Hi, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab...
Mr. Beaks is a busy man these days with a new project of his own, but he was nice enough to drop these interviews on us in support of a couple of small films that sound like they deserve some attention. Check this out:
After a whole year of moviegoing doldrums, here comes May 6th and three must-see movies. One of these, KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, might be on your radar. The other two, BROTHERS and DALLAS 362, are probably relegated to the periphery if they’ve registered at all. To help remedy this paucity of publicity, here are a couple of interviews with principals – Connie Nielsen and Scott Caan – from these very good movies.
Let’s start with Connie Nielsen, whose return to her native Denmark in BROTHERS results in a career best performance under Susanne Bier’s piercing direction. Though always intriguing, even in her smallest roles, this is only the second time Nielsen has given a role of challenging emotional complexity (the first was Assayas’s DEMONLOVER), and, for the second time, she effortlessly puts it over. The following is a transcript from a brief telephone interview I conducted with her several weeks ago.
Assuming that my Internet Movie Database information is correct (note to self: you know better), how exactly does living in the States cause a Dane to acquire a Swedish accent?
That’s not right. What it is is that I come from the north where they have a different accent than in Copenhagen. And I come from a really old fashioned home where nobody swore and where you spoke very correctly. So, I came back to Denmark speaking very correctly. I mean, I’ve been going back and forth to Denmark all the time; it’s not like I came back after ten years and hadn’t been there. I’m there all the time. All my friends are Danish, even here. It’s just a matter of the jargon in Copenhagen being very different; I spoke way too *cleanly*, if you will – enunciated and a little too refined for the character.
Did it help, then, doing a film this stripped down, sort of close to the Dogme style of filmmaking, where you just had to throw yourself into that character?
Oh, definitely. It was fantastic. The fact that we didn’t have to do any hair or makeup or anything was just genius. You never thought about anything else, you didn’t even think about the camera. You never knew where the camera was going to be because it was always moving. It was fantastic.
Was it just one camera, or did you use multiple camera setups?
No, it was one camera.
Was there much rehearsal?
Not really. We would rehearse in the morning, just the actors and the director, and, then, after that, we would rehearse it in front of the crew so that they all had an idea about what we were doing.
Given the difficult, crescendoing emotion of the piece, I was wondering if this was shot in continuity.
Some of it, yes. Not all of it.
It seemed like it might help you.
More for me than Ulrich. But I don’t really have such a big problem filming in or out of continuity.
Speaking of Ulrich, the scenes of domestic violence in this film are just frighteningly real. On multiple occasions I actually feared for your safety. How did Susanne prod Ulrich to such volatile extremes, yet still maintain control?
He had control somewhat. Nikolaj actually got hurt during the fight between the brothers. It was hard for Ulrich to be as technical as you have to be when you do these scenes. It’s a very hard thing; I’ve done it myself, so I know just how hard it is to… lose it and, at the same time, be completely in control of what you have to do. It’s *extremely* hard to do.
And especially with the girls there, too.
They had a great sense of the game, though. They really understood that it was a game. It was quite extraordinary; you’d see them go straight from crying to laughing. And we talked a lot about it, so that they could digest it and have it not be real to them.
Was there anything in particular that motivated your return to Denmark to do this film, or was it just a case of great material that you just couldn’t turn down?
It was such a great story and such a great script that I wanted to do it. I had read a lot of different scripts from Denmark, and there was always something wrong, but not with this one. This was everything I wanted.
So you had been looking for something to do back in Denmark?
I had been offered some stuff back in Denmark, but I didn’t want to go back just to do a Danish movie. I wanted to go back to do a *good* movie, you know?
Comparing and contrasting between Hollywood and Danish filmmaking, do you find one approach more preferable?
I think they’re all different. What’s great for me is that I get to taste them all, which is what I want. I wouldn’t want to do one thing and just be limited. For me, there’s freedom in opportunity and getting to try as many different things as possible.
I would think that maybe this performance might signal a greater range than you’ve been able to show in Hollywood thus far. Has it been helpful in that respect?
I think that one thing one can’t accuse me of is not having range. I can’t imagine that there is one movie where I’m not different from the last.
But something like this, particularly with the emotional complexity of it, you just get to do more here. Plus, the size of the role.
Yeah, there’s definitely that, but it also depends on whether the movie is interested in the minutiae of the character’s emotional life.
When I describe this movie to my friends, just the premise, they kind of shrug it off as something that is very soap opera, and that’s not at all what BROTHERS is. I know even my expectations were subverted once the film got past the first act; I felt it was heading in a vaguely life affirming direction, but then the bottom dropped out and hope just kept getting stripped away. I wonder if the Europeans are just better equipped to handle these formula premises.
But it’s not a formula. It is a melodrama in the classic sense, but it’s just a topsy-turvy melodrama. It’s upside down in that it’s a melodrama that talks about taboos, and it also has this wonderful ability to look at war from a completely human standpoint, not looking at it in purely political terms – in fact, not at all – but to look at it and wonder what it means to you and me. And for the soldiers coming back home… this is happening today around us. No one’s mentioning all of these people who are back here missing limbs and have been traumatized forever; this is what this movie does. These people need to be seen, and we need to understand that this is part of our society and part of what is going on right here, right now.
It’s one thing to go over there and build a nation, but we have to heal the people who go over there and sacrifice for these noble ideals.
That is absolutely right.
I also want to—
Just to go back to what you were saying before. One of the things that’s important in order to not make this a classic melodrama is that we don’t… feel the need to follow (cinematic) conventions of behavior. That’s how we can have the little daughter say something that you just do not hear a little child say in an American movie. It’s hard sometimes, I think, in America because there’s so much invested in the idea of behavior… correct behavior: what is right and what is *not* right. Yet to be honest about what that behavior really is can, at times, be difficult, because idealism interferes with reality. What we want to be interferes with depicting what we are.
I noticed that you’re appearing in THE ICE HARVEST, directed by Harold Ramis, and with a really interesting cast: John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, Randy Quaid, Oliver Platt. That’s a real collection of characters. How did that shoot go?
It was a lot of fun. They’re fantastic, and it’s going to be a really funny movie. It’s a black, black comedy.
It’s drawn comparisons to FARGO. Would you say that’s correct?
Maybe in its offbeat kind of humor. Sure.
What else do you have coming up?
THE GREAT RAID is coming out August 12th. ICE HARVEST is, I think, October. And RETURN TO SENDER, which I did with Bille August, is also coming out, but I don’t know the date yet. And I’m shooting a movie right now called THE SITUATION, directed by Philip Haas, which is about a female journalist covering the war in Iraq.
What’s with you getting caught up in these politically charged films?
I don’t know that they’re political at all. On the contrary, I think they’re interested in the human aspect. The problem with politics in films is that it very rarely translates to good movies. But something that talks about the human fallout from political situations, *that* can make for really good movies.
BROTHERS hits theaters in New York City today, and expands next week to one-horse towns like Los Angeles.
I’ve been gushing about DALLAS 362 to friends for the past two weeks, so being able to share this wrongly overlooked gem with a couple of them on Wednesday night at the premiere was a blast (ditto the afterparty at The Concorde). The day before, I had the pleasure of hanging out with the film’s writer-director-costar, Scott Caan, on the patio at the Chateau Marmont. Scott’s laid back demeanor quickly took my mind off the uber-Hollywood trappings of the infamous Sunset Blvd. hotel; before I could even get my recorder started, we had already fallen into a casual banter.
Obviously, you grew up out here, and were probably around sets a lot. Then again, it’s not like everyone who spends “x” amount of time on a set all of a sudden figures out how to make a movie. There had to be something more to it.
I think it was just about being around interesting people. My old man didn’t really work a lot when I was growing up. I don’t remember him being on a lot of sets. I remember being on MISERY… and GARDENS OF STONE. But other than those two sets I don’t really remember much.
It must’ve been instructive to watch Coppola work.
Yeah, but at nine you’re not really paying attention; he’s just your dad’s friend.
What held up the release of the film? You got really good notices up in Toronto in 2003, and then…
Yeah, I don’t know how that works. We opened in Toronto, and then we won CineVegas, and I thought, “Oh, you do well at film festivals, and that’s how you get distribution”. I felt like everybody liked the movie, but no one really knew how to sell it. Not that they didn’t know their job; it was just one of those movies that didn’t have an immediate audience. It doesn’t have a gimmick. And I think that’s important, especially today, for people who buy movies.
They need a hook.
I think they cut a nice trailer.
I thought the trailer was amazing. Seeing the trailer made me like the movie again.
(Laughing.) When was the trailer cut?
Like two months ago. Look, I got lucky; it wasn’t going to get released at all. The guy who gave me the money to make it, he was in the process of selling it without it coming out in a theater. But he decided to put it out in a theater himself and give THINKFilm the rights to DVD. I don’t know what the deal was; I think (THINKFilm) wanted to go straight to DVD.
Which is bizarre given the film’s festival success.
Yeah, but I was telling people six months after the festival that you’ve got to do something *now*. Because not only am I not going to give a shit in six months, nobody else is going to give a shit. And this guy, Greg Sabatino, put a lot of work into making it happen. He basically just said, “I’m going to make sure someone sees this in a movie theater.”
Now, you’ve been writing and staging plays for a while. Did you just suddenly get bitten by the filmmaking bug, or was this something you’ve nursed for a while?
Everything I did came out of this place of frustration. I used to be really obsessed with acting. I spent thirty hours a week in the theater, and worked on plays. Val Lauren, who’s in the movie, James Franco, and Mark Pellegrino… we just were obsessed. All we did was act, act, act, act, act, and I couldn’t get any jobs that I wanted. And I just got so frustrated with the parts that I was getting. I did this movie, ENEMEY OF THE STATE, and I thought, “Okay. This is it. I’m in a big movie now, Tony Scott’s an amazing director, and I’m going to pick my movies after this.” Then it was cut together, and I’m like “Oh, I’m not really even in the movie.” So I said, “You know what? I’ve always liked to write, I’m always writing shorts stories and stuff. So I’m going to write a screenplay, I’m going to sell it, I’m going to attach myself to it like the GOOD WILL HUNTING thing.” And this was before GOOD WILL HUNTING (was made). So, I did it. I wrote this one script for Bob Simmonds; it never got made. I wrote another script, sold it to Jerry Bruckheimer, and it never got made. So I’m like, “Okay, this isn’t working.” And then I started to think, “But wait a minute. I’m a decent writer. I want somebody to see these.” I had access to these two theaters, so I’m like, “I’ll write a play.” I knew plays really well; I’d been studying plays for four or five years, so then I wrote my first play. I loved it, wrote another play, then another play, then another – I wrote six plays. And then I got frustrated that only 100 people a night were coming to see it. So I said, “I’m going to write a movie that I’m going to direct, that I’m going to stick with the whole time and make sure it gets made.” And that’s what I was telling you before. That hunger that I had – I was obsessed. They put me in a room with the guy with the money, and I told myself that I’m not leaving until he shakes my hand and tells me he’s going to give me a million dollars. And then he did. And that’s when I realized that’s what I want to do.
Filmmakers need to have that tenacity.
It’s about *doing* it, too. And now I’ve written seven scripts. And like I told you, I’m not an “Aw, shucks” kind of guy, but when it comes to this shit I am. And by reading what you wrote, I’m like, “Shit, maybe it is good.” That kind of falls over into the way I work. I write a script, and if ten people tell me they don’t like it, then it’s like “Fuck you! I’ll write another one”. I’m able to write fast, so the reason I haven’t made another movie is that, after making DALLAS 362, I was broke. It took a year of my life, and I didn’t do a movie. And if you take a year off, you’re done. You can’t be an actor anymore unless you go and grind and have… three meetings and all that bullshit. But, like I said, I write one script, someone doesn’t like it, I put it to the side and I write another one. And now I have two that I’m really, really excited about, and they’re set up.
The financing’s there?
Well, no. The financing’s not there, but the people who *get* the financing are saying I want to make them. And I’m like, “I’ve got two. Whoever shows me money first.”
Are they similar at all in subject matter to DALLAS 362?
One of them. The other is totally bugged out, a little more wild. One is… well, hopefully they’ll both get made. I’d love to quit being in movies like READY TO RUMBLE.
Well, hey, even Orson Welles had to be in shit to get his movies made.
Again, I’m not going to complain, because every time I step onto a movie set I learn something. Being able to be around Steven Soderbergh two times – there’s no school you can go to that’s better than that. Whether you like his movies or not, you’ve got to respect what he does: writes it, puts the camera on his shoulder, shoots it, edits it. I respect that.
He’s certainly got a great sense of cinema.
Which, you know, I also see a lot of in DALLAS 362. The shorthand… the way you’re able to condense a lot of information into one tightly constructed scene.
And I’d like to work on going with less exposition – do it in a different way. That’s why Vincent Gallo… I’m watching what he does. He’s really inspiring to me. What I respect so much about those guys is it’s not their product, it’s what they do. I heard Vincent say something really smart; I went and saw him speak after BROWN BUNNY, and people were like, “You suck! You’re a piece of shit!” And he said, “Didn’t anybody want to say, ‘Hey, nice job, you wrote, directed, edited and starred (in a movie)?’ You jerkoffs are just sitting around doing nothing.” That’s what I love. Whether your movie sucked or not, you’re a fucking pimp, and I’ve got respect for you.
I got to interview him for BROWN BUNNY last year and—
I loved BROWN BUNNY by the way.
So did I! And what I admire is that he’s got the stones to make this incredibly personal film—at least, I think it’s personal.
I know him, and it is.
Well, he recoils from saying it’s personal. He jumped down my throat for saying that.
For saying that it’s personal?
Yeah. And now I’m conditioned to never say that for fear that he’s lurking somewhere around the corner.
You can’t make a movie like that unless it’s personal.
Right. And the way he takes that movie to its logical, emotional conclusion… every single minute of that film is honest!
Honest. Thank you. That’s all I want to do: make films that are honest. James Gray is also a friend of mine. I love his movies, and that’s what (his films) are; they’re honest. We’re all a little fucked up, and I don’t blame anybody. I’m not mad at studios. I’m not mad at shitty movies getting made. This is the way the world’s going, and you can’t get mad at a ten year-old kid who grows up to like bad movies. What the hell else is he going to like? Unless he’s got someone going, “No, no, watch this! Watch BLOW-UP! Watch THIEF!” He’s not going to know; he’s going to think that BAD BOYS is the shit. You can’t get mad. And another reason I don’t get mad at it is that, ultimately, we’ll be more original. The more bad movies they make, the more original we’ll seem.
So who was the person telling you to watch these important films?
You know, I just grew up around interesting people. To me, the movies I like and the movies, I’m sure, you like explore people like that rather than the caricatures out there today. I was just around interesting people, and when I see those movies, I go, “Oh, I know that guy! Here’s a story I can relate to!” Those are the kinds of movies I like. And I’ve never been a film buff. Only recently, over the last couple of years, have I really gotten into watching films.
Sometimes that’s the best way to attack it, to not be burdened by the weight of every brilliant movie and every brilliant filmmaker and every brilliant shot you’ve ever seen.
In our theater group, they always used to tell us, “Read about James Dean. Watch all his movies. Read about Marlon Brando.” And I was like, “Fuck that. Why? So, I can mimic them by accident?” You get to know somebody enough, especially if you’re an actor, you’re going to start subconsciously do what they did.
You mention the theater, from which you’ve drawn some of your actors like Val Lauren. Watching the movie the first time, I’m like, “Oh, *this guy*. I’ve seen him in lots of films. He’s great!” But I hadn’t. I hadn’t seen him in a single film. That’s an amazing resource to be able to spring on people.
Oh, man, I wrote that part for Val. I saw him working on that character; he was doing an exercise in the theater and playing around with it. I said, “Keep doing that,” and I wrote a play for that character before figuring out a way to put him in the movie.
Val is as good an actor as anybody. You see that character, and you might say, “He’s annoying”, but he took a swing with it. You should see… I wrote this play called 9/11 where he plays this guy who’s from the Middle East and has been lying his whole life about where he’s from. Then 9/11 happens, his friends want to bomb the entire Middle East, and he comes out. And he was so good in the play, man. He’s so much better than every single actor out there, and he can’t get arrested. Not only can he not get arrested, I’m trying to make this movie and put him in it, and they say, “No, no. We need a name. We need ‘this guy’ or ‘that guy’.” And I’m like, “But he’s better than them!”
Was there any improvisation, or was the film pretty tightly scripted?
It was pretty tight. Val and I tend to improvise, and there were about three scenes I had to cut out with him; hopefully, we’ll put them on the DVD. But, otherwise, not much at all.
You favor long takes, and also employ some imaginative setups.
The reason I shoot like that is I like to give you the option of who you want to look at. I want to give you the option of what you want to watch in the scene. Sometimes, the reason you have to cut is because (actors) aren’t doing their thing; you’ve got to cut around performances. I didn’t necessarily think about it like that; I just had three guys in a scene, we did it, everybody was great and let’s move on. I did my homework.
Were there moments of uncertainty on the set, this being your first film?
No, man. Day one, I was like, “I’m home. This is what I should be doing.” I like being in charge. I like taking the fall; I like taking credit.
Is there a cut hidden in that opening tracking shot?
I figured as much. I didn’t really study it, but—
If you look, when it tracks over the orange “x”, there’s a seamless dissolve. I actually had it planned in my head that we were going to run around the back and get into the cop car, but there wouldn’t have been time.
And was that an intentional homage to MEAN STREETS?
Not really, but I love that movie. And, obviously, a guy jumping on a pool table with a stick… you can’t get around that. It’s funny; my stunt coordinator is my uncle, and he was like, “Hey, hold on! What the hell are you going backwards for! Let’s stay in here and show the fight!” But… yeah, I guess it’s a subconscious, unintentional homage. But I certainly don’t like the word “rip-off”.
I wouldn’t say that.
Like I said, you’ve got a guy on a pool table swinging a pool cue, you can’t think of anything but Johnny Boy.
DALLAS 362 does have that rowdy quality which reminds me of MEAN STREETS, which was drawing on the style of John Cassavetes.
He’s my hero, man. I wish I could do what he did.
To be honest, I just really discovered him this last year when Criterion released that box set. I mean, I had seen his movies before, but I wasn’t ready for them. And when his films open up to you, I guess they open up all at once.
Again, he’s another guy: you don’t have to love his movies, but you’ve got to love what he does. Talk about honesty. When you’re a kid, you watch those movies and you go, “Well…”. Then you get older, you want real life in a movie, and it’s like, “Oh, *my* god!” Forget about being sucked into a movie; this is the next level. When you’re watching his movies, you’re completely lost in them. A WOMAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE is one of my favorite movies – one of the best performances by a lady ever.
Those charged moments where it’s so obvious she’s lost her mind.
She really went crazy.
Getting back to the acting, I see that you just worked with Nicole Holofcener, who’s a favorite of mine.
Yeah, yeah. She’s great. Being able to do that is great; I’d love to keep doing that, but, at the same time, I’d wish I could just get rich and keep making my own movies. Hopefully… I wrote this movie called THE DOG PROBLEM, and I think that it might be something that will be bigger. BUTCH (his other script in development) is more like DALLAS 362; it’s small, and nobody’s going to go, “Oh, we’ll give you $10 million to put it out in 2,000 theaters.” THE DOG PROBLEM might be that. If that works, then you get on top, and you do one for them and you do one for you.
Like what Soderbergh’s done, and what Linklater is currently doing.
And I just have to figure out how that works for me – maybe act in some movies. But I’m ready. I’ve been ready for three years, just going bananas waiting to get back to it.
Would you take a for-hire project, and work from someone else’s script?
I actually just read this script, and contemplated it for a second. But they don’t just give those to you; you’ve got to go in, basically, and do another audition. And I just can’t do that. My own ego gets involved, and I’m like, “I’m doing you a favor. I want to direct my own movie.” But I think, eventually, definitely, because there are some great writers out there, and it would be silly if I wanted to be a director and *not* do that. But not yet. I don’t have to do that yet. Look, if I make a movie and somebody thinks I’m fantastic, and they throw me the best script they’ve read in five years, then absolutely. But, at the level I’m at as a director, I don’t get those scripts; I kind of get garbage.
In an interview you gave a couple of years ago, you actually resisted being compared to other filmmakers, and, instead, said you looked to (newly minted heavyweight champ) James Toney for inspiration. What did you think of the fight last Saturday?
He beat that man up *badly*. Nobody gets how good he is.
From here, Scott expounded on Toney’s pugilistic brilliance in rather impressive detail (the lucky bastard has sparred with the man), and the conversation eventually grew much more casual. This is mostly owing to Scott, who emits a generous, easygoing vibe that encourages such digressions – a marked contrast to his coiled, concise filmmaking. I wish him the best as he chases down that next directorial project, which, hopefully, won’t take another three years to see the mystic darkness of a movie theater.
DALLAS 362 opens in Los Angeles today. James Toney demands your attendance.