Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence first paired off in Silver Linings Playbook — he was a divorced substitute teacher, jailed for beating his wife’s boyfriend half to death; she was a troubled widow who needed his help to win a dance competition — and sparks flew.
Next they shared scenes, but no romance, in American Hustle. And, this weekend, they make it a trifecta with the release of Serena. Based on the novel by Ron Rash, Cooper and Lawrence play husband and wife lumber barons whose marriage becomes strained after she suffers a miscarriage. Despite having shared love scenes in movies, Cooper says they have kept the romance onscreen.
“I mean, first of all, I could be her father,” he says.
The re-teaming of Cooper and Lawrence in Serena proves that lightning does not always strike thrice.
The “it” couple had chemistry to burn in their previous pairings but fail to set off sparks here. As George and Serena they are ruthless and selfish, which should be the stuff of interesting characters, but the story throws so many hurdles their way that eventually it becomes one big, boring blur.
Some onscreen couples, however, have managed to keep the flame alive through several films.
After a 16-year separation, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan — the pre-eminent cinema sweethearts of the 1990s — will reunite in the World War II drama Ithaca.
The three rom coms that made them superstars, Joe Versus the Volcano, Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail, were fuelled by the platonic chemistry they share in real life.
“He makes me feel less alone,” says Ryan.
Kate Winslet and co-star Leonardo DiCaprio are so close in real life that her children refer to him as Uncle Leo. As Titanic’s star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose, they defined romantic tragedy for a whole generation before recoupling 11 years later in the feel-bad love story Revolutionary Road.
Despite what fans thought, their friendship never turned romantic off-screen. “He always saw me as one of the boys,” said Kate.
Despite falling in love over and over again in movies like The Wedding Singer, 50 First Dates and Blended, Drew Barrymore says she and Adam Sandler have exchanged nothing more than a “church kiss.”
“That’s probably why we’ve been able to stick together all these years,” she says, “because there never was that awkward moment.”
The lesson learned is that chemistry off-screen often leads to good results on the screen, but not always. Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe fogged up the lens in Some Like It Hot, but reportedly did not like one another.
It doesn’t seem to matter what time my flight is, 5 am or 5 pm, I always find myself scrambling to get to the airport with a ticket in one hand and a packed bag in the other. On Wednesday night I decided not to pack because my flight didn’t leave until 2 pm on Thursday. You would think that should give me loads of time to get ready. Wrong. Once again I found myself in the back of a cab, shoving rumpled clothes into a suitcase and wishing I was better organized.
The flight is on time (even though I’m not) and I barely make it on the plane. As the big steel door shuts behind me and I take my seat a little rush of anticipation washes over me. I’m off to one of my favourite places, New York, at my favourite time of year and I’ll be seeing Kill Bill. Not bad for a Thursday.
Here’s just a bit of a rant about LaGuardia airport. Like so many places the washrooms don’t have paper towels to dry your hands with, just hand blowers. I guess environmentally it makes sense, but when the dryer only has the wind power of an asthmatic kitten breathing lightly on your hands it isn’t very effective. I always forget about this when I’m there and invariably end up with dripping wet hands at the baggage carrousel…
In keeping with the hurried spirit established earlier in the day I arrive in New York behind schedule and don’t have time to check into the hotel. I leave my bags with the concierge and rush down to Loew’s Kips Bay Theatre on 32nd Street to catch an early screening of In the Cut, a new film from director Jane Campion. I missed it at the film festival this year, and although it received mixed reviews, a number of people whose opinions I trust said they really liked it.
This is a press screening so there is only a handful of people in a giant theatre. A handful of people… and one tiny little mouse. It is amazing how something so small, so harmless can hold a group of otherwise sensible people hostage. You could tell where the mouse was by the gasps and the screams of “Kill the mouse!” that would erupt from random corners of the house. Being more Buddhist in nature I yelled “Live free or die,” as the little critter scurried past me, and my pal Teri who was sitting next to me reminded those who decided to leave rather than deal with the horrors of the tiny rodent, that the mouse wasn’t going to chew through their shoes, so they should just relax.
Those of us brave enough to expose ourselves to the demonic rodent settled down once the movie began. Starring Meg Ryan and Mark Ruffalo, In the Cut is a dark crime drama based on the best selling novel by Susanna Moore. It reminded me of the gritty New York dramas of the 1970s that were about the soft underbelly of the city, films that portrayed NYC as a great, but failed social experiment, populated by alienated outsiders searching for some meaning in a city that was running out of control. This is not the Meg Ryan New York of When Harry Met Sally, this is a place filled with existential dread, where every alley is menacing and danger is woven into the fabric of everyday life.
Everyone is making a fuss about the risky nature of Meg Ryan’s performance in this film. Sure, she’s naked and has some pretty racy sex scenes, but let’s not forget, this isn’t the first time she has appeared nude on-screen. By her own count it is the fourth time she has doffed her clothes in front of the camera. At this year’s Toronto International Film Festival she admonished one reporter who asked her about doing her first-ever nude scene for this film. “I’ve appeared nude in other films,” she said, “apparently I wasn’t very memorable in those.” Also, In the Cut isn’t about the sex scenes; it’s about relationships and trust.
At any rate, anyone who isn’t easily distracted by Ms. Ryan’s exposed skin will notice that the performance to watch in the film is Mark Ruffalo as Detective Malloy. It is his most ambiguous role to date, and despite a cheesy moustache he brings a Brandoesque passion to the part. This is the kind of character that we don’t get to see very often in the movies anymore, a real anti-hero who rides the line between being a compassionate man and a total creep.
After the credits rolled I went to the lobby and grabbed some food then turned around and went back inside to eat a quick dinner with the mouse and see Elf. It’s a very different view of New York City than the previous movie. Will Ferrell plays a human adopted by Santa’s elves who travels to NYC to meet his real father. The NYC of Elf is awash in Christmas lights and as sweet as a candy cane. It’s as frothy as an eggnog latte at Starbucks, but also very funny. Will Ferrell is very winning as Buddy, and it is his performance that keeps the movie on track and prevents it from becoming sickly sweet or manipulative. It’s the kind of film that could slip into easy sentimentality, and with an over-the-top Robin Williams or a lesser comic in the lead role it certainly would have, but Ferrell makes it work. See the full review on Reel to Real in early November.
After the movie we went to the Toys R Us store in Times Square for a reception – fancy snacks, gingerbread cookies and Elf martinis. A couple of vodka candy cane specials later and it was time to check into the hotel and crash.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 3, 2003
Woke up early to prepare for a long day. As I unpacked everything I realised I had brought way too many clothes for a four-day trip. I have nine or ten ties alone, and have brought so many shirts I have to order up more hangers from room service. Note to self: Next time don’t pack in the cab.
The day began with the Elf interviews at the Regency Hotel in midtown. I spoke with Zooey Deschanel first. She was holding a large teddy bear and spoke very loudly for some reason. Next was Mary Steenbergen who I have interviewed a number of times, most recently at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival. She told me the funniest on-set gag was watching James Caan trying to maintain his focus and not laugh when Will Ferrell was doing his thing in the giant elf costume.
I was a little nervous about speaking to James Caan. One of the first films I saw on my own at the theatre was Rollerball when I was eleven or twelve, and I have admired his work ever since. I’ve also heard that he can be a difficult interview, and is a no nonsense kind of guy. I guess that makes sense from someone who spent nine years on the rodeo circuit and has a black belt in Karate. Instead I found someone who was eager to talk, and was very funny. In the film he plays a hard-hearted publisher of children’s books, and I asked him he if based the character on anyone in particular. “You,” he said, “I looked you up on the internet and based the character on you…” You’ll see more of my chat with James Caan in early November.
I also wasn’t sure what to expect from Will Ferrell. His comic persona is so over-the-top that I have expected to walk into his room and find him wearing only his underwear and a dunce hat. To my relief he was fully dressed and very sedate. He greeted me warmly and thoughtfully answered each of my questions. Near the end of our chat I asked if he considers himself to be a serious person. Tune into Reel to Real to hear his answer.
I was really looking forward to the last two interviews of the morning – two classic TV land actors, Ed Asner and Bob Newhart. You can’t help but envision Lou Grant when you meet Asner, and as I was talking to him I couldn’t help but think of some of the legendary moments from the Mary Tyler Moore Show. My favourite moment comes from the very first show of the series. “You’ve got spunk,” Lou Grant says to Mary. “Why thank-you,” she replies. “I hate spunk!” he barks. It made me laugh then, and makes me laugh now.
When Asner found out I was from Toronto he told me that he had spent a lot of time in the city, and once guest edited the Toronto Sun. As a thank-you they sent him a red Toronto Sun newspaper box filled with booze.
Just before lunch I spoke with Bob Newhart, my last interview for Elf. When I was a kid one of the first records I remember was a comedy album called The Button Down Mind of Bob Newhart, and I had always enjoyed his shows. We talked about the use of forced perspective rather than computer generated special effects to create Newhart’s elfin appearance in the North Pole scenes. He told me that he was always placed eight to ten feet away from Ferrell so they could be in the same frame but appear to be of different sizes. We’ll use more of Newhart on the show when the movie comes out in November.
After lunch (pasta with tomato sauce and chicken parmesan) I hoofed it over to the ritzy-ditzy Mark Hotel on Madison Avenue at east 77th Street to do the interviews for In the Cut. On the walk over it seemed that every one I passed on the street was wearing very expensive clothes and walking a small yappy dog. I managed to navigate around the old ladies with dogs and large shopping bags and arrived at the hotel early with the hope of starting my interviews before my scheduled time. No such luck. The schedule was out of whack because Meg Ryan had decided to pack it in early. The rumour was that she was tired of answering questions about the nudity in the movie, and on that level I don’t blame her for leaving, but I was disappointed not to be able to speak with her.
Jennifer Jason Leigh plays Meg Ryan’s sister who lives above a strip joint in NY’s East Village. She’s the daughter of actor Vic Morrow (who was tragically killed on the set of The Twilight Zone movie) who once said, “I could never play the ingenue, the girl next door or the very successful young doctor. That would be a bore.” Her choice of parts reflects her penchant for quirky roles, and In the Cut is no different. Her Pauline borders the line between needy and obsessive that subtly hints at mental illness without resorting to histrionics. It is her best and most substantial role since 2001’s The Anniversary Party. We talked about shooting in the 100 degree humid weather of New York in August and how the sticky, steamy atmosphere influenced her work.
I enjoyed talking to her, but was completely distracted during the interview by the loud, weird breathing of one of the cameramen. It was so loud that I thought he was going to blow a lung and keel over. She didn’t seem to notice, or maybe she was just used to it, but I was totally thrown off by it.
Next up was Mark Ruffalo. We had spoken at the recent Toronto Film Festival for the movie My Life Without Me, and I find him to be an easy going and interesting conversationalist. In Toronto we spent most of our time talking about my watch. It is a Tissot Touch watch like Lara Croft wore in the movie Tomb Raider 2. I’ve had mine for a couple of years so the novelty has kind of worn off, but when I showed him how it had sensors in the face crystal which turn the watch into a compass, a altimeter, an alarm clock, and how it tells the temperature he was blown away by it. I forgot to check this time to see if he was wearing one…
We chatted about his research, and how he rode with New York City cops for a time to prepare for the film. I mentioned the clothes he wore, which seemed perfect for his character, and he told me they bought all the costumes from a recently cancelled television show called The Job for $400.
I had a substantial wait after the Ruffalo interview, so I hung around in the hospitality suite and talked to some of the other reporters. It’s usually a good place to gather some gossip, and today was no different. I picked up one juicy tidbit, but I’m not really at liberty to reveal exactly who it was about so I’ll use the old gossip columnist’s anti-defamation trick of giving you some obtuse clues and letting you figure out the identity for yourself. Here we go… One very famous actor who has made a career of appearing politically aware and compassionate, but is actually a giant pain was overheard ordering his flunkies to pick up a birthday present for his actress wife. Apparently he didn’t really care what the present was, just so long as it was expensive. In the end after several suggestions a Prada jacket was selected. Just as the gossip was starting to get good, I got called away…
The last interview of the day was with the Jane Campion. The New Zealand-born Academy Award winning director (she won for Best Screenplay for The Piano) and I spoke about adapting the popular novel into a film, and her decision to change it locale from the west side of New York to the east. She wanted more of a feeling of claustrophobia and the East Village offers a funkier (read: rundown) ambiance than the more upscale West. You’ll see more with Leigh, Ruffalo and Campion on an up-coming Reel to Real.
The workday was finished, but I had managed to weasel my way onto the guest list for a party on the 80th floor of the Empire State Building for nine o’clock. In all my trips to NY I have never bothered to check out the building, and this party offered not only the chance to see one of NYC’s landmarks up-close, but to also grab gratis drinks and food at the same time. The party was thrown in honour of the Hollywood Foreign Press who were in New York to see Elf. The Hollywood Foreign Press are the voting body of the Golden Globes, and because of that they tend to have pretty good parties. There were not only Elf martinis and finger foods but the actual elf himself, Will Ferrell and the rest of the cast.
I didn’t realize the cast would be there until I noticed James Caan standing next to me at the bar. Wow! It’s Sonny Corleone. Then I spied Ed Asner, Bob Newhart and Jon Favreau. Wow again. It’s Lou Grant, Dr. Bob Hartley and the guy from Swingers. Will Ferrell showed up by himself and immediately started chatting and hanging out with people. There was no VIP room at this party.
I chatted with Ferrell for quite a while, and we were just dishing some dirt about some of the ridiculous things some of the other reporters had asked him that day when a little girl came up to him with a question. She was about seven years old and had just come from a screening of the film. In the movie once Buddy (Ferrell) gets to the big city he continues the elf tradition of putting maple syrup on everything he eats. The little girl wanted to know why. “You don’t put maple syrup on spaghetti,” she said, “only on pancakes and omelettes.” Ferrell laughed, but tried to keep a straight face as he explained that elves like different food than everybody else. It was a nice moment that demonstrated what a nice, down-to-earth man he is. He’s really good with kids, and when I mentioned that he told me he and his wife are expecting in March.
Next I had my photo taken with Favreau, Bob Newhart and Ed Asner. That’s one for the scrapbooks. Once everyone’s eyes adjusted to the flash Favreau and chatted about the film, and I mentioned that I thought it was really cool to have used Dynamation pioneer Ray Harryhausen as the voice of one of the stop-motion animated characters. He told me they literally stopped him on the street, explained what they were doing and used a mini-disc player to record his one line right there and then. They didn’t even bring him into the studio.
It was a great party, but it got late really fast, and after a quick look around on the 86th floor observation level I hot-footed it back to the hotel and fell into a coma like sleep.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 4, 2003
This is a light day, and it’s a good thing too. I’m feeling a bit tired from last night’s party. I sift through the billions of ties I have with me, and realize that although I brought a lot of neckwear along for the ride, none of them really match the shirts I have with me. How is that possible? I choose one that I think looks OK, but later when I ask Teri if it is too much she politely says, “It’s not awful, but you’re knocking on that door…”
I had already seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre before leaving for New York, and while I’m not usually a fan of re-makes, this one is really scary. At the screening in Toronto I sat next to Teri who was wearing a turtle neck sweater. By the time we left she had screamed out loud not once, but twice (a first for me, I’ve never heard anyone yell in fear before at a movie) and her sweater was stretched out of shape from pulling it up over her eyes. I didn’t scream or cover my eyes, but I did consider sleeping with the light on that night.
We’re doing the interviews for The Texas Chainsaw Massacre at a gallery / warehouse space in the Meat Packing District called Eyebeam. The gallery is a not-for-profit new media arts organization established to provide access, education, and support for students, artists, and the general public in the field of art and technology. That makes it sound a whole lot nicer than it actually is. This is basically just a large open space that was clearly once used for some sort of industrial work. Nonetheless it is a cool space, and one of the upcoming shows sounds really quite wild. “Robot” is a four-day festival featuring a robotic talent show, exhibition, workshops, presentations, party and massage parlor. Do the robots give us massages, or are we expected to rub their backs?
While I’m waiting to shoot one of the other reporters tells me a joke. (If you haven’t seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre you need to know that the villain’s name is Leatherface because of his habit of making flesh masks out of the faces of his victims.) This guy was telling me that if this version of the film does well they’re going to do a Peta approved sequel. The bad guy’s name in that one? Pleatherface…
New Line has set up a Texas Chainsaw Massacre evidence room for us to shoot intros and extros while we wait to do our interviews. It’s a good idea. They are shooting in black and white, with a strange strobe effect on the camera so it looks like an old cheapo horror film from the 50s. I take advantage of the set-up and shoot some material for our up-coming Halloween show before being called away to do the interviews.
Jessica Biel is first. The last time I interviewed her it didn’t go very well, so I didn’t know what to expect this time around. I spoke with her last year for the film The Rules of Attraction. The interview was only four minutes long, but after two minutes I had asked her four or five questions and gotten four or five yes or no answers and a couple of nods. Nothing else. We sat in silence as I stared at her trying to come up with something to say that might grab her, and finally after thirty seconds or so I said, “Those are great shoes,” and she talked about her shoes and where she got them for the remainder of our time. Needless to say that interview never went to air.
This time she was much more willing to talk. Who knows what was going on last time… everybody has a bad day occasionally, and unfortunately I think I hit hers the first time we spoke. She described to me her love of horror movies, and how she loves the feeling of being scared. There was no dead air during this interview, and after it was done I complimented her on her shoes and left the room.
Next up were her co-stars Eric Balfour, Erica Leerhsen and Jonathan Tucker all grouped together. When they found out that I was from Toronto they all piped up with Toronto stories. The guys had done lots of work here (Balfour lived at Spadina and King for a time) and Leerhsen had visited the city. It’s difficult to interview three people at once, particularly when you only have a few minutes, but each of them had their say and all seemed like interesting people that I’d like to chat with again, one on one. If I had more time I’d ask Eric Balfour about his role on Six Feet Under and get him to tell me about Blessed With Soul, a band he had with Brittany Murphy in the early 1990s. I’d ask Jonathan Tucker about his father, Paul Hayes Tucker, who is the world’s foremost authority on Claude Monet and French Impressionism and I’d get Erica’s thoughts on celebrity from the point of view of someone whose father, Charles Leerhsen, was the longtime editor of celebrity publication US Magazine. That will all have to wait until next time. This time we talked about the physical demands of shooting an action / horror film, and I discovered that although Balfour broke his wrist while making the movie, he did it while goofing around on a basketball court and not while in production. He wore a specially made removable cast while shooting.
With a couple of hours to waste before the Kill Bill screening at seven o’clock I walked around lower Manhattan, sightseeing and shopping. I dropped by the famous Chelsea Hotel (222 West 23rd Street) to check out the art in the lobby. It bills itself as a “rest stop for rare individuals” and in it’s almost 100 year life as a hotel has seen enough action to inspire a hundred movies and a hundred more novels. A who’s who of bohemia has called the place home, everyone from William S. Burroughs to Tenessee Williams from Mark Twain to Sid Vicious. Even Julius Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb” spent time there. Rumor has it that Ethan Hawke currently resides there after his break-up with Uma Thurman.
It is a true landmark, although the front desk staff could use a lesson in hospitality. When I asked to buy one of the hotel’s t-shirts the man behind the desk, who looked like he had been awake since 1960, glanced in my direction and said, “I don’t think so.” I wasn’t sure what he said, so I politely asked him to repeat himself. This time he said a little louder, “You’ll have to come back during the day.” When I pointed out that it was only 4:30 pm he told me that all the merchandise was locked up and he didn’t have a key, then, without another word he turned around and continued watching a small television propped up on a table behind the front desk. It was clear I was never going to get my shirt. I had to wonder if the crusty old guy behind the counter had been there since the days when Mark Twain frequented the place because it looked like the only bags he was capable of checking in were the bags under his eyes.
From there it was a quickish walk over to the Loew’s theatre on 34th Street to see a sneak peak of Kill Bill. I have been waiting patiently for Quentin Tarantino to make another movie since Jackie Brown in 1997. There was gossip that he was working on an epic Second World War drama; word spread that he was giving up directing to focus on his acting career and there were other rumors that he had flamed-out and simply couldn’t pull it together to do anything. I had heard many tings about the movie, both good and bad. People were complaining about the violence, to which Tarantino replied, “Sure, Kill Bill’s a violent movie. But it’s a Tarantino movie. You don’t go to see Metallica and ask the band to turn the music down.” Others whined that there was no character development.
What they are missing is that Kill Bill is a thrilling, samurai sword swinging romp that shows Tarantino working at the top of genre busting game. By taking elements from all the grind house movies he grew up watching – Samurai movies, revenge dramas, kung fu films, spaghetti westerns – and artfully blending them together he has created a new kind of genre film with one foot reverently in the past while the other mercilessly kicks you in the head. It’s a bloody (apparently he used over 100 gallons of fake blood in the last scene alone), excessive and exhilarating ride. Oh yeah, and Uma Thurmond wears a tight yellow jumpsuit just like the one Bruce Lee wore in his last film Game of Death. When it was over I wanted the projectionist to rewind the film and start it again. I haven’t been that jazzed at a screening in a long time.
After the movie I went back to the hotel and over drinks and food discussed the movie with the other reporters before calling it an early night.
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 5, 2003
A beautiful day in New York, and happily enough, a day off with no interviews or screenings. My pal Teri and I meet in the hotel lobby at ten o’clock with the plan to walk around and sightsee. Our successful experience with the Empire State Building excursion brought out the inner tourist in both of us, so we headed down 6th Avenue in search of A. a Starbucks, and B. touristy fun.
Once fully loaded with caffeine we headed downtown. Our first stop was The Strand book store at Broadway and 12th Street. I love this place. The original store opened in 1927 on 4th Avenue when that stretch of property was known as the Book Row of America. Most of the other shops are gone now, but the Strand lives on in its new location (since 1958) with all its musty, cluttered charm. They advertise that the store contains 8 miles of books, and I don’t doubt it. Books literally spill off the floor to ceiling shelves and are piled on tables and on the floor. It’s a mix of new and used with the largest rare book collection in New York City. I pick up a copy of Steve Martin’s newest novel, The Pleasure of My Company.
After some more window shopping, and a confirmed Michael Stipe sighting (he was walking on Broadway with a plastic shopping bag in his hand) we had brunch at The Noho Star (330 Lafayette Street). I’ve passed this place a million times and have never gone in, but I had always heard they had really great homemade ginger ale. I didn’t have any on this visit, but I will go back. My Eggs Chiapas (Crisp Tortilla, Sunnyside Eggs, Guacamole, Cheddar, Bacon and Refried Beans) were unbelievably tasty and the service was very good.
From there we wandered down to Canal Street. There is nothing quite like Canal Street’s loud and dirty street mall. If you can navigate through the crush of humanity that congregates there on the weekends you can buy everything from knock-off Gucci bags for $30 to miniature turtles for $3 to watches and belts for $10. If you feel like bartering this is place to be. Each of the tiny little stores has pretty much the same thing, but at wildly different prices. Prices will drop faster than ^&*(&(*)__*()&&^%$ if you mention that you can pick up an item cheaper at a stall a few doors away. I don’t much like crowds, so after a cursory look around I had seen enough.
Back up Broadway and over to the Bowery, with a quick side trip to CBGBs. This is the legendary punk rock club that spawned the careers of The Ramones, Blondie, The Talking Heads and Patti Smith. I have seen several shows here, and although the floor squishes under your feet and the smell of stale cigarettes will probably never go away, (even though smoking was banned in NYC last year) this claustrophobic sweatbox has a certain punk charm about it. It has remained virtually unchanged since its heyday in the late 1970s, although apparently they have fixed the leaky ceiling that used to rain foul water down on the stage and the customers from the flop house above.
After a quick walk through the East Village it was time to head back. We had spent seven hours walking in circles through the lower part of Manhattan, and although it’s early I plan to stay in tonight, order some food to my room and read up on Kill Bill.
MONDAY OCTOBER 6, 2003
Today is the day I get to meet Uma. I wish I had ties that matched my shirts. Damn.
Quentin Tarantino has cancelled on us. Apparently he is sick after traveling all over Europe in the last week to promote the movie. That’s disappointing, but we’re still getting Lucy Liu, Daryl Hannah, Vivica A. Fox and, of course, Uma.
The interviews are divided up into two sections. Lucy, Vivica and Daryl in the morning and then we come back and speak with Uma in the afternoon. My flight out isn’t until 7:45 pm, so no matter how far behind they are running (and they will be running behind) I won’t be in any danger of missing my plane.
Lucy Liu is first. In the film she plays O-Ren Ishi, a cold blooded assassin who becomes the first female head of the Japanese Mafia. She’s perfect for the film, possessing physical grace, presence, strength, personality and as Roger Ebert pointed out, “the ability to look serious while doing ridiculous things.” We talked about the background of her character. “I think she’s a good person,” she said. “Quentin didn’t want to make a specific protagonist / antagonist stereotypical idea of what the bad guy should be. He gives her a backstory and the animation [which explains O-Ren’s violent past] which gives her a feeling of warmth, and hopefully you don’t think she is completely cold blooded at the end.”
Next I spoke with Vivica A. Fox. She has the smallest role in Volume One, but who knows, she might be back for Volume Two. We mainly spoke about her role’s physicality and how she trained seven hours a day for three months to prepare for the part. She also had high praise for Tarantino. She told me she didn’t know what to expect when she saw the film for the first time. “When I saw the final product I thought ‘Wow, there is a reason why Quentin is a director and his films are so successful.’”
Like some many of the people I spoke to over this week-end in New York, I had just interviewed Daryl Hannah a few weeks ago in Toronto. Last time we spoke for a much different kind of move, Casa de Los Babys, a quiet John Sayles film about American women in an unnamed South American city waiting to adopt babies. In Kill Bill she plays assassin Elle Driver, a character inspired by a legendary Swedish revenge flick called They Call Her One Eye in which Christina Lindberg plays Frigga, a young victim of white slavery who is raped, mutilated (hence the eye patch) and beaten throughout most of the film. She then rehabilitates herself and seeks revenge on those who did her wrong. It was the first film to ever be banned in Sweden, and was described by TV Guide as a “totally vile and obnoxious action film.”
“I’ve never played a full-on villain before,” she said. “I played a villain in Blade Runner, but she had a quality of vulnerability and innocence. This character has none of that. She’s just evil.”
Uma Thurmond gets angry to play The Bride in Kill Bill. She has sworn revenge on the group of DiVAS (Deadly Viper Assassination Squad) who raided her wedding and killed everyone, leaving her for dead. The action in the movie begins when she wakes from a coma four years after her ill-fated wedding day. One by one she seeks payback on the sexy killers who tried to do her in.
Tarantino and Thurmond first discussed the story at a party during the shoot for Pulp Fiction in 1994. Over drinks they created a revenge fantasy, with Uma playing a Bride hell-bent on retribution. Nothing came of the idea until many years later when the two reconnected at the Miramax Oscar party in March of 2000. Uma mentioned the story and Tarantino promised to write her the script in time for her thirtieth birthday which was just three weeks away. He missed that deadline, but in the next year-and-a-half cranked out a 222 page script that would eventually become Kill Bill Volumes One and Two.
In person Uma is very tall, (about six feet), lithe and yes, very beautiful. I had never met her before, although I once saw her on the street at the Cannes Film Festival and remember thinking that she almost glowed. I have since read that cinematographers like lighting her for film because her skin reflects 40 % more light than most other people. Today she is wearing jeans, sneakers, a white shirt, a denim jacket, and it should be noted for you gossip hounds, a giant wedding ring.
I reminded her of a quote I had read about her time spent working with the fight masters who taught her the moves she uses in Kill Bill. She said that the most important ting she learned from them was how to learn. “I almost felt like I was a baby, which I really was,” she said, thinking back to her training. “It was humbling to look at this mountain of expertise and work that was set out for me. I had to get very, very small and jut work on the tiniest things at a time. At first you would have thought I was going to learn [simple moves] like one, two, three, four. I can do that, but [this was going to be difficult with] with the amount of battling that I have and Quentin’s improvisational style and how he made the movie.
“The clicking part for me was when I realized that there was not going to be any ‘one, two, three, four.’ It was going to be improvisational and they were going to invent new fights on the spot and say, ‘Now you’re going to 5, 7, 12, 15…’ They were just going to make it up and it kind of re-wired my nervous system because it is so terrifying. That’s what I finally understood that I had been set up to do. To achieve this film I had to be able to synthesize all this new information and execute it on the spot. I guess it is the difference between learning a dance and knowing how to dance.”
That was it. My last interview of the weekend and it was only 3 o’clock. I’m not booked to leave until 7:45 pm, but I’m itching to get home so I take my chances and head out to the airport. There are seats on the 5:10 flight, so with a mountain of interview video tapes and 500 ties, I get checked in and leave several hours early, anxious as always to get home and sleep in my own bed.
There is no small amount of irony that the man who wrote Under My Thumb and Some Girls, songs reviled by women’s groups everywhere, is one of the producers of a new female empowerment movie starring Annette Bening and Meg Ryan. Mick Jagger, perhaps atoning for past lyrical crimes against women, was one of the money men behind The Women, a loose adaptation of the Clare Booth Luce play and hit movie.
The names are the same from the 1939 film (which starred Norma Shearer, Rosalind Russell and Joan Crawford in the roles now taken by Ryan, Bening and Eva Mendes) and the general idea is intact but the story of a wealthy woman who discovers her husband is having an affair with a Sak’s Fifth Avenue perfume counter attendant has been tweaked and brought forth into the twenty-first century. Gone are the Countesses and dude ranches of the original; in are lesbian characters (Jada Pinkett Smith), expensive clothes and one-liners geared to appeal to a female audience. There’s also been a philosophical shift. The original exposed society women as catty and shallow whereas the new girl power vision celebrates female friendship, eliminating most of the cattiness—although the odd slyly mean remark like “There’s a fine line between an outfit and a get-up…” slips through.
Now that studios have finally figured out that it’s not just teenage boys who pay to see movies, more and more films are being aimed at a female audience. Sex and the City and the The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2, both recent movies that dealt with female bonding and friendship, were just the first shots across the bow. Apart from its female demographic The Women hits another, usually neglected, target audience: older women. This movie is aimed at the mothers of the teens and young women who flocked to see the Sisterhood sequel and the adventures of Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte.
From its opening joke about marked down shoes the film is so unconcerned with a male audience it goes so far as to not include one single male character. There aren’t even any men in the crowd shots. Estrogen rules in every frame of the film.
Director and screenwriter Diane English (best known as the producer and writer of Murphy Brown) hasn’t exactly improved on the original, but she does keep things going at a sitcom-like pace, peppering the action with so many jokes—only about half of which actually land—that the whole thing could best be described as amiable rather than good.
The main cast—most veterans of light comedy—are as amiable as the script. High points include Candice Bergen, who continues her run as the summer’s reigning cameo queen, and her effortless way with a one liner. As in Sex and the City she has The Women’s best line with, “Such a bad facelift… She looks like she’s reentering the Earth’s atmosphere.” Also delightful is Cloris Leachman as the crotchety house keeper prone to admonishing her boss with sayings like, “Keep your Wonder Bra on…” While the dialogue isn’t exactly as elegantly snappy as Luce’s words, these two old pros deliver their zingers effortlessly.
The Women doesn’t have the naughty edge of Sex and the City or the youthful exuberance of the Sisterhood movies, but it shares common ground with those pictures in its heartwarming message of friendship and empowerment.