My interview with the gang behind the Super Troopers Franchise! ‘Super Troopers 2’ comes out tomorrow!!

Having just watched the screening of Super Troopers 2 the night before, I had a really fun time when a very small group of us press members sat down with most of Broken Lizard, the men behind the hilarious film franchise, the next afternoon for a bull session.

I could have talked to them all day but was, unfortunately, given a time limit. I spoke to Jay Chandrasekhar, the member of the five-man comedy troupe who directs the films, the night before, but only slightly as I hadn’t realized in time that he wasn’t going to be joining in on the interview or I would have brought my recorder to get a quote or two for this piece. Luckily for us, the four who were there, Erik Stolhanske, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter and Kevin Heffernan were chatty enough and quite entertaining, as was their film.

In fact, I was nervous for them as I went into the screening because often times films suffer from the sophomore jinx, but ‘Super Troopers 2’ is not one of them. They were happy to hear that I felt that way about their efforts as they were worried, themselves.

Read on because they also hint of a ‘part three’ which sounds intriguing. I say, ‘Go for it!’ Why stop now? But they made us wait long enough for this film… they need to get moving already, right?!  I digress.

Interestingly enough, the most serious of the bunch was Kevin, known to most as the frustrating but cuddly ‘Farva.’ He had a more contemplative tone and seemed to analyze the questions more before forming his responses, which, here and the night before at the screening, seemed to be direct and to the point rather than trying to fit some mold a person may have expected from him.

Steve (Mac) is the more playful in the group. The class clown, so to speak. They all fit that description, in a way, but he seems to always be on. When not speaking, he’s waiting to speak, however, does give the speaker his ear. He’s genuine and warm and a pleasure to get to know.

Erik (Rabbit) is the quiet one but he’s not shy. He’s very sweet. Respectful. You can tell when talking to him that he was reserved as a youngster. He’s the one who politely waits his turn to speak and sometimes gets skipped. No member is rude toward the other, don’t mistake what I’m about to say, but like brothers often do, they jump on top of one another, metaphorically speaking, in certain situations which can turn into a free-for-all. If it does, someone gets left at the bottom. Erik may sometimes take a place at or near the bottom but seems comfortable there. What I mean is, if you watch him, his wheels are always turning. When it’s his turn to work or speak, he’ll burst from the pile and you better watch out. Don’t get in his way. This is all conjecture, by the way… just an observance.

Paul (Foster) is a little of all these characteristics rolled into one. He’s studious and insightful and he respects the audience, as they all do. They share a mutual appreciation for their fans and are aware they’d be nowhere without them. Knowing this, they’re very approachable and grateful.

Broken Lizard. A brotherhood has been created here and it was fun to witness it come to life. They finish each other’s thoughts and are hip to where the other is going with a point, cognizant of where each one stands on a subject. There’s a comradery, a reverence and admiration between them, that I’d say will never break.

Kevin starts by talking about the film.

Kevin: There was a lot of pressure about whether people were going to like this movie or not. Because there’s so many fans of the first one that they don’t want you to screw it up. Inevitably the concern that they raise to you, even in those groups, you know, it’s like, ‘I was so afraid it was going to suck!’ My wife said the same thing.

Paul: Our fans have never been shy about saying what they feel because you get people every day, like, ‘Yeah! Loved ‘Super Troopers!’ ‘Club Dread’ sucked.’ Or ‘I loved ‘Beerfest’ but ‘The Slammin’ Salmon’ sucked.’ So, we know people. That’s actually good. That’s helpful to see. What’s working and what people like. I think it’s nice; the response. We’ve shown the movie a few of times, especially to the Indigogo backers, people are so positive. I really believe they’re satisfied.

Question: Do you think that’s because they have a stake in your game?

Kevin: Maybe. I think it’s more of a wedding toast kind of situation, like, they want you to succeed. They’re on your side. You’re like family, right? So, you can go up there and, hopefully, not screw it up.

Steve: Kevin’s right. You feel a sense of release. I mean, from us, too. We just didn’t want to suck and thankfully it doesn’t. A lot of people are saying it’s as good as the first one, maybe better, so…

Paul: Yeah and certainly, we spent a lot of time on both scripts, but I think that what I like here is we spent more time thinking about what makes a good story or what makes a good movie so, you look at the first one and we’ll admit that it’s really, sort of, an excuse for set pieces after set pieces but we really wanted this to be something with an interesting story and you wanted to know how it ends and a cool hook about this chunk of Canada and, you know, I think we’ve ‘plus upped’ just the story telling of it.

Erik: Let’s face it. We made a great movie.

They all laugh and talk over each other having a great time, most likely, remembering moments of making this film as they smiled with congratulatory grins. All earned.

Then Paul jumps in with a worried face.

Paul: He just jinxed the shit out of us.

Question: When writing, what type of research did you do, in terms of Canada? I know that Bruce McCulloch (Kids in the Hall) was on set but, myself, I’d watch ‘Strange Brew’ or ‘Kids in the Hall’ or something like that, but did you pull from your past or do research or–

Erik: Yeah. I lived up there for about ten years.

Kevin: We had a lot of interaction. There were times when we’d go up there and, you know, have fun.

Erik: And for Touring and stand-up.

Kevin: There were times when we’d go to Montreal for the Just for Laughs Festival and you’d be in that area and there were… funny elements of it. There’s a lot of French Canadians who don’t want to speak English to you. There were a lot who were kind of gruff when it’s normally the Canadians who you think are nice people but they– so it was kind of a cool area; thought it would be fun to have some fun with it.

Steve: Plus, we’re neighbors and we know nothing about each other, truthfully, you know? We were in Calgary and we met a Canadian person who was saying some untruths about Americans and we’re like, do you know anything about the United States? How many states do we have? And he’s like, ‘I don’t know forty-eight?’ And we’re like, ‘Holy shit! That’s a ridiculous answer.’ And he’s like, ‘Well, how many provinces are in Canada?’ And we’re like, ‘I don’t know.’

Erik: What’s a province?  

Paul: Forty-Eight? Seventy? That, to me, is why we left every joke in the movie is because, at the end, it looks like we’re all friends again and then Linda Carter basically says, ‘No. It’s going to be status quo again.’ And we immediately turn on each other. And that ‘Burn down your White House, again!’ and ‘What the hell are you talking about?!’ ‘The war of 1812. Learn your history.’ That’s my favorite joke because it is like, we didn’t even know our own history.

Kevin: We were in Calgary and someone, one of the Canadians, was telling us this whole story about how they burned down the White House and we were like, ‘What?! We don’t remember it that way!’

Steve: I had never heard that before. We were like, ‘The war of 1812 you burned down the White House? That doesn’t even sound familiar.’ We looked it up on Wikipedia. ‘No, actually, the Brits were renting YOUR land and THEY burnt down the White House in the war of 1812.’ But the Canadians were like, ‘No. We did it.’ We’ll let them have that one. We’ll give it to them. It’s fun.

Erik: Sure.

Steve: We also didn’t realize they didn’t become a real independent nation until 1983.

Paul: The more you dig around, it’s just fun… just funny stuff; the real history.

Steve: But we don’t just take the piss out of them, you know? If you watch the movie, we’re the ones who come over the border and we’re making fun of them. We’re the ugly Americans. And then it gets flipped immediately and we’re kind of the bad guys.

Kevin: We cast Canadians in those lead roles, Will Sasso and Tyler Labine, Emmanuelle Chriqui; they’re all Canadian and we kind of brought that whole thing to the table.

Erik: And they’re all from different parts. Will’s from Vancouver, Tyler’s from Ontario and Emmanuelle’s from Montreal… it’s such a wide range.

Steve: And our philosophy with Broken Lizard, comedy wise, is never to be mean-spirited and never to pick on anybody. We’re joking about how silly Canada is but the point was that we were setting ourselves up intentionally to have these guys smear us all over the place. That’s the thing about Canadians. They don’t take themselves too seriously.

Erik: I showed some clips up in Toronto a couple of weeks ago and they were very excited.

Question: Jay isn’t here right now so this is your chance to tell us about him.

Steve: Our chance to bash him? Terrible director. Terrible actor.

Question: C’mon. Give me something juicy.

They laugh.

Paul: He sleeps with his eyes open and snores really loudly.

Steve: It’s freaky as hell.

Paul: Days where we would share a hotel room and sometimes even share a bed with the guy, like, you’d wake up and he’d be staring at you and he’s snoring.

One of the four makes a snoring sound.

Erik: I wonder if he’s human.

Paul: And he’s deaf in one ear.

Kevin: It was also fun to have him direct this movie because… since the first Super Troopers movie, he’s directed 100 episodes of TV so he does have a different rhythm now than he did then and it was kinda cool to see how he did things a little bit differently. It was more about pacing and having efficient coverage. So, he definitely learned, you know?

Steve: This is my impression of Jay Chandrasekhar, (deepens his voice; speaks slowly) ’Uh… speak faster.’ (They laugh)

Paul: But I feel for him because he has to direct and act, which, I don’t think about how hard it is until I watch him. You can see he’s acting but his wheels are turning as a director and you have to snap him out of it. Brian Cox did that a couple of times, which is the great thing about having someone like Brian Cox on set sometimes. He wants to make sure you have your shit together as a director but as an actor too, so it makes you up your game.

Steve: And Brian Cox, naturally, when the sun starts going down, he starts to get a little crusty. He certainly doesn’t have time for any tomfoolery.

(Laughing, Crosstalk)

Steve: Cuz when the sun goes down, we start to become a bunch of monkey’s.

Erik: In Trooper, we worked him too hard. We worked him overnight.

Paul: He’s awesome. His eyeball exploded ¾’s of the way through the shoot. What happened with him? A blood vessel burst—

Kevin: He burst a blood vessel in his eye so, as a matter of continuity, we had to go in and digitally remove the red from his eye for certain scenes, otherwise, in his closeup you would have seen that his eyes was all—

Erik: Terrifying.

Steve: If you know which scenes the blood vessel burst for, which we do, now I can only focus on the white of his eye and it’s brighter than it normally should be.

Kevin: We won’t give those secrets away. You can see it on the DVD.

Erik: I mean, I’ve seen it. I’ve seen Steve reacting to it.

Eric suddenly looks horrified and alarmed. The room bursts into laughter at the memory.

Erik: That bloody eyeball was right there. Makes you jump.

Steve: A bloody eyeball is a terrifying thing.

Paul: He has a malevolent presence at times. He’s a jovial guy and he loves doing these things with us but when he turns to you with a big bloody eye…it’s the stuff of nightmares.

Question: I enjoyed the hell out of the movie. You guys don’t take yourselves seriously and you’re very passionate about what you do and it comes through in spades but you’re never rude about it like, we know you make fun of the Canadians but you don’t blame the Canadians’ right?

All: Right.

Question: Your passion shows through. So, what influences you, beyond the sequel, what influences you as actors to want to continue these characters?

Kevin and Steve argue over who’s going to answer the question first.

Kevin: A lot of this is based on us being friends. And it’s on… the philosophy is, ‘Hey, we’re gonna create this world and you can come and hang out in our world with us and be happy and be comfortable in this world because we’re having a good time; you’re having a good time.’ And so, I think that influences us to want to do these worlds in this way, you know?

Steve: That’s what I was gonna say. And we have drafts of things where the guys are bickering with each other or arguing, and we look at it, ‘No… no. We don’t want it to be that way.’ These guys are just joking around and having fun with each other and there’s the one asshole that everybody has in their workplace that’s gonna come in and ruin everybody’s good time and that’s this guy (gestures to Kevin) and so any obnoxious line that isn’t pc or not what we want someone to say, we just pop them into his mouth and we can get away with it.

Kevin: But you still like me.

Steve: But we still like you.

Erik: You’re lovable.

Kevin: Thank you.

Paul: The guy you love to hate.

Steve: And now we have a French-Canadian version of Farva, too (Paul Walter Hauser).

Question: From ‘I, Tonya,’ right?

Kevin: From ‘I, Tonya.’ What’s a great story is that I had done a comedy show with him, a live show… I had met him. And so, we’re trying to cast a Canadian Farva and I was like, ‘This guy I met; he’s fantastic. Let’s have him come in.’ So, we sent him to the casting director to go on tape for our movie and so we did our movie and they were casting for ‘I, Tonya’ and it was the same casting director and she was like, ‘I’m gonna call that guy in again cuz he was so great.’ And she called him in for, ‘I Tonya,’ and he got the part because he did ‘Super Troopers,’ which we were so excited for him about. And now the guy’s taking off. He’s in Spike Lee’s new movie (BlacKkKlansman). He’s done a bunch of stuff since.

Paul: It’s like we’re going around launching everybody’s career except our own.

Kevin: It’s good. It’s exciting.

Question: So, ‘Rabbit’ gets a love interest!?

Erik: Yeah! I’m tired of being shaving creamed!

Paul: That’s the last thing I want to do, is do the love stuff. Go and make-out and be mushy and have to do real acting? But, as silly as our movies get, you still have to have that scene. You still have to have that.

Question: Is there a girl out there for Farva?

Kevin: I don’t know. We talked about that. Maybe in ‘Super Troopers 3,’ we talked about maybe Farva finally finds his love. Maybe. But for now, I locked lips with Lemme in the movie, so… yeah… I’ll stay with Mac. Farva and Mac having a moment.

Steve: Pretty romantic stuff.

Kevin: Why not do it with the guy you know.

Paul: There’s no mushiness here.

Steve: That would be a great thing. In ‘Super Troopers 3,’ (gestures to Kevin) if Mac says, ‘I need to talk to you for a second. I can’t stop thinking about you.’

They laugh.

Question: Tell me about the writing process. How do you bring it all together?

Paul: It’s like this. It’s us around a table and there’s sort of these stages of just general ideation. Obviously, the world had already been built so that was good but generally speaking, we ask, ‘Where do we want to go with this?’ You, sort of, refine with each phase of starting, ‘Okay. Let’s go with that… let’s beat it out, how would something like that work?’ And with every phase, you’re almost always just throwing out bits or set pieces or comedy that you keep off to the side and you kind of build the structure of the storytelling. It’s just about populating as much comedy as you can.

Steve: Yeah. ‘Lonnie Laloush,’ the Canadian Farva, is a great example of that cuz that’s something where he just existed as dialogue. Down the road we thought, ‘We should probably see this guy.’ So, we wrote him into one scene but then we loved his audition tape so much we were, like, ‘God. We gotta see this guy a bunch and American Farva and Canadian Farva should meet up with each other at some point so… you just keep rolling it out and with each new draft, you have three, five, ten more jokes. It just makes the script better.

Question: Does anyone ever get their feelings hurt?

Kevin: Yeah. It definitely happens.

Erik: I’d say it happens.

Paul: Not over a joke but…

Kevin: We’re passionate.

Paul: We are passionate but it’s not necessarily a ‘This is funny.’ ‘No, it’s not.’ ‘Yes, it is.’ ‘No it’s not!’ The fights seem to be more, ‘Is it, at all, realistic?’ It tends to be more tonal stuff like, ‘That’s too broad, like a Zucker Brother’s joke. It’s funny but I don’t know if it exists in that world.’ Then the guys tend to roll up their sleeves.

Erik: Sometimes it’s like ‘Survivor’ where you have to form an alliance. Like, if you have a joke you’re trying, you have to get three out of five people on your side to get the joke approved. (Kevin laughs) So, often times, you’re trying to form alliances. Sometimes you even have to act it out. If you catch my joke but someone else isn’t seeing it, you have to get on your feet and sell it.

Paul: But then you can also sabotage a joke by reading it in a shitty voice. (Mocks a bad reading of a joke.) ‘Well, when you read it like that, asshole, of course it’s not funny!’

Erik: Right.

Paul: That’s the best way to sabotage.

Steve: But that’s the problem, too. When you get in these creative disputes, after the first round of, ‘Hey. I don’t know if this’llwork.’ It becomes, you just want to win a fight! And so now you got guys who have their heels dug in and there’re just going toe to toe. And three guys will just sit back and watch it. Like, we’ll smirk at each other while these other two guys are just butting heads.

Paul: And when you’re one of those combatants and you want support from the other guys, you’ll always get shot down because there’s nothing more fun than when you’re one of those guys watching two guys fight. And you don’t want to get involved. You just wanna sit back and eat popcorn and watch it. But it’s also maddening when you’re like, ‘Come on! Help me out here!’ And the other guy’s like, ‘You guys figure it out.’

Erik: You’re doing great. Hang in there.

Question: Kevin, you have a law degree.

Kevin: I do.

Question: You passed the bar in two states.

Kevin: I did. In two states. Yeah.

Question: If you became a lawyer and didn’t do this, looking and watching these guys, how would you feel about them?

Kevin: I’d feel they need a Farva, these guys!

Erik: Everybody needs a Farva.

Question: Any other careers anyone else were considering, instead of doing this? Your passion?

Steve: I don’t know what else I would do.


Erik: I don’t think we’re qualified for anything else.

Paul: I had a desk job for, like, one month.

Kevin: You guys could come work for me at the law firm if you want. Come make some copies for me. Do some research for me.

Paul: That’s good to know.

I believe he would. I hope you liked this interview. I know you’ll like the movie.

Interview with Anthony Gonzalez from the movie ‘Coco’

My second interview of the year was with young actor and singer, Anthony Gonzalez, who was touring for the film he starred in which releases this month on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital.  Anthony brought the wonderful character Miguel to life in the Disney•Pixar film, “Coco” which is Pixar Animation Studios’ 19th feature film.  In the movie, Miguel dreams of becoming a polished musician and for such a young man he’s, much like Anthony himself, well on the way.  Not only can Anthony act with the best of them but he has been singing almost his entire life, a talent he picked up from watching his older siblings.  It’s appropriate to proclaim he has a beautiful singing voice and he’ll go far with it.  He’s also passing the tradition of performing on to his younger brother.  Read on to learn more about this sweet person, Anthony Gonzalez, so you can prepare for when you hear much more about him.

Q: Tell me about ‘Coco’

AG: ‘Coco’ is about a boy named Miguel who loves music, that’s his passion, but he has to keep his passion for music a secret because his family has banned it because what has happened with his family in past generations.  He kinda struggles with that because he doesn’t have the support from his family. Because of that, he goes on a magical journey through the Land of the Dead and where he gets to meet his idol, Ernesto de la Cruz. Yeah, I really loved doing the movie and the two things I love to do and have been doing since I was four years old! I have never sang and acted in the same project so that was amazing, especially all the amazing songs that ‘Coco’ has!

Q: What was your favorite part of the film?

AG: I have a lot of favorite parts but one of them is when Miguel is getting ready to sing Poco Loco. I also love a lot of the scenes where Miguel is interacting with Mama Coco because I feel like that’s so sweet.

Q: Okay, now what was your favorite song from the movie?

AG: I really love Proud Corazón a lot because I love the message that it gives. It talks about the family and I love the melody, it’s so catchy. That’s the one I sing the most. I, obviously, love Poco Loco because that one is just so much fun! Remember Me or Poco Loco was the first ones I recorded and that was so much fun.

Remember Me… I love the song so much because of the message. When I was singing it, I got the emotion because I really connected a lot with Miguel singing this to Mama Coco and it really reminded me of my grandfather who passed away when I was six. He was very special for me because he was always there for me and he would support me. He inspired me. When my mom would take my brother to singing competitions, he would tell my mom, ‘Take Anthony, too, because he loves to sing and he’s good at it!’ So, I definitely thank him. It was really emotional for me to get to sing, Remember Me. It was a way for me to connect with my grandfather again and be with him again. It was an amazing experience to get to record it.

I also love The World Es Mi Familia because the message… the world is my family, music is my language… it really shows the love Miguel has for music.

Q: I was wondering what it was like being in the sound booth for you. Was it hard to do that and were you finding yourself really getting into it?

AG: At first, I was like a bit nervous because when I was ten I went to Pixar. It was my first time there and they were telling me about the movie and that was the first time I really knew it was a Disney•Pixar movie so I was, like, ‘Wow!’ I was a bit nervous the first time but then after I started to go a lot more often, I kinda got used to it.  I love this movie a lot because, umm… I really identified myself with Miguel a lot because we both have a passion for music and we both know the importance of family and, yeah, it was so much fun doing the role of Miguel; especially alongside the amazing director Lee Unkrich.  And the amazing producer Darla K. Anderson and co-director Adrian Molina were just an incredible help when I was recording.

Q: Generally, you work with other people when acting but what’s it like to work on building up that enthusiasm when you’re alone in the sound booth?

AG: At first, I was like a bit nervous because when I was ten I went to Pixar. It was my first time there and they were telling me about the movie and that was the first time I really knew it was a Disney•Pixar movie so I was, like, ‘Wow!’ I was a bit nervous the first time but then after I started to go a lot more often, I kinda got used to it.  I love this movie a lot because, umm… I really identified myself with Miguel a lot because we both have a passion for music and we both know the importance of family and, yeah, it was so much fun doing the role of Miguel; especially alongside the amazing director Lee Unkrich.  And the amazing producer Darla K. Anderson and co-director Adrian Molina were just an incredible help when I was recording.

Q: That’s obvious to me now. So, you won the Annie Award for Best Voice Acting in an Animated Feature.

AG: Yes. That was amazing!

He uses the word amazing a lot, which so fits his personality. He also smiles a lot with a massive grin that brightens any room and is very animated as he speaks. He seems to constantly be in motion, unable to contain the energy coursing through him.

Q: What did that mean to you to win an award?

AG: That was just incredible because when they told me, ‘You’re nominated for an Annie Award,’ I was like, ‘Oh…uh…cool. I don’t know what that is.’ But then the director told me it was like the Oscars but in animation. I was like, ‘Wow!’ That’s a big deal for animation! And I was just so happy I was nominated. But something a director told me was, ‘Never expect anything.’ Because then, like, let’s say you’re so happy like, I’m gonna get the award but then you don’t… and you feel so bad. But like, if you don’t expect anything, it’s not as difficult.

Q: But you won. What was it like getting it?

AG: Yeah, so, when I went there, I was so nervous because I saw the other voice actors that were nominated. So many famous people were there, too, like I got to see Angelina Jolie and Kobe Bryant was there, which was amazing. I got to meet them both which was so much fun.  They were so good, I couldn’t believe it. When I got the award, I was just in shock because this will be, like, marked in history! I was just so happy that a lot of people appreciated the hard work that people put in the film, the heart they put in the film… all the work they put to make it. Just ‘Coco’ in general, all the awards they were nominated for! They even broke a world record! It just made me feel so happy to see that a lot of people were appreciating the movie. It made me feel so good about myself that I even got an award which was amazing and alongside so many people that were experts in animation, like, so many people that were there that have been doing this for so many years.

Q: Well, what was your first acting job?

AG: My first acting job? I’ve never had that question before!

How is it possible he has never been asked this question?! Oh, yeah… he’s thirteen! Anthony giggles for being asked the question, something he does throughout the entire interview. He’s quite amusing to watch. I can’t wait to see the films he does in the future and how he turns his flair for the dramatic and his strengths and gifts into Oscar gold someday. Back to the interview…

AG: Well, I remember my first acting job. I was very young. It was for an Oscar Meyer commercial. About two or three years ago, I filmed another Oscar Meyer commercial and what’s funny about that is that in the commercial, I was with Renee Victor, which plays Abuelita in the movie (Coco) and that was amazing because we didn’t even know her, and we were going to be in the same movie!

Q: What did you have to do to get the part in this film?

AG: So, I auditioned when I was nine years old and what I had to do to get the part? I really had to put a lot of emotion in the voice and I really pretended that I was in the situation, like, if my family didn’t support me… if I was going through this journey… if I was in Miguel’s shoes. That was something that really helped me. So, I just said it like if it was me… like, it was something I would say. It turned out great.

Q: I bet it was a lot of fun.

AG: It was just so much fun getting to explore a different universe and getting to explore different things I didn’t think I’d get to experience.

Q: I heard you got to sing in your audition.

AG: Yes! What’s also cool, and I read this in a magazine I think, it said I was auditioning just for a temporary voice and I was like, ‘Wait! I didn’t know that!’ (Laughs) I was like, ‘Woah! Really?!’ They told me, later on, that Miguel was just gonna sing Remember Me but because they saw that I was able to sing, they actually added Poco Loco, The World Es Mi Familia, Proud Corazón. That… that was just, like, amazing! I couldn’t believe that.

Since my first audition, when I went to Pixar, (I knew it was about music) I was like, ‘Wait, can I sing for you guys?!’ (Laughs, smiles) And so, I did sing. I sang a song in Spanish and they loved it so much and I was so happy to show them what I’ve been doing since I was four years old. I never knew that singing would come in handy for a role! (Laughs)

Q: I loved the emphasis on family in the movie. Would you say there was a representation that you identified with, like, in terms of your own family and upbringing? 

AG: Yeah, yeah! I knew coming into this film that family’s important cuz like, I wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for my family. I started singing because of my brothers. They started singing and inspired me to sing. They grew up doing street performance and dancing in (inaudible) a very Mexican place. There’s a lot of restaurants there and music; that’s all you hear… it’s just amazing. My two sisters would dance and sing and my brothers would dance and sing. I would just look up to them and I would, like, see that a lot of people would enjoy their performances and would have a smile on their face and they would clap, then I see my brothers would feel happy. Well, because of them, I started singing. That’s why I feel that family is important. It also shows that message in ‘Coco’ which I really resonated with a lot. And also, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for my parents, for the support they give me and for always being there every step of the way.

Unfortunately, Miguel doesn’t have that in the movie because his family has banned music for their whole life. Miguel could have shined shoes for the rest of his life but he decided to follow his heart and follow his passion and, umm, be a musician which is what he loved to do. And that’s one of the things that I… I really look up to Miguel because he can serve as a role model and a leader to many of the kids who have a passion and many other kids who want to sing and want to play the guitar, so I feel that he’s a leader. I’m happy to do the voice of Miguel.

Q: Is seeing your heritage in films like ‘Coco’ important to you?

AG: This movie was amazing because it was very unique to all the other Disney•Pixar movies. Obviously, they make you laugh, they make you cry but this one also touches on the Mexican tradition and this was very unique.  It touches on the wonderful celebration of the Day of the Dead. A lot of people didn’t even know the celebration even existed, or they thought it was just like Halloween but it’s actually totally different. It’s about remembering your ancestors and connecting with them again and to know they’re not gone. They’re still here with you, their spirits are still with you, and that’s one of the things I love most about the movie! It taught other people about the culture so, yeah… representation is important because a lot of people learned many things along the way.  It also touches on the importance of family and follow your dreams but besides that, there’s (sic) not many movies that show the celebration of the Day of the Dead. For Disney•Pixar to do a movie about it and represent many Latinos is just amazing and I feel so proud to be a part of that representation and to be doing the voice of Miguel.

Q: You’re from a big family, correct?

AG: We’re five. My little brother is nine, I’m thirteen and my older brother, who inspired me, is fifteen… and my two older sisters, who go to university now. We’ve all been into singing, we’ve all been into music. We all sing and we all act. See, my little brother just copied me every day. Every time he wins an audition he’s like, ‘I’m catching up to you!’ He takes it like a challenge and that’s what makes it fun. That’s why he loves doing it. In fact, I’m always there to help him in any audition. To support him and, yeah, it’s kind of like a competition but it’s also fun and we help each other out. That’s the good part of having people there that do the same thing to be there for you and help you… so that’s cool.

Q:  What’s your best advice for young people who want to get into film?

AG: To just do what you love! If you’re having fun doing it, then do it.  I really love singing and acting so I’m doing it! Thankfully, I have the support from my parents and my siblings so it’s easy for me to do it. And, just follow your heart, do what you love and never give up! Be really resilient… don’t do something you don’t love. You only live once! Miguel could have just done shoes, shined shoes for the rest of his life, but he decided to follow his heart and that’s good advice for other people… to just follow their heart. Do what you love and there’s always a happy ending! 


He smiles when we’re done.  This is a signal not only of how happy he was to have been the part of such an outstanding film but of the fun he had while being interviewed. Being interviewed is something he’ll master soon as it is this interviewer’s opinion that Anthony Gonzalez will be spoken to a lot through his many successful years in show business that is to come.  It was a true pleasure getting to know this young actor and be in the presence of such a phenomenal talent and bountiful spirit of intensity. Before long, he’ll get his sea legs and navigate his way through promotional tours with ease and I hope he never loses sight of the fact that the reason doing these events is not just for promoting a film, a DVD or himself but for his fans, soon to be in the millions, to get to know him better. I hope this Q&A helps you do just that but here’s some info on the home release of the film.

*Here is information on the release of the Blu-Ray

Interview with Alex Roe from Forever My Girl

Alex Roe Interview


I got a chance to sit down with Alex Roe, born Michael Roe-Brown, a handsome English actor who has been in films such as 2000’s horror/thriller, ‘The Calling,’ the action/sci-fi film ‘The 5th Wave’ in 2016.  In 2017, he was in both the horror film ‘Rings’ and the drama ‘Hot Summer Nights,’ which also starred Timothée Chalamet.  Now this year comes the romance and his biggest part yet in ‘Forever My Girl,’ for which he not only played a country singer but did the actual singing on two songs in the film.  By the way, not only is he good with his accent, he sounds like an authentic country singer from the south when he belts out the tune, ‘Don’t Water Down My Whiskey.’

He’s just fantastic and has a big career ahead of him.  Born on June 18th, he shares a birthday with another famous Brit, Paul McCartney, he’s much younger, of course.  Born in 1990, he’ll be turning twenty-eight this June.  He was really nice to talk to and was charming and genuine.  Alex sings when he knows no one is around to hear him, yet gets himself in a movie where he’s a big country singing sensation.  He’s not a bit shy but has such a gentle personality that he comes across that way.  He definitely leaves an impression on those who meet him, as he does in the film.  I hope you enjoy the interview.

We start and as I turn on my H5 Zoom Recorder he looks at it with concern.

AR: It looks like it could survive a nuclear attack, this thing.

SKG: It probably could, actually.

He eyes me suspiciously.

AR: You know something I don’t, don’t you?  All of your equipment is nuclear proof.

SKG: I know I can count on it to get a good interview.

He puts his hand to his head.

AR: Radio to sound dude.  And…

Alex pauses a moment before saying, ‘Speeding!’  Which is what is said when sound is ready to go and start to record.  I said, ‘Exactly!’  Actually, I wanted to tell him I could use his talents on set as a sound engineer the next time I shoot a short film but decided to get on with why I was actually there as time was of the essence… nor would I dare say such a thing.  Anyway, I had to know about his singing.

SKG: Did you pick this role because you know you have a good voice and wanted to show off that talent?

AR: I picked this role because… uh… because I thought it would be a really interesting challenge.  To have a go at playing a country singer.

SKG: You were already prepared then?

AR: I had sung at home and stuff and I had sung, like, in the shower and like when people were out so, I knew I could carry a tune and if they were ready to take the risk on me, that I would be able to work hard enough to hopefully make something work. But, umm… yes, I definitely took it partly because of the challenge of that.

In case you missed that… he sings in the shower.  One can only imagine.  Okay, on to the film.

SKG: Forgiveness played a large role in the film, as well.

AR: I thought the story of forgiveness and family and home and all of that kind of stuff was… nice.  It was different than the stuff I’d been doing.

SKG: The strongest message in the film, I thought, was to forgive and move on with your life.  Do you find that an easy thing to do?

AR: I think everyone finds it really difficult to do but I think it’s really important.  I think you can really, kind of, be set free by forgiveness, you know?

I nod my head in agreement as I believe it, too.  It’s so obvious that holding onto regret and anger will eat you alive.  His character, Liam, has many regrets that even being a mega-rich country singer can’t wash away.  Alex recognizes this.

AR: There’s a real strength in it.  Even with, like, little moments where you could not forgive, and you do, there’s definitely this empowering feeling cuz you’ve made the decision to forgive so therefore you’re in control of it and I like that it’s part of this movie.

SKG: Why, in your opinion, does your character, Liam, leave?

AR: (Takes a deep breath) I… think…yeah, that’s tough.  I think, really deep down, I think that he hadn’t really dealt with the loss of his mum.  (He’s silent for a moment.)  And I think that as he kind of explains and kinda comes to terms with it, I think he was just running away.  Running away from the potential of feeling the pain that he had pushed aside with his mum and the potential of maybe, like, losing Josie and all of these things.  I think fame was this really, really easy, like, gratification for him… that he could run towards and feel good, like, temporarily; because all these people adore him and stuff like that so, it became, kind of, an easy fix for his problems but those easy fixes are, umm, not long lasting.  They’re easy for a reason.  So, when he comes home he, kind of, figures out how to actually deal with this stuff.  That’s coming home and reconnecting to his roots and stuff. 

SKG: Is there at all a possible chance that he didn’t want to end up like his father, even with religion?  His father is a pastor so maybe even speaking to the religious aspect of the film, maybe he didn’t want to be.  And are YOU religious?

AR: I don’t like to talk too much about my beliefs and stuff, really, but I think that… I don’t think he was necessarily running away from the religion.  I think that it was more of a personal thing than a religious reason why he was leaving town.

SKG: You are building quite a resume of characters.  Is there a certain school of acting or method you like or prefer?  Meisner, Adler… Stanislavski?

AR: I kind of like to take little bits from all of those.  I’ve taken classes and intensive courses and stuff and that was my schooling really.  Taking little bits of everything.  And I think you, kind of… when you start working, you don’t necessarily draw on those techniques… you don’t really realize that you’re drawing upon those techniques that you learned but you are.  They’re ingrained there.  So, like, if it’s listening; like the Stella Adler listening and observing, then that’s something that you, that you just naturally do, hopefully.  Or, you notice that, ‘I’m not listening and observing right now and I need to.’  Cuz that’s what acting is; acting and reacting, ultimately. 

SKG: So, nothing specifically?

AR: I don’t know, there’s not one specific school… I think I’m just going to keep learning and keep studying and… yeah… hopefully figure it out at some point.

I certainly don’t think he has much to figure out.  He’s a strong actor who commands the screen when he’s on it and with his parts growing ever larger, he’ll have this thing licked before he knows it.  Now, regarding the movie, and a child actress in it, I had to quote W.C. Fields to him who said, ‘Never work with animals or children.’

SKG: In ‘Forever My Girl’ you worked with this little doll of an actress who plays your daughter.  Her name is Abby Ryder Fortson.  W.C. Fields famously said, ‘Never work with animals or children.’  You didn’t listen and Abby completely stole the scene.

AR:  Every scene!  As she should.  Yeah, I’m glad that you know who it was that said that cuz people have quoted that to me, but I didn’t know that, that was the person who said it.  But yeah… don’t work with kids and don’t work with animals.  I think with children, there’s an attention span that’s a little bit less than adults, definitely understandably, but I couldn’t get more lucky than to work with Abby.  She’s so smart and so, like, brave and she takes direction really well but is also down to improvise which is really amazing.  Half the stuff that made it into the movie was just Abby and I messing around.

SKG: Oh, really?

AR: Yes.  It was us like, ‘Let’s do this in this scene.’ And she’d be so down to have a go at it. 

SKG: Pretty fearless.

AR:  I got really lucky cuz she didn’t seem to have a nervous bone in her body, you know?  She was just having fun and enjoying it.  And it definitely makes you check yourself cuz enjoying it is so important.  Seeing a kid enjoy it that much… it kind of reminds you that, ‘Yeah!  You gotta enjoy this. It’s fun!  

SKG:  At what age did you start?

AR: I did my first movie when I was ten, so I could relate to her as far as, that two-month shoot that I did felt like a lifetime, so I knew that for her this shoot, like, every little moment was gonna feel like a month of experience.  So, that was really cool for me to see someone experience something that I did. 

SKG: You were into it really young.

AR: That was when I did my first movie.  I kind of took a little break from acting and I was playing soccer and, cuz that initial movie I just kind of fell into it… because they did an open audition at my school and I went up to the director and I said, ‘Look, I know that I haven’t done a lot,’ I was ten years old and I was like, ‘I know I haven’t done a lot but I’m good.  I promise.’  I was like really confident.

SKG:  You have to have that kind of confidence.

AR:  I think so.  Abby definitely has that in spades.

SKG: Yes she does.

Wanting some sort of scoop, I pushed my luck a little bit.  Okay, it moved away from the film, I guess, but you can definitely check out my review, for more information.

SKG: Tell me something, give me something, that you haven’t told anyone else before.

AR: (Thinks a moment) Something I haven’t told anyone else.  Oh!  This is… umm… wow. 

After a moment.

AR: I’m so open, I tell everyone everything.

SKG: (I point at him) Now that’s not true!  You wouldn’t tell me if you were religious or not.

AR: I know. (Laughs; continues to think) What’s something that I haven’t told anyone?  Oh, I’m sorry.  I can’t think of anything quick enough. 

SKG: Okay… favorite song and favorite movie.  Let’s hear those.

AR: Favorite movie, acting wise, I think ‘Mean Streets.’  Robert De Niro in ‘Mean Streets.’ 

SKG: And Harvey Keitel.

AR: That’s a really great one.  Then, favorite song… I think ‘Jolene’ by Dolly Parton.

SKG: Jolene?  Dolly Parton?  Did you just say that?

AR: Yeah.  

SKG: Amazing.

AR: You like Dolly Parton?

SKG: Oh, of course.  I used to live in Tennessee.

AR: Wow.  Okay. 

Alex smiles.  Dolly Parton.  Wow.  I wouldn’t have seen that coming.  Anyway, check out ‘Forever My Girl’ this weekend for some romance.  I think you’ll agree that Alex Roe has a big future in the genre… or any genre he so chooses, for that matter.  Maybe he’ll record an album someday?  Oh!  I should have asked him that question!  Missed opportunity.

Interview with Justin Barber of Phoenix Forgotten

Phoenix Forgotten is Based on the shocking, true events of March 13th, 1997, when several mysterious lights appeared over Phoenix, Arizona. This unprecedented and inexplicable phenomenon became known as “The Phoenix Lights”, and remains the most famous and widely viewed UFO sighting in history.  Phoenix Forgotten tells the story of three teens who went into the desert shortly after the incident, hoping to document the strange events occurring in their town.  They disappeared that night and were never seen again.  Now, on the twentieth anniversary of their disappearance, unseen footage has finally been discovered, chronicling the final hours of their fateful expedition. For the first time ever, the truth will be revealed…

A week ago, I had the pleasure of chatting a bit with the director of this sci-fi/ thriller, Justin Barber.  He was charming, open and very excited that the release date of his feature was drawing near.  I told him what I thought about the very idea of the film and why I felt that way and he replied that since making the film he’s heard about so many experiences people have had, even his crew, and he tried his best to get the feeling people expressed to him into the movie.  To start us off, I couldn’t help but ask him about himself.


Shari: Have you ever witnessed anything?

Justin: I have actually.  It was when I was in a cabin in South Africa with my brother when I was in my twenties.  It was in a rural area and we’re staying in a lodge; it’s kind of rustic.  In the middle of the night, I was awake and reading and my brother was across the room asleep.  A bright light shone into the room.  There were already sheer curtains so I couldn’t see outside but I could definitely see the light source as it shone in and it cast shadows across the room.  It seemed to be from an elevated position, shining down.  And then it shifted.  The light source moved and the shadows swept across the room I just remember distinctly seeing the light move across my brother’s face as he slept.  I didn’t hear anything; I didn’t hear the sound of a truck or anything but after about 3 seconds it was gone.  It freaked me out so much that I rustled him awake.  I felt rather silly.  I don’t know what it was.  In retrospect, it could have been a truck or something with its bright lights and I couldn’t hear it but it definitely freaked me out at the time.


Shari: How would you describe the film?

Justin: This movie, at first, is a documentary with a big twist in the middle and it becomes a more straight up found footage ride.  You experience everything through the characters.  If they don’t see it, you don’t see it and in a lot of ways, it makes it scarier from a suspense standpoint.


Shari:  What else makes some of your found footage sequences different from the rest?

Justin:  We have some new things you haven’t seen but in the end what elevates the movie is the cast.  I think the cast is really stellar.  The actors did an amazing job with their characters.  They just wanted to make a good movie.  I do like horror movies and movies of this nature because of the suspense and because of the scares but often with this type of movie, the characters don’t seem very memorable.  I wanted to make a movie where the character was more fleshed out and where you care about them more… where they’re a little more distinct so that when they are in the more tense situations, the movie is more powerful.  I think that’s where we succeeded.  I think that characters are a little more original and I think the actors (thinks) the cast was just stellar.  That’s what sets it apart.  In terms of originality, I thought it would be great to make a found footage Close Encounters, the Spielberg movie, but I was also inspired by more contemporary documentaries.  I think we’re sort of in a Renaissance in science-fiction right now which is great to see a lot of original sci-fi in ways we haven’t seen in the past but we’re also in a Renaissance of documentaries.  There’s a lot of cool documentary projects kind of hitting the mainstream in a way they haven’t in the past.  You have Making of a Murderer, you have Jinx, on HBO, so we kind of drill in all of those things in the first half of the movie.  Make it a little bit different than something that’s a shaky cam for ninety minutes, you know? 


Shari: A line in the film is that the government has been lying about UFO’s for fifty years.  Do you believe that?

Justin: Well, I put a lot of real people in the movie so there’s a documentary vibe and I had the character Josh ask people, ‘Do you think the government is lying about this?’ Without skipping a beat they were like, ‘Of course.  The government lies about everything.’  That was a very common sentiment from the people on the street who were willing to talk to us.  A lot of it was in Arizona.  We did spend some time in Phoenix trying to get to the bottom of this.  We did treat the subject matter as if we were making a real documentary.  But personally… I think the actual facts always come out later.  Regarding the Phoenix Lights, we are still waiting to see what it really was.  So, do I think there are things they’re not telling us?  Of course, I think that’s the case.  Do I think that they’re covering up actual aliens or actual UFO’s?  I don’t know about that but I do believe that there’s life out there… but I also kinda believe that, you know, often UFO on a radar is a distraction from something else they don’t want us to know.  Look over there, don’t look over here.

The story isn’t real but he treats it as though it really happened.  There’s actual news footage about the mysterious lights but the rest of it is fiction.  Having the actual news footage to play off of makes his story that much more believable and that much more fun to watch.


Shari: People are really going to appreciate your attempt at authenticity.

Justin: Close Encounters was a big inspiration for us but also the movie Catfish.  T.S. (Nowlin, writer) and Wes (Ball, producer) were in their office one night and were really taken with how it (Catfish) felt like this was real, and I’m actually suspect to this day (laughs) but it was that level of authenticity that I respect… and the original Blair Witch had that.  I was really impressed with how believable it was.  So when these kids go missing, law enforcement sets out to find them and we interview people who were involved in that search for these fictional kids but the people I interviewed are real police officers.  One of the guys is a private investigator in Phoenix.  A real private investigator who I made a case file for, which he studied; and then the character in the film who plays a filmmaker, I just did a real interview between them and she asked him these questions pertaining to the case and he went with it.  It was amazing.  We did a lot of things like that to catch the authenticity.


Shari: What was the biggest challenge and why?

Justin: Blair Witch was still one of the scariest movies I’ve seen.  That being said, it’s a genre UFO movie and I wanted to do as much practically as possible.  I love the ending of Blair Witch a lot.  I think it’s really full but there were some people that were probably a little put off by it, I think.  So, we just wanted to ride that line a little bit and we wanted to not show everything but it’s a genre UFO movie, you want to have a little bit of a payoff so, we do show… we do have a big finish but I wanted to do as much on camera as possible.  We found this great guy named Joe Pancake.  Joe Pancake is a special effects guy and I got connected to him through one of our guys at ScottFree and he works on huge movies.  I mean, he does big stuff.  He’s the guy you go to when you need a Transformer footprint.  He was willing to help us out with our movie, which is very small.  He went above and beyond what our budget was and helped us with some really cool, practical gags.  The thing about making a found footage movie in this day and age is that the cameras are totally disposable.  I got to destroy a lot of cameras to get some of these gag shots; my apartment is sort of a graveyard of broken cameras, but there are digital sections.   Some things you can’t do in real life, but I always try to at least ground it in a place with the actor where there’s real stuff going on and then add it later into the computer.  In a way, the challenge was that… it was meant to be a documentary and getting the actors to wrap their head around that… it took a lot of work to get them there; getting the authenticity of the modern day documentary moments I think was the most challenging in a way to make it believable but I think we did get there.  As far as with the found footage stuff… in a way that was easier because we did try to make it real for the actors with the practical effects so when they’re playing that fear, they’re able to react to things that are actually happening.


Shari: What drew Ridley Scott to the project?

Justin: T.S. Nowlin has worked on other stuff for ScottFree and just happened to be in a position where he could pitch this movie to Ridley and he really liked it.  What I learned in the course of making this movie is that Ridley is really invested in helping young filmmakers.  Conceptually, it was something he really liked.  I think he liked the idea of a found footage Close Encounters.  While I was making this movie, he was making his Alien movie but he was always available to offer his input.  Everybody across the board, from Ridley and the producers at Cinelou, all the way down to the cast and crew… this is the kind of movie that now when I look back I can see everybody in it.  It was a great team effort.  Everybody really contributed in one way or another and that’s something I’m really proud of; how everybody handled it.  From the top down.


When I first start talking to the extremely friendly Barber and considering the subject matter, I couldn’t help but mention something from his film that had happened to me in Northern AZ; because it was very similar to what he has his characters experiencing in the film.  I had always thought what I saw was odd and at the time I was frightened but that’s about as far as I go.  I thought it was fun to tell him and now you know so if anything odd has ever happened to you, maybe you’re not crazy?  Maybe we really are being watched.  Never know, right?  Regardless, watching sci-fi thrillers paint a story is a nice, safe way to enjoy the idea.  Phoenix Forgotten comes out today.  Enjoy!

Interview with Director Hunter Adams

I had a chat with fellow Wisconsin native turned L.A. filmmaker, Hunter Adams, about his new release, Dig Two Graves, which is available to watch on iTunes and at a theatre near you.  His film is a suspenseful thriller that is summed up perfectly by its tagline.  ‘A young girl’s obsession with her brother’s death leads her on a nightmarish journey where she is faced with a deadly proposition to bring him back.’  I was excited to speak to him and could have talked to him all night but administered some self-control and kept it short.  Here is some of that chat:


Me: So you’re from Wisconsin, I see.

HA: Wisconsin has a long history of serial killers and great directors. 


Me: (I resisted asking him if he were also a serial killer.)  A lot of great actors, as well.

HA: Yeah.  I’ve met a lot of crew out here in L.A. who are Wisconsinites.


From my experience, Wisconsin schools always encourage the arts and most Midwesterners are escaping the cold so this makes sense to me.  Moving on, I asked him where his fairly unique and bizarre story came from.


HA: It started off as a simple story about a young girl who loses her brother and then makes a deal with the devil, by way of these three hillbillies.  Ultimately, I decided I wanted to give them more of a concrete narrative… to be messing with the girl.  They were originally drawn in the Shakespearean tradition (the witches from MacBeth) where you just weren’t quite sure how much supernatural power they had or if they were just being manipulative.  I kinda wanted to walk that fine line.  But in the final version, we do have an actual reason for messing with the girl.


Me: Where did you originally get your love of films?

HA: From my mother.  She’s in my first film, The Hungry Bull.


Me: That’s a nice thing to be able to do.  What does she think of this film?

HA: My mom passed away while I was writing the script so she didn’t get to see the final product, unfortunately. 


Me: I’m sorry.  She’s with you, though.

HA: She definitely influenced the film.


Me: Did you go to film school?

HA: I didn’t really have a film school education per se.  Its been mostly a hodge-podge of classes and self-teaching and just watching as much as I can. 


Me: How long does it take to get a film like this made from script to screen?

HA: We started in 2011 and we went through a program called IFP (Independent Feature Project) New York, which is a big non-profit program.  So, we did their– we went to this film week in New York.  We went to a script lab and after that, we made some connections that led us to some investors and we ultimately started shooting in 2013.  It was about a year of editing afterward.  We shot for four weeks in January in the dead of winter and we went back for a few days in the summer for the opening shots of the two kids in the quarry.  And then the underwater sequences, which are at the end, we did that here in L.A. 

Me: You clearly love both writing and directing, is there one you’d prefer over the other if you could choose only one?

HA: Directing.  I like to have the control.  I love being on set and the collaboration, working with actors… the whole process; post production, working with the sound team.  All that stuff.  And I love the technical side as much as I do the artistic side. 


Me: Do you have a say in editing your projects?

HA: I edit a lot on my own for a living.  That’s how I pay the bills.  It’s something I’m heavily involved with but I had a good editor who worked with me on this one.


Me: I loved the tone, the color, and the overall feel that the landscape gave the film.  Where was this shot?

HA: We shot it in an interesting part of the country called Little Egypt.  It’s in southern Illinois.  Everything there is Egyptian themed.  Down there it isn’t flat and boring, it’s really wild and it has swamps and hills and cliffs and lots of slivers.  It’s a really interesting place; a great backdrop for a supernatural setting.  It’s about six hours south of Chicago.


Me: What was the most difficult thing to shoot in this production and what was the easiest?

HA: It’s sort of hard to narrow it down.  There were so many difficult shots.  So much of it was shot at night in very rural locations in the dead of winter and during one of the coldest winter spells on record in Illinois.  That made everything pretty challenging; pretty grueling.  But there were a couple of really technical things that were hard to achieve.  There was a fire scene… and the underwater sequence was really hard both for the actors and for me because as the director, you’re giving over control to the underwater technicians and it’s a really slow process.  That was really frustrating because I like to keep things moving.  So, I have to say the fire and the water.  They were the most technical and the hardest to pull off.  I think the easiest were the scenes between the grandfather and granddaughter.  They had such a natural chemistry together.  There wasn’t really very much I had to do except just get out of their way and let them be great actors together. They’re the real heartbeat of the story.  They’re the real emotional arc and I think that they both did a terrific job.  That makes me look good and makes my job easier. 


Me: Are you ever going to direct someone else’s work?

HA: It’s possible if the right script came along.  There’s nothing in the works at the moment.  I have a few projects that I’m developing but those are things that I’ve also written… but I definitely have my eyes and ears open.  If something came along I would not be opposed. 


Me: Tell me about your writing process.

HA: To me, because I’m writing, directing and am involved from the conception to completion, the writing process is pretty fluid and doesn’t just start and end on the page.  That’s one part of the process.  I also went down to southern Illinois, spent a couple of months down there… scouting locations and talking to locals and incorporating some of the folklore that I heard, into the screenplay.  Some changes come when you’re on set and you’re with the actors and they’re bringing their instincts in, it continues to change.  Then in post (production) we significantly re-shaped the storyline, as well.  But when I’m specifically writing, I try and set hours, you know?  I’ll get up at three in the morning and try and work; try to be as diligent as possible.  I have to really be regimented or I won’t get anything done.  I consider the writing process to be throughout the entire filmmaking process.  I was making changes right up until the last day of the sound mix; cutting shots out.  It’s an evolution, for sure.

Me: Congrats on doing such an amazing job of casting.

HA: We knew casting the girl was going to be the most important decision we made on the movie because it really rests on her shoulders and if the audience doesn’t take the journey with her than there really is no movie.  So, we spent a long time looking for the right actress to play that part and pretty late in the process we had a tape in the mail from Sammy (Samantha Isler).  She was living in Tulsa OK, had never been in a movie before and when we got the tape I knew, pretty much right away, that she was the one.  She had great instincts, she was smart and understood the subtext… had a real intention behind the words which is pretty rare to see in someone of that age and still have that innocence, you know, that wide-eyed look that we needed.  So, we got pretty lucky that we found her and a lot of the other cast were Chicago-based.  We were trying to cast locally as much as possible because of the budget.  So, we tapped into the local T.V. and theatre scene there and got some great actors and then Ted Levine was on our short list of actors we were looking at.  Short because the actor had to be a pretty specific age because we age him up and down for the two time periods.  And I’ve always loved his work.  He’s played some pretty iconic roles, Buffalo Bill from Silence of the Lambs being the most notorious, but I was excited to see him play a meaty role for a change.  We gave him a chance to dig into a morally complex character.  We got lucky with him.  He’s a real method actor; he gets into the part… pretty obsessive about wardrobe and costuming and all that kind of stuff.  It was an honor to work with him.  I can’t even imagine another actor playing that role now. 


Me: Tell me about your next project, Blue Palms.

HA: The guy that did the storyboards on Dig Two Graves is a cartoonist friend of mine and we concocted a graphic novel that’s best described as a demented version of Three’s Company.  So, it’s kind of a wacky comedy about these eccentric artists living in a dilapidated apartment in Hollywood.  And we’re getting ready to publish the first volume of that and try to spin that off into an animated comedy series.  It’s very different in tone from Dig Two Graves but sometimes you gotta swing the opposite way and keep in interesting.       


Me: Give me some words of wisdom for any budding filmmakers who may be reading this.    

HA: If you want to be a filmmaker, it’s important to watch movies.  To watch a lot of great movies; old movies and really understand the potential of the medium.  I think, a lot of times with a first-time filmmaker, they can be a little bland in a cinematic sense.  Sort of shot after shot of talking heads.  They don’t utilize the full vocabulary of the medium.  When you’re ready to make a movie, my advice is, it’s such a laborious, time-consuming process that you really have to make something that you’re passionate about, not something that you think is going to sell or be popular cuz chances are it’s not going to necessarily make millions of dollars.  You’re going to be spending years of your life on this.  You gotta invest your time in something you really believe in.  And enjoy the process as much as the final product. 


Me: How do indie filmmakers get their films seen?

HA: We played the festival circuit and then the last year or two had just been trying to figure out the wild, wild west of independent film distribution.  We finally got that sorted out.  It’s now releasing in theatres and on VOD.  Its been a long journey.  We’re doing an iTunes exclusive for the first four weeks and then it’ll be available on all VOD platforms; Amazon, Playstation… all of them.  That’ll be April 21st.  All VOD platforms.  Just search Dig Two Graves right now on iTunes and it’ll pop up.


What are you waiting for?!  You heard the man.  Go check it out and watch this little gem.  If you’re a horror fan and like a good indie film, this is a strong story with great characters that is filmed beautifully be someone who appreciates a good movie and wanted to create something for his audience to remember.  Hunter Adams was a joy to talk to.  I believe he’s a director to watch out for and a name you’ll hear more of in the future.  Start now and don’t miss a thing he does.

Interview with Director Adam Collis of “Car Dogs”

L.A. filmmaker, Adam Collis, director of the film Car Dogs, is also a Professor who teaches film courses at Arizona State University.  He’s an outstanding individual who takes other people’s welfare to heart when making certain professional decisions.  Wanting to see the film Car Dogs made, being involved by directing and helping to produce shows proof of that.  There isn’t any, ‘all talk, no action’ with this guy.

I’m happy to say that he was triumphant in accomplishing his goals with Car Dogs and that, luckily, he learned a big lesson along the road to success… share your knowledge and support those with whom you can if you have some influence to do so.  Meeting and chatting with the director of the film, which features actor and writer George Lopez, Patrick J. Adams (Suits), Octavia Spencer (Hidden Figures), Nia Vardalos (My Big Fat Greek Wedding), and Christ Mulkey (Whiplash), was very enlightening.  I had an enormous amount of fun picking his brain not only about his film and how it came to be but about the local talent here in Phoenix that he used.  Collis was more than happy to give people who have only worked on smaller films, or who have never at all but always wanted to work on films (both in front of the camera and behind), the opportunity to work on a true Hollywood production with a substantial budget.  He’s able to do this through his internship program at ASU called Film Spark which connects film students with professionals in the movie industry. 

Film Spark and his involvement in it is something he’s quite passionate about.  With his attitude about filmmaking and love of the craft, he’s being instrumental in growing the Arizona film community as a whole, connecting individuals with one another which gives us all a reason to be very proud of him.  He holds his head high acknowledging the accomplishments of Film Spark, knowing full well what he’s offering his students.  Through his connections and ability to get a film made, not only do they get to learn from him, but they get the hands-on experience that not many would have a chance to if it weren’t for the program he so happily embraces.  He cheerfully tells me that he loves, ‘giving them the opportunity to learn filmmaking on a real film set and to work with an Oscar-winning cast and crew.’ Adam was thrilled with how the film turned out.  The cinematography by David Stump is beautiful and captures all the allure of the city of Phoenix.  He concentrated mainly on Papago Park where he said he knew, ‘It was meant to be shot.’   A shot from above gives his audience a full view of the area and if you live near there or have driven by, you’ll agree that it was a good choice.  It’s a gorgeous shot.  He’s excited for everyone to see the film, especially if they were involved with the production. 

A close friend and past student of his, Mark Edward King, wrote Car Dogs.  ‘He had originally written it as a short film and I thought it was excellent and encouraged him to turn it into a feature.’  King had been a car salesman himself and had an interesting take on the business and all that goes on in the life of a salesman or a car dog as they’re referred.  He concentrated his story on these particular car dogs having to meet a quota by end of day.  It was almost kismet that he ended up making the film.  He teaches at ASU and King is from Scottsdale, Arizona.  King had been shopping his script in L.A. and it was doing well but it wasn’t getting picked up.  Collis liked it and thought this would be perfect for the internship program.  Collis tells me, ‘It’s set in Scottsdale, written by a Scottsdale native, shot here, made with dozens of student interns.  The film is going to be shown in Phoenix’s own Harkins Theaters.  What we’ve done here is really special.’  Scott Derrickson, who Collis had gone to film school with and who later went on to direct Doctor Strange, had also been a car salesman in a past life so it seemed there were plenty of good sources at Collis’ fingertips if he needed.  After seeing it done in the film, I asked him if salesmen really listen in on buyers discussing, in private, whether or not to buy, as is suggested in the film and he replied, ‘You’ll have to ask Mark.’  He stands firm that car salesmen will do a great deal to sell a car saying, ‘Everyone would serve themselves well by watching this movie before going and buying a new car.’  So I took that response as a yes.  This is a warning, everyone!  No buying a car until you’ve seen Car Dogs!

In the film, Malcolm, the dictatorial business owner of the car dealership which employees his son, Mark, takes advantage of his son and other employees by expecting them to do “Whatever It Takes” to meet a certain number of sales by end of day, all to make himself look good as he closes a deal behind the scenes.  He has promised Mark the next dealership and works him hard with little reward.  Can Mark meet the demands of his father to get the prize he so deeply covets?  Will his ambitions lead him to delude his team and the buyers who walk in, making him become more and more like his father?  Mark is played beautifully by Adams and Mulkey is a very frightening Malcolm.  Circling back to the whatever it takes sales issue, Collis did tell me that he was given the advice to have an amount written down before walking into a dealership and to, ‘Not ever go over that amount.’  Got that?  Never go over that amount. 

As I mentioned, his Film Spark program does connect film students with professionals in the movie industry but also gives artists in the Phoenix area a chance to show their stuff.  He hired crew and cast and they reimbursed his kindness by taking an already great script and improving it with superb performances all around.  Smiling, he mentions, ‘This is a good opportunity for filmmakers in Arizona.  There’s so much creativity in this state and this is a new model for getting a film made.  Why go to L.A. to launch a film when you have Harkins Theatres?’ 

Curious, I asked him if he could remember any of the local talent that he used.  He took out his phone and scanned the IMDB credits.  Some of the people he mentioned were Raymond Scott who, as a car salesman, stood out not only by wearing a brightly colored shirt but by appearing to be continually in sales mode.  He then mentioned actor, Drew Moore, who played a particularly tough customer.  Moore, who had played football in the NFL and the CFL before the acting bug took hold, is a big muscular man who made an impression on the director and likely will the audience when they see his character intimidate a salesman into giving him a better deal.  Collis laughed as he evoked the memory of Moore mainly because of the mistake he made by giving him the direction to hit something harder.  Moore is not a small guy but it was a very small object he hit.  As I’m sure you could guess… it didn’t go well.  He had another performance he couldn’t wait to talk about and that was the work done by Wendy Crawford.  He told me, ‘She had a small part as the receptionist but she was so good; very professional.’  Not only did she give an exceptional performance but her husband Guy Crawford was extremely helpful with equipment that was needed.’  Guy Crawford works for BKW, Inc. in Tempe.  He and owner, Jim Weingard, provided services for the Car Dogs film for which Collis will be forever grateful.  One thing I learned right away from talking to him was that he realizes what a big effort it is to make a movie and that he is only one part of a massive undertaking.  Collis wants everyone to get their credit.  A few other people he wanted me to mention were production designer Scott Cobb, Hamilton Sterling his sound designer, Maggie Morgan the production’s costume designer and all of the veteran Hollywood department heads who were willing to help turn Car Dogs into a reality.

I had to inquire about whether he’d be willing to make a film like this again; to take a chance on making a movie of this size outside of L.A.  I’m pleased to announce his answer was, ‘Yes.’  He had nothing but positive things to say about Arizona and his experience with the feature film went smoothly.  I must ask one thing of all of you.  Car Dogs will be playing exclusively at Harkins Theaters around the valley starting March 24th.  Get out and see it.  Get everyone else there, too.  If it’s a success, there’s no way he wouldn’t do this again.  This will be a success but will be an even bigger success if you’re willing to get to the theatre the weekend of the 24th and give him and the Harkins Theater chain a reason to believe they made the right decision in choosing to premiere it here in Arizona.  Enjoy the film and spread the word! 

Fist Fight Movie Interview with Charlie Day & Director Richie Keen

Fist Fight Movie Interview By Shari K. Green

Actor Charlie Day and Director Richie Keen, of the film Fist Fight, came to Phoenix for a movie interview press event to discuss the film.A few of us got to meet and talk with them during our movie interview.  Here are some of those questions.

Q: Having just come from Chicago, and we have such beautiful weather here in February, it had to be asked, what do these gents think of Arizona?

Richie Keen (RK): I love Arizona.  I’ve been to Arizona many times, I’ve been to Phoenix many times I have friends who live here and there’s something very, very peaceful about this sort of desert life.  Uh, I grew up in Chicago and it’s a much different vibe and yeah… I always loved coming here; I just find it really peaceful. Charlie Day (CD):  Same here.  I grew up in Rhode Island and there’s something about when I come to the desert that I like so much and it’s like a well-kept secret, too.  It’s like, ‘What’s out there in Phoenix?’ And you get here and you’re like… ‘of course, no one ever leaves.’  He smiles. RK:  Yeah. CD:  It’s… you’re living in paradise. RK:  It’s like a nicer L.A. CD:  That’s right.  L.A. without the cars. They both laugh. RK:  And everyone looking over their shoulders.

Q:  Charlie, did any of your cast mates try to throw you off?

CD:  Kym (Whitley) threw me off a bit. (Laughs)  I assume you mean get me off my game? I think when Ice Cube threw me into the school bus (Keen snickers) for the fifteenth time in a row, it really started to rattle me. RK:  He’s a very committed actor. CD:  I started to wonder if anyone realized we were still filming and if he was trying to smash me to pieces. RK: I was impressed because I was thrown by Tracy Morgan and Charlie wasn’t.  To me, he’s so… bizarre and interesting and nothing is ever the same way again that I couldn’t believe how Charlie could just role with him and stay in the character and stay in the story.  I was just cracking up, thanking God I had a camera on him for half the time so– CD:  Yeah… for some reason, I feel like I speak Tracy Morgan. RK:  Yeah. CD:  I like the absurd nonsequitur.

Q:  Part of the fun of this film is that Andy has to grow and learn on this journey.  One thing he learns is that ‘snitches get stitches’, right?

CD:  Yeah that’s the tough lesson.

Q: That’s one.  But he also learns another life lesson which I won’t reveal here for the people reading… what about Ron Strickland (Ice Cube).  What do you think he learned?

CD:  That’s a great question.  I think Ron Strickland learns that, possibly, his methods are a little too extreme.  That this man who is known for being so soft and kind and easy with the students wasn’t just a fool for having that point of view but that he has a point of view and that he’s willing to go down swinging for that point of view and that both he and Ron Strickland have to find middle ground.  It’s a good metaphor for, I think, everyone in life which is that no matter what your point of view is if you disagree with someone you can’t be so bullish on your point of view as to not listen to them.  And so they’re forced to understand one another. RK:  Yeah, just piggybacking off that, I think it was so important to us that both teachers be teachers who cared and they just happen to have different philosophies and that Ice Cube was, you know, he loves the Civil War.  I mean, he cares.  It’s not like he’s a bad teacher, he just believes that (he’s old school), he believes, as he says in the movie, ‘I don’t need to be liked.  I need to educate.  Whereas, Charlie wants to be your buddy.   And there’s different philosophies in teaching now… I…I don’t know what the right answer is; it’s probably specific to each school and even each class and even each student but I do think that Ron Strickland probably learned that he could probably ease up a little bit.  I mean, without ruining the ending, he does actually tell Charlie’s character to calm down a little bit at one point. CD:  Right!  Maybe that is where he learns his lesson. RK:  He sees someone else doing it and he realizes it’s a little out of control. CD:  That there’s such a thing as too far.

Q:  If you scrub away all of the laughs and all of the F bombs and all that, there’s some good social commentary here.  Was that in the script or was that something you guys brought into it during the production?

CD:  I’m sure that there was something in the original draft there but it was something that was very important to both Richie and myself that the movie was anchored on… which is, I think essential to any kind of comedy, especially comedy where you want to be edgy or occasionally outrageous.  If it’s not anchored on some positive message then it really just feels like shock value for the sake of shock value.  And we’ve been doing that for twelve years on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. I think we would have been a one season show if each episode or the majority of the episodes weren’t rooted in some message… I hesitate to say what they are but for people to watch and make them think just a little bit.

RK:  Yeah–

CD:  It was important to us.

RK:  I think we felt like, first of all, we don’t have the answers but we do… we all can agree no matter what you think about politics or anything that we need to look at the education system.  It’s just not working the way it once did.  And I wanted the film to feel like a prison riot movie.  I felt it was the prison guards versus the inmates.  You’ll never see two students going at each other; that was deliberate in the movie.  And the way I shot it, I wanted to open in that prison yard, that courtyard.  I didn’t open it from the school or from where the flag or the brick wall are and even in the way I tried to light it, you know, the cinematographer I hired did Copland he did To Die For he did My Own Private Idaho I didn’t hire the guy– I mean, he’s done commercial movies but I wanted it to have that feel of like– the school I picked was rusty and crumbling and so it was important to all of us that– we’re not a hard message film; we wanted to be the most outrageous comedy of the year but–

CD:  It’s a very pro-teacher film, too.

RK:  Absolutely.

CD:  I think it really shines a good light on the difficult situation that teachers are in these days both with their lack of ability to discipline kids and their lack of resources sometimes.  And I think Cube’s character would have been really one dimensional if we didn’t give him a great philosophy as to why he wanted to have this fight… beyond the fact that I got him fired.

Q:  There’s a lot of intensity in this movie.  There’s a lot of characters who are right on the edge of losing their sh*t and as I’m watching it, it reminded me of this story I read a long time ago.  Bruce Willis, one of his action films, before each take, would get psyched up… throwing chairs around and such.  I was wondering if you or any of the other actors had any little routines you ran through before each take to get into that mindset.

CD:  It depends on where in the movie I was.  Certainly, in the beginning of the movie where it’s just me talking to my students I probably wouldn’t do too much before but if I was supposed to be especially agitated, I would do a little bit of jumping up and down and pumping my fist.  It’s something an actor once told me he saw Tom Cruise doing and uh, as a joke we started doing it on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and now I love to do it.  I just feel like it gets the blood flowing.  Or sometimes even, and I learned this one from Danny (DeVito), I’ll start just saying a few lines in character, either to somebody else in the scene or to nobody, just right before we roll the camera but… there’s little tricks you can try.

RK:  I will say, I don’t think you’ll mind me saying this, in the scene where Charlie finally tells off the administration… he did it one time.  Perfect.  I shot it a second time just in case the camera messed up.  I was sure I was going to be there for hours.  I mean, it’s this passionate scene and this monolog and it was just… (He thinks) …he was so– by the point of the shoot, when we had gotten to that point, he was so ready for it. Umm… just in terms of the tension that is something we added, ultimately, in the script when Charlie and I started working on it.  It was important that the fight have meaning.  It had to have a cathartic experience for everyone so we added these crazy senior pranks that the principle’s going through because I just kept thinking, when I cast Dean Norris, seat Charlie between an angry Dean Norris, (Hank from Breaking Bad), on one side and Ice Cube on the other, I really felt like that is a no win situation.  What do you do?  And to watch him try and finesse that and just– Yes, he did it but he had a reason and so… I’m glad you picked up on that because we wanted all the teachers… Tracy Morgan getting pranked, and everyone.  We just wanted to feel that by the time we got to the fight it was gonna be–

CD:  And there were great pranks in the script, in the original draft, but we definitely wanted to make this such a terrible day for Andy Campbell that by the time he finally says, ‘I’m gonna go down swinging no matter how hard you hit me,’ that you can kind of justify that he gets to that place.

Q:  The world has gotten a little bit more absurd lately.  As someone who deals with absurdist humor, how do you catch up to a world that’s just getting crazier and crazier?  Do you use your free speech to ridicule things that are going on or do you go in a different direction?

CD:  It’s really interesting.  I think, certainly Sunny, has thrived in that era and we’ve been around a long time.  When we first started the show, I think Bush was in his first term, maybe his second term.  So, that was an interesting time if you remember… [sic] we were in Iraq and then, of course, it’s not to say the Obama years weren’t interesting times, too, and, of course, now it’s very volatile and out of volatility comes great comedy.  I think it’s our job to just point out our flaws, no matter what side of the political line you’re on.  I think both sides deserve a good comedic lashing and umm, you know, I don’t think anything’s ever going to change in terms of that with comedy.  If the world gets to such a tame place that we can’t have any sort of satire any more than maybe that won’t be a good thing… who knows.

Q:  Kinda lookin’ like you might not be able to make fun.

CD:  Yeah, that’s true.  It’s definitely getting harder for people to take a joke.  I think humor is necessary in times like this.  I think the greatest thing that could happen right now is for a movie like this to come out so people can just go laugh and relax a little bit and they can watch people punch each other if they feel rage and want to punch somebody.  I think movies that have something intelligent behind the humor will survive.  It’s tougher to make senseless jokes and it should be tougher to make senseless jokes but if there’s a good intelligent reason behind the joke telling, I think it should hang in there.

Q:  How did you pick the song you have Andy’s daughter sing on stage to her bully during the talent show?  That song is a touch dirty, we’ll say.

RK:  That was written to be the Kanye West song, Power, which is the coolest song.  I’m so excited about it.  And then we found out, shortly before filming, that we couldn’t afford it.  I was like, ‘Oh my God!  How do you replace this Kanye song?!’  And my music supervisor must have sent me a hundred songs and I got my headphones on late one night and I hear this song and I’m not that hip… I don’t know all the best stuff.  And I send it to Charlie and I go, ‘Charlie, this will change the movie!’  And Charlie’s like, ‘We gotta do this song!’

CD:  Well, for me, it gave us the idea of… cuz originally we kept getting notes about that sequence that it felt like this sort of an About A Boy moment and then suddenly, ‘Oh, what if it feels like it’s going to be an About A Boy moment but then we make it a big comedic…’

RK:  …we don’t do earnest very well.

CD:  But also then that gave us the idea, ‘Oh, what if my daughter is being bullied and she’s using this song as payback?’  Cuz in the original script, she was just a fan of rap music.  Sometimes those limitations lead you to an idea that makes it a better movie.

RK:  It was Charlie’s great idea that, ‘Wouldn’t it be interesting if he and his daughter were going through a very similar day and she also didn’t know how to handle it and that in helping her handle it, he manned up enough to realize now he’s gotta go handle his stuff.’  So, it was a really amazing opportunity that started off as a problem.

CD:  Yeah.  Sometimes the best ideas come from the limitations that you have.

Q:  Did you allow a lot of improvising, Richie?

RK:  Charlie made a distinction between improvising and alternative punch lines.  Everyone stayed on story.  We’d always get everything we wrote and then I’d be a fool not to have Tracey or Jillian or Charlie or Kumail take a shot at, ‘Do you think there’s something funnier to be said?’  For example, in that scene in the hallway where they’re talking about meth, a written line was, ‘Don’t do meth.’  ‘Why?  Because it’s a gateway?’  ‘No.  Because it’s the finish line.’  That’s written.  Charlie’s saying, ‘Don’t do meth.  Period’  And Jillian is saying, ‘When I’m on my period don’t do it, because that’s when I need it the most.’  Jillian came up with it so… we always played.  It was such a challenge for me in editing because I did like to let people play and there were so many things that made me laugh.  You know, I had a playwriting teacher in college who said, ‘Disciplined writing isn’t writing every day… it’s cutting your favorite scene because it doesn’t progress the story.’  And editing was an exercise in that.

Q:  Given the nature of the narrative, were there any pranks on set?

RK:  There really weren’t.

CD:  I’ll tell you what… if anybody pranked me during the shooting of that fight, I would have killed them.  Parts of this movie were so physically difficult to shoot there wasn’t a lot of room for extracurricular activities.

RK:  I’m not a prankster ever as a director because, for me, I want everyone to feel so safe.  I want them to feel so taken care of that… people can fuck with me all they want and I have a sense of humor about it, although on this movie no one did, but my job with this group of personalities is to just be like a big hug around everyone saying, ‘We’re gonna do it.  It’s gonna be great!’ So, I’m not a big believer in it.

When I first walked in to meet them during the movie interview, I immediately noticed they related with one another very well.  They seemed like brothers or dear friends who have known each other for their entire lives.  They were overwhelmingly warm to me and that said, I don’t want to sound like a fan, I’m only presenting what I witnessed.

Charlie Day and Richie Keen are two of the friendliest people I’ve met in a long time.  I sincerely hope they continue working with one another and as often as possible.  As I’m sure so many are aware, the air around them is filled with the aroma of mutual respect and admiration and each would only wish the best for the other… not only themselves or their friends but for anyone.  I was happy to have been around them.  To be honest, I don’t think I saw Keen’s face ever drop its smile.  What impressed me the most was their attitude toward their fans.  Where the interview was taking place, we could be seen through a window and people couldn’t help but notice the familiar faces behind the glass.  Much to my surprise, they stayed after the interview and met their fans, took pictures, signed autographs never once saying, ‘No.’  They were very humble and very kind.

More Movie Interviews By Shari K. Green

Getting to Know Miss Sloane With John Madden

madden If you’re a fan of the film “Shakespeare in Love”, the director of that film, John Madden, has a new release this month, “Miss Sloane” and it’s fantastic.  I had an opportunity to sit and have a chat with him.  Here’s that chat.

Shari:  I want to talk primarily about your casting.  Chastain was unbelievably perfect in this role.  How did you know she was the one to cast for it?

Madden:  We’ve worked together before on this film called “The Debt”.  Nobody knew who she was when I cast her in that. She was right at the beginning of her very compressed career and so we wanted to do something together ever since then and have been trading material when it came up, but I never found anything that I thought was absolutely perfect for her that I wanted to do.  Even in the iteration of the script that I read originally, by page five I thought, ‘Oh, this is the one for her.’  So I finished it and sent it to her.

Shari:  So this was a story you felt compelled to do from the moment you read it.

Madden:  I think, to me, there are many, many terrific things about the script and the film.  The script, when it came to me was, mechanically, I’m talking about the mechanics of the storytelling were pretty much in place.  Johnny had written a very cleverly constructed piece.  I wouldn’t say the chronology isn’t exactly the way it is in the film now, certainly the elements in it, the content has developed and there was an amazing character there but it… the character essentially had not developed fully in terms of… what she did was there but what happens to her was not.  And I thought the most interesting thing about the film was to take this character who is, you know, so empowered so powerful so brilliant at what she does, so sought after, so successful but also ruthless, dangerous, heedless of the collateral damage she causes on the way to achieving the goal she sets for herself or somebody had set for her and finding out what’s going on underneath all of that and the price that she is paying personally for that because she has no life at the beginning of the story.  She eats her meals in some godforsaken place simply because it’s functional.  She buys intimacy, she has no friends, she has nothing that we would call a life outside of the world that she’s got; which seemed a fascinating thing to explore particularly in light of what happens and that– what does happen to her and what she does, and what happens as a result of that, is a massive challenge to her.  The core relationships developed as Johnny and I worked on the script … and also adapted, forensically, the political assumptions so we made sure we had those right.   

Shari:  I want to talk primarily about your casting.  Chastain was unbelievably perfect in this role.  How did you know she was the one to cast for it?

Madden:  We’ve worked together before on this film called “The Debt”.  Nobody knew who she was when I cast her in that. She was right at the beginning of her very compressed career and so we wanted to do something together ever since then and have been trading material when it came up, but I never found anything that I thought was absolutely perfect for her that I wanted to do.  Even in the iteration of the script that I read originally, by page five I thought, ‘Oh, this is the one for her.’  So I finished it and sent it to her.

Shari: She was so cold in this role.  Was it hard to get her there?

Madden:  No.  Not really because I know her and I know what she’s capable of.  We talked a great deal about how that character operated.  She’s very, very smart and because we have a lot of trust between us, that’s a very intuitive process.  She’ll say, ‘I’m not going to tell you what I’m doing in this, you tell me what you think when I’ve done it’ or ‘I don’t know what to do here, should we go this way or that way?’ 

Shari:  I know the answer before I ask but did you ever question your decision?

Madden:  No, she’s got– there are a handful of actors of both sexes in this business who just have the skills of a virtuoso mastery of their instrument, let’s say, like somebody who can play a Mozart concerto perfectly.  She’s in that league without any question whatsoever.  She can do, sort of, anything but the most extraordinary thing is that she can inhabit anything.  There are very few actors that have the range that she has.  When my film, “The Debt” came out, she had done “Tree of Life” by then, some of those came out before our film because did because for various reasons it got delayed, but she had done “The Help”, “Take Shelter”… there was a huge range in there and “Zero Dark Thirty”, obviously, is another side of her, which this has more of an infinity with, I guess.

Shari:  She’s very intimidating as Sloane.  She towers above everyone, whether it’s psychological or not I don’t know but she felt like a giant.

Madden:   She’s, realistically, small in stature but she totally dominates the entire film to the point where you would think she was an exceptionally tall woman, taller than most of them around. 

Shari:  She’s not?!

Madden:  (Laughs) No. No. No.  I mean, she wears heels, obviously in the film, as that character would and quite deliberately but no… and she has a fragility about her that belies the ferocity and so the paradox is that even though she behaves in ways that you pull back from her, shocked by, you still are rooting for her in some way.  I certainly intended that you’d be rooting for her when she begins to make mistakes, because I think it’s human nature to do so but I hadn’t quite anticipated that you might be rooting for her almost from the very beginning, which I think you are; weirdly.

Shari:  I was.

Madden:  Yes.  I’m sure.  And I think women in particular are.  And, you know, it’s partly the way we’ve written the character and it’s also partly the way she does it.

Shari:  I want to see it again and I think seeing it twice is what a lot of people will be doing.

Madden:  Good!  But it’s a different experience when you see it again because now you know so you’re surfing through it differently.

Shari:  Since this touches on the subject of the guns how do you see this film playing in America now that Trump was elected?

Madden:  It’s hard to say, you know, I think… I can’t say I’m entirely happy about this but it seems to me that, that argument is– obviously this movie is, to some extent, a fantasy even because it actually purposes that such a piece of legislation would be under consideration in congress, which was unimaginable before this event, it is now completely unimaginable that there would be any shift in this… and if anything, you might go backwards.  I think, however, the gun issue is not the subject of the film.  The subject of the film, aside from the character study, is the political process itself and, strangely, the film has become richer in terms of what it’s saying now because you’ve seen that process laid bare in such an extraordinary and, sort of, startling way and in ways that we can’t completely track and understand. 

Shari:  Guns aren’t the situation and the political message is there for us to pick up.

Madden:  I think broken politics is something of a truism now but I think it’s never been more demonstrated than right now.  When I say that, I’m very aware that half of the voting population, it was a very low turnout, have got exactly the result they hoped for and that’s an exercise in democracy that I couldn’t and wouldn’t argue with, it’s not my country… but I think we’re witnessing a massive realignment of how politics functions and I can only, myself, lament and express my dismay at where the country appears to be pointed.  The idea that climate change is going to be arrested stopped and moved backwards is shocking and deplorable to me and that is what is being proposed.  As I said, the gun issue is its own thing and I look at that as a primarily, well, exclusively, American issue; I have my own views about it but they’re not relevant in the film but I think it, strangely, the movie plays more strongly– I was shocked after the election thinking, ‘Wow!  Is anyone going to go to the movies?  I don’t feel like going to the movies right now.’  But I think Americans do go to see the movies when they’re disoriented, depressed, dismayed or even jubilant, as some presumably are… and I think it has something to say in that context and so, yeah… it casts some unexpected light on the situation or rather the situation casts an unexpected light on the film… let me put it that way. 

Be sure to read my review of “Miss Sloane”.   You can catch the movie which is out today at a theatre near you.  Jessica Chastain will surprise you with her best performance yet.  Remember, it’s not at all a movie about gun control, only the reason for Miss Sloane to be working.  It’s barely even noticed.  As Madden said, she is the subject.  It’s a great story and one not to miss, especially if you think it’ll be political leaning left or right.  As mentioned in my review, don’t wait for Netflix.  


The Edge of Seventeen Interview with actress Haley Lu Richardson

“The Edge of 17” is not exactly what it’s sold to you as.  By the looks of it, from the title, poster and the trailer, you’d think this was a film for young girls and young girls only.  It’s far from that.  Yes.  It is a tale of teen angst but is so much more in that we see not only Nadine’s (Steinfeld) low opinion of herself from the get go and her fighting or giving up, but we see a story built around that, with characters who are more than willing to indulge her in her self-loathing and the consequences of that decision.  Most affected by her parent’s decision to look the other way as Nadine wallowed in self pity is her slightly older brother, Darian (Jenner).  At the time of their father’s death, he not only became the man of the house, he had to also become his mother’s friend which turned into a job for him.  There are fights between brother and sister which are quite amusing but not what is at the core of issues the family faces.

Being a very difficult person to be around, Nadine has only one true friend and that’s Krista (Richardson).  Since they were little they did everything together.  Nadine loved her like family; trusted her more than anyone.  When her father died, it was with Krista’s help that Nadine survived.  Krista, like Nadine is a young woman now with a likable personality, pretty face and hormones that rage… something that doesn’t go unnoticed by one particular individual.  Nadine gets incensed and feels betrayed when Krista begins to date Darian.  She is no longer her friend and cuts them both out of her life.  Being a spoiled brat and getting her way when she throws a fit has worked so far… why not now?  To Krista she says, ‘It’s him or me.  Pick.’  Nadine the Terrible is surprised at the response.

“It’s a really fun movie…I highly recommend this film”.
Shari K. Green

Sr. Film Writer and Community Manager,

She does learn some sense.  She bothers her teacher, Mr. Brunner (Harrelson) every chance she gets.  He’s both a father figure and friend but doesn’t want to be either.  In a very Woody Harrelson way he damn near makes this film his own as he listens and responds to her tales of woe.  It’s a really fun movie and it feels as if it’s almost an honor to watch this character grow.

I highly recommend this film.  The writing is inventive, it gives a chance to female actors to play the characters given to males in a setting such as this and they handle their roles like the professionals they are; job well done, ladies!  One other reason to see this that stands out… it’s produced by James L. Brooks, writer of “Terms of Endearment,” “As Good As It Gets” and “The Simpsons”.  It’s hard to see through a keener eye than his when it comes to a hybrid of heart and hilarity.  Be ready for the rollercoaster.  This is heavy on the emotion sprinkled with laughs but then… so is life.

Haley Lu Richardson

Haley Lu Richardson

Plays Nadine’s best friend, Krista

Haley Lu was raised in Phoenix, AZ by right-brained creative parents, Valerie (graphic designer) and Forrest Richardson (golf course architect). She attended Villa Montessori school where she was encouraged to think outside the box and find self-motivation. She then went on to graduate from Arcadia High School in the top 10% of her class.


Haley Lu Richardson, who played Nadine’s best friend, Krista, and I had a chance to chat.  She was very bubbly and sweet and talked with her hands, often pounding the table to stress a point.  Here is some of that conversation:

Q.  How much input did you and you have?

A.  We had two weeks of rehearsal time where I literally just spent time with Hailey and we did our scenes and Kelly was super open to improvising in those rehearsals and what happens before the scenes and after not being stuck to the page to really figure out what’s going on in the scene and how people say that.  I didn’t do much improving on the day on set but all the work we did in the rehearsal period kind of changed… you could see the scenes change a little bit to how we would naturally do it.

Q.  Were you at all intimidate working with this group of people.

A.  My character was cast later.  Most of the characters were cast already, by the time they had auditioned me which was cool for me because sometimes when you audition for a movie you have no idea who you’re going to be acting opposite but I got to see who was cast and what producers were working on it and I got to see… so yeah, I was like, yeah… I was very intimidated but also equally or more so excited to just get the opportunity to learn from them.

Q.  How did you work on establishing this great friendship when you barely had a chance to do it on screen?

A.  I think the rehearsal period and Hailey and I got along really well in person.  She’s so cool.  I think the writing was great… just going with it and being there in the moment.  We both know what it’s like going through all that stuff in high school and how important that is and we just wanted to commit and bring it… the justice a friendship like that deserves.

Q.  Do you think a friendship is more important than a potential boyfriend or is all fair in love and war?

A.  We didn’t want to make Krista the stereotypical villain that ruins the protagonist’s life, you know?  We didn’t’ want to make her that.  She had reasons for what she did and also she’s not a bad person and she’s not even doing anything that bad.  She’s been such a selfless friend for so long and she realizes she could possibly have this really great connection with this guy and it’s like, you kinda have to do something for yourself at some point… I don’t even view it and maybe this is just biased because I had to get in this headspace to play Krista but I don’t view it where it had to be a choice between a relationship or a friendship.  I feel like, in the end, it actually could be a great thing if you’re looking at the big picture because if it does end up working out, we could just all be one big happy family.  (laughs)  If it’s not something full on crossing a line and disrespectful of a friend, I don’t think there really has to be a choice.  I think you can make it work.

Q.  When Krista and Nadine have a falling out in the second act, what was Krista thinking?  We saw her story but not yours.

A.  That was interesting.  It sets up a bunch of different challenges when you’re playing a supporting character because you don’t have the pressure of carrying the movie but also you have this different pressure of making your character well rounded even though the audience doesn’t see all of that person’s life… and also I’m kind of bummed, when you do a movie, you film probably about five hours worth of movie and have to cut a bunch of things out and there were a couple scenes with me and Blake who plays Darian that actually show us, cuz he’s not a bad guy either in the movie… you see everything he has to brush aside to take care of the responsibilities he has.  There was a scene where we were in his room and giggling and we hear Nadine coming in downstairs and we both stop and look at each other and there’s this moment that sums up where they were… that they both wished it wasn’t happening but had to follow their hearts and do some things for themselves.  She initially reached out to Nadine and Nadine didn’t answer but she just knew she needed to give her some space before they could ever come together.

Q.  It’s not a teen comedy but this is one of those movies that can define a generation like “Breakfast Club”… what are some of your favorite teen films?

A.  People are asking me a lot and I keep saying “She’s the Man” with Amanda Bynes.  (She laughs)  I know it’s a lame answer but I really love that movie.  I cracked up during that movie more than I have ever.  Whenever I have a bloody nose I use a tampon and sop it all up.  (Laughs)  That’s disgusting.  (Laughs)  Honestly, I love that movie.  Obviously, I love Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off but I feel there’s stupid ones I like even more.  Mean Girls I really like.  So there’s my lame answer.

Q.  You’re a dancer… are we going to see some of that talent soon?

A.  I feel like you’re seeing dance so much on reality shows, the dance mom things, the step it up movies, there’s ballet movies but I feel like the story of like a training contemporary dancer hasn’t been told yet and I’d love to make that happen somehow.

Q:  What about you making it?

A.  I know!  I’d have to make it before I’m thirty-five before I can’t dance anymore.  That’s my goal.  I’m still dancing all the time.  I have a couple of injuries.  I’m twenty-one but my body is like a seventy year old because of all my dance injuries.  (laughs)  I have feet problems, hip problems and knee surgeries.  But that will happen!

She stands up and knocks on wood.  I for one believe this dance film will happen.  

Florence Foster Jenkins

I make Simon Helberg from Florence Foster Jenkins and The Big Bang Theory laugh

I had just screened “Florence Foster Jenkins”, a well acted and decidedly entertaining film, when I was honored, along with a few others, to have a chance to then speak to one of its stars, Simon Helberg, most known for his work as Howard Wolowitz on the hit show “The Big Bang Theory.”  I say that I was honored because not only was Helberg courteous, friendly, open and honest but he was extremely attentive and gave a lot of thought to his answers, never once giving the impression that doing press for the film was the last place he’d want to be.  He was warm and pleasant and very thorough in his responses; being careful to answer the question to its fullest.  Here is that interview. 

Q:  Outside of some other great films, your father, Sandy, was in “Spaceballs”, “History of the World pt 1”, “High Anxiety”, This is Spinal Tap, not to mention the great television he has done.  Once you saw this quality in him, was it his comedic talents that encouraged you to follow in his footsteps and would you encourage your children to follow in yours?

SH:  Encourage is a tricky word cuz I think you want to be supportive but I’d never want to suggest to my children (and my dad never did to me) in any sort of way, push someone into something.  You’d be kind of a fool if you did that because it’s so hard to make it as an actor or a comedian or anything in the arts so, I’d be very supportive and my dad was very supportive of me and I think he was more inspiring.  I watched him at “The Groundlings” and, obviously, those were great movies that you named and I think it definitely shaped me in many ways and I also say that it was very hard to, sort of, get success and make it.  Even though my dad worked and did well, it… that’s kind of, that’s sort of grounding.  It kind of helped me as I went into it to have a pretty good handle on the difficulty of it and then to sort of be appreciative of the successes. 

Q:  You character and performance has tons of facial expressions they’re a huge part of your performance; they range from very subtle to overt.  In the scene where you hear Florence sing for the first time, were you already aware of what Meryl was going to sound like or were those expressions real? 

SH:  Both, I guess, which is kind of a trick in doing this which is, it has to be new, sort of, every time.  She’s doing something every time and she made my job a lot easier.  We’d already rehearsed for about a week and a half with the music and we’d actually recorded at Abby Road, as well, which was amazing.  So, we had a lot of time to laugh and figure out what we were doing and then, of course, they ended up wanting to shoot it all live so all of the stuff that we had recorded was thrown out and because of that we’re playing all that music live as you’re seeing it and as it was being shot which I think both helped… well, it helped us contain our laughter and, sort of, focus but it also made all of it very authentic; so those reactions… that was really happening, for the most part, in real time.  I mean, obviously the editing is pretty masterfully as well, but what you’re seeing is actually what is coming out of us… for better or for worse. 

Florence Foster Jenkins

Q:  You speak in a higher pitched voice in this film and kind of change your speaking patterns, what was behind your decision to do that?  Was there something you pulled from your research of him?

SH:  Some of it… not from his voice, actually.  The most that I could find in doing this research was some fact and little tidbits of information that were in the movie but there is a recording of him, actually, but he’s much older and he talks about that night at Carnegie Hall and I had a moment of thinking, ‘Hmm… do I want to use this as inspiration?’ because he was probably, I think, in his seventies at that point and it was a bit different than I had pictured it and his outlook was very different than it was in the script.  I thought, ‘you usually always want to start with the script.’  So, to me I just saw it vividly and heard him vividly in this way but as far as the voice, I saw him as being very pure and chaised and very innocent and having no sense of cynicism and hadn’t been corrupted in any way whatsoever like a little bird or a gecko or something.  And I thought, there’s something very childlike and I feel like he’s probably unaware of his sexuality and, I don’t know, he didn’t seem to me to be… uh, that’s just how I guess I heard him.  I guess there are people in my life who I know kind of have… I don’t know, there’s something very chaised about him and very alien at the same time.  And then there’s also the fact that it was the forties and he was walking into this elevated high society, cosmopolitan lifestyle and people actually did take speech classes and there was this sort of dignified way of talking back then and it’s just kind of all of those things combined, I guess, that led me to that.

Q:  Why did you choose to be in this film?

SH:  I couldn’t think of one reason why I wouldn’t be interested or want to claw my way into this movie.  There’s the obvious people that were making it and involved with it who are probably the best, you know, ever at this.  Between Meryl and Stephen and Hugh and… Alexandre Desplat did their music, Consolata Boyle (costume design), Alan MacDonald (production design) did the sets.  I feel like I’m accepting an award.  But all these people who are the most brilliant at doing this, I mean that was in and of itself a dream.  I mean, the script was so unique and the scenes, I guess, really speak to me and not just the love of music but this idea of perception and sort of disparity between our perceptions of ourselves and what other people perceive and the question therein, I guess, being, ‘Does it matter that we hear one voice in our head and other people hear a different one when we all leads to the same place?’  I don’t know, there’s just something that was beautifully poetic about her journey and I felt that the script did an amazing job celebrating this woman and celebrating this love and this joy that she found in music.

Q:  With it being a period piece and being based on real life events, what was the most challenging aspect of making this film?

SH:  Well, the most challenging part of it was combining the music and the acting.  It’s sort of being hired as an actor and having then kind of having the music take over in many ways because it was so hard and challenging and also it was such an enormous part of the film that I knew that ultimately whether I played the piano or not really wouldn’t matter.  People are going to see it in my performance as an actor but then it all got tied together because Meryl was going to sing and they want to do it live and for it to be live, they want the piano to be live and it was going to be different every time so, there was just… part of the pressure of getting this music done live while they were shooting us, working with Meryl and Stephen in this incredible movie and it was just built in pressure and it was just challenging and then on top of that to find this character and do it simultaneously.  It felt very, you know, it’s very hard not to play piano with two hands so it felt like I had like eight arms and I was trying to do multiple things.  And then, of course, you want to be faithful to these characters because they’re real but at the same time there wasn’t a ton of information on them so that was sort of liberating because the script was really the bible.  It was just ultimately great fun even when it was sometimes brutally challenging.

“Florence Foster Jenkins” is enchanting!  The cast is delightful. This is an absolute must see!
Shari K. Green

Sr. Film Writer and Community Manager,

Q:  “Florence Foster Jenkins” is about someone who is an opera singer but not very talented.  Luckily there are a lot of talented people on this movie, yourself, Meryl Streep being one of the best actresses of all time and so on, how do you all bring out the best in each other?

SH:  (laughs) I was probably the odd man out in a sea of talent.  Well, it was both like every actors dream when you can jump into a part with, honestly, the greatest people working today and maybe ever because ultimately you are only as good as the people around you and these people make you even better.  I think that’s a sign of greatness… so with that also came quite a bit of paralyzing fear as well because you don’t wanna be the one that brings Meryl Streep down… not that that’s possible but it’s scary to kinda get to work with people who are your heroes but then what you kind of realize when you, and I hope this is true for everything and everyone, when you get around people that are that great, usually they’re there to make the best thing they can make and they bring their whole self to.  And in order to make something wonderful I think you have to be sensitive and you have to be generous and you definitely have to be passionate; in this experience I was very warmly welcomed and it was very collaborative and I feel like and hope and think that’s true of truly great people.  

Q:  There’s this great moment when Cosme McMoon (Helberg) asks St Clair Bayfield (Grant) about his arrangement with Florence at St Clair’s apartment and later McMoon speaks to Florence at his own apartment and I thought McMoon really wanted to insert his opinion on Florence and St Claire’s relationship but felt better of it and that he was protecting her like everyone else in the movie.  But near the end of the film, at Carnegie Hall, he says to her, ‘We can do it!’ in a very confident voice and I think at that moment it turns from protection to support.  Is that how you see it or what do you think?

SH:  You have really tapped into so many things that I didn’t know anyone else would necessarily pick up on and (inaudible).  That is all that you said; and something at some point that I was cognizant of.  That being the moment in the apartment when Bayfield is there and he says, ‘I love her.  Do you love this woman?’  There was a real moment there when I thought, ‘How dare you, sir, ask me?  Of course I love her!’  Because he is protecting her.  Florence comes to McMoon’s apartment and he sees how broken she is by Bayfield and so this innocent little McMoon is now… he’s been sort of somewhat corrupted by this harsh and strange reality of this love… this relationship these characters have with each other and all of the sudden he does have to step up and he does feel this protective desire and I think that in Carnegie Hall that becomes the moment, you know, she’s scared and it’s just so beautiful the way the script and the movie, kind of… you can just see all the color in these people, I guess, and that’s his moment.  He has that bond.  McMoon is the only one who understands the music, really, with her.  Bayfield doesn’t.  They don’t play music together so here’s this transition from, ‘Okay, I’ll help this woman’ to ‘You know what, let’s do this.’  Like, ‘this is important not just for her but for me.  We have something greater than this kind of courier minded, reputation focused… you know, frame of mind.  We have the love of music and it doesn’t matter.  Nothing else matters. 

Simon Helberg Florence Foster Jenkins

Q:  It’s amazing how everyone around Florence continued to keep up her status.  She was well protected and people truly loved her but why do you think people loved her so much?

SH:  I think there’s a very human quality and I think there’s almost nothing more human than failure.  I think it’s funny and it’s tragic and I think it’s comforting but only when it’s done passionately.  Only when someone is putting themselves out there genuinely and un-ironically and (inaudible) kind of falling flat (no pun intended).  So, I think that is one element of it and the fact that she was so filled with joy and so moved by music and wanted to share that joy and that love of music with people… I think it’s just magnetic.  It’s like watching a little child with total abandon singing out and dancing.  The part of your brain that had any kind of judgment or criticism is overridden by the joyous part.  Other people were laughing or their jaws were on the floor or; they were enjoying themselves.  

Q:  The world is about to find out that you’re a very talented pianist from this.  I was wondering what else do you with the world knew about you and the things you bring to the table?

SH:  I’m not that much of a showoff.  Well, I don’t know, I guess I can answer sort of as opposed to what I want people to celebrate about me, because God forbid I am somebody looking for a parade, there are different things I want to do.  I love acting and the great thing about that, especially in a case like this is, sometimes that requires other talents and sometimes you don’t have ‘em and you learn to have ‘em.  Look at Meryl and the things that she’s done.  She has all the talent in the world but look at the things she’s learned to do for a film; violin and languages and she played a Rabbi and a man.  I think that’s what’s great about acting.  You get to know other people and find other interests and so, yeah, I’m interesting in discovering what else I might be able to do and when I find things I think I can’t do it’s torturous sometimes but it’s very gratifying to push through that.  This was no exception.  I didn’t expect that I’d be able to play all of these pieces.  There were times when I felt like, ‘If Meryl can do it…’  I was working with that company and I felt, ‘Geez, she’s going to sing all of this live?!  I better do my best to get there.’ 

“Florence Foster Jenkins” is enchanting!  The cast is delightful. This is an absolute must see!