Alex Kecskes

Alex A. Kecskes has written hundreds of film reviews and celebrity interviews for a wide variety of online and print outlets. He has covered red carpet premieres and Comic-Con events for major films and independent releases.

Cosmopolis…Tedious Portrayal of Today’s Young Uber Rich

Based on a novel by Don DeLillo, Cosmopolis is morosely immersive in its condemnation of the Wall Street uber rich. Personified by Eric Michael Packer (Robert Pattinson), the film explores the growing disconnect the 28-year-old asset manager encounters with his surroundings, his wife, sex and his fortune.

While the direction is admirable and classic Cronenberg, what’s missing is the empathy of Eastern Promises and psychological fascination of Crash—two landmark Cronenberg successes. In the wake of our recent financial collapse, Cosmopolis presents us with nothing new: yes, Wall Street can be evil; yes, the rich are self-absorbed, disconnected and cold; yes, if we continue down this path, there will be riots in the streets. The freshness here is only in the direction, not in the narrative or dialog.

The film is shot almost entirely in a corporate stretch limo, fully equipped with financial readout screens showing Packer’s second-by-zeptosecond financial demise. His two consultants–Jay Baruchel and Philip Nozuka–mouth phrases intended to be deeply incisive, but are instead, vacuous and often childish. His chief theoretician, Vija (Samantha Morton) prattles on about capitalism while his doctor administers a prostate exam to a nude Packer, a scene that verges on the ludicrous. Read more

Compliance Pits Obedience to Authority Against Conscience

Written and directed by Craig Zobel, Compliance challenges viewers with just how far they would go to follow authority. Set in a fast-food chicken franchise, 60-ish manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) is faced with a heavy Friday-night crowd, a bacon shortage, and young employees who would rather be partying.

When a man who identifies himself as police officer Daniels (Pat Healy) calls that evening and informs Sandra that Becky (Dreama Walker), one of her teen counter girls has taken money out of a customer’s purse, the film kicks into emotional high gear.

Daniels claims he is working with Sandra’s regional manager and has some surveillance footage to back up his claim. Sandra, follows Daniel’s instructions and confronts Becky in a back room, where she searches her belongings and reluctantly agrees to strip-search the teen. Daniels knows how to press all the right buttons with his callers and he does so with veiled delight, even to the point of insisting they call him “sir”. Read more

An Interview with Anne Heche

photo courtesy of Brian Bowen Smith

A versatile and highly talented actress, writer and director, Anne Heche made her big-screen debut with a brief appearance in The Adventures of Huck Finn.

Her first leading role in the big-budget romantic adventure Six Days Seven Nights with Harrison Ford catapulted her to prominence. She landed her second leading role in the exceptional drama Return to Paradise.

TV fans applaud her exemplary performances in Gracie’s Choice, The Dead Will Tell, and recurring guest roles on “Everwood,” “Nip/Tuck” and her own primetime series, “Men in Trees.” She later landed a featured role in the independent film Spread with Ashton Kutcher and the indie comedy Cedar Rapids.

In That’s What She Said, Dee Dee (Anne Heche), Bebe (Marcia DeBonis) and their new acquaintance, Clementine (Alia Shawkat) embark on a series of misadventures in New York City. Based on writer/actress Kellie Overbey’s play Girl Talk, the delightful, low budget indie has some laugh out loud moments that bring out the pain and often crushing disappointments endured by women seeking love and acceptance. In this interview, Anne Heche talks about the film, its humor and pathos, and the talented ensemble cast that brought it to life.

The scene where you’re brushing your teeth while smoking a cigarette was a riot.

Anne Heche: When I read that in the script, I thought, if I can pull this one scene off, this is going to be a funny movie. I would practice it because it’s such an odd choice to make as a human being–to do both of those things at the same time. I thought, this is only going to get worse–she is a mess, she is one hot mess. My whole preparation for that character was making her even more disastrous than a girl who was smoking while brushing her teeth.

What attracted you to the role of Dee Dee?

AH: That one scene. What I’m always wondering about any character I play is, can I make it truthful?  If I can make her truthful then I’m hoping I can pull it off. Dee Dee is such a self-destructive personality, which is heartbreaking. The best of these characters are the ones that can be redeemed. So it’s my great hope that that was going to happen in the movie and that the lower she began, the bigger and taller the mountain she needed to climb.  So I think we started pretty low, for sure. It was just fun to figure out how to really make her resist any hope of growing up.  And I love that about this movie. I also love that the people helping her climb were also disasters.  Nobody in this movie is a hero. There’s no nice, sweet character.  They’re all have zero self esteem. They don’t like themselves or each other. That’s an equation for comedy. I wanted to do that in this movie.

It’s basically a study of flawed characters. What do you think people will take away from the film?

AH: I think, people would say, “Thank God there’s a movie where I can actually see myself.” Nobody has a great day every day. These girls never have a great day. I think it’s really a surprise to see the worst possible image of yourself and what we laugh at. So I think anyone watching this movie will find their worst possible self in one of these moments in the film.

Were changes made to the script to include how well the three of you played off each other? It was a delight to watch you and the cast bring this film to life.

AH: Thank you. One of the things we really needed to do was unheard of–and that was to rehearse. Because, we were filming in so many spots in New York, we didn’t know if we’d be getting kicked off and get another take, let alone the fact that our film budget was very low. We didn’t want to waste any time on film not getting it right. So in our rehearsals, we definitely found some fun rhythms using Alia’s and Marcia’s personality to see how we contrast each other. We found some really funny nuances, but I will say this script was so tight and so funny with the characters. Our writer, Kellie Overbey worked so hard for years to make this film work. So the words sang from the very beginning. We added a couple of jokes but it was really there.

Did you like the physicality of the script—fighting on the floor with Marcia?

AH: Like I said, if you brush your teeth and smoke at the same time, you can’t start there and not do anything crazier than that. So I couldn’t wait to go through the script to see what else was going to happen. And when I read that we were going to get into a fistfight, I was like, get outta here! That was really raw. To have girls really take each other down. You want to own that and earn that. I was so proud that someone had written that kind of balsy physicality for women and so thrilled to be asked to play it. We were bruised, I’m not kidding you, honestly, from head to toe. We didn’t have enough budget, so we didn’t have a blanket to rehearse on. We were throwing each other down, morning, noon and night. We could hardly walk when we were done.

So no stunt doubles?

AH: We hardly got catering.  The food we ate was mostly leftovers. We always shot at weird times because we had to be working in places that we didn’t really have to rent.  So the bar where we ended up shooting that fight scene, we had to start shooting at four o’clock in the morning when the bar closed, and stop at four o’clock in the afternoon when the bar opened. We were all just struggling to have a cup of coffee. I came in one morning for breakfast, and on the craft service table where you’d hope to get a cup of coffee we found leftover snack Dorito bags from a previous lunch.  So I said, “I know you asked me to do this movie for you, but Doritos for breakfast?”

The ensemble cast really clicks, how did you react when you discovered who would be in the film?

AH: When I met with Carrie and Kellie, they told me that Marcia was someone they believed in from doing the play and they wanted to hire her. So I loved that they were giving their friends that much commitment and belief. I always thought there was one girl that could play Clementine, so I asked them if they would reach out to Alia and that was that.  The other characters are friends of Carrie’s and Kellie’s from New York, and Kellie is one of the girls in it.  Kellie and I did a play called 20th Century together with Alec Baldwin, and Alec gave me the script and told me that you’re the only girl fucked up enough to pull this off. I really loved that he said that and believed in me enough to give me this role. I think it’s a killer role and it was an amazing experience.

Do you prefer doing these dialog heavy comedies?

AH: It’s like bringing the theater to film. You don’t get to do that very often. This is a dialog driven piece. I thought it was a riot. You don’t usually get to talk that much on screen, and you definitely don’t get to talk that much if you’re a girl. It was fun to be in a film with this many chicks all talking at the same time.

 

Summer Qing Talks About “Looper”

A native of Beijing, Summer Qing made her film debut as the female lead in Chen Kaige’s 1990 Cannes Film Festival entry, Life on a String. Soon after, she played the lead in Lin Zifeng’s Kuang Crazy, and was nominated for Best Actress in China’s Hundred Flowers awards.

Her work in the TV series, “Close to Forbidden City” catapulted her national prominence as a sweet-natured ingenue. Qing has since appeared in the Chinese historical epic, The Emperor’s Shadow. She was also the voice of Mulan, in the Disney animated film of the same name. In 2007, she was featured in the Hong Kong action hit, Flash Point. She is perhaps best known in Asia for her pivotal role of Soong Ching-ling in the hugely successful 2009 film The Founding of a Republic for which Qing won a Hundred Flowers Award for Best Supporting Actress.

In 2011, Qing joined the cast of Looper, her first Hollywood production. A time-travel action film starring Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Bruce Willis and Emily Blunt, Looper depicts a future where crime syndicates can send their enemies back in time to be “wacked” by killers known as ‘loopers.’ When hit man, Joe (Gordon-Levitt) learns that the mob wants to close the loop by sending back Joe’s future self (Willis), Old Joe is reluctant to give up his “looped life” with his wife (Qing). The film includes some head-spinning intersecting storylines that weave telekinesis with intricate time-paradox plotting. In this one-on-one interview, Qing reveals how she landed the role, her views about Looper and the challenges she faced in working with her first major Hollywood production.

What attracted you to the role of playing Joe’s wife?

Summer Qing: It was a great script and when I read it, I was impressed by the amazing story-telling talents of writer/director Rian Johnson. I liked the fact that my character was a believable Chinese character in this futuristic story. I also enjoyed the opportunity to work with Bruce Willis.

Did you audition for the role of Joe’s wife in Looper? If so, what was that like?

SQ: I didn’t audition for the role. Rian had seen some of my previous work and said I had the ideal figure for this woman. He set up a video conference call with me, then made the decision right there to cast me in the role of Joe’s wife.

How did you prepare for the role of Joe’s wife?

SQ: The character didn’t present that great a challenge. I had already played similar characters in some of my other films. The challenge was dealing with the language barrier, since everyone on the crew and cast spoke English. I anticipated having to deal with some cultural differences, but once I arrived on set, I realized that I was able to connect with the cast and crew.

Looper was your first Hollywood production, what are some of major differences when working in Hollywood as opposed to Asia?

SQ: I really feel lucky to be part of Looper because it was my first Hollywood film. I always felt cared for the whole time I was on set by the cast and crew. You can’t really see a difference in production between Hollywood and Asian films. There are good and bad films in both venues. Luckily, I’ve had the good fortune of being part of well-produced films in China and now Hollywood.

You appeared in the Hong Kong action movie Flash Point. How would you compare the two action-packed movies?

SQ: I prefer Looper and like the fact that my character has such a strong presence in the story. I had so much fun working with Bruce Willis. In comparing the two films, I would say that they are very different in how the story unfolds.

When you read the script—a film about people being sent back in time to be killed by their younger self–what did you think about this compelling time-travel concept?

SQ: I was very impressed with the script and applaud Rian for bringing this interesting story to life.

What was it like working with Rian Johnson?

SQ: He’s a great director and I had a wonderful experience working with him. He was very quiet when I first met him, but once I was on set, he was very complimentary of my work. He provided excellent direction and was very helpful. I look forward to working with him again.

What was it like working with Bruce Willis?

SQ: I loved working with him. He’s a loving, caring person. He’s was such a gentleman. I’ll never forget the day I arrived on the set. I was about to shoot a very emotional scene with Bruce, but we didn’t really know each other at that point. To break the ice, he came over to me, pulled me into his arms and held me for an entire minute without saying a word. This set the tone for our two characters, that we were a real couple. I was ready to play the role of Joe’s wife.

Do you prefer dramatic films that have some action or action films that have a bit of drama?

SQ: I prefer action films with a lot of drama. I’ve made many action films in China.

When did you realize you wanted to become an actress?

SQ: Not until my sophomore year in film school. At the Beijing Film Academy.

What’s your favorite Hollywood movie?

SQ: I have so many. But one would be The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Another is the latest Batman. I also like the TV series “Homeland.” I like Claire Danes’ character–Carrie Mathison.

Who is your favorite Hollywood actress?

SQ: I’ve always admired Meryl Streep when I was in school. I also like Kate Blanchett, Claire Danes and Maggie Gyllenhaal.

What are you working on now—anything new?

SQ: I’ll be working with the renowned writer/theater director Stan Lai on an 8-hour play to be produced in China. We’re hoping to show it in the US.

Bait 3D…Teeth but not Enough Bite

Australian director Kimble Rendall’s shark action thriller, Bait 3D has all the right ingredients: sincere love story, goofball love story, cute yappy little dog, good bad guy and bad bad guy. All unite in a meat grinder plot when two great whites are washed ashore in an earthquake produced title wave. A wave that half submerges a supermarket. Unbelievable? Face it, we’ve seen worse.

The 3D effects seem perfunctory, but watchable, as is the film, which relies a bit too heavily on stories we’ve seen before. The drama is skeletal and fleeting, combining some novel, albeit predictable, dramatic twists. While Bait doesn’t rise to the level of full blown drama, we’re left hoping it delivers some truly unique “shark bites man” stuff (as in the gory but more suspense-filled Piranha). But here. too we’re left wanting.

When lifeguard Josh (who is too hungover from a binge) lets best friend Rory paddle out to check on a buoy, we just know something bad will happen: Rory gets swallowed by a great white. Too grief stricken, Josh lets his relationship with Tina end with a whimper of guilt.

One year later, Josh, working at the Oceania supermarket, runs into Tina with her new boyfriend Steven (Qi Yuwu). At this point, were introduced to a grab-bag mix of characters who we guess will soon become chum for two great whites eager to snack on some “long pig” at the good old Oceania.

As Bait unfolds, we meet supermarket manager (Adrian Pang) who fires store clerk Ryan (Alex Russell) when his girlfriend Jaime (Phoebe Tonkin) is caught shoplifting. The cop who arrives on the scene is none other Jaime’s fed up dad (Martin Sacks). There’s also Doyle (Julian McMahon) who holds up the supermarket with selfish thug Kirby (Dan Wyllie).

The ensemble characters of chum bait continues in the subterranean parking lot. Here, were introduced to the vacuous duo played by Lincoln Lewis and Cariba Heine, who are trapped in their car.

Things unwind rather predictably at this point as the good guys team up with one of the bad guys (they came to rob Oceania, but that pesky title wave and sharks got in the way) to outsmart the great whites and head for the exit without being eaten.

And therein lies the fun or lack of it. In a laughable tribute to Jaws, Steven is suited up in wire shelving and shopping baskets, which brings to mind Quint’s unforgettable warning, “Cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark’s in the water. Our shark. (sings) Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain…”

Interview with Spartacus’ Cynthia Addai-Robinson

photos by Alex A. Kecskes
photos by Alex A. Kecskes

Beautiful and stylish Cynthia Addai-Robinson was born in London to a mother from Ghana and a father from America. She was raised in the US by her mom in a suburb of Washington, DC.

A graduate of NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, her growing TV credits include guest starring roles on “CSI: NY,” “CSI: Miami,” and “Numbers.” Her recent recurring roles include F/X’s “Dirt” and ABC’s “Flash Forward.” On the big screen, she most recently appeared opposite Zoe Saldana in Columbiana.

As the battle-hardened slave girl in “Spartacus: War of the Damned,” Robinson continues her role as Crixus’ love interest, Naevia. In this roundtable interview, she reveals how she landed and developed the role, and what fans can expect in the series climactic final season.

Is Naevia the head female of the camp now?

Cynthia Addai-Robinson: I’m one of the few ladies. They’re important to the story. Of course, we lost a lot of good ones—Lucretia, Illythia, Mira. But fans love the new and returning female characters. Now we have myself, Ellen Hollman (Saxa), Anna Hutchison (Laeta), Jenna Lind (Kore) and Gwendoline Taylor (Sibyl).

Did you have to “boot camp” with the boys?

CAR: I had to boot camp with the boys. We had about a month of training—including lifting weights. I’d never done anything like that before in my life. The first week, it was like trying to get myself out of the bathtub, flipping around because my muscles were limp. I was really proud of myself because it was not only a physical challenge but a harder mental one. It really served to bond the group. We stuck together. We’d sweat and cheer each other on. You will definitely see the results of all our training.

What about your relationship with Crixus? How will that continue or change?

CAR: It will definitely continue. I can’t give too much away, but in response to the storyline, at the end of the day, Manu and I were really passionate about honoring the love story, the fact that we’ve gone to hell and back. Who wouldn’t want that level of love? So you’ll difintely see those two characters move forward.

At the beginning of the season, Manu was saying that Crixus and Naevia were in a good place for a short time. Was it nice for you to play a happy character, at least for a little bit?

CAR: My God, she’s been through so much. This is such a heightened environment that if you can find those small moments of levity and just being able to crack a smile. They’re few and far between, but when they do happen, it’s interesting to see those small moments, the conversations behind closed doors. I think those are the things that people feel connected to. So yeah, you’ll still see a few laughs in there.

Did you audition for the role? If so, what was that like?

CAR: When I auditioned for the role, I was in Los Angeles. And when I didn’t hear anything, I thought, okay, that went away. Then I got a call telling me that Steven DeKnight wanted to meet me. So I met with him and he said, “How’d you like to go to New Zealand and swing around a sword?” So I said, “okay.”  Then I had a week to pack up my life and go to New Zealand. It was a dream come true, going to this exotic location, meeting all these amazing people, and playing a role that’s unlike anything on television right now. It’s a female role that gets to kick ass, so I feel pretty lucky.

Will the character of Naevia continue to evolve?

CAR: When the character of Naevia was first established, she was pretty naive. Basically, just a young slave girl. Life was pretty much laid out for her: She was living in the house of Batiatus and serving Lucretia. All the things that Naevia experienced forced her to become a woman. She’s a survivor. There’s a reason why she’s still alive after everything that’s happened.

What would you like to see happen to Naevia at the end of this final season?

CAR: That’s a tough one. We’re halfway through filming, so we haven’t actually done the things that are down the road. There’s sort of an inevitability to some of these story lines. I’m just happy to be in the story. And the response so far has been great. We’ll see how it all ends. There’s still some stuff that I don’t know. Who knows, if I’m killed, maybe I’ll come back as a zombie (laughs).

The climactic final season of “Spartacus: War of the Damned” will begin airing in January 2013. Globally, the series will air in 150 countries in more than 15 languages. The Emmy® nominated series, with its groundbreaking production and visual style, will also feature new sets, including a full city, a Roman Villa, and the scene of the epic battle along the Appian Way.

 

Manu Bennett talks about “Spartacus: War of the Damned”

photos by Alex A. Kecskes

Best known to worldwide audiences as Crixus, the honor-bound gladiator from Gaul, New Zealand born Manu Bennett has appeared in various films and TV dramas.

His film credits include Lantana opposite Anthony La Paglia and Tomoko opposite Japanese actress Rumiko Koyangi. He also co-stared with Robert Patrick in The Marine and Vinnie Jones and Steve Austin in The Condemned.

His TV credits include, ‘Shortland Steet” ‘Street Legal,” “Mataku,” and “Bike Wars: Brothers in Arms.”

In this roundtable interview, Bennett talks about his changing role in “Spartacus: War of the Damned” and what viewers can expect in the series’ action-packed final season. Read more

Interview with Kodi Smit-McPhee on ParaNorman

Kodi Smit-McPhee, best known for his role as the boy opposite Viggo Mortensen in The Road, and Owen in the vampire thriller Let Me In, is the voice of Norman in the 3D stop-motion animated film ParaNorman. In this roundtable interview, Kodi talks about his voice role as Norman Babcock, the misunderstood local boy who speaks with the dead to prevent the destruction of his town from a centuries-old witch’s curse.

Is this your first voiceover work in an animated film?

Kodi Smit-McPhee: No, it’s my second. I just did a little thing in Australia. But nothing compared to this. Read more

An interview with “Falling Skies” action star Peter Shinkoda

photo courtesy TNT

Born and raised in Montreal, Peter Shinkoda studied civil engineering at the University of Western Ontario and post production for film and television at UCLA. In the 90’s, Shinkoda decided to focus on his acting and put his then job as an assistant film editor on hold.

Since then, he has consistently acted in a number of high-profile projects, including I,Robot, John Woo’s Paycheck, and most recently, WAR. Shinkoda will also be featured in director Joe Dante’s highly anticipated next feature, The Hole in 3-D. He’ll also star star as “Sektor” in Warner Bros’ “Mortal Kombat:Legacy” web-series with director Kevin Tancheroen at the helm.

In Steven Spielberg’s “Falling Skies,” Shinkoda joins Noah Wyle and the rest of the survival team as weapons and tactics expert, Dai. In this one-on-one interview, Shinkoda reveals what drew him to the role and its many challenges.

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Rebecca Romijn on the Crime Procedural Parody–NTSF:SD:SUV

Best known as the blue-skinned Mystique in the popular X-Men films, Rebecca Romijn has also appeared in a number of TV series, including “Pepper Dennis,” “Eastwick” and “Ugly Betty.”

In “NTSF:SD:SUV” (National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego: Sport Utility Vehicle) , a TV parody of police procedural dramas, Romjin plays Jessie Nichols, a nerdy lab tech.

The show was first featured in a set of mock promotional television advertisements. From the mock promos, the program was greenlighted to series with a 12-episode season, bypassing the usual TV pilot stage of development.

Each episode is more outrageously funny than the next. In one episode, Jessie and Sam (Martin Starr) are kidnapped by a Japanese sub that’s been lost at sea–searching for Pearl Harbor–for 70 years. NTSF must find the sub and stop their long-delayed attack on San Diego.

In this roundtable cast interview, Romjin talks briefly about the show and her character.

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An Interview with Gangster Squad’s Haley Strode

photo courtesy of Angelo Kritikos

Haley Strode grew up on her family’s 4th generation farm in Owensboro, Kentucky. A highly versatile and talented actress, Strode has landed a wide range of TV and film roles, including “Castle,” “CSI: NY,” “The New Normal” and Only in LA. In the upcoming 40’s noir crime drama Gangster Squad, Strode plays Marcia Keeler, Giovanni Ribisi wife. She joins veterans Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a stylish film that chronicles LAPD’s fight to keep East Coast Mafia types out of Los Angeles. In this one-on-one interview, Strode reveals her passion for acting and some insights about a film many will soon be talking about.

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Liam McIntyre talks about “Spartacus: War of the Damned.”

Liam McIntyre grew to prominence in Australian TV for his work in “Rush” and “Neighbors.” US audiences may remember him as Lew in the Iwo Jima episode of the award-nominated HBO mini-series “The Pacific.” Taking over the role of Spartacus when Andy Whitfield tragically passed away from cancer last year, McIntyre found his footing in season two, “Spartacus: Vengeance.”  In this roundtable interview, McIntyre reveals what viewers can expect in the series’ final season, “Spartacus: War of the Damned.”

So how do feel about this upcoming season?

Liam McIntyre: It’s different. Last season, I was untested, I was new. This season, I’m a bit more settled. It’s a different feeling, a cool feeling. It’s such a big show now. They’ve skipped ahead to the meat of the story and chopped out all the fat. I don’t know how they’re going to shoot it all. They built a whole city. We’re gonna wrap it up in an exciting way. It’s one of those lucky histories where all the details are a bit vague, so we can fill it with all the interesting plot points we want. People will die in different times and all sorts of exciting adventures. Every script that I’ve read has included something to surprise me.

Will your character go through some changes in this next season?

LM: Yeah. He’s very much business now. He’s sort of closed the chapter on his personal journey and now he’s really trying to embrace his search for freedom. And it’s been a challenge because everything in acting is about relationships, so you can’t just play some general who is just out to win the war. But that’s kind of the story he’s got now. So that personal battle he’s been fighting is now in the past. He’s no longer facing combatants in front of thousands of people in the arena. His new role actually weighs heavier on him. He’s got to be there as a warrior general to win this thing for his followers. For all intents and purposes, it’s a seemingly impossible undertaking. Every episode is very heavy.

How do you feel about being a general this season?

LM: It’s nice for a change. One of the interesting things about being Spartacus this season is that he’s a general, but every chick he’s with dies. They’ve really upped the stakes this time. It’s very fresh. I don’t know how they’ve taken a basically “upstairs-downstairs” story and turned it into a battle royale story.

Historically, we know what happens to Spartacus. Will there be an upbeat ending of sorts in this final season?

LM: I haven’t read the ending but I have a feeling that they’re going to put a nice spin on the ending. It’s gonna be a heart breaker. It’s gonna have a nice message. By definition, it’s going to be a heavy ending.

Is there still a bit of friendly competition among the male cast?

LM: I didn’t stop training. Last season, I was a skinny dude and training my butt off, hoping maybe I’d be up for the role. So this season, I trained really hard. When I came to boot camp, I said, you know what, I’m going to be really good at this. And I’m not doing too bad. I was never able to run very well, but I was competitive. It’s one of the best places to put a cast together. You’re in an environment where you work together and you fight together, and it feels like the war you’re about to go through in the story. It’s pretty cool.

 

 

Twilight’s Anna Kendrick Talks About Paranorman

In the 3D stop-motion animated adventure/comedy, Paranorman, the small New England town of Blithe Hollow comes under siege by the undead. Only a misunderstood local boy, Norman Babcock, who has the ability to speak with the dead, is able to prevent the destruction of his town from a centuries-old witch’s curse. He takes on ghosts, witches, zombies and worst of all, the moronic grown-ups around him.

Anna Kendrick is the voice of Courtney, Norman’s obnoxious older sister. I recently joined a handful of other journalists in a round table Q&A with Kendrick. We wanted to know how this talented actress approached her first-ever animated film.

What’s it like voicing an animated film?

Anna Kendrick: I always wanted to do an animated film, so I jumped at the opportunity. This was my first one. I was really nervous, because I’m not ADR rated (Automated Dialogue Replacement), so I wasn’t sure how it was going to be, but it was actually really freeing. With an ADR, you’re watching the movie and you’re trying to say your lines. You feel like you’re in a really safe space. You realize it’s okay to make really ugly faces or really ugly body gestures, and to use all those things as tools was really helpful—all without being conscious about the way you look on camera.

What can you say about your character in Paranorman?

photos by Alex A. Kecskes

AK: She’s your typical obnoxious older sister. She’s really embarrassed by her younger brother. Even though her brother is extraordinary and ends up saving the town, she thinks he’s annoying and she wants him to be normal and do normal things. Unlike Stacey in Scott Pilgrim vs the World, Courtney doesn’t have her brother’s best interests at heart. She’s a selfish cheerleader type. At first, there’s not a lot of love from Courtney toward her brother.

Do you see yourself as the character when Courtney’s animated?

AK: Yeah. There are some things, like I would always bend at my waist. Kind of side to side, like I was really tired. So world weary that I couldn’t hold my own body up, which is a very teenage girl thing. I think Courtney does that.

How do you find the direction different from live action films?

AK: It depends on the director, but the difference for me is that I get to hear what they want and do it immediately. They tell me what they want, and the second my brain processes it, I say it and try it. When a director on a film set says, action, you get to sit there and stew with it for like five minutes for them to get ready, change the lights, re-set the camera and what not. So that’s the time you can get re-set in your head and you say, ok, yeah, I’ll try that.

Did you get to record with anyone else or are you always by yourself?

AK: I got to record my first day with Casey Affleck. He’s never done animated voice work, either. It was a great way to start out, especially because, by the end of the day, we were getting more comfortable with it and it became a bit competitive to see who was willing to embarrass themselves more.

Were there any improv moments where you were allowed to vary from the script?

AK: Yeah, Yeah, that was the other great thing about having Casey there. I have a crush on him in the film. So we got to do a lot of stuff. The directors were so open to improv because the process is so slow and precise that those moments of spontaneity are so important. Like anything you can do to keep the process spontaneous helps them later.

How much of the visual elements did you have in front of you to figure out how to interpret the character?

AK: They showed me the picture of the puppet and it was not what I expected at all. She’s got hips on her, which is cool, so I liked that. It certainly made me feel that I could go really far in the characterization, and not just seeing Courtney, but seeing all the characters and discovering their world and the tone that went with it.

Was it different to act out the character in an animated film?

AK: Yeah, because in a film, you get to throw your whole body into it. And you can’t help but be aware that you’re on film, and you want to be able to look at this piece of film and not go, Oh, my God, why did I do that scene with my mouth, or why did I do that thing with my hands, like what kind of weird tick is that? But with animated films, you can throw everything into it. And I did spend a lot time in the booth with my hands on my shoulders and my feet all twisted underneath me.

Do you find yourself overly emoting because you’re in a booth doing voice only?

AK: Yeah. It’s definitely a heightened universe. I was certainly trying not to do a cartoony voice. The directors are really grounded in real emotion and they’re all about the story. You never felt like you were doing cartoony stuff, but it definitely felt like a heightened world.

Did you audition for the role of Courtney?

AK: No, they just offered it to me. And it was a thrill. I thought it was because of my work in Twilight because I play a similar character in that. I’m not exactly sure what the process is, but they talked about taking audio from my interviews and Casey Affleck’s interviews and cutting them together to hear what our voices sound like side by side. And I asked them if that was normal and Chris (Butler) is like, yeah, it’s pretty normal. And Sam (Fell) was standing behind him going, No, that’s not the typical process.

How do you deal with that process, stuff that you didn’t know would be an audition?

AK: Well, I guess it would only be kind of a bummer if they tried it and said, Oh God, no.

With all the other animated films out there, what will set this one apart?

AK: I think this form of stop motion is sort of a dying breed and it’s wonderful that people are still so committed to it. The level of artistry is really admirable. I have nothing but respect for all forms of animation, but there is something really special about the people who are so passionate about this art form that they do what they do.

What’s it like seeing your character on the screen while you’re in the sound booth?

AK: You’re watching yourself and you’re tying to match up to your voice. You’re waiting on those horrifying BEEPs—they haunt my dreams. Usually when you’re on set and somebody calls, action, some actors will say to themselves, they’re ready, so when I’m ready, I’ll start. With those BEEPS, you’re literally waiting and waiting to get this line and do it right. It’s the pressure of ADR.

An Interview with Hunger Games’ Willow Shields and Amandla Stenberg

photos by Alex A. Kecskes

Unless you’ve been abducted by aliens or stranded on a remote island, you’ve heard of Suzanne Collins’ trilogy, The Hunger Games. If you’re a fan, you’ve read her books at least three times and seen the first film as many times.

In Collins’ futuristic tale, North America (now called Panem) is divided into 12 Districts. In this cruel, dictatorial society, two teens (tributes) from each district are forced to fight to the death in annual televised Hunger Games. The film features Jennifer Lawrence as Katniss Everdeen and Josh Hutcherson as Peeta Mellark, two tributes who pit their skills against other teens to survive.

Once selected by weighted lottery, each of the 24 tributes are trained for combat and groomed for live TV. In the first film, Katniss’ 12-year-old sister, Primrose (Willow Shields) is initially drawn to compete, but Katniss comes to her rescue to take her place. Once the games begin, Katniss forms an alliance with Rue (Amandla Stenberg), a 12-year old girl from district 10 with uncanny abilities in climbing, plant harvesting and whistling to mockingjays (genetically altered birds that can hear a conversation or song and replay it perfectly). While Prim lives on (to possibly compete in another Hunger Game), little Rue is killed in what many regard as one of the most poignant death scenes in the film.

I recently sat down with Willow and Amandla at a press round table in San Diego’s Hard Rock Hotel. I was joined by a handful of fellow journalists and we were quickly impressed by the maturity and demeanor of both girls. The questioning began, as it most often does in San Diego, with Comic-con.

So how are you guys enjoying Comic-con?

Willow: We love it. Amandla: We love it. It’s pretty awesome. Seeing all the costumes is the best part.

Did you see a lot of Hunger Games costumes?

Willow: We saw a Katniss costume. Amandla: And Lara Croft. We also saw the alien from Prometheus.

Now that you’ve done Hunger Games, do you get recognized when you’re out?

Willow: Yeah. We can’t go anywhere without someone recognizing us. Amandla: Yeah. They’ll go, “Oh, you’re Rue” or “Oh, you’re Prim.” For me, if I’m wearing my hair up, I’m like whoever. But if I’m wearing it down, the reaction is, My God, it’s Rue!

Have you guys seen the (Hunger Games) DVDs yet?

Willow: No, we haven’t. Amandla: There was a camera on the set every day. Filming stuff behind the scenes, so we got a glimpse of what was being filmed.

Willow: It’s going to be really cool to see us goofing off and being ourselves. Amandla: People have to realize that we are not like our characters.

Willow: I’m not Prim, I’m Willow. Amandla: Everyone just calls me Rue now.

Have you guys seen your action figures?

Amandla: I just got it. I was playing with it. It’s pretty cool, yeah. Willow: I’m hoping to get mine.

Have both of you read Susanne Collins’ books?

Willow: Yes. We’re big fans. Amandla: Yes, I was a fan girl before I even auditioned. I was super nervous during my audition and super stoked when I got the part.

What was the audition like?

Amandla: I actually went on two auditions. There was one on the show with the casting director, Debra Zane, who gave me advice for the callback, which was to dress up like Rue. The next audition was at director Gary Ross’ house, where I completely dressed in torn clothes, with mud all over me, and leaves in my hair and everything. And he has a really nice house, of course. So I had to be really careful walking through the house to keep from leaving a trail of mud. And I couldn’t sit with everyone else. I had to sit on this stool instead of the nice suede furniture.

Did you meet Susanne Collins?

Willow: Yes.

Amandla: Yes. I met her at the premiere. And on location in North Carolina during filming. She came for my death scene and she gave me advice.

How hard was it to do the death scene?

Amandla: It was hard and kind of weird. I tried to get into the mindset of Rue and imagine what she might have been thinking as she was dying.

When you saw the film with an audience for the first time, what went through your head? Were you looking at the screen or the audience?

Amandla: It’s funny because, you’re looking up at the screen and you’re thinking, do they even know who’s sitting next to them? Actually, the first time I went to see it was with my friends and family. And, of course, my death scene had just appeared and my best friend was literally sobbing. She was a bit terrified. So I said, “it’s okay, I’m right here. I’m not dead, I’m alive.” And I’m trying to make her feel better. So she turned to me and she said, “Shhhh, you’re ruining the scene.”

Do you get a lot of reaction during the death scene?

Amandla: Yeah. They’ll say, “Oh, I cried when you died.” I get a lot of that when I’m signing autographs. Like what do you say to that–I’m sorry?

Willow, have you talked to Francis (Lawrence) yet?

Willow: I have not talked to him, but I’m really excited to work with him. Gary was an amazing director and I’m really sad to see him go. I’m really excited to see what transforms with Catching Fire.

In this the first film you got to work primarily with Jennifer? Who are you looking forward to working with now?

Willow: I’m excited to work with Josh Hutcherson and Woody Harrelson. They’re both amazing actors and I’m looking forward to doing scenes with them.

What’s been the reaction of your parents? Are they treating you differently now?

Willow: No. Not really. Amandla: No. They’re not treating me differently–so I won’t act differently, if that makes sense.

What scenes affected you most?

Amandla: The death scene affected me most, even just reading it in the book. I was ten years old and listening to the book on tape. I wondered why? How could this happen? People always ask me if I cried when I saw myself die. But I think you have to be really self involved to react that way. Like, oh, my God, what’s the world going to do without me? What actually made me cry was the cornucopia scene. It was so disturbing and shocking to see all my friends beating each other up and stabbing each other. That was so weird to see.

Is there anything in the movie that surprised you the way it turned out?

Amandla: When you’re shooting a movie, you don’t really know what it’s going to look like.

Willow: Everything was different when we saw it on film, compared to when you’re shooting.

What was it like living in what must have seemed like a ghost town where you were filming?

Amandla: Like with Katniss running with her bow and arrow, you see a background of beat up old houses. We actually shot in an abandoned little village. There was this old house with creaking stairs and old props and it was kind of scary.

Talking about the cornucopia scene, there are some really strong ideas Suzanne Collins was trying to convey in her trilogy. Was being inside this story changed the way you look at the world outside?

Amandla: Yeah. What’s so powerful about the book is that there’s no werewolves or vampires. It’s a very powerful message in that her world is not that far from our own. It’s like a warning or prediction. So I think that definitely had an effect on me. Willow: Yeah.

What’s next for both of you?

Willow: Catching Fire for me. And then a TV show called the “Haunting Hour.” Amandla: I have a couple of projects in the works that I can’t talk about yet.

Interview with Rachel Boston on “It’s a Disaster”

Born and raised in Tennessee, Rachel Boston is best known as Detective Abigail Chaffee in the TV series “In Plain Sight” and as Daphne Bloom in “The Ex List.” Her long and varied TV credits also include Erin Sinclaire in “Mad Love,” Tanya Leterre in “Scoundrels,” Beth Mason in “American Dreams” and appearances in such hit shows as “NCIS” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” More recently, Boston starred in 500 Days of Summer, Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and The Pill.

In the upcoming It’s a Disaster, Boston joins Julia Stiles, Erinn Hayes, David Cross, America Ferrera, Todd Berger, Jesse Draper and Jeff Grace in an end-of-world satire. The film centers around four couples who meet for Sunday brunch only to discover they’re stuck in a house together as the world is about to end. In this one-on-one interview, Boston reveals her insights into this quirky disaster-comedy and her varied, successful acting career. Read more