Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Checked Out Dotcoms

In 1998, a group of frat house flimflam men from Disney Online convinced billionaire grocer Ron Burkle to waste $120 million of his money on a lame-brained new media project buzzworded as an "entertainment portal." Somehow professional hoodwinker Mike Ovitz was involved, but his hare-brained scheme to bring an NFL team to Los Angeles took precedence, and his involvement was nominal at best.

It took about a year-and-a-half for the baseball-cap-cabal to burn through all that other-people's-money on inflated executive salaries and Friday afternoon beer and cake parties, but on the voodoo economics plus side of the equation, they gainfully employed over one hundred otherwise unskilled writers, artists, coders and a French guy named Fabrece.

I was fortunate to be among their numbers as a "Movie Writer." (As opposed to a "Music Writer" or "Gaming Writer" and for a brief period, "Books Writer".) It was the best job job I ever had, although I didn't recognize it as such at the time. I made a decent, steady income watching movies, writing about movies, interviewing people who made movies and drinking at the scotch bar downstairs everyday from 4 to 6 Happy Hour!

My days were spent watching DVDs and writing, and my nights were spent at screenings and premieres, watching the latest theatrical releases. Weekends were consumed with interviews and press junkets and occassionally awards shows and film festivals. They were fifty- to sixty-hour work weeks, but seriously, you call that work?

Then, the flimflam man stopped riding scooters around the office, already on to the next bamboozling. Layoffs started and continued until the company was sold, not for the content, but for the databasing system the coders had developed for inputting, updating and managing content.

Shortly thereafter, the Dotcom Bubble bursted, and hundreds of thousands of unskilled douchebags like me went on the dole, and cush jobs like this disappeared from the landscape for five years, resurfacing only when the technology finally caught up with the fantasies of first-wave Internerds.

But for a brief stint, I made money hand-over-fist doing something I dug. I got to interview Angelina Jolie, Forest Whittaker, Denzel Washington, John Waters, Jim Jarmusch, Vincent D'Onofrio and dozens of others, and even got yelled at by Morgan Freeman. Plus, I met my chick on this gig.

Monday, January 22, 2007


Apparently an article about the talented Angelina Jolie can’t be written in which the names of her famous parents, Jon Voight and French actress Marcheline Bertrand, are not invoked. The assumption being, I suppose, that her pedigree is somehow solely responsible for the exotic beauty’s gift for seemingly effortless performance. It certainly isn’t her years of training at the Lee Strasberg Institute or an innate artistic ability to deliver naturalistic portrayals from junk-addicted lesbian model to homeless high schooler.

The words “bee-stung lips”, “almond eyes” and “lesbian” are required by law. As are references to her three-year marriage and subsequent divorce to Sick Boy from Trainspotting, her obsession with knives, her odd sexual proclivities (that apparently include her obsession with knives), her seven tattoos and lesbianism.

What is often glossed over, and sometimes not even mentioned at all, is that the girl can act. She was nominated for an Emmy and won a Golden Globe for her performance as George Wallace’s second wife Cornelia in TNT’s George Wallace (1997). She was nominated again for an Emmy and won both a Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Award for the HBO Pictures release Gia (1998). And she’s not even 25.

Her appearance in Cyborg 2 (1993) didn’t make her a household name, and, frankly, it’s Cyborg 2 -- how good could she be? But her next feature film role set her on the right path. Foxfire (1996), based on the novel by Joyce Carol Oates, played out like an afterschool special with cuss words, The Craft without witches. But Jolie’s characterization of Legs was mesmerizing to watch, and completely believable. While she played an outsider bad girl, she never seemed like she was playing an outsider bad girl. Legs quickly became the ringleader of a gang of disparate high school girls who exact revenge on a sexually abusive teacher, and, as preposterous as that sounds, it didn’t seem ridiculous whatsoever when watching it

Jolie’s first major studio release, MGM’s Hackers (1995), was blanketly dismissed by critics, moviegoers and especially geek culture. As a matter of fact, Angelina Jolie’s character Acid Burn is the best thing about this exercise in mid-Nineties Internet bandwagoneering. Jolie chose several smaller indie films after this debacle: the noirish Mojave Moon (1996), the Joseph Bologna/Renee Taylor romantic comedy Love Is All There Is (1996) and the all-female western True Women (1997). None of these films received critical accolades or box office success, and Jolie languished in Big Screen obscurity for a brief time. The studio projects she starred in woefully under-exploited her talents. In the David Duchovny feature Playing God (1997), Jolie played an underworld moll who lures Duchovny’s medico character into the seedy world of drugs. Unfortunately, her screen time was limited, many of her scenes -- and apparently some of the film’s most interesting moments -- ending up on the cutting room floor.

It was, in fact, made-for-cable dramas that gave Jolie her boost into the major league. The John Frankenheimer-directed biopic George Wallace amply showcased Jolie’s ability to make a role her own. Playing wife Cornelia Wallace opposite Gary Sinise’s George Wallace, Jolie was not only able to hold her own with the seasoned actor, but actually stole some scenes. The aplomb she garnered from George Wallace led Jolie to her next project, Gia, the true story of supermodel Gia Marie Curangi. Jolie portrayed Gia’s downward spiral into drug addiction, failed homosexual and heterosexual relationships and her ultimate AIDS-related death with a grace that allowed for audience sympathy even at Gia’s most petulant, bratty and self-indulgent moments. As an actress, Jolie never judges the character in becoming the character.

Jolie was able to spin her success from Gia into a significant role as Joan the club-crawler in the romantic ensemble comedy, Playing By Heart (1998). The character itself was completely inauthentic as a club kid, but Jolie played Joan with such verve that, in spite of the script’s deficiencies, the character became believable. And better still, not annoying. Any other beautiful, but certainly less astute actress would have made that choice. But not Jolie. As director Frankenheimer said, “The world is full of beautiful girls, but they're not Angelina Jolie. She's fun, honest, intelligent, gorgeous, and divinely talented. She brings a hell of a lot to the party.”

Jolie’s trademark is shattered characters, mostly bad girls, drugs addicts and runaways, but Jolie imbues them with a humanity, sensitivity and sexuality that elevates them above cliché. In Girl, Interrupted, Jolie plays yet another tortured woman, Lisa, a dangerous sociopath.

Jolie and I spoke about the film, her role and the pitfalls of becoming famous.

Your character Lisa was a criminally-minded sociopath, but the main character, Suzanne, suffered from a rather mild disorder and certainly didn’t belong in an asylum. Do you think most of the other girls belonged in McLean or were they institutionalized for not conforming to conventional mores?
You never really got to know everyone, did you? It’s hard to say because you really do follow somebody who really shouldn’t be in there. And she really probably wouldn’t be if she had come to terms with herself earlier. She’s a certain kind of person. I don’t know if she considered that other people should get out.

I don’t know if anybody should be institutionalized. But I also don’t know if it’s so much better to be kind of out. And does that mean that we don’t judge people then? Or that we don’t somehow lock them up in some way?

What would Lisa have done if she were a real girl out in the real world?
She would be an actor (laughs). She was a real girl, and she’s dead. She died two years ago. I don’t know how she would feel about this being written about her. It was someone’s point-of-view, and I don’t know how she felt about Suzanne.

How did you prepare to play Lisa?
I went to a bookstore and, after just doing Bone Collector, I walked in and said, “Do you have anything on sociopaths?” and they said, “Look under ‘serial killers.’” (laughs) “I’m losing my mind!” I thought, “Oh, God.” That was, you know, obvious.

I sat there and started reading about them, one-after-another, and it was these amazing accounts of these things where they knew that should feel bad or they knew that that was wrong, and they were having lapses, and they were doing things on impulse and couldn’t stop. And, so, it just struck me that they really see things and do things on impulse, so I just tried to do that. It was a great thing but it was also very, very empty. It was empty for her in the end. (But for me) it was very, very freeing.

What about her impulsive nature seemed so empty?
It’s almost like she’s walking forward and she wants to get that out of her way and she wants that person to walk with her and talk, but she doesn’t know what she needs. She knows what she wants, what makes her angry. She is completely that person that’s almost watching people from a certain place. She doesn’t feel them. She doesn’t think they see her. She doesn’t dream.

Those kind of people, they don’t meet someone and think--somehow in their mind--think that they’re gonna have a friendship that’s gonna go that way and be friends forever. Or have Christmases together. Or that they’re gonna be dating, and then they’re gonna go to bed, and then maybe--can you imagine her in bed? She couldn’t understand that that could maybe be a release and a connection because she’s just not there. She would go out with somebody and go, “Why do you want to get in here?” You know? She would never have that.

What was something unexpected that came out of working on Girl, Interrupted?
I don’t have many girlfriends--I mean, I have friends. I have more than most and I have them on a deeper level. We’ve had that time no matter how brief it was. You know, very complete and very full. But right now, we’re on separate journeys, but, suddenly, I discovered I had these girlfriends. There were certain girls in the ward that would come in my trailer and we would go on road trips and I knew these women, and it was amazing. Just to be silly. Just to have like a pack of people together. It’s not you and the other person or it’s not you by yourself, it’s actually a group of people and you go shopping and you want to bring toys back or you wanna like cook dinner together. I think it was something I learned that was just amazing to me. What that’s like to really get to know people and really be a team.

Now that you’re a bona fide star, has it becoming increasingly difficult dealing with intrusive fans?
No. Not at all. Mind you, I’m just going from that hotel to this hotel, but so far, no problem. Two, three weeks ago, I was going on the subway. And maybe a few people came up to me. It was like “Hi.” “Hi.” and then it was like, fine, “She’s there. She’s boring. Now we gotta ride the subway.”

I think if you don’t make a big deal out of it, nobody does. I think that the people that come up to you and recognize you, that’s the reason I’m working. That’s the reason I’m doing films because I do feel I’m connected to those people. They’re not insane to think that they’re connected to me and want to say, “hi.” I do want them to say, “hi.” I am connected with them. They do know me. They identify that we are similar. And it’s great.

With your two Golden Globes and the success of The Bone Collector, you are definitely on the Hollywood “It” List now. Are you aware of the hype and spin and buzz surrounding you?
I’ve just been trying to put together this film with Michael Christofer. That’s the one I’ve wanted to do and that’s the one that nobody was gonna greenlight no matter what. I’ve seen all the press I’ve been getting. There’s something going on.

I imagine your agent is probably inundated with calls for you.
I don’t have an agent. I have a very overworked manager.

So what’s this project with Cristofer?
Dancing in the Dark.

And what’s it about?
It’s so much about control and it’s so much about people and manipulating them. I plan to go down to Mexico and get to know the people. I want to know the people who live there. Somehow you have to find your loyalties, so I’m about to go in there to find those people who can protect me, you know. I’ve heard different things about these areas where we’re going to be.

Michael comes from such a good place, we’re gonna go into it thinking that, but we’re gonna come out of it--which is what they did--thinking those woman are our girlfriends. They are such beautiful women. And I think because the characters are like that, I know I’m going to end up dealing with it in that way. I think what I’m saying is I’m gonna end up gambling and hanging around with violent people and prostitutes.

These characters are that level of person. My character has different personalities…again! But they’re good personalities! They’re lovely.

Weren’t you considering buying a motel at a point?
I’m about to buy something just a little strange. But not a motel.

Is it John Merrick’s body?
No, it’s something practical.

John Merrick’s body isn’t practical?
Well, immediately… well, yeah, but not to me right now. (laughs) Actually, it’s really impractical. I’m trying to convince myself it’s practical. I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s some place to live in.

You can’t live in John Merrick’s body?
(giggles) I like you so much.

They Call Me Mr. Diggs: An Interview With Taye Diggs 10.23.99

Taye Diggs is one of the brightest young actors working today. The 27-year old first came on the scene (to the delight of female audiences) in 1998’s How Stella Got Her Groove Back and followed up his breakthrough role with last summer’s ensemble comedies, Go and The Wood. Currently, he has two major feature film releases in theaters: the hit comedy, The Best Man and the horror remake, House On Haunted Hill.

I spoke with Mr. Diggs, calling in from New York, to discuss his current and future projects as well as how it feels to be a sex symbol and… Robocop.

There are very few roles for people of color in the first place. The roles that are out there mostly traffic in stereotypes. Have you been offered stepnfetchit comedies and gang$ta thug roles?
I wouldn’t even know because I have such good team working for me that they know better than to even step in my direction with trash like that. We’re all on the same page and they know what types of roles I’m after and the kind of message I’m trying to get across to other people.

Before The Best Man, you appeared in The Wood, a sweet little coming-of-age movie about a very different experience in Inglewood than we are used to hearing about in local LA news coverage and rap lyrics. While the film didn’t tank, it didn’t score as gangbusters at the box office as I would have expected. Do you think audiences aren’t ready to accept that kind of experience?
Oh…The Wood? We thought it did pretty well for the amount of money that it cost. Yeah. But, I really have a great feeling about The Best Man, that audiences will respond to it in a positive way. This is a bigger studio (than The Wood) so we had different means of advertising and publicizing and what not. We had a really great campaign as far as touring for press. In a lot of cases, it’s just a matter of getting it out there to the people.

Was there one particular film or performance that made you want to be an actor?
Maybe Denzel Washington in A Soldier’s Story. He made me think that I could be cool and black and smart and confident and secure. He had glasses. At the time, I had glasses. He’s dark-skinned. I’m dark-skinned. That movie came out during a time when light-skinned men were quote unquote “in,” so, you know, I would look at him and he would flesh out my aspirations.

You are definitely perceived as the “next Denzel.”
Well, that’s alright. I ain’t mad at that.

Your photographs are now posted on “Finest Guys” and “Hot Men!” Websites. One fan on the Internet described you as “one sexy chocolate brother with a sexy ass Colgate smile.” Are you prepared for and comfortable with being a sex symbol?
(laughs) That’s… that’s... I guess that’s the type of thing that comes with the job. I’m not gonna pretend that it doesn’t make me smile. I definitely appreciate the attention. But I just try to remain focused on the work.

I’m sure the shower scene in How Stella Got Her Groove Back helped your sexy chocolate brother image. You know, Terry McMillan (Stella’s writer) was my fiction writing professor in college and had we known she needed to get her groove back… well… we weren’t sexy chocolate brothers.
(laughs) Yeah. Yeah.

So what was it like when you found out your first major role was Angela Bassett’s love interest. I mean she played Tina Turner!
It was almost… I mean, words can’t describe the… I was incredulous. I couldn’t believe it until I was on set acting opposite her to actually let it sink in. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to be introduced to the industry. It was like two dreams in one, you know, getting a dream role and playing opposite a dream co-star.

You first came to critical and public acclaim in the original production of Rent, arguably the most exciting thing to happen on Broadway in a decade. Why do you think audiences took to Rent?
I think we were a bit irreverent. I think people were beginning to tire of the traditional musical theatre, cookie-cutter show. We were out there on the edge at the time. We were new. We were young. And we had a really good message: love. That, along with the fact that I thought it was really great music and we just had an amazing energy that was contagious.

Your first professional gig was at Tokyo Disney. What was the freakiest thing that happened there?
Freaky, huh? Freaky? We were doing a children’s show, but what was kind of freaky is that adults would come and wait in line and act like serious, very serious fans. They would buy us gifts -- like very, very expensive gifts -- like watches and sometimes stereos and luggage because they appreciated what we were doing over there to some extent. How appreciative the Japanese public is of American performers. I guess that was kind of freaky in a good way.

What’s on the horizon?
I have a really fun, light-hearted horror picture coming out called House On Haunted Hill. I play a sheriff in a murder-mystery called Mary Jane’s Last Dance. And I just finished a gig with Chris McCory, who wrote The Usual Suspects, called The Way Of The Gun, a smart action thriller.

Okay, what’s your favorite thing to do that has nothing to do with acting?
Choreograph. Whenever I’m in the city. It just calms me. It gets me back in touch with my creative juices. And it just makes me happy.

What was the first movie you ever made out during?
Oh… made out?… My first sexual experience was in my best friend’s living room with Robocop on the VCR. Ha! I didn’t make out to any movies, ever. I enjoy movies too much to waste them on kissing. There’s plenty of time to kiss. But when I’m in the theater, it’s movie time.

Except with Robocop?
Robocop. I had seen it already, and it just provided the vibe, gave us the aura. (laughs)

I don’t know what to think of you, now, Taye.

From Piano Player to Porn Star: An Interview with Alicia Witt 08.03.00

What attracted you to the character of Cherish, a porn star whose AVN-award-winning performance is opposite a gerbil?
To me it was funny, because I’ve seen so many porno movies…

(Soda spurts out of my nose, tears stream from my eyes, gales of laughter…) Really?
Um, yeah…and the acting is so bad, it’s so over-the-top, but Cherish is a great character because she’s completely proud of herself. She takes great pride in this career that she created. I get the feeling that if I was telling her backstory, she probably comes from a dirt-poor family and never had anything. But she was a real opportunist, in a good sense of the word, who loved to flaunt her body and loved the fact that she got attention off of it. She considers this to be as important an accomplishment as winning the Nobel Prize. In her world, this is a great thing. She’s the best. She’s a great porno star.

Did you base your role on any of the porn stars that you have seen?
I didn’t base it on anyone in particular. I based it on the notion that these women, at least in the cheaper pornos, go way over-the-top. And it just appeals to the basest level of what is sexy. It’s basically like, “Look at me, I’m having sex, doesn’t this make you horny?” (laughter) It’s so funny. And I had the best time, but I have to say it was the most surreal experience probably I’ve ever had.

Did you do porno research?
I didn’t actually do research specifically because I had already seen a number of them. That’s why I liked the character, because she’s so funny. And the acting in these movies is so over-the-top and so far from being anything that’s remotely sexy. It’s like appealing to the lowest common denominator. Some guy who couldn’t get laid if he wanted to, who is like “Oh look, tits.” You know?

But you do watch a lot of porno…
I’m a fan of anything that’s odd. I think porn films are just plain odd. I love the fact that one of the biggest differences between men and women is that if a woman has a sexual fantasy, I think nine times out of ten, it has to be accompanied by the thoughts of what the guy she’s thinking about did earlier that day and having dinner and having a meaningful conversation and maybe some beautiful music playing in the background and flowers and this whole image, but she has to be able to connect something to his brain that she finds sexy as well. Whereas a guy can actually look at a magazine with a photo of a naked girl spreading her legs and he can get off to that. I could never look at a naked guy and find that sexy to that extent.

Have you ever seen a porno with rodentia?
No, I haven’t. I think its safe to say that this porno scene is probably the funniest porno scene ever put down anywhere. Although there was a porn film that I saw in the Czech Republic that came pretty close.

I’m sorry, the Czech Republic?
Yeah, I was doing a movie there about five years ago, and I had nothing to do. I didn’t speak Czech, so what am I gonna do but watch pornos right? And there was this porno film with two women having fun with a guy and it was some sort of bizarre fluorescent lighting and chromegreen background, so sterile and so unsexy. But to top it all off, there was a vocal track laid in of some other woman going “Ya! Ya! Ya!” But it didn’t match the rhythm of what the women in the film were doing. It was almost like a bizarre spoof of a porno. I couldn’t believe it. And it made me laugh to think that maybe somewhere out there was a guy watching it, getting off on it, thinking it was sexy.

How did you keep from laughing during the gerbil scene?
Between each take, we were busting out laughing. It was so much fun shooting that scene. But then, to make it even funnier, John put the scene up at the Apex, which is a real porno theatre in Baltimore. And, as you know, he filled the theatre with about thirty-five male extras and they’re suppose to be jerking off while they’re watching me on the screen. And I’m sitting there in the actual audience watching myself on the screen of a real porno theatre with thirty-five guys pretending to jerk off. It was so weird. (laughter)

Obviously, this role didn’t offend you, but are you offended by the way women are portrayed in many films?
Yeah, I’m offended -- not necessarily as far as sex scenes are concerned, because that’s the actress’ prerogative. If she feels like doing that, that’s fine -- but I don’t know why there are still so many scripts that I read that have the obligatory female love interest who has absolutely nothing to do. In fact, I’ve been in meetings for roles like that and I’ve sat down with the filmmakers and said, “Look, I don’t think this character is interesting. I would like to do this with it.” But that’ not of any interest to them because the character simply exists as a tool to move the story along. It’s very strange.

Is there anything else that offends you in films?
There are some things that really offend me in movies. I have a real aversion to gratuitous violence. I also find some action movies absurd to the point of insulting my intelligence. You know the kind of scenario where the lone gunman gets out and a hundred people shoot at him and he dodges every bullet and then whips out his Uzi and blows away every single one of them unscathed? It’s just absurd. And I don’t care what anyone says, I do believe that films like that have an impact on teenagers and other people not taking guns so seriously. Thinking it’s not such a big deal to shoot somebody.

How do reconcile that with being in Cecil B. Demented, which has a lot of bullets?
It’s violent, but I didn’t think it was graphic violence. It’s almost cartoonish.

Sometimes “cartoonish” is applied to the lone-gunman-dodging-every-bullet-unscathed movie…
I’m referring to the big, slick --You know, they’ve got the glamorous shots of the muscly, sweaty guy walking toward the camera with the halo light around his head and charging into the sunset and appearing as the Big Sexy Action Hero. And to go see one of those movies on a Saturday night and see people just mindlessly chomping on popcorn and absorbing it all into their brains and thinking that is entertainment. I believe independent films are actually getting much more of an audience these days because more people are getting tired of that kind of film.

It’s been debated since the MPAA started rating films thirty-three years ago, but don’t you still find it odd that a guy’s head can explode into a million different bits in the name of God and country and get a PG-13 rating, but show a glimpse of flesh and your slapped with an R-rating? Or NC-17.
That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard -- also language. Its amazing to me what you can’t say to get a certain rating. It’s just words. It’s just syllables stuck together and there are certain words that are supposedly so offensive that you will get a really harsh rating and yet you can show people getting their heads cut off and really disturbing violent images in a PG-13 film. I don’t know what that says. It’s a really bizarre message.

What do you think independent films do differently?
I think mainstream Hollywood definitely has made some fantastic movies, but the whole thing about a studio film is it is made with the purpose of making a lot of money. No matter what anyone tells you. The producers are making the movie because they want to get rich.

To me, that’s the biggest difference between independent film and a studio film. An independent film is made because the filmmaker has a vision. It sounds corny, but it’s true. The filmmaker has a vision, and he wants to tell his story. I mean, I’m sure he’d like to make money off of it, but if you’ve got a few million dollars to play around with and a bunch of actors who are really passionate and they don’t care about getting paid either, you’re gonna come out with a film that’s much more true to what you are trying to say. And it’s not going to have all the phone calls being made everyday to the studio heads and the ten producers who are trying to be in charge and trying to take power away from the director. The studio system is just much more of a business.

You’ve worked with some of the deities of independents, David Lynch and now John Waters. As opposed to the younger indie directors you’ve worked with, how do their years of experience help you as an actor?
The big difference is that John has done it for so many years that he really knows what he’s looking for at this point. A lot of times if you have a first time indie director, with few exceptions, they will see the film afterwards and wish they had done a lot of things differently. Because they don’t quite know what to say to the actor to get the result they want. They know something is missing when they watch the dailies, but they’re not sure what it is.

It takes awhile to learn the process and obviously John has been doing this for awhile. The experience itself was fantastic for me because it wasn’t as though he was preoccupied with every little nitpicking detail. We had a rehearsal process where we explored the characters and read scenes and discussed it and talked about group madness and cults and the whole mentality that happens when ordinarily sane people get sucked into something and they believe in it so strongly that they all lose sight of what is logical. So we set that framework and all of us got to work and just had an amazing time just having fun with it.

John Waters said he was aware of you not because of your quirky stuff or David Lynch, but because he wanted to cast against the type you played on “Cybill”?
That’s cool. He didn’t tell me that. That’s a surprise to me, too. I was just happy to get to work with him. He was one of those directors that I had always wanted to work with my whole career. And ever since I saw Serial Mom and then I went back and rented his older movies, and he’s just amazing the way he blasts holes in all the social standards and all the things that people take for granted. People have really funny characteristics, and he really makes fun of them.

But God, I think I sleptwalked through the last two seasons of “Cybill.”

Going Fifteen Rounds With Denzel Washington 12.13.99

Denzel Washington is undoubtedly one of the finest actors working today. And I don’t think the ladies would disagree with the “finest.” Dignified, charismatic, strikingly handsome, Washington is a commanding presence onscreen.

He started his career as Doctor Phillip Chandler on the acclaimed series “St. Elsewhere,” which led to the role of Steven Biko in the Richard Attenborough film, Cry Freedom. His Oscar-winning turn in Glory secured Washington’s status as the pre-eminent young black actor in Hollywood. Within a few years, Washington was able to transcend the trappings of being considered the “pre-eminent young black actor” to become a leading man in such films as The Pelican Brief, Crimson Tide and The Bone Collector.

He has worked with several of Hollywood’s greatest directors, including three stints with Spike Lee, a gig in Carl Franklin’s stylish noir thriller Devil in a Blue Dress, and a lead role opposite Tom Hanks in Jonathan Demme’s Philadelphia.

The story of wrongly-convicted boxer Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, The Hurricane is Washington’s third film in which he plays a black martyr, following his two Oscar-nominated roles of Steven Biko and Malcolm X. The Hurricane also marks Washington’s second performance under the direction of Norman Jewison, who cast a young Washington in A Soldier’s Story in 1984.

Denzel Washington chatted with us about The Hurricane, boxing and how to sell a movie.

How are you doing, Denzel?
Good. And I was really naked in the scene in the prison! That was me. That was my backside. That was me. That’s important to me. Someone accused me of using someone else in there. I trained two years. Two years! Almost two years. A year-and-a-half, two years. Check the butt!

You’ve got a great ass, but what does this…?
Nah, because somebody said to me today, “Now, that double…” Hey, there ain’t no double! That was me. I even turned around in the scene so you could see my face. It’s the butt! Look at the butt! (laughs)

Well, I will say this: in the beginning of the movie, when you were in the ring the first time, and you took off your robe, it was Damn! How did you get that cut?
Boxing. Boxing. Real boxing. Hitting and getting hit.

Did you have a trainer?
A gentleman by the name of Terry Claybon, who actually played Emile Griffith in the first fight. Terry was an undefeated amateur--and professional--and developed cataracts and had to retire. Became a trainer. Got a young woman now, Frieda the Cheetah, who is gonna fight in January for the world title. And he’s got another young fighter, Antoine Leech, who’s undefeated.

So I take it you’re a boxing fan?
Yeah. I love boxing. I’m even more of a fan now having been in the ring. I have a healthy respect for what they’re doing. It’s the most difficult sport I’ve ever done. I’ve played football, baseball, basketball and track, did everything on the high school and college level. None of it is as tough as this. It’s will power. It’s conditioning. It’s speed, obviously, and your natural abilities and all those things, but it’s your will. It’s imposing your will on someone. It’s pure, too. It’s just you and him, or she and her. There’s no time out. You got three minutes, then you go sit down, you know? I like fighting.

Do you entertain dreams of being a boxer?
I was in the ring yesterday.

What’s your reach?
(throws a jab, holds his fist out) I don’t know. I don’t know.

Being an actor, aren’t you afraid of getting jacked in the face?
I actually got some headgear that had a little nose thing across it so I wouldn’t bust my nose.

Do you still have that six-pack stomach?
I got a twelve pack. I got a twelve pack. (laughs)

Did you study old films of Hurricane to get down his style?
I didn’t really imitate his style, other than the fact that he was a left-hookin’ fool. He was actually a southpaw. He was a converted southpaw, which was one of the reasons his left was so powerful. But Rubin’s like five-eight, a buck-fifty-five. I’m like six-one. If I got down to one-seventy-five. One-fifty-five, I would’ve looked… it wouldn’t have worked. I’m just too big for that. And, you know, everybody has their own style, so I didn’t feel a pressure to imitate his style. One, because I just said, “not too many people know it,” you know? And I had to adapt it to what I could do and what I couldn’t do.

I understand you tried to secure the rights to Hurricane’s story about nine years ago. What initially attracted you to this story?
For all of this to happen and it all to come down to this kid who happened to buy this book, it was just a fascinating story. Rubin had gotten out for like nine months or so during the re-trial. So when they locked that door on him again, when he got triple life again, he began praying. He began to meditate and practice Islam and he read the bible and Buddha and everybody else he could get his hands on. To this day, he still meditates extensively. When he did that, that’s when something seemed to reach out to him. Because he wasn’t even answering mail. He had stacks and stacks of mail and wouldn’t answer anybody. He said this one letter was just jumping out at him, like talking to him, “Open me. Open me.” And it’s just the one letter that he opened out of hundreds of letters that he had and it was from this kid and it touched him at a time I think when he was ready for it. So to me, that’s the spiritual aspect of the film and that’s what I was going after.

Did you and your co-star, Vicellous Reon Shannon share the same kind of father/son relationship that Hurricane and Lesra did?
I think so. I mean, I guess I’m old enough to be his father, I think.

In interviews, he says he looks up to you.
Does he? (grins)

He said he learned a lot from you.
Did he? (grins from ear-to-ear) Now that’s a proud father. I remember meeting Sidney Poitier when I was young in this business. He said some very important things to me like, “If they see you for free all week, they won’t pay to see you on the weekends.” And that the first two or three or four films in your career, that is how Hollywood is going to look at you, so be very careful about the roles you choose. There was one role in particular that I just didn’t feel good about and they were gonna pay me a bunch of money--it was to be my fourth film. And I called Sidney and he said, “If you don’t feel good about it, don’t do it.” And I said, “Yeah, but…” “Don’t do it.” So I waited. I waited like six months and I got Cry Freedom. So I try to pass that kind of stuff onto Vicellous.

What movie was this?
It was a movie that wasn’t even made. If they did, it came and went so fast I didn’t see it. But I don’t think it was made around that time.

You started your career working with Norman Jewison on A Soldier’s Story. Fifteen years later, you and he are working together again. How is it different now?
I thought I knew everything when I worked for him the first time. You know, I was younger and I just thought I knew a whole lot. And now I know that I don’t know that much. But it’s mostly my own maturing as an actor and in front of the camera. In A Soldier’s Story, I had done the play for three hundred performances, so I thought I knew every nuance of the play, but I didn’t understand how that applied to film. Obviously, I’ve made a couple of films between then and now, so I know a little more about it now.

And you’re a movie star now.
You know, people don’t come up to me at the park and say, “Hey, you’re a movie star.” I don’t even hear the word movie star basically until I do interviews. That’s the truth. I mean people may react to you in odd ways, like falling down or fainting or something, crying. But that doesn’t happen in this town, I think. People react to you more like, “Oh, he got my job. I was supposed to play Malcolm X, I want you to know that. I was gonna do it, but I had this movie of the week.”

Are you talking about Wesley Snipes?
Wesley Snipes said that? Could’ve been.

The Hurricane received an R-rating, which is definitely going to limit its audience, especially with kids who, frankly, should see this movie. What do you think the MPAA saw as a problem with this movie?
It concerned me in not allowing kids to see it and I think young adults, teenagers should. Probably the language, but it’s not like kids don’t… problematic. Teenagers nowadays are getting shot at in schools. What’s problematic about this movie? My son saw the film. Have you talked to Norman about this? I’d be interested to know why we got an R.

How do you get audiences in the theatre for something like The Hurricane, which is a drama, first, and perceived as an African-American film, second?
You gotta show that butt, gotta show that butt! Show that backside! Write about that butt! That’s your job. Write about that booty! (laughs)

A lot of that is your job and my job to talk about it. From my side of it, I think it’s not “Oh, you’ll learn so much.” It’s not a sermon. It’s a strong film, and it’s entertainment.
It’s a fine line as the promoter, if you will, to not make it too precious or too sweet or too… it’s still just a movie. You know, get some popcorn and a soda and go to the movie. I think it’s a very good movie, and hopefully it can stand on that. So, I don’t think… what am I saying? Talk about the butt!

Girl, Interviewed: Brittany Murphy 12.06.99

Brittany Murphy has starred in Clueless, Freeway and Drop Dead Gorgeous and was a series regular on Drexell’s Class and Sister, Sister. However, it’s her voice for which she is most famous. The 22-year-old actress voices the characters of Luann and Joseph Gribble on Fox’s King of the Hill.

In Girl, Interrupted, opposite Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie, Murphy plays Daisy, a suicidal bulimic with an obsessive compulsion for rotisserie chicken and laxatives. We chatted at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills about the film, her co-stars, fascism and Janis Joplin.

Where are you from?
New Jersey. Edison. “Caufee.” “Wauter.” “Hauribble.” “Haurrible” instead of “horrible.” “Tornament?”

We say “Turnament”?
Turnament? I say Tornament. Pockibook.

So how did you get from Edison, New Jersey to Hollywood, California?
I always knew I was a stage people and that I wanted to perform. I loved performing so very much, but I didn’t know what venue it would ever take place in. And I knew since I was a small child that I was supposed to perform in some way shape or form. There’s just something inside of me that I can’t really put a word on. I haven’t found a word for it yet.

Okay. But how did that translate into a career?
I’m getting into that (laughs) …Just tenacity. And I was so grateful to have an overwhelmingly supportive mother who--well, after a few years of telling me, “Why don’t you wait for a little while?”--ran me back and forth to New York to audition for commercials.

I found out about the manager in New York through the dance studio that I was taking dance classes from when I was three years old. I loved these dance classes. Even if we didn’t have enough money to buy lunch meat, my mom would have me in these damn classes. It was because I loved it so much. It was my oxygen. And then I started doing regional theater around New Jersey when I was about nine-years-old and then, at twelve-and-a-half, I finally got her to bring me into the City.

So, now did auditioning for commercials in New York lead to Drexell’s Class and Sister, Sister and Clueless and King Of The Hill and now, Girl, Interrupted opposite Winona Ryder and Angelina Jolie?
Okay, then, the manager wanted to bring me to LA for pilot season that year--that was ‘91. So, I came out here January 8 of ‘91, and I haven’t left since. I called my mom on the phone--I was with a chaperone--and I said, “Mom, I want you to move out here for me. Everything is right here! I can’t even believe it! It’s every thing I ever dreamed about!” And she said, “Sure,” and she packed up our house and moved out here for me. It’s amazing. She was tired of her job and tired of Jersey and, and, and I don’t know, I really don’t know. My mom’s exceptional. Yeah. And she never pushed me. I really pushed her to try to help me out. (giggles)

Did you always want to be a movie star?
Do I want to be a movie star? Sure. Yeah. Those aren’t my motives, but I wouldn’t do this if I didn’t somehow affect society on a whole, and perform and affect mass groups of people. I mean, this is what I want to do for a living.

You sound like der Fuhrer.
Oh no. (Cackles maniacally into the microphone)

Which would you rather be, a movie star or der Fuhrer?
Shall I answer that question? No, no. But, of course, I don’t know how I would deal with (superstardom), if it were ever to come. For now, I’ll just keep working and plugging away. And I’m not working to attain that goal; I’m more thinking for the second. But I do have a lot of long term goals that I keep very private. I’ll let you know once I’ve infiltrated.

Are you prepared for all the things that go along with celebrity, like stalking?
(laughs) I told people where I lived in my first interview. The publicists came up to me and sincerely said to me, “You did very well, but just (whispering) don’t tell people where you live.”

With Girl, Interrupted, did you specifically go after the role of Daisy?

Just because it was the one available.

Did you see playing Daisy as a challenge?
It wasn’t any more or less challenging than any other role; it was just different. It was a different character. So, Daisy was a challenge, but a challenge is a great thing. Of course, it’s challenging or I wouldn’t be doing it. I’m fortunate enough to do something that will always be challenging. I’m never gonna know everything there is to know about it. I’ll be doing it till I drop. I’ll be eighty and still not know everything there is to know about acting. There’s no book. There’s no context. It’s about human beings, and we’ll never really figure each other out. I think that, you know, it was a challenge, but everything’s a challenge. It was a rewarding challenge. Things that are difficult, in return, end up being really great..

Is Winona Ryder always as radiant as she seems?
Winona? Oh, I adore her. With all my heart.

And Angelina Jolie?
It was really a creatively rewarding experience because when you’re acting-- I can speak for myself only, of course--when I have the chance to act with someone and exchange emotions and intimacies with someone who is so pure to theirs and is so great at what they do and great at their craft, I can’t help but learn. In that respect, it was really just a fantastic experience. I loved working with Angie.

How are Ryder and Jolie different?
I can’t tell you what the differences are. You know, it’s night and day. Like everyone. Like the two of us, you know? Some people are more similar than others, but they’re quite different. They’re different about their acting and they’re different about their person, but they’re both equally as extraordinary. And I’m equally enamored of them both as humans and as artists. But, like I said. Night and day. Yeah. I’ll just leave it at that.

What’s coming up on the horizon for you?
I did Cherry Falls, and then a film called Trixie after that and then another one called Common Ground after that. And now we’re here today.

When are you going to play Janis Joplin in Piece of My Heart?
I don’t know! That’s something that was supposed to be filmed last summer. I will study very vigorously before it’s to come, but it’s something that consumes every bit of my life, because I have this really deep love for her. And once I start listening to things and once I start reading things, I can’t stop. And I can’t neglect these other characters I’m playing in the meanwhile, so when I finally find out… when Janis wants this movie to happen, it’ll happen. Her story is supposed to be told right, and when she knows it’s going to be told properly, whether it’s me or somebody else, I know that it will be told one day. It’s just all the components have to be proper, you know?

It was slated to be filmed last summer, but things sort of got derailed. I know the music rights are available February of 2000. I’ve been hearing since it was re-scheduled sometime after February of 2000, in 2000, hopefully. The director was slated to be Gary Freder. He is no longer attached to this film, but I’m gonna work with him Tuesday on his new film for Miramax, Impostor. He’s a good friend of mine, now.

What do you play in Impostor?
It’s a cameo. I’ve never done a cameo. I’m so excited! I’m gonna be an anchorwoman. I’m gonna be Sally Atwater, remember? Is that her name? Sally Atwater? What was that called? What was that song? (sings) “Do Do Do Doo Do… because you remember me?” My friend does the funniest impersonation of her.

Okay, let’s end this way--what was the first movie you ever made out during?
You mean, onscreen or off? (laughs) Onscreen… who was the first? Well, my first love scene was in a movie-of-the-week. I was 16 or 17. It was called Double Jeopardy: The Story Of Gina Marie, and it was with Joe Penny.

How about offscreen?
That’s private. (laughs)

What are you doing for the turn-of-the-millennium?
I don’t know. Something private and very homey with loved ones. I’m gonna be in a bomb shelter. Have a very Happy Holidays.

The Eye Of The Hurrican: Our Norman Jewison Interview 12.13.99

Norman Jewison’s forty year career has produced twenty-three feature films (earning 45 Academy Award nominations between them) and spanned just about every genre from comedy to drama to science fiction to spy thriller.

The Hurricane, the tragic story of boxer Rubin Carter wrongly convicted of a triple homicide, completes a sort of trilogy for Jewison. This is his third feature to focus on African-Americans, racism and justice, following up A Soldier’s Story and In The Heat Of The Night.

Jewison joined me for a discussion about The Hurricane, the current state of filmmaking, and the gullibility of the press.

Good afternoon. My name is Norman Jewison. I’m a director and we are here to talk about Mr. Ripley …oh, right The Hurricane.

Are you nervous that The Hurricane is opening against The Talented Mr. Ripley and the other quality films out now?
Well, we had so much sh*t for the rest of the year that it’s about time. Wasn’t it kind of nice to see a group of good, intelligent pictures, finally? I think it’s a terrific year now. It was a disaster before that, wasn’t it?

This disastrous year in film is being touted by some as the introduction of a new class of “edgy” films.
I don’t know what’s “edgy.” What’s edgy to you may not be edgy to me. I think we live in a time right now of total hype and glory. I think that’s what it’s all about. It’s all about the hype. I think false things are hyped to be true and people buy into it. I think we’re in the danger of living in a corporate society where we’re told what to think, what to hear, what to eat, what to wear and what to like. So, it’s hard for me. I’m a filmmaker. I tell stories. All I’m interested in is telling a story--a good story--and putting it up on the screen. I have a couple of hours to do it and it takes me a year-and-a-half to two years, so what I do is very important to me.

Well, “edgy” or not, what do you think of the new, young directors?
I don’t think it has anything to do with age. You’re talking about new directors. There’s always new directors. Old directors die and move on. New directors come along. I started out in this business sitting at the feet of William Wyler. I was mentored by George Stevens and Freddy Zinneman and Billy Wilder and John Sturges and people like that. When I had a question, they answered it. When I asked if I could sit in their editing room, they all let me.

They’re all dead. They’re all gone or retired or whatever… worn out. And then a new bunch comes along, you know? Myself, John Frankenheimer, Franklin Schaffner, Sidney Lumet, all of us. We all came from live television, from New York. We didn’t come up through the film schools. There were no film schools. The next generation came from film schools, the Coppolas, the Lucases, the Spielbergs. They go to school and they study film. And so, the next generation comes along and the next…

This doesn’t mean that they’re better. This doesn’t that mean that they’re edgier. This means that they’re coming along now in the ‘90s. It doesn’t mean that somebody older like myself is any less capable or talented. As a matter of fact, directors usually get better as they get older. Conductors of orchestras usually get better as they get older. Painters usually get better. Even writers usually get better as they get older because they know more.

How about the press?
Journalists always get better as they get older and they get more cynical, thank god. And hopefully less gullible. But the way the press got behind that piece of sh*t… remember that film earlier this year off the Internet?

The Blair Witch Project?
Puh-lease. Puh-lease. That’s not a movie. Christ, you wanna talk about artistic talent? But the way the press crowed about it, “Oh, it’s so wonderful! My god, it’s so real! Oh my god, look at that! Geez, the guy went out with a camcorder and a stick! You could do that in your backyard! Don’t you think this is brilliant? This is deep. This is really something here! Did you know that someone died when they were making that picture?” All bullsh*t!

Do you think…?
How can you embrace this? How can you believe in this? That puts movies out of business and redundant. If you say that’s a brilliant piece of filmmaking, you have now made the entire experience of going to films totally redundant.

But how do…?
Because there is no artistry there. There is no use of light. There is no art here! There is no great writing! There is no great acting! There is no great direction! There is a brilliant piece of marketing! A fantastic hype. Oh my god, they sucked everybody in. It’s just wonderful.

And now they’re gonna make Blair Witch 2. They’re gonna do it again! Oh, it’s unbelievable. And we’re here to talk about Rubin “Hurricane” Carter and his story? We’re here to talk about justice and freedom and belief in someone and commitment? That’s what the film’s about. That’s what we should be talking about.

Well, let’s talk about the film, then. How did you become involved in The Hurricane?
About eight or ten years ago, a man by the name of David Picker came to my office in Toronto and said, “Do you know the Rubin ‘Hurricane’ Carter story? Here’s the Sports Illustrated.” And I read it and I was blown away. And that’s when I read The Sixteenth Round. David Picker could not get the money to make the film. Nobody wanted to make it. About eight years later, a young Canadian producer, John Ketchum, who had never made a movie, acquired the rights and came down to Los Angeles. Beacon Pictures and Army Bernstein were the only people who wanted to do it.

Army wrote the first draft. Then I brought in Chris Cleveland, and we did another screenplay. What else was the Writer’s Guild credit?

Dan Gordon?
It was Dan Gordon who brought a lot of structure to Army’s first draft. Army’s first draft was big and sprawling. I kept paring down. Gordon and Bernstein really carried the ball as far as they could. The structure was intact. So, I didn’t have the big problem of changing the structure of the piece. I could just work on reducing it and reducing it and reducing it, which is what I had to do because the film would have been five hours long. As it was my first cut was three-hours-and-ten-minutes, so I had a lot of cutting to get it down to manageable proportions. So that the audience, first of all, wouldn’t get bored, and also, so they could follow, because you’re jumping out of time--constantly. This was a very difficult structure.

I fought like hell to get this film down to its present length and it still feels long to me. I’m one of those people. If you look at my films, they very rarely exceed two hours. Except for Fiddler On The Roof, which had an intermission. In those days, they used to do big films with an intermission. Every film is probably too long except a Woody Allen picture.

I had to take out a lot of things that I wanted in the film. I was taking them out as I was shooting because, remember, this film was made for less money. When you make an African-American film, you don’t get as much money as when you make a totally white commercial film.

Why do you think that is?
Oh, all sorts of racist, racial kinds of ideas that I think Madison Avenue perpetuates and the studios buy into and demographics play up. “If you put an African-American on the cover of Time Magazine, it won’t sell.” They have these things in their minds that are just absolute holdovers from a more racially intolerant period. And I’m not saying we’re out of it yet, because we are not. This country talks a lot about the individual freedoms for its citizens that are totally preserved in a piece of paper called the Constitution, yet it’s also a country based on racism. How do you figure that out? Why is that? Are we not gonna talk about it?

Do you think this film is branded an “African-American film” because Denzel is the lead?
I think it’s the subject matter. I think this is an African-American story.

Because it isn’t an all-black cast and you are white, there are those who wouldn’t consider this an African-American film?
They wouldn’t? Really? What do they consider Rubin Carter?

This is your third film addressing the experience of African-Americans. What attracts you to these stories and in particular The Hurricane?
Well, we have to keep making movies that address the truth. I don’t see a lot of movies like this. I believe people are interested in a good story--well-told. And I think if it’s human, it touches them and they can identify with someone, I think they’ll respond to it. With this film, the audience seems to be totally emotionally involved with it.

This is the third film I’ve done that deals with injustice and racism and how it affects people’s behavior and decision-making. And how it certainly affected justice. Because I believe there’s a law for the rich and a law for the poor, I believe there’s a law for white and a law for black. I believe that. I believe that there is injustice in the country. And that’s part of what attracted me. But what really attracted me was the man--was Rubin Carter. His story--that’s what really attracted me.

Are you a fan of boxing?
No, not really. I only related to boxing through Monday Night Fight Night. Remember in the ‘60s? …no, you wouldn’t remember the ‘60s. Boxing was very big, and there used to be fights every Monday night and they were in black-and-white and they were always from some city: Lansing, Michigan; Madison Square Gardens; Reading, Pennsylvania. I wanted to re-create that feel, and that’s why I did them in black-and-white.

What do you think of Denzel, not only as an actor but as a boxer?
I’ve never seen a guy so committed. I mean he literally, literally trained for six months. Fought and boxed two hours every day. Every day! He lost 44 pounds. And it was all because I looked at him and said, “Look, I can’t help you. I can’t help you. You’re gonna be in that ring all alone with a pair of shorts on, and you’re forty-years-old.”

How does it feel to have The Thomas Crown Affair and now Rollerball being remade?
Well, I feel very old when they’re starting to remake pictures that I did.

Is there any genre you’d like to tackle?
Well, I’d like to go back and do another musical. That’s what I’d like to do. Yeah, why can’t we do musicals?