If Travis Bickle grew up reading comic books, Taxi Driver may have looked a bit more like Defendor. It may seem that Defendor aims to be an escapist slapstick romp that turns superhero conventions on their ear but, before long, we are given the backstory of troubled hero Arthur Poppington and see shades of the dark realism that keeps this film from flying into Farrelly brothers territory. Thanks to a terrific performance by Woody Harrelson (a recent Oscar nominee for his turn in The Messenger), Poppington is given unexpected depth and sentimentality.
While I’m not suggesting that Defendor is of the same echelon as Taxi Driver, it does explore the moral grey area a bit more than I had expected. It quite stealthily raises questions about heroism and citizen responsibility. A script like this could easily feel like an after-school special, with its campy message obviously veiled by bouts of humor and action, but impressive acting — namely Harrelson and Elias Koteas as the hilariously patronized victim of Poppington’s misadventures — keep the tone balanced and honest. Thanks to these two (and Kat Dennings as a befriended teenage prostitute), Defendor deftly walks the tightrope between a gritty noir and a Pink Panther-esque blundering crime comedy.
In An Education, aspiring Oxford student Jenny (Carey Mulligan) dreams of a world that’s bigger than her genteel neighborhood, set in 1961 suburban London. She longs to smoke, wear black and listen to Jacques Brel with other like-minded Francophiles, and to be free of her upwardly mobile parents. A fateful rainstorm introduces her to David (Peter Sarsgaard), a 30-something music lover who serves as her entrée to all things sophisticated: art collections, jazz clubs and fashion. His world-class charm — powerful enough to convince Jenny’s parents to send her off with him for a weekend away — sweeps the 16-year-old off her feet. The film, based on a screenplay by author Nick Hornby — it was based on a short memoir by journalist Lynn Barber — was directed by Lone Scherfig ( Italian for Beginners), who spoke to us about the film from Denmark last week. Read on to learn how she found star Cary Mulligan and where they found all the fabulous clothes from the film. An Education is in theaters now. — — Rebecca Harper (), Editor
Carey Mulligan is the breakout star of your film. She was also in Pride & Prejudice (2005), but how did you discover her?
Director Lone Scherfig: She was just in a pile of casting tapes. She had done very little, so it was chance. I knew that we probably had to find someone unknown because [her character] Jenny is so young. She was always my first choice — but we saw her again and again, and now I feel really bad that we took so long to make the decision. It’s been going so well, so maybe she doesn’t have to go through all that again.
I hope so, too! An Education is set in 1961. How did that particular time period play into the film? What did that mean for Jenny?
I think it’s really important. The way London was changing at that time is so in sync with how she’s changing. The way she’s bursting with energy for a future she can’t describe because she doesn’t know what it is yet is the way London was shaking the war off its shoulders, wanting to do things for fun and to have much more appetite for life, for art and for literature — and music in particular. That became so much more dominant straight after she [would have] entered Oxford.
I known here in the U.S. right now, that time period is really resonating with our culture — if you look at Mad Men, for example.
It’s a bit different. Maybe what is so attractive with Mad Men is that it’s a period where they, in some ways, were more liberated and also more innocent than it’s the case now. It’s a bit different in England because Jenny, she’s among the last generation of women who had that little future and so few possibilities. It’s almost as if Lynn Barber, who wrote this story, had been fighting at that. What that means is that women since Lynn could relax and take for granted that they had the right to do the things that they like to do, to try and to find individual futures for themselves and to live that future, or live that adult life, at least, if you have an education.
But my guess is about America is that it’s this combination of innocence and freedom that attracts you. Here in Denmark, as well, it was more liberated than it is now, and was definitely more innocent and less dangerous. I mean, when I was a teenager, the world was a lot safer than it is now for my daughter as a teenager, which meant that I could have a lot more fun. It wasn’t risky the way it is now.
Were you familiar with Lynn Barber’s story before you started this project?
It was just a 10-page article in a literary magazine. Later on, I think Penguin commissioned some more chapters, and she oddly became a journalist for Penthouse. She almost went too far because I know her, and I think she’s a woman who’s had a very rich, varied and happy life that is right for her. Her only regret seems to be that she now thinks that she should have been a better wife to her husband, whom she met in Oxford. But apart from that, she has fulfilled a lot of her dreams, and she’s a brilliant writer.
But no, I wasn’t familiar with her or her work, but obviously I started reading it when I got the job, to get to know her better and to portray her better. But Jenny is different. Lynn is more sarcastic, more of a fighter, and her piece has much more self-irony. Because Nick Hornby and I are not her, we could describe her with some warmth that’s not in her piece.
Speaking of Nick, what did he bring to the screenplay? Did he make any significant changes to Lynn’s story?
The story is short, so he fleshed it out. There are a couple of characters that are his, especially the teachers, but the structure and a lot of the details are actually in her original piece. I think he’s given it a tone that’s definitely Nick Hornby — and jokes, too. He’s really humorous. [Lynn] says that Alfred Molina’s role (as Jenny’s dad) is a lot more sympathetic than she had imagined. I hope we have added something as well. It’s just layer upon layer, and as long as we’re telling the same story — a group portrait of a girl and the people her surrounding her, particularly David … the more time we spent on it, the more time [it was] in this development situation, the more detail you see, the more contrast and the more integrity. But it’s the same piece that we’re all working on, and that was really important to me as a director that everyone was making the same film, that everyone contributed to the package and tried to strengthen it and get as many facets as possible but not be over-inventive, just tell the story as well as we possibly could.
I really enjoyed Alfred Molina’s performance. Can you tell us what he brought to his character?
He has really good timing. He’s very musical, and so is Nick. That means that lines are something where Alfred Molina feels immediately at ease and pitches them very well from the beginning. Also, [Alfred] felt that he knew that world very well — he grew up in Notting Hill and he thought that Jack who he portrays was definitely someone that he knows, and that Jack and England have a lot in common at the time, the xenophobia and the fear of everything: the fear of food, the fear of excess of any kind, and also the insecurity because he didn’t have an education, so that’s one of the reasons why they would let someone like David into their home. He seems worldly, and they’re afraid to be prejudiced as well. So they let him in and let him run off with their little girl.
I wanted to ask you about the clothes. I loved the costumes in this film, particularly Helen’s [a friend of David’s who takes Jenny under her wing], but also Jenny’s as well. I read that you brought mood boards to your meetings with Odille Dicks-Mireaux, the costume designer…
That was about Paris, though, it wasn’t about clothes. But I did a board for each of the characters because it is a character-based film. I thought that’s a good place to start, to ensure that if I have a language problem, that’s not going to be our problem, that we’re all speaking the same language. A lot of film people, it’s helpful to have visual examples rather than to explain. So it was clothes, but it was also photos of real people at the time and props. Because a lot of people on the crew and in the cast had not experienced that period, it was also about communicating that London was not that “swinging” yet, and it wasn’t that long ago. It may be a period film, but a lot of the things are the same still.
She and I had a really good collaboration, and all of the costumes are just real clothes that have been saved. We only made one single dress, which was the nightclub singer’s dress. It was a copy of my Barbie doll’s ’60s dress. Because the singer is so small, she didn’t fit into any of the clothes that they had at the prop house. But it was so easy, and they have so much stuff in England, it’s probably the biggest place in the world for that kind of thing, and because the actresses are so beautiful, they just jump into anything, everything just fits. It was a good way for me to go and talk to the cast about the characters and to be at the costume fittings because then you get to express the character’s style and what would be in his pockets. I do the same thing with the props department, which kind of wristwatch would she have, who gave it to her, it’s a very concrete and specific way of building characters. It’s a good place to start dialogue with the actors, rather than sitting at reading tables.
Thanks, Lone, for speaking to us about the film. An Education is in theaters now.
Last night I watched an early screening of The Road (in theaters Nov. 25), and I am still reeling from its power. It is based on the novel by Cormac McCarthy (No Country for Old Men, All the Pretty Horses) and directed by John Hillcoat, who also directed The Proposition. If you haven’t seen The Proposition, you should rent it no later than immediately. With a screenplay by Nick Cave, it’s set in late 19th-century Australian backcountry and opens with an arresting officer freeing a prisoner under the condition that, unless he tracks and kills his older outlaw brother within nine days, his younger brother will be hung by the law. It is one of the best directed and most gripping films I’ve experienced in a very, very long time. And now I can say the same for The Road.
The Road is a post-apocalyptic story of a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) heading south in an attempt to avoid the impending winter as they struggle against the deteriorating environment, gangs of brutal men, starvation, and their own haunting fears and memories.
In a culture that seems to use apocalypse-scenarios as vehicles for completely action flicks (Escape from New York, Terminator: Salvation) or as fodder for laughs ( Dr. Strangelove, Zombieland), The Road introduces realism. Every detail rings true, from the fleeting surge of electricity in a discovered bomb shelter to the makeshift braces and bandages taped across their bodies. Every interaction is meaningful. Every endeavor bears the burdensome weight of maintaining a dimming morality. Joe Penhall’s screenplay does not shy away from the atrocious, nor does it manipulate the audience for simple shock value.
For those diehard fans of the book, the trailer may have you wondering about the role of The Wife (Charlize Theron). Let me assure you, every liberty screenwriter Penhall took in this regard only works to deepen the connection I felt towards Mortensen’s character while adding highly dramatic moments I hadn’t imagined as I read the book.
As a member of the first generation born into a world bearing technologies capable of annihilating all of it in a moment’s notice, The Road is a story that needed be told and must be watched. It is simply a wake-up call to the fragility of our Earth. And by imagining a world stripped to its core, we see humanity stripped to its bare elements, as well. The Road shows us the worst in people, but ultimately, it is a film about our best. It is not only a story of the bonds between father and son, it is a story about the timeless responsibilities of a man and mankind.
We all know him as Jim, the affable, shaggy-haired salesman from the Dunder Mifflin paper company. But actor John Krasinski (who also appeared in this summer’s Away We Go) has set out to prove he’s no one-trick pony. With his latest project, a film adaptation of the late David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men, Krasinski proves he can hold his own behind the camera, as well, directing such stars as Will Arnett, Will Forte, Christopher Meloni, Bobby Cannavale and Timothy Hutton. Today Hulu premieres an exclusive “making of” featurette (featuring an intro from Krasinski himself) for this pet project. We also had the opportunity to speak to the 29-year-old actor about the film, which hits theaters September 25. (You can watch the trailer here.) And for all of you Pam and Jim fans — is that “Jam” or “Pim?” — we asked for a little scoop about the Season 6 premiere of The Office, which airs on NBC tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT. We’ll have it on Hulu first thing tomorrow morning. — Rebecca Harper (), Editor
There’s a bit of an announcement we’re hoping you can make about Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. Can you tell us about that?
John Krasinski: Hulu’s premiering the movie first on the Internet [after it finishes its run in theaters], so we’re a part of that, and that’s fantastic. I think anybody in this business would be incredibly fortunate to be a part of anything having to do with Hulu, to be honest. Hulu is one of those ideas that is so cutting edge, that you just know it’s going to be a huge, huge part of people’s lives from now on. Not only for what it is doing and is capable of doing now as an interactive site, but also for what it has potential to grow into, which I think is nothing short of world domination. [Laughs] So we have that to look forward to, that our president will be Hulu.
To have Hulu support you in any way and display the ads for the movie and things like that is incredibly exciting, but then to have the movie be premiered on Hulu after its first run in the theaters is incredible. I think that Hulu’s done an incredible amount for The Office, and we are indebted to [Hulu] in a huge way. I think that it’s a massive part of our popularity, and why people have continued to watch us. We’re really, really lucky to be part of it — I have had experience with being part of a project [The Office] that benefits from being on site like Hulu, so to have our movie on Hulu and accessible to anyone at anytime, it’s really an honor, to be honest.
Well, thanks! And of course, I would say we wouldn’t be Hulu without The Office.
Awww, that’s nice.
Now you lined up some really incredible people for this project. Did you have some of the actors in mind from the start?
Absolutely. When I got the pilot to The Office, I used that money to buy the rights [to the book], but I had actually started writing the script a little bit before I got the rights, which was incredibly — in a negative way — ambitious. I’m sure it’s what more people would call stupid. In doing so, I started writing the script and knew exactly who I was going to cast. At the time, I was waiting tables in New York, and though I was having a great time, I wasn’t necessarily creatively stimulated, so I was constantly looking for inspiration anywhere I could find it. I definitely found it all the time in the theaters, by going to the theater, and by going to independent movies. I just consistently did that as often as I could. The people who I saw have these awe-inspiring performances were the people that I knew I wanted to be in this movie. And all these incredible New York actors who were just so brilliant on stage and in these small, independent movies, where a lot of them were coming out in New York, I just knew that those were the people I wanted in it, and I was just lucky enough to get them.
This being tied to David Foster Wallace, did that make it easier to get these actors?
Yeah, I’m sure it did. I think that being part of a project that is not only based on but also very much his actual writing … The movie’s not at all based on the book. It is completely the material itself. In doing this movie, my only intention was to bring his material to a wider audience in a different medium, but in no way to take the movie and change it in some drastic way. My being involved in the movie and so connected to the book was because of his writing, so I just wanted to do him justice and sort of show more people how incredible this author is and show what an impact he could have on you. I think that, truly, without him knowing it, I think David Foster Wallace wrote near-perfect acting material in these characters. So I didn’t have to pitch the movie very hard to these actors who I said had to come in a day, maybe two for some of them, and have these interviews that they could basically act in one day and really sink their teeth into. They very much appreciated it.
As a writer, how do you approach such a revered author’s work? I would have been intimidated!
Yeah, it’s funny, because to be really honest, Brief Interviews is the anomaly, I think. I can totally see why he hasn’t been adapted before, because his work is incredibly intimidating in that respect. It’s intimidating because you’re so admiring of it as a reader. When you’re a reader of his books, it’s a unique experience that you’ll never have with anyone else. I think he’s bar none one of the best writers ever to have lived, and he’s right up there on the pedestal with all the greats, in my opinion. And the real truth is, there’ll ever be anyone who writes like him again. For me, this book is the anomaly because he actually wrote these characters speaking dialogue, so there are actual words being said that were actually written as characters representing themselves. To me, it was almost near-perfect dialogue and the biggest challenge was editing it down to a piece that could actually fit into a watchable movie rather than an epic miniseries or something. And then also, he was also an incredibly literary guy, and so there were moments where I chose to leave some of the literary vibe into the dialogue, and some where I had to tone it down in order to allow the guys to be a little more accessible. But other than that, really, the script in the movie is all David’s work. I can’t take much credit for it, because the work he did as a writer in this story is what brings such incredible life to these characters.
I understand that he actually called you to give you his blessing. How did that call go?
It was thrilling, for lack of a better word, it was just fantastic. He was incredibly kind, and incredibly generous. I remember him being so soft-spoken and so nice. He put me at ease right away. I remember him being flattered that someone had taken up this book and tried to run it up the hill. He told me that his intention for Brief Interviews was to write a story about a character that you never see or hear from, but by using all the characters around that person, you find out all you need to know about them. And that’s exactly what I’d done. I’d already written the script when I talked to him, and I’d done just that in the script, because all the signs were there. It was just incredible to have that connection with him; that I was not only on the right path, but charging down the right way. It was so inspiring and such a pick-me-up that it was a great way to go into the actual shooting of the movie, knowing that we were on the right path and that we were representing him in the correct way.
You know, the big cinematic move that I did and probably the biggest part of the adaptation that I did is that [the female lead, played by Julianne Nicholson] connected to one of the characters, and I remember he was incredibly excited about that. He said that he had seen Brief Interviews as sort of an incomplete project because it hadn’t fully tied into itself, and there was nothing that could tie them all together. So when I sort of brought one of the characters in the book and connected it to her personally, all of a sudden there was a linear aspect to the movie. I had written one draft that was extremely linear and had all these incredible arcs that were fitting in pretty well, but at the end, when you re-read it, you realized that it just didn’t feel right, that it was feeling forced and fake. And so I realized that the best way to adapt the book was to go back and allow it to be what it wanted to be, which was spontaneous and slightly erratic and something that basically presented itself when it wanted to present itself.
You end up appearing in the film, but that wasn’t always your intention.
It wasn’t at all. My intention was solely to direct. I was pretty sure that these actors could do any of these characters way better than I could, but then we had an actor pull out at the last minute. There was this scheduling conflict, just one of those things that happens. We only had two weeks until we shot the scene. Normally that would be fine, but unfortunately that is such a big monologue and, as such, a huge part of the movie. I had shot all of the other interviews, so it was the last one and it needed to fit in just right. It would be a very stressful situation for any actor to just come in and sort of take on that much dialogue and that much intricate storytelling without knowing any of the other pieces, and I was the only one who knew the pieces. So the producers and I sat down and we decided that I’d be the best person to do it, solely because I’d read it 100 times, for no other reason than I knew what I was talking about when I was sort of relating the story to her and how it would connect to everything else.
Because this was a passion project for you, was the acting easier for you?
It was by far the scariest performance I have ever given; rather, it was the most scared performance I’ve ever given. It has solely to do with the fact that I was the director, and not because it hard to direct myself or anything like that — that’s not at all what happened. The reason why it was so scary was that I had sat behind the monitor and watched all these incredible actors turn in performances that were nothing short of awe-inspiring. The day before, we had shot the bathroom scene, which is one of my favorite scenes in the movie, and so to literally be the last person to go and to be the last piece of the puzzle, and to know that if this didn’t work, the movie wouldn’t work, was probably the worst position I could have put myself in. But I really didn’t want to fail everybody else. Hopefully it works out.
I can imagine how challenging this must have been for you, but I think it worked, I really do. But I have to ask — on behalf of all of the fans of The Office — can you tell us what we’re going to see in the new season? A little teaser, perhaps?
It’s funny, the season premiere is just sort of an old-time structure of The Office — it’s just a really funny episode of The Office. There aren’t necessarily any incredible spoilers; it’s sort of getting back to the season in a way that I think is a really smart way to do it, which is just getting everyone back in the office. But then definitely the wedding episode is coming up and it is fantastic. I think that — and I think I can speak on behalf of the entire cast when I say this — we’re all just huge fans of the show and we love it so much. To get those scripts, we’re as excited as any fan would be to see what’s going to happen next, the way they deal with the wedding and how [Pam and Jim] get together. It’s a scary thing to get married on a show, because it’s always a tough conundrum of whether it’s good for the show or bad for the show. Of course the writers are so fantastic that they did it perfectly.
Last season was such a great season that I really can’t wait to see what’s in store now. Well, thanks, John for your time – we really appreciate it.
Absolutely. Thank you.
After the premiere of Ashton Kutcher’s Spread (see the trailer here) at Sundance earlier this year, tongues started wagging across the Internet. After all, the movie centers on a freeloading hipster, Nikki (played by Kutcher), who sleeps with wealthy, successful women in order to maintain a privileged lifestyle. But Spread isn’t just about a younger guy’s penchant for “cougars” — though we see plenty of action between Kutcher and older co-star Anne Heche. Nikki also gets an important lesson on love and the sacrifices it sometimes takes to find true love.
Spread opens in theaters August 14, but you can get a sneak peek right here on Hulu with this exclusive clip from the film. We also spoke to Kutcher about the film, his role as producer, and his co-star, Margarita Levieva. Check out the interview below the clip embedded below. — Rebecca Harper (), Editor
Hulu: In addition to starring in Spread, you also produced it. You’re famous for so many different things, what draws you to producing?
Ashton Kutcher: I feel that producing is a just sort of a deeper engagement in the film process. When you act in a film, you go and you give your performance and then so much is done in post and pre-production that manipulates the performance. And I feel like, when you produce a film, you have an opportunity to sort of craft the big picture and details at the same time. In some ways, when you’re telling a story; the context of the character that’s within the story can be manipulated one way or another based on all that’s around that character. When you’re producing, you get a more active hand in the storytelling process. I really enjoy that, and I also appreciate facilitating other actors and performers and creators, and helping facilitate their visions. I just find the act of giving that to be a very rewarding action.
Spread has some racy moments — especially coming from the guy that starred in That ’70s Show. Can you tell us about your character, Nikki?
My character, Nikki, is a guy who came to Los Angeles with this dream of sort of being in the glitz and the glamour and the life of all that the city promises. He finds himself not necessarily having the talent or the wherewithal to get where he wants to go, and so he makes some moral compromises for himself [so he can] feel the effect of the hard work he hasn’t done through an alternative means.
Do you think Nikki is likable?
I think he’s likable enough. I think he’s likable enough to take a journey with him. But I don’t think he’s, you know, outwardly likable. He’s not Barack Obama, I’ll tell you that.
Some of the buzz around this film is that the subject matter hits kind of close to home for you. Why did you take on a role like this, where you’re playing a younger guy who hooks up with older women?
I think that there’s only one older woman in the movie. I think most of the women in the movie are actually younger than him. You know, I don’t know that there’s really a correlation between my personal life and the relationships that I have in my personal life and the relationships that this character has and pursues. So I think that the people that are assuming a correlation — based on the fact that one of the women that he dates is older — are looking at it from a very surface point of view, and maybe they’re only looking at the log line of the film, and that’s probably where they’re drawing those correlations.
The older woman in Spread being Anne Heche, of course. This film also introduces us to Margarita Levieva, who plays another interest of Nikki’s — someone who’s closer to his age. She’s a relative newcomer. Can you tell us about her?
We were looking at this list of people that the cast and directors build that they’re interested in. It usually starts with people that are well known, and different people that you feel can take on the role, that people know of. We had that list put together and we were getting ready to pursue some of those actors. At the same time, you’re always auditioning new people that most people have never heard of or seen. Margarita came into my office and auditioned and was just so incredible and captivating. She carried all of the essential properties of the character, but did it in a very fresh way that none of us had seen before. She had an innocence, but when she turned the corner, had such a manipulative side to her, that we all felt like “Why even pursue the list when we have someone that we know can perform this role in a way that nobody else can do it?” And then she came in and, even though she’s a young actor, she just came in and hit home runs every single day. She was interesting and sexy and smart. She’s a really, really intelligent girl. She’s Russian and speaks English flawlessly. There’s something about that multi-dimensional layer, you feel like she’s hiding something all the time, but you can’t really put your finger on what it is that she’s hiding. And it played really well in the character.
What do you think draws Nikki to Heather (played by Levieva) in the first place? When he meets her, she’s not living the lifestyle he’s grown accustomed to.
I think we’ve all got this preconceived notion of who we should be with in our heads. A lot of people that are single are kind of fooling around with this preconceived notion that the person they’re going to be with is gonna be like this, and they’re gonna be like that, and they’re gonna have this, and they’re gonna have that, and then, eventually somebody comes into your life that pushes back in a way that nobody else pushes back, somebody that challenges you and who you are and what you believe and what you want and, all of a sudden, all of those superficial parameters that you placed on who that person is that you’re going to be with kind of go out the window. Because what we really want deep down, or what I believe our soul wants, is somebody who is going to push us to be a better person. I think that [Heather] does it from the get-go. The scene in the coffee shop — for this guy, every other girl would fall immediately and be invested. And this girl sort of pushes back and says “You know what? I don’t want anything to do with you.” I think that just the very challenge of that makes her more enticing to this guy, because he knows she’s someone that’s not going to tell him just what he wants to hear.
You famously have a legion of fans following you on Twitter these days. How are you going to use Twitter to get fans to see this film?
Well, for me, it’s not about getting my fans to see this movie. If the fans want to see the movie, they’ll see the movie. I think the great thing that Twitter will provide is I can let them know when the movie’s coming out. And I can show people the trailer, so what’s nice about it is, there’s an instant connection with the fans and the people who are already interested in what I’m doing and the work that I’m doing. It’s a really great sort of broadcast tool, where we can talk about the movie in a deeper way and I can show the materials in the movie, and then if they want to see it, they can go see it. For me, it’s not about pushing people to see the movie, it’s making them aware that it’s out there. What the great thing is, while actually in the process of making the trailer for the movie and things like that, I’ve taken different music and posted it on Twitter, and said “Hey, do you guys like this song? Do you think it would fit the trailer for the movie?” and they were like, “Yeah, we love this song. We think it’s great.” So I put the song in the trailer for the movie and it really helped me design the campaign for the movie in an interactive way. In a part, it’s their movie, as well, which I think is very cool.