Shailene Woodley on ‘The Descendants,’ Eating Clay & Super Humans

On her second day at work at American Apparel, actress Shailene Woodley got a call from her manager asking her to catch a flight to L.A. to meet director Alexander Payne for coffee. The Academy Award-winning filmmaker was casting his next project, an adaptation of Kaui Hart Hemmings’ novel, The Descendants. Months before, Woodley had auditioned for the role of Alex, a combative teenager who helps her father (George Clooney) cope in the wake of a family tragedy. Three months later, she was in Hawaii, where the film is set, meeting Clooney at the first table read. Here is the actress, who also stars in the ABC Family soap The Secret Life of the American Teenager, on The Descendants, eating clay to fight radiation, and her group of super humans. 

When you were auditioning for the role did you know who was going to be playing your father at that point?
No, Alexander wasn’t even attached when I first read the script. The first time I read the script it was an adaption of the book from different writers than Alexander, so the script we ended up using was completely different. However, the story was the same so it fueled something inside of me. I don’t remember the last time I was so passionate about something in my life. And then, eventually, six months later, I got to audition for Alexander. And then after I auditioned for him, I found out George was attached and it was kind of an organic process.

By now it’s well known that you were working at American Apparel when you got the gig.
Yeah, I was working at American Apparel down on Orchard and Houston, and I got a call early January from my manager, and he said, Shai you need to fly to L.A. tomorrow, Alexander wants to have coffee with you. And I was like, I can’t do that, it’s my second day at work at American Apparel, I have a commitment, I can’t let them down. And he was like, Shai you need to. And I was like, Can we Skype or something? But he was like, Shailene, I never tell you to do anything, and I really believe you need to do this. So I flew to L.A.

What was your excuse?
I told them I had the flu. So I flew to L.A., had coffee with him, and then went straight back to the airport and flew home that night so that I could work the next day at American Apparel. But when I had coffee with him, he told me I was his number one choice. He was going to Hawaii though, and he was going to audition every girl in Hawaii, and if there was one that was better suited for the role than me, he would call me and tell me personally that I did not book it. And that to me was enough. People were like, He shouldn’t have done that. But I thought it was so respectful and honest of him to do that. And then a month later, he called and said I did book it. Then I bawled.

You’ve been acting for a long time, but does this feel like a new stage in your career?
The only thing that feels new is the politics of this industry. But I work with such an amazing team, and luckily they specialize in the politics, and I specialize in getting on set and doing it on set. We have this really great collaboration where I don’t have to learn about it, because they’ll just guide me along the way. So often when someone gets a movie that is bigger than what they’ve done before, it becomes strategy all of a sudden. It becomes what magazine you’re in and what your portfolio is like, and who you talk to, and who you suck up to, and who you go meet with, and what outfit you wear. And that to me is all bullshit. I refuse to buy into that. I am into this for the art of it. Granted, Fox Searchlight is my boss, or whatever studio you’re working with on a specific project is your employer. And magazines are great to do as long as you have integrity in your interviews. As long as a project fuels my soul I’m happy.

How does a project fuel your soul?
It’s that unspoken feeling in your stomach. I’m a firm believer in listening to our bodies, so when something’s not working in life, you get that feeling in your stomach, this guttural pain. So often in relationships, when someone hurts you, it’s that pain in your stomach. That feeling when you read something or see a piece of art or you write, or whatever your artistic expression is, and inside your stomach, you get butterflies, and you get this intense passion, that’s what I mean by fueling your soul. It’s all physical.

What are you passionate about?
Acting is a big passion of mine and the other—I don’t’ want to say bigger, but it brings tears to my eyes because that’s the amount of passion I have—is teaching humans to be human again and reminding people to wake up. Ultimately, it’s about re-wilding yourself. And I don’t mean going out and actually foraging for food, although I do preach that because I do that.

You forage?
Yeah! And drink spring water from the mountain. I think it’s important to be human, and also I feel very fortunate to have been put in a position where I can talk to more people than I necessarily would have been able to talk to about big issues like Monsanto and genetic modification, and sweatshops and genocides that are occurring in Africa at this very moment. I realize that I’ve been given this really fortunate position to talk about issues that I think need to be addressed. I’m also on the extreme spectrum when it comes to sustainability and eating healthy and all that.

Are you a vegetarian?
I’m not a vegetarian. but I only eat humanely raised meats. I would rather actually kill my meat than buy it in plastic wrap. I don’t buy meat from Whole Foods, I order it direct from a farm. I mean, I’m like extremist.

When did this mindset take over?
I was fourteen, and my grandma is a naturopath, and she took my blood—she does live blood and cell analysis. She was like, You should probably eat more vegetables, and microwaves are not great for you.  And so I started doing research, and I haven’t used a microwave since. And that kind of kicked off eating vegetables. But I still liked processed foods. And then, at around sixteen, I got really really big into the environment and the importance of realizing that we are nature, which a lot of people have forgotten. We’re not part of nature, we are nature. So that kind of hit home.

You spent time in Hawaii shooting The Descendants. How did that affect you?
I had never been to Hawaii before, and the second I landed there I was like, This is home, this is me. My body’s from L.A., but my heart is from Hawaii. I’ve been there so many times since filming and established such phenomenal friends there, and the islands have this incredible energy that’s not really tangible.

Does radiation from your cell phone freak you out?
Oh my God. Radiation is one of the biggest things. Actually, there’s this awesome speaker, his name is Daniel Vitalis, we’ve become great friends, you should look him up, he’s a super human. George Clooney, Alexander Payne, Daniel Vitalis—super humans. He talks about protecting yourself from radiation, and how every indigenous creature on this planet eats clay. And when you eat clay, it combines with radioactive isotopes and heavy metals and takes them through your system.

Do you eat clay?
I eat clay every morning.

Let’s talk about The Descendants. What kind of pointers did Alexander give you?
Absolutely. The best direction he ever gave me was he came up to me and said, You’re not being Shai, and he walked away. I was like, Oh, duh, thank you. Thanks for bringing me back down to earth.

Your character is a bitch at the beginning of the film. Is there any of that in you?
Absolutely. I think everyone has a pain and a bitch in them. I don’t often use that side of myself because I really don’t have reason to, but the reason I don’t get bummed when I don’t book a role is because every character is written for a certain person, and you never know who that person is until they show up. For Alex, there wasn’t a lot of acting to be done, it was more about me being present in the moment. I’m not her. I didn’t do drugs in high school and I didn’t drink, and I’m not bitchy like she is, and I don’t say words like ‘twat’ on a daily basis. But, I somehow connected to her.

‘SNL’ Writer Mike O’Brien Dishes on His Internet Talk Show, ‘7 Minutes in Heaven’

Ellen DeGeneres, Christina Ricci, and Tracy Morgan are just a few of the famous faces that Saturday Night Live staff writer (and 2012 BlackBook New Regimer) Mike O’Brien has lured into a nondescript closet on in Manhattan, besieged with nonsensical questions, and then tried to kiss.That’s the basic premise of 7 Minutes in Heaven, an irreverent and inventive web series named after the hormonal make-out game. Here, O’Brien talks about the show’s origins, why he sometimes feels uncomfortable during shooting, and how he conjures up the courage to smooch his guests on camera. 

Where is the closet?
It’s at 59th and 9th, basically.

In what building?
It’s like in the camera guy’s friend’s apartment. We scouted a closet that could fit two people, plus three cameras on three tripods, and in New York that is hard to find. We all had a friend that we thought might have a big enough closet, and this is the one we went with. A couple and their five year old live there. Their closet is very nice and their clothes are very nice, so people always think it’s a set, but it’s an actual, door-closed closet with just us in there getting over heated by those lights.

Is this thing a performance or are you trying to capture real moments.
I think a little bit performance, but as we’re walking out, we’ll have a more real moment. And by the door I’ll say I know you’re busy, so thank you for doing this. We’re more just normal.

Do you ever coach them before they come in?
No. They all come in with concerns that aren’t at all something we’re going to have to worry about. Stuff like, I don’t want to talk about that bad project, or relationships. But I might need to start coaching, simply because now people are coming in having watched it, and they think there’s a right and wrong way. I simply need to be like, We’re going to find our own vibe for this. Don’t feel like you need to be like any of the other ones. This one will be unique and might be more serious or more silly or more flirty, but there’s no right or wrong way. People need to take a breath and just be themselves and we’ll find the best moments that way.

Do you ever feel uncomfortable during the tapings?
Yeah, I feel a little uncomfortable on almost all of them. Less as I do more, but I’m still always uncomfortable.

Why is that?
I think it’s because I will research them for a couple days, and I’m sure you’ve experienced this thing where you have them in your mind a certain way, and also just researching someone makes them have this certain status, and some of these people already have status, like Ellen DeGeneres, who is among my favorite comedians. Then along with the fact that they’re really up close to you, and I’ve never done any interviews of any sort before these. Early on, it was like, I hope they don’t walk out. What’s going to happen when I try to kiss them? I definitely feel like I’ve offended people a couple of times.

How so?
Sometimes people will just misunderstand the question, and a lot of times it’s mostly a jokey question. Maybe it’s a question that belongs on Between Two Ferns, where it’s a little more like I’m teasing them about a bad movie or a public scandal they had, and those don’t usually work great. My delivery is a little too dry or something, people just seem to get hurt.

What gives you the confidence to go in and kiss them? Is it because your guests know what they’re getting into once they agree to come on the show?
I think so, yeah. Certainly now. In the earlier ones, they didn’t know that I was going to try to kiss them. But now, if people say yes, I assume they’ve watched and they know that that might happen. The only thing that I’m hoping for out of them is a real moment. Maybe I need to start doing it in the middle of an interview, because there’s nothing better to me than Elijah Wood’s reaction. We’re were laughing and having a great time talking to each other, and then all of the sudden, I lean in to kiss him and he has this great face he makes that’s just really endearing.

Is being a writer for SNL your dream job? 
Absolutely. I auditioned in 2004 or 2005 as a performer, but that’s also how they sometimes hire people to write. So it’s been on my immediate radar intensely since then, but yeah, I grew up with the show and it’s been definitely a dream job. To have perks like this where during the down time, I can work on other projects with other writers is just mind blowing to me. It’s like the happiest I’ve ever been.

Where did the idea for this show come from?
Yeah, Rob and I sat down at the beginning of the summer and were like, Let’s make a series of shorts together, and it was one of 3 ideas. Another one was a series of online how-to videos that always go awry, so the one we shot is "How to Fix your iPod" yourself, and they will show you how to take it apart and stuff, and then it devolves from that. And the 3rd was a giraffe character that’s half-human, half-giraffe, a stand up comedian in New York who sometimes is having to be very giraffe-ish, sometimes very human. We shot one of those. And Broadway video who funded it, was just immediately like, the closet interview thing is the easiest, fastest, and cheapest thing. So they backed that one right away.

Do you enjoy being in front of the camera? 
Yeah, I think I enjoy that sort of moment when you get in the closet, and it feels like something that would be on stage in Chicago.

A lot of your guests drink alcohol on the show. Is that to loosen them up?
A little bit. Originally, Jason Sudeikis had pitched to us an opening where the camera’s passing through a dinner party, or a late night apartment party. And then the camera comes to the closet door and it opens and closes, and then you start your episode. So without doing all that, we’re trying to give it the feeling that it’s as though we’re at a party. It was more just to give it the feeling of that vibe. But it certainly is nice, and they’re there so short that no one can really drink too much, but it’s just to have something in their hand.

Do they come with a publicist? 
Ellen came alone and requested a lemonade. I got a kick out of that. Some people come in and are like, I need wine. But most come with one or two people touching up their hair, telling me not to talk about the ex.

Like who?
Selita Ebanks was one, because that’s Kanye or something. She said she had just gotten done with some interview where they asked her to compare the penis sizes of two different exes, and I was like, "Who are you being interviewed by? Wow!" 

Director Steve McQueen on ‘Shame,’ Sex Addiction, and Falling in Love with Michael Fassbender

With Shame, British artist and filmmaker Steve McQueen has crafted one of the year’s most talked about films. Yes, there’s the easy blog fodder like Michael Fassbender’s already infamous full frontal scene, and the NC-17 rating. But after watching the film—a devastating portrayal of sex addiction—those talking points will become afterthoughts. Shame, which follows Brandon (Fassbender) as he manages his cravings and his sister (Carey Mulligan), is unrelenting, and stays with you long after you’ve left the theater. We recently spoke to McQueen about the realities of sex addiction, his professional romance with Michael Fassbender, and why Shame is not a portrayal of New York City.

Is Brandon a sex addict, or is he just incredibly promiscuous?
He is a sex addict. He’s not a person. There is a difference between someone who is promiscuous, and someone who is a sex addict. A sex addict is a person that cannot go a day without having his fix, and his fix is a situation in which he is relieving himself 20 times a day. There’s an all-encompassing thing about it.  Being promiscuous is one thing, but being an addict is completely different.

And what does being an addict mean? You keep doing something despite the consequences?
Precisely. It destroys and ruins and alters your life. It’s a thing that you have to have. It’s like alcohol addiction. Sexual addiction is the same thing.  It’s one of those things where the addiction controls and alters the person’s life.  

Where did this film come from?
I wrote it with Abi Morgan. Me and Abi sort of came together in London, and then what happened was that we had a conversation, and it sort of stumbled upon sex addiction, and we went to speak to people in London, but some of them didn’t want to speak to us. It was in the news at the time, and I think people in London were very suspicious on talking to me or anyone about it. 

Why was it in the news? Tiger Woods?
Possibly because of Tiger Woods. It’s usually high profile people. and then they talk about it and laugh at it, and not take it seriously, so I think that made people not want to open up. So I came over to New York to talk to experts in the field, and they introduced us to people who had the addiction, or were recovering sex addicts. Talking to experts was amazing. So myself and Abi, we were sort of like Miss Marple and Columbo. We were following a trail, not knowing where it would actually lead. 

What did you make of the film’s NC-17 rating?
At first when they said, We got an NC-17, I thought, Someone is giving me a rap band. I thought it was a CD. I didn’t know what NC-17 was. Again, it was one of those things, in which Fox Searchlight had been fantastic, but I had never discussed NC-17 with them.  I never discussed an alternative movie with them. All I want is for people to get a chance to see the movie, that’s all. If it’s NC-17, then so be it. It’s kind of strange in a way, how something so ordinary—we all take part in sex, we all know about sex. I imagine a majority of us have had sex and have seen the opposite sex or same sex naked. I’ve never held a machine gun in my hand or ever shot anyone in the head, but that seems to be the norm to some people within cinema.

What is it about your relationship with Michael Fasssbender that allows you to work so well and so frequently together?
I think it’s obviously the camaraderie and the love. It’s like falling in love: You don’t expect anything to happen, but when it does, you hold onto it.  It’s about challenging each other, really.  I don’t know how it came about. I still don’t know. I don’t question that.  

You’re about to make your third film with him. Is it almost at the point where you don’t want to make one without him? 
I don’t think it’s a wanted thing, but we do love working with each other, really. There will be times I won’t be working with him, and there are times he won’t be working with me. There is a collaboration, a connection—a very deep connection—and I don’t know how that came about. Falling in love, how does that happen? 

How did you first meet him?
From an audition. I fell in love with the cocky bastard, and I thought to myself, What the fuck is he doing here for an audition? And of course, he was auditioning for Hunger, and our casting director said, This guy is great. I think we should use him. And from the first audition I thought, Why is he here? And he came in for the second audition and he just shined through, and I thought, That’s the guy. From there, we sort of put a house on fire.

What do you think of his rise to superstardom?
I think he’s been getting along. I mean, how many men who are actors have that kind of masculinity, but also that extraordinary femininity and extraordinary fragility. I recognize him in myself, and with most actors I don’t. I think a lot of people do.

When Carey Mulligan sings “New York, New York,” it’s heartbreaking? Did it feel the same watching it live?
Yes, we did a few takes together. When we got there, it was just exhilarating. Goose pimples on the back of your neck. It was quite amazing.

I found the New York you portrayed to be very glassy, cold and sort of impersonal…
No, not at all.

How so?
It’s all about rituals. I follow Brandon. Where does he go to work? How does he get to work? How does he get home? Where does do his laundry, his shopping? The impersonal thing may be possibly—I don’t see it that way at all, but most of the time people live and work in the sky. 

Did you portray the New York that you know?
Again, it’s not a portrayal, it’s following the character. I wasn’t interested in making it look any other way other than itself and through the character, and the character is the city.  Forgive me for saying this, but this is nonsense, saying that New York is lonely or whatever it is.  

The sex scenes in the film were particularly intense. How do you create an environment on set to shoot something like that?
Our crew was just fabulous. The New York crew we had was just amazing. Absolutely amazing.

How so?
From the catering, to the camera department, to the hair, makeup, and wardrobe, it was just amazing, the camaraderie. And we just liked each other, and from the first day, there was a real team effort. It was one of the best experiences I ever had. People were skipping to get to work in the morning, because we were a team, everyone was together.  And when you create an environment where it’s safe, that is when these actors are willing to take risks. They feel safe. 

But are those scenes difficult to shoot?
How could it be difficult to shoot if it’s a safe environment? That’s what I’m trying to say. With a safe environment, it’s not difficult at all.  

Noomi Rapace Covers Our 2011 New Regime Issue!

Everybody’s talking about Rooney Mara and her upcoming role as that chick with the tattoo that looks like a dragon. But well before Ms. Mara brought Lisbeth Salander to life, a fetching actress by the name of Noomi Rapace made the character her own in the original Swedish adaptations of the Millenium trilogy. Rapace, who is also Swedish, wasted no time in parlaying that success into some pretty big gets as far as movies are concerned. This Christmas, she’ll match wits with Robert Downey Jr. in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, and has already wrapped on Ridley Scott’s mysterious Alien prequel, Prometheus. Rapace’s greatest role however, comes this month, when she stars as our brand new cover girl. Believe it. 

Rapace is lending her feline features to our annual New Regime issue, which is where we do what we do best: Tell you who will be shaping, bending, and defining culture in the year to come (and the years after that, we hope). This year’s portfolio of overachievers includes everyone from The Descendants break-out Shailene Woodley, to Montreal songstress Grimes, to Bushwick-based performance artist Xavier Cha. If you don’t know their names yet, that’s kind of the point. You will. Check out the issue, on newsstands now, and check back to Bbook.com for full coverage. 

Katy Perry Will Host ‘SNL’ on December 10

Katy Perry is no stranger at playing dress-up and acting all a fool. You all remember Kathy Beth Terry, don’t you? Well, it was just announced that on December 10, the Teenage Dream singer will get her chance to yuk it up with the big boys when she makes her debut as the host of Saturday Night Live

This news means several things. It means that Russell Brand will likely make a surprise appearance. It means that Katy Perry will also be the musical guest, over two years after her last album came out. It means the SNL Digital Short will be a music video, featuring Katy Perry. And finally, it means that Mrs. Perry will begin her long-awaited, highly predictable transition into acting. We wish her all the luck in the world. 

UPDATE: Perry just tweeted the news, and apparently we were wrong: Robyn appears to be handling music duties. 

Cinematic Nomad John Hawkes Recalls a Place Where Everybody Knew His Name

Like most character actors, John Hawkes has forged a career out of film and television roles that beg for color. Hailing from rural Minnesota, he wears his 52 years on his ruggedly handsome face. In 2010, he earned an Oscar nomination for his role as the meth-addicted Teardrop in Debra Granik’s backwoods noir, Winter’s Bone. But while the character’s violent veneer masked genuine tenderness, Hawkes’ turn as Patrick, a cult leader in the 2011 Sundance hit Martha Marcy May Marlene, is pure id.

Even when Patrick sweetly serenades his newest pupil (played by Elizabeth Olsen), seems like a form of hypnosis. Picking tunes is nothing new for the intensely private Hawkes, who’s been writing and performing music on his guitar since before he began acting. "I’ve never done it as a profession," he says, "but I’ve sold songs to TV shows." His favorite place to perform was Crane’s Tavern, located in the "armpit of Hollywood." Although Crane’s recently closed, Hawkes has fond memories of the friends he made there. "I wandered in Los Angeles for 15 years, trying to find a tribe, a real community. I had a lot of great friends, but I didn’t have an overriding commune of artists and crazy people, which Crane’s finally provided. There’s so many great bars, like the Crow’s Nest in Gloucester, Massachusetts, but none of them could match Crane’s. Luckily, it lives on a little bit in a place called Piano Bar. A lot of the same people go there."

Stephen Dorff Comes Clean on Life After ‘Somewhere’ & the ‘Bucky Larson’ Disaster

It’s fun talking to Stephen Dorff. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and he definitely doesn’t take Hollywood that seriously, either. That’s what happens when you’ve been in the business as long as he has. You start to loosen up. Dorff, who got a much needed career boost when Sofia Coppola cast him as an adrift actor in last year’s Somwhere, spent last weekend promoting his new film, Immortals. It’s a CGI-heavy, three dimensional tribute to abs and killing, artfully directed by the visual extremist, Tarsem Singh. (The movie debuted to a strong $32 million this past weekend.) In it, Dorff plays Stavros, the rascal-y sidekick to hero Theseus (played by future Man of Steel Henry Cavill), and between making passes at Freida Pinto and stabbing people, Dorff does a pretty good job of playing an ancient Greek version of himself; basically, your cooler, older brother.

After Dorff and I got passed the mandatory Immortals chatter, the actor opened up about his disappointment with Somewhere’s US release (a film and experience he’s still clearly attached to), his struggle to find worthwhile projects, and the extreme letdown that was Bucky Larson: Born to Be a Star.  

Tell me about the filming process.
We basically shot in this place called Mel’s, which is eight stages, and just took over the place. The cool thing about the film is that Tarsem really had these huge sets built. Normally, in these green screen movies, you don’t have anything, really. It was cool that these huge sets were built so the green screen just kind of went behind that, and on our sets we had real people, real extras, real horses. It actually felt like we were in it, opposed to just standing there. I don’t know if I could do that just standing thing.

You haven’t done a big film like this in a while.
It was cool to do a big popcorn movie again. I felt like Stavros was kind of a character that wasn’t as serious as everybody else, more of a Han Solo type.

Tarsem really uses 3D to its full potential in this film. Are you down with the whole 3D craze?
That’s what’s cool, because nowadays, they’ll put “made in 3D’ on fucking anything, you know? They’ll remake European Vacation with Chevy Chase in 3D. It feels like this one maybe at least enhances the experience, because I’ve seen a lot of these 3D movies, and they just bother me because I didn’t really gain anything from it. But this one, I think, if you get into the experience of it, it seems like its going in the right direction.

Was it your first time making a movie on only a soundstage?
Yeah, I would say a lot of the first Blade was shot on a stage too. If anything, it reminded me of the scale of Blade, but even bigger. Immortals has more characters and more people and big battle scenes, and sometimes I’m amazed that you can shoot a movie inside like that, but Tarsem is all about creating these worlds, and he does it so well.

Was Tarsem unlike any other filmmaker you’ve worked with?
Every filmmaker’s just a different animal. Working with Sofia Coppola is a lot different than working with Tarsem. I’ve been lucky enough in my career so far to work with some amazing directors, whether it’s Oliver Stone, Michael Mann, or Sofia Coppola, who I’d put right at the top. Tarsem’s a visual master, but I think he’s also really good with storytelling and I think the best asset that Tarsem has is that on a movie of this scale, you need a real captain to sail it. He has a great energy, and he’s really powerful, and he never stops. The guy just never, ever gets tired. He’s the king of multi-tasking, so that’s what you want with a movie like this. I think that’s probably why Relativity put him right onto the Snow White one, because he’s just got a talent for these kinds of movies, and hopefully they deliver. I enjoyed working with Tarsem. I, myself, prefer movies like Somewhere more. I prefer more character-driven movies.

The last time I spoke to you was for Somewhere, which you were obviously really excited about. How’s everything been going since then?
It’s been good. I wish we’d had some better traction in America on it. It was this huge movie overseas that won the Venice Film Festival, and we had this huge ride going in, and then in the end we weren’t really feeling it was supported the right way. It kind of got denied the award run and all that, but it got some incredible reviews. But for me, it’s been incredible. I’ve got great movies I’m making with great filmmakers. I’m in a much better place than I was, so that’s cool.

I noticed on your IMDB page that you have a lot of movies in various stages of development. Tell me about some of the ones you’re excited about.
I would never believe that site, because it’s always wrong. The movie I’m excited about is something I did called The Motel Life, which is something I did with Emile Hirsch and Dakota Fanning that’s just a really, really beautiful movie, and I think that will probably blast off next year, probably go to Sundance, Cannes and that will be my drama probably. Then I did this cool one called Boot Tracks with the filmmaker David Jacobson, who did Down in the Valley. It’s with Michelle Monaghan and Willem Dafoe, and kind of like a Badlands Southern love story, a kind of weird sexy thriller. Michelle was really cool. I produced this little movie called Break that IFC is going to put out theatrically next year, and we’re shooting a film, it’s kind of an ambitious movie that I produced and made in ten days that no one really knows about. It’s hard when you do something as strong as the films I’ve been doing, whether they’re Sofia’s or Motel Life. They don’t come around all the time, so it’s hard to go and make something you don’t like when you just had such a great experience. That’s my biggest challenge, is that there’s not that many great movies out there.

After you do something like Somewhere, you kind of need everything to be that good.
Yeah, I just want to keep that bar high, but there’s only a handful of those filmmakers, and they make movies once every three years, and if you don’t get in those movies you’re screwed. I pretty much read everything, even movies I wasn’t getting. I love to read everything so I know what’s out there, or at least know enough. I feel like I got one that’s definitely the best, so I feel like as long as every year I can grab one on that level, I’ll be happy.

Are you talking about Motel Life?
Yeah, that was Motel Life. It’s a beautiful script. It’s such a great movie, man. I don’t want to say anything because it’s early, but I think it’s pretty damn good. Emile is a great actor, and Dakota is so fantastic in the movie, and it’s got soul and it’s really original. I’m really excited about it. Now I’m reading bad zombie scripts.

Of course. They’re the new vampires.
I hope I find another good one, or I’ll start working at the Four Seasons making bloody marys or something.

Or at the Chateau Marmont.
Exactly, I can get a job there for sure. I’ve got some clout there now.

You’re one of the few actors that’s worked with both Fanning sisters. That’s pretty cool.
It’s funny when I go to the Chateau, and see these other actors. Sofia just got that movie so perfect. People do just sit out there and just drink beer, big actors, all day.

So you just see a bunch of Johnny Marcos running around the Chateau?
I don’t know if they have stripper poles like Johnny Marco. Yeah, I love that movie. I think that movie will hold up for many years to come. I want to make a movie again with Sofia one day. She’s starting a movie soon with kids, so I’m like, I can be a kid or play a grandpa.

What happened with Bucky Larson? People were really mean about that movie. Were you surprised by that?
Yeah, I don’t know man. I thought it was pretty fucking funny, and I think that Nick Swarsdon is a comedic genius. I think this studio really marketed it weird and the commercials were really dumb, I thought. I don’t know if they didn’t totally back Nick, but obviously critics are never going to like that movie because they shit on everything Sandler does, you know what I mean? But I would have thought that the movie would have done better than it did. But again, it came out on a weird weekend and that Contagion movie made 20 million dollars out of nowhere. Bucky bombed, Warrior bombed. All the cool movies bombed that weekend, but I think Bucky will be big on DVD, probably like Grandma’s Boy. The movie’s hysterical. Have you seen it?

No, but I interviewed before it came out, and he was so excited about it.
Yeah, I feel like they were trying to plug this Happy Madison thing more than the movie, and people were confused, man. Nobody knows who’s in this movie. It was kind of weird. I just didn’t think it was marketed right. But I think it will be big on DVD and in the end, it makes me laugh more than most comedians today because I just feel like he’s fearless and he commits. To be able to even just play the character he played in this movie and make you care about him is a hard thing to do, and he does it. There’s a sweetness to the Bucky character. It was a bummer. I was bummed for Nick, and also because it was kind of like my first comedy, and not too many people saw it. It’s a pretty classic character I play.

A porn star, right?
Oh yeah man, full on. Fucking hair extensions down to my back, a full on Grenada Hills porn legend. It was fun. It reminded me of an early Farrelly brothers movie, and I love those early movies. I love Something About Mary, I loved Kingpin. Kingpin bombed when it came out too, but it was a great movie.

Does it bum you out when a studio bungles a movie’s released because of some poor decisions?
You just don’t have any control. I’m kind of a nemesis in that film, so I just kind of support Nick. I wanted to be there because I like the movie. I like being in a comedy, which is so different from Somewhere. Sofia really encouraged me to do that, because she thought it would be kind of trippy. Then I went back in my zone in kind of a serious way for some of these other movies. Now I don’t know what I want to do.

How do you pass the time when you’re not working?
I don’t know. I’ve been busy because I have all this press, and it’s usually like one thing rolls into the next, but this is probably the longest break I’ve had. I’ve been off for a month now, so I’ve just been chillin in my house for the first time in a while, because I’ve been on the road. I’m a gypsy. I travel my whole life, so sometimes when it slows down, it’s good to take a breather.

Werner Herzog on ‘Into the Abyss’ & Why He Refuses to Bash Rick Perry

In October 2001, Michael Perry and Jason Burkett, two aimless Texan teenagers with roughshod upbringings, broke into Sandra Stotler’s house and murdered her in cold blood. Why? Because they wanted her red Camaro. Later that evening, they murdered Stotler’s son and his friend for reasons equally as incomprehensible. The crime sent shockwaves through Montgomery County, and landed Perry—but strangely, not Burkett—on death rowTen years later, Werner Herzog, the closest thing the movies have to an anthropologist, has resurrected the crime and its aftermath for for his latest documentary, Into the Abyss. But unlike most death row documentaries, Herzog isn’t on a mission to prove anyone’s innocence. Instead, Herzog is interested in sifting through the raw devastation caused by the senseless taking of human life. The result is paralyzing. Here is the legendary German director on his interactions with these convicted killers, Texas Governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry, and his role as the villain in the new Tom Cruise movie. (Did we forget to mention that?)

The film was quite something.
Where did you see it?

I saw it on a screener last night on my computer.
This is good to see with an audience because there’s quite some laughter. As strange as it may be, at points the whole audience is roaring.

How did you discover this case?
I have been looking systematically into death row inmates, not just in Texas, but in other States, but Texas is very media friendly. They want to make what is going on there transparent. It’s very much for Texas. I wanted to talk to people who know when they will die, and how they will die. In California, for example, you have the largest population on death row of any of the States, and the population keeps growing, because they have a moratorium on execution itself. So they will sentence you to death, but they will not execute you. And I was looking into a variety of cases, and this case struck me in particular because of the senselessness of the crime. You see, if you have a bank robber who in the course of the robbery shoots two guards who are throwing themselves at him, it’s part of a crime that we still can understand. But the senselessness of this particular crime—three homicides—is kind of staggering. and in a way, beyond comprehension.

When you see Rick Perry in the news, do you see the man who’s responsible for Michael Perry’s execution?
No, you should be careful. Number one, I’m not in the business of Texas bashing, and I’m not in the business of Perry bashing. I respectfully disagree with his attitude towards capital punishment, but I’m foreign in the country, and I’m not going to tell Americans how to handle criminal justice. His opinion, very obviously, is backed by the feeling of a vast majority in his state. He represents the mood of the electorate, so you have to take the mood seriously. He’s not just a figure that signs one death warrant after another. I do see him and I think him being a candidate for the nomination for the Republican party, and audiences who see him on television, see him with more scrutiny.

When you met Michael Perry, you said, “I don’t have to like you.” Did you end up liking him somewhat?
I have only met him for 50 minutes. And pretty much everyone whom you see on camera I have not seen more than an hour in my entire life.

Did you grow fond of him in those 50 minutes?
No, not really. I do not need to be fond of a man who is in there for three capital murders, and I do not make them heroes. I do not idolize the outcast. I’m not really into that mood, and I told him point blank, the fact that destiny hasn’t given you a good deck of cards, number one, does not exonerate you because there are many others who had a bad childhood and do not end up in a spree of senseless murder. And secondly, it does not mean that I have to like you. And I wanted to let him know, and for a moment you see he’s kind of freezing, but he liked me for being so straight forward. And he thanked me for it, because these people can tell from miles away whether someone is phony. And by the way, as boyish as Michael Perry looks—he looks like a lost kid, like some sort of brother of James Dean—knowing other death row inmates by now, and I mean, really dangerous men, I believe in my instincts and my guts that Michael Perry was the most dangerous of them all, as boyish and as childlike as he looks. But it’s my personal opinion. I can not case it on anything, I can only base it on looking at the crime.

Did you get emotional when you were making this film?
No. You have emotional content, but you see, when you have such short time you have to perform. You have to hit the right tone right away. You have to come away with usable footage. Later, in the editing room, all of a sudden it hits you because you have time to sit back. And it hits so hard and it’s so intense that both my editor and I started smoking again.

Really? How long had you stopped smoking for?
Oh, for years. We didn’t smoke much, but we had to rush out every hour and a half and hang onto a cigarette for five minutes, and then we could go back in. Besides, we are some sort of some regular eight-hour guys, like any decent person who works in an insurance company, but we could only work for five hours and then we were spent.  

Because the footage was so intense.
So intense. And that’s what you missed with an audience—there’s an intensity in the audience. Nobody seems to even breathe.

I wasn’t breathing.
But you were only on a small screen.

I’ll see it again.
When you sit with hundreds of others that do not breathe anymore, it strikes you.

What did you think when Michael Perry was speaking about going to heaven?
Well, it was good for me to see that he had come to terms with himself and not only with God. He had come to terms with himself as a person. At the moment he died, in a way he had understood that he was responsible, even though for a moment he denies any involvement. But sometimes, when you have someone hanging in death row for ten years, the only defense now is to claim innocence. And they talk sometimes, I believe, they talk themselves so much into it that they start to believe it. But forensic evidence and his own confessions tell a different story. But I told him I’m not in the business of establishing innocence or guilt.

Why did you choose to largely omit your voiceover from this film?
Each subject enforces it’s own form, let’s face it. And my voice, as a commentary is not in there at all. And I’m never visible, I’m speaking from behind the camera.

Did any of the inmates seem monstrous to you, or were you surprised by their banality?
No, no, no. I have to say it clearly, because everybody tells me these guys are monsters, just shoot them without trial. No, due process is such a phenomenal achievement of civilization and America is very, very insistent in due process. That’s one side of it, and I do agree with one aspect: yes, the crimes are monstrous but the perpetrators are not monsters, they’re human beings, period. And I deal with them and I talk to them with a respect of facing a human being. It is within the bandwidth of humanness to be as evil as they are. But they are human beings, they are not monsters and you just do not shoot them without proper trial. The due process is so important.

To what do you attribute your creative longevity?
I don’t know. I’m doing more than in my younger years. I’ve done six films this year. And I’m acting in another film and I’m doing my rogue film school.

How do you explain it?
I don’t know. love what I’m doing. And some of what I am doing, editing, for example, I can do faster now because I edit digitally, and I can edit almost as fast as I think.

It’s almost impossible to liken your work to that of any other living filmmaker. Does this ever fill you with a sense of artistic loneliness?
I don’t really feel lonesome. I have an avalanche of young people that want to learn from me or work with me, and I try to give an organized answer by doing the Rogue Film School. I feel connected with audiences. I know that I do something meaningful, and I love my films, and it doesn’t make me lonesome. In fact, it makes me welcome. You see, when I can go to any country—I was in India not very long ago, and I was in Russia not a long time ago, and I come with some of my films and I really am welcome, and this makes me a very rich person. I hardly own anything in material wealth, and so in much of my life, I have lived and worked in semi-poverty because I would immediately invest box office returns or fees that I earned into my next film. I don’t care much about having a big car or a fancy house or whatever, but I have every single ingredient of a very rich person.

Did you learn anything when you were making this film?
Well, I’m not out to learn anything, but strangely enough, in this case, I keep looking at small family coherence and values with fresh eyes. Because when you listen to the father of the man who is in prison for life, it’s amazing, and you better look with fresh eyes what he tells about children, and how you should look out for them

You’re playing the villain in the next Tom Cruise movie. How did that come about?
I did not know about the project. I was simply invited, so I was not competing in casting, but the production company, the director, and I believe, Tom Cruise, have seen performances of me as an actor in other films, and you wouldn’t be invited if you were not convincing in some way. A big Hollywood film cannot run the risk of inviting a complete amateur who has a funny accent.

Is this something you’re incredibly excited about and are going to approach with sincerity?
No, this is serious work and I’m really looking forward to it.

It’s going to be fun, I imagine.
Whether it’s fun or not, yes, I expect some of it will be fun, but it’s serious work, and rest assured, when I do a film as a director, I give everything that’s in me, and when I’m on screen as an actor, please expect the same.

Director Drake Doremus on ‘Like Crazy’ and His Bigger, Darker New Film

Last January, Drake Doremus entered his small, personal film into competition at the Sundance Film Festival, with hopes that the right people would see it, love it, and hopefully buy it. To say that things went according to plan is an understatement. Not only did Like Crazy—a naturalistic drama about a young couple caught in the throes of a long distance relationship—win the Special Grand Jury Prize, but it was bought by Paramount, the most major of major studios. Now in its second week of release, Like Crazy will be in theaters nationwide by Thanksgiving, and has claimed its mantle as one of the most talked about films of the fall.

The movie, which stars Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin as the star-crossed pair, gave Doremus the clout to go big—or relatively big—on his next picture, which he filmed last summer in New York, and stars Jones, Guy Pearce, Amy Ryan, and newcomer Mackenzie Davis. Doremus recently visited our offices to offer his interpretation of the sometimes ambiguous Like Crazy, and to share exclusive details about his next project. 

How many times have you seen Like Crazy? 
I don’t watch it anymore. I stopped watching it in Toronto, that’s the last time I saw it. It’s really difficult because I don’t really see the movie the same way anymore.

How do you see it now?
I’m just older, so when I watch the movie, I see like a younger version of myself making that film as opposed to the filmmaker I am today, which would have made a very different movie. But where I was at that time in my life and what I had to say about love and life and relationships, that’s certainly in the film.

Your new film is shot, but doesn’t have a title. Do you have anything in mind?
To be honest, nothing yet. It’s crazy. Hopefully something will present itself soon. It’s frustrating, because everyone always asks what it’s called, and we just don’t have a title.

Have you started to feel a Like Crazy awards push from the powers that be?
I do feel that. It’s funny, because it’s certainly not something I’m focusing on or thinking about. I’m focusing on sharing the message of the film with as many people as possible.

This whole process has been your first exposure to the Hollywood Industrial Complex. What’s that been like? 
It’s very strange, the business side of things. Making the film was such a creative endeavor, and there were never any creative compromises, but the amount of money being spent on the marketing campaign is like forty times the size of the budget we made the movie for. That’s hilarious to me, but I will say this: everyone at Paramount is genuinely in this for the right reasons. They didn’t buy the movie and they’re not backing the movie and they’re not pushing the movie because of money or because they have to. Their hearts are 100% in it.

Have people been coming up to you and telling you how authentic this film feels to them?
Well people come up to me and say, “That’s my story,” and that’s awesome.

Is Jacob and Anna’s relationship true love, or is it an addiction that neither can quite shake?
For them, the relationship becomes like trying to come back to a moment that existed, that’s in the past, and that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s that first three or four months that you cling to, or want to relive over and over again, like a drug. That’s the saddest thing of all, because while you’re in it, you can’t tell yourself that it’s not real, or that it doesn’t exist anymore. I feel like it’s two things, to be concise: One, it’s Jacob and Anna trying to get back to that moment, and two, it’s Jacob and Anna trying to move on from each other and not being able to. It’s somewhere in between those two, and it’s the grey area that’s devastating. That’s something that I really wanted to convey.

Like Crazy has an ambiguous ending, but is it ambiguous for you?
No, it’s so funny I feel like it’s ambiguous in some ways, and it’s not in other ways. For me, I really wanted the audience to feel exhausted. The relationship has taken such a toll on them emotionally that they have so little left to give. Whether they have nothing left to give and it’s over at that moment, or they will stagger into a sort of half-state of a relationship over the next couple months or a year is really up to the audience.

Were you trying to give the audience the power to create their own story after the film finished?
Yeah, I think it’s such a personal story for the audience and for me, that to jam something so conclusive in there would be untrue or manipulative, because I think this movie is what you bring to it from your life. I’ve read some reviews where people just don’t get the film, and it’s just so clear that they’ve never been through anything like this at all. If you have, then you have your own ending, and it wouldn’t be right of me to try and force mine on the audience.

We’ve covered the story of how you find Felicity Jones, but tell me how you cam across Anton Yelchin?
I think as far as kids in their early ‘20s in Hollywood, he’s one of the best actors. He’s a chameleon and a great character actor, and I didn’t want to go for just some good looking model kid, I wanted to go for an actor, someone who just has really good chops. He was on my list right from the start, and then I met with him and we spent three hours together talking about the character and talking about how I make movies and how he likes to work, and we were just on the same page pretty much right from the start.

What can you tell me about the film you just shot? Did the bigger budget change anything?
Well, the food is a little bit better. What it changes is just the atmosphere. The scope of the new movie is so much bigger.

How so?
There were scenes with 500 extras in the background. It’s just a bigger scope to the story. The backdrop of the story is in a much bigger world, it’s not so intensely in two people’s heads as they go through a relationship. This is about a guy who’s married and takes in a foreign exchange student, and he has a daughter and this very strange sort of emotional connection happens over the course of the semester. while this student, Felicity Jones, stays in this house. Hopefully it’ll be a beautiful throwback to some more classic love stories, like A Place in the Sun.

Where did the story come from?
It started from my obsession over the last year with classical music and the piano. It started with my composer Dustin O’Halloran, who did the score for Marie Antoinette and then Like Crazy, and just non-stop listening to his piano work. I wanted to write a story set against the backdrop of the fabric of that music.

So the piano is a big part of the story?
Yeah, Felicity’s character is a pianist. She’s great in this movie, and it’s a much different character than Anna, much darker and complex. The way we’ve been describing the film is like a darker cousin to Like Crazy; It still retains a lot of the same core integral values of how we make films, just on a bigger, darker, more romantic thriller-y stage. It’s a little bit more of a more romantic thriller. You never know, someone might kill somebody.

Do you ever worry that you don’t have another film in you?
Of course. Right now, I’m not even thinking about what’s next, because I have both of these films. But if I’m not hungry or passionate or don’t have an idea, then I shouldn’t be making a movie. So yeah, I get nervous about it, but I also feel like I’m in a really creative time in my life where I’m not too nervous about it at the moment.