Interview - O'Shea Jackson Jr Is 'Straight Outta Compton'
- Created on Wednesday, 02 September 2015 17:28
- Written by Matthew Toomey
Straight Outta Compton will more likely feature in my list of the top 10 films of 2015. While he was recently in Australia, I spoke to one of its stars, O’Shea Jackson Jr, about the movie…
Matt: It’s been a long time since N.W.A. made it big. How long has a film version of their life story been planned?
O’Shea: Definitely. Straight Outta Compton only got serious 4 years but my father has been working on this film for more than a decade.
Matt: How did you get approached for the role? Did you dad always want you to do it or was their thought to giving it to another actor?
O’Shea: As a producer, my father’s job is not make sure the film is as good as it can be. He can’t sabotage it for his own personal needs. Other actors were always considered but he’ll tell you that the dream situation was for me to get the role. They put me in the hands of some great minds like Aaron Speiser who is Will Smith’s acting coach and Susan Batson who has worked with Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman. They gave me great support and helped me perfect the craft as quick as I could.
It all led to a chemistry test where Universal chose me over a set of Ice Cubes and they chose Corey Hawkins over a set of Dr Dres. Jason Mitchell already had the role of Easy-E by then. It was hard work but I’d do it all again because I couldn’t be happier with Straight Outta Compton.
Matt: Was there any trepidation on your part? Did you always want to be an actor? Was it always something you wanted to try?
O’Shea: Not really. I actually went to USC and studied screenwriting. I’m into writing movies. I like all the things that films represent and what they do to people emotionally. I didn’t think about going on the other side of the camera until my dad told me about Straight Outta Compton. I knew this was something I needed to do for him and now I think I’ve been bitten by the acting bug and am keen to do more.
Matt: Did you know your dad’s complete life story before making the film or was there a lot of stuff you learned about him throughout the process?
O’Shea: Nah, I’ve heard these stories my whole life and I used that to my advantage during my process as I knew they wanted to make this an authentic movie.
Matt: I’m guessing your dad provided a lot of advice but was there a lot of places you could draw on for research? Could you ask people about your father or perhaps watch old interviews?
O’Shea: I did watch old interviews of my father to see how he interacted with his friends and what his role was in the group. It helped with getting some of the lingo from the 1980s. If you start using the slang of today then it will take the audience out of it completely. Fortunately, I had the real N.W.A. on the sidelines telling me that I was killing it. Dr Dre started freaking out one day because of the way I was walking and how it was just like my dad.
Matt: I’m not much of a music person and before I saw this film, I knew absolutely nothing about N.W.A. and their story… and yet I came out of the theatre absolutely riveted and wanting to know more. Have you had a lot of similar reactions as part of your promotion of the film so far?
O’Shea: Yes, definitely. That’s something that I knew was going to happen and I love the fact that I’m educating people about my father’s legacy. I knew that the younger generation of today were going to take this movie as law so I had to make sure my portrayal of my father was the man that I know and not something that someone made up in their head.
Matt: I realise there are plenty of great cops out there but I keep reading news reports through social media about police brutality in America against African Americans. As much as this film is a historical drama, do you think it’s a film that will make people wake up and give some thought to what’s still going on today in America?
O’Shea: Definitely. We know that they’re not all bad cops… as long as the cops know that we’re not all bad black people. When you make more people aware of a problem, it generally needs to a solution but there are people in positions of power that are abusing that power all over the world. France has their own version of F*** the Police. There are so many examples where you could replace the word “police” in that song and people could relate to it. At a certain point, just like N.W.A. did, you have to stand up and say enough is enough.
Back in America, the police are supposed to provide a service. There’s a reason why N.W.A. didn’t do F*** the Paramedics or F*** the Fire Fighters. They’re doing their job. The sight of a police car shouldn’t strike fear in people the way that it does. The side of police cars in Los Angeles says “to protect and serve” but there are times when you ask “who are you protecting and who are you serving?” Something needs to change within the Department because it’s not the citizens’ fault that F*** the Police is still relevant and unarmed people being beat up and murdered.
Matt: The film is making a ridiculous amount of money in the United States. It’s already the highest grossing music biopic ever. What do you think makes this film stand out and has gotten so many more bums on seats compared to say Ray, Walk The Line or Jersey Boys?
O’Shea: It speaks a little more to a closer time period and it’s more relatable. Individuals like my father and Dr Dre and still widely known today and in the media. When you have that perfect storm along with the social climate, it’s something that everyone feels like they need to see. It’s so much bigger than a rap movie. I get annoyed reading columns about our film saying that it’s a two and a half hour music video. It speaks to so many things about the human character that we all need a refresher on. Audiences are showing that and many people have been seeing it multiple times.
Matt: The film clocks in at two and a half hours which makes it a long movie by today’s standards. Was there a lot of stuff left on the cutting room? Stuff that still couldn’t fit into the film?
O’Shea: Ten years in two a half hours is impossible. Gary Gray is working on a director’s cut with hours of footage and special features so hopefully people get to see that down the track with the DVD release.
Matt: All big biopics tend to stir up controversy with how the characters are portrayed. A lot has already been written about how the film overlooks Dr Dre’s 1991 attack on Dee Barnes. What are your thoughts on those sort of comments?
O’Shea: Straight Outta Compton is about N.W.A. There were so many times where we had to cut a scene to make sure we weren’t going into individual storylines. You could make an Easy-E movie or an Ice Cube movie or a Dr Dre movie. In each one of those movies, N.W.A. would be a ten minute segment. Everything in this film was about portraying N.W.A. only. For example, we barely went into Tupac. We just wanted to make sure everything circled back to the group.
Matt: Given the huge box-office, do you think there are plans for a sequel or perhaps other films with similar subject matters?
O’Shea: Of course it will. When you’re the first one, you act as a domino and everyone else tries to follow. There are plenty of other music biopics that I want to see. I’d love to see a Bob Marley film for example. Just to be a little biased, I think Straight Outta Compton is going to reign for a while in this genre.
Matt: What are the plans going forward? Is acting something you wish to pursue?
O’Shea: It’s really about making sure my next project is of the same calibre. Not a lot of actors get to have their first movie as explosive as Straight Outta Compton. I really need to take that as a blessing and make sure that the next script I want to put my name on is something special. With my experience in screenwriting, it might come from me. It’s great to now know both sides of the camera and I’ll make sure I use that to my advantage in my career.
Interview - Bill Bryson Takes 'A Walk In The Woods'
- Created on Friday, 28 August 2015 10:01
- Written by Matthew Toomey
Bill Bryson was recently in Brisbane to discuss A Walk In The Woods, a film based on this own book. I was fortune enough to host a Q&A with Bill at the Palace Barracks and I also sat down with him alone to talk about the movie. Here’s what he had to say…
Matt: How’s it going?
Bill: It’s going great. It’s nice to be associated with something that is very successful particularly since I didn’t have to put in any of the effort to make it so. I had nothing to do with the making of the movie and the happy consequence is that it’s easy for me to talk about it with great enthusiasm and I don’t have to worry about being falsely modest about it.
Matt: We all know you as a writer but are you a big movie person? Do you watch a lot of films?
Bill: I did when I was younger but as most people grow older, my attendance has fallen off. There are so many movies these days that star Liam Neeson and a lot of explosions and it’s just not for me. There are not enough small, intelligent movies around.
Matt: Were you at the Sundance Film Festival when this had its world premiere?
Bill: Yes but it was a kind of coincidence. We were going to be in Colorado anyway as we have a son that lives there. When the studio heard about that they suggested we come up to Utah and attend the festival. As you can imagine, it was a thrilling moment for me. I sat in this darkened auditorium with my wife on my left side and Robert Redford on my right side. I was thinking that life doesn’t get a whole lot better than this.
Matt: What did you think looking at the finished product? Did it turn out like you imagined?
Bill: Yeah. I was not worried. I had complete confidence that Robert Redford was going to do a great job but I was curious to know how they would do it and what sort of adjustments they would have to make to adapt a 150,000 word book into a 90 minute movie. I’m happy to say there wasn’t a single thing in it that disturbed or dismayed me. I thought they did an outstanding job.
Matt: During your early years as a writer, do you ever for a fleeting moment think that someone might want to make one of them into a movie?
Bill: I didn’t. Of all the books I’ve written, this is the only one that could possibly be made into a Hollywood movie. Most of the books I’ve written are non-fiction works to do with history and famous individuals like Shakespeare.
Matt: Who was it that first approached you about transforming A Walk In The Woods into a movie?
Bill: It was a man named Jake Eberts who was a close associate of Robert Redford. He approached me on behalf of Robert Redford’s company, Wildwood, which is his vehicle for buying movie rights and developing them.
Matt: I believe it took roughly 10 years for this film to finally make it to the screen. Is that right?
Bill: Yeah, it was a good 10-12 years ago when it all started. The original plan was that it was going to be a reunion movie for Robert Redford and Paul Newman. It was going to be Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid hit the Appalachian Trail. I’m certain they would have made a great movie but I know it would have been a much different movie. Paul Newman is a wonderful actor but I don’t know if he could have played the Katz character in the same way as Nick Nolte.
Matt: You’ve mentioned that you weren’t involved in the filmmaking process. Did Robert Redford want to talk to you at least and try to get some information about you to help with his performance?
Bill: He met me once in London and I think he was kind of scrutinising me to figure out what kind of person he wanted to play. I have no idea what was going on his head though. Other than that, I didn’t have any real connection with the movie. I took the view that I write books, they make movies, and I shouldn’t get in their way. They made it fairly clear that was their attitude too.
Matt: Not only does your book describe your journey along the Appalachian Trail but it also provides a lot of educational information as well. How did you feel about the way that was balanced up in the film?
Bill: To go back to the point you and I were making earlier about the quality of movies, one of the things I admire about Robert Redford as a filmmaker is that he finds ways to inject intelligence into his movies and I think that’s part of this. The movie isn’t preachy but you come away knowing a little more about why we should appreciate places like the Eastern Wilderness of the United States and I thought on the whole, they slip that into the film fairly seamlessly.
Matt: Have your family and friends had the chance to see it yet?
Bill: Not all of them. They sent me a download that I could watch over the internet just before I flew to Australia so I could refresh myself about the movie and answer questions about it. I sat and watched it with my older son and I was gratified by the fact he sat there chuckling away. He really enjoyed it and admired it a lot. I dare say my other kids in England are downloading it and watching it. They were all eager to see it.
Matt: I see a character like Mary Ellen who is played by Kristen Schaal and I think “no way, they must be over-exaggerating how annoying she was.” Did you actually come across folk like that in your journey?
Bill: Honestly, the real person was just like that. She was the most magnificently annoying human being I’ve ever come across. It’s a funny thing because not one word of dialogue I gave to that character in the book is actually true. I’ve exaggerated and made her into this comic figure and I trust that most people can see what I’ve done. One of my proudest moments is when the real Katz read the original manuscript. He said that I had nailed her character and that’s exactly what it felt like walking with her for a couple of days.
Matt: I read a story yesterday where they were speculating that the movie might see an influx in the number of people trying to take on the Appalachian Trail. What do you make of that?
Bill: I know the people who manage the Appalachian Trail and they’re a little bit excited and a little bit worried about that. There are two different ways of looking at it. My feeling is that the Appalachian Trail is this wonderful resource. America is so lucky to have it. Like most long distance hiking trails in the world, they are underutilised. I think that more people should get out there and see them.
Matt: You’re here at the moment in Australia and showing the film to some audiences. What’s the response you’ve been getting so far?
Bill: Really enthusiastic which I’m delighted about. As I said before, I’m in this strange position in that I had nothing to do with the making of the movie so it’s only an emotional eagerness on my part to see it do well. I know that a lot of people have been involved in getting it up and running. I’ve also learned how hard it is for any kind of movie to get made. I’m just so pleased to see it paying off for them.
Matt: Normally when I’m interviewing filmmakers and screenwriters I can ask them about what film projects they have coming up but in your case, can I ask if you have any books coming up?
Bill: I really don’t expect I’ll ever be associated with a film again so this is a very, very exciting one-off for me. It’s been a treat to be exposed to this world but also alarming. It makes me appreciate the life of a writer and being in a more low-key position. It’s heavy duty stuff that people in the film industry do.
I’m going to return to writing books very quietly and I’ve got a new one coming out in October called The Road To Little Dribbling and it’s about me travelling around Britain again. It’s the 20th anniversary of a book I did on Britain called Notes From A Small Island.
Interview - Ryan Corr On 'Holding The Man'
- Created on Monday, 24 August 2015 22:05
- Written by Matthew Toomey
Holding The Man was selected to close the 2015 Sydney Film Festival and is now being released across the country. During his quick trip to Brisbane, I was fortunate enough to sit down with star Ryan Corr to chat about the film…
Matt: Holding The Man is an iconic Australian novel. When did you first come across it?
Ryan: I first came across the story in Sydney. I’d moved there to attend drama school when I was 17 and the play was being performed at the Griffin Theatre. Talk of the play, the story, and the derivatives of the book were being discussed everywhere within the drama school. Jumping ahead 7 years, I heard that Tommy Murphy, who had written the play, had also written a screenplay and Neil Armfield was attached as a director. I knew then it was a story I really wanted to be a part of.
Matt: A key part of any romantic drama is to have a connection between the two leading characters. How did the casting process here work? Were you and Craig Scott auditioned independently or were you brought together before any offers were made?
Ryan: It was such a strange process. Neil is famous for his strenuous and large audition process. There were 13 stages in all. The way he directs, he tries to find people that have the essence of these characters within them and he then facilitates an environment that enables them to jam with each other.
Chemistry for this film was paramount. The first time Craig and I met was in a dinky little office in London’s West End. I was in Manchester at the time, he was coming from Los Angeles, and two other actors were coming in from Amsterdam and Australia. We’d all done the scenes with different partners and different groupings multiple times each.
In all the times that I’d auditioned and through all the boys that I’d met, no one else felt as available as Craig. He was looking to go “let’s just see what we do, let’s see what our dynamic is.” We found new things within the scenes that we hadn’t explored before. We went downstairs afterwards and just quietly, within audition etiquette, we each said “I hope you get it.” From that point on, we were each other’s rock throughout the whole shoot. What you’re seeing on screen is a relationship forged between two actors that is hopefully representative of the relationship between the real Tim and John.
Matt: There’s the text of the novel upon which the film is based. Is that solely what you drew from in creating the character of Timothy Conigrave or was there other research you could do such as speaking with his friends and family?
Ryan: The novel was the bible. If I ever wanted to know what was in Tim’s head, I could refer to the novel as it was Tim’s perspective writing about John. The research and material available extended far beyond that. We got to meet the Conigrave family and work with them for a number of weeks. They’d offer up family albums and come in for meetings with us for two hours where we’d just talk and get to know each other. They’d tell us stories about the boys at different ages.
As well as the family, we spoke to friends, ex-lovers, and other people who knew these boys intimately. We then had to collate all these ideas about who these people were. If someone was asked to describe me, my mum would say something very different to my best friend who would say something different to my ex.
Matt: Did all of that information help shape and change the screenplay?
Ryan: Absolutely. We had two weeks of rehearsal for this film which is rare in any Australian film. We workshopped the scenes like it was theatre and Tommy would edit the script on the fly.
Matt: As an actor, it seemed to be a challenging role in the sense that there are parts when you’re playing a high school teenager but other parts where you’re playing person who feels like he’s had a whole life of experience. How do you do that as an actor and get inside the head of Timothy at those various points in his life?
Ryan: Yeah, we had to have different entry points. For me, playing the younger character, I fit into a school uniform very differently from when I was 17 but it’s more about how your thoughts change and how your view of the world changes. I thought I had it all together and knew exactly what I was doing at 17 but the reality is that now, looking back, I realise I was a kid. It’s about getting back into that mentality and realising who Tim eventually was and where that may have stemmed from and trying to replicate elements of that within a 17-year-old’s headspace.
There was a bit of talk at the start about having younger boys play the roles. There was a big discussion and they didn’t know what they wanted to do for a long time. It was finally decided that in order to care about and connect with these characters, it would be quite jarring to switch actors half way through. You need to be invested in them, their love, and their chemistry all the way through.
Matt: It’s interesting the way the film is split up and events aren’t necessarily shown in a chronological order. Do you know what was behind the decision of writer Tommy Murphy and director Neil Armfield in that regard?
Ryan: It was a decision of both Neil and Tommy. Speaking to them both, the editing process almost became a new way of writing. They originally had a 3 hour cut with all the scenes from the filming script. That was obviously too long and there’s only so many scenes you can fit in. It’s not a film about how they went from 17 to 30 but rather it’s a window into a life. You inevitably know that it’s going to have a tragic ending so it’s not about keeping that from the audience to reveal at the end. It’s about showing moments in a life.
Matt: What was it like working alongside acclaimed actors such as Anthony LaPaglia, Guy Pearce, Geoffrey Rush and Kerry Fox?
Ryan: Incredible. I remember watching Memento with Guy Pearce and Shine with Geoffrey Rush. I was taken aback by how welcoming and supportive they were through the process. We put them on a pedestal and idolise them but these guys were saying “this is your set” and were offering their help.
It was great to watch their process and see there are similarities in the way that we all work. For example, Guy was really attached to how Richard would look. That seemed to be his entry point. He spent a lot of time getting his wig and his costume right. Both he and Kerry Fox interviewed Tim’s mother to help develop their characters.
Anthony LaPaglia knew Craig beforehand and actually housed him in America for a while. He’s come out of the woodwork and has taken me under his wing. He’s become a mentor in my life and is helping me navigate my way through the industry and the work itself. I feel really blessed to have met these people.
Matt: The film had its world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival back in June. What was it like seeing it with a packed audience for the first time? What sort of reactions have you received?
Ryan: So warm and so legitimate. It’s an emotional ride and so when people come and talk to us after the movie, they’ve been moved. That makes this project standalone from others I have done and may ever do. The book and story mean a lot to many people. It changes your thoughts about what will make this film a success. It’s not necessarily all about box-office figures but rather, whether we have done justice to the memory of these boys as far as their family and friends are concerned.
We also have a huge responsibility towards a group of men and women who went through the 1980s and 90s and experienced the myriad of young men who perished. While we’ve had huge developments in HIV and AIDS in this country, the film hopefully acts as gentle reminder of the past. It wasn’t all that long ago.
Matt: What have you got coming up next? When are we going to see you next on screen?
Ryan: I’ve got a few films coming up that we’re yet to shoot that are vastly different from Holding The Man. Part of this project was realising that scripts like this and opportunities to play real life characters come across very rarely. It’s then a question of what do you do next? For me, it’s any script that keeps me excited or that allows me to play a type of character I haven’t done before.
In the next film that I’m shooting, I’m playing a sadist, a rapist and a horrible member of society in a film that uses this platform to talk about violence in society. I’m following that up with a play at the Sydney Theatre Company directed by Richard Cottrell which is called Arcadia and is a Tom Stoppard classic. I’m keeping it as varied as I can.
Interview - Joel Edgerton Offers 'The Gift'
- Created on Saturday, 22 August 2015 21:23
- Written by Matthew Toomey
Not only does Joel Edgerton star in The Gift, it also marks his feature directorial debut. I spoke with Joel about the whole experience. You can listen to the full audio by clicking here.
Joel: My brain works in mysterious ways and a lot of times I’m thinking about stories that are going to make good fictional stories. Given that I’m twenty-something years out of high school, what would it be like if someone from your past tapped you on the shoulder and you vaguely remembered them? What if you hadn’t of been such a good person? The possibilities of a story like that were very exciting for me.
Nowadays with social media, it’s a lot easier for people to pop out of their hidy-holes and go “hey”. You often don’t need to rekindle those relationships but what if someone has a psychology where they feel they need to. You’re forced to deal with it. It’s a social etiquette responsibility.
Joel: The intention at first was just to write the story. I was all excited about playing a creepy, overbearing character that became Gordo in the movie. It wasn’t until I was in the experience of writing it that I realised it would set me up perfectly as a first time director because it wasn’t going to cost a tonne of money and it was quite contained in terms of its scale of set and character.
Joel: There were days when I found it incredibly hard but other days I found incredibly smooth and rewarding. I actually called and texted some other directors I’d worked for to jokingly tell them sorry for anything I did that slowed down the process. The second thing I said was that you had the best job in the world.
Matt: You’ve been working in the industry for about 20 years and have worked under a number of different directors. Are there some in particular who have had an influence on you? Those that have shaped the way you direct now?
Joel: I feel lucky to have worked with directors who were loved by their cast and crew. The reason was because they loved their cast and crew in return. I learned that from Gavin O’Connor, Ridley Scott, Scott Cooper and a lot of the Blue Tongue guys. I believe that filmmaking is such a collaborative art. You hire great people and you get out of their way. It should be a fun experience that is shared by all and contributed to by all.
I’ve learned that lesson from a lot of directors and it’s a simple “path of least resistance” thing that makes the job a whole lot easier. I’ve had a front row seat to watch so many great people make movies and that’s the privilege of being an actor.
Matt: Hollywood has a tendency to make people either good or evil. There’s not a lot of room in between. Without giving too much away, there’s a lot of greyness to all of these characters. Was that always your intention when writing the screenplay?
Joel: Yeah, suspense movies are intended to be a journey around a series of corners and the audience is not meant to know what happens next. That extended to the characters themselves in this case and whether they were good or bad people. It’s always been an interest of mine as an actor through movies like Felony where you get a good character and you give them a lot of “grey” space. You then take a bad character and you give them a lot of “grey” space. That has always interested me as an actor and it’s now filtering into my work as a writer and director.
Matt: There are some intense scenes in the film where characters are walking around and you get the sense that something is about to happen. How much post-production work goes into the editing and the music right in those moments? How do you know you’ve got it just right?
Joel: That work can’t be done alone with a director and an actor. If you were there on the set on the day that Rebecca Hall was walking down corridors in the movie, it doesn’t feel half as suspenseful as what it does in the movie. I was proud of the music of Danny Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans, the sound design of Julian Slater, and the cinematography of Eduard Grau.
Performance plus music plus sound creates something where the tension starts to build. You can intensify that in the editing suite. I need to drop the name of Luke Doolan, my editor, who cut Animal Kingdom and is a master of tension. Together, we try to freak the audience out.
Joel: The testing process in America is interesting and unique. It’s frustrating, it’s wonderful and it’s everything in between. You have to make use of it when making a movie that will be released widely. My budget was very low so there wasn’t a lot of pressure but when the decision was made to release it on 2,500 screens, suddenly I was in the game of having to test.
I’m a big believer that if you’re told you have to do something, rather than resist you should lean into the experience and mine it for the benefits that it throws up. We learned a lot about how to adjust the movie accordingly. What I really fought for was sticking to my artistic vision that I wanted.
Joel: Strangely enough, I’d written the film to be set in a more typical house rather than the mid-century modern house that we settled on. My designer really loved the house. The idea of a movie in a house predominantly made of glass was important to my cinematographer and I because we were talking a lot about reflection.
Also, I remember as a kid growing up in a house with a lot of glass. At night time, you get this feeling that anyone out there can see me but I can’t see them. We start the movie going “wouldn’t you love to live in this house?” and by the end of the movie it’s like “get me out of this place.”
Joel: There were a number of incarnations. At one point, I floated the idea of playing Simon to help get finance in the early stages. I’d written the script with the intention of creating a weird character to play and then someone else would direct the movie. Once I realised I was directing, I thought maybe I should let go of the idea of being in it as well. I had such a clear vision of how the character was going to look and sound that it was hard to let go. I ended up crossing my fingers and doing both.
Joel: You have people throwing names in a hat and discussing concepts. When you’re talking about a married couple in a movie, you have to find the “perfect storm” of two actors who are compatible. Jason seemed like a really exciting idea to me as he wasn’t the typical choice. As an actor, I’m always looking for people to cast me in roles that I’m not the typical choice for. There was a bit of my own ego in the casting of Jason. I wanted someone who would love the challenge of doing something they’re not used to doing. Plus, he’s a comic actor doing a serious part when I think creates a surprising and exciting situation.
It’s tough. As a first time director, I was worried that people would be “I dunno if I can trust this guy.” I’m an actor. I get first time directors sniffing around and I’m like “I like the script but where’s the proof that you’re going to do a good job?” What you need are actors who will trust you and have faith. Jason and Rebecca were two who were willing to take the gamble .
Joel: Black Mass will be the next one in September. It stars Johnny Depp and is set in Boston. It’s about the Boston Irish Mafia figure Whitey Bulger and his relationship with the FBI agent John Connolly who I play. It’s like a Goodfellas-type gangster story. The movie is amazing. Very rarely do you watch a movie that you’re in where it meets your expectations and goes beyond that. I’m excited for people to see it.
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