‘Good People”s Frances McDormand on Truth, Trust, & ‘Transformers’

Few actors have had as rich and varied a career as Frances McDormand, who won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 1996 for her portrayal of Marge Gunderson, a very pregnant, very accented North Dakota police officer. (Never again will an on-screen puke be carried out with such gravitas.) In addition to that win, the 53-year-old Chicago native has been nominated for three additional Oscars, four Golden Globes, an Emmy, and two Tony Awards, most recently for her work in Pulitzer Prize-winner playwright David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People, currently being staged in New York.

In the Broadway play, one of the best original dramas in recent Great White Way memory, McDormand plays Margie, a working-class South Boston resident who gets fired from her job at the dollar store. Desperate to provide for her handicapped daughter, Margie goes looking help (in the form of work, not a handout) from Mikey (Tate Donovan), a teenage flame of hers who returns to Southie after many years as a successful doctor. The majority of the characters in Good People don’t appear to be all that good, but as the play’s emotional core, McDormand forces audiences to look deeper than appearances, and to consider what the word might really mean.

What was it about playing Margie that appealed to you? She’s a working-class woman in her early 50s, and that type of person doesn’t typically get a voice—in the theater or elsewhere. They’re more prevalent in television, I think. There have certainly been some great characters on HBO, like on The Wire and Edie [Falco]’s character on The Sopranos.

Estelle Parsons is also in the production. She played a pretty great working-class woman on Roseanne. Yeah, although there was no tragic element to that show, and I think, although it was very interesting, it also had to answer to many conventions of television. I told David [Lindsay-Abaire] that Margie, the character I play in Good People, was going to go in the pantheon alongside Hedda [Gabler], Blanche [DuBois], and [Anton Chekhov’s] title characters in The Three Sisters.

That’s some serious company. You can’t really know because, number one, you’re male and, number two, I’m presuming you’re not an actor, but for a middle-aged woman, these parts don’t come along that often and when they do, you recognize them.

Not everyone can play a Bostonian in a natural, restrained way, in which the performance doesn’t devolve into caricature. It’s true, but to be honest, I never worried about that because I understand this story—it’s where I’m from.

How do you mean? I come from a working-class background. My father was a minister and he served mostly small, rural churches in small, industrial cities or in farming communities. That’s where I grew up.

You were often traveling as a child, no? Well, we didn’t travel. We moved every three years.

Was there one place you most considered home? The longest time we spent was in a steel mining town called Monessen, Pennsylvania, just outside of Pittsburgh. I was there from 7th until 12th grade so I have a certain allegiance to that place. I’m a New Yorker now, but I feel like I’m from small-town America.

In the play, Tate Donovan’s character, Mikey Dillon, returns home to South Boston after having acquired a certain amount of success and prestige as a doctor. Is that something to which you can relate? Yes, very much so. I recently returned to the small town where my parents had been living for many years after I’d left home. I went back for my father’s funeral, where I felt like Mikey Dillon for the 48 hours I was there, I have to say. I was grateful for having had all the opportunities I’ve had, and I was also snobbish about some of the people I was with during that time. I think it made me very aware of the way I wanted to tell the story to my son—I want him to see the difference between the way he’s being raised and the way I’d been raised, and to understand how many opportunities he’s had that others in his family haven’t had.

Did you feel any guilt during that trip? Definitely. I often feel guilty for not being as gracious as I could about my family. It wasn’t guilt so much about the fact that I’d had opportunities that other people didn’t have, but that I realized I need to be more gracious in the way I deal with members of my family who haven’t had as much privilege as I have.

Margie never seems to have enough of anything—love or money or time. Can you relate to that feeling, perhaps when you first started acting? I recall it from my childhood. It’s not necessarily that I ever went without things—we didn’t have a lot but it never felt that way because we were really well provided for by the community. My mother made all of my clothes, and I didn’t have the things other kids had, things I dreamed of having. In my early days as an actor, I remember waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat, not knowing if I was going to be able to pay my rent, but I was fortunate in that I started being able to support myself as an actor right after drama school. I was able to comfortably support myself, which meant being able to pay my rent on time.

Did you already have an agent when you graduated from Yale? Yes, I did. I met my first agent when I was in my last year of drama school because I did a production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession at the Yale Repertory Theatre. Since that was considered a professional job I was able to join equity and meet an agent that way. My first job was in Trinidad.

In a Derek Walcott production, no less. Oh, it was great! And to be in Trinidad? That was amazing. My second job was Blood Simple.

In Good People, Margie isn’t going anywhere. As an audience member you realize she’s never leaving Southie, which is at once depressing and comforting. I’d be curious to know if you think she’s a woman devoid of hope. No, I think the hope lies in [her former boss and benefactor] Stevie. I asked David once in rehearsal what the arc of the character was and if Margie learns anything. He said, “I don’t know.” So I went into production really not knowing what it was. I sensed that there was some kind of completion for her but I didn’t know how to articulate it until once in a talk-back with the audience a woman asked me, “What do you think Margie learns in the course of the play? I think she learns to be less hard on herself.” And I said, Thank you, that’s it. It taught me how to play the last scene.

What about the audience? What are we meant to take from Margie’s story? Never judge a book by its cover. Also, it raised questions about what it means to be good.

Have you learned anything about yourself in the process? Sure, but I’m 53, so I know most of it already.

People don’t stop learning about themselves. Of course not, and I don’t mean to be flip. What’s great about this play for me is that it was a learning experience, to be sure, but even more it was the completion of a journey of learning. It vindicated and signified a certain passage that I’ve been on instead of opening my eyes to something new. I think that’s why I was able to serve David so well, because he and I come from a certain place, have taken a certain journey, and were in this very similar place when it comes to telling the story of that journey.

Is it difficult to continue to find parts that challenge you? Never. There’s always a way to fall on your face. That’s the great thing about our job. That’s actually what it requires: a constant willingness to hang over the edge of a cliff. I’ve also never been involved in anything that was the same twice. Certainly I’ve done things that are similar because I’m a human being, so I can’t morph or transform—though I just did Transformers: Dark of the Moon. I’ve never done a franchise film before so that was really fun to do.

Transformers couldn’t be further in tone and scope from Good People. Is it difficult to reconcile such disparate projects? Not at all. The best thing is that Michael Bay [the director of Transformers] is a serious filmmaker, and so I knew exactly what I was serving. I’ve seen the first two because I have a son, so in his youth those were the movies we were going to. In that way, it actually made more sense than me doing a Nancy Meyers movie. But I did that, too. When it comes to film, it’s not an actor’s medium—it’s an editor’s medium—so to me it’s much more about who the filmmaker is. It’s not necessarily interesting to me to work with film directors whose reputation is that they’re “good with actors” because that doesn’t really make a lot of sense in a movie, to me.

But in a stage production that would probably be quite helpful. In the theater, actors have more control once we get to the final product. And it’s about the process of developing a character through rehearsals, so you depend much more on a director in the theater—but not in film, not when it comes to the process of acting. How your performance is edited later is more interesting than the performance itself.

I’m sure your son is excited that you’re in a film like Transformers. Well, that’s the problem. He’s 16 now. He used to be interested in Transformers movies because of the toys. Then he got interested because of the cars. Now he’s interested because of the Victoria’s Secret model. Rosie is her name. I’m sure she’d rather be called Rosie than Victoria’s Secret model. She’s going to be interesting to him. I’m not going to be interesting to him. But I have to say; it was really satisfying for me to have him see this play, and for him to bring his friends to see this play. That was one of the highlights of my life, doing Good People for my 16-year-old son.

How so? Because he understands what I do now, because it’s a story I wanted him to hear, and because it’s one of the best things I’ve ever done. It’s one of the best opportunities I’ve ever had. I believe that I’ve embodied it in a way that I’ve done other parts in the past, for which he’s heard other people praise me, but when he said he thought I was good in this I knew it was true.

He’s probably one of your harshest critics. And not just about my acting!

What’s the greatest compliment you’ve received for your work? It’s most definitely from my son, when I heard his laughter out in the audience. That thrilled me more than any… well, I was able to pick him out of 650 people and it was heaven. It wasn’t just because I was making him laugh; it was because he was experiencing the story with me. He was there in the room with me doing it.

Do you still feel a rush of performance when you take the stage? Yeah, but it’s different every time. Patrick [Carroll, her Good People costar] and I stand in the stairwell right before each show starts and we have a routine that we go through every night.

What do you do? That’s not for you to know! But it’s very specific and it’s really great—it’s kind of superstitious. I’m always in the same place at the same spot, almost every night for different parts of the play and it means something. I can’t really explain it.

Have you had a routine for each production you’ve been in? They always change, but yes. It goes back to when I was 14, and in my first high school play. I was waiting backstage to go on and I was sitting in a chair, being quiet, waiting for my cue. The other kids were making a lot of noise and so I shushed them, and a popular girl—which I was certainly not—came over to me and said, “You really take this seriously, don’t you?” And when she said that, I realized I did.

With Three New Films This Year, Rose Byrne Is on Fire

Rose Byrne is standing in a darkened photo studio in Manhattan’s East Village. Her lips have been painted a dramatic shade of red, and her brown locks curl out at the ends in comely wisps. A fog machine sits next to an idling 1968 Firebird convertible, which the 31-year-old Australian actor leans against seductively. Paired with the exhaust coming out of the car’s tailpipe, the fog, while essential to the Lynchian vibe on set, makes it hard to breathe. A trooper, Byrne coughs into her cupped hands and returns to the art of being sexy. It’s only when Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In the World)” starts playing that she loses her grip. “Seriously, guys?” she snaps. “Can we please change the music?”

A few hours later, we’ve relocated to a bench in Tompkins Square Park for some fresh air. It’s the first warm afternoon in April, and we’re assessing her little outburst. “I didn’t know that was a Rihanna song,” she says, laughing. “I just couldn’t cope with it.” Perhaps that’s because Byrne, the star of TV’s Machiavellian law drama Damages (the fourth season of which premieres in July on DirecTV), leads a life that’s anathema to photo shoots—and fast cars, for that matter. “I wish I could tell you some thrilling stories about my adventures hobnobbing and hot air ballooning, but I’m usually very mundane,” she says. “I ride my bike. I go to yoga. I try to cook once a week, although I’m a terrible chef.” Recent dishes include roasted chicken and spaghetti Bolognese—“nothing fancy.” Byrne, a onetime student of literature who dropped out of the University of Sydney in her “second or third” year, enjoys escaping into a novel when she can, even posting mini-reviews on Goodreads, a “nerdy website that’s sort of like Facebook, but about actual books.” She’s currently part-way through an intense spring-cleaning marathon, which she’s quick to blame on her recently packed working schedule. “My apartment is overgrown with clutter,” she says, her Aussie accent muddled by the American and British inflections she’s adopted over time for various roles. “I tend to throw myself full bore into my job, and when I finally stop to breathe I sort of collapse for a while.” image

If ever she’s earned the right to vegetate, it’s now. The two-time Golden Globe Award nominee, who’s appeared in such films as Troy, Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, and Marie Antoinette, recently co-starred with Patrick Wilson in Insidious, her first horror film. “I did a zombie movie, 28 Weeks Later, a few years ago, but I’d never done anything quite like this,” she says. “I used to make my mom rent Poltergeist and A Nightmare on Elm Street. I love a good horror flick, so it was a welcome challenge.” Byrne’s next challenge is the ensemble comedy Bridesmaids, a bawdy, estrogen-addled answer to The Hangover. In that film, out this month, she plays Helen, the most Type A of Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) six bridesmaids. While she tackled broad comedy last year as Jackie Q, the pop-tart girlfriend to Russell Brand’s live-wire rock star in Get Him to the Greek, this was her first opportunity to play a funny female lead. “I’m so unbelievably proud of that film,” she says of Bridesmaids. “No matter how it does at the box office, I just think there’s never been anything like it.”

Additionally, Byrne will star this summer as Moira MacTaggert, a CIA operative who liaises between the American government and her mutant friends in X-Men: First Class. Although director Matthew Vaughn reinterpreted Marvel’s beloved comic book character for his film (the original MacTaggert was a geneticist and mutation expert), Byrne isn’t losing any sleep over the possible wrath of purists. “I’m sure there are people out there who will be fundamentally disappointed by my interpretation, but hopefully some people will like it, too,” she says. “There’s really nothing I can do about it either way.” This isn’t to say that Byrne took lightly the responsibility of bringing her character to life. “I met with an X-Men expert on set a few times. He came prepared with a folder this thick,” she says, stretching out her slim arms as if reenacting the most fruitful fishing trip of her life. “He wasn’t sent from Marvel, but he was a wonderfully learned fanboy nonetheless.”

X-Men: First Class is likely to break box-office records, but Byrne is trying her best to avoid the hype. “You always want a winner,” she says, “But I’m not necessarily after the fame that kind of success often breeds. Obviously I want people to see the films I make, otherwise I’d be doing a play right now on the side of the road, but I’m not chasing fame in the way that someone like Paris Hilton chases fame.” Or the way Charlie Sheen, perhaps a more topical example, chases fame. “That looks more like a case of mental illness, but you never know,” she says of Sheen. “Maybe he’s the architect of it all—and if he is, fantastic, but if he’s not, then the whole thing seems terribly exploitative. I’m so thankful for my absolute anonymity outside of the acting world.” Late to meet a friend for dinner, Byrne says goodbye and disappears into the crowds of drifters trafficking St. Mark’s Place. True to her word, no one seems to notice.

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Photography by David Field. Styling by Christopher Campbell.

First photo: Dress and Earrings by Chanel. Second photo: Sweater by Louis Vuitton. Necklace by Salvatore Ferragamo. Third photo: Dress by Proenza Schouler. Shoes By Gucci. Hair by Thomas Dunkin @ The Wall Group using Sebastian Professional. Makeup by Hung Vanngo @ The Wall Group. Manicurist: Julie Kandalec @ Artists by Timothy Priano. Photo Assistants: Ryan Burke and Sasha Maslov. Stylist’s Assistant: Gina Zuniga-Baldwin. Digital Tech: Blake Ribbey. 1968 Firebird 400 convertible provided by Classic Car Club Manhattan. Location Bathhouse Studios, New York City.

The Stars of ‘Workaholics’ Recall Their Most Drunken Nights

Although it’s hard to believe, the stars of Workaholics—Blake Anderson (left), Adam DeVine (center), and Anders Holm—make Michael Scott look as responsible as Anthony Hopkins in The Remains of the Day. In the trio’s new half-hour scripted series, which premiered last month on Comedy Central, the real-life friends and co-founders of internet sketch group Mail Order Comedy play buddies who work together at a telemarketing company.

Not surprisingly, boneheaded sex debates (How much should a straight guy charge the fellah he’d fellate?) eclipse any real work they might accomplish, a slackerdom worsened by their on-the-clock drinking and frequent bong hits. Over the phone from Los Angeles, the comedians prove that their art imitates life in a big, blotto way. “We went to La Velvet Margarita Cantina LA for this season’s wrap party, and I definitely took way too many free shots of tequila,” Anderson says. “I ended up passing out inside a bathroom stall. Adam discovered me there and he had to fend to people trying to do cocaine over my passed-out body.” Says DeVine, “I kept trying to pick Blake up, but some dude with a bag of cocaine was like, ‘You don’t mind if I get in here real quick, do you?’” Still, DeVine’s favorite place to make new friends is Hollywood Improv. “The girls there like funny guys,” he says, “which is good for me because I’m not Hollywood good looking. I have neck fat.” Holm, meanwhile, prefers “pounding pineapple-infused vodka with babes” in the back room of Bar Lubitsch in West Hollywood. “ That place is great for LA cab companies, but it’s bad for my liver.”

Are We Not Men? Glenn O’Brien Answers Devo’s Rhetorical Question

It’s been almost two years since I sat down in front of my computer to interview filmmaker Lars von Trier about his gods-and-genitals film Antichrist. We were going to “try something new” and talk over a Skype video connection. In preparation for the chat, I downloaded a program that would allow me to record the conversation and dump an MP3 file directly into iTunes—except that it didn’t work.

The overall experience was clouded by a little video box in the corner, in which my twee head, then adorned with spiky, gelled hair, reflected my every awkward move. Jesus, I remember thinking, what an asshole I am. Does Lars von Trier think I’m an asshole? Of course he thinks I’m an asshole! Knowing that he was watching a offensively large version of me in that Lilliputian box made it difficult for me to focus on what he was saying, and so, when it became clear that I’d accidentally recorded literally none of our interview, I was hard-pressed to remember anything he’d said. Since then, I’ve resolved never to make the same mistake twice, except of course that I did—over tea with Glenn O’Brien, another hero of mine.

O’Brien, a writer whose prose is much like his white hair—short and unfussy with wispy flourishes—agreed to meet with me at The Smile to discuss his new book, How to Be A Man: A Guide to Style and Behavior for the Modern Gentleman. I’d come straight from the Waldorf Astoria where I’d spoken with actor Mia Wasikowska, who covered BlackBook in April. (While turning on the recorder for that interview, I recounted in vivid hyperbole the von Trier nightmare.) On the cab ride downtown I checked to make sure the audio recorder had recorded. It did, but it’s also a fickle bitch.

O’Brien, the 59-year-old New York fixture, has been prolific since he began hosting TV Party, a variety show featuring art misfits like Debbie Harry and Klaus Nomi that ran on public access cable TV for four years starting in 1978. He worked at Interview, first under Warhol’s reign and again in 2008, when he was named Editorial Director; he wrote and co-produced Downtown 81, a film starring his late friend Jean Michel Basquiat; he’s GQ’s Style Guy columnist—the magazine also named him one of the top-10 most stylish men in America in 2009; that same fall, he even modeled for menswear designer Adam Kimmel’s lookbook.

When he arrives at the Smile 20 minutes late, dressed in his unfailingly chic garb—a trench coat overtop a crisp shirt and subtly patterned tie, well-tailored but not fashionably-tight trousers—he is neither overly apologetic nor given to breathless histrionics. He simply was, he explains, recording a segment for a German television show, and it ran long. But he is here now and it is time for tea.

There are, of course, no video boxes intruding on our meeting, but there was an overwhelmingly distracting elephant in the room: O’Brien’s new book, which spans topics as vast as sex, patriotism, and sickness, and provides advice meant to distinguish gentlemen from everymen. Even before our first meeting, I’d broken three of these rules while interacting with O’Brien.

The first: “How many times, in an e-mail-volume–addled state, have I downloaded a MIME attachment that turned out to be nothing more than a corporate logo or signature?” he writes in How to Be a Man. “Trust me: attaching a Facebook or Twitter logo to your e-mail will only make me hate you. Attaching a logo to your correspondence is pretentious.” Why, oh why, had I attached our most recent cover to my e-mail? Had he noticed? Scoffed?

The second: “If you have an answering machine, when recording your message resist the temptation to play DJ and provide a musical interlude or try out your stand-up comedy routine. People like me will hate you for wasting seconds of their time,” he says about two things I’m loath to admit I’ve done in the past. “Never say, ‘You have reached [your name here].’ Obviously the caller will be talking to a machine because he has not reached [your name here], and when he does, it will be in the future.” I can’t help but worry that his assistant—who called me to tell me O’Brien was running late, and who I presume to be equally poised—has relayed my voicemail message to her boss. (Looking at him, it’s hard to tell.)

The third: “A dandy isn’t faking it,” he writes in his book’s section on style. And he might be right, although earlier that morning when deciding what to wear, I purposefully chose an outfit that might at least approximate his own. Crazy, of course, but not the first time (or the last) I’d play the interviewer-interviewee reflection game. (I introduced Mark Ronson to my hairstylist and now we both get “The Ronson.”)

All of this is to say that I felt like I was faking it, and I knew after the first minute in O’Brien’s company that his tolerance for bullshit is lower than John Galliano’s tolerance for alcohol. (News had just surfaced that day about the former head designer for Dior’s boozy, anti-Semitic rant, a reveal that somewhat shocked O’Brien.)

Over the course of almost two hours, we talked about everything from Patti Smith (he said something amazing about her once having a sense of humor) to his unceremonious departure from Interview (which was all of the record, anyway), to his home in Connecticut, to the irrelevant frippery of Fashion Week, to Andy Warhol, to the punk scene, to his son. It was dishy and witty and revealing, and, unfortunately, you’ll never read it. So, you know what, Glenn? As far as I’m concerned, the number one rule for how to be a man is this: Turn on the fucking tape recorder.

Buy Glenn O’Brien’s compendium for the urban dandy here.

Mark Ruffalo Turns Misery into Magic with ‘Sympathy for Delicious’

Just as he’s sitting down to our interview, Mark Ruffalo reaches into his coat pocket to check his phone. He exhales sharply, looks at me with a tight smile, and says regretfully, “Something’s come up. I’ve got to go.” He puts his hand on my shoulder and hurries off. Although I no doubt look like a toddler who’s just dropped his chocolate double-scoop, I manage to blurt out something chipper, like, “Don’t worry, Mark! We’ll reschedule!” (Such is the power of the 43-year-old actor’s charm.) Spinning around on his heels, he points both hands at me tauntingly, and, cackling, yells, “Gotcha!” Today is the first day of April, and I have been made Ruffalo’s fool.

He’ll later send me a message via Twitter to apologize. Although he’s still learning the “Twittiquette,” Ruffalo is an avid user of the social networking site, and unlike most celebrities whose publicists create profiles to promote their clients, he actually engages his followers in conversations about the things that “enrage” him. This afternoon, those things include: the $87,000 that billionaire financier David Koch gave to New York governor Andrew Cuomo; the labor disputes and soaring unemployment rates in Wisconsin; and, most of all, hydraulic fracturing (drilling, essentially, for oil and natural gas), which is poisoning bodies of water across the country, and threatening to do the same to the Delaware River, 45 minutes from where Ruffalo lives with his wife and three kids in upstate New York.

“As people, we’re so polarized, but what we want out of life isn’t all that different: a little sun on our face and, you know… love,” says Ruffalo, a vegetarian, between healthy bites of a roasted artichoke salad from at65, the cafe inside Manhattan’s Alice Tully Hall. “I started using Twitter because of the Green Revolution in Iran. I saw their leaderless rebellion spring up because of social networking sites, which, to me, at that time, were the most shallow, narcissistic reflections of our culture. What I saw it being used for—giving voice to people you would normally never hear from—was really exciting.”

This isn’t to say that Ruffalo, who has appeared in such films as Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me, Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island, and Lisa Cholodenko’s The Kids Are All Right (for which he received an Oscar nomination last year), won’t, from time to time, tweet about his films. Most recently, he’s done so in support of his directorial debut, Sympathy for Delicious, in which he also appears as a priest. The film tells the story of DJ “Delicious” Dean, a homeless paraplegic who seeks wealth and fame as a faith healer. Dean bands together with rockers played by Juliette Lewis and Orlando Bloom (whose turn as the act’s lead singer owes as much to Johnny Depp’s Captain Sparrow as Depp’s Captain Sparrow does to Keith Richards), but his healing powers are flipped for a profit, and he soon becomes the group’s sideshow attraction. Winner of the Special Jury Prize at last year’s Sundance Film Festival, Sympathy stars Christopher Thornton as the film’s morally ambivalent title character. Thornton, Ruffalo’s childhood friend, wrote the screenplay for the film after a climbing accident in 1992 left him paralyzed from the waist down. It’s a story about faith and redemption, to be sure, but Sympathy spares audiences the easy denouements characteristic of most Hollywood narratives.

If the story is sometimes unsettling, so too was its creation. “We had three weeks to pull this off, I didn’t know a thing about directing a movie, our camera was always breaking, we had no money, instead of 20 extras we’d get 5, and we never had enough sunlight in the day,” Ruffalo says, running a hand through his corkscrew hair. “I was constantly looking in the mirror, asking myself, Are you out of your fucking mind, Mark Ruffalo?” When he agreed to the project, he was mourning the loss of his younger brother, Scott, who was fatally shot in 2008. “It would have been so easy for the whole thing to have devolved into one big pity party,” says Ruffalo, who next stars as Bruce Banner, a.k.a. the Hulk, in The Avengers. “Somehow it turned out to be such a special moment for everyone who made the film. We were raw, vulnerable, scared, and totally alive. It was rough and holy—spiritual punk rock.” image

Tell me about the genesis of Sympathy for Delicious. Sympathy was born out of my relationship with Christopher Thornton who, more than 15 years ago, had a climbing accident and broke his back. He was my best friend and I watched him struggle with life in a wheelchair. A universal truth came out of that experience, which is this: Sometimes life hands you a bag of shit and it really looks like a bag of shit—something truly horrible—but in time it can also provide a fertile place from which to grow.

How much of his own experience do you think Christopher wrote into the screenplay? He wanted to write a great part for a character actor in an “anti-wheelchair movie” that didn’t wear its heart on its sleeve—his character is a son of a bitch. The film came out of some of his experiences, but he wasn’t playing himself.

Still, watching a film about a man who can heal others but can’t heal himself, you get the sense that there’s something almost masochistic going on. He set out to make a movie devoid of pathos and pity, and he ended up, of course, dealing with the very thing he didn’t want to deal with, which was coming to peace with being in the chair. Sometimes you get the healing you need, not the healing you want.

That’s the tagline for the movie. Yes, which is a rip-off of the Stones. It was an incredibly cathartic journey.

What was purged? For the first time, I think Chris dropped the idea of ever really being able to walk again. There was a bit of despair at the end of the shoot, I have to say.

That despair also comes across in the film. Every single conceit of Sympathy is totally fantastical, but there’s a deep amount of sincerity, naturalism, and realism grounding the fantasy. It’s a journey that Chris has made over the years, and one I also made with my brain tumor [the removal of an acoustic neuroma resulted in a period of partial facial paralysis] and the loss of my brother.

Did you experience a similar catharsis? All I know is that when I started making the film I was in the deepest pit of grief and pain. I was really mourning, and I said to myself, How can I possibly turn a total fucking shit situation into something else? The only thing I knew to do with all my unresolved anger and sadness was to shove it into the work, and to try to make something meaningful. I would go into my trailer every day, wanting to crawl into a little ball, and then someone would be like, “Boss, they’re ready for you on set.” I’d be lying there, like, Fuck, how am I going to face this day? Acting—whether it’s theater or filmmaking—has always been a really healthy way for me to work out my dark, dark shit.

Is it about escapism? It’s about survival. My only other option was to slip into deep despair and depression, which I was headed for. If you’ll notice, I dedicated the movie to my brother. I did have to pay the piper in the end. You can’t hide, and you can’t run from grief. I so desperately wanted to feel like something sweet and human could come out of something so senseless.

Given what you were going through, why did you direct the film when you could have just acted in it? Following Chris’ accident, he was planning to pack it all in and move back to New Orleans, and I said to him, You’re an actor. You can’t go home now. Mine wasn’t a dissimilar moment. After my brother died, Chris said to me, “I understand what you want to do, but what you need to do is get up. You have to get up and you have to make this movie.” image

But the fact that you hadn’t directed a movie before seems— Insane?

Fucking crazy. It was perfect, because you can’t think too much when you have to shoot a movie like that in 23 days. It was an awesome set even if it was a heavy movie.

Juliette Lewis told me how frightening it was for her, a recovering addict, to play someone who overdoses on heroin. She really didn’t want to do that scene. It was written into the character, but she was resistant to playing it. I told her, after we’d gotten into a fight one day, to take a break because it wasn’t working. I’ve learned that the best way to deal with some of this stuff is to not deal with it, to turn your back on it. About two or three hours later she called me and was like, “I’m really sorry. I’m throwing up a lot of resistance because this brings up a lot of heavy stuff.” I was like, Join the rest of us, babe—we’re all going through some really tough shit together. Bring it to set tomorrow, and we’ll film it.

Confronting your own demons can be terrifying. There was a lot of that, even with Orlando. He came to me and was like, “Listen, man. I’m feeling so empty as an actor. I don’t know why, but this part scares the shit out of me, and I need to play it.” I was like, Good! Bring that to set—that’ll be interesting. There was a lot of trust among us because we were all feeling really vulnerable, and what we were trying to accomplish is pretty much impossible in such a short period of time. We were taking a flying fuck at a rolling donut. Every step of the way I had one foot on a banana peel and one foot in the grave.

Add to that the reality that you were also starring in the film. It was a bat-shit crazy thing for me to do. Do you know how easy it is for a movie about a rock ’n’ roll band to stink up the place? My determination to avoid doing that actually reinvigorated my passion for movies. By the time I started shooting Sympathy, I didn’t know if I was going to be an actor anymore. It had lost its joy for me. Even when I walked into The Kids Are All Right, I didn’t give a fuck—I really didn’t.

It’s ironic, then, that it earned you an Oscar nomination. That character was an homage to my brother. When I started Kids, I was like, Acting isn’t the only thing in the world to me. I was really turned on by directing and it came easier to me than acting, and so, fuck it, that was going to be my last movie. Who gives a shit? I decided to make it fun. I was sexy, and I flirted. It gave me an enormous amount of freedom, and while I was that free I remembered that acting is actually kind of great.

Are you nervous about how critics receive Sympathy? Shit, man. I’m not going to kid you. I’d love for it to be received well. I can handle criticism, but I hate when some of those motherfuckers get mean and personal. It’s like people forget that there are actual human beings involved in making these things. Sometimes it’s important to hold a mirror up to people—not in a mean way, but just like, Hey, dude. Check that out. That’s how you look right now. Do you like how you look? I want to be as honest as I can in my life and with the people around me. If I get my ass handed to me, that’s fine. When I look at that movie, knowing the limitations we had, I think, It might have its faults, but it’s sincere. In a time when we’re all so cynical—when there’s so much irony in everyone’s work, when so many people don’t put themselves on the line because they’re afraid—I’m proud to have made something that’s sincere. And that is definitely a personal thing.

Photography by David Roemer.

First photo:Suit and shirt by Ermenegildo Zegna. Sunglasses by Persol. Bracelet by Tom Ford. Pocket Square by Canali. Belt by Bottega Veneta. Second photo: T-Shirt by Salvatore Ferragamo. Bracelet by Tom Ford. Third photo: Jacket, shirt, and pants by Emporio Armani. Watch by Salvatore Ferragamo. Belt by Canali. Grooming by Gita Bass @ Exclusive Artists using Dior Homme. Photo Assistant: Clare Chong. Stylist’s assistant: Toure Gaddis. Location: Metro Daylight Studios, New York City.

Mourning the Loss of Tim Hetherington

Late last April, I commissioned photographer Tim Hetherington to write an essay chronicling his year spent in Afghanistan’s war-torn Korengal Valley with a platoon of American soldiers. He’d been there with journalist and author Sebastian Junger to document an outpost colloquially referred to as Retrespo, named after Juan “Doc” Restrepo, a soldier who’d been killed on duty. Their footage—Hetherington and Junger recorded even the smallest of personal encounters with the US regiment—was edited into what became Restrepo, a nominee for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards. It is with great sadness that I learned today of Hetherington’s death.

He was in the Misrata district of Libya when he was killed on the front lines by what he’d referred to on Twitter as “indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces.” Details of his death are currently muddled, but this is without question a terrible loss for photography and journalism—and for the world. Read his heartfelt essay and see his revealing photographs here. Poetically, he ended his piece with the following words: “When I’m asked, as I frequently am, what the title of the film [Restrepo] means, I say that it refers to an outpost named after a fallen comrade. But it’s also a metaphor for the sense of loss that every soldier is forced to endure.”

A Look at Anton Yelchin’s Photography & Music that Inspires It

Anton Yelchin, who’ll soon star as Mel Gibson’s son in The Beaver, is standing outside the Knickerbocker in Los Angeles, admiring its faded glory. Once a grandiose Hollywood hotel—Elvis stayed there, Marilyn Monroe and Joe DiMaggio held court at the bar—the Knickerbocker was turned into an apartment complex in the 1970s, and it’s now filled with Russian emigrants, Yelchin’s grandfather among them. “There’s an unbelievably funny, sad, and chaotic energy that comes from this beautiful art deco building,” he says. Chaos, I quickly discover, fascinates Yelchin. We asked the 22-year-old actor and aspiring photographer, who will soon be seen in Like Crazy (this year’s Grand Jury Prize winner at Sundance) and the big-screen adaptation of Fright Night, for a list of 10 songs that inspire him to create, both characters and pictures. The playlist is unexpected, intense, and impassioned, much like the man who compiled it. (View the gallery for more of Yelchin’s photographs, many of which were taken during a recent trip to Albuquerque, New Mexico, where he filmed Fright Night.)

Dr. Dre’s “Fuck Wit Dre Day (And Everybody’s Celebratin’).” I chose this one because it’s so aggressive. With NWA, those guys created such an offensive hyper-reality in terms of the identities they chose. I don’t know any of them personally, and I’m sure they have the criminal records to back up what they’re saying, but so much of hip-hop culture is about the image you create. The reason I like this song so much is because of the way it glorifies, in a really bizarre and inappropriate way—especially when you think about the number of middle-class white kids who listen to it—all of the awful things that were going on in street culture. Because the song exists in the pop sphere, it loses all of its racial meaning and becomes an ode to violence and misogyny. I’m fascinated by vulgar things.

Robert Johnson’s “Me And The Devil Blues.” There’s a myth that Johnson was such a great guitar player because he sold his soul to the devil, who came to him at a crossroads and tuned his guitar for him. Just like with the Dre song, a satanic energy pervades this one. Although I’m Jewish, I’m not religious—I don’t think I’m going to Hell if I jerk off twice in a day—but I do see Satan as a chaotic force that grows out of our post-capitalist culture. I was at a Grammys party and the TV was on, showing footage of the revolution in Egypt, and no one gave a shit about what was on the screen. Those two opposites are so chaotic when they’re put together, and it’s what I imagine Johnson is singing about: loss, loneliness, and feelings of isolation.

Bob Dylan’s “In My Time Of Dyin’.” Death is such an inevitable and frightening part of human existence. All of the literature to which I’m drawn has that sense of impermanence. No matter how much chaos you seek, there’s still a desire in each person for salvation. I don’t mean that in any Christian or Judeo-Christian sense. I just mean that we all seek some form of comfort in our lives. image

Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground.” The great thing about Blind Willie Johnson is that he sounds gruff and grizzly at times, and at others beautiful and haunting. Something about this song affects me profoundly; there is an immense amount of pain in it, a desire for love and union and all of the things we’d like to think exist in the world. Dylan really borrowed that from him. When I first approach the characters I play, I look at where their pain comes from and how they deal with it. I have a very bleak view of people and humanity. Life is difficult, dark, and challenging, but it’s how we deal with it that makes us who we are.

Primal Scream’s “Movin’ On Up.” It sounds like a gospel track—a weird, psychedelic, drug-infused gospel track. If the Blind Willie Johnson song is meant for sadness and whisky, then “Movin’ On Up” is like riding a tidal wave.

Doom’s “Slave to Convention.” I don’t really agree with the politics of punk bands; I think their politics are in their sound, not necessarily in what they’re saying. Punk musicians say all sorts of ultra-left–wing things, but how leftist can you be when you’re making, releasing, and selling music? Doom’s politics were kind of irrelevant. Everything’s irrelevant in our society because even our politics become something people can buy; just another thing you can use to mythologize yourself or create the identity you think is real. And there’s nothing you can do about it because that’s just how our society functions—unless you want to go and live naked in the woods, making your own clothing and food.

Spacemen 3’s “Hey Man.” I went through a phase, when I was 10 or 11, when I’d listen to a lot of classic rock. It lasted about 15 minutes, and was followed by a shitty indie phase—I can’t stand that stuff anymore. In the past few years I’ve progressed to noise. I love the droning dissonance of Spacemen 3, although this particular song isn’t all that dissonant. There’s such a moving line in there when he says, “I don’t mind dyin’ but I hate to leave my mother cryin’.” That is just such an honest thing to say, and something I can really, really relate to. image

Ry Cooder’s “Paris, Texas.” This song breaks my heart. I’m not a philosopher—I’m not wise to any degree—but I do realize that if you have someone who really loves you, then you keep them. Sometimes we get too afraid and we push ourselves away from the people we love, which is what The Beaver is about. I was really drawn to Porter, the character I play in the film, because he’s so paranoid and afraid, and he closes himself off from everyone, basically mirroring his father because of his hatred for him. The movie explores how deep you can go into darkness before you lose the things that are really important. I can’t even begin to imagine what Mel is going through now. He was so happy about his little daughter when we were on set. We all have problems, but it’s really sad when they start to take away the things that matter to us most.

Johnny Cash’s “Cocaine Blues.” This song shares the same violent energy found throughout this list. Even if they’re from different socioeconomic backgrounds, Johnny Cash and Dr. Dre both have a unifying sense of aggression and a healthy dose of misogyny. I don’t want to come off sounding like a misogynistic, violent human being—I’m definitely not—but on the Folsom Prison recording, all of the prisoners are cheering along to the song [about a man who kills his wife] and their energy is infectious. I’m really fascinated by sexual aggression, especially in my photography. I take really explicit photos of human genitals because they’re symbols of power and objectification. I think the camera lens is very similar to someone’s cock. It’s like you possess whatever is in front of your lens and then, well, I don’t have to explain the other part.

John Lennon’s “Well Well Well.” There’s something really Dionysian about this one. I love going to dinner with my girlfriend, feasting with someone I really care about, and then making love to her. I’d never devalue the person I’m with, but at the same time sexual acts are inherently aggressive. I think Lennon was going through primal scream therapy when he recorded this song with the Plastic Ono Band. Three minutes into the song he screams for, like, two full minutes. I put this song at the end of the list because it summarizes everything we’ve been talking about. It’s aggressive, introspective, lonely, painful, and slightly misogynistic. When I expound upon these negative, violent things at home, my mom goes, “God, why do you hate everything so much? You’re so angry.” If I could put together a film playlist, I’d include Fassbinder’s work because he’s just so vulgar and anti-everything, but also extremely intelligent. He’s not into that anarchist punk shit, which I hate. Every time I hear that, it’s like, “Shut up! Go back to fucking Hot Topic.”

Top photo by Kurt Iswarienko. All other photos by Anton Yelchin.

Here’s a Picture of Julianne Moore as Hillary Clinton

The Special Relationship, a film about the ties that bound former US President Bill Clinton to former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, first aired on HBO last May. Michael Sheen played Blair, Dennis Quaid played Slick Willie, and Hope Davis was his wife, Hillary. But before Davis was cast in the role, recent BlackBook cover girl Julianne Moore was meant to portray the onetime First Lady.

Moore backed out due to scheduling conflicts with the production of The Kids Are All Right. Somehow, while looking at the portfolios of makeup artists, I came across this gem of a picture: Moore as Clinton in a makeup test for the film. Moore will get her second chance at playing a political powerhouse for HBO when she takes on the role of Sarah Palin in Game Change, later this year. No word on whether she’ll still have time for a tuna burger at Café Cluny.

‘Trust”s Liana Liberato on Online Dating & Trick-or-Treating with Catherine Keener

The most direful scene in David Schwimmer’s Trust finds 15-year-old actor Liana Liberato, a knot of electric nerves in the role of Annie, waiting for “Charlie,” a 40-year-old pedophile who, for months, has adopted the persona of a 16-year-old boy during their online chat sessions. When he greets Annie at her local mall, despite her initial shock, she’s eventually seduced by his manipulative charm and agrees to follow him to a restaurant and then a sleazy motel.

The rest of the movie follows Annie, in the wake of her rape, as she and her parents (played by Clive Owen and Catherine Keener) struggle to make sense of their family’s tragedy. “I’ve never been involved in online dating, but I know people who have, and it’s insane,” says Liberato, who won the Silver Hugo Award for best actress at last year’s Chicago International Film Festival. “Everyone knows you shouldn’t talk to strangers on the street, but no one really thinks twice about talking to strangers on the internet. We assume that people can’t mess with our heads online, but that’s not true.”

Liberato will next star alongside Nicole Kidman and Nicolas Cage in Joel Schumacher’s extortion thriller Trespass, but despite the mature subject matter of her films, Liberato isn’t in any rush to grow up. Last Halloween, she went door-to-door dressed as one of the Three Stooges with Keener, wearing a costume that the two-time Oscar nominee picked out for her. When she’s not tapping into the darker recesses of her psyche—or impersonating slapstick acts—the Los Angeles-based Texan enjoys sitting down over a good meal with her family and friends. “I really like this place called Market City Caffe in downtown Burbank. It’s a really quaint restaurant that serves great pasta,” she says. “I also go to Dialog Café because the guy who works there is from Italy and he makes the best blood orange gelato I’ve ever had.”