re recording the animated voices in the sound booth?
Hayek: You can’t help it. I’m Latin so I can’t help but move all the time. British people might be able to say the lines and not move but not me. When you’re doing the voice, everything’s coming with it.
Q: You were talking earlier about being paired up and working together a few times. I’m sure a part of it is the Latino connection. Since the “Desperado” days, the mid 90’s, how have you seen things change for Latinos in film? The world has obviously changed but have things changed in Hollywood?
Banderas: It has to do with how people are raised in the Latino community. I’ve noticed that generations of people who came to this country under difficult political or social situations are looking for a better life and have to perform work they didn’t do in their own country. They work very hard for their kids to study and be somebody and those generations that went to universities started to come out and occupy positions of power and that definitely has had a reflection on Hollywood. When I came here 21 years ago it was totally different. I remember people telling me when I was doing “The Mambo Kings” if you’re going to stay in this country as an actor you’re going to play a lot of bad guys. Now it’s normal for the hero to have an accent not just for Latino kids but also for Anglo kids to see that a hero can have an accent.
Hayek: I also think that in “Desperado” Antonio was the first Latin hero in movies and now he’s the first Latin hero in animation.
Banderas: We all do what we have to do but I never felt representative of those things. I have enough of a burden representing myself but if it’s opening doors for other people to do other things then it’s a good thing.
Q: I just saw “The Skin I Live In” and am curious if you both plan to work more in Spanish language projects.
Hayek: I just did a movie with Alex De La Iglesia. It’s coming out at the beginning of next year.
Banderas: Making a new movie with Pedro Almodovar (“The Skin I Live In”) is a return to my home and my language so it’s like returning to a family.
Q: The movie’s pretty messed up too.
Banderas: Oh yeah. There’s white, black and this movie is pitch black. I don’t judge movies based on how dark they are, only if they’re good or bad and I think it’s a good movie. I also think this is the movie that is going to change my career. Almodovar had me start from scratch and wouldn’t use any of my actor tricks to wink at the audience that I was playing a bad guy. We were both reinventing ourselves with that film.
Q: What’s the one film you feel is the most underrated in your body of work?
Banderas: “The 13th Warrior.” This was a quest movie before “The Lord of the Rings” and it came out of nowhere. There were a lot of problems on that set that I would not like to reveal because Michael Crichton (the author of “Eaters of the Dead” which the film is based on) is not with us anymore but there were definitely problems there that didn’t help the movie.
Q: Typically voice talent in animated movies record their dialogue separately but the chemistry between you two is so on. Did you record together?
Hayek: At the beginning we did it separately and thank God because it was my first time and I got to build some self confidence and create the character. It was nice to be in the intimacy of the studio with the director. Once we created the character then I got the great opportunity to work with Antonio and improvise with him.
Q: Was there a lot of ad-libbing?
Both: Oh yeah.
Banderas: They had to stop me.
Hayek: Yeah, we went a little crazy.
“Puss in Boots” is now playing in theatres nationwide.
While doing the promotional rounds for their new film I Love You Phillip Morris, it became clear that stars Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor truly saw the film as a labor of love and not just another studio movie. For one thing, it was shot on a smaller budget without the luxuries they’re both accustomed to and even better, both actors are still promoting the movie almost two years since its Sundance premiere.
The politics behind the film’s delay are another story but for now let’s focus on the film. To be blunt, it’s surprisingly good and a welcome departure from the usual Jim Carrey vehicles we’re used to. The film is of course a comedy but not in the way you’d expect. Carrey stars as Christian family man Steven Russell, who after years of living in the closet decides to fully come out and embrace a new gay lifestyle. Through a series of events we see him cheat, steal and fall in love in prison with another gay inmate (Ewan McGregor).
All of this is played for laughs and is based on a true story. Without going into major spoilers I can say that the film was a huge hit at the Sundance and Cannes film festivals and is finally rolling out into more theatres this week. The following is my conversation with Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor to promote the film. Continue reading