As the calendar moves ahead to 2016 I’m taking a moment to think back to the great people I met, wrote about or chatted with on television in 2015. I shared Tim Bits with Liev Schreiber—he liked the chocolate, I preferred the glazed—inhaled Johnny Depp’s vape fumes, had a “Sock Battle Supreme” with Anthony Daniels—Mr. C-3PO—and was embarrassed to order a Chai Tea Latte while standing next to Chris Cooper at a coffee bar. On stages, in hotel rooms, on phones and even in the back of taxis, they spoke and I listened. Here’s some of the best stuff I heard this year:
GEORGE MILLER: “I don’t think I’d be the filmmaker I am unless I had that medical education, in two very direct ways. Both of them have a lot of problem-solving in there. But the most important way is that as a doctor you are looking at people in extremis from many points of view. You look inside of people. You see people during birth and death and so on. Through microscopes — a lens. So you’re looking from many, many points of view. That’s exactly what you do in cin ema. Huge wide shots with massive crowds or you’re looking right down inside someone’s brain, someone’s head.”
AMY SCHUMER: “I never thought about being famous. That was never part of my thing, but once it was on the horizon as a possibility, it seemed like a real bummer. I could see there’s no upside. The upside is I sometimes get free appetizers and I can get a reservation at a restaurant. I only go to one place in New York, it’s a tea place, the Tea Cup, and they don’t take reservations but I can make a reservation there. I swear I don’t see another upside. It sucks.”
PHYLLIS SMITH: “I worked for JC Penny in the warehouse tagging the merchandise,” she remembers. “I used to stand there and tag thousands of fishing lures or bowling balls or roller shades, which were heavy as heck to lift around. The people were great to work with but the merchandise was a little challenging.
“I used to stand there, thinking about life, wondering what it is we all have in common because we’re not all given the same opportunity. Some people’s health is impaired when they’re born while others are charmed with intelligence or looks. I thought, ‘There has to be something that we all have. A commonality.’ I figured out that it’s the ability to love. We all, in some form or another, want to love and be loved. That was my big revelation. My lightbulb moment. Also, if you’re standing on a concrete floor, make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes or you’ll pay for it later.”
CAROLL SPINNEY: Caroll is President Obama’s ninth cousin, but Big Bird isn’t political in the least. “Big Bird, I’m told by the owners of him, does not have political opinions. I thought of an idea that would get around that problem if someone (ever asked about it). ‘I don’t know who that is,’ he says in Big’s voice. ‘I thought we had a king.’ In most fairy tales, lands are run by kings or queens.”
DEBORAH ANN WOLL: A quick Internet search turns up many adjectives used to describe Daredevil star Deborah Ann Woll; gorgeous, talented and cute to name just a few.
The redheaded actress uses other terms to describe herself.
“There’s nerd, geek, all those words,” she says. “I am settling closer and closer to dork. I am a very proud dork.”
The former True Blood star — she played fierce teenage vampire Jessica Hamby for seven seasons on the hit show — embraces her inner dork — “I’m Dungeons and Dragons player, a Mystery Science Theatre buff. I like board games.”
She says the role playing games have benefits beyond entertainment value.
“Something like Dungeons and Dragons or a board game is a way for me to be social but it takes some of the responsibility off of me myself. If I don’t feel impressive as myself, I can feel impressive as Mistress Pyrona, the Genosi Sword Maiden. Like my acting, it gives me a little bit of support.”
JAKE GYLLENHAAL: “I think the people I admire as artists are the people who really listen to themselves even if it is to the detriment of what people might consider success. I’d rather be myself and do what I love than listen to someone else and follow that role and be unhappy.”
CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER: My favourite line from any interview? Christopher Plummer talking about the dog in “Remember”: “We had two dogs on set. One to do the stunts and the other just making money.”
BRYAN CRANSTON: “I don’t want to portray this idea that I’m just about the art. I’ve been poor and I’ve been rich and rich is better.” Also: Bryan Cranston told me he likes to go up to people wearing the Heisenberg t-shirts they wore on the show Breaking Bad and talk like Walter White… “Nice t-shirt,” and I whisper if to them and their eyes go wide and I put my finger to my lips, like ‘Don’t tell anyone… if you tell people, they won’t believe you.’
SAOIRSE RONAN: Saoirse is an Irish or Scottish name meaning freedom roughly pronounced SEER-shə. “I get very confused about my name all the time,” she said in a recent sit-down. “Sometimes I look at it when I’m writing it down for people and I go, ‘This is actually a ridiculous spelling of a name.’”
ADAM MCKAY: “We wanted to be the first Wall Street movie that took you behind the curtain, that really said, All these confusing terms you hear, all the ways the banks make you feel stupid or bored … it’s actually not that hard. If the guy who did Step Brothers can understand it you can too.”
RYAN COOGLAR: “Whenever I had a big test at school or a football game (my father would) say, ‘Take 10 minutes and watch this scene from Rocky. That’ll get you fired up. That’ll give you the juice to score five touchdowns. Or get an A on that test.’ I’d look over and think, ‘Are we watching this for me or for you?’”
ANTHONY DANIELS: Having one of the most recognizable voices in movie history can lead to some surreal moments. Just ask Anthony Daniels. He’s played C-3PO in all seven Star Wars films, including this weekend’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens and once rented a car with a very familiar voice on the GPS.
“I felt uncomfortable with me —very clearly — giving me instruction for something I didn’t know. I found it quite bizarre. I was driving thinking, ‘This is unnatural.’”
TIFF: The Toronto International Film Festival is only ten days but it looms large on my schedule every year. This year, in addition to watching dozens of movies and doing interviews for Metro, “Canada AM,” “NewsTalk 1010” and others, I hosted a bunch of press conferences, including, “The Martian” – with Ridley Scott, Matt Damon, Jessica Chastain, Demolition with Jake Gyllenhaal (#JakeQuake), Our Brand is Crisis with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock and Black Mass with Johnny Depp. They were some of the highlights of the fest for me… and unfortunately provided one of the low points. Read on… and once again Sean Bean, I’m REALLY sorry.
METRO: An insider’s look at TIFF: Behind the scenes with Richard Crouse
The backstage room at the TIFF Bell Lightbox’s press conference area is a beehive of activity.
“Is George here yet?”
“Is that Johnny vaping in the corner?”
It’s a place where no last names are necessary and the star wattage is blinding. Actors, directors, publicists and gofers mingle while air kisses, handshakes and Hollywood hugs are exchanged.
This year the Toronto International Film Festival is mounting 11 press conferences featuring everyone from Matt Damon and Sandra Bullock to George Clooney and Keith Richards.
I’m hosting four of them — Demolition, The Martian, Our Brand is Crisis and Black Mass — with, as MGM used to brag, “More stars than are in the heavens.”
Despite the buzzy nature of the events, backstage is a casually chaotic place where actors get caught up with one another before taking the stage.
Matt Damon made the rounds, glad-handing with his The Martian cast mates, many of whom he hadn’t met because he spent 90 per cent of his of screen time alone, stranded on Mars.
The business of the press conferences happens on stage. Moderating these things provides a fascinating glimpse into both sides of the publicity machine.
Ideally the press conferences are a reciprocal event: Reporters ask questions to actors and filmmakers they might not otherwise have access to, and in return the stars get publicity for their films. It’s a pretty simple but often unpredictable transaction.
Gone are the days of the legendary “journalist” who asked all her questions in rhyme, but for every sensible inquiry about the movie, there is inevitably another off-the-wall query that leaves panel lists either annoyed or scratching their heads.
At the Our Brand is Crisis conference someone asked Bullock about her character’s grown-out roots. The Oscar winner replied as best she could and when she finished, Clooney chimed in, “Aren’t you glad you asked that question?”
Later she shut down a silly query regarding how she keeps her bum as toned as it is in the film. “It’s so sad that you just want to talk about the butt,” she said, before tersely adding that leg lifts are the secret to posterior pertness.
Not that the attendees are the only ones to pull a gaffe or two. During the Demolition conference, I asked Chris Cooper a long, rambling question about his character. He seemed genuinely perplexed, and you know what? I was, too. Sometimes you can overthink these things.
Later at The Martian presser, there were 13 people on the stage, everyone from Michael Pena to Damon, Scott, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Jessica Chastain, and in the shuffle I made the horrifying mistake of forgetting to ask the great Sean Bean a question and didn’t realize it until we were out of time.
Me, idiotically. Next year I promise to go to him first and frequently.