Sara Paxton on ‘The Innkeepers,’ Bed Bugs, & Her Worst Nightmare

Some psychoanalysts might look at Sara Paxton’s recent filmographyThe Last House on The Left, Shark Night 3D, and Enter Nowhereand suggest that the 23-year-old actress is something of a masochist. Time and time again, the L.A. native has put herself in onscreen situations where her character may or may not lose a limb. Her most recent foray into the macabre is the Ti West-helmed The Innkeepers, in which Paxton plays a plucky hotel clerk who must ghost bust her way through the haunted inn’s final days of operation. Here is the refreshingly candid Paxton on bed bugs, Anthony Bourdain, and her worst fears. 

You’ve said in the past that you’re not really a horror movie person, but you’ve done quite a few of them. Explain yourself.
I’m not a horror movie fan. Granted, because I’ve been in so many the past couple years, I have explored horror movies, and I’m a big pansy, so they usually scare me. After The Ring I thought ‘Dude, I’m fucking done with this.’ I was afraid the girl was going to crawl out of the TV for a week, so yeah, I’m a big baby. But The Innkeepers is not quite a horror movie. There’s comedy, it’s definitely unique.

How is it different from your average haunted house movie?
Well, I think the problem with a lot of horror movies right now is that it’s just the same old shtick over and over again, which is fine, some people like that, but I think The Innkeepers is a really good movie first. Period. And second, it’s a horror-ish movie. The first half of the movie is a romantic comedy, and the characters are well developed. Because the characters are so well developed, when something bad happens to them you’re more scared because you care about them.

Ti West has established himself as an up and coming horror director. What’s it like hanging out with a guy who’s clearly got some dark stuff happening upstairs?
I love Ti, he’s awesome. I got involved in the movie because I was working on another movie, and I don’t know how it works with agents, but I guess he heard that I was working on a movie with a friend of his, and we spoke on the phone and met and we got along really well. Ti is one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with, and I’ve worked with some really awesome people that I love, but for being so young, he’s so good, he’s so specific, and he knows what he wants with everything. It just makes my job a lot easier, and we were laughing, having the best time ever. I knew every single person’s name on the crew; we all lived together when we were filming this movie. The Yankee Pedlar Inn that the movie takes place in is a real place. You can go to Torrington Connecticut right now and walk into the inn and feel like you’re walking into the movie.

What was it like living in the hotel?
When we were filming, Ti told us the hotel is really haunted, and weird shit happens there. I don’t believe in ghosts, but it was just a really weird place. It was all askew, built in the 1800s with bad seventies renovations. My door would violently fly open in the middle of the night, and there were no windows open, and my lights would flicker on and off. Everyone had this experience. The phone would ring, and nobody would be there, and there was nobody at the front desk. It was super scary.

Method acting at its finest.
Seriously! The worst part about it was we were all friends, and we were filming in this tiny ass town with no place to go. So we would just sit on the porch of the inn in rocking chairs drinking beer, and this woman came up to me and was like ‘Oh I love this hotel, and I was married in this hotel, and my son was conceived in this hotel! Great memories in room 333!’ I freaked out and just ran to Ti’s room and started banging on his door screaming, ‘Change my sheets! Change my sheets!’ So yeah, that was traumatizing.

Are you the kind of actor that gets really close with the people you’re shooting with?
Yes, definitely. It’s hard because I like to know every single person’s name, and totally joke around, and it’s hard at first because people always think ‘Oh it’s the actress, and she’s going to be a total bitch.’ But eventually they realize that I just want to hang out. All the grips gave me a goodbye card when we left; it was a picture of them in their Christmas sweaters, and I still have it. That’s the best part about my job, I get to meet cool people and hang out with them. It’s like camp all the time.

Throughout the film your character experiences some pretty grim stuff in the hotel. What’s the worst hotel experience you’ve ever had?
When I first moved to New York, I was sitting on the subway, reading the paper, and it was like ‘Bed Bugs! Taking over New York!’ and I was like “Losers! Who gets fucking bed bugs! Pussies!’

I’ve had bed bugs, but I’m not a pussy, I swear.
Well that’s the thing! Two weeks later I had bed bugs, and it sucked! We were starting to shoot in a day, and I woke up and I had welts all over my face and they said ‘You look like shit! We can’t film!’ I was hideous! So my friend got me a deal at the Thompson in the Lower East Side, and I just booked it there. I was naked, covered in Calamine lotion, crying alone. Nobody would come visit me.

You become an outcast the moment word spreads that you have them.
I was! I was in full-blown Howard Hughes mode, scratching myself, laying on the floor covered in tissues. That was pretty lonely and terrible, I know that.

In The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo Rooney Mara goes to some pretty intense physical extremes for the role. It reminded me a lot of what your character went through in Last House on The Left? How do you get yourself to such a dark place?
Well, first I think Rooney did an amazing job. I’m a huge fan of the books, so she looked just as I envisioned Lisbeth in my mind, and I thought she was really, really good. She was badass. But it’s hard because the character I play in Last House on the Left is so different from Lisbeth. For me, it felt like so much physical work every day, like running through the woods, and the assault scene, so everyday was this workout and I was exhausted. At times you have to go to some uncomfortable places, but it all works. There’s a big assault scene in the movie and you don’t even need to act. You feel uncomfortable and you don’t like it, so it all just worked for me.

What scares you in real life?
I have two big phobias. Number one is vomit. Not just me vomiting. I have a vomit sixth sense. I know when someone’s going to puke and I’ll just rush out of the building. I’ll just book it. I was filming a movie once and I was the only girl, so all the boys didn’t invite me out drinking. So it was 5 o’clock in the morning, and they had been out until 2, and we’re in a van headed to set, and my sixth sense starts kicking in. I see the guy next to me, and he’s looking green so I think ‘Fuck, this guy’s about to blow, I have to get out of here.’ But the van was moving so I started yelling ‘Can you stop the van? Can you stop the van?’ and they said ‘Nope. We have to go to set.’ and I literally jumped out of the moving van.

What is it about puke that gets to you, besides the obvious?
I don’t know. I’ve always been terrified of it, and I’ve had it since I was a kid. My other phobia is cockroaches.

I can’t even look at a photo of a spider without totally freaking out.
Dude I get it! I’m the same with cockroaches! When I see one on the street–do you know how many strangers I’ve jumped on? I’ve jumped on top of strange men. They probably liked it, but I didn’t.

Are there limits to what you’re willing to put yourself through for a role?
I think it depends. It depends on who you’re working with and if I feel totally connected to the material then no, I’ll do whatever if it takes. If I love something, and I want it to be the best, then I’ll do whatever it takes for it to be the best.

You’ve been in the business since you were a child. Do you ever feel like a grizzled veteran, or do you still get wide-eyed and excited?
It depends. Yes I’ve been doing this since I was a kid, but when I was really little, I wasn’t really doing it, it was more like an after-school activity. I would do like two commercials a year. It didn’t become this serious thing until I was in my teens, when I started doing movies and stuff. Then I quit for a while because I wanted to be a veterinarian. I was never home schooled, I got good grades, I wanted to go to college, but when I quit for a year, I really missed it and I realized it’s what I want to do. I feel like with each experience, it kind of beats you down, because it’s not this big glamorous job that everyone thinks it is. It’s funny because when I talk to people that have seen me in a movie, they’ll say things like ‘Do you know Robert Pattinson?’ and I’m like ‘No, I don’t. I don’t know if you know this, but I’m not that famous!’ So yeah, that can beat you down, but as long as I keep getting to meet unique and awesome people I’m happy.

Actors have a tendency to say they have the best job in the world. But tell me, what’s the worst part about being an actress?
Don’t get me wrong, not to be corny, but I feel blessed. I know people that would give their right arm to do what I do. But listen, I’m not really famous, so it’s not like I come into work and people are like ‘What can I do for you? Here’s your giant Will Smith trailer!’ I mean, it’s just not like that. I’m just an actress. People point and tell me where to stand and what to do constantly. So you have to be really patient and be okay with being told what do all the time. And sometimes I feel like I have to sell out and people are always like ‘Who are you? You look familiar! Are you famous?’ And it’s like, if you have to ask then no.

Do you live in LA?
I do. I’m from California. I grew up in a suburb 45 minutes outside of Los Angeles.

What do you love most about coming to New York?
I love New York. I lived here for a little bit when I was working on a television show, and we all had to move to New York and I freaking love it. I wish I could live here if I could afford it.

You could get a nice apartment in Brooklyn couldn’t you?
I would but the problem is I have a condo in L.A. so I can’t do both. If I could sell my condo and move to New York I would totally do that. I love Los Angeles, but there’s a whole different energy in New York that I love. Everyone’s walking, everyone’s going somewhere. In California it’s like ‘Hey! Do you want to meet me at this bar?’ and I’m just like ‘Ugh. I have to take off the sweat pants, I have to get ready, I have to drive.’ In New York it’s just ‘Shit! Let me get a cab!’ And the people are just a lot more awesome. A lot of my friends in New York assure me that there’s douchebags here too, but in L.A. it’s just like ‘What do you do? ‘Oh I’m an actress, but I’m a bartender, but I’m like really an actress.’ And I’m just like ‘Shit, how am I going to make friends.’

I was going through your Twitter and saw that you were enjoying yourself in Eataly recently.
Oh my god! Dude I’m such a foodie. I love love love Anthony Bourdain. I would poop myself if I got to meet him. I’ve read all his books, I watch his show whenever I can.

Have you seen his new show The Layover?
I love it. It’s awesome. It’s so great. Um, so ya. I went to Eataly with all the Magnolia Pictures people and Ti, and I was just in cured meat heaven and just rubbing cheese on my face.

If you had to pick a last meal, what would it be?
Oh God the options are endless! I think it would have to be Mexican food. I know it’s weird but my mom is Mexican, so if I’m dying I want to be comforted. And I usually cannot move afterwards, so they’ll just have to wheel me to the electric chair.

Getting Lost In and With the New Subaru Impreza

Kennebunkport is a small, coastal town in Maine, the kind of place we thought only existed in Stephen King novels. Every summer it’s swarmed by the dreaded one percent, boasts more bed and breakfasts per square capita than actual people, and is home to the Bush family’s expansive summer compound. In other words, what on earth were we doing there on a cold November weekend? Well it just so happens that Kennebunkport is also one of the best places in the country to test drive the 2012 Subaru Impreza, the latest iteration of the Japanese automaker’s most iconic model.

In between various bouts of hedonism at our home base, the secluded (and aptly named) HiddenPondResort, the Subaru brass made sure we capitalized on Kennebunkport’s asphalt nervous system, whose hilly, winding roads proved an ideal canvas for the easy-to-handle all-wheel drive hatchback (or sedan). The highlight of several test driving sessions was the Geocaching event that saw us drive from coast to countryside in an attempt to locate some strategically placed pumpkins. For all you cocooned city-dwellers, geocaching is an outdoor activity where participants use GPS devices to track hidden objects. The Impreza’s impressive agility and new double-wishbone rear suspension made tumbling through the rough backroads and woodsy terrain feel like we were gliding on air. But thanks to our navigational deficiencies, the geocaching itself didn’t go as smoothly.

But despite getting lost (with a GPS, no less) and embarrassing ourselves in front of our fellow scribes, it allowed us to spend more quality time with the car, and that’s never a bad thing. Subaru has long been the brand of choice for sporty-somethings everything, and with the newest Impreza’s winning combination of top-of-the-line fuel efficiency and all-wheel athleticism, the 2012 Impreza, which tops out at just over $22,000 will definitely satisfy brand loyalists and curious newcomers alike.

With additional reporting by Mike Taylor.

Michel Hazanavicius on ‘The Artist,’ Meeting Harvey Weinstein, & His Oscar Chances

Of the directors on this year’s Oscar shortlist, Michel Hazanavicius, the Frenchman behind the beguiling film The Artist, is by far the most obscure. But thanks to his dialogue-free, black-and-white homage to silent movies, the veteran filmmaker finds himself at the top of a list that includes mega-auteurs Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese, Woody Allen, and David Fincher, all potential contenders for the golden statuette.

Hazanavicius, who’s best known for helming the clever OSS 117 films, a series of French spy spoofs, has already pocketed the New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Director, and with the Harvey Weinstein promo-machine behind him, should be dripping with hardware by the time awards season comes to a close. But when we spoke to the thoughtful director at last fall’s Toronto International Film Festival, he was dismissive when talk turned to the Oscars, and far more interested in talking about the painstaking effort it took to get The Artist off the ground, his disdain for the French New Wave, and that first, fateful meeting with Mr. Weinstein himself.

What’s it like watching your film with an audience and knowing they are watching it for the first time. Do you have moments of thinking, “I can’t wait for them to see this part!”.  
Oh, yes, always. Especially with comedies, true comedies. When people laugh together at something that you said or did that was funny, that is something very special.

And what about the opposite when they don’t laugh? 
Well, what I usually try to do are some screening tests and try to figure out why people don’t think this will be funny and why it didn’t do well. With a screen test, there is a possibility for change. For the last movie, I did some changes, not so much this time. This one, I didn’t really have time to do a screen test.

What were people’s reactions to your idea before the film was made?
In the very beginning, they were not taking it very seriously. They would ask “What are you going to do? What do you want to do?” “Oh, I want to do a silent movie.”  “You’re trying to do a silent movie?” “ What about next time, for real life, what are you going to do?”  Those were the kind of questions I was getting. And then, with the other two I made in France, things changed and Thomas (the film’s producer) wanted to work with me and I said, “Oh, you really want to make a movie with me? Any movie? Well, if it’s any movie, maybe it should be this one.”  He thought I was crazy, but he really wanted to do it with me, he said let’s go for it.

He must be pretty thankful.
Yeah. Someone even bet money on it. Afterwards, he was like, “Now I feel less stupid!” But I think he was sincere, and he’s really proud of the film, and as a producer and what he did, I mean, for everybody who was involved with this film, it was a special experience. Everyone really did a great job.

You’re a French director and this film was shot in Los Angeles. Is it a French movie or a Hollywood movie?
I don’t care. I mean really, I don’t care. It depends on who decides. In France, it’s the nationality of the money that decides whether it is French or not. Many years ago a colleague made a movie with French actors based upon a French book; very well-known actors were in it. It was a classical film, shot in France, with American money, so it was an American movie. And now I’ve shot an entire movie in Los Angeles with an American cast, it is an American story, but it is a French movie; so it can be stupid. With this movie being a silent one, it’s like being in a new universe of language, so for me, given the nationality of the movie and where it was shot, maybe is not so clear after all.

Did you choose Jean Dujardin for this role because of his background as a comedic actor?
No, not necessarily. He is just an actor. He’s made other choices, and people follow him, they really like him. He’s a real classical actor. He’s made some comedies, some other choices. He can do a lot of movies. One movie I made was set in the ‘50s, the other one in the ‘60s  In the first one, he was looking like a young Sean Connery, the second one Ben Gazzara, he’s very flexible. But I think what I meant was that in France, thanks to him, we’ll have a level of success. Other parts of the world I don’t know.  The thing is here in North America, people could love the movie more than in France because there is something very touching for them to see a foreign guy tell a story. I don’t know. Maybe I’m wrong. But I think so.

Have you been a student of American films your whole life?  
I mean the silent movies I watched as a kid because my grandfather would bring my brother and I to a silent movie theatre. That’s what we were watching. But I studied a lot about silent movies. At the very beginning of the writing process, I wanted to understand the rules of what I could do, what I couldn’t do, and what I should do. Now I’m like a specialist.

Did you always want to be a director?
Yes, yes  My brother, he is an actor, and he wanted to be an actor, and very quickly, I mean I thought the boss was the director, but really it is the actor. I didn’t understand why it would be the actor. I remember thinking this when I was eight, and I still think that, but you know my family doesn’t work in this industry, and so, I wanted to be a director but I never dared to say it, never to be assumed because I thought it may have been too pretentious, too presumptuous to put it out there. My parents were actually immigrants in France.

What country were they from?
Eastern Europe. Jewish, from Eastern Europe.  So, for us, for me—France is my country—but for my parents, it’s their country more or less, so they don’t want to make waves.  Be quiet, don’t speak too loud. They live a quiet life and that was their philosophy and with that being at home.

Did you grow up watching any of the French New Wave?
Yes, but, I don’t know why. I mean, there are some great movies in the French New Wave, but they are also a bit snobbish. Everyone is talking about the French New Wave, but in Italy, and even in L.A., there was real realism, which is what the French New Wave aspired to be. They are some great movies, but I’m not like a lover of the genre. I do think they have great movies, but also the way that they influence the other generations after them is a complete catastrophe. There are a lot of French directors that grew up after that and now want to re-produce what the others did. Now everywhere in the world, people think of the French cinema in this way and if you don’t do it, you don’t do “French cinema.” You’re French, but you don’t do French cinema. They can’t easily identify you, and therefore can’t sell your movie. You have to explain yourself.

Tell me about your first meeting with Harvey Weinstein.
My first meeting with Harvey was in Paris. He saw the movie just before Cannes, and I have a friend of mine who worked on the movie in post-production who led Harvey to see it, and Harvey was alone in the theatre. It was this small, chic, screening room in this hotel in Paris. Harvey was happy to see it, I knew he was happy. Later, I was home with my wife and the kids, cooking, and suddenly the phone rings and it’s the producer telling me Harvey really loved it, he really enjoyed the movie, and he’s going to talk you.  I don’t know why, but at this moment the connection was awful and while talking to Harvey, all I hear is this rumble of weak signals and of Harvey going “Hi! It was wonderful!” in between bad connections, and then he said “Tarantino!”

Yeah, Tarantino. I mean, I really don’t know what he said, but he goes on, and so this was our first time meeting. and I really wanted to say something but, I mean, I speak English more easily because I am here, but when you spend your whole day in France or speaking French, and with French people around you, it can be difficult. So, in the end we agreed to have a drink and then I met him at The Ritz hotel, we had a drink and he said he really loved the movie, he fell in love with it.  He said some very nice things about the movie and the fact is he bought it, and really does the job well. He really didn’t change a thing about it, not a frame.

Were you worried that he might?
Yeah, I mean I heard the same stories about how things go with Weinstein just like everybody else, and my friend, the same French director, said be careful. But, really, he is a very nice guy, and this is the truth. He was really nice to meet, he does an excellent job, and I really feel like I’m in good hands. And I mean its Harvey Weinstein. That’s something. And you know they used our poster and trailer. They trust the movie and I trust him.

Are you now looking forward to Oscar season?  Because you know Harvey is going to be all over that.
Yeah, I know that.  Everybody I know speaks about that, but I don’t feel very comfortable with it because you know, it’s a trap.  If you take it very seriously, you are stupid because first, I don’t want to be disappointed. Second, I don’t want to sound ridiculous, going around talking about the award season, and then you are not nominated.

Everyone is saying that you will be nominated though!
I know, I know.

You’ve read all the hype?
I’ve read it, but honestly I don’t believe it, and here is my philosophy: I don’t believe what other people say about me. This is a rule of life. I don’t believe it, good or bad, really it depends on you. On the other hand, if I win the Oscar, it will be one of the most powerful moments of my career, and there is nothing more gratifying than this award. This is the award. To be nominated, whether we win or lose, we’ve won. But really, I don’t want to believe anything in a serious way. It’s too far from me, from my life. I live in Paris. If I can answer that question in a normal way: "Yeah, maybe I’ll go to the Oscars this year.”

‘The Artist’ Star Jean Dujardin Has Hollywood Talking Without Uttering a Word

When Jean Dujardin was awarded the top acting prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival for his cocksure performance in The Artist, the 39-year-old Frenchman wasn’t quite sure how to react. “I didn’t want to go up on stage, it was intimidating,” says the square-jawed alpha male. “In the end, it was not a big deal. The room carried me. I saw Jude Law smiling, he looked happy! De Niro, too!”

That Dujardin now finds himself in such rarefied company is no mystery. He is France’s highest-paid male actor, after all. What’s surprising is the vehicle that launched him there. The Artist is a silent, black-and-white love letter to 1920s Hollywood. To be sure, it’s a risky old-fashioned cocktail—no dialogue and no color in the post-Avatar era?—but it’s also one of the most creative, joyous films of the year. Dujardin plays George Valentin, a silent film star in the mold of Douglas Fairbanks, whose pre-talkie stardom withers away with the arrival of sound. In a cruel twist of fate, his would-be lover, Peppy Miller (played by the intoxicating Bérénice Bejo, who happens to be the director’s wife), becomes the toast of the town.
Dujardin’s virtuoso performance relies heavily on exaggerated physicality and facial gymnastics—a flick of a cigarette, a timely lift of the eyebrow—techniques no doubt honed in his years of comedy work, including roles in two highly successful spy-film spoofs (think The Bourne Trilogy meets The Naked Gun). “He’s a real classical actor,” says fellow Frenchman Michel Hazanavicius, who directed Dujardin in all three films. “One movie I made with him was set in the ’50s, the other in the ’60s. In the first one, he looked like a young Sean Connery, in the second, Ben Gazzara. He’s very flexible.”
With the Weinstein brothers hell-bent on hyping The Artist all the way to Oscar glory, Dujardin has a shot at the same crossover success that France’s Marion Cotillard enjoyed after she earned a golden statuette for her performance in La Vie En Rose. But does the veteran actor—who lives happily in Paris with his wife, actor Alexandra Lamy —crave that level of stateside acclaim? “I have to go for a good reason, not only to be involved in an American movie,” he says of Studio  City. “But first I have to learn to speak English.”

Drake Reflects on His Superstar Status, New Album, & The Weeknd’s Brilliance

On “HYFR (Hell Ya Fuckin’ Right),” one of the few bangers off Drake’s just-leaked, slow jam-heavy sophomore album Take Care, the 25 year-old Toronto rapper calls out journalists for confusing him, with half-baked questions like “Are you high right now?” and “Are you single?” His response? “Get the fuck up out my dressing room.” That anti-press sentiment might explain why Drake has been relatively quiet in the lead-up to his album’s highly anticipated November 15th release. Or maybe he’s just taking a page out of his mysterious protégé Abel Tesfaye’s (A.K.A The Weeknd) book on how to build hype. Tesfaye—the Toronto whiz-kid whose druggy, atmospheric R&B made for some of the most talked about music of the summer—rarely talks to the press, and has only been seen on stage a handful of times.

Tesfaye lends his addictive falsetto to four tracks on Take Care, an album that’s got as many shout outs to Drake’s hometown as it does to the harem of females that dot his life. With Tesfaye by his side, Drake seems eager to convince the world that Toronto’s about more than just Feist and frostbite. We spoke to hip-hop’s current prince about his new album, coming home a savior, and why The Weeknd might be best thing to happen to music since Prince.

How is your life different when you return to Toronto now?
Torontoalways felt so large to me, and I always felt like an outsider looking in, and I never thought I would be able to penetrate that world. All of a sudden, I’m like a king in this world: the strip clubs, women, fame, money—I’ve almost become this King Mayor in this world. I mean, I have, and that’s where the new album takes place.  It’s more about embracing the life that’s happening right now.    

What’s it like being so loved in the city that you’re from? 
That’s sort of the exact gist of the album.  To go from that kid who was truly a kid, who went to Forest Hill, and then Vaughn Road. I mean, I’ve seen all corners of the city, I’ve been with all kinds of people throughout the city, and just to come back and to be respected this much, it’s like a trip because I’m 25 years old.

Do you put a lot of pressure on yourself to be the mouthpiece for Toronto’s emerging rap scene?
I feel like even when you think about the greats that became gods, most of them became kings and gods when they were older. A lot of people that we respect put out their first album when they were 26, 27, and I’m 25 now, and I’m being treated like this savior. It’s the utmost form of respect, and I give it right back to them. I love them.  I do everything I can for this city, and that’s really what Take Care is all about.

Are you ever blown away when you think about the amount of success you’ve had, and all the giants you’ve had a chance to work with so early in your career?
Yeah, it’s like a combination of winning the lotto ticket, and when you get the lotto ticket, you feel like lightning hitting you. That’s the best way I can put it.  Winning the lottery and as you walk in to cash your ticket, you get hit by lightning. It’s rare. I used to sit at home and watch people, just watch people. I used to have pictures on my wall as a kid. I was a kid, man, and just to be able to say that in my lifetime, that everybody I had a picture on my wall of, I’ve now worked with, is an incredible thing.

You’ve been singing a lot more on your songs, and with The Weeknd’s contributions, is Take Care an R&B album as much as it is a rap album?
I think I really made a rap album.  Of course, I always incorporate melody because to be honest with you, I like melodies more than rap. I thrive on writing melodies and hooks, and I love writing R&B songs within my raps. I think I really found a great balance between rap and R&B. There’s actually not a song on this album that is not straight through R&B. I think that at any point, I’m either singing, rapping, or doing both on a song. I’m not just singing. I know on the last album I had “Cece’s Interlude” and a couple of others like “Shut It Down,” but on this album, all of my R&B is more purposeful, like to tell bits of a story as opposed to slow jams out of nowhere.  I’m more using R&B as transitions on this album, as opposed to making R&B songs.

Where does your love for R&B come from?
I used to take this road to Memphis with my dad, 22, 23 hours, whatever it was, and he used to let me rap for one hour. He’d give me one hour of rap, so I could play Doggystyle, Queen Latifah, whatever it was I was listening to, and then I had to listen to R&B the rest of the way, and that really shaped my ear. I used to have to listen to R&B 20 hours straight, like full albums. Then my dad told me I could bring my own R&B into the car, so I started bringing R&B artists that I liked, and that was how I discovered Aaliyah.

Are you thrilled that audiences have embraced this whole “Internet R&B” movement?
Yeah, I think it’s a different brand of R&B, and if you think about great music like Jimi Hendrix or Bob Marley, all these artists that cool kids put on their Tumblr as their icons and heroes, they all had melodies, so it’s great  It’s great that it’s finding its way back to people like The Weeknd, like Frank Ocean, and myself, because melody is love, man. That’s what really commands the world, that’s what changes the world. The artist that changes the world has used melody at some point or another. The greatest artists that we all cherish and look up to have used it, so I think it’s only right. It only makes sense.

What was going through your mind during The Weeknd’s debut show this past summer in Toronto?
You know, I’ve heard him sing in front of me a lot, but it doesn’t really register with me sometimes. It’s getting on that stage that’s a different thing. Getting on that stage and being able to translate music and make it authentic to people, making it sound the way they’ve been listening to it on their iPods, or in their cars the past few months. It’s a very difficult thing to make music translate.  

Were you worried he wouldn’t pull it off?
I knew he had the voice, that was never a doubt of mine. I just didn’t know how it was going to translate, and I’ll never forget being up on that balcony, and my heart was beating faster than any other show I’ve ever done.  Even when Jay-Z brought me out, my heart was just beating so fast with excitement, and I was just so eager to see. I felt just like everyone else in that crowd, just eager to see what was going to happen.

And what happened?
I’ll never forget when those curtains opened and his demeanor within the first five seconds, I just knew what was about to happen. I knew it. I just knew it right away. A lot of people caught it after the first song or maybe mid-way through the show, but I knew. I knew within the first five seconds, this kid is the one.

There was a lot of chatter before the show that he wouldn’t be able to live up to the hype. Was that vindication for you, when he came out and killed it?
Nah, because you know what?  I’m never that guy that goes “I told you so.” I don’t get joy out of that.  I’m more the “Fuck yes!” guy. Like when I see somebody over-deliver, it’s never like a sort of “Ah, man, see, see?” It’s never that.  For example, I had a show at Sound Academy, my first show in Toronto for So Far Gone. It was a crazy show, and I delivered. I went out there, and I was Drake. That’s what people wanted to see. I delivered my songs. They yelled, they screamed. I was from Toronto, so it was great.

But The Weeknd came out there and did something that I’ve never seen before in my life. He was basically up there saying, “This is why I’m here, because none of you could ever do this in your life. I am probably one of three people in the world, if that, that can sing in this high register, that can write these words down, that can put them over these beats, and give you this feeling. I am the only person. Like when I say one of three people, I’m talking like, I don’t know who else can give you this feeling.  I had like Sade, Prince-type feelings when he came out on stage. I had real legendary emotions coursing through my body during his performance. It was an incredible night for him.

Did you feel that way about him when you first heard him sing?
One thing I was never able to do was doubt him, because he’s delivered on so many occasions. When he came out with the demo of House of Balloons, I remember I was in Oliver’s car, and I heard the demos, and to hear his music grow from that, I was like, Oh my God, this kid, he gets it. And then not only that, but for him to shift over and start working on Take Care with me and deliver in that realm, for me, that’s one thing I’ll never forget. So did I worry? No, because that’s my brother, that’s my friend, and I know we think the same way, and I know he wasn’t going to let it be bad. But how good it was, was mind-blowing to me. It could have just been good and it still would have been great and gotten rave reviews, but every positive word that was written about him, he deserved because it was truly something, for Toronto especially. It was the most epic performance I can remember.

Drake Picks His Ten Favorite Remixes

Drake knows a good remix when he hears one. Before the Toronto-born rapper reached stadium status, he made his name on the mixtape circuit, often flowing over other artists’ tracks, most notably “Little Bit,” Lykke Li’s minimalist love ballad. “I like when people change elements of a song,” he says of the art form. “I know that’s the definition of a remix, but a lot of the time, especially in this day and age, people don’t change too much when a remix comes out—same beat, same hook, new verses. I love when a remix is a complete revamp of the song.”

Although he still finds time to lay down a verse or belt out a hook on the occasional remix, the 24-year-old musician and actor has been focusing his energies on completing Take Care, the follow-up to his masterful debut, 2010’s Thank Me Later. Like most of his peers’ sophomore albums, Take Care finds Drake considering his ascent to superstardom, but, he insists, he’ll avoid the standard woe-is-me lamentations. “On my last album, there were these glimpses of me missing my old life and blah, blah, blah,” he says. “But on this one, it’s like, Nah, it’s not going to come back. I never thought I’d be able to penetrate the industry in this way, but all of a sudden I’m a king. At this point, there’s no turning back.”

Drake and The Weeknd’s “Trust Issues (OG Ron C Mashup) .” I’ve heard the Weeknd sing a lot, so I knew he had the voice—that was never in doubt. I just didn’t know how it was going to translate live. I’ll never forget watching from the balcony at his first show. My heart was beating faster than it had at any other show I’ve ever done, even when Jay-Z brought me out. It felt like everyone else in the crowd was just as eager as I was to see what was going to happen. I’ll never forget when those curtains opened. Right away, I knew this kid was the one.

Sade featuring Jay-Z’s “The Moon And The Sky (Noah ‘40’ Shebib Remix).” My producer, 40, took a shot at a song that had a lighter, happier vibe to it. He just took it and made it super-ominous—a real 40 production. It’s incredible that Sade reached out to him to do it. It was probably one of the most exciting moments of my career, even though it had nothing to do with me.

Aaliyah featuring Tank’s “Come Over (Og Ron C’s Chopped Not Slopped Remix).” The original version is one of my favorite songs, but OG Ron C took it and pumped it up. A lot of the time when people chop and screw songs, it can sound just like that, but not OG. I ride to this at least two to three times a week. It’s my nighttime song.

Amy Winehouse’s “Tears Dry on Their Own (Organized Noise X Dungeon Family Remix).” The Amy Winehouse thing is obviously very sad. But from a musical standpoint, I love the fact that the Dungeon Family brought this crazy, Outkast-like sound to her song. It became this dirty, nasty, raw song, and they made her vocals sit so perfectly in the pocket. A lot of the time, when you produce a beat around a voice, there are parts of the a capella that don’t necessarily match up, but here every part of her voice was made for this beat. I actually wish that someone from Dungeon Family would have sent me that remix so that I could have done a couple of verses and put it on my album. It’s a crazy joint.

One Chance’s “Look at Her (Remix featuring Trey Songz, Lloyd, and Bobby Valentino).” This reminds me of my early days in Atlanta, when I first met Trey Songz. We did a song together [“I Invented Sex”], and he was just poppin’—it was the era of the male R&B heartthrob. I love melodies—this song has one of the best—and it has three R&B artists going at a song the way rappers do. They all try to outdo each other, and I love hearing competition in a song.

SBTRKT featuring Yukimi Nagano’s “Wildfire (Drake Remix).” Sometimes, when I think about the things I get to do, it feels like a combination of getting hit by lightning and cashing in your winning lotto ticket. I’m a big Little Dragon fan [Nagano is the band’s lead singer], and just to be able to get on the track and do my thing was amazing. I didn’t know if they were going to fuck with my verse or not, but they were just like, “Nah, this is perfect, let’s go!” It was great.

Mario’s “Crying Out for Me (Remix featuring Lil Wayne).” Not that I’m the biggest fan of this song, but it’s probably one of my top-three Lil Wayne verses of all time, so that’s why I picked it. Hearing him rap a complete phone conversation between him and a girl, a straight call and answer—I can only imagine the joy he experienced after that verse was laid down. I would go home and have a glass of wine and sit by myself and be like, I really just did that shit. That verse to me is what I strive to do every day.

R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” and Nas’ “Street Dreams (R. Kelly Remix).” R. Kelly is one of the only people who can make remixes better than their originals. That “Ignition” remix was so bouncy, that shit was just so G. That actually goes for both of these songs, because R. Kelly is the king of the remix. That’s why I put both of these on here. What R. Kelly does is very similar to what the Weeknd is doing. He’ll take a song and add elements to it that make you fall in love with it all over again.

Notorious B.I.G.’s “One More Chance (Remix).” This is what I think about when I think about remixes. It was just an amazing time for hip-hop. Bad Boy Records was a pioneer in the remix game, and this one was something that I listened to heavily.

SWV’s “Anything” (Remix featuring Wu-Tang Clan).” SWV featuring Wu-Tang—this is 40’s. I was like, Pick any remix, and I’m going to tell the interviewer that it’s your favorite. So this is 40’s pick.

Michael Shannon Talks Season 2 of ‘Boardwalk Empire’ & ‘Man of Steel’

“I don’t usually play characters that have best friends” says Michael Shannon, in what may be the understatement of the year. Since breaking out as the disturbed but prophetic fellow in Sam Mendes’ Revolutionary Road (he would have likely won an Oscar for his performance had it not been for some guy named Heath), the Chicago native has built a career on inhabiting the psyches of lonely men on the brink of madness. Whether it’s as Herzog’s unhinged muse in the surreal horror My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done? or as the fundamentalist head case Agent Van Alden on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Shannon makes losing his mind look easy.

So it was with great relief when we encountered a subdued Shannon at a recent TIFF Press day. In town to promote Take Shelter and Machine Gun Preacher, the actor greeted us with a “wait, what film are you here for?” We were in fact, there to discuss the latter, the true story of Sam Childers, a drug addict-turned-preacher-turned-mercenary who took it upon himself to save the children of Sudan with a lethal combination of bullets and balls. In it, Shannon plays Donnie, a former junkie and BFF to Gerard Butler’s Sam, in as gentle a performance as we’re likely to see from the theatre vet, especially with Season 2 of Boardwalk just around the corner, and of course, Zack Snyder’s Superman reboot Man of Steel due next summer, in which Shannon plays the dastardly General Zod. But before he tries to destroy the world, Shannon spoke to us about his non-history with drugs, playing a super-villain from outer space, and what’s in store for the craziest cop west of the Hudson.

Do you mind this part of the business—the constant interviews? Depending on where you are. I find this is pretty mellow. I just had a press day in New York and it felt like everybody was in my face or something. This is pretty mellow so far.

Toronto is kind of like New York lite. Yeah, the Canadian vibe.

Were you familiar with the conflict in Sudan before you read the script for Machine Gun Preacher? The specific details I was not familiar with. It seems like there’s been trouble in Africa for such a long time. The last time I really found out about something specifically there was when I went to see Hotel Rwanda, which was another amazing story. But since then, I haven’t really been keeping an eye on it. Like I said earlier, it’s tough when you have so much going on in your day-to-day life to track what’s going on in the rest of the world. And it’s kind of like an American malady. It seems like sometimes you have a tendency to think the world ends at the coast.

How did you channel playing a junkie? Was there a personal history with drugs you tapped into? You did the whole stoner thing pretty well. Well, thank you. I don’t have any judgments about it. I don’t think it’s like an evil thing to do, or whatever. I’ve always been incredibly intimidated by drugs, to be honest. I have enough problems maintaining control of myself as it is. I don’t really need to throw that wrench into the works. You just kind of use your imagination. People give you pointers and they try and describe it to you, and the rest of it you just take with your imagination and run with it. I think there’s certain things that are kind of a given and we all assume anyway that cocaine does this and heroin does, that and there’s no shortage of drug movies, that’s for sure. I’ve seen a ton of those, so I also have that to go on.

What about the idea of being saved by religion? Is that something you think is legit, or just a bunch of bullshit? I don’t think it’s bullshit, necessarily. But I do think, for myself, that at the end of the day people are responsible for themselves, whether you believe in a higher power or not. There are a lot of people that believe in a higher power that don’t take care of themselves or don’t live the right way. It’s not enough simply to believe in that higher power, you have to live in the graces of the example that the higher power is giving you.

It felt like even though he had embraced God, Donnie was teetering on the edge the entire film. Yeah, I think it’s meant to be kind of sketchy. I think Donnie is holding on for dear life, and I think he really needs Sam in order to stay clean and to be a good man, and that’s what ultimately is kind of tragic about it, because I really do think Sam loves Donnie but he can’t put everything he’s doing on hold, just to hold Donnie’s hand through the whole thing. I think people find that in life all the time. I’ve had buddies I’ve been worried about and relationships that go back a long way, but you can’t drop the whole rest of your life just to make sure that person is keeping it together or rush to their aid anytime they need help.

Did you get a chance to speak to Sam about Donnie and what kind of man he was? Well, the impression that I got from Sam is that the character that’s ultimately in the screenplay is kind of an amalgamation of different friends that he had over the years. He did, in fact, have a friend named Donnie and he does have friends that have passed away due to their lifestyle. But he never said, “You’re playing this one specific guy.” It was more like, “These are the guys I hung out with, this is what kind of world it was.”

It’s almost like there were two movies being shot at once. How did you stay connected to what was being shot in Africa? I imagine you were not on set. I didn’t go to Africa. They literally shot the American side of the story first, and then actually I think they took a little bit of time off before they went to Africa. So all those times that I call him in Africa, we shot that before they ever left. My time on the film was fairly brief. By the time they were in Africa, I was working on another film. So I haven’t seen the film yet.

How important is the script to you when you’re choosing a project? Is that what strikes you first and foremost, if the piece is written well or not? Yeah, writing is crucial, and if I believe something is well written, there’s nothing I won’t do to serve the vision. I think of acting as kind of a service, really, to the writer and director’s vision. But in order to really put your heart in it, you have to feel it’s to a good end. But it seemed very authentic to me. I think Jason, the screenwriter, put a lot of time in. He spent a lot of time on the script and it just rang true when I read it. But it’s incredibly awkward being in front of a camera saying something that you just think is silly, because there’s nowhere to hide and I think your true feelings, they come through.

For something like Man of Steel, if that script was mediocre, would you have still done it just because it’s Superman? I would still want the script to be ready to go. One of the main things on that is that Chris Nolan and David Goyer were in there writing the script, and those guys know what they’re doing. It can’t just be because it’s Superman. There’s no promises anybody’s going to automatically love the movie just because it’s Superman. There still has to be quality in all aspects of it. And yeah, I felt very confident making the decision to be involved because of the script, and because of Zach’s work as well.

How do you go from playing someone like Donnie who’s so grounded in reality to someone like General Zod who’s obviously a complete fabrication? Is it the same kind of approach as an actor? Yeah, because it ultimately comes down to the imagination. Even if you’re playing a real person or someone from a walk of life you may be able to identify with, there’s always an aspect that’s left up to the imagination. Like I was saying earlier with a lot of things that Donnie’s done that I’ve never done. I’ve never robbed a crack house, I’ve never even picked up a hitchhiker, and I’ve also never had a conversion experience, or shot up heroin. But even though those things are grounded in Earth reality, it doesn’t mean that I necessarily have all the information without using my imagination.

You performed a one man show in New York last winter. Is it nostalgic going back to the theatre? Is it where you feel most comfortable? I don’t know if it’s a matter of comfort. The way I break it down is, movies is a director’s medium, television is kind of the writer/producer/creator medium, and actors can really test their mettle in the theatre, because it’s like the decathlon for actors. The film can be a decathlon too, but one day you do the javelin, and the next day you do the shot-put. But in the theatre experience, you’re doing that decathlon every night, and it just gets you in shape and just gets your blood pumping. I don’t think this will come as a shock, but I think some of the best dramatic writing is for the theatre. Writers writing for theatre are able to write more basically. A lot of films try to have as little dialogue as possible, because it’s a photographic medium.

What are some of the major differences you find between the New York theatre scene and the Chicago theatre scene? Well, New York’s just tough. It’s really high stakes, you know. Even an off-Broadway production can be incredibly costly and really can screw up some people’s lives if it doesn’t go well. What I come from in Chicago is an ethic of just doing it, because you love it, and if there’s only five people in the audience, it’s not the end of the world and you still do it and you still enjoy doing it.

Reviews don’t really matter? I mean obviously, you do want to have success no matter where you are, and if it wasn’t for some of the success of the work I did in Chicago, I wouldn’t be sitting here right now. But I also did a lot of plays that weren’t successful, but I just found fascinating and enjoyed spending time working on, and to me, those experiences are just as valuable as doing a big Hollywood movie.

Finally, what’s Boardwalk been like for you? It’s obviously one of the most well-received shows on television, and I think your character is one of the most fascinating on the show. I didn’t see his fate coming, and I don’t think most people did. Yeah, Season 1 was quite a trip. I was excited when I took the meeting with Terence Winter and Mr. Scorsese because they said, “Oh you’re going to play the law man,” and I would have guessed they wanted me to play a gangster, thug, something like that. But they’re like, “No, you’re going to play the good guy, the guy that really believes in what he’s doing, very righteous,” and that’s what I love about it. If I just went in and arrested a bad guy every week, I’d probably be bored out of my mind by episode six. So it was a shock sometimes just how quickly he fell apart. But it all made sense, and it’s always a surprise which is a great thing about it. I don’t know what happens until I’m shooting the episode.

Are we going to see Van Alden plunge further into darkness in Season 2? It’s complicated. He realizes he’s gotten himself into a pickle, and underneath it all, inherently, I think he’s a very strong man even though he’s succumbed to a lot of weaknesses and made a lot of mistakes. So I think Season 2 for him is really about whether or not he can find redemption and getting back to the values he once held so dear.

Clooney, Gosling, & Everyone Else: Your TIFF Party Wrap-Up

This year’s Toronto International Film Festival was touted the biggest in years, as far as pure star power goes, with the trifecta of Clooney, Pitt, and Gosling topping most people’s to-stalk list. If last year was any indication, Grey Goose Soho House would again be ground zero for all things A-list, and it was, with The Ides of March duo and a host of others descending on the members only club’s weekend pop-up on Saturday night. The venue–3 levels of typical Toronto loft, exposed brick walls and floor-to-ceiling windows–was retrofitted to suit Soho House’s sophisticated but comfortable palette: pillowy, velvet couches, rustic lamps and table sets, and tribal rugs strewn across the hardwood floors. The party, which was officially the post-game for David Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method, quickly achieved shit-show status when Clooney arrived with his ex-girlfriend-to-be Stacey Kiebler, as lesser stars lined up to greet the couple.

But the real star of the night was Win Butler. The Arcade Fire frontman (with his ethreal date Regine), had Hollywood’s elite geeking out, and in particular, Blackbook cover boy Alexander Skarsgaard, who was spotted showing Butler footage he had shot of Arcade Fire on his phone while a nearby Bono chatted with Clooney, most likely about future let’s-save-the-world initiatives. Upstairs in a battle of crushes old and new, Gosling took on Dave Matthews in a game of ping pong, while lovebirds Chris Pratt and Anna Faris, and Kate Mara and Max Minghella,looked on. And though Pitt didn’t show, his Moneyball co-star Jonah Hill did, and was seen chatting with Keira Knightley, probably about how to handle all those eating disorder rumours.

The sheer wattage of Soho House was hard to match, especially after Harvey Weinstein closed it out Monday with his annual bash. But we have to hand it to the folks at Blackberry who mounted a valiant effort at King West’s newly-renovated haunt Brassaii, for a trio of nights that doubled as the perfect pre-drink spot for Soho House’s late night shenanigans. Tops of the three was the after party for 50/50, the buzzy cancer comedy (trust us, it’s good) starring Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Both leading men showed up to fete their premiere, along with co-stars Anna Kendrick and a very pregnant Bryce Dallas-Howard, who was a good sport all night despite being as big as a house. Speaking of good sports, Rogen who came off as one of the most approachable stars throughout the fest, happily obliged photo-seekers all night, while his beaming fiance stood by and watched.

So with Soho House and Brassaii establishing themselves as the biggest star magnets of the fest, the Gansevoort Hotel’s partnership with the low-key Toronto speakeasy goodnight provided a low-key but just as exclusive alternative to the usual TIFF red carpet clusterfuck. Although “Goodnight Gansevoort”, as it was dubbed, started with typical TIFF bombast–we were chauffered to the festivities in a shiny black BMW X6–the Moet and Belvedere sponsored evening was much less Hollywood, much more Toronto scenester than the typical TIFF bash. But after standing around awkwardly all week, guzzling double vodka sodas and hoping that tonight is the night Emily Blunt finally notices us, Goodnight Gansevoort’s deluge of equally wasted Torontonians (most in really short skirts) proved to be a welcome relief.