Charmed Rewitch: Episode 9 – The one with the hot hunk of Man-Wyatt

It’s been over 10 years since the Halliwells hung up their brooms, so I’m heading back to San Francisco to see if Charmed‘s special brand of supernatural entertainment still casts a spell…

Episode: 6.10 ‘Chris-Crossed’
Writer: Cameron Litvack
Director: Joel J. Feigenbaum

Adult Wyatt CharmedWho is Chris? Why did he come back from the future? And how does he always get his hair so perfect? These questions and more are (sort of) addressed in this flash-forward-heavy sixth season episode, which administers 1,000 volts to the show’s lethargic ‘Chris arc’, giving the whitelighter from the future an intriguing backstory (or should that be forward-story?) without ever managing to make him more likeable.

“That’s one bitchy whitelighter,” snips Piper at the start of the episode, and it’s hard not to agree with her. For over nine episodes, Chris has orbed around like a whiny stick-in-the-mud, shoving his nose in the Halliwells’ business and irritating everybody with his pious attitude. That changes, though, in ‘Chris-Crossed’, when Chris is attacked by Bianca (Marisol Nichols), a hot mama in leather he clearly has a past (uh, future?) with.

Weakened and even more puppy-eyed than ever, he remembers his future (past? Oh, I give up) in handy flash-forwards that reveal he and Bianca were engaged before he hopped back in time to protect the Halliwells from an evil that will leave San Francisco resembling Planet Of The Apes by way of Minority Report.

Which brings us to Man-Wyatt (Wes Ramsey). See, it turns out Piper’s grown-up son is the reason this future San Fran has fallen into ruin. Wyatt’s seized control of Frisco like some sort of supernatural Al Capone – only an Al Capone with a surfer bod and L’oreal-style golden curls (he’s worth it). With the Charmed Ones dead and their home turned into the Halliwell Memorial Museum (a fun touch), he’s run wild – and only Chris is brave enough to take him on.

This episode’s named after Chris, but it should really be titled ‘Wyatt, Erp!’ Though he’s given little more than five minutes of screen-time, Wes Ramsey owns ‘Chris-Crossed’. Kept mostly in shadow, he’s an imposing, smouldering presence, filling the attic with the kind of charisma that Charmed lacked post-Cole. Sadly, he’s at the centre of one of Charmed‘s biggest disappointments because, despite the promising storyline ‘Chris-Crossed’ establishes, the show never followed through on it.

Charmed Chris-CrossedA future San Fran destroyed by one of the Halliwells’ offspring is a thrilling idea ripe with story potential – so much so that fans spent years campaigning for a ‘Charmed Sons’ spin-off that never materialised. But, after his big debut, Man-Wyatt is all-but forgotten by the show’s writers. Wes Ramsey only appears in one more season six episode (the ‘blah’ finale) before fan demand saw him cropping up once in season seven (the forgettable ‘Imaginary Fiends’) and series finale ‘Forever Charmed’.

Apparently Ramsey’s schedule kept him from making more appearances, and season six – and the ‘Chris arc’ as a whole – suffers massively from that. After this, we got a string of filler episodes (‘Witchstock’, ‘Prince Charmed’, ‘The Legend Of Sleepy Halliwell’) before the show attempted to introduce a replacement Big Bad in the form of preening evil elder Gideon (Gildart Jackson). Yawn.

So ‘Chris-Crossed’ represents both the best and the worst of season six. In a year where the girls became involved with increasingly one-dimensional men (does anybody really remember Greg? Or Richard?), their real-life dramas were becoming oddly stale. Meanwhile, great ideas like Man-Wyatt and the Phoenix coven are left almost entirely unexplored. With Charmed getting a reboot, here’s hoping some of those ideas will finally receive the attention they deserve.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 8 – The one where Prue looks like Nicolas Cage

It’s been over 10 years since the Halliwells hung up their brooms, so I’m heading back to San Francisco to see if Charmed‘s special brand of supernatural entertainment still casts a spell…

Episode: 2.05 ‘She’s A Man, Baby, A Man!’
Writer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Director: Martha Mitchell

charmed_s2e05_800x450Did it just get hot in here? Between all the sweaty cleavages, gorgeous men-folk and Phoebe proclaiming she’s “aroused” every ten seconds, it’s a wonder the cast and crew made it through this episode at all. Thank goodness they did, though, because with its sexy themes, memorable female villain and snappy banter, ‘She’s A Man, Baby, A Man!’ is one of the show’s most entertaining (and yes, sweatiest) hours.

See, a heatwave’s hit San Francisco and Phoebe’s burning up. Supernaturally. She keeps having saucy dreams about seducing hot guys, but the dreams all end with her killing them. Instead of this being a return for season one’s duff Dream Sorcerer (god forbid), it turns out she’s psychically linked to a succubus, a spurned witch who’s mating with horny men in order to fill her wardrobe with eggs (that’s not a euphemism).

Meanwhile, Piper’s blissfully unaware that neighbour Dan likes her as much as she likes him, and Prue’s baffled when a date says he’ll call and then actually does (go figure). And with Morris asking the girls for help tracking down the hunk hacker, he’s getting closer to the Halliwells’ secret than ever.

As if that wasn’t enough, there’s also the small matter of Prue being turned into a man. Yes (baby), a man. After a spell backfires (shades of ‘Which Prue Is It, Anyway?’ here), she finds herself sans boobs and avec ween, which sends her sisters into fits of giggles and, despite her startling resemblance to a young Nicolas Cage, they rename Prue ‘Manny Hanks’ for the rest of the episode.

The ‘Prue as man’ plot is a spectacularly subversive twist for a show that was all-too-often accused of putting its stars in the skimpiest of outfits. (“The joke was they would always promote the show as Tits And Witches,” showrunner Brad Kern said in 2006. “Like, what are you doing?”) By covering Shannen Doherty up in man-shirts and facial hair (the make-up artist used a picture of Doherty’s then-boyfriend as inspiration), the show’s whole dynamic changes, and the episode cleverly toys with the question: what would’ve happened if the Halliwells had a brother?

2.5So Piper gets annoyed at Man-Prue’s bullish nature (forgetting she’s always like that) and there’s some laugh-out-loud physical humour in Prue attempting to emulate Dan’s manliness (“How about those niners?”). This is Charmed with its thinking cap on – there’s even a great, grisly villain whose modus operandi (a strangulating tongue) is brilliantly/disturbingly phallic.

After their patchy first season, the Charmed writers had clearly been thinking about what they wanted the show to be, and the first half of season two features some of its most innovative ideas. This is just one of them and, despite indulging in the season’s soapier elements (was anybody ever really rooting for Piper and Dan?), it opens up a fun discussion about how miscommunication and misunderstanding go hand-in-hand.

It’s particularly interesting to compare this episode with season eight’s ‘Battle Of The Hexes’. Where that Billie-centric episode regurgitated many of this hour’s sentiments, it did it with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. With ‘She’s A Man, Baby, A Man!’, Charmed struck an impressive balance between Paul Verhoeven-esque raunchiness and Species-style body horror. Perhaps most impressive: it boasts an ‘equal rights’ approach to gender politics that argues that, when it comes to matters of the heart, men and women really are as bad as each other.

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 7 – The one where everybody’s been taking happy pills (except they haven’t)

It’s been over 10 years since the Halliwells hung up their brooms, so I’m heading back to San Francisco to see if Charmed‘s special brand of supernatural entertainment still casts a spell…

Episode: 7.13 ‘Charmageddon’
Writer: Henry Alonso Myers
Director: John T. Kretchmer

ca1c9d81e9aaf43e741f1914499ba67eWhen it came to creating alt-worlds, Charmed often slayed the competition. Whether depicting a weirdly plausible near-future (in ‘Morality Bites’), the manor as asylum (in ‘Brain Drain’) or a post-Prue apocalypse (in ‘Centennial Charmed’), the show often excelled at turning its iconography on its head. And while the alt-world in this episode doesn’t quite pack the same punch as those other episodes, it still takes an interesting look at the impossibility of utopia.

Season seven’s Big Bads were the Avatars, an impressively ethnically diverse group of black-clad pacifists who first seduced Leo (by, uh, appearing as a scary floating head) before enlisting the Halliwells to help them bring about their vision of a ‘perfect’ world. In ‘Charmageddon’, that utopia has been rolled out globally, resulting in thinner newspapers (crime’s down), generally happier people (cue lots of awful bit-players) and, most importantly, a genuine shot at a demon-free existence for the Halliwells.

Of course, it’s not that easy. Phoebe’s boss (Elise, always welcome) may claim “it’s like everybody’s been taking happy pills”, but this supposed utopia hides a dark side – the cost of a ‘perfect’ world, it seems, is extreme fascism. With the Avatars stating they “simply cannot abide” conflict, anybody who rocks the boat is immediately scrubbed out of existence. Which, clearly, is sort of a problem.

‘Charmageddon’ came just 13 episodes after the hyper-happy world of season six’s (ultimately disappointing) finale, but it has starker questions in mind. Charmed was always best when it blurred the line between good and evil and, in this episode, it becomes increasingly clear that the Avatars are basically soft-spoken extremists – damn-near supernatural terrorists. Their message is essentially: “We want peace and we’ll kill to get it.”

On the flipside, demon Zankou (the excellent Oded Fehr) sees through the whole thing and quickly pairs up with Leo to try to fix things. We all know this utopia can’t last but it’s interesting seeing why it can’t. In particular, the peculiarly trauma-free issue of death (if you lose a loved one, you immediately accept “they’re in a better place”), which culminates in one of Phoebe’s best scenes of the season as she suffers an uber-premonition reminding her of every loss the Halliwells have experienced since becoming witches (yes, that includes a shot of Prue’s grave).

This is notable as the only time Charmed ever delivered a mid-season two-parter (it follows the brilliantly-titled ‘Extreme Makeover: World Edition’), and the concept certainly justifies it. Though its depiction of utopia is ultimately a little thin, ‘Charmageddon’ features a handful of great moments – Piper’s tearful breakdown at losing Leo, Zankou’s Egyptian tomb foraging (a clear nod to Fehr’s role in the Mummy movies), that uber-premonition. There’s even a poignant send-off for Kyle Brody (Kerr Smith).

The Avatars ultimately retreat, setting the world back to rights (and wrongs). If their withdrawal feels anti-climactic, it’s leavened by the fact that Zankou’s still around. There’s a wonderful cinematic shot in which he vanishes when a bus passes him on the street, and his prickly presence throughout the rest of the season offers a controversial explanation for why a ‘perfect’ world would never work – when the baddies are this good, who needs utopia?

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Charmed Rewitch: Episode 6 – The one where The Seer proves she’s an evil genius

It’s been over 10 years since the Halliwells hung up their brooms, so I’m heading back to San Francisco to see if Charmed‘s special brand of supernatural entertainment still casts a spell…

Episode: 4.15 ‘Marry-Go-Round’
Writer: Daniel Cerone
Director: Chris Long

screen-shot-2017-02-15-at-18-48-14“Is this a wedding or a coronation?” jokes Paige at the start of this fiendishly clever fourth season episode as Phoebe plans her predictably lavish (and eco-friendly) marriage to Cole. Of course, Paige is right on both counts: Phoebe’s Big Day is, in fact, a wedding and a coronation as she’s unwittingly coerced into marrying (gasp) The Source and being made his queen. And you thought your wedding was a ball-ache.

Naturally, the masterminding of this dark plan comes courtesy of Charmed‘s best ever baddie. The Seer (Debbi Morgan) hasn’t got a real name, but that doesn’t matter when she’s this brazen, sly and downright awesome. Like the best ‘mission: impossible’ scenarios, she sets out the episode’s seemingly absurd stakes early, informing Cole (now imbued with super-evil The Source, but still presumed “as defenceless as a cat toy” by Piper et al) that to produce an evil heir, he’ll have to marry Phoebe in “the dark way”.

That means Phoebe has to drink his blood, marry in a cemetery and be presided over by a dark priest (a nifty little role for Tony Amendola). Y’know, no biggie. The beauty of ‘Marry-Go-Round’, though, is watching the Seer slowly move all of the pieces in to place. With some ingenious twists and double-bluffs, she pulls off her plan and doesn’t even crack a smile afterwards – that’s how bad-ass she is.

Unlike so many of Charmed‘s one-dimensional villains, the Seer’s always one step ahead, and she’s forever looking to further her ambitions – here, everybody’s a puppet and she’s the one with strings soldered to her fingers. Debbi Morgan appeared in nine of the show’s episodes, and though the writers fudged her big moment (in anti-climactic exit ‘Womb Raider’), she’s integral to Charmed‘s first big (and deliciously dark) arc. It’s not hard to see why she was a must-have guest star in the show’s 100th episode a year later.

The Seer’s crafty gameplay revolves around pitting the sisters against each other. New witch Paige, naturally, is the weak link in the Charmed chain, and the Seer fully exploits the fact that Piper and Phoebe don’t know her as well as each other. Paige’s wedding preparation ‘mistakes’ are trivial (picking up the wrong dress, uh, accidentally making Phoebe invisible), but that’s their brilliance – who’d ever expect the Charmed Ones to be destroyed by a spat over night cream?

This episode first aired during ‘sweeps’ in the US (when all shows bring out the big guns), and Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano and Holly Marie Combs are given a load of fun stuff to work with. Though Phoebe is inevitably the bridezilla to end them all (that fringe, though…), Paige gets many of the standout moments – she niftily orbs a sofa to cushion Piper’s fall during a fight, and selflessly surrenders herself so Phoebe can have her wedding. She’s also the one who keeps asking all the right questions, paving the way for her increasing mistrust of Cole/The Source.

‘Marry-Go-Round’ really is Charmed at its smartest and most darkly humorous. Even stunt casting in the form of rapper Coolio (avec his spider-plant hair) can’t ruin it as the “mean and unreliable” Lazarus demon, and there’s a hilarious dig at Shannen Doherty as Piper remembers her own wedding: “Only Prue could make my wedding day all about her.” Which is sort of fitting – this may be Phoebe’s Big Day, but it’s the Seer who steals the show.

Missed an episode? Catch up on the other Charmed Rewitches here.

Hell’s belle

jessica-jonesThe inside line on Jessica Jones, Marvel’s second Netflix TV series…

INT. BAR – HELL’S KITCHEN. NIGHT. A dark-haired woman bowls inside just as a fight erupts. The bartender – big, imposing – trades blows with drunk patrons. The woman hurls a guy across a table. Breaks another guy’s hand. Within minutes, groaning bodies litter the floor. The woman and the bartender share a look, recognising that this isn’t exactly normal…

“I actually did punch somebody in the face by accident,” laughs Krysten Ritter, the dark-haired pugilist in question, chatting to Lounge six months after shooting that bar scrap on location in New York City. “I didn’t mean to, accidents happen! I punched a stunt guy, and I sent him a bottle of whisky to apologise. Honestly, I think he got a kick out of it. I feel like the stunt guys like it a little bit.”

That, or this stunt guy was understandably intimidated by Marvel’s latest superhero. After all, Jessica Jones isn’t somebody you mess with. Sarcastic, abrasive, always ready to throw a punch (or a barbed one-liner), she’s the star of the studio’s second Netflix TV series, which arrives in the wake of Daredevil’s acclaimed first season. Set in the same neighbourhood – Hell’s Kitchen – /Jessica Jones/ is equally as dark, following the titular private eye, an ex-superhero who snoops on behalf of freelance clients and sniffy attorney Jeri Hogarth (Carrie-Anne Moss). At least, that’s when she’s not drinking herself unconscious.

“Because of her dark past, she can really see the darkness in others,” explains showrunner Melissa Rosenberg (Dexter, Dark Skies). “What she’s lacking is the ability to see the good in people. She’s a pessimist by nature.” They’re characteristics drawn directly from Brian Michael Bendis’ R-rated 2001 comic, Alias, but Rosenberg also references Chinatown as a tonal touchstone for a show that trades in gorgeous noir imagery. It also fosters a foreboding sense of paranoia, not least when Jones is drawn into a case involving dangerous mind manipulator Kilgrave (David Tenant), who may hold the key to her traumatic past.

Rosenberg initially pitched the show to ABC back in 2010, when Marvel TV boss Jeph Loeb gave her a copy of Alias, and she’d had her eye on Ritter to star ever since. Though Ritter was best known for comedies like Don’t Trust The B—- In Apartment 23, her role as Jessie’s girlfriend in Breaking Bad proved she wasn’t all sweetness and light. “The Breaking Bad role was like, ‘Ooooh-kay, I get it, you’re dark. You can go deep,’” Rosenberg recalls. “The range that she displays in this show is just extraordinary.”

For Ritter, it was a no-brainer. After reading the script in secret (“Jeph Loeb locked me in a room, took away my cell phone”), she was struck by the strength of Rosenberg’s story, and in particular how different it was from Daredevil. “That show is super-violent and has a lot of fights and cool stunts and shit,” she says. “And Jessica Jones is a much more character-driven psychological thriller, where the violence is more psychological.”

“There’s a need for redemption, which is a very traditional, heroic drive,” adds Rosenberg, “but buried on top of that are so many wrong moves, so many mistakes and bad choices… It’s quite fun trying to get there.” Perhaps hindering more than helping Jones on her road to redemption is that imposing bartender, who just so happens to be Luke Cage (Mike Colter), another Marvel hero. Where Jones possesses superhuman strength, Cage seems almost indestructible.

“They’re opposites, yet they have the same fucking thing they can’t tell anybody about,” Ritter says. “They’re, in a way, the same person. I love their relationship. A lot of it exists in the quietness, in the subtext. And I love me some Mike Colter.”

Colter’s getting his own solo series next year (it’s currently shooting), but Jessica Jones is notable as the first female Marvel superhero to get her own series – and it’s also the first time a Marvel character has been brought to the screen by an almost entirely female team.

“Don’t mess it up!” laughs Rosenberg on how it feels to be the first woman in Marvel’s hitherto all-boys’ club. “It’s incredibly inspiring and I’m utterly delighted and honoured to be here! I think women have earned their place in the cannon, but it’s also a great deal of responsibility, which I know Krysten feels as well.”

Not half, though Ritter is more excited than nervous. “This is amazing in so many ways,” she enthuses. “It feels very groundbreaking, very exciting. I would love for a generation, the girls coming up behind me, to be inspired by this character. There can be strong, amazing female antiheroes and complex characters we can root for. Jessica Jones is so unique.”

While Jones will eventually team up with Daredevil, Luke Cage and Iron Fist in mini-series The Defenders, Lounge can’t help wondering how she’d react to meeting the Avengers. “I think she might think they’re a little full of themselves and a little glossy,” Rosenberg muses. And Ritter? “Erm… I can’t talk about any spoilers,” she says. This is about to get very interesting…

As featured in Total Film magazine.

Jeff Bridges: “Lebowski gave me my Beatles moment, man! It’s given me a lot of gifts.”

jeff

Whether sipping White Russians in The Big Lebowski or conjuring musical alchemy in Crazy Heart, Jeff Bridges has spent six decades populating cinema with some of its most engaging characters. Born and raised in the shadow of the Hollywood Hills, Total Film discovers he’s still Tinsletown’s coolest Dude…

Words Josh Winning

“You want a drink, man?” asks Jeff Bridges, ambling over to a counter in a high-end Austin hotel room. “I’ll take a water just to have by me.” At 66 years old, the Oscar-winner’s reputation came into the room ahead of him. He’s “the nicest guy in Hollywood”. He’s part cowboy, part hippie, all Buddhist. Mostly he’s “The Dude”, the character he played in The Big Lebowski who became a pin-up for pre- and post-millennials just wanting to “hang loose, man”.

Meeting him in Austin’s trendy Rainey Street district, Total Film finds he’s all and none of these things. At the start of our 40-minute chat, he shakes our hand – not too soft, not too firm – and relaxes into a sofa, his back to the Colorado River (“I’ll let you take the view, man”), nonchalant but with eyes perpetually crinkled with curiosity. Having grown up in Hollywood, he carries an undeniable aura of glamour. His attire – knitted navy cardigan over a white shirt, jeans, comfy grey loafers – is up-market Dude, and he’s uncharacteristically clean-shaven, his famous unruly mane tamed into ear-grazing silver waves for Granite Mountain, the action film he’s currently shooting in New Mexico with director Joseph Kosinski (they met on Tron: Legacy).

“I kind of consider myself a product of nepotism as far as my career goes,” he shrugs. “My dad really encouraged my brother and I to get into acting, he loved it so much. So it’s hard for me to really think of life any other way. My life seems very normal to me, but I guess I do have kind of an inside view having grown up with all that stuff.”

Given his upbringing, it’s fitting that the film Bridges is promoting today – dusty drama Hell Or High Water, from Starred Up director David Mackenzie – hinges on family. As edge-of-retirement Texas Ranger Marcus, Bridges pursues two bank-robbing brothers (Chris Pine and Ben Foster) across state, following a trail of dollar bills and bodies. Combustive, funny, sad, it’s about desperate people and family and life’s changing seasons, themes that have followed Bridges through a career that’s seen him lend heart to quirky dramas (Crazy Heart, The Fisher King), heft to action flicks (Tron, King Kong) and roguish charm whether playing a goodie (Starman, Thunderbolt And Lightfoot) or a baddie (The Vanishing, Iron Man).

Family, though, is the cornerstone of Bridges’ career. Married 39 years (to Susan Geston, whom he met while filming Rancho Deluxe in 1975), he worked with his veteran father Lloyd and brother Beau numerous times (The Fantastic Baker Boys, Hidden In America). When he won the Oscar for Crazy Heart in 2010, having been nominated five times over a 40-year period, he pointed his trophy to the ceiling and called, “Mom and Dad! Look!”

It’s this wholesome image that has earned him a place as one of America’s national treasures, and despite having over 80 credits to his name, he’s not looking to slow down any time soon – though he admits retirement is something he’s considered since his twenties. “I think a lot of people can relate to that idea,” he muses. “Having to leave behind the thing they’ve done all their lives…”

What did you find interesting about Marcus?

Texas Rangers are kind of the cream of the crop as far as law enforcement goes, but Marcus has reached the end of the line. As the movie begins, he’s just got a letter from the higher ups telling him it’s time to shut it down and retire. He’s spent his whole life doing this – getting the bad guys and solving crimes – and now it’s come down to this: one last hunt.

He’s a guy on the knife edge of retirement. Could you relate to that?

Yeah, I do think about that. Dependent on the day, my mind changes all the time… Making movies is funny, you use what I call a pretend muscle, you know, pretending to be somebody else, and that’s fun to do for a while, but then it gets fatigued, that muscle, and you think, I’ll kind of just lay it down. And other times, I think, “Gee what a wonderful profession, I can act as an old man on my death bed!” My dad, man [laughs]. I remember visiting him on the set of one of the Hot Shots on his 85th birthday and he’s swinging on a chandelier! He loved it and he turned all his kids onto making movies.

Hollywood is very much an industry, but you came into it through family. That must feel different…

Yeah, but I don’t know how unique it is. I would imagine all kinds of families and kids put on Christmas plays and stuff. We did a lot of that. A couple of my high points in movies I’ve made have been working with my father. My brother on The Fabulous Baker Boys, and I got to work with my dad on Tucker and a movie called Blown Away…

Did working with Beau on Fabulous Baker Boys make that a particularly special experience?

Oh yeah, oh that was like a dream come true. We’d be pinching ourselves. We had lunch together every day and pinched ourselves and said, “Can you believe we get to do this? Isn’t this great, man?”

Is your main memory of the film the fight scene that landed Beau in hospital?

Well now that you’ve mentioned that one, I remember that one, but there’s so many great memories from that movie. Working with Steve Kloves, that was his first movie, I think he wrote it when he was like 24 or something, directed it when he was 26 or 27. He went on to write all the Harry Potter screenplays. He was wonderful.

Back in the ’70s, despite films like Last Picture Show and Thunderbolt And Lightfoot, you didn’t become a movie star in the vein of Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. Do you feel you were doing something different to them?

I don’t know, it’s kind of a mystery, I don’t know what that’s all about. I had as much fame as I wanted; I never craved any more than what I was getting. I thought I’d been really lucky to work with all those wonderful directors and actors I’ve got to work with. I look back on the movies I’ve made and I say, “Wow, those are pretty good!”

The Last Picture Show was your first big break, but you’ve talked about feeling like an imposter. Did the Oscar nomination justify your career to you?

No, not really. It’s funny, like most kids, you don’t want to do what your parents want you to do. You wanna do your own thing, and you don’t want to get a job just because of who your father is, so I had a lot of resistance to that thing. I was interested in music. My dad would say, “Oh no Jeff, don’t be ridiculous, acting is so great, one day you’ll get to /play/ a musician!”

And he was right, you played a musician in Crazy Heart and won the Oscar…

That’s right! Absolutely. I’m glad I listened to the old man!

So what convinced you to pursue acting instead of music?

I made a movie called The Last American Hero about Junior Johnson, the stock car racer, and like after ever movie, I was saying, “I’m gonna retire, I want to do something different.” I got a call from my agent who says, “I’ve got great news for you, John Frankenheimer wants you to play a part in The Iceman Cometh,” this would be with Frederick March and Lee Marvin and Robert Ryan! I thought, “Huh, well, I am bushed but… maybe I’ll use this as a little experiment and see if I’m built for this.” I had most of my scenes with Robert Ryan who’s a wonderful actor. After that experience I said, “Oh yeah, this is something I can do.”

Were you pleased with how the film turned out?

When I look back on it I didn’t particularly like my performance or anything like that, but the life experience was really very rich. I really enjoyed it. It’s a great profession. I just love it so much, but I love it and I hate it, too. It’s the gamut, it takes me through all the emotions. There are so many things that… Fear! You know. You deal with fear all the time. That’s what these old guys, you see Frederick March concerned with getting it right. [screws up face] “Uuuuuughh!’” Wanting to do the material justice, all this weird psychic pain, it’s hard to describe. I love to talk about it with other actors; they get it! You get pissed man, when you’re not quite… it’s not coming through right.

Is there a lot of pressure to deliver as an actor?

It’s a weird thing. One of the gifts of acting is that you’re not doing it alone; you’re doing it with all these different people, so every once in a while there’s this transcendence that happens. You have high expectations and the thing that you imagined as good, it is better because of all these other talents putting their fairy dust on it.

So with Crazy Heart, was it particularly rewarding winning the Oscar for two things you love: acting and music?

Yeah, and talking about fear, that’s a great example of exactly what I’m talking about. Here you get, what a blessing, getting to play a musician, and not only that, but have my dear friend T Bone Burnett do all the music. And the downside of that is, “Yeah, but what happens if I can’t do it? Maybe in the dream it’s safe because it’s just in the dream realm, but once you start to make it real, am I gonna drop the ball or be able to do it?”

You definitely caught the ball with The Dude in The Big Lebowski. Is he a character you relate to?

Ah, maybe so. That’s the starting place for all the characters I play, is myself. I guess the first thing is the script and then you get the character, but I’m always thinking about the parallels between myself and the character and what I can use and what I want to kick to the kerb, what aspects I want to magnetise and magnify a little bit. So that’s the approach I take for most of the characters I play.

How did the part of The Dude come along?

I remember a couple of years before we made The Big Lebowski, the Coens said, “We’re writing something for you,” and I said, “Oh great, great!” Then I got it and I said, “What the hell is this?! This is like nothing I’ve ever done before! How did they know that side of me? Did they crash some high school party I was in and base [it on that]?” But there are quite a few aspects of The Dude that I share. I remember Mary Zophres was the costumer; she came over to my house and I said, “Well, let’s go up to my closet, there might be some stuff in there.” She’s picking out the jelly shoes, those are mine! Different T-shirts… So I guess I got a lot of Dude in me, what the hey.

Then you wrote the book about The Dude’s philosophy with Bernie Glassman…

Oh yeah, now that… When the film originally came out, it was a bigger hit in Europe and then splashed back on our shores and now there are all these festivals. My buddy who’s a zen master, Bernie Glassman, he said to me, “You don’t realise that The Dude in many Buddhist circles is considered a zen master.” I said, “What the fuck are you talking about, man?” He says, “In the movie there are all these koans.” You know what a koan is? They’re like questions, the famous one is, “What’s the sound of one hand clapping?” that kind of thing. So he says, “’The Dude abides’ is a very Buddhist concept!’ And ‘Shut the fuck up Donny’, that’s a kind of a koan.” Then he says, “Look at the directors! The Koan brothers!” [laughs] So anyway, he said, “Let’s write a book,” so I said, “OK,” and we wrote this book called The Dude And The Zen Master. It was a lot of fun!

Did The Dude teach you anything?

Heck! More after the movie! It’s sure given me a lot of stuff, that movie. It’s given me a lot of gifts. My band is named The Abiders! You know? We played at LebowskiFest. Not in costume, but to a sea of Dudes and bowling pins. Lebowski gave me my Beatles moment, man! “NOW, The Dude!” [laughs and makes a crowd sound] It was pretty great.

You were at Marvel in 2008 with Iron Man, which kickstarted the MCU. Did you get a special feeling on that?

First of all I think that movie came out so great; it’s my favourite superhero movie, I guess I’m partial! But the making of that movie was so fascinating. Jon Favreau, the director, he ran such a great ship. He’s such a talented guy and of course [Robert] Downey [Jr.], those two guys, they made it just a wonderful, unique kind of experience.

Is it true the script got thrown out just before shooting began?

We had a couple of weeks rehearsal and we didn’t like the script too much. We rehearsed for two weeks and we rewrote. Then about a day or so before we were gonna start shooting, the Marvel guy said, “Oh no, none of this is working,” and threw it all out. I started to really get upset because the way I work, my method is, you learn the lines. The play is the thing! So you’re kind of lost at sea, sort of.

How did you work around that?

We would literally show up… Often, all the crew would be in the sound stage waiting for us to write the scene! We’d be in my trailer there with Jon Favreau, Downey, the suits, Marvel guys, all the suits in there trying to figure out the scene… Jon calling writer friends, saying, “What do you think about this?” I mean, we would swap roles; Downey would play my side and I’d play his, trying to come up with stuff. We’d be in there a couple of hours and finally come out and do the thing!

Was it tough working that way?

I was so frustrated until I finally made a little shift in my mind that made all the difference. Which was, “Jeff, just relax, you’re making a $200m student film. Have fun! Go back to when you were making movies with your family, just play!” I was like, “Oh, of course.” And then I just kind of let it go and like I said, Jon Favreau was so suited to do this thing because he was able to not blow it, with all these suits wanting different things. He was so relaxed and that was kind of a contagious feeling around the thing. Of course you had Downey who was a great improviser and so perfect for that part. It worked out well.

Talking of comic-book movies, is it true you came close to playing Batman for Tim Burton?

I don’t think so! I don’t know anything about that. I heard that with Raiders Of The Lost Ark, too. It’s not true!

Iron Man must’ve provided an interesting gauge for how technology has changed, having been in Tron in 1982. Were they two totally different experiences?

Totally different, totally different. The original Tron was shot in black and white, 70mm, hand-tinted by these ladies in Korea. And then the sequel, Tron: Legacy, I got literally scanned into a computer, it felt like something right out of the original film, when the computer scans me. Now I’m in there and they can do whatever they want with me. I was a little upset with the rendition of [my younger version], I looked a bit like [comedian] Bill Maher. Whenever my character came on, I said, “Hmm, Bill Maher, what’s he doing in the show?” They’ll probably get that down better and that’ll be the end of the acting profession. They’ll be able to say, “We’ll put a little Bridges, a little De Niro, get some Josh Brolin in there,” stir it up and come up with a completely different person.

With the sci-fi genre you’ve had as many hits as misses. Do you take it personally when a movie doesn’t do well?

[long pause] I don’t know if I should answer that question. It’s not so much what the public thinks as, I mentioned every once in a while you do a movie that’ll transcend all your highest expectations, but then also the reverse will happen, where you do a movie and say, “Wow, we had a great time, it’ll be good!” and then it’s much lower. They chose all the worst takes, the suits got in there and said, “Oh no,” and the director, they kick him to the kerb.

That happened with RIPD, didn’t it?

We had a great time doing that movie. The director was terrific, then they kicked him to the kerb and they cut it and just screwed up the whole thing! So that’s disappointing. Usually when the movies come out and how they do, it’s almost like a horse race, “The horses are at the gate!” There’s this kind of excitement and you’re rooting for your horse, but most often, as is the case now, I’m working on another movie, so most of my attention is on that.

Is it weird to see franchises like King Kong and Tron coming back decades after you worked on them?

That’s kinda cool in a way. Doing Last Picture Show and then 20 years later we got the same group together with Peter Bogdanovich and the story continues. Larry McMurtry, who’s one of our great writers, he’s got three more books in that series, those characters, so I’m hoping to do those again. There’s something great about being able to extend it. And it also kind of plays into the whole Hollywood thing now of the sure bet, what worked, let’s do it again. There’s two sides to that coin.

Has Hollywood changed a lot since you stepped into the industry?

Quite a bit, yeah. I remember working on Last Picture Show, it was a great outfit that financed our movie called BBS. They had that independent spirit and support of the directors giving their vision, you know… Unique vision was really more prevalent back in those days. Nowadays you got these $200m movies, but you also have almost like the reaction to that, you got a movie like Tangerine, have you seen that? Wasn’t that great? On the iPhone? That’s really cool, man! Or you know Starred Up… I remember that film Once, do you remember that movie? You gotta see that, it’s a great movie.

Small, independent, skin of its teeth filmmaking was integral to your father’s career, as well as yours. Is that something you enjoy being a part of?

Yeah, I do. The main thing that drew me to Hell Or High Water was David McKenzie and seeing Starred Up, do you know that film? What he did with that movie for that little bit of budget that he had to work with, the goods he came up with… It was pretty terrific. I loved working with him, he was great. But yeah that kind of independent movie is wonderful to make. I mean, it’s fun making both big multi-million, $200m, there’s some fun there. Try to have as much as fun always as I can! But these kinda movies… the stories are so terrific, usually. The big budget movies, there’s some kind of formula that they’re working or something like that. Smaller movies are more unique.

Do you find yourself looking back at what you’ve achieved?

Yeah I do that. A couple of things come to mind. My stand-in, Loyd Catlett, we’ve done over 60 movies together, I think that’s a record. We met on Last Picture Show in ’69-’70, whenever we shot that thing and he’s here right now. He’s like a through line through all of those experiences and, unlike me, he’s got a pretty good memory. I can say, “What was that guy’s name? Oh yeah, remember that?” So we relive a lot of the adventures that we’ve had. And also I take photographs. I got this camera called a Widelux that’s a panning still camera and I’ve been doing that since Starman, I guess, taking pictures and making books for the cast and crew. So those books, I’ve got those on my shelf. Whenever I think, “Baker Boys! Let’s relive that, let’s see…” It’s just like looking at home movies. And it’s not somebody else’s home movie, it’s right from my point of view! Where I was. It really snaps me back.

Featured in Total Film magazine.

 

5 Best Movie Vests

In 1988, Bruce Willis blew up a lift, told Alan Rickman where to go, and coined a much-imitated-but-never-bettered catchphrase (you know the one). Most importantly, he wore an increasingly-dirty vest, which became a cinematic symbol for the heroic everyman who triumphs against the greatest odds. He wasn’t the first, and he wasn’t the last…

Die Hard (1988)
Just a year after Arnold Schwarzenegger and Carl Weathers showed off their bulging biceps in skimpy vest tops in Predator, we got the ultimate in sartorial minimalism.

As New York cop John McClane, Bruce Willis made the vest the must-have item of the late ’80s – and it’s not hard to see why when Willis looked as cool as he did fighting off terrorists in a Los Angeles high-rise. An icon is born.

American History X (1998)
Edward Norton just loves wearing vests. Whether it’s in 25th Hour, Fight Club or The Incredible Hulk, a tight-fitting white number is the thing for him.

He’s never looked meaner, though, than in American History X. Shave-headed, tattooed, goateed and wearing that vest with pride, he’s every bit the badass we’re expected to believe he is.

Blade (1998)
Under that sweeping black leather jacket, half-human half-vampire Blade (Wesley Snipes) is packing some serious heat. Not only is he equipped with some of the coolest gadgets this side of James Bond, he’s also got one nifty vest.

A cross between a police vest and a lifejacket, Blade’s sleeve-free top is clearly designed to protect his most important asset – his heart. He is a vampire, after all.

Dirty Dancing (1987)
Ask anybody in their thirties and they’ll tell you there was only one movie man for them in the 1980s, and that man was Patrick Swayze.

Hard to disagree. As bad boy dance instructor Johnny Castle, Swayze rocks a figure-hugging black number that leaves little to the imagination. Of course, it helped that he knew how to move. No wonder Jennifer Grey’s young guppy fell head over leg-warmers for him.

Aliens (1986)
Ripley always skirts the line between macho and sexy, which is never more apparent than in James Cameron’s big budget, scale-ramping sequel to Alien.

At the climax of Alien, we got Ripley (Sigourney Weaver) in her smalls facing off against the terrifying xenomorph. In Aliens, it’s all about the vest, which Ripley wears right at the start of the film as she recovers from her extended hyper-sleep.

It’s obviously meant to contrast with the army-style fatigues that she’ll don later in the film, and hints at Ripley’s fragile state of mind. Mostly, though, it’s just really cool – even badass Vasquez (Jenette Goldstein) gets in on the action.

Honourable mentions: Philip Seymour Hoffman in Boogie Nights, Amber Heard in All The Boys Love Mandy Lane, Brad Pitt in Fight Club, Quvenzhané Wallis in Beasts Of The Southern Wild and Nic Cage in Raising Arizona.