AMANDA PEET, “Guys! I’m getting famous!” By Richard Crouse

004WTY_Amanda_Peet_037When Amanda Peet was just three years old she made her on-stage debut, by rushing the stage from the audience during a play. “I was a big show off,” she says. Even so, the native New Yorker had a hard time convincing her family she was destined for a career in Hollywood.

With no performers in her family tree the 36 year-old actress says she was considered “a little bit of a freak show” by the rest of her family.

Parents Charles, a lawyer and Penny, a social worker looked down their noses at her show biz aspirations. “It was something too intangible,” she says, “too tied up with charisma and presence.”

Her mother was concerned about Amanda’s career choices from the get go—”Don’t you know what happens to people who rely on their looks?” she asked the 14-year-old when she decided to pursue modeling—but both parents softened when she was taken on by legendary acting coach Uta Hagen, the Tony award winning actress who also trained Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. “Finally, the stamp of approval!” Peet said.

Even then, Amanda says, it took the elder Peets “a long time” to accept that she “wasn’t just going to be a drug addict person cavorting around in parties in a very short dress or something.”

Even as early success came her way—like co-starring as a ditzy but kind hearted hit-woman opposite superstar Bruce Willis in The Whole Nine Yards and its sequel The Whole Ten Yards—the rents were still not impressed.

“My mom is like, ‘Who’s Bruce Willis?’” she says of her two time co-star. “I remember when I got Seinfeld and she literally didn’t know who Seinfeld was. It was kind of like, ‘Guys! I’m getting famous!’”

Chances are family dinners are now a little more relaxed. Amanda’s days of doing Skittles commercials—her first TV gig—or guest shots on episodic television and direct-to-the-bargain-bin indies, or small roles in big movies—like playing Jennifer Aniston’s sister in She’s the One— are over.

“You’re always hearing stories about people who do an indie that goes to Sundance and you become famous overnight,” she says, “but somehow, I managed to do 12 indies that never made it to the video store, to the Quad or even to the Buffalo Film Festival.”

Somebody was paying attention, though, and she began mixing larger studio pictures in amongst the independent films that were her mainstay. Being voted one of the 50 Most Beautiful People in the World by People in 2000 further raised her mainstream profile. Since then she has been featured in everything from the great, but doomed TV series, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and the micro budgeted Please Give to 2012, the $200 million end-of-the-world epic which airs on TMN and Movie Central this month.

The big budget movie was a challenge for her. Director Roland “Master of Disaster” Emmerich, a filmmaker best known for making epic special effects movies, told USA Today that 2012 would be his last disaster movie, “so I packed everything in,” which made for an occasionally uncomfortable shooting experience.

Amanda called the shoot “grueling in an athletic way.” Her character Kate, ex-wife of hero John Cusack, spends much of the movie on the run from encroaching natural disasters.

She sprints away from a massive earthquake, does aerial tricks in a Cessna and spent far too long submerged in a water tank “with costumes over our wet suits,” she says. “Remind me never to do a water movie ever.”

Worse than that was the uncomfortable feeling of acting in the key of chroma, which she describes as one of the two worst things about her job (the other being auditioning).

“It’s really hard to do blue screen and part of it is combating the feeling of being a jackass,” she says. “You respond to nothing in front of a lot of people. If you’re alone in a room, it’s less embarrassing but here you have a bunch of people you don’t know who are watching you so it’s embarrassing and you have to get over it really quickly.”

These days Peet balances acting with her new role, as mother. “The truth is I’m quite lucky because I can be a real diva and demand that [daughters Frances and Molly June] come to the trailer and hang out so I really can’t complain.”

Peet will next be seen in December’s Gulliver’s Travels, a reworking of Jonathan Swift’s classic story. She plays the magazine editor (and potential love interest) who assigns Lemuel Gulliver (her Saving Silverman co-star Jack Black) to write a travel piece on the Bermuda Triangle where he uncovers a race of miniature people.

Best of all? It’s based on a classic, one that even her mother probably has heard of.

EMILY BLUNT, “I have sly eyes” By Richard Crouse

emily_blunt_charlie_wilsons_war_MSUKS87.sizedThe first time most of us noticed Emily Blunt she was “’on-the-edge of sickness thin.” To play the role of Emily Chalton, the prickly first assistant to the editor in The Devil Wears Prada, Blunt had to drop pounds from her already slight frame. “It wasn’t like doughnuts were snatched out of my hand,” says the 5′ 7½” actress, but she was encouraged to slim down. So much so she would occasionally cry from hunger during the shoot. Luckily, though rake thin, she still had the energy to steal the movie from her more seasoned co-stars, Meryl Streep and Stanley Tucci.

Although the character fell directly into the love-to-hate-her category, audiences found Blunt irresistible. Her mix of vulnerability and fork-tongued charm—crowned by crystal clear blue eyes and a face anchored with a cleft chin that would make Kirk Douglas envious—earned the title Best Female Scene-Stealer from Entertainment Weekly and nominations for everything from a Teen Choice Award to a Golden Globe.

The kudos and notoriety that followed her Prada performance on this side of the Atlantic were simply an echo of her much-admired, though lesser seen work, in the UK.

After dabbling in drama at age 12 to help conquer a stutter she made her professional stage debut while still in school. From there it was a short leap to the small screen and praised performances in British television period pieces. It was, however, only when she left the lace-bonnets behind and took on a role in the critically-acclaimed My Summer of Love that she really made a splash. The story of a teenage infatuation between Mona (Nathalie Press) and the manipulative and cynical Tamsin (Blunt) earned both Press and Blunt equal shares in an Evening Standard British Film Award for Most Promising Newcomer.

When asked why she is so often cast as bad girls like Tasmin she says, “I have sly eyes. When I was in school they always said, ‘Emily can never be elected Head Girl because you never know what she’s thinking.’” Just don‘t ask her to further explain her acting method. “I think it’s embarrassing to hear people talk about their process because you always sound wanky,” she says bluntly.

We can say that she has an enigmatic quality which has served her well in supporting parts as diverse as a gawky, uptight French teacher in The Jane Austen Book Club, an oversexed young women opposite Tom Hanks in Charlie Wilson’s War and as a babysitter in Dan in Real Life, all movies she says, that share “a very human heartbeat.”

Even when she appears in something less than Oscar worthy, take the 2005 miniseries Empire, for instance, a project she dismisses as “the sad little brother of Rome,” she still stands out, giving her characters both subtlety and complexity. She’s not a flashy actor; often she expresses an idea with a simple lift of an eyebrow or an understated movement, a trait she shares with her acting idol Cate Blanchett.

While she says “I want to do my own thing and not emulate anyone else,” she calls Blanchett’s chameleon-like ability to disappear into a variety of roles very brave.

The disappearing act is a trick Blunt seems to have picked up from Blanchett. Following a bravura turn in the offbeat comedy Sunshine Cleaning, and the now obligatory for stars-on-the-rise Simpson’s cameo, she took on, and disappeared into, the most challenging role of her career to date. In The Young Victoria Blunt returned to the period roles that defined the early part of her career, playing Queen Victoria from headstrong teen to Queen of the Realm to love sick widow.

“I definitely made a real play for the part because I knew it would be one of those roles that people would hound because it was so rare and so well written,” she says. “It’s hard to find a film that is shouldered by a woman about a girl like that who is so remarkable and so complex. I went in and met them and said, ‘I love it. I’m very aware that a lot of other people do as well but I’d like you to give me a chance.”

Since then she’s worked nonstop, in movies both big—like this month’s mega budget Gulliver’s Travels—and small—a 10 minute short named Curiosity, shot on a budget of £2,000. Mixed into that eclectic stew is The Wolfman, a reimagining of the 1941 Lon Chaney classic which airs on TMN and Movie Central this month. Blunt says she took the role for two reasons. First to work with co-stars Anthony Hopkins and Benicio Del Toro and secondly because her character Gwen is “the girl in a werewolf film, and that’s cool.”

One more very cool job in Emily Blunt’s white-hot career.


gulliver_s_travels04We can blame Stephen Frears for the travesty that is “Gulliver’s Travels.” Frears didn’t director or work on this big budget 3D adaptation of Jonathan Swift’s satiric novel. In fact he might not have been within a hundred miles of the set, but ten years ago he cast Jack Black in “High Fidelity,” a movie that showcased the actor’s unhinged brand of humor and made him a star. Black had kicked around Hollywood previously, taking small roles in movies like “The Jackal” and “Enemy of the State,” but Frears gave voice to Black’s now trademarked manic enfant terrible act. Since then there’s been good moments—“School of Rock,” “Kung Fu Panda”—some bad moments—“Envy” and “Year One” and now a downright ugly film—“Gulliver’s Travels.”

Black plays Lemuel Gulliver, a ten year mail room veteran at a big publishing company with only one ambition—to date Darcy (Amanda Peet) a pretty magazine travel editor. When he finally works up the courage to ask her out a misunderstanding leads to him being offered a travel writing assignment instead. Sent to the Bermuda Triangle, he gets sucked into a vortex and lands in Lilliput, a miniature kingdom under constant attack by a neighbouring nation. When Gulliver helps defend the diminutive country he becomes a hero to all except the scheming General Edward (Chris O’Dowd) who will stop at nothing to cut the giant down to size.

At one point during the action Jack Black cracks a joke and follows the punch line with, “Does that translate? Is that a joke here?” a question he probably should have asked after initially reading the script. The satiric tone of the novel has been surgically removed, replaced with “Star Wars” references, a lame musical number and Black’s incessant mugging. I get that this has been reinvented with a young audience in mind, but dumbing down a classic novel like this just seems wrong. It’s like watching “King Lear” interpreted by The Three Stooges with Larry, Curly and Moe as Goneril, Regan and Cordelia. It just doesn’t fit. Perhaps a title change might have been in order. May I suggest “Gulliver’s Twaddle”?

The problem doesn’t lie completely with the script. It’s terrible to be sure, but its Black’s antics that really sink the movie. He dominates the movie, and not just because he is twenty times the size of his co-stars. Perhaps it’s just that a little bit of his hyperactive slacker routine goes a long way or perhaps that we’re weary of his overgrown kid shtick. What once seemed so fresh now seems tired and worse, not funny.

“Gulliver’s Travels” suffers from some dodgy special effects, a dreary script and an over abundance of Black, and for that I blame Stephen Frears.