Clive Owen Opens Up About His Surprising New Thriller, ‘Shadow Dancer’

In director James Marsh’s latest film, Shadow Dancer, Clive Owen plays Mac, an MI5 agent who is in charge of interrogating Collette McVeigh, (played by a fiercely luminous Andrea Riseborough) the daughter of a tightly-knit IRA family from civil war-torn Belfast. While traveling to England, she places a bomb in a London tube station. What ensues is a tense, quietly resonant political thriller, and Owen’s Mac is someone whose word is all he has left in the world. It’s a terrific, taut performance, and co-stars Riseborough and Gillian Anderson, and the largely Irish supporting cast round out this slow-burning thriller. Here, Clive Owen–a real movie star by any definition–discusses what it was like working with  Marsh, (known for his award-winning documentaries Man on Wire and Project Nim), his own dedication to the project, and the delicate politics portrayed in Shadow Dancer.

What preparation did you do for the role of Mac in Shadow Dancer, and how aware were you of the IRA conflict’s history?
I didn’t get a chance to do that much research, because I was coming off the Hemingway project (HBO’s Hemingway and Gellhorn, starring Nicole Kidman) and I was really tired, and I wasn’t going to work at all for awhile.

And then I was sent the script, and James Marsh’s name came attached with it. I loved Man on Wire. And I really fell in love with this script.  It’s one of those rare scripts that was really ready to go.

 So, I went straight from that set onto to his set. In terms of the IRA, yes, I do remember it. If you grow up in the UK, the whole threat of the IRA was ever-present, really. It was always on the news. It was always in the air. It was the danger of it.

How did James Marsh’s experience as a documentary filmmaker affect his directing process?
Oh, it was a big plus for me. Documentary filmmakers are always after something truthful. It’s a huge reason for me doing it. He’s not interested in manipulating an audience, or doing anything fake.

Is there a particular type of character you enjoy playing? 
I remember way back when I first got to LA, people asking me if I played “goodies” or “baddies” And I remember saying, “I really don’t look at it like that!” I meant it. I’ve never played any character that I pre-judged. One of the strengths of this script is that it wasn’t judgmental; it wasn’t clear cut. People are not just good or just bad. It was a complex time, and these characters are complex people.

When I look at my career, it’s just been led by material and by director. I’m sure it’s the fact that I started out in the theater, and I wanted to play different parts. That’s why you go into the theater in the first place, not to keep repeating the same thing. And for me, that’s one of the joys of doing it.

Does your character actually fall in love with Collette, his informant, during the course of the film?
I don’t think he falls in love with her, no…I think he has empathy for her. Every character in the movie is struggling.  The scene with that strange, furtive kiss, surprised me…And it’s rare when you read a script like that, where you get to a scene and go, “gosh, that’s really….” It was a furtive, kind of lunge from her for some kind of contact.  I think it surprises them both, and confuses them both. And I love that it sort of rears up. It’s not dealt with in a corny way.  It’s very real, human. Surprising.

[More by Francesca McCaffery; Follow Francesca on Twitter

Vanessa Hudgens Explodes Her ‘High School Musical’ Image in Harmony Korine’s ‘Spring Breakers’

Harmony Korine’s dizzying, trashy, and bold new film Spring Breakers stars Selena Gomez, Vanessa Hudgens, Ashley Benson, and Rachel Korine as four bored and sexy college girls on an uninspiringly small and vapid university campus, who, like most of their peers, can’t scrape the cash together to go down to Florida for Spring Break. So, what do they do? What most of us would us would—they don their ski masks and rob the local Chicken Shack, ya’ll!

Reeking of sex, pot, highly-stylized violence, Southern Florida skank,  and James Franco sporting a gold grille and cornrows as white rapper Alien (“That’s A-leen!”), the film is an enormous, gutsy leap forward in the career trajectory of its three leads—namely Vanesa Hudgens. They literally blast their Disneyfied images to high Heaven (or hell, depending on your moral stance) with the controversial new film. But Korine also shows us the little girl that still lurks within the souls of these characters, and casting Gomez and Hudgens drives the point even further home with a sledgehammer—leaving us inquisitive to his views on the current, online and violent pop cultural climate, and how could be radically affecting our very malleable youth.

No actress bares more and has the biggest transformation as such a known and beloved childhood performer than Hudgens, who, to this viewer’s eyes, was nearly unrecognizable for the first fifteen minutes of the movie. And she is fantastic in her role as Candy—vibrant, bitchy, confident in her sexuality, and fearless.

Last week, I got the chance to chat with Hudgens to find a smart young actress taking the reins of her career with a vengeance.

As a young woman phasing into a new aspect of your career, Spring Breakers is an enormous departure for you. What were you looking at when you took the role of Candy in Spring Breakers?
Vanessa Hudgens: I mean, I’m looking at my career. I’ve always been looking for projects that would push me, that would be fun. But especially now. I mean, I’m 24, and I’m growing. I want to be able to have my body of work grow with me. This is a project that was very special. Stuff like this does not come around that often. Harmony is such an amazingly special filmmaker, as well. He normally doesn’t even use ‘actors.’ So, to have the opportunity where he was actually hiring real actors, it was just a no-brainer.

There’s so much humanity in what he does.
Yeah! I mean, you have to give him props for shaking people up. He gives people an experience. He wants it be something unfathomable, something that you can’t put into words. He wants the film to be a feeling, a real experience. It’s rare that you actually even get that from a movie. Isn’t that why we go to the theatre, so that we can feel something, and be taken on a journey, and an adventure, and be completely submerged into a different world. That’s what he does.

Can you tell us about how you and Ashley researched your characters? They’re so completely different from how we usually see you.
Yes. We would watch movies, and pull from robbery scenes. The robberies weren’t scripted at all. We pulled from The Town, from The Dark Knight, and Heath Ledger’s character. We worked on being fearless, and feeling empowered, as much as we possibly could. We had to stick with that, those feelings, throughout the whole duration of filming.

I agree with you completely. Do you see yourself directing at all? Where do you see your career moving forward from here?
 Still acting; I want to be able to be a chameleon, and blend myself into these characters. You look at Johnny Depp, he’s such a transformational actor, and James Franco! James plays a character in this film that you’ve never seen before! On paper, it could have been really silly and tacky but he brings such an authenticity, and believability to his character. I think that’s’ the most empowering thing for an actor to be able to do. When they can really take something, like a different kind of person, a real character you’ve never seen before, and bring them to life. That’s what I want to do.

Did you feel on the set that the film transformed you as an actress?
Yeah! Totally. It was almost like an acting workshop. It didn’t feel like a normal movie set  where the film is so structured and people are telling you your continuity and your lines. But with this, it was so exploratory; we did so much improvisation, every single day, that you didn’t know where the day would end up. It would always take a different direction. We would just surprise ourselves every day. And that’s the most rewarding thing for an actor.

Spring Breakersis in theaters now. And for more insight into the film, check out our interview with Harmony Korine.

A Look at the Women Behind This Weekend’s First Time Fest

Johanna Bennett and Mandy Ward are the co-founders of the First Time Fest, a brand new film festival that offers a staggering opportunity for the first-time filmmaker: a distribution deal. Partnering with Cinema Libre Studios, the twelve films in competition this weekend in New York City will vie for the honor of having their film released in the U.S. as well as get the chance to meet some of their cinematic heroes. Darren Aronofsky will be on hand to receive the John Huston Award for Outstanding Achievement in Cinema, an award being presented by none other than the great Martin Scorsese.

I had the pleasure of speaking with Bennett and Ward as they began to shape the festival and, in just a few months, the pair has grown their “two-woman team” into an all-star cast of participants and collaborators. I spoke with them about the impetus for starting this wonderful new film festival, which has already attracted the attention of the best in Hollywood.

In less than a year, these women and their growing team have created a new way that filmmakers and audiences both will be challenged. Their festival jurors are the legendary producer Christine Vachon, Fred Schneider from the B-52s, and none other than you, the third juror: the audience itself. Do not miss this incredible film festival this weekend in New York. Get your tickets to the films and panels here.

Tell us about the creation of the First Time Fest, and what inspired it:
Johanna Bennett:We were talking about how hard it was to move up. We were sort of lamenting our own stuff (laughs) and Mandy, who had just left Radioactive Films, had really been talking about film festival stuff…
Mandy Ward: I was going go to a lot of festivals, you know, promoting films that I had produced. And I was so lonely at these festivals! Like, really lonely! You go for work, you see people, but they’re always going to something else.You’re just lost in this mass waterfall of people that’s spread out everywhere. You don’t quite know where you’re going, there’s no intimacy, so you just feel like a lost little puppy all the time.
JB: And I had not really been involved in the festival circuit, unless it was to buy a ticket for the New York Film Festival or for Tribeca. I knew nothing about something Cannes. Mandy explained to me that people go to Cannes for the market, that that is what also makes it such an exciting festival. And in New York, there all these little festivals, and I asked her, “Well, why aren’t these festivals attracting more attention?” She said it was because there’s no market—there’s no celebrity attachment. So I asked, “If there was a festival that had no real celebrity attachment, how would it attract attention?” And Mandy replied, “I don’t know!Maybe attach some crazy prize, like distribution!” So we thought maybe we could put something like that together! So we cleaned out this “barn” of the Player’s Club [the historic actor’s club in Gramercy Park] and put on a show! We thought it would be easy—that we’d create a budget, like a movie—but it was so difficult!

It’s a brilliant concept—attaching a distribution deal for the Grand Prize Winner.
MW: 
I reached out to the first people I know, the ones I had a personal relationship with and trusted, and that really [were those at] Cinema Libre Studios: Phillipe Diaz and Cristian Butler. Jean-Jacques Bieneix [director of Betty Blue] is a friend of mine in Paris, and Cinema Libre re-released all of his films. When we approached Phillipe about it, he said, “That sounds like an amazing idea!” They are one of the biggest distributors of documentaries in the world, and this is something they were into immediately, and [they’ve been] super supportive. Phillipe Diaz is a very big director and producer in France; he started Cinema Libre to distribute in L.A., and he is a nurturer of independent films. He did The End of Poverty, so he’s also an activist. I mean, people teach that film in schools now. He was ready.
JB: [Other film festivals] had also been trying to do this for years—Sundance, etc—but nobody really wanted to rebrand.
MW: To restructure something that big like Sundance…it would be really hard.

How did the collaboration with the historic Player’s Club come about?
JB: I was going to some event, a very fancy one, for a snazzy friend of my dad’s, [Tony Bennett] named Iris Cantor. I was in the car with my dad, and telling him the idea, and he just said, “Why don’t you just call the Player’s Club? They’re actors, they’ll understand what you’re doing.” And so I did, and I talked with John Martello, the Director of the Players, and a week later, he said that going forward with the festival was the first unanimous decision their board has ever come to since he could remember. For as much stalling and difficulty as we had, we also had everything fall into place.
MW: They opened their doors to us. We could feel the energy happening.

What is your submission process like?
JB:
We accept submissions through Without A Box, and we have David Schwartz as our head of programming, and he is the Artistic Director and Head Curator for the Museum of the Moving Image, so he goes around to every festival. He’s going to be curating films for us. We really want to reach out to Tribeca and Sundance, and say to them, “What didn’t get picked up?”

Jared Leto Declares War On The Record Industry With His Documentary ‘Artifact’

Artifact, a fascinating new documentary directed by actor and 30 Seconds to Mars front man Jared Leto (under the pseudonym Bartholomew Cubbins) made its US premiere at the Doc NYC Fest last night in Chelsea. Focusing on 30 Seconds to Mars’ desire to leave its label, corporate behemoth EMI, the film reveals how the band discovered the seven-year contract termination choice loophole in its contract and the record label’s plans to sue them—for thirty million dollars.

What was meant to be a documentary about the creative process of recording their next album turned into something else entirely: a David-and-Goliath toe-to-toe with Terra Firma, a huge conglomerate owned by billionaire Guy Hands, who had recently taken over EMI with plans to revive the label’s legendary, but crumbling, debt-ridden legacy. It’s also a fascinating look into what is now a very soon–to-be-defunct platform—the record label—and includes commentary from some of the music industry’s leading corporate players and insiders.

Aside from being a gifted actor and musician, Leto also seems to have a definitive career ahead of him as a filmmaker. The film itself is beautifully shot and full of very clean, tender moments between band mates Leto, his brother, drummer Shannon Leto, and guitarist TomoMiličević. Chronicling the recording process with legendary producer Flood as the band hastily hacks a studio in Leto’s spare Hollywood Hills home, the film is filled with insane antic moments and bolts of inspiration as they struggle to create their next album (the aptly named This Is War) amidst raging financial and legal pressures.

Kindly granting me time before introducing the film last night, the charming and utterly sincere Leto told me a bit about where he thinks the record industry is going, his advice to the young musician, and making Artifact, which won the audience award for Best Documentary at the Toronto International Film Festival this year.

Artifact is a really special, DIY project,” Leto said. “It was made by just a handful of people. And we made it because we believed in telling this story. We believe it’ s important for artists and for audiences around the world to know the way things works, so that they can be better informed, and make decisions about how [they] interact with and support artists.”

When I told him my niece and nephew are already clamoring for guitar lessons, I asked him what his advice would be for the aspiring rock star. “I’d tell them to wait as long as possible before they would ever sign a deal,” he admitted. “They’re so many tools now to share your music. You don’t have to be reliant on your record company to share your music. You can make an album, an album that sounds very good, and you can do it very cheaply. Times have changed since I signed our record deal in 1998. But I would tell a young person to wait as long as they can, organically as long as possible, and focus on your craft, your art, and your dreams. The deal will come. But I wouldn’t rush it.”

Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream made Leto not only an indie film icon; it also proved what extreme levels he would go to for his art. (He lost nearly 30 pounds for the role.) It seems that he was really born, though, to make music. “Well, I haven’t made a movie in five years, so, the answer is probably right there,” he says. “But I think the main reason that I haven’t made a film is that I’ve probably been too busy. Part of the success with 30 Seconds to Mars is that you have less time to do some of the other things in life, even the good things.” Leto seems particularly happy with his busy life. “None of us ever expected that it would turn out the way that it has,” he explained. “We’re about to finish our fourth album right now, and that’ll be out sometime next year.”

Asked if he would start his own label, but revealed that he owns and operates an Internet platform that is worthy of a burgeoning media mogul. “I probably wouldn’t [start a label],” he admitted, and revealed he finds it more important for artists to share their work directed with their audiences. “I actually have done this, with three companies that I started on the tech side, to impart solutions for artists,” he explained. “One is a company that does social media management for marketing and commerce, another is a ticketing company, and the third is a social theatre where people can create live experiences and share them with audiences without advertising or sponsorships. These are solutions we’ve developed so artists can really share their work.”

Artifactalso highlights the creative challenges of making art in a way that many documentaries often aspire to, but rarely achieve: “We all shared a part of our lives that we’ve never shared on-screen before, a very intimate and personal part of our lives,” he said. “We take you inside the laboratory! Inside the studio, and in our hearts, and in our minds, to share how difficult this point is in our lives—just battling this massive corporation, and fighting for what we believe in. The record company [guys] are not bad people. They just happen to work in a business that has a lot of challenges.”

Nicole Kidman Gets Sexual in ‘The Paperboy’—But Refused to Say the N-Word

The Paperboy, the new film from Precious director Lee Daniels, is a searing, character-driven thriller set in the southern Florida backwater, and features some dirty, smoldering, and messily spot-on performances from Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron, John Cusack, and Macy Gray (yes, even Macy Gray). But it’s Nicole Kidman’s sexed-up performance as a desperate woman trying to prove her husband’s innocence and release him from death row. Last night Kidman was honored at the New York Film Festival where The Paperboy, which opens in limited release on Friday, was screened for an eager audience. We caught up with the actress to discuss the film, how far she slipped into character, and her affinity for white patent-leather high heels.

How did you find your way into the character? How did you even begin to imagine her?
Well, I just thought, “Thishas to be authentic.” And I really needed to find my way in. So Lee said, “You should meet with some of these women that I know.” You know, women that were in love with men in prison and were sort of obsessed with them. I met with five different women that Lee had arranged, and that was how I kind of found my way in. At one point I freaked out to myself, and I thought, “This isn’t me. I’m not going to be authentic in this role!” One of the ladies said, “No, you can, you go, girl!” And she kind of gave me the confidence. Then I kind of just let it flow out of me, and I sort of went with it. I didn’t censor myself in any way—I just went straight into the character. And I didn’t see her as crazy, because I see very few people as crazy, so…[Laughs]

But, for me playing her, she’s a woman who is very damaged and is terrified of intimacy and of being close with someone. I suppose, the way in which she deals with Zac’s character, she knows he’s following her around like a puppy dog, but at the same time she’s not going to ruin him. Because if she lets him really fall in love with her, and if she lets herself, in some way, give in to him, and softens towards him, she’s going to ruin his life forever. What she says to him—“You don’t want me. Trust me…”—that, to me, is unconditional love. And her destiny, she feels, is that kind of like with [her husband]. That’s where she’s headed. It’s almost like a death wish. For me, that’s tragic, it’s very sad. And that’s where I came from with her—I had a lot of compassion for her. The reason I wouldn’t step in and out of the accent and the character the whole time was because I felt like I was going to be judging her. And if I just kind of stayed in it, I was very much, I thought, incredibly free to follow the instincts that were there. Which is how Lee works. You come on set and nothing is blocked out; Lee’s just sort of like, “Show it to me!” I never spoke to John Cusack through the shoot as “John.” It was always in character. At the end of the film, he came to my trailer and said, “Hi, I’m John!”

Are there physical things that you did? Like thinking about the hair, the walk?
Well, Lee was obsessed with the butt! He wanted my butt to be bigger, and I was like, “Okay, I can do that!” And I think that physically, I just wanted to find the sexuality of her. The director also triggers things that can ignite emotions and other things for you. And I think for me, the freedom of her sexuality was really important, and from the point I was in Lee’s hands, I didn’t really want to be saying “no” to anything.

Wasthere anything you actually refused to do in this provocative film?
Not really! No, yes, there was one thing: saying the n-word. I just didn’t feel like it was right for the character. And obviously, I have a son who is African-American. It just wasn’t right. The other thing I try to do as an actor is fulfill a director’s vision—that’s what you’re hired to do. And I have opinions and ideas, and I’m there to stimulate, hopefully, and ignite things in the director. But, at the same time, I’m not there to stop him. I really try, with every director,never to pull them off their vision. You’re there as a muse sometimes, you’re there as their conduit, and you’re there to create a character—together.

Can you talk about your character’s “Swamp Barbie” look?
Limitations are a great thing. There was no budget for the wardrobe. Everything was so authentic, and the costume designer was fantastic. I walked in there, and there were those white shoes! Lee has a thing about shoes! And as soon as we scuffed them, I was like, “These are the perfect shoes!” And after that, we just started trying stuff on, and Poloroiding and showing to him, and he would say, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” The costumes were really from that time period, and found down in New Orleans. Lee said I was also going to have to do my own hair and make-up, because we couldn’t afford a make-up artist! And I was of like, “Oh, God!” But I just went into the bathroom, and did the mascara and thick eyeliner like that, and put on this hairpiece that I had.

The important part of being an actor is learning not to shut down, not to say no, and being completely free and open. As you get older, you get a little more frightened—particularly now in this day and age, you know, there aren’t many opinions. It just makes me think, “Screw this!” I just want to push through it, and never stop myself from being brave and fighting through my own insecurities. I want to be in places I’ve never been to before and feel discomfort at times, and feel challenged, and feel ripped open. And it’s very, very hard to find those roles. It’s very hard to find those people that are going to do them with you. I do not want to get to an age, at this point in my life, where I am scared, or running scared. I much prefer to be pushing through the next few decades, giving it all I’ve got.

‘Death by China’ and ‘Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry’: Two Call-To-Action Documentaries

Ai Weiwei is the internationally artist, prankster, architect, sculptor, photographer, social and cultural critic, curator, internet agitator and Twitter activist who was arrested by Chinese authorities and held for over three months in 2011 after a life-time of government harassment and a childhood filled with memories of his father’s own persecution the very same year he was short-listed for Time’s “Person of the Year.” His arrest caused a world-wide fervor, especially since Weiwei had been blogging and Twitter-documenting this pestering, stalking, annoyances, and, finally, in the span of a few year’s time- his eventual beating, house arrest, video spying, studio razing and eventual imprisonment by the Chinese government.

Here is a truly gifted artist going beyond the actual confines of his talent, to risk his life, literally, to make China a place where his toddler son may be truly safe to grow up inside of. And the beautiful thing is, as this masterful, all-access documentary by American journalist Alison Klayman demonstrates in Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, Weiwei is slowly igniting the fuse that Communist China desperately wants to be seen snuffed out at all costs, among all walks of its people living in the “Republic.” And others are learning how, when and where to light it, emboldened by Wei and other fellow activists and artists. They have made this great discovery and followed them, mainly, online.

The film starts in Weiwei’s sparse, grounded, spacious concrete studio. There, Weiwei entertains a mélange of playful cats, young, bold Chinese volunteers and activists who are busy making phone calls and emailing away as Weiwei prepares for two major art shows simultaneously- one at the prestigious Tate Museum in London. (“I am asking everyone for their ideas,” he jokes pseudo-playfully, procrastination showing as the shows’ openings loom close by.)

We learn about his varied projects and his hands-off, punk rock attitude towards the Chinese government (a series of photographs encourages others to express the sentiment “Fuck the Homeland,” middle-finger raised in anger, Weiwei’s gentle, Mona Lisa smile playing upon his lips.) Much of Wei’s art is conceptual, and he has other artists and artisans doing the actual construction, although a friend and fellow artist assures us on-camera that Weiwei can build anything. One project was an Internet list of over four thousand names of young students killed in the Sichuan earthquake, because of poor school construction, the Chinese authorities never admitting this fact.

We learn about his family’s life-long persecution, how he spent many of his adolescent years alongside his father, slaving away in a labor camp. Klayman shows Weiwei’s bohemian youth when he lived in Manhattan during the eighties, how New York shaped his artistic sensibilities while allowing himself to feel what being this free really meant, and what it trulyfelt like.

It is completely enlivening to see an actual revolutionary at work, and, it must be said, having that person fulfill your grandest expectations to the utmost. Weiwei comes across a strange mixture of Ernest Hemingway, John Wayne, Andy Warhol, and the Dalai Lama—a pretty tall order, and the perfect concoction to make one an international icon. But the artist who helped design and then thoroughly denounce his own Olympic “Bird’s Nest” in Beijing, after accusing the government of ousting the locals and forcing “smiles” and happiness on the faces of miserable Chinese citizens, Weiwei is shown to us by the director full of the great contradictions only a true artist can endure with any panache. He has both a loving wife and mistress by his side, a profound fear and courage about his own activism (often expressed by him in the very same sentence,) and the conflicting love/hate feelings about his origin and birthplace.

The most riveting part of the film is how Ai Weiwei uses the internet to not only engage the world about China’s profound corruption and truly vile disrespect of its own people, the environment and certainly the Chinese quality of life, but how often and where, and with what great courage, efficiency, savvy and provocation. When Chinese police beat Ai Weiwei after forcing themselves into his hotel room, Ai manages to actually catch it on video with his cell. We get to see it, too, along with the rest of the world, who first saw it first on his Twitter feed. (The Chinese government eventually blacked and disabled Ai’s active blog.) Ai suffered a brain hemorrhage from this single, near-devastating blow to the head. And, in a way, so does every Western viewer suffer a hearty blow: It makes every complaining, niggling little thing you ever said aloud or wondered about the Internet disappear into thin air. And makes you treasure the gift of free speech in a way you will never forget.

China makes another devastating appearance in a truly life-changing, mouth-dropping documentary film, Peter Navarro’s Death by China, after his book by the same name. Narrated by Martin Sheen, (when is he going to President, by the way?), produced, written and directed by Navarro, the film grabs you by the throat and never lets go, and your mind simply reels along with it. Compiled so a sixth grader could understand Chinese-American trade relations, yet literally packed with frightening information, the film explores our dependency on goods made exclusively in China, the soon-to-be-death of US manufacturing, and a government that is so corrupt, so uncaring, so authoritarian- to call them dictators almost gives them too much credit. What we have here is a nation that is making US middle citizens mere custodians (with their consumerism and few remain corporate jobs) to giant, multi-national US corporations.

Yes, we have heard this all before, and, naturally, it is quite easy to pass from logic into hysteria over this very fiery issue. But watch this movie, and you will, in turn, start glowing with a newfound, hit-on-your-head awareness. It’s so simple, it seems almost stupid: How do Republicans, conservatives, Democrats, any CEO, Board of Directors, thinking American, really-justify turning over the manufacture of their goods to a purely (no matter how anyone spins it) and deeply communist country? The film also highlights how our jobs and livelihoods are now decidedly and continuously shipped overseas by American companies (both gargantuan and mid-sized), as we continue our over-spending and shopping at Walmart, Costco, Apple….a list that is endless and scary in its comprehension. Did you know, for example, that not a single brand of cell phone or laptop is made in the US any longer? As the wife of one of the interviewees points out, it is impossible to find a microwave, nor a single household good that is not “Made in China.” We are reminded, of course and more than once, that it was Bill Clinton who pushed the signing of the World Trade Organization’s agreement with

China. But this film is going way beyond partisan lines here. In Death by China, we are all guilty, every single last, iPhone-toting, HD-watching, 99Cent Store-slumming one of us. “You have to choose between your company or your country!” decries proud Brian O’Shaughnessy, Chairman of the still standing, US-based Revere Copper. The film opens August 17. Miss it if you dare.

Filmmaker Alex Karpovksky on ‘Girls’, Cassavettes, and His Secret to Success

When I first saw filmmaker/writer/actor Alex Karpovsky’s fourth feature at the Tribeca Film Festival this year, the intense psychological thriller Rubberneck, I was blown away for two reasons. First of all, the film was brilliant, and stars Karpovsky as a jilted lab technician creepily obsessed with his co-worker and one-time one night stand, and only gets better from the first frame. Secondly, his performance is an absolute departure from the snarky, slightly abrasive character ofRay Ploshansky he plays on Lena Dunham’s zeitgeist-smashing HBO comedy, Girls.

Or his role as the film editor with a wandering eye in the upcoming indie comedy, Supporting Characters. Or his co-starring turn in Dunham’s first full-length feature, the highly praised Tiny Furniture. Not to mention the countless other indie films he has acted and participated in since 2003. He plays these characters to such great and unnerving effect that it was actually hard to imagine him any other way. It was rare and wonderful to be that surprised. When talking to Alex Karpovsky about creating his micro-budget films, the thrilling success of Girls, and the filmmakers he respects, there is a thoughtfulness and natural integrity that shine forth from the tall, engaging and sweetly sexy actor, especially when you realize that his calling arrived later in life.

“My dad teaches computers at Boston University,” he says, breezing into a sweet locavore café in Williamsburg in from the pouring rain. “He’s been there forever, since 1985. My mom is a retired dental assistant. I have no siblings. Only dogs! For a long time, I very much wanted to be an academic. I thought there was a lot of coziness to it, but also a very kind of pampered lifestyle that felt pleasant to me. You have your summers off, you know. Seemed like a nice way to live. I thought I’d teach at a nice, bucolic campus somewhere, ride my bicycle to work, and have that double lifestyle. For whatever reason, I took an exit off that highway.”

Karpovsky spent his junior year abroad during college in England, returning there for grad school to study visual ethnography at Oxford. He found a personal freedom there that had been sorely lacking in his adolescence. “When I was young, from the ages of, like, five until about 12, I was very, very boisterous and extroverted,” he says. “A real hooligan—a troublemaker, actually. Not in any dangerous way. But I was just very, hyper. I would always be joking around, and I would always be sent to the principal’s office. And I was doing practical jokes, and stuff like that. Then in junior high, I don’t really know why this happened, but everything turned very one-eighty. I just got very internal, insecure, and reflective. And that lasted until I was about 19 or 20, until I went to Oxford and started doing theater for the first time. I feel like that sort of brought back those feelings I had inside of me that had been lying dormant. That was extremely exciting and invigorating, to kind of resuscitate this part of me that I didn’t know was even still in me.”

After dropping out of Oxford, he moved to the Lower East Side of New York, working as a caterer and honing his stand-up techniques, which were modeled after his idol, Andy Kaufman. When the catering gigs stopped cutting it financially, a friend suggested that he go into video editing, a gig that paid much better. He started out his movie career cutting karaoke videos and infomercials throughout his twenties.

Asked about his stumbling into what one would now call a dream career, he gets a bit reflective. “It may be a romantic interpretation of a flaw, but sometimes people’s ideas, if they’re not exposed to a lot of stuff, can become more original,” he explains. “And less derivative, because there are less associations. But I do feel like if I had gotten into making movies earlier, I would be a better filmmaker today. On the other hand, I might have burnt out earlier. That’s something I see a lot of on the festival circuit. These kids finally make their movie, but they’re only 23, 24, or 25 years old, and you never hear about them again.”

He is enthusiastic to be shooting the second season of Girls, and clearly loves his cast, director Lena Dunham, and producers Judd Apatow and Jenni Konner. “It’s justso much fun,” he tells me, smiling. “I love going to work.” When asked if his snarky character of Ray Ploshansky is the moral center of Girls, Karpovsky hedges a bit. “Ahhh, maybe to some extent,” he replies. “I feel like one of the reasons that I really love the show is the fact that the humiliations of these girls are so funny and so real; the characters need to have a real lack of perspective, and a real naïveté, to stumble into these problems. I feel like if thereis a compass, or an injector of perspective and ‘wisdom,’ it has to be in the form of moral correction that is equally misguided, so they can stumble further into the humiliations and problems.” He smiles, eyes twinkling, clearly happy to play that instigating force on the show.

Politely declining to discuss the show’s backlash and subsequent anti-backlash surrounding the fact that the Girls characters are white and come from pretty privileged backgrounds, he professes a clear respect for Dunham’s overall vision. “These girls have problems; there’s a lot of ignorance on their part. But, there’s also a lot of drive, a lot of ambition, and alot of sincerity. And a lot of them are pretty open about what they don’t know. That provides a great forum for not only a lot of the comedic moments, but also the really dramatic moments, which are dotted throughout the first season. It gives the series a real dimension, and a depth, and that’s maybe why it gets the criticism that another series, you know, wouldn’t.”

On his character in his upcoming self-scripted and directed road trip film Red Flag (in competition at this summer’s Los Angeles Film Festival) being an indie filmmaker also named Alex Karpovsky, he demurs. “It’s not really that autobiographical. It’s an aggressively caricatured version of who I am. Two of the main influences on the tone of Red Flag are Curb Your Enthusiasm and Michael Winterbottom’s film The Trip. The framework is realistic, but everything else is sort of a narrative fancy.” He also has a role in the new Coen Brothers film, Inside Llewyn Davis, and is now too busy, he says, to even make time for a girlfriend. “It wouldn’t be fair,” he protests sweetly. “I have no time!”

Karpovsky seems to have the innate talent that Dunham and other filmmakers such as the Duplass Brothers have also achieved, which is the actual ability to do it their own way with some very nice results. “These movies are so easy to make, in the sense they cost nothing, and you don’t need to bend over for anybody to do it,” he tells me. “As opposed to other stuff, where you have the process of dealing with people you may not creatively respect, and having to negotiate, and feel like you’re compromising everything you think is cool (about a project), which is always the message I hear from my friends. It doesn’t sound terribly appealing.”

It’s no surprise, then, that Karpovsky harbors an unbridled love for wild-man filmmaker Vincent Gallo, a fact we both share in equal intensity. “Oh, he’s tremendously talented!” he says. “ He can do it all. He’s visionary, in many ways. Fiercely independent. Makes the movies he wants to make. He can bring in some really name actors, but he brings them in on his terms. I really respect that.”

He soon reveals his ultimate formula: “My sort of dream is the John Cassavetes model. Go out, and try to make some money, preferably doing acting, but whatever! And hopefully you can make that money in these short injections, so it’s not a full-time job. You go away for two months, get a little bit of money, and then pour that money back into your film. And that’s just what Cassavetes did. He’d go and act in stuff, then go back and make his movies, which he knew would not make any money. But that’s what he loved to do! It’s a great model, I think, and it has always been my fantasy. It’s a pretty difficult thing to do.”

He beams when I remind him that, yes, he is living his fantasy. “Yes,” he agrees. “In a way, it is like a dream on top of a dream. You have the Cassavetes model, yet you also are really proud of how you get the money to do what you love. That’s great! I feel incredibly fortunate about that.”