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Interview - M. Night Shyamalan Asks Us To 'Visit'

The Visit

While he was recently in Australia, I spoke with director M. Night Shyamalan about his new thriller, The Visit.  Here’s how it went down…

Matt:  A lot of your works fit into the thriller genre.  With audiences becoming more and more savvy, is it harder to create material that can actually surprise and shock an audience?

Night:  For me, the best plots come from great characters.  I like to let the characters dictate what’s going to happen in the plot.  When I write like that, good things happen.  When people try to write plot first and character second, there can be a hollowness to the project.  If you think about big CGI movies, the ones that actually work are the ones that have great characters.  They’re the films that we love and stay with us.  I think it’ll always be that way.

Matt:  There are directors like Woody Allen who seemingly have an endless number of stories they wish to bring to the screen.  Do you have a bunch of great ideas that you’re swishing around trying to make work?  Or is coming up with an idea much tougher than that?

Night:  It’s funny you say that because Woody Allen is a big hero of mine as are the Coen brothers.  I really admire what Clint Eastwood has done.  They keep telling great stories.  If I do a big Hollywood CGI movie, that takes 3 years or more.  That’s too long for me.  I want to tell more stories.  A movie like this only takes a year and half to do and I feel like that’s the right beat for me.  I have another story to tell and I’m excited to tell it.

Matt:  A big part of The Sixth Sense was having people keep its big twist a secret so as not to ruin it for other audiences.  Given today’s use of the internet and social media, do you worry about spoilers being released on a movie like The Visit?

Night:  No, you just have to trust audiences.  Movies are for them.  In today’s day and age, if you don’t want to know, you can definitely avoid spoilers.  I think there’s an unwritten code on the internet.

Matt:  A lot of work must go into post production to get the music, the sound and the editing just right to help build that suspense.  Do you have a clear view of how it should all look and sound?  Or do you find yourself playing around with different cuts to see what works best?

Night:  A little bit of both.  The key is to have a strong vision when you start to make the piece.  That’s how the director can best succeed.  In post-production, you have to be honest with yourself about what is and isn’t working.  You have to be analytical and figure out how to improve those things you’ve fallen short on.  The Visit was a very complex movie.  It’s a puzzle with many tones to it.  It’s funny, it’s scary, and it’s emotional.  To get that balance right, took a long time.  I kept working on it until it went click.

Matt:  Perhaps I’m a little biased but I think Aussie Ed Oxebould gives the best performance of the film.  He comes across so funny and natural.  How did he come across your radar and get through the audition process?

Night:  Both Olivia and Ed are from Australia and they just earned.  Thousands of people auditioned and I just picked these two kids to play the leads.  It doesn’t surprise me because I think Australia has an enormous talent base here.  Where they’re coming from artistically works for me.  I’ve had a lot of Australians in my movies like Toni Collette and Mel Gibson. 

Matt:  It is more challenging working with younger actors?  Does it take a few more takes or a little more rehearsal time?

Night:  Yeah, it does take more time but there’s such beauty when they nail their performance.  I try to teach them as much craft as they can.  I don’t want to try to capitalise on their charm or cuteness.  I want them to bring discipline and craft to the art form of acting and that’s something they can take with them for the rest of their career.  I have great respect for the form of filmmaking and I try to convey that to the kids.

Matt:  You’ve popped up with small cameos in many of your films but not here in The Visit?  Just couldn’t quite find a part for yourself?

Night:  (laughs)  No.  I was originally going to play the boyfriend of the mum but in the original screenplay, the boyfriend came back at the end of the movie and I didn’t want audiences to freak out and go “there he is!”  I didn’t want that to be the last reaction.

Matt:  Ever thought about doing something completely different like a romantic comedy or a period piece drama or something?

Night:  It’s funny you say that because I think my movies are mixtures of genres.  I did do a comedy with The Visit.  I also think I did a period piece with The Village.  I try to mix genres and come up with something new.

Matt:  What are you working on at the moment?  Anything you can share with us?

Night:  Yeah, I’ve just finished writing the next thriller.  I’m going to do it small like The Visit and shoot it over the fall.

 

Interview - Hugh Jackman On Pirating 'Pan'

Hugh Jackman

Pan is the big family film offering over the September school holidays here in Australia.  It was a pleasure to be able to speak with star Hugh Jackman about the film. You can listen to the full interview by clicking here.

Matt:  You’re a big name in Hollywood now.  You’ve won a Tony, an Emmy and you’ve been Oscar nominated.  Do directors like Joe Wright come chasing you for roles like this or do you still have to go chasing them?

Hugh:  On this one, he did come and meet me.  Joe is cool and calm and it never feels like a chase.  I was a huge fan of Joe’s and when we first grabbed lunch, I said I looked forward to reading the script and I asked him to tell me a little bit about the vision and how he saw the character.  He then pulled out his iPad and he had a picture of me as Blackbeard with white make-up, the wig of Marie Antoinette, the costume of Louis XIV, and then these rapper’s jewels around my necks and on my fingers.  I said straight away – “I’m in.”  He’s a crazy, wild, eccentric filmmaker and I love that Warner Bros gave him this massive movie to do.

Matt:  The special effects are amazing but one of the things that struck me about the film are the colours in the movie.  I don’t think I’ve seen another film this year that’s this colourful and it’ll be great for younger audiences.  Did you get an early sense of that from Joe?

Hugh:  Absolutely.  Joe is a theatrical beast by nature and we share that in common.  He didn’t like green screen and so he built one of the largest, most incredible sets that I’ve been on in my life.  They don’t often do it like that these days.  You could almost get lost in the Neverland set.  It was vibrant, bright and colourful.  I think Joe’s idea is that Neverland is the product of a child’s imagination so he wanted it to feel colourful and magical and extraordinary.  He wanted all the adults to be both frightening and ridiculous.

Matt:  I love seeing child actors discovered as there’s such a freshness and innocence about them.  Even better here is that we have a young Aussie in the leading role.  What can you tell me about Levi Miller?  What was he like on set?

Hugh:  I’m really glad you said that because I think this is the beginning of big things for Levi.  I remember standing next to a cameraman when he was doing a take.  After they called out “cut”, I turned to the cameraman and said “how good was that?”  He looked at me and jokingly said “don’t say anything… he has absolutely no idea how good he is… just shut up and we’ll keep going.”  It’s funny that people like me and the rest of the acting world spend years training and studying but he made it look so easy.  It was inspiring to watch.

Matt:  I was reading that Levi was actually calling you Mr Jackman during the opening week of rehearsals.  Was that the case?

Hugh:  Yeah, he was very sweet and polite.  His parents are the furthest thing from stage parents that you could imagine.  He put down a tape and had couple of things and all of a sudden he’s on this huge movie.  I remember him putting his hand out to shake mine and I was like “c’mon mate, we’re acting together.”

Matt:  There are a lot of younger actors in this film.  Are you able to help out and provide a lot of guidance when working with such a young cast?

Hugh:  I’ve got to be honest, when you’re with kids, it reminds you how complicated adults can make things.  We do all our research and we have our techniques and then we watch a young kid who has boundless energy because they love what they’re doing.  You actually learn from them.  I don’t think he really understands what acting is.  He’s just there in front of a camera doing what is asked of him.

I saw him making the classic mistake of going to the craft services table that was filled with candy and I was like “you’ll be crashing in the mid-afternoon if you eat that.”  It was little things like that which I could help with. 

Matt:  We’re generally accustomed to you playing heroes and good guys.  We saw a different side of you in Chappie and now again here.  Is it fun to slip into a role like this and do the complete opposite?

Hugh:  It took me all this time to realise that it’s the hero who gets beaten up throughout the entire movie.  He wins the final fight… but only just.  The villain on the other hand wins every fight except the last one.  You get the best dialogue and you’re in 40% of the film.  I loved it.  Joe Wright is a phenomenal filmmaker and even on this big expensive tent pole movies, he still finds ways to be creative, different and original.

Matt:  I always think the secret of a great action or fantasy film is a great villain.  One of the cool things about your character here is that he’s forever changing personalities.  One second he’s friendly, the next he’s angry.  How much of a say do you get in creating this version of Blackbeard that we see on screen?

Hugh:  Joe and I talked about it a lot.  He said to me – “imagine you are the figment of the imagination of a child.”  Neverland is a fantasy world and you’re the scariest thing in it.  What would be scary to a child?  For me, it’s always the adult who could be charming and nice for one second and could then take your head off with the next second.  You had to walk on egg shells because you had absolutely no idea which way this person was going to turn.  That’s what we tried to do.  During some takes, I would change it up a bit to keep these kids guessing.  

Matt:  Is there a long rehearsal process for a film like this?

Hugh:  Not so much here.  There’ll be a 3 week rehearsal period that is more about make-up tests and wig tests.  You do a table read and you do some bonding/drinking.  Joe has a background in puppetry and theatre and so we did a lot of improvisation during rehearsals.  They were the funniest times and they helped us create these characters.  For people like Levi, it helped him get comfortable with the tone of the film also.

Matt:  The film isn’t a musical but there are some unexpected musical numbers.  An interesting touch you’d have to say?

Hugh:  I don’t think the studio were expecting them either.  Joe came in one morning and started handing our Nirvana song lyrics and I was like “well this is interesting, is this kind of a warm up?”  Joe was like “nah, I think this could be a cool introduction for Blackbeard.”  I remember looking over to the studio executives when they came in to check things out and all of their faces were like “what? I don’t remember reading this in the script.”  It ended up being fantastic and that’s what great about Joe.  He’s not afraid to do something radical.

Matt:  We’ve seen other version of Peter Pan made before – both live action and animation.  Is there a worry that audiences might be thinking this is more of the same?  What’s the “sell” here to make them think this is something different?

Hugh:  To use common Hollywood vernacular, this is a prequel.  It’s an origin story of Peter Pan.  The story most are familiar with is when he comes back from Neverland to find Wendy and to bring them back with him.  Here, Peter is a young orphan being taken up to Neverland and it’s about how he becomes Peter Pan.  By the way, I highly recommend every adult reading J.M. Barrie’s book.  It’s a beautiful book that I hadn’t read before.  There’s a reference in there to Blackbeard being the bosun for Captain Hook.  That little snippet gave screenwriter Jason Fuchs the idea to create this character.  If you liked the musical Wicked and how that references The Wizard Of Oz, I think you’ll like what this film does to the Peter Pan.

Matt:  What have you got coming up?  I believe we’re going to be seeing you in Brisbane soon for some stage shows?

Hugh:  I’m so thrilled about it.  I’ll be in Brisbane on the 5th and 6th of December.  I can’t wait.  It’s been years since I did the show on Broadway and we’re expanding it now to have a huge cast, an orchestra, singers, dancers and choirs.  We’re going to have a great party.

Matt:  Are you working on anything film-wise at the moment?

Hugh:  I just did a movie called Eddie the Eagle about the infamous ski jumper.  Only the Brits could make a movie like this.  He’s a great character and it’s an inspirational sports story but it’s mainly funny.  I’ve got a little bit left to do on that and then at some point, I’ve got another Wolverine movie to make.

 

Interview - O'Shea Jackson Jr Is 'Straight Outta Compton'

O'Shea Jackson

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'

Bill Bryson

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.