RICHARD LEMAY ON 'DEMENTIA 13'

Richard LeMay is the director of the gay-themed dramas 200 AMERICAN (2003), WHIRLWIND (2007) and NAKED AS WE COME (2012), and the forthcoming horror films DEMENTIA 13 (2017, a remake of a 1963 Francis Coppola film) and BLOOD BOUND (2018). Le May also produced CHILDREN OF GOD (2010) and directed episodes of the TV series The Mind of a Murderer.  I spoke with LeMay about making the transition to horror films, the horror films he admires the most, how he approached remaking Coppola, and what we can expect from BLOOD BOUND.        

What made you decide to make the transition from dramas to horror movies with DEMENTIA 13 and also the forthcoming BLOOD BOUND? 
I've always wanted to do horror. It's my favorite genre. In the past, I had toyed with other horror stories but never committed. I think that there's a certain amount of technical skill as a director on a horror film that I didn't feel I had at the time. But currently, I'm really excited to be working on the projects I have now. And there's a few more horror movies coming up as well.

In what ways was adapting to a new genre a challenge? 
I don't think there was any thought to adapting to a new genre. I look at all movies as dramas, even comedies. I think that if your feet are planted on the ground in whatever reality you create, then it's good storytelling. For the characters in DEMENTIA 13, they are really just a disfunctional family dealing with their own personal stuff. What happens to them as the film goes on is the horror element. I think the best horror movies play like a drama that gets out of hand.

What are some of the horror movies you look up to the most? 
I'm a huge horror fan, and always have been, since I was a kid. I think for me, movies like ROSEMARY'S BABY (1968) and THE EXORCIST (1973) are timeless. They play like a period piece and not an outdated movie. There was also THE BELIEVERS (1987)  from the 80's, starring Martin Sheen which creeped me out. I think all of the classics have a genuine dramatic arc to them. That's why we connect to them beyond just the scares. The same goes for current films like THE WITCH (2015) and IT COMES AT NIGHT (2017). These are stand outs in the genre.

How familiar were you with the original DEMENTIA 13? 
I wasn't familiar with the original. Dan De Filippo brought me to the project and got the conversation going with Chiller Films about making the film. After that I watched the film a couple of times.

What interested you the most about remaking it? In what ways did you want to make it a different experience or expand or subvert against expectations for audience members familiar with the film? 
I think that besides the fact that a legend made the original, I thought that the script was fast paced and kept you guessing. I like that. As far as intentionally setting out to subvert expectations for audiences, I just wanted to make a good film. Let's be real, Francis Ford Coppola made the original. I'm never going to out-do him. I idolize him, so I knew that if I got to direct this, I would try my best to do it justice. And I think that was the general intention for all of us on set, just respect the original and still try to put our stamp on it. There are many nods to the original as well, so hopefully fans will get a kick out of that. But I do think there are some new elements to the remake that will make people jump.

Did you want to introduce more humor to the new version? 
I think there's a lot of humor in family dysfunction. For me, that's the humor. There comes a point in the film when nobody's laughing, so in the beginning we definitely tried to lighten it up.

Was it always your intention to retain the title of the Coppola film? 
Yes. I feel like, if you're going to do a remake, you might as well embrace the original title.

You are known for your acclaimed dramas that focus on gay characters and themes. How do you feel the representation of gay-related stories and the audience for them has developed in the mainstream over the years following your films and other films like BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN (2005)? Is it your hope that eventually such stories will find more of a place or even more of a place in the mainstream and be seen as universal stories as well as gay stories? 
Good question. I think the current climate in film and television is light years away from what it was 20 years ago. I think the mainstream has opened much wider in the last 10 years to stories of all walks of life. Yes. I think at the end of the day, we are all people. There's only so many times you can tell ROMEO AND JULIET. Eventually, it won't even be an issue, especially with the kids these days. They are so much more open and accepting. It's definitely a different world than when I grew up. So I do believe that in the not so distant future, there won't be much of a distinction between gay/straight film content. 

What can you say about BLOOD BOUND, and do you see yourself continuing in the horror genre in the near future? 
BLOOD BOUND is a story about a family of witches who come to a small, rural town to perform an ancient ritual. It's starring Eden Brolin (I DREAM TOO MUCH, the TV series Beyond) and Eric Nelsen (A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES, THE BAY). I can't say enough about this project. The cast was unbelievable. I think people are going to be blown away by Eden Brolin's performance. But it's a creepy, dark story with a few surprises at the end. I just completed that film, so expect to see it next year. Next up is a horror film called DARK HOLLOW. That's in developement now. I also just finished my first novel Wrightsville, which is not horror, but it's a wild ride. I just feel fortunate to be able to work on projects I love. Exciting stuff.

DEMENTIA 13 will be released in theaters on October 6th, and on VOD and Digital HD on October 10th. BLOOD BOUND opens in 2018. 

The trailer to DEMENTIA 13. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

AN INTERVIEW WITH DARRYL PONICSAN (PART 1 OF 3)

Darryl Ponicsan is the author of thirteen novels, including his debut, 1970's The Last Detail, which was made as a classic film by Hal Ashby, with Jack Nicholson, Randy Quaid and Otis Young. Ponicsan recently adapted his sequel, 2005's Last Flag Flying, into a new film, directed by Richard Linklater and featuring Steve Carell, Bryan Cranston and Laurence Fishburne. His list of credits as a screenwriter are staggering - Mark Rydell's CINDERELLA LIBERTY (1973), which he adapted from his novel; three films with Harold Becker - TAPS (1981), which featured early appearances from Tom Cruise, Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton, the inspirational sports drama/ romance VISION QUEST (1985) with Matthew Modine and Linda Fiorentino, and the drug drama THE BOOST (1988), with James Woods and Sean Young; Martin Ritt's intense drama NUTS (1987) with Barbra Streisand; Robert Mandel's sports drama SCHOOL TIES (1992), which featured early appearances from Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, Brendan Fraser, and Chris O' Donnell; and Sydney Pollack's romantic drama RANDOM HEARTS (1999) with Harrison Ford and Kristin-Scott Thomas. In the first part of a three-part interview, I spoke with Ponicsan about his earliest cinematic experiences, the process of how he became a writer, and his experiences of working on the screenplays to (briefly) THE LAST DETAIL (1973) and CINDERELLA LIBERTY.

Growing up, how important was cinema for you? What were some of the most memorable experiences for you? 
My mother was a big movie fan and she started taking me to the movies even before I was born. She came up with the name Darryl because she saw a movie produced by Darryl F. Zanuck and she liked that name. In those days it was a very rare name. As a birthday gift when I was 6 or 7 or 8, she let me ditch school and go to movies. I would go and see a matinee. The earliest movie I recall seeing was THE SULLIVANS (1944) about a group of brothers who all go down with a ship during WW2. As a teenager I was crazy about Marlon Brando. I thought every movie he did was wonderful, especially THE WILD ONE (1953), where he plays the head of a motorcycle gang. That movie turned my life around and made me want a motorcycle. Then James Dean came on the scene. It was uncanny because in those days I bore a striking resemblance to him. My son, who is now in his forties, also bore a striking resemblance to him when he was in his twenties. It was a tragic loss when Dean died because this was one of the great actors of his time. I was always drawn to intense, smaller dramas than the big pictures.

Were you an avid reader growing up? What kinds of stories attracted you? 
I wasn't an avid reader. I probably wrote more stories than I read, although I did read comic books and I may have read some Jack London or Mark Twain. It wasn't until I got into college that I started seriously reading with some passion and I've been a reader since then. But when I was very young I was never the kind of kid who would stay up late with a flashlight reading. I was always out on the street, running with the gang, doing things.

What do you think compelled you to write? 
In the fourth grade we had a teacher that just ignored us. Left to our own devices, we just started telling stories, and then I started writing them down. I went to a very small high school and I wrote the high school class play. I didn't think much of it. It was just a lark. But once I got into college I started seriously writing poetry and short stories. Something just kind of clicked when I was 17 or 18.

What kind of stories were you writing? 
I got involved with the campus literary magazine and I think even then I was interested in racial matters in the United States. When I was a kid there was still segregation in the South. The first time I ever went to the South I was probably 18, 19, 20 years old and it was just an absolute shock to see separate drinking fountains and separate restrooms and so on. That flavored some of my early stuff, and I was always I was looking for the O Henry surprise ending and that kind of thing. It was a slow evolution process from that early imitative stuff to things that were pretty serious.

Your work is very observant and perceptive about human behavior. Would you say you have always been interested in human behavior from an early age? 
The answer is yes but I think what happened in my case is that I have a very good ear for dialogue. Plus I grew up in an odd little coal mining town that was very diverse and almost had its own patois that always fascinated me. Every day of my life growing up in the town there was great drama, with mine cave-ins and violence but also comedy. It wasn't a matter of going out and observing it - you couldn't escape it. I always sought out as a young guy the more interesting places to be – bars and bus stations and train stations and cafes and all of that. I was never drawn to the upper classes or the country clubs. The writer John O'Hara grew up 14 miles from me and we are like night and day. His interest was always in rich people. I was always interested in the people at the bottom of the ladder.

I believe your agent talked you out of trying to get hired to write the screenplay to THE LAST DETAIL. Why did he do that? 
I think he had a really good point. He was an agent that was really interested in his clients for the long term. He was interested in their lives and wanted to protect them, and in my case I was brand new and he loved my novel The Last Detail and we had great success with it. He said ''You know, if you don't get on a second novel like right now, the odds are good that you never will. '' He had seen this before, where somebody had sold a novel to be filmed and got involved with the movie and never went back to writing novels. So he advised against it and I said ''That's probably a good idea '', and got going on a second novel. But during the course of trying to get THE LAST DETAIL made they hit a snag and they asked me to work on the script for two weeks. That was the first time I even saw a script. I worked on it but I don't think I added much to it. It wasn't until I was hired to adapt my own book, Cinderella Liberty, that I really began to learn the grammar of filmmaking. Even though the LAST DETAIL and CINDERELLA LIBERTY movies came out the same weekend, I had written three books (including Cinderella Liberty) since writing the Last Detail novel, which put me in a good position. There was a period there where I did nothing but write screenplays. I didn't publish a book for eight or ten years.

Why did they bring you in to work on the LAST DETAIL script? 
All screenplays at some point hit a snag and they look for someone to bail them out. I honestly can't remember what the issue was. For me the issue was the ending but that didn't interest them, they were more interested in some character stuff. I tried to push for a different ending but thank goodness they went with the ending that they had. I don't think there would have been a sequel, Last Flag Flying, if they hadn't written it that way. Now I think it was the absolute right ending but it took me a while to come around. It's right dramatically but in terms of narrative and the philosophy of what the characters had gone through.

What was your problem with the ending? 
I thought at the time the ending was abrupt, which was kind of the style in those days. More importantly, I felt the two chasers had to pay the price for completing a detail they knew was wrong. They had to deal with the conflict between duty and morality. But they were dealing with that throughout the movie, I came to realise. In terms of story structure, the movie was over when they delivered the kid. I came to accept that, but I didn't at the time. Robert Towne, the screenwriter, made the argument that they woukd never be off the hook for what they did. They would have to carry it their whole lives. He was right, and thanks to that, Last Flag Flying became possible. We see in the three characters that they have been carrying this moral burden for 34 years. They see an opportunity to shake it off finally during this, their final mission. That moment answers the central question of the movie, and I'm not even sure that the audience will recognise it at the climax. Rick Linklater shot the scene with an understatement that amazes me.

What was the experience like of seeing the film version of THE LAST DETAIL for the first time, with your work being re-interpreted on screen? 
The problem with a writer seeing a movie version of his novel, especially if he's not involved in the making of it, is that you wind up only seeing what's missing. You regret certain scenes that didn't make it. It takes some time and seasoning before you can get used to that and realise that's the way it's going to be.

With adapting your novel Cinderella Liberty where did you start? 
The book has a great sense of absurdity about it and so that's what I saw in the movie. In my first draft, that's what I had. Then when I started working with the director Mark Rydell, he saw the movie in a totally different way, and over a period of time I got swung in that direction. I thought ''Why not?'' It became more of an improbable love story, which was fine. Writing the screenplay was a long process.

Did you enjoy working with Mark Rydell? 
Yes and no. He's a difficult person. On the other hand he's a very engaging and amusing guy, but he has a dark side. We had a lot of disagreements. I remember at the time he thought I didn't take film seriously, which really kind of struck me. We would watch a film together and I would say ''This film is too good to be successful. The story is so good'', and he thought I had contempt for the medium. It made me seriously think about whether it was true, but it wasn't true, although I did have contempt for some of the people involved in films. It's a tough business. Hearts are broken every day in trying to make a film. It's always a miracle when something good comes out. It's just the nature of the beast. Mark and I had a long relationship. It was sometimes contentious, but all is forgiven now!

When you were writing the script, were any other scripts you admired on your mind? 
No. One of the things that bothers me about filmmaking is that in the initial meetings and pitches they say things like ''This movie is like ON THE WATERFRONT meets MARTY'' . They always come up with two or three pictures to describe the movie they want to do and I always thought that was just death. You'll never be an original if you go into a movie saying it's going to be like other movies. I always go in trying to make a movie that's not like anything else. LAST FLAG FLYING is an example. It's simply not like anything out there. It's just a very human, very timely piece. There are no guns in it, there's no sex, no CGI. You'll have the sense when you're watching it that it's original.

Why do you think your time in the Navy has proved such a fertile ground for material? 
It was so unlike the life that I had lived up to that point, which was college and graduate school and teaching high school. I knew that I was going to get stuck in a rut if I didn't break away from that so when they offered me tenure at the high school I was teaching at, I turned it down and joined the Navy instead. I really did want to open up another world. Shortly afterwards I wondered if I had made one of the biggest mistakes of my life but now I think it was one of the best moves I ever made. None of what happened would have happened if I hadn't joined the Navy or certainly I would have become a much different kind of writer. I would have been more influenced by academia and those kinds of stories.

Was there something in common with the people who had enlisted or found themselves in the Navy? 
One of the interesting things about being in the Services is that you are going to meet and get very intimate with people that are absolutely unlike you or anybody you know. Quite often you may be comrades and you may depend upon each other, for instance when you are out at sea, but when it's all over, you have to get rid of them and be away from them. The reunion in Last Flag Flying is interesting for that reason. There's only one of the three in the group that really wants to be together again. The others couldn't care less. They wanted to put their past behind them. It makes an interesting dynamic.

Part two of the interview. 

LAST FLAG FLYING opens in the US on November 3rd. 

The trailer to the film. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

BARRY WARD ON 'REALIVE'

REALIVE is the new film from Spanish filmmaker Mateo Gil, who worked on the screenplays to the Alejandro Amenabar films TESIS (1996), OPEN YOUR EYES (1997 - remade in 2001 as VANILLA SKY), THE SEA INSIDE (2004) and AGORA (2009), wrote and directed NOBODY KNOWS ANYBODY (1999), and directed the Western BLACKTHORN (2011) with Sam Shepard as an older Butch Cassidy. REALIVE continues Gil's fascination with how far humans will go to escape the realities of mortality, and the ethical issues posed by the possibilities of developing technology. Marc (Tom Hughes, CEMETERY JUNCTION), faced with terminal cancer, has his body cryogenically frozen, and is resuscitated seventy years later, and has to wrestle with the realities of his decision. It's a thought-provoking, atmospheric sci-fi drama that also features Charlotte Le Bon (THE WALK, ANTHROPOID), Oona Chaplin (the Tom Hardy TV series Taboo) and Irish actor Barry Ward as Dr. West, the man in charge of the cryonics program. Ward is an experienced, gifted actor who hails from Ireland and has worked extensively in film and on TV. He made his debut in the 1994 TV mini-series Family, directed by Michael Winterbottom, who also later directed him in THE CLAIM  (2000). In 2014, Ken Loach selected Ward as the lead in his acclaimed drama JIMMY'S HALL. I spoke with Ward about what attracted him to REALIVE, his experience making the film, and working previously with Michael Winterbottom and Ken Loach.
     
What was your first impression of the script to REALIVE? 
When I read the script I was struck by the nature of the issues it deals with as they are not often present in contemporary cinema - namely ethics, mortality and scientific enquiry.

How closely did you relate to the themes of the movie? 
I can say I have an intellectual curiosity in said issues, without experiential references: To qualify, Mateo's movies are thought experiments.

What excited you the most about the opportunity to make the movie? 
Mateo always maintained that we were not making a sci-fi film, but a drama set in the future. That said, these future dramatic scenarios appealed to me immensely. I saw it as a great opportunity to research and explore recent scientific developments and the philosophical questions such events pose.

What was the experience like of working with Mateo Gil? 
Working with Mateo was an absolute joy and a pleasure. I read once that he's less a film-maker than a philosopher who makes movies. He inhabits an interesting place, in that regard.

Were you familiar with Mateo's other work as a director and his scripts for OPEN YOUR EYES, THE SEA INSIDE and TESIS? How much of a fan were you? 
I was really only familiar with his work through reputation. I had not seen, but heard lots about, his work. He has fine pedigree, and occupies a very interesting space in the world of films.

Do you usually respond to science fiction movies? What unique things do you feel they can accomplish? 
I do respond to sci-fi films, yes, though not especially. There are obvious classics which I've watched, and I can say they are a joy to watch, but I've not had many sci-fi scripts sent my way. I am definitely interested in making more in the future. I think as a genre sci-fi is uniquely placed to deal with issues other genres find less accommodating. I think for this and other reasons it will always endure. If movies offer up a mirror to reality, sci-fi is multi-faceted: it can be clearer, opaque, transparent, askew. I think all forms of communication are inherently metaphoric; sci-fi offers a larger glossary, an enriched vocabulary.

What was the greatest thing you took away from the experience of making the film? 
One takes away lots of great things from every film shoot, but specifically with REALIVE, perhaps challenging the (commonplace) fear of public speaking was something. Contrary to popular belief, a lot of actors share that fear. (For me to call it a fear is perhaps an exaggeration. I don't fear it as much as dislike it.) I also made some great friends on that shoot. Charlotte Le Bon is a great talent, and super funny. Julio Peron is like the Spanish 'Dude'. And one cannot help but learn lots from Mateo Gil.

You shot the film in Spain with a largely Spanish crew and actors from different countries. How was that experience? 
The shoot involved a truly international cast & crew. French-Canadian, Irish, Spanish-American, Hawaiian, Afro-Colombian, Belgian. It was certainly the most mixed race experience of my life, and as a result very eye-opening. It made it all the more interesting and joyous. An Irish actor once said to me that 'actors are a tribe'. I think there's truth in that.

Is the opportunity to travel the world and work with people from all over the world one of the things you enjoy the most about being an actor? 
Yes, the opportunity to work abroad and with people of various races and creeds is a hugely attractive part of the profession for me. A perk, if you will. It's eye-opening at every turn.

You made your debut in the TV mini-series Family, directed by Michael Winterbottom. You later worked with him on THE CLAIM (2000). I believe Winterbottom to be one of the most extraordinary filmmakers out there. How did working with him help your growth as an actor? 
Michael Winterbottom, along with casting director Leo Davis, street-cast me as a 13 year old. To say he helped my growth as an actor is an understatement. Before then I had no acting experience or desire. Safer to say I was a seed he stumbled upon, whereupon he planted and watered me.

Would you say working with Ken Loach on JIMMY'S HALL a huge learning experience for you? What kind of a director is Loach? 
Almost twenty years later to the day, Ken Loach cast me in my first ever film lead role. Of course it was a massive learning experience, and one in which I was politicised to a far greater degree than ever before. As a director he is no different to how he is as a man- kind, insightful, mindful, funny and inspiring. Every actor who has ever worked with him will tell you he is the best. No experience can ever come close. He's a real actor's director. Everything feels set in place to coax the best performance possible. And all for a good cause! His films are most important.

Can you talk about some of the work you have coming out soon? 
Coming out soon are MAZE, the true story of a prison breakout in Northern Ireland, 1983, and three TV series: The End Of The Fucking World for Channel 4/Netflix; Britannia for Sky Atlantic/Amazon and Save Me, also for Sky.

REALIVE is being released in theaters on September 29 and on VOD and Digital HD on October 3.  

The trailer for REALIVE. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

AN INTERVIEW WITH BRAHIM ACHABBAKHE

Brahim Achabakke is a French stunt co-ordinator, stuntman and actor who has recently started to focus on acting, appearing as the villain opposite Scott Adkins in BOYKA: UNDISPUTED (2016). Achabbakhe has worked with the likes of Jean Claude Van Damme (POUND OF FLESH, THE EAGLE PATH), Jackie Chan (four films including DRAGON BLADE), Michael Jai White, Tony Jaa,  Keanu Reeves (MAN OF TAI CHI), Jason Statham (MECHANIC: RESURRECTION) and famed fight choreographer Yuen Woo-Ping. I spoke with him about falling in love with martial arts, entering the film industry, his experiences as a stuntman and stunt co-ordinator and making the transition to lead acting.   

What made you fall in love with martial arts? 
I used to watch a lot of Jackie Chan movies when I was young and they made me fall in love with martial arts. I loved the action and Jackie Chan's physicality.

Who were some of the other action heroes you enjoyed growing up? 
I really liked Jean Claude Van Damme, Jet Li, and others.

You first studied akikido before studying karate. What is the benefit of mastering more than one discipline? 
Aikido was a good place to start because there was a lot of falling and locking with the wrist and so on. Later on I wanted to add kicking and punching so I began studying budo, the Japanese martial arts.

How did these disciplines change your life? 
Studying martial arts has changed me from the inside but also the outside in that it has given me a lot of opportunities, like working in film.

How did you first get involved in doing stunts for films? 
Back in 2007 I travelled to Thailand to try and get into the movie industry, and it took me six months to get work. It wasn't easy at all.

Who were your mentors when you were performing stunts? 
I have worked with a lot of people. I worked with a guy called Tim Man, with Yuen Woo-Ping, and Jackie Chan's stunt team. I have learned a lot on each job I have done.

What were some of the most dangerous or challenging scenes you have worked on? 
Back in the day I jumped off a 19 floor building and I did a lot of high falls from 12 meters with a descender.

Do you prefer stunt co-ordinating to stunt performing? How different is it for you? 
Actually, I like performing more. When you're a stunt co-ordinator it's more behind the scenes. I like my place to be more in front of the camera.

How do you prefer your fight scenes to look on film? 
When I shoot fight scenes I like to shoot from far and use a very wide angle, so I can show everything that is happening in the scene. I also like to avoid using wires as much as I can.

What do you think about the quality of martial arts action in mainstream, big budget films? 
On the big-budget films there are a lot of people who want to have their say, and often the action is cut very fast to make the audience believe the actor is doing the work, when really it's a stunt double. What I like about the lower budget films is that there are less people on the crew but the quality of the action is far higher than the high budget movies.

You have worked with some big martial arts stars and actors. What was it like working with the likes of Van Damme, Jason Statham, and Keanu Reeves? 
Statham is a perfectionist and likes to do all the fighting himself. He's always trying to make everything as realistic as possible. Keanu Reeves works hard to make the stunt team shine and look good. Van Damme is a very down to earth person and is more focussed on acting these days. Every one of them has something different.

Was it easy to progress to acting in films? 
No, it wasn't. People just want you to be a stuntman. I thought I should try acting while I am still young. It's a hard road because it's difficult to find steady acting work.

Was it hard for you to find your persona as an actor? 
Every time I act I just try to be as natural as possible and be myself in front of the camera. I am just using life experiences that I have had to create a character.

Which project has been the highlight of your career? 
I really liked working on BOYKA: UNDISPUTED IV with Scott Adkins. That was my best role. I played the villain, one of the lead characters and I had more lines and more dialogue than I ever had before. I got to create a character that was really believable onscreen.

Was it a challenge playing a villain? 
I love playing the villain. I think it's what I am good at. It was not a challenge at all. I already knew how to play it.

Has Scott Adkins been a mentor to you? 
He's more of a role model, someone that I was inspired by.

What is your goal for the next couple of years? 
I would like to get more lead roles in action movies and have the opportunity to express myself in front of the camera and do some great fight scenes that the audience can enjoy.

What are some of the other films that are on the way? 
I just finished a movie with Donnie Yen called BIG BROTHER, which I acted in. And I just worked as a fight choreographer on a Netflix show called The Legend of Monkey. It will air next year.

What do you love the most about living in Thailand? How does it compare to France, where you grew up?

The quality of life is much better here because the weather is warm and the cost of living is way cheaper. I've always loved spending time in Asia and it's great to be back in the place where I started. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

AN INTERVIEW WITH LEA THOMPSON (PART 3 OF 3)

Lea Thompson made her name as one of the most popular and talented young Hollywood actresses of the 80s, with her performances in films such as BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985) and its two sequels, JAWS 3-D (1983), ALL THE RIGHT MOVES (1983), THE WILD LIFE (1984), SPACE CAMP (1986), HOWARD THE DUCK (1986), and SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL (1987). She has continued to work successfully as an actress in film and on TV (most notably as the lead in Caroline in the City and Switched at Birth), whilst also breaking out as a director of episodic television and TV movies (the Jane Doe films). This year sees the release of her feature debut as a director, the comedy drama THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN, which also sees her collaborating with her daughters Madelyn and Zoey Deutch. In the second part of my three-part interview with Lea about her career, I spoke to her about HOWARD THE DUCK, and her experiences making the TV shows Caroline in the City and Switched at Birth. 

Parts one and two

You went from one big budget Spielberg production to a big budget George Lucas production, HOWARD THE DUCK. You must have expected similar success. How did you cope with the disappointment in how it was received? 
It was devastating. But I never felt it was going to be as big as BACK TO THE FUTURE. The script just wasn't as good. I felt it was a funny script though. I always appreciate puns, and maybe its a more British style of humor. Americans either don't understand puns or just don't like them. I do feel proud to have been in the first Marvel movie and be the first Marvel Princess. I think I did a good job holding myself together.

There must have been a moment where you thought ''Man, this is surreal.'' You're singing rock songs, acting with a guy in a duck suit and you even have a love scene with the duck. 
Oh yeah, every day I thought that. Everybody knew that literally and figuratively the duck didn't work. For a great deal of filming there was a 7 year old boy in that suit. It was brutal. I felt like I was torturing a child. It was so hot in that suit. Then they got a 19 year old boy to take over.

It's a big cult movie now. Many fans love it. 
I know. They're bringing it out on Blu-ray. They don't do that unless there's an audience. I haven't seen the film in years. My kids still haven't seen it completely. They turned it off once I was in bed with the duck! I actually think it's a lovely movie about an underdog, or 'underduck', and I love the iconoclasts who like the movie.

I think Howard the Underduck would make a great title. 
Marvel are gearing up to make a Howard the Duck movie. He was in both GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY movies. He looks a lot better than our Howard. As Lucas has said, if we had made the film now they could have made Howard look so much better.

What was Lucas like to work with? 
He was lovely. He worked on the music when I had the rock group scenes. He was around a lot then. Singing those songs was a scary experience.

I really enjoyed your performance in Jim Hemphill's THE TROUBLE WITH THE TRUTH. 
I really love that movie. It's magic. Sometimes that happens. It was another low-budget movie where we had all these locations that we had to figure out. I love how Jim made the film work. He made it almost like a thriller where you are on the edge of your seat wondering what is going to happen. You get so invested in the characters and you don't want to see them do the wrong thing. Jim has such discipline as a storyteller and a writer. It's one of the movies that I have made that I adore and I hope it continues to find its own little special audience.

What was the most challenging aspect of making it? 
There was a massive amount of dialogue. It's two people talking a lot of the time, and we would do 14-minute takes. There'd be 10 or 11 pages of dialogue every single take. Most scenes in movies are one or two pages long! It's very different kind of work. You have to rely on the acting and not on the cuts.

You've worked in two long-running shows – the sitcom CAROLINE IN THE CITY and the melodrama SWITCHED AT BIRTH. What is it like playing the same character over such a long period of time? 
Those two shows are super different animals. I did a hundred episodes of each, and they are a major part of your life, like five years. It's fun to have continuity of character. My dream now is to be part of the creative team of a show that lasts that long. It's really fun to create a story that can keep going and going and be part of a community you're used to being creative with. Sitcoms are really hard. They really require a lot of courage and concentration. It's a lot of pressure and I have respect for actors who appear in them.

How do you keep it fresh playing the same character? 
In a sitcom it's not hard to keep it fresh because there's an audience there and you barely know your lines and you're terrified of screwing up the jokes. On a drama it's a matter of being professional and staying grateful that you have a job!

It must feel like a big part of your life has ended when shows like these end. 
Yeah, it's so sad when you watch them tear down the set for the last time. The set had literally become your own living room for a long time. It's like that feeling when you move out of a house nad you look back at the empty house as you close the door. It's very bittersweet. Now I'm building a career as a director for TV where I go and do an episode and then I leave, and that's a weird feeling too. 


THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN will be released in US theaters in November 2017. 

Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.

AN INTERVIEW WITH LEA THOMPSON (PART 2 OF 3)

Lea Thompson made her name as one of the most popular and talented young Hollywood actresses of the 80s, with her performances in films such as BACK TO THE FUTURE (1985) and its two sequels, JAWS 3-D (1983), ALL THE RIGHT MOVES (1983), THE WILD LIFE (1984), SPACE CAMP (1986), HOWARD THE DUCK (1986), and SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL (1987). She has continued to work successfully as an actress in film and on TV (most notably as the lead in Caroline in the City and Switched at Birth), whilst also breaking out as a director of episodic television and TV movies (the Jane Doe films). This year sees the release of her feature debut as a director, the comedy drama THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN, which also sees her collaborating with her daughters Madelyn and Zoey Deutch. In the second part of my three-part interview with Lea about her career, I spoke to her about her beginnings as a dancer, and her experiences making JAWS 3-D, ALL THE RIGHT MOVES, RED DAWN, BACK TO THE FUTURE and SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL.

Part one of the interview.   

You started your career at the age of 14 as a dancer. How do you think being a dancer prepared you mentally and physically for being an actress? 
One of the problems with being a dancer was that I wasn't trained to think in words. I think so much in images and movement. That really helped me as an actress in a lot of ways because you have to separate your brain so much. You have to have one side that's creative and one side that's analytical and they have to work together all the time. As a dancer it's very technical and you have to make it look effortless. It helps you as an actress because there are so many technical things that you have to do. It throws a lot of actors off but I've always been able to separate my thinking in that way, which is also extremely useful as a director. Movement is important in acting so it helped that I was thin and flexible when I started my acting career. The general wisdom is that dancers make pretty bad actresses. My first manager used to forbid me to tell anyone that I was a dancer! It's funny though. If I talk to people like Shirley Maclaine, who used to be a dancer, they always consider themselves dancers. And I'm the same. In my heart, I still consider myself a dancer even though I can't dance anymore. Performing on stage my whole life and being attuned to those rhythms is interesting. It's hard to put my process into words because I've been doing it so long! 

I imagine the dance training helps with the stamina needed for the long hours involved in acting too. 
Definitely. There's a whole class of actors who get here and then say ''This is hard work. This is a drag.'' But when you're a dancer, you're so happy that someone has put you in the front row, and I'm still like that. I get so excited. I'm always grateful that I have a job and that someone wants to look at me and that I am in the spotlight. It's so brutal when you're a dancer and you're in the back row and your feet are bleeding and nobody cares. My dancing experience gave me this showbiz mentality. Some actors don't have it, and it's deadly because you have to be on when it's your time to be on, and you have to love it. 

One of your many accomplishments as an actress is that in your film debut you got to be bitten by Jaws in JAWS 3! 
And in 3-D as well! I should have known that I was in for an interesting and unpredictable career. I also waterskiied over a pyramid of little girls in the film! I was pretty bad ass doing a stunt like that!

They gave you a pretty brutal injury in the film for such a nice character. 
Originally they were going to kill me but they decided not to. I remember I died in the script, but they decided to just give me this big wound. That was literally my first day of shooting on a film ever, being bitten by a shark. I figured they were trying to replace me on my first day! 

You acted with a pre-TOP GUN Tom Cruise in ALL THE RIGHT MOVES. Even back then did he come across as an extraordinarily focussed and talented actor? 
Absolutely. He was extremely serious and focussed, and hardworking and polite and kind. Very good-looking too. I never could have expected that he would be this huge star forever. Tom is a great Everyman. I loved working with him. He taught me a lot and made a lot of sacrifices for me. He's very generous as an actor and has a great work ethic. The only person I have ever seen work harder on a movie is my daughter Zoey.

What was it like being directed by John Milius on RED DAWN? 
John Milius is a beast. He was amazing and crazy and fun to work with. RED DAWN was the most fun I ever had making a movie. It was great being on a camping trip for four months with horses and so on. It was a Western, really and Westerns are great to make. We took over an entire town and they didn't care if we blew up one of their buildings. It was insane. Right outside our hotel window we could see the town square that they had set dressed for when the Russians invaded in the story.

Do you have a favorite Milius anecdote? 
The only thing I remember is that his nickname for me was Beast Woman, and I have no idea why! I was all of 100lbs!

It sounds like a compliment! 
I think so!

Your performance in BACK TO THE FUTURE is wonderful and one of my favorites. How did you find the key to playing Lorraine? 
I'm just letting that sink in. You're very sweet. I was not that girl so I actually took something from the playbook of Tom Cruise. He would listen to music or a certain song to get into character or to get into a particular mood. When we did ALL THE RIGHT MOVES he would listen to Bruce Springsteen incessantly. I would listen to Mr. Sandman all the time, and music from the period. I read a lot of magazines from that time period too and drove a 54 Chevy Bel Air to get a feel for the 50s. I also immersed myself in the propaganda that women were being force fed back then. I think I got the part because I could show both sides of Lorraine – as older, with all of her life sucked out of her, and younger, when she is literally lusting after her own son, which I somehow had to make seem innocent, which was a task! It was an interesting part to play. I did both sides in my audition, and it was weird that I understood both of them completely. I feel incredibly grateful to be known for such a great part in such a great movie, even if it meant years later I never got to do a big movie again.

Is it true that Spielberg directed your audition? 
No, he didn't direct it. He operated the big VCR camera.

So, there was no pressure at all! 
He's such a lovely guy. A couple of years ago my daughter Zoey was auditioning for him in the same room and he made her feel as comfortable as he made me feel. A lovely, lovely man.

What kind of person were you back then? Were you able to set your nerves aside and think ''I am going to get this part''? 
I don't remember being nervous at all, which was weird. Maybe I already had the feeling they liked me or something. Sometimes things just click, and sometimes they don't. I did Cabaret on Broadway, and it makes no sense that some songs you think you're going to sing well, you don't. When things click, it's just this weird alchemy and magic. I think I just felt I clicked with the part of Lorraine.

When you were first filming BACK TO THE FUTURE with Eric Stoltz, did you have any inkling things weren't going well? 
Yeah, I did. Everybody was doing their own kind of styleof acting, and it wasn't super naturalistic. Eric was doing this naturalistic acting in the middle of all this and it just didn't really work. If you watch the movie, we are all doing these massive characters. Crispin Glover is doing commedia dell' arte, I'm doing a cat in heat, Chris Lloyd is screaming exposition, Tom Wilson as Biff is twiring his mustache. We were all doing these really bizarre characters that were really big, and Eric was in the middle acting as if he were doing a normal movie. Eric is a brilliant actor, but they needed Michael's Buster Keaton style of acting. What was weird is that they replaced Eric so late in the movie, after six weeks.

You got to work with him on SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL. Was there any awkwardness at first? 
I felt very badly for him. He was my friend. I felt bad for Crispin Glover, who was also my friend, when he got replaced on BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II (1989). Eric and I remained friends and he was actually the one that convinced me to do SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL. They had fired an actress and he bicycled up Laurel Canyon, which is a very hard thing to do, to ask me to do it. I originally turned it down because I felt the part they wanted me to play wasn't as good as Mary's.

Was that a fun movie to shoot, working with Eric, your future husband Howard Deutch directing, and John Hughes writing the script? 
It's a very tender movie for me because I met Howard on it and we married and had kids and are still together. That's another movie of mine that is beloved. I think in terms of popularity it's BACK TO THE FUTURE, SOME KIND OF WONDERFUL, HOWARD THE DUCK and RED DAWN in that order. Everything stills hold up about the movie, even the music. John and Howie really put together an incredible soundtrack. I wish they made movies with music that good nowadays. 

Part three of the interview.  

THE YEAR OF SPECTACULAR MEN will be released in US theaters in November 2017.  


Interview by Paul Rowlands. Copyright © Paul Rowlands, 2017. All rights reserved.