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


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.


M.R. Carey interview: Fellside

promobannerIf you’ve read The Girl With All The Gifts, you’ll know a thing or two about M.R. Carey. The one-time comic-book writer and all-round awesome guy hit literary pay dirt with his 2014 genre-blender, which has already been made into a blockbuster movie starring Gemma Arterton and Glenn Close (it’s ace, go see it). And because he’s a self-confessed write-a-holic, Carey (Mike to his friends) has already released his next novel, the equally unputdownable Fellside. Set in the titular prison, it follows new inmate Jess, who’s haunted by the memory of the night she accidentally killed a little boy during a drug-fuelled rage. Incarcerated and terrified, she starts hearing voices – could the little boy have followed her to Fellside? (Yeah, I got chills.)

I was able to chat to Carey about his new book as part of his promo blog tour. Here’s what he had to say…

Where did the name Fellside come from?
I just wanted a name for the prison that had a Yorkshire flavour to it. I love the word fell. I particularly love how ambiguous it is. It means a high place, but that could be a mountain or it could be a piece of moorland high up in a range of hills. There’s no absolute sense of physical orientation to it. So it’s a good name for a place where you lose your moral orientation, where you lose your way as my protagonist Jess very definitely does.

What makes prison such a good setting for a story?
I think it’s the fact that your characters are locked in together and there’s no easy way out. Every story ultimately comes down to the clash of personalities and the inexorable working out of the logic of a given set of relationships. If you put your characters in an enclosed, hothouse environment with no way out, you compound and concentrate that effect. A prison is just one example.

How does Fellside compare to The Girl With All The Gifts?
I think it’s a darker book. That sounds a little strange, given that Girl is post-apocalyptic and includes the virtual annihilation of the human race, but I believe it’s true all the same. In Fellside there’s a lot of pain to go around, and Jess’s journey is harder and more traumatic than the journey Melanie has to make.

That said, both stories are optimistic about human nature. They find grounds for hope, let’s say, even in the most unpromising situations. Jess things she’s buying redemption for a terrible crime, and although she’s deeply mistaken about what exactly she’s doing and who she’s doing it for, she does achieve a kind of peace and a kind of accommodation with her own past. And the last chapter revisits that past in a way that hopefully will surprise a lot of readers.

Did you want to play with ghost cliches the way you played with zombies in Gifts?
Not really. I mean, challenging genre conventions wasn’t the point with either book. You always want the story to feel fresh, obviously, and so you reject some ideas just because they’re overly familiar. But that doesn’t present itself as the core of what you’re doing. With Girl the core idea was Melanie herself. Inventing her and fleshing her out was a big part of the groundwork for the story. Deciding on Cordyceps as my McGuffin didn’t feel anywhere near as important, although I was happy to find a vector for the zombie apocalypse that hadn’t already been worked to death.

At rock bottom Fellside is a story about addiction. About what it does to you, about getting free of it and then about trying to find the part of you that’s still you at the end of that process.

If you could lock two characters from two of your stories in a room together, which ones and what would happen?
Probably Dr Caldwell from Girl and Harriet Grace [from Fellside]. They’re both the heroes of their own internal narratives, but I think they’d see through each other’s bullshit in some very interesting ways. It probably wouldn’t end in physical violence, but they’d both come away effectively dissected.

Best story idea you’ve had that scared the hell out of you?
I don’t think I can get scared by my own stories. It’s like trying to tickle yourself – your nerve endings don’t work that way. But conceptually the scariest thing I’ve ever written is probably Pullman’s artificial hand in The Unwritten. If it touches you, you stop being real and become a story. You literally melt into words. That’s not something I ever want to experience.

Ever had a day you categorically couldn’t, wouldn’t (and maybe shouldn’t) write? What did you do?
No, everything is fair game. The more extreme, the more interesting. Obviously you don’t say which bits of your work are autobiographical…

Do you have writing habits and/or a routine, or does it depend on the day?
I wish I had a routine. I work long hours, start early and finish late most days, with maybe one day or half a day off at weekends. But I don’t work consistently. I’m easily distracted, waste a lot of time here and there on footling things, and then I have to make up the time by working late into the evening.

A colleague of mine at Luton Sixth Form College back when I was teaching said that when she watched me work the word that came into her mind was entropy. I asked her what she meant and she said “A whole lot of energy burning away into a vacuum.” She had me bang to rights. I’ve been very productive as a writer, but it’s been at the expense of everything else. I really do not have a life. I work and I sleep.

But I enjoy what I do, so it would be crazy to complain.

Review that left you grinning? Review that scarred you for life?
One of my Twitter friends described Fellside as “orange is the new Woman In Black.” I liked that a lot.

Bad reviews always make me unhappy, but I can’t remember any that have affected me for longer than a day. You wake up the next morning and go back to what you do. If the review was fair you even learn from it, and if it wasn’t you shrug it off that much quicker.

Best and worst X-Men characters to write for… Go!
Best would include Rogue, Beast, Cyclops, Professor X… You know, when I think about it the two lists would be almost identical! What matters is whether the editor is letting you play out the riffs and arcs you’ve got a real feel for, and I was very lucky in that respect. Mike Marts, Nick Lowe, Andy Schmidt, Daniel Ketchum. Best in the business.

And when you come right down to it a lot of the characters I loved best when I was writing in the X-verse were the minor ones who nobody else was using. I loved to dust them off and put them back in the spotlight.

Any unfulfilled writing dreams?
At this point, literally none. But there are still some comics artists I’d love to collaborate with. Top of that list would be David Beauchard, who wrote and drew Epileptic.

Fellside is out now.

Olivia Thirlby interview – Dredd

What was it like wearing your leather Dredd outfit?
I’m totally leather body-suited up! It’s like a proper comic-book action hero. One thing I love about Dredd is its really realistic approach, it’s a very dark and gritty approach, so my look is much less sexy femme fatale and a little bit more like a football player.

Is the new Dredd gritty to counteract Stallone’s cheesy ‘90s adap?
It doesn’t go that way only to separate itself from the former Dredd movie, it takes its air of seriousness and violence from the comics, so our idea was to really honour the world of Mega City One in the comics.

Had you seen the Stallone movie before?
You know I actually still haven’t seen it. I didn’t want to see it before shooting and I haven’t seen it since. It’s definitely on my list of movies to see, but I must admit it’s not at the very top!

What was it like working with Karl Urban?
He is definitely a dude. I loved working with him, he’s so good at what he does. We went through the script and really fleshed out the relationship between Judge Dredd and Anderson, who is a rookie. The movie really rests on the bizarre complexities of their working relationship. We wanted that to be the emotional foundation of the film. Explosions and guns and leather body-suits are great, but they get boring if there’s not a story being told.

Did you ever imagine yourself as an action heroine?
Definitely not! I’ve always hoped I could play some kind of role where I could be a really strong, ass-kicking female. It was a really empowering thing to learn how to fight and use weapons. While I was shooting Darkest Hour is when the role for Dredd came up, so I really had no choice but to dive into these 3D sci-fi action worlds.

You seem to get quite beaten up in The Darkest Hour…
That’s true, I did all my own stunts! It was crazy, I have photographs of the bruises that I had all over my body. I was picked up and dropped on the floor of this bus repeatedly. It was really brutal, but I’m pretty proud of it. Actually, I fractured my foot and that moment is in the movie, so I put my blood sweat and tears into that movie!

Kerry Washington interview – Django Unchained

Kerry Washington can’t tell us anything about Django Unchained, Quentin Tarantino’s dusty, now-shooting slave thriller. “I’m not actually at liberty to talk about that yet,” the actress says when TF calls her up for a natter. Really? Has she signed a blood oath that means she’ll answer to The Bride if she lets anything slip? “No, no, I just can’t,” Washington artfully dodges. “But I will. I will soon.”

Damn. Despite TF’s best efforts, the Bronx-hailing actress is remaining tight-lipped about Tarantino’s much-hyped latest. To be fair, it’s no surprise security’s this tight. Tarantino’s first film since 2007 Grindhouse revival Death Proof, Django could be the director’s most daring project yet. What we do know sounds massive: a fist-shaking response to America’s slave trade past, Jamie Foxx is the titular Django, enslaved to Leo DiCaprio’s evil plantation owner, and desperate to be reunited with his wife, played by Washington.

Alright, so Django’s off the menu, but what can Washington talk about? Well, new film Mother And Child, in which she plays a young woman desperate for a child but unable to conceive. Directed by Rodrigo Garcia, Washington shares the screen with Annette Bening and Naomi Watts in a movie that she’s clearly passionate about. “I love this movie,” the actress enthuses at the mere mention of its title. “In a world where women are so often the accessory to the story, to have three really fully developed, three dimensional women on such different journeys… I think it’s a special film.” And Bening? “I love her, she’s been a hero of mine for many years.”

Seeing as we’re talking Hollywood big wigs, how is it working with Leonardo DiCaprio on Django Unchained? “What is your next question?” Washington laughs. Clearly nothing’s getting past this smart cookie. And she is a smart cookie. Having grown up in the Bronx, raised by a professor mother and a real estate broker father, Washington studied at The George Washington University before heading to India to study art and culture (“I really wanted to ground myself before selling my soul to do adverts for Burger King!”).

Did she ever imagine she’d end up working with someone like, say, Tarantino? “No, I mean, I didn’t imagine that I would,” the actress says. “When I was growing up I loved acting and theatre, but I didn’t know anybody who did this for a living. Then I realised people could make a living being an actor, and that was the goal for me. And it continues to be; to be able to do what I love to do.”

For the past decade, Washington has done just that. She played Idi Amin’s doomed wife in The Last King Of Scotland, a spy in Mr & Mrs Smith, and The Thing’s squeeze in both Fantastic Four films. Though she admits that she still has “a comforting level of anonymity”, that’s set to change with upcoming Eddie Murphy comedy A Thousand Words, not to mention Django Unchained, her most high profile gig to date.

OK, TF’s grovelling now. Is there anything Washington can tell us about Django? Is she Tarantino’s new muse? What’s Leo like as a baddie? Her favourite line from the script? “I can’t, but I will,” the actress says, sounding genuinely remorseful. “When I can, I’m sure I will.” We’ll be listening Kerry, we’ll be listening…

Living for the Weekend – Chris New interview

Gritty new romance Weekend is Britain’s answer to Brokeback Mountain – a sizzling exploration of gay identity that’s as smart as it is sexy. Star Chris New chats to Josh Winning about celebrities, gay rights and getting his clothes off…

Weekend’s getting loads of really positive buzz. Are you ready to become a celebrity?
People get very funny about becoming celebrities. In the acting world, all you do is constantly battle your ego, and that’s why people like becoming famous – they give in to their ego when everybody starts telling them they’re brilliant. Michael Jackson, Britney Spears. I’d rather do the washing up.

You actually whip your clothes off for the film as well, don’t you?
I do. I do a Ewan McGregor. I was a bit nervous ’cos you can’t act when you’re naked. You can’t really say, ‘This is the character’s penis,’ it just is your penis.

Weekend’s had a very warm reception Stateside even from non-gay audiences. Are you surprised by that?
The good thing is there seems to be a consensus from audiences saying, ‘Come on now, stop thinking this is just a gay film. There’s got to be more to this.’ It’s surprising what’s happening in America. It started on one screen in New York, and now it’s gone to 16 or 20 screens. That must mean it’s not just a gay audience that’s going to see it.

Do you think it’s a sign that being gay is becoming more and more accepted?
I think it’ll just happen naturally, we don’t need to force it. If we would just relax about it a bit, we’d find we’ve moved quite a long way. I’ve got older gay friends who I like to sit around and talk with about what the world was like when they were my age. Obviously for the majority of them being gay was illegal, so that creates an almost unimaginable mindset. One of my friends is Ian McKellen, obviously he’s had an amazing history, and it’s great to talk to him about this stuff. We have a gay film night at his house where we watch classics and documentaries, and it’s really interesting to hear what happened in people’s lives.

Ian McKellen’s been very active in gay rights, hasn’t he?
When I was growing up in Swindon, I didn’t understand what the gay movement had done for us. I’d heard of section 28, which meant my teacher couldn’t discuss being gay with me. There was one lunchtime when I was 13, he said, ‘Is there something you need to tell me?’ And I was like, ‘Nope.’ The law was that he couldn’t raise the idea, but he was trying to say, ‘I know you’re different and you’re allowed to talk about it.’ It was a very brave, generous thing to do. He could’ve lost his job.

Your love interest in Weekend, Tom Cullen, is actually straight. Isn’t that every gay man’s dream?
Not my dream! Straight men do nothing but pester me! I’m never the one going after the straight men – the straight men are usually coming to have an experiment with me. Whenever straight boys are like, ‘I just thought we’d mess around a bit,’ I’m like, ‘Go home, decide what you want to be, I don’t want to be your play thing.’ I’m a married man now. We didn’t actually buy rings, we bought iPads. We’ll get rings one day.

Do you think straight actors playing gay roles get all the praise, but not vice versa?
I’ve mentioned that to Tom, asked him if anybody’s said to him, ‘You’re very brave,’ and he’s said, yeah, people have. A lot of the scripts that come through for me are usually for a gay character, but if it says, ‘Gay. Funny. Best friend of girl’, I say no straight away. Then suddenly you’ll get a script like Weekend which is so different, it’s a huge relief. You have to jump at those scripts. Bob Hoskins calls good scripts ‘bum-nummers’, because he reads them on the toilet and if he stays there it must be a good script!

Kaya Scodelario interview – Wuthering Heights

Since finding her acting feet in British teen soap Skins, Kaya Scodelario has notched up roles in a low-budget British sci-fi (Moon), a mega-bucks Hollywood blockbuster (Clash of the Titans) and now an art-house period drama. LWLies sat down with Scodelario recently to discuss the gravity of taking on the female lead in Andrea Arnold’s atmospheric Wuthering Heights.

Have you seen the film yet? What did you think?
I really liked it! It was weird because I never received a full script, we were given the lines the day before shooting. So watching the film was the first time I knew what was going on in the rest of the film! So it was really cool to watch. I took some friends as well, who I know would never have gone to see it if I wasn’t in it. They’d think, ‘That’s not my thing,’ and they really enjoyed it. It was nice to know that a younger generation enjoyed it.

It’s not your average period romp is it?
No, not at all. I like to think that Andrea’s kind of created this new genre, where it feels very modern, it’s not stuck to the rules. Everyone thought period drama had to be done a certain way and that’s the only way it can be done, people have to walk very slowly and speak properly, there has to be lots of sunshine and flowers. Andrea’s just turned that on its head completely and I love that she’s done that. It was wicked.

It felt like it could almost be modern day…
Yeah, exactly, that’s what was cool – it was kind of timeless.

Why did you only get your lines the day before filming?
It was a lot to do with helping the younger kids, obviously this was their first job so Andrea didn’t want to overwhelm them with a whole script. And I think she just likes things to be very fresh, and you to go into it very open. She asked me not to read the book or see any of the adaptations, so I think she just likes people to not know what they’re doing, go into it completely open-minded. Which is what I want people to do with the film, to go into it completely fresh not thinking about anyone else in it. It was a good way of working, it was different. It’s nice to push yourself and do thinks in a different way.

Was it difficult to learn your lines that quickly?
No, there’s not a lot of dialogue in the film which helps! Surprisingly, I thought I would, but it kind of worked out okay in the end, thank god.

You have quite an emotional role to play, did you get lots of direction there?
I think Andrea wanted me to do it how I wanted to do it. It was never, ‘You have to cry in this scene.’ It was more, if you feel like crying, cry, if you don’t, don’t. it was one of the lines that Heathcliff said to me that really affected me on a personal level, that brought the emotion out quite naturally. I feel quite upset and we cut, and I said to Andrea, ‘I really feel like this should be quite an intense moment for her.’ She kind of slips into this mental illness, she goes a bit crazy, and I wanted to show that in the scene in the kitchen when Heathcliff and Edgar are fighting. I got James, who played Heathcliff, to sit behind the camera and just scream abuse at me for 10 minutes. On a personal level as me, not as Cathy, cos I just wanted to go a bit crazy for a while.

Did he know you well enough to throw some good things at you?
No, I think it’s easy, it was better than he didn’t know me. It kind of takes you back to the playground, that kind of little things that people say can really affect you. ‘Oh, you’re so skinny’, all of these things that you have personal issues with just come out quite naturally. It was strange, it took me two days to get back to normal. But I was glad I did it. It felt right to be in that scene.

It’s James’ first film as well. How was that?
At first it was difficult, I’m not going to pretend it was all great. There were certain days that he didn’t want to be there, he didn’t want to act, but it was really beautiful to watch him grow into it, to grow into wanting to do well. Every day he’d come in and be a bit more on the ball, more focussed. It was nice to watch him develop as an actor. It was wicked to see. I can’t imagine what it was like for him, although I was 14 when I started on Skins and I felt completely out of place, I felt like I didn’t deserve to be there, everyone was a lot older than me, I felt very insecure about it. So I knew what he was going through. But I didn’t want to be too sensitive with him, I knew I had to push him. There was a scene where I had to slap him, and he didn’t want me to actually slap him, he wanted me to pretend. I said, ‘I ‘m not going to pretend! Cos I’m screaming at you, I’m not going to be able to go from screaming at you to pretending to slap you, so I’m going to hit you.’

He was like, ‘No, no, don’t fucking do that,’ and we got into a bit of an argument over it. I said to him, ‘Trust me, I’m going to hit you harder than I’ve ever hit anyone in my life, and you’re going to like it because you’re going to prefer your performance! It’ll be a natural performance.’ He was like ‘Arrrgh’ being a proper man about it, and Andrea was like, ‘Hit him hard!’ I slapped him, and honestly I’ve never heard a sound like it in my life. It was so hard to keep a straight face. I thought, ‘Oh God, he’s going to punch me now!’ He came up to me afterwards in typical manly style and was like, ‘Yeah that was good, you were right.’

So you didn’t give him too many tips?
Andrea cast him for who was, and that’s all he needed to be. He’s quite wild. It’s a really intimidating thing, my background is very similar to his. You grow up on an estate and you’re in this bubble. Being on a film set, you don’t learn about that at school, you don’t know those jobs are available. It’s a strange industry, quite hidden I think. To be pushed into it must’ve been terrifying for him. He did so well to do it. Especially the little kids as well. The kids were beautiful cos they had this sort of the way kids are, they don’t feel any pressure. Just like, yeah this is fun, they don’t stress themselves, which you tend to do when you get older. They had that complete natural go for it vibe that really rippled through the set and made everyone relax a lot more.

Were you on set with the kids a lot, then, even though you don’t share scenes?
I was around them a lot for pre-production, I love them. I loved Shannon [Beer] to pieces, I wish she was my little sister. She’s what I wish I could’ve been like. She’s gobby, she’s confident, she’s a naughty little kid, but she knows who she is as a person, and she’s comfortable with that. I really like that about her.

It must’ve been weird sharing a character with another actress. Did you work together creating the character?
No, Andrea didn’t want us to. Very strangely. She didn’t want us to get technical with it, or sit down and have little things that we both do. She’s a big believer of just letting things happen, and doing the edit and finding those moments. Natural looks that you give without noticing. She just let us go with the flow.

You don’t look massively similar…
No. Well, it was funny, Shannon was like, ‘You don’t look like me!’ I don’t, but I don’t think that matters.

How was shooting Wuthering Heights different from shooting Skins?
It’s hard. Obviously it was different, but it wasn’t so much so that I particularly noticed it. With Skins, it wasn’t a job at all. It was me growing up, it was my university, the crew knew me since I was 14, they were like family to me. I think Effy helped me personally gain confidence. I enjoyed playing her because it took me out of my depression that I had myself, my subconscious and all that. It gave me a bit more confidence and a bit more fun. Leaving her behind was quite hard, quite scary. She was like this cloak that I’d wear, I would feel cool, even though deep down I’m not at all. It was very scary to leave, but Skins as a whole was this very, very strange thing that happened that wasn’t work. Leaving that, any job would’ve been different. You realise, ‘This is work, I have to behave, be professional.’

You mentioned feeling depressed when you were younger. Was Cathy a slight exorcism where those feelings are concerned?
Yeah, I guess so. Filming the whole Effy mental illness stuff took me to a place. My mum suffers from depression, she has her whole life, and doing that storyline with Effy helped me understand it a lot more. With Cathy again, I always tend to get the crazy roles! I like interesting parts, I couldn’t ever be one of those actresses where they look pretty and their hair looks great all the time, I hate that. What’s the point of being an actor if you just want to look nice all the time? I love the fact that I’m not wearing any make-up at all in Wuthering Heights, my cheeks are pink and my nose looks like Rudolph. I love it! I’d rather throw myself into someone and completely lose me as a person for a while, I love the psychology behind it all. I find it really fascinating.

Andrew Haigh interview: Weekend

Weekend is only Andrew Haigh’s second feature film, a no-budget romance set in Nottingham, but that hasn’t stopped it causing a stir Stateside. Surfing waves of rave reviews, the film’s been celebrated as a smart and honest examination of gay life in the modern world, and is now expanding its UK theatrical run after an impressive openning weekend. LWLies sat down for a chat with the writer/director recently to gauge his response to all the attention.

LWLies: Can you believe that you’re off around the world talking about your little movie?
Haigh: No, I can’t believe it at all. I find, because it’s happening and you’re in the middle of it, sometimes I stop and think, ‘What? How’s this happened?’

Your first film, Greek Pete, was quite a small movie that not many people saw…
Greek Pete was tiny, miniscule, and I suppose we sort of thought this would be again small, and some people might see it and that would be it. Obviously you always hope for more. And then, it’s been out in America for a couple of weeks and it’s… it’s weird. It’s like, ‘Is this my…? Is this the same film we’re talking about?’

How do you think a little film like this suddenly hits the big time?
I don’t know! It really helped that we played it at SXSW, we went into that festival, and nobody really knew what the film was. I think we built up something, a steam. There were a core group of people, like Indiewire, they really got behind the film and they just wouldn’t stop talking about it. It was a little bit embarrassing, but they really helped it getting out to different people and it took off.

Are you surprised by the different types of media that are interested?
Absolutely, even when I wrote the film – it’s in the film when Glen’s character is talking about people not being interested in [gay cinema], that was borne out of frustration. It was the expectation that nobody would be interested in it. So I feel a bit embarrassed now that I put it in the film! It’s showed me that I’m wrong, because people have been [interested]. It’s amazing, but I’m still not entirely sure how it’s happened. We had big articles in the New York Times and LA Times. I think basically there’s been such a gap of these kind of films about gay people, and I think I’ve hit a good point in time and it’s been quite lucky. I know a lot of other filmmakers, especially Americans, who are gay, and they’re making a lot more naturalistic gay dramas. I think there’s gonna be quite a lot of them coming out, and I’ve just managed to get there first.

Weekend’s quite refreshing compared to a lot of STV low-budget gay films.
I just had no interest in my film being a… I want to be a proper filmmaker, I don’t want my film to be a shitty DVD that 10 people see. It’s not interesting to me. The films I like aren’t within that genre. Maybe that’s the problem, it’s hard for filmmakers to make films with gay content. I think maybe a lot of them aren’t as interested in cinema as they are interested in getting this film made and to DVD.

A lot of the cheesy American gay films are all about the nudity.
And they’re always people that are like super hot guys with muscles. I don’t know anyone like that! I don’t know who those people are. It’s weird. I wanted to tell a story that was like, ‘Gay people are also normal people, they do normal jobs and don’t look like perfect specimens of men.’ Even though Tom and Chris are quite good-looking. They’re just a bit messy, which I guess is the new gay look anyway. It’s bearded and scruffy.

You’ve got a good beard on you, did you copy it off Tom?
I made him grow a beard! I said you’ve got to grow a beard for it. I just like beards I think. And he’s kept it! He didn’t have one when I first met him.

Sex is quite integral to Weekend and Greek Pete. Is that something that interests you?
My short films are nothing like that at all. I think it definitely interests me, but only because sex is so integral to everybody’s lives, it’s such an important part of everybody’s lives. Either you’re not having it, or sex is a part of your relationship. I think it’s just not dealt with in a serious enough way in films, it’s either just for titillation or it’s deathly serious rather than just being, it’s part of someone’s life and it’s just sex, and it’s not just sex, it shows a lot about your character. How you talk about sex, what you do, everything. So it’s trying to look at sexual relationships in a wider context.

Weekend is similar to My Beautiful Laundrette in that it’s set in a recognisable time. Was exploring modern gay identity something that appealed to you?
Yeah, I think it’s changed so dramatically being gay, and acceptance and equality since Beautiful Laundrette. It’s changed amazingly. But in many ways it hasn’t changed, which is quite interesting. While discrimination has obviously gone down and prejudice has gone down, and things are different, there are still things that are problems, and issues that exist with being gay in the modern world. It was definitely about incorporating, having that as a background to the story, rather than it being all about that. It is funny, you speak to people and they work in the media in London, they’re like, ‘It’s fine being gay! There’s no problems!’ But there are still problems. And even if you work in London in the media.

It’s usually straight people that say that, like, ‘Oh, it’s fine for you lot now, isn’t it? For you gays! Everybody loves you!’ I’ve never really fitted in with that, I’ve never really been part of the gay scene. Obviously I went out, but it’s never really been part of my life fully, and neither is the straight scene. I think a lot of gay people, if they don’t fit a certain stereotype, they just meander around all over the place not really knowing where they fit in. You’re stranded a little bit, which is what I think Russell is. And Glen to a certain extent.

Do you know people quite similar to Russell and Glen?
Not really, I think maybe they’re parts of me to some extent. If there was a line I’d kind of vary between the two depending on my mood, how angry I am with the world.

What are you angry about?
I’m always angry about something. I’m quite an angry person. Everything! I can be quite calm, but I don’t live in London anymore, and as soon as I come to London my rage level starts building up. I live in Norwich now so it’s a very different town, I love it. It’s a really interesting city, but I come to London and you notice the massive inequality that exists here. When you’re in somewhere like Norwich it’s a lot more equal, there’s not massive wealth and massive poverty. There’s more things to make me angry.

Russell and Glen are polar opposites, was that a conscious effort?
I knew they had to be opposites because it’s a drama, and otherwise that wouldn’t be very interesting. It had to be that their characters were well-rounded enough that it wasn’t just me writing two opposite characters. It would just be pointless. I spent so long doing backstories for the characters, because your ideas and your philosophies don’t exist in a vacuum, they’re based on your how your life has been and where you’ve been. So it was just about really working that out, so that when they were together they felt like real people. And the fact that they’re different is what attracts them to each other, they’re grasping at bits of each other. That’s what makes relationships interesting.

Was the documentary look intended to blur fiction and reality?
Definitely, and I always wanted Weekend to be as real as possible. It was scripted, but we approached it like it was a documentary. So shooting everything in long takes, I wanted to imagine that this was happening right now in front of me and I could capture it for this instant and then it would never happen again. So that’s why there’s no coverage. Not having extras. In the club it’s a normal night in the club. They’d be dancing to the camera and you’d be like, ‘No!’ It’s all just real people.

You’re pretty much a guerrilla filmmaker, then?
Pretty much. We used the guerrilla process but I didn’t want it to look like guerrilla filmmaking, it had to feel like it was very thought out, but at the same time captured footage.

It looks amazing, though. How did you strike that balance?
I wanted it to look good and nice and professional. I never understand, just because you’ve got no money doesn’t mean it doesn’t have to look good. We shot on the 5D Canon, a stills camera essentially that shoots video, we had this big rig thing that keeps it steady. But just because you’ve got no money, it doesn’t have to look shit. We didn’t have any lights, but Uma was a good DP. You just make an effort.

Gareth Edwards’ Monsters is quite similar in terms of no-frills filmmaking. Are you a fan?
Yeah, definitely. I was a big fan of all those American mumblecore type films, low-budget character dramas. They’re kind of like an update of Cassavette’s films with modern settings. Monsters is a good example, I think it’s a good film, it’s an indie relationship drama with aliens. Which is amazing. I still don’t understand how he made that film. There was like three of them on the crew. Crazy! He’s doing Godzilla now isn’t he? I’ve heard him speak and he seems like a really nice guy. Let’s face it, a lot of directors can be arseholes. If I like a film and I hear the director talk and he’s a wanker, it really puts me off.

Being a director, are you a bit of a control freak?
Yeah, I am a total control freak. You have to be. The hard thing is when you make something that’s really small budget and then it’s out in the world and distribution companies take it on, you’ve had so much control on the early days, and then you have to give that control away, which is really hard. I sometimes have to stop myself. The posters were great. I know the designer, but again that was me sticking my oar in and making sure they use Sam and giving the posters to the Americans saying, ‘This is really nice.’ Also, you know you have to compromise sometimes, and there’s times when you’re shooting where everybody’s focussing on something and you know actually it’s not that important. It’s about being a control freak about the right things.

You’ve made a strong point about gay life with Weekend. Is it now time to move on to other topics? Can you better it?
No, in terms of my desire to explore that kind of world it’s probably done. Doesn’t mean I won’t be making films about gay people, but there’d be no point in me doing that again. There’s themes that are there, whether they’re about gay people or straight people, old people or young people, there will be similar themes. But I need to do other different films. I don’t just want to make small films about gay people talking to each other!

Have you been approached by people about your next film?
Yeah, I’m writing some stuff, I’ve got an agent now. Americans are crazy, I’ve got a team of like 10 people now. You’re like, ‘Okay!’ You get so many scripts. It’s an amazing thing about America, they see this film but it doesn’t limit what they think you can do, they say you can do anything now. Whereas in England there’s that sense of you could only do really small films about gay people. In America they’re sending me scripts like… not quite alien scripts, but things that are bigger. They’re still not big studio pictures, but bigger stuff. Nine out of 10 directors that make a good first or second little film, end up going to America and making a piece of shit. It’s a real common thing. I don’t know why that is.

Perhaps America is too interested in this idea that films are products, whereas small indies worship storytelling.
Maybe there’s just too many people get involved. But also it’s about bad decisions. Those directors have gotten a script, gone, ‘Oh, it’s alright, it’ll do, I’ll do it because it’ll get me into America,’ but it’s never gonna work unless they really care about it. So I’m only going to do something if it’s somebody else’s script that I absolutely fall in love with. Other than that, I don’t just wanna do something just for the sake of getting paid, even if that would be nice.

Greek Pete was quite a small little cult film, do you count Weekend as your first proper film?
In America they’re trying to pretend that Greek Pete wasn’t my first film, because then you can get on first feature lists. But for me, that was my first feature and it is. I really enjoy it, I’m proud of that film, I like that film. Yeah, this is my second feature, I can’t say it’s my first because that belittles what I did before. This is obviously scripted and different, but it’s still my second feature.

Do you think the label of ‘gay film’ is a reductive or restrictive term?
It’s so difficult to know what it is. For me, Weekend’s a film about gay people. Whether people call that a gay film is up to them, really. It’s funny, because the film partly is about how you struggle to define yourself, and you continually try to define yourself. So it’s funny to me that as soon as you make a film, it’s like ‘It’s a gay film!’, people throw it in a pigeon-hole. I suppose it’s inevitable, and I’m not embarrassed that it’s gay. If people want to call it a gay film, that’s fine. I think it’s going to be like that for quite a long time, it will take a while I feel before it’s just ‘a film’. Also because it’s very much about gay sexuality and it’s got sex in, it’s automatically going to be pigeon-holed.

It’ll probably be like blaxploitation, films about black people are not called ‘black films’…
You wouldn’t call a Spike Lee film a black film. He’d be like, ‘Fuck off!’ When you do make a gay film it’s suddenly, people say, well it’s gay. I should slap people every time they say it!

Velour vixen

The main thing that people yell at Kim Cattrall in the street? “I’m you! I love you! I wanna be you!” laughs the actress. “I’m like, you don’t want to be me, you want to be her.” The ‘her’ in question is Samantha Jones, the sultry, man-eating PR star of TV show Sex And The City. Cattrall played Ms Jones for six seasons and two movies, but sitting cross-legged in a swish London hotel on a breezy June morning, she’s a million miles away from her New York counterpart. Softly spoken, quick to laugh, friendly, she’s both businesswoman sophisticated and pleasantly approachable. She’s also breaking away from her most famous role with new film Meet Monica Velour, an indie that has Cattrall swapping posh frocks for porn as a washed out, washed up adult star. “I finally got a great part!” she jests…

Do you find many gay guys have an affinity with you and your Sex And The City character?
What do you think? Absolutely! The gay and lesbian community have been so supportive, even before Sex And The City. I just got a GLAAD award, which is an amazing organisation that I support, so I’m very grateful for the support that I get from the gay community.

What was the most exciting part of playing ex-porn star Monica Velour?
The most exciting and difficult thing was to keep her dignity. Once I found that everything else came. I rehearsed this like I did a play. It’s a great part for a woman – who writes a part for a woman in her fifties? Nobody, especially a first time director. This was such a departure, I had to go away and rehearse it.

Did you find that amount of prep hard?
It was devastatingly hard. I saw the [behind the scenes video] about six months ago, and I was never out of character – I was Monica. I was doing and saying things that I would never do. Having a couple of drinks after work, I would never do that. That whole thing with kissing the biker, that’s not written and that’s a real biker. [pulls a face] And I thought, ‘How did I do that?!’

Would you say you’re quite fearless in the projects you’re taking on after the show?
When I read the script for Monica Velour, my agent said, ‘You’re not going to want to do this, because it’s about sex again.’ I don’t think it’s really about sex. This is about sexualisation and marginalisation. That really got me going, and it terrified me more than many of the roles I’ve taken on because I wasn’t going to look sexy and pretty.

Was it quite liberating to take off all the gloss?
It was fantastic, it really was. I have a huge appetite and my body type is heavier than I am right now, so to be that 20 pounds extra was heaven! I loved eating and putting it on, I savoured every bit of it with crap meals and McDonalds, whatever I wanted!

The film parodies the porn industry and the cheesy knock offs they create of mainstream movies…
There’s one of Sex And The City! You have to watch a little bit of it…

Did you find the strip scene difficult with all the male extras booing you?
It was the last scene that was shot, when I was the heaviest. I gained 15 pounds before we started shooting, and another five over the course of shooting. I made a choice that she wasn’t in her body [during that scene], which protected me through the different angles we had to do, but after a while it did affect me. I went into the dressing room afterward and had a good cry. But hearing that age rage, I’m not made of stone and it does have an effect, but that’s what the film is about.

Do you feel it’s a pressure to look a certain way?
In some ways it is, but I’m a child of the Jane Fonda generation, so I’ve been on a diet since 1974! So it’s business as usual, really. And I don’t sleep well, so if I exercise I sleep better. I like to look fit, I’m single, I’m dating, I want to be attractive, but at the same time there’ll be a time when I say, ‘I’m tired, I just want a hamburger and fries!’

Do you feel lucky you’re not in the same position as Monica?
Oh my God, yes. I don’t want to live in a freakin’ trailer park. I have choices, I have a voice, I have a platform. I can’t compare myself to her situation in any way, it breaks my heart. The similarity in it is survival. It’s a really fucking hard lonely job in a lot of ways, there are the great highs, the lows. And sometimes you’re just a person in a hotel room who can’t go out.

Have you ever had your own 17-year-old stalker?
Yes, I’ve gone through restraining orders and court cases, but I keep it very private because to make noise about it is to create more instances of it. I was doing a play once in California and in the interval the artistic director said, ‘We’ve had a death threat.’ It was terrifying. I mean, I’m an actor, why should I have to put up with that insanity? But that’s part of it.

Meet Monica Velour is out on DVD now.

Denis Villeneuve Interview – Incendies

Canadian writer-director Denis Villeneuve lit up the festival circuit last year with his searing domestic drama Incendies, adapted from Wajdi Mouawad’s play of the same name. Now, with the film currently enrapturing UK audiences, Villeneuve talks to LWLies bout war, women and the challenges of reworking a complex story from stage to screen.

How did you first encounter the play version of Incendies?

Villeneuve: I saw it a few years ago in a small theatre in Montreal, and I was astonished by how powerful and disturbing it was. The way it talked about anger, it described the movement of anger inside a family, inside society, and it really deeply attracted me right at the beginning. It’s such a strong story, I just took my two legs and ran as quick as possible in order to get the rights. For me it was delightful to hear such a story, it was like a dream.

Did you know instinctively that you wanted to make it into a movie?

The thing is, the dramatic structure was quite amazing, and despite the fact that it was a four-hour play, it was very theatrical with a lot of strong images on the stage. The dramatic structure was suitable for a film. I made a lot of changes, [playwright] Wajdi Mouawad gave me a lot of freedom to make changes and additions.

Was that not a massive, daunting challenge, to make a four-hour play into a feature length film?

It was a lot of work, yes. First of all, Wajdi gave me total freedom. He said to me, ‘No matter what happens, as long as you make it your own, I will love you.’ He meant that as long as I stand responsible, it will agree with him. I kept the dramatic structure and the characters, but I removed a lot of secondary elements to it, and I simplified the story. There was a lot of stuff with mathematics and the trial, I removed a lot of it to make it more simple.

Your other films Maelström and Polytechnique are female-driven stories as well. Is that something that appeals to you?

That is about inspiration, and at one point I decided not to try intellectualising what that is, it’s something very weird for me to realise. First of all, my first feature was about women, and then after that I took a break. And I realised when I chose my next two projects that they were again dealing with a female lead character, dealing with the female condition and women struggling with power against men. So it’s something that inspires me, but I cannot explain why. It’s just something that touches me.

Do you feel there are enough films about women being made?

That’s a good question. I’m not an expert, I never did any research about movies made with a female character. I think what’s more important is we should have more female screenwriters, but that will come slowly more and more.

How did your lead lady Lubna Azabel get involved with the movie?

I was looking for an actress who could portray the mother all across Canada, and I didn’t find her. Then I went to Europe and Paris, and the casting director there said to me, ‘You really want Lubna Azabel.’ I met her in Paris and I was really amazed by her; she had this kind of strength, a fire inside her that was necessary in order to portray the mother. She had this face that was able to go through time – straight away through the camera she looked 22 years old without any make-up. I was amazed! I knew that I would be able to age her. Before I met Lubna, I thought maybe I would use two actresses, or even three. But after I met her, we decided to go with one. It was quite a challenge because we didn’t have a lot of budget, but I’m very happy about it. Lubna Azabael, I owe her a lot.

Did Lubna have any ideas on how she wanted to create the character, or was it all cued from the script?

She took the cue from the script, but she’s a very intuitive actress. Basically, it was a long screenwriting process and the script was quite precise and clear. I gave her some reading to do, she read some plays and books. In a way it was tough because there were a lot of tough scenes, but at the same time it was very easy to direct her because she was very daring, she doesn’t ask questions, she just jumps.

Were you aware of trying not to swamp the human story with overly stylistic visuals?

I did try to, maybe I failed, I tried to be as humble as possible with the cinematography in order to tell the story with less shots. It was a big film crew but we did try to keep authenticity and spontaneity in front of the camera. Honestly the art direction, we tried to be as humble as possible and concentrate on storytelling. I consider myself a student, each film you try to focus on one aspect of the filmmaking and for me it was the storytelling for Incendies. From the screenplay to the shot list, because it was quite a sensitive dramatic equilibrium in order to not fall into melodrama. It was a lot of work with the actors.

The story can be quite melodramatic, was that a concern for you to not let it just become ridiculous?

It can be quite ridiculous, so it was like walking on a wire, it was really scary.

The film’s had a great response, it got nominated for the Oscar. How was it getting that acclaim?

When you’re making the film, you’re not thinking about that. In fact the thing that surprised me most was the reaction here in Toronto, it was quite a box office success. For a film like this with a lot of subtitles and a dark story, it had a strong response among the audience here, we were overwhelmed by that. Very surprised and very happy.

Were you sad you didn’t get the Oscar?

Not at all, just to be there was a big honour for me. To be honest, it was already a very huge honour to be there, I still forget or don’t believe it. [laughs] It was quite a ride and we feel very proud just to have been nominated.

Is that success going to lead to any English-speaking or Hollywood movies?

I love to work with people abroad, that is the thing that I love. I would love to work just one time in the American system just to try it, like a game in a way. I did receive a lot of offers, but I have to strongly believe in what I’m shooting in order to be able to direct it. It’s very difficult for me to find a script that I would love to do. There is something that landed in my hands a month ago called Prisoners that I thought was fantastic. Maybe I will do that in a few months.

Did you feel that you wanted to comment on war and tragedy in Incendies, or was that just part of the story as it was?

For me I wanted to do a movie about family, how a family deals with stress. And anger driving from parents to children, and the children have to get rid of this anger in order to become adults. About war for me, I’m not a war expert at all, I didn’t have the ambition to talk about war, it’s more a background for the film, I think. The author of the play is from Lebanon, he was raised in a war, he knows what he’s talking about. I see it with a lot of humility. I’m a war movie fan, but we did try to inspire our film from life, from photojournalism instead of cinema. It’s quite tough, of course I am influenced by other films, but I try as much as possible to draw inspiration from reality.

Simon Pegg & Nick Frost’s Guide To Road Movies

Put your pedal to the metal and your foot to the floor as the Paul duo salute classic movie road trips…

Dusty Texan sunsets. White hot wheels. Parched, soulful yearnings. Road movies and America go together like Bonnie and Clyde, like Thelma and Louise… like, say, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. “One of the reasons America is so big on road movies is because it facilitates that,” says Pegg. “It’s a big country. You can’t do it in England – here you can get from one end of the country to the other in a day.” Which is exactly why he and Frost set their very own road movie, Paul, in the wilds of America – the kind of sprawling, untameable landscape where two blokes trundling along in an RV can result in all sorts of mishaps. Like, for example, meeting a strange little foul-mouthed alien.

Now that they’re experts on the matter of movies that take to the tarmac, Total Film asked Pegg and Frost to join us on a journey through the land of opportunity. Just what is it that drives road movies? “Incidents, peril, friendship,” muses Frost. “And also vista, geographical location. I think in every good road movie there’s that montage where the laughter and the talking stops, and you hear some Bluegrass and you see the Deep South…”

1. Sideways (2004)Los Angeles to Santa Barbara County, Californoa (130 miles)
Wine snob schlubb (Paul Giamatti) and TV actor fool (Thomas Hayden Church) putter up the coast to sup their way round the winery region for a two-hander stag do. DUIs and rages against Merlot inevitable.
Nick: Fantastic! Lots of nice geographical fodder to gaze at. I love the way a road trip seems to suspend everything that happens in your proper life back home. It’s all put on hold while you’re on the road.
Simon: I love that it’s about the need to discover and for something else in life. It’s a great metaphor for the trials and tribulations of life. It’s about what’s around the next bend; the bumps in the road, the corners, that kind of stuff.

2. Thelma & Louise (1991)Arkansas to the Grand Canyon, Arizona (1685 miles)
A ditzy housewife (Geena Davis) and a hardbitten waitress (Susan Sarandon) roadtrip from Arkansas to Oklahoma, shoot a guy and go on the lam. They’re heading for Mexico (avoiding Texas) but end it all in Arizona’s greatest tourist attraction.
Simon: “It’s a journey of self-discovery and physical journey, and it has this terminal end as well, which is brilliant. They can literally go no further in every way, geographically and in terms of themselves as people.”

3. Little Miss Sunshine (2006) Albuquerque, New Mexico to Redondo Beach, California (812 miles)
When Olive (Abigail Breslin) qualifies for a kiddie beauty pageant her whole fucked-up family climb into a VW camper can for a sweaty, sweary voyage of discovery. Everyone just pretend to be normal…
Simon: When we pitched Paul we said it was like Little Miss Sunshine but with Gollum instead of Alan Arkin. Everyone in that van goes on a sort of a journey and it’s a cracking soundtrack too.
Nick: Steve Carrell has a great beard in that.

4. Easy Rider (1969)Los Angeles, California to New Orleans, Louisiana (2206 miles)
Two bikers (Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper) flog drugs to fund their Route 66 journey to Mardi Gras in ‘Nawlins’. On the trip (in every way) they run into bigots, hippies and Jack Nicholson. Far out.
Simon: That’s a road movie that goes to nowhere but doom. It’s kind of heartbreaking. The campfire scene in Paul is a tribute to the campfire scene in Easy Rider.
Nick: We filmed in Las Vegas, New Mexico where Easy Rider was shot. It’s on at the cinema in Prospect, where Paul disguises himself as a cowboy. And the street that we are walking down is where Jack Nicholson and Henry Fonda meet for the first time.

5. Two Lane Black Top (1971)Needles to East Tennessee (1517 miles)
A pair of unnamed petrolheads race their ’55 Chevy coast to coast against a souped-up GTO. After burning rubber through California, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Arkansas the film burns out during a bone-jangling drag race near Memphis.
Nick: I saw that when I was 18, it’s in my DVD collection.
Simon: We went on a lot of two lane blacktops on our road trip. They’re amazing rides because the one in Nevada goes in a straight line to the horizon, so it disappears out of sight, it looks like it goes into a hair-width point in the sky.

6. Vanishing Point (1971)Denver, Colorado to San Francisco, California (1277 miles)
A delivery driver (Barry Newman) is assigned to drive a new Dodge Challenger from Denver to ’Frisco and bets he can do it in record time. Pill popping, cop baiting and wheel spinning through Colorado and Utah, he delivers the car straight into a police roadblock in California. (Inspired the car-fawning in Death Proof.)
Simon: In Vanishing Point it’s a road movie where something’s got to be done but I see road movies as being it’s the journey that’s important, not the destination.

7. Trains, Planes and Automobiles (1987) Wichita, Kansas to Chicago, Illinois (714 miles)
Uptight guy (Steve Martin) and annoying fool (John Candy) take a plane (diverted from Chicago to Wichita due to weather), train (to Missouri), truck (to Jefferson City), bus (to St Louis), rental car (to Illinois) and milk float (Chicago) to get home for Thanksgiving. Those aren’t pillows…
Simon: It’s heart-warming and even though the end is sugary sweet you buy it, you allow it. You can earn that kind of sentimentality.

8. Dumb And Dumber (1994)Providence, Rhode Island to Aspen, Colorado (3539 miles)
Simple chauffeur Lloyd (Jim Carrey) convinces his equally dim friend Harry (Jeff Daniels) to drive a dog van across country to return a lost suitcase to the object of his affection. They accidentally go to Nebraska and complete last leg is completed on tiny scooter with frozen snot.
Nick: That film is so soundtracked! That film has got so much music in it.
Simon: It’s almost like a mix tape. There are so many great moments in that film. The snowball fight. And “You just go man”, and then they get frozen. What’s great about that is they actually go back halfway across America ! It’s great, I love that film.

9. Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)Parchman Farm Penitentiary, Tennessee to Arkabutla Lake, Tennessee (102 miles)
Three Depression-era convicts (George Clooney, John Turturro, Tim Blake Nelson) escape the chain gang at a Memphis clink and begin a wandering journey via radio fame to find a $1.2million stash in a valley about to flooded by water for a new power station. Get into some darn tight spots…
Nick: I love the Coen Brothers, they’re perfectly suited to doing an American road movie. Their take is old America as well, so it’s pre-vehicle.

10. National Lampoon’s Vacation (1983)Chicago, Illinois to Walley World, California (2037 miles)
Clark Griswald (Chevy Chase) insists on driving his family across seven states to ‘America’s favourite fun park’ so he can spend some quality time with them. Thanks for the memories of desert breakdowns, dead grandmas and SWAT team stand-offs, Dad…
Nick: Love a bit of Chevy Chase.
Simon: The Griswalds are a kind of bizarrely American family in a structural sense. And to have the whole family on the road together… funny.

Via Total Film