Archive for Interviews

Interview with Aletia Upstairs


Patrick Harrington with Aletia Upstairs

Interview with Aletia Upstairs who is currently starring in her fringe show ‘A Queer Love of Dix’

Could you tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be a performer?

I come from Cape Town, South Africa. I’ve lived in London for the last 12 years. Apparently, I had an hour and a half of singing repertoire at the age of 18 months. My parents met on stage in a school play, so it was my destiny.

Do you hold strong political opinions? How would you describe them?

I come from South Africa….Our country changed a hell of a lot during my first few years at university. I couldn’t really see myself being involved with political cabaret in South Africa because everything had to be so PC. And of course, cabaret SHOULD be political. A Queer Love of Dix is my most political show to date and it is still quite mild, I think.

My political opinion is simply that everyone should be treated equally. I grew up seeing the inequality in South Africa…and I became more and more aware of that as I grew older. My idea of feminism is tied in with this view.

You cover some great songs from the Weimar period in your show, (“Pirate Jenny”, “It’s All a Swindle” and “The Lavender Song” to give a few examples). Do you have a song that you like to listen to more than the others and is that different from one that you really like to perform?

I don’t really listen to my show music when I am performing it, as I would get sick of it, and because I listen to it A LOT when I’m learning it. Recently I was listening to ‘Just a Gigolo’ in German (‘Schöner Gigolo, armer Gigolo’) the Max Raabe and the Palast Orchester version, on a loop… constantly…on my bicycle, in the tube, in order to learn the German words. This song was composed in 1928 by Leonello Casucci to lyrics written in 1924 by Julius Brammer. I am interested in the history of the songs (maybe because of my Musicology studies) and with that – especially Lavender Song (‘Das Lila Lied’), which was composed by Mischa Spoliansky under the pseudonym Arno Billing.

You describe Weimar as a ‘utopia’. How far do you think our impression of 1924-29 of Weimar in this period is skewed by Berlin’s reputation as a city where “anything went”? Do you think this vision of Berlin has made us forget that it wasn’t typical of the country, traditional attitudes persisting particularly in small-town and rural areas and amongst the older generation?

I think, most of what we are aware of through say the Cabaret movie – as this is the first taste of that world for many, is the decadence and hedonism of the period…but then there is a part in the movie where the people in the countryside sing a folk song and make the Nazi salute. This makes me think a lot about Brexit, since it was mainly the people in the rural areas who voted out. The people in the cities – London, at least, were generally not that positive about Brexit.

Berlin, in the 1920s, was a forward-looking place though. There were many lesbian and gay bars. People had this little taste of freedom just before the worst event in history set in. When you go on a walking tour in Berlin, specifically The Christopher Isherwood’s Neighbourhood walking tour  you learn a lot about the LGBTQI community at the time, but also about how people were taken away to concentration camps. There are these little plaques at the entrances of certain homes with people’s names and when they were taken, whereto and when and where they died.

During the Weimar Republic, homosexuality was certainly tolerated but it wasn’t legal (The 1871 Code which criminalised it wasn’t repealed until 1994). Also, outside of Berlin, social attitudes were still very conservative. The Eulenburg Scandal in 1907-8 drew attention to the goings-on in the Kaiser’s own circle, where the death in 1908 from a heart attack of the Chief of the Military Cabinet while dancing in the Kaiser’s presence dressed in a ballerina’s tutu added to rumours that the Kaiser was bi-sexual. The point, however, is that it WAS a scandal. The magazine “Simplicissimus”, the “Private Eye” of its day, made sure of that. The Nazis hated Weimar culturally as well as politically. Would you accept that, to a degree, they reflected the opinion of many in this regard?

In the show, I say it was ‘permitted’. Of course, generally, social attitudes were still very conservative, but we always think about the majority being cisgender. Is that really the case though? Was that the case then? Is that the case now? Or are many, many people just going along with societal norms which are based on gender norms dictated by the main religions?
Are you saying that the general public didn’t agree with the liberal lifestyle practiced in the Weimar Republic? I guess not…and that’s one reason for the Nazis rise to power. They had the populist support in combination with the support of those who were fearful of opposing them. Of course, we know that the Weimar Republic was, as I say in the show, ‘an attempt at a perfect democracy’, but it failed because it had some major flaws.

This makes me think of Apartheid South Africa, again, where I know, for a fact, that white people were killed who opposed the government, so, as a result, some people just took the easy way out, ignorant, or oblivious of what they were actually supporting.

Have Brecht, Weill, Isherwood, etc. captured our imagination and distorted our perception of the country and period?

Generally, people are more au fait with Kander and Ebb’s Cabaret than with any of them. Based on the movie, I wanted to be Sally Bowles. When I was in my early twenties, I used to write my bio as ‘Aletia Upstairs wants to be Sally Bowles’, but Isherwood’s Sally Bowles is quite different from the Liza Minelli version everyone knows. Naturally, I wanted to explore the period more and more.

None of them paint a purely utopian picture of the Weimar Republic and Berlin of the time, however, I would say that Otto Dix with his New Objectivity (Neue Sachlichkeit) style gives us a much more realistic view of the period. This is why I had to combine his work with the music, some of which quite well-known, of Brecht and Weill.

Do you think that our own period in our own country where homosexuality is legal, and discrimination outlawed still struggles with negative social attitudes amongst some?

Absolutely, yes. There are still numerous homophobic attacks taking place. The two lesbians who were attacked on a bus is in London, for example…that happened on May 30th.

What can we do to win hearts and minds and change these attitudes?

Keep preaching…to the non-converted. I’m trying to change some people’s perceptions with this show. I rejoice in the fact that cisgender people can sing along to the words ‘We’re not afraid to be queer and different’. It is educational in a subtle way. And if they didn’t know that we say intersex these days, rather than hermaphrodite, they will when they leave the show. I hope that experiencing the show might open their hearts and minds and make people more accepting of the whole LGBTQI spectrum. I think, in a small way, I am accomplishing that.

What attracts you to the culture of the Weimar period so strongly?

I had that image of Anita Berber, used for the poster, as an inspirational picture for many years before I made the show. Although cabaret did not originate in the Weimar Republic or, more specifically Berlin, it is the kind of cabaret similar to how it was performed in South Africa when I was growing up and the way I was trained in cabaret.

Why do you think that many are fascinated by the Goldene Zwanziger (“Golden Twenties”) of Weimar?

This was a moment in history when, like I say in the show, the outsider could be the insider. It was a time of an explosion in artistic activity and personal freedom. The New Objectivity style, used by Otto Dix, originated during this time. Androgyny was fashionable, as documented by Dix’s painting of Sylvia von Harden. It was the time when women cut their hair in the bob hairstyle. This act, in particular, indicated more freedom for women, in particular.

You feature the work of Otto Dix in your show as a backdrop to your singing. What connects his work to the songs for you?
I see it as his work illustrating the songs. I have never seen Brecht and Weill performed in, as I call it, the world of Otto Dix, but I feel that they were talking about the same things, so I thought it would work well in combination.

Who/what do you blame for Hitler’s rise to power and how might it have been prevented?

As I say in the show, in the Weimar Republic, the left and the right could not come to an agreeable compromise, and meanwhile, nationalism was rising. The Weimar Republic’s democracy was flawed. The people were too passive; they went along with the Nazi party for what it promised them – employment and so on which was necessary following the Depression and the period of hyperinflation. I think a lot of people didn’t know what they were letting themselves in for until it was too late.

How has the audience reaction been to the show? What kind of feedback have you had?

People have said it’s been educational, thought-provoking and enjoyable. That’s my intention…exactly that. I don’t want it to be like a lecture, but I do want people to feel that they’ve learned something from it: maybe take another look at their own attitudes to the Other. Some have said it was unique, which is nice to know.

Have you ever thought of presenting the content of your show in another format – a documentary or book for example?

No, not at all, but on a previous project I collaborated with a documentary writer, so it’s not out of the question. I just have to see what opportunities come my way.

What plans do you have for shows in the future?

I am hoping to tour this show to other parts of Europe. I am in negotiations about taking it to Romania and Germany. I don’t have a plan for another show at the moment. It will come when the time is right.

Tickets for A Queer Love of Dix are available from:


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Edinburgh Fringe; NEXT! ★★★★★



Assembly @ Assembly Hall, Baillie Room, 7th – 30th August 2010, at

12.00 (midday) Tickets

Reviewed by Jacqueline Sharp


NEXT? This production should have been The Kiki Kendrick Show! Kiki is the NEXT big thing in comedy!

This would be an apt and well-deserved accreditation for a strong woman with lots of character; a loveable actress with guts, determination and nerves of steel for surviving so many dodgy and countless auditions!

I couldn’t help wondering why this production was named as theatre in the Fringe brochure; this hilarious one-woman show is definitely the best comedy show in town! I laughed, laughed and laughed so much my sides ached! The audience laughed to her every line and were eager to see more and hear more from her!

This talented actress and writer has taken her gift of insight to recount the highs and lows and many pitfalls that come with being an actress. One actress creates a cast of 20 characters’ real-life auditions.

I had a vision! Kiki on Broadway in The Kiki Kendrick Show! Not impossible She has what it takes to be a huge star in America and United Kingdom, with her own television show. How about, The Kiki Kendrick Show – The Next Big Thing?

I couldn’t help but laugh at the thought of all those directors applying for an audition for The Kiki Kendrick Show. Kiki would have the last laugh passing them over by saying NEXT! There would be a long list of directors making guest slots on her show. That would be comical!

With its well-written script, perfect timing and presentation, this hidden gem is thoroughly recommended. It deserves an award for excellence!

★★★★★ five stars


Q Hi Kiki! Congratulations, I loved your show, I laughed and laughed endlessly, you are extremely comical. The audience also laughed just as much as me, well done!

A Laughs! Laughter is so important in an audience, when there is one lead laugher the others follow.

Q Your show should be jam packed full, you have the best comedy at Fringe this year, and what do you think about that?

A  It is harder to get an audience during the day; however, there is still time for everyone to know Kiki Kendrick is here!

Q Why was the production headed up in the Fringe brochure as theatre? Shouldn’t it have been comedy?

A Next is a play, storytelling! Perhaps I hadn’t realised how comical the show would come across. I had thought that serious fringegoers would go for serious comedy.

Q Who are team Next then?

A I am the performer, in this one-woman show. I also wrote the script. James Barry, (Director), Anjali Kale, (Production Design), Set Designer, (Kate Klinger), Asst Manager, (Nicola Roodt), Production Asst, (Olivia Ward), Photographer, (Julian Hanford), Fiona Tanner, (hair/make up).

Q Kiki, you wrote the script, which was well written, where did you get your ideas for Next?

A I had a string of some real bad auditions for two years, which threw me a bit. So in 2007 I came up with the idea of writing Next; a one woman show about an actress, the experiences of bad auditions. I suppose I wanted to turn negatives into a positive!

The script for Next has changed and evolved many times. Even now I get ideas all the time and incorporate them into my show, fresh ideas all time.

Q Was this therapy for you then?

A Laughs! Everyone asks me that. It was more a case of a wakeup call, a release, making my own path, finding my own way!

Q In one line Kiki, how does it feel for an actress going to auditions?

A Laughs! I have heard the auditions are much kinder in the United States; they don’t mess around over there, if they don’t want you they just say next straight up, without wasting actress time, without even doing an audition. I have never been for an audition in the United States; this is just what I have heard.

Here in the United Kingdom, it is much harder; I found the better the job the less you have to do at an audition. The crap jobs, they make you jump through hoops, work much harder and even get called back for recalls.

Q Are you going on tour with Next then?

A I am open to offers!

Q What about your own television show?

A I am open to offers!

Q Any books in the pipeline?

A Laughs! Bring it on! It is all about me, me, and me, Kiki Kendrick!

Q You are a professional actress, so what productions have you been involved with then?

A My television CV;

The Office, Cold Feet, Fat Friends, 2 Pints of Lager and a Packet Crisps, Night & Day, Waterloo Road, Casualty and Doctors.

My film CV;

9 Lives of Tomas Katz, Do I love You, and Phobias.

My Theatre CV;

Fly Me To The Moon, Reunion, I Want That Hair, My Beautiful Laundrette, Waiting For Hillsborough, Crime and Punishment, Lip Service, Mutton, 5065 Lift’s Insane Jane, Too & Close For Comfort, Babooshka, The Woman who Cooked her Husband

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Q&A with Director Renny Harlin

Exorcist: The Beginning is released nationwide in the UK on 29th October, 2004 by Warner Bros. Pictures. It’s a Certificate 15 and runs for 114 minutes. Counter Culture is pleased to present this Q&A session with Director Renny Harlin.

Q: Were you nervous about getting involved in Exorcist: The Beginning. The films are meant to be cursed aren’t they?

A: [Laughs] Well I don’t know about curses and whatnot. But I was involved in a car accident at the beginning of shooting and had to do most of the film in a cast, so maybe there’s something to it . . .

Q: Making this film seems to have been one of the biggest challenges of your career

A: Yes. But I got caught up in the excitement of how you construct a prequel to this film – which is one of my favourite films of all time. And how you illuminate those issues that are not explained in the original film – and to take the challenge of the schedule. That was exciting.

Q: How did you get involved? It had already been made once by Paul Schrader, right?

A: About a year ago in September, when the studio decided that they didn’t want to release a version of the film that Paul Schrader had made, and they invited some other directors to come and look at the film. They wanted suggestions of how, with a couple of reshoots they add some suspense element into the film. And I saw the film and my opinion was that I didn’t want to start interfering on another director’s film and that I didn’t know how to add things to a film that had a very definite structure and feel. So I said that I’d only be interested if they made a whole new film. I thought “they’ll never pay for that,” and that I’d never hear from them again. Then a few weeks later they called me up and said “we’ve decided to redo the whole thing, are you interested?” And I had to follow through with what I had said and I started working on a new script and a new approach.

Q: It must have been like stepping into a hornet’s nest?

A: Absolutely, I knew this from the beginning. I thought I would just give them my comments and I would never hear from them again, so when I was caught off guard when they said we’ll do what you suggested – I knew from that moment on that I was asking for trouble because I realised there was no way, no matter what we did, that we could satisfy all the fans of the original Exorcist. It was just an impossibility. Together with the fact that they had already made the film once and everybody knew that. So we knew that we had a real uphill battle, but at the same time I was a huge fan of the original film, so I thought it was an exciting film to do in terms of trying to explore where all those things in the original film came from. Where those ideas and thoughts had their birth. That’s what we tried to explore.

Q: Was there ever any suggestion that you’d have a completely new screenplay written?

A: Well, we had very little time. We had 10 months! In that time we had to do some recasting, build the sets in Italy and so on. So to be honest in retrospect when one looks at the situation the smartest thing would have been to completely reconceive the film. What we did was take the basic elements of father Merrin and his loss of faith, and this possession in an African village and so on and keep them. But it was not an ideal situation. I mean we had to start shooting in 2 months! And in that time we had to modify the script and so on. It was a really tight situation.

Q: What are Exorcist fans going to think of it?

A: Well we have made some changes. Fans of the first film have sort of made their rules about possession and exorcism is and how it works and so on. But if you study a little more and go beyond the film you realise there are lots of different kinds of possession. For instance in our film the kid gets touched by the demon, or infected by him, without getting fully possessed. There are endless differences like that. So we’ve varied from the first film – it’s not one person getting possessed and you watching them for an hour and a half like the first film. We felt we couldn’t do that; it would be making the same film that was made in the 70s. Some will buy into it and some won’t.

Q: Critics will inevitably say that you’ve dumbed the concept down. . .

A: That certainly wasn’t our intention. But obviously everybody’s entitled to their opinion. In defence of what we did we had an incredibly challenging task to try to live up to the movie that was made in the 1970s. It’s incredibly famous – it invented a whole new genre. And to make this film without making that film all over again was difficult. In terms of the dumbing it down, maybe people are talking about some of the sequences with the British army and so on – that we made it bigger and more “Hollywood”. Well, we were trying to probe whey people commit these horrible atrocities against each other and where evil comes from and is it some kind of demonic force and so on. Whether people think we succeeded is up to them.

Q: It must have been odd for the actors having to make the same film twice . . .

A: Well I knew Stellan Skarsgard because he was a friend. And he was concerned about this. He wanted to know what we would do and why and how and so on. But he became very much a part of the screenwriting process. We worked together very well. In the previous version his character is very introspective and very passive. In this version he has a traumatic back-story and is more of an active character. because he was part of the process he got really excited about. That was a great experience for both of us. They are two totally different kinds of films, and I think he enjoyed acting in both of them.

Q: Finally, do you believe in possession?

A: I don’t know. But in the research we did we found that the church employs over 300 exorcists. The Pope has his own exorcist, so they certainly believe it. I don’t know if you’d call me religious. But I was brought up to believe in God. And maybe demonic possession would be an explanation for some of the evil things that people do.

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Q&A with Colin Farrell

Q: Tell us about working with first-time director Michael Mayer.

CF: He has an incredible sense of blocking not like many film directors I’ve worked with have, because obviously with stage its so much about that physical space, but with film, you can cheat physical space because you’re shooting single people and single shots and so on. But he really understood the approximations of the characters at different times and how that told stories without any dialogue. And he was great. Mike’s a great film director/theater director, and at the end of the day, you’re directing people and you’re kind of helping them tap into stuff that you hope, having cast them, exists within them. But you’re just helping them, leading them out of themselves or into themselves.

Q: Tell us about Michael Cunningham’s adaptation.

CF: He’s such a wordsmith. He’s such a beautiful writer. Michael knew each character so implicitly because he spent about five years writing the book, and it was just so beautifully written. Each character was as extreme as they were in the book, even Clare (Robin Wright Penn’s character), was kind of crazy and eccentric as she is at times, was just painted with such a beautifully soft brushstroke. So it was just gorgeous to be part of it.

Q: Talk about what the title means to you.

CF: Well, hopefully you can carry it around with you. I say that because I travel a lot. So it is your heart. It’s wherever you find peace, but peace can be found in turmoil as well. If you get yourself out of the turmoil, peace becomes greater. Obviously for me, it is family, its friends, and they’re all in Dublin. But even though they’re in Dublin, they’re within me, so they’re here in this room and this hotel. So, you know, I suppose what I’m saying is, home is where the heart is.

Q: Is the character of Bobby bisexual or just Asexual?

CF: No, he’s not aware enough of sexuality. He is bisexual, asexual, he’s not sexual, he’s just a lover. If he met a girl that rocked his world he’d be with her, and if he met a boy that rocked his world, he’d be with him. You can call that bisexual, of course, but Bobby wouldn’t even know what it was if you said to him, “you’re bisexual” It’s not in the realms of his thinking, he just exists.

Q: In the movie, your character never wants to be alone, Have you ever felt like that ever in your life?

CF: No there are times when I need some space.

Q: Even before the fame?

CF: No, it’s always been kind of the same, I always enjoyed being on me own. And also I loved company, I loved going out and having a laugh with groups but with the character of Bobby he’s someone who is really not even aware of it as an Achilles or a neediness, but he just doesn’t want to be on his own, ever, because he has stared loneliness in the face, when his whole family died around him.

Q: Colin, you’ve been in a couple of smaller films this year. Are you getting tired of the blockbuster roles?

CF: ‘S.W.A.T.’ was four and a half months long and I had a blast doing it, but I definitely wanted to do something to challenge myself a little bit more. I got a chance to work on ‘Intermission’ and it was being shot in Dublin with a bunch of Irish actors and I was licking my lips at the prospect of it. Whenever ‘Home at the End of the World’ came along, I just loved it when I read it, really adored it. And then I went on to ‘Alexander.’

Q: Would you like to balance your career between movies like ‘Alexander’ and smaller films?

CF: For the first time in my life, I realized that I’m in a fortunate enough position to, by and large, pick and choose my projects. I want to do different things but even if it’s a big movie, I’d better believe in it on some level.

Q: What are your priorities these days as you become more successful? Are you trying to balance your personal life with your career?

CF: Not really, maybe I should be thinking more into the future but I don’t think too far into the future on the risk that I’ll miss the present, you know? And I don’t want to as the present is pretty good. I mean, I’m working hard, I have a beautiful son, and as long as I can be with him and he knows who his Dad always is and I can go to work as well, I’m fine.

Q: How old is he now and has fatherhood changed you?

CF: 10 months. It’s not like a major metamorphosis but the first time you hold your baby in your arms, a sense of the strength of love washes over you. It’s a very strange love and a very beautiful love and a very pure love, unconditional to the extreme. But has it changed me? I don’t know.

Q: What’s your master plan of the kind of roles you want to play?

CF: You know what, I’ve never had a master plan and its done me okay so far, so I’ll just reach it and see what I wanna do.

Q: What do you see when you look at your previous films?

CF: I don’t really look at them, I’m too busy just, I know which ones I liked doing and which ones I didn’t.

Q: What are you working on now?

CF: I start work on a Terrence Malick film. It’s called ‘A New World’. It’s the story of the English settlement in the early 1600s. I play John Smith. Terry wrote the script and it’s beautiful.

Q: What are your impressions of him?

CF: He’s very shy but he’s just an incredible man. He’s very, very shy, but he’s highly intelligent and very gentle with his intelligence. His intelligence has a piece of him that is very childlike, sees beauty and sees details everywhere and that’s strange and just gorgeous.

Q: Have you thought of directing?

CF: Maybe someday, I don’t know, maybe someday. I’m still trying to figure out the acting thing, but maybe.

Q: Are you comfortable living and working in Ireland?

CF: Yeah, it’s my home; it will always be me home.

Q: Do you go back a lot?

CF: I can’t, I mean, I’ve been on the road, I live out of a suitcase for five years. I have a place in Dublin but I’ve been staying in hotels for five years. I miss Dublin very much but it will always be there for me.

Q: You have said in the past that your mother is concerned that you smoke too much and that you drink too much. Is your mother more or less proud of you, these days?

CF: She’s carried the same amount of pride all her life regardless of what I’ve done or what positions I’ve put myself in, she’s that strong.

Q: Have you slowed down any?

CF: I don’t know, if I have a day off then I will have a few beers, but my mother’s very proud of me, she’s always been proud of me, man. She’s a great woman.

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Question and Answer Session: Meryl Streep

American actress Meryl Streep is considered by many to be the finest actress of her generation. Her 27 year film career spans a range of genres, and has accrued countless awards and nominations including two Oscars. Her breakthrough role in The Deer Hunter (1978) drew her first nomination, with Kramer Vs Kramer (1979)delivering the first award. Since then her films have included The French Lieutenant’s Woman (1981), Sophie’s Choice (1982), Silkwood (1983), Out of Africa (1985),, A Cry In The Dark (1988). The Bridges of Madison County (1995), Adaptation (2002) and The Hours (2002).

Counter Culture is pleased to present a question and answer session with Meryl.

You’ve never seen the original version of The Manchurian Candidate – how come?

I’m not really a cinephile. I don’t have an encyclopaedic knowledge of movies. So I missed it on the first time round. I would have been very young then anyway. Then when I got the job I decided not to look at it, because I thought I might steal something from Angela Lansbury [who played the role in the 1962 original] or I would be affected by the performance in some way and maybe react to it. Or do something arbitrary, so as not to be like her. I saw it afterwards and realised how different ours is, but also how specific both films are to their time.

Do you recognise any political relevance in the story that speaks to the times we are living in?

I think when things are really true and relevant to a time they’re relevant to every time and place. One of the biggest themes in this is the embeddedness of money and finance in influencing foreign policy. That’s something that, in America, our founding fathers worried about. They worried about the corporations. Dwight Eisenhower famously worried about the military-industrial complex unduly influencing governments. So it’s something that’s been around a long time it just periodically gets more pressing and more urgent. And another theme of this film is who pays? Who pays with their lives? Certainly not the people that make these decisions, or their children.

What then was the appeal of Eleanor Shaw for you?

I thought of it as a great opportunity to play, and to understand, someone who was not like me. I also thought that she presented a unique opportunity because she was the full embodiment of everybody’s fear of women in power. It’s interesting because people in England thinks it’s Maggie Thatcher, while everyone at home thinks it’s Hillary Clinton, because these are the two most formidable women in political life. But those two women couldn’t be more dissimilar from each other or from this character that I play, so I think we’re touching on something very deep about Mommy and the fear of her taking over. It was all a great opportunity.

She’s certainly a strong woman, an atypical feature film villain.

I thought it was really unusual, that in the first half hour of a picture it was a woman who drove the plot, who drove the machinery of the story so forceful and aggressively. I loved having that much to say, it was almost like a play more than a movie in a way.

There is a depth to the character even if her motives are flawed. She even has a sense of humour, doesn’t she?

I think everything serious has something funny in it, and everything funny has something tragic embedded in the bottom of it. That’s the Chekhovian way of looking at things. That’s the way I see life, so I couldn’t play her as a straight ahead Gorgon, it didn’t interest me because I think people that get things done in Washington have charm, often, in big measure. And they’re pushy. And not just Washington, I think in the wider world. So it helps to round out this character with that sense you get of her own understanding of how monstrous she can sometimes be. Of her self awareness. I think it’s more interesting when people are like we all are, self aware.

There’s a provocative scene with you and your screen son, played by Liev Schreiber, that hints at something more in your characters’ relationship. Was there more to it that we didn’t see?

The scene was shot in a lot of different ways and from many different angles and there were a lot of different choices in different cuts of the film. It really pulled it in an extreme direction each time we changed it. It was interesting, that scene more than any other worked its primal power. In the end we decided that less is more and you get what you get. But you see everything that happens.

Did you have a say in Eleanor Shaw’s power outfits?

I did. I think in my next life I’m going to be a costume designer because I really think what you wear announces something to people. I’m a pain in the ass to all of the costume designers I work with, because I have very strong feelings about this subject. Especially when I think of my women viewers. When I sit with my husband in a movie, he notices the costume if the female character is bra-less, other than that it doesn’t register. But women read these clues closely. It was very important to me to have really good jewellery, the clink of those heavy pearls was like the clink of power and entitlement. I thought that was important, and the power suit is a trope of that kind of woman.

Are there a lot of roles out there that you are offered?

I think that things are changing, but every time you say that they change back to the bad old days. The emergence of cable opportunities through HBO and Showtime, unconventional financing of films helps. Some of the most exciting work is now happening in those venues on television. There are many more independent pictures, and they are giving opportunities to older women. But in my case the biggest reason that I’m working is that there are two women running the studios where I’ve worked in the last few years. One is Amy Pascal who runs Sony Pictures – she gave the okay for me to be in Adaptation. That was really a part written for a 35 year old, but Spike said he wanted me, and she said fine. Another studio head would have said “eugh! Why? Let’s get somebody 16 years younger”. She was great with it. And Sherry Lansing runs Paramount, and she has kept me in work in The Hours, and The Manchurian Candidate and Lemony Snicket. I guess I’m her blood sister or something. I think it’s harder for male studio heads to be interested in stories featuring women who resemble their first wives!

Is a good critical reception to your films important to you?

The work is the most fun thing. It seems illicit, how much fun it is. But the critical reaction is satisfying too. When other actors like you, that’s really good. And I’m really happy when young people like my work. It’s very gratifying to have that recognition.

With your body of work, and reputation for such high standards, have you found that people have been wary of offering you quirky, left field stuff that might otherwise have appealed to you?

I’m sure there’s been that inhibition in getting things to me. I don’t have ‘a staff’, or an office of any size. But I like it that way, I like it simple. The amount of things that I’m offered seems to be too much to read and go through. Maybe I’ve missed opportunities, but I’ve been grateful for the ones I’ve had, so I can’t complain.

Do you ever revisit your earlier work?

I don’t. But last June I was honoured by the American Film Institute and they had a televised retrospective. It’s so horrifying to see how young I was, and how I didn’t appreciate it then. Just seeing those clips reminded me that it’s been a really long, interesting journey with a lot of amazingly talented people. And the sad thing is how many of them are gone. I’m thinking about Karel Reisz, Alan Pakula and Nestor Almendros, Joseph Papp – people who really made my career in the early days but are all gone. I can’t properly thank them, so it was great to be able to thank the people who are alive and who were there. That’s nice.

THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE opens in the UK and Ireland through United International Pictures on November 19.

LEMONY SNICKET opens through United International Pictures on December 17.

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Counter Culture Interview: Mike Bonanno

Mike Bonanno forms one half of the prankster activists known as the Yes Men (with Andy Bicibaum). On the eve of the UK release of their documentary we asked Mike to tell us more about what they get up to and why.

Can you explain what it was that motivated you to form the Yes Men?

We were motivated by the huge amount of disturbing criminal activity that was going on in the world. Huge corporations are stealing from the poor and destroying the environment. Someone has to do something.

Why the ‘Yes Men’?

This comes from the american expression that describes someone who will agree with the boss’s repugnant ideas to get ahead in the world. When we went to represent the WTO, we were essentially saying “yes” to free trade ideas, turning up the volume until they were revealed to be absurd.

What is wrong with the WTO in your eyes?

The WTO’s goal is to help businesses do business. We need global organizations that PROTECT the powerless from the predatory practices of business, not vice versa. Having global regulatory organizations is very important in this global economy- but the WTO is essentially a de-regulatory organizations, designed to allow the rich to do whatever they please. And the absurd idea that helping the rich will help the poor is just that- absurd.

What do you think your behaviour at gatherings where you masqueraded as WTO representatives proves?

There are a number of things that it demonstrates. First of all, it shows that we can’t trust experts with issues as important as these, because most of them are asleep at the wheel or have such deep faith in this free trade philosophy that they will let anything slide past unchallenged.

We think our actions also prove that the ideas of these free trade proponents are in fact really very funny- if you live in the first world and can afford to laugh rather than cry.

Why the generally polite and non-critical acceptance of your most outrageous statements, eg ‘involuntarily imported workforce model of work’ in the textile industry for slavery and the sale of votes? Is it respect or awe for your perceived authority?

Its a combination of respect for the WTO and belief in a totally stupid idea. We didnt really stray from the basic premise of the WTO: simply getting out of the way of business, not allowing civil society to regulate, thats in keeping with our proposals at the meetings such as managers in the first world wearing a 3 foot golden phallus through which they administer electric shocks to sweatshop workers in the 3rd world.

And while we are on the subject of electric shocks- its also easy to liken the response to the Milgram experiment of the 1950’s. There is was shown that people obey authority… even in the face of extreme depravity.

How do you finance your jaunts?

We work regular jobs. These experiences are a bit like eco-tourism. Or extreme eco-tourism. Also, we have gotten some art grants from private US foundations.

Do you think that people might start imitating your actions? Would that please you?

Well, not precisely imitating. I cant imagine someone making a golden suit and flying to Tampere to lecture textile experts… but there are plenty of yes men (and women of course) out there. And there have been many before us too. And all that makes us happy!

Will you become victims of your own success as people become more aware of you? An example of this is the British character, Ali G.

We wont worry about that until we are famous! So far that hasnt been a problem.

Have there been legal attempts by the real WTO to stop you?

Well, there were a few little things.. cease and desist letters, etc. Lately though, they have tried to embrace us. In fact, we were there last week when the movie opened in Switzerland, and they invited us to show the movie there! We turned it down and went to the WEF in Davos, where we got a much less warm reception…

Have you any formal political background?

Nothing formal… although both our grandfathers were killed by nazis in the second world war. Does that count?

Have you ever felt guilty about deceiving people?

There have been a handful of times where there was some guilt- but it hasnt lasted long. We plan the actions carefully so as not to make people look bad- we want the corporate criminals to look bad, thats our target. Sometimes we have felt bad for a little while – in the case of this recent incident where we were able to pose as Dow Chemical on BBC World News and announce that they were cleaning up their mess in Bhopal, India, there were initial reports of the gas disaster victims being given false hopes by the action. It turned out that most of that was a fiction based on one interview, and that the victims and activists were overwhelmingly supportive because of the attention that got paid to the cause.

What was your reaction when George W Bush condemned you? Did you throw a party?

Yes, and sent out a press release!

We loved the Barbie Liberation Organisation (BLO). Any plans for a comeback?

Not unless Mattel makes more talking barbie dolls!

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Interview: Eva Green – Kingdom Of Heaven

Courting Controversy Green is the new black
Eva Green – Kingdom Of Heaven.
Copy: Lórien Haynes

When Bernardo Bertolucci hand picked French ingénue Eva Green to star in his sexually controversial film The Dreamers, he described her as ‘so beautiful. It’s indecent.’

Now the 24 year old daughter of French actress Marlene Jobert, co-stars with Orlando Bloom in the first blockbuster of 2005; Ridley Scott’s crusade epic Kingdom of Heaven. And again, with its depiction of Muslim and Christian conflict, Green finds herself at the center of a celluloid controversy.

In the film Green plays Princess Sybilla, Jerusalem royalty, who captivates Bloom’s blacksmith Balian. But will the model face of Armani’s Summer 2005 campaign [Green’s sideline] equally captivate the movie going public? We met the spring chicken to see what she has to say for herself…

So Eva, how did you get the part of Sybilla in Kingdom of Heaven?

Because I’m very good. No, it was a long tough process. The studio backing the film didn’t know me – I was just ‘a French girl,’ an unknown – so I had to have five screen tests at Pinewood. But thanks to Ridley’s support, they finally went for the fresh and the new.

Were you nervous about the prospect of starting filming?

My God yes. I was shooting a nineteenth century French movie [Arsene Lupin] at the time and was only hired for Kingdom of Heaven a week before shooting started. There was no time to prepare – and I was supposed to sound British! Five minutes later, I was on set in Morocco confronted by an enormous crew and a fantastic cast. I ended up pinching myself every day. It didn’t feel real.

Did you feel the same about working with Orlando?

No. He’s charming and straightforward. We had one day of rehearsing together and he immediately put me at my ease. I think he’s just a normal guy who can’t quite cope with being a big star or with his huge female fan base. But I think this role is good for him. As Balian, he’s turning from a young romantic lead into a rugged hero. From boy to man.

But we heard he had to wear a fake chest wig for this?

Absolutely not – though he did have three days worth of growth on his face. It was me who had the fake chest wig.

Yes, it’s a prerequisite of all proper princesses. But is your princess a Barbie or a Boudicca?

Ridley’s women always have a dark side, a strong side – so, thankfully, I’m not simply love interest.

How was working with Ridley?

He’s a gentleman. He never raises his voice or shows tension or anxiety. But he has power and he expresses a great deal with his eyes. I found the fact that he trusts you as an actor really makes you feel liberated.

What’s your favorite film of his to date?

The first movie of his that struck me was Legend. It didn’t entirely work but it was magical. I loved the whole pre-raphelite aesthetic, the vibrant colors, the fluid material. I thought of it going into Kingdom of Heaven – the whole idea of being a princess in a fairytale.

How was the shoot in Morocco – a nightmare?

We were in the desert for three months and it was like going back centuries. Time has stood still and nothing has changed there; there are the same smells, the same food, the same cultural aspects as existed in the 11th century.

Anything funny happen on set?

Yes, if you consider being the only girl on set funny. The great thing about that though, was all the men took care of me.

I bet they did! How exactly?

Well it meant I went to the bar a lot! One night, we had a birthday party for one of the assistants and started singing national songs. So I got up and sang a French one and Michael Sheen [who plays Bloom’s brother] sang one in Welsh. THAT was funny – but I guess you had to be there.

Do you feel the film will stir up religious controversy?

Unfortunately yes. Everyone’s already talking about that.

How does it compare to the US uproar over the sexually explicit nature of The Dreamers?

Well that was quite paradoxical because in America there is so much violence, both on the streets and on the screen. They think nothing of it. Yet I think they are frightened by sex. With Kingdom it’s different issues. There was a recent article in the New York Times saying it shows Arabic people in a bad light. But to me the film says that war is futile and that people will find love irrespective of race. The title itself describes Jerusalem as somewhere where all races live together harmoniously.

Did you research these issues prior to filming?

I read Crusades Through Arab Eyes and went to the Arab Institute in Paris because I wanted to be aware of both sides of the argument. And I hope this film will do good rather than bad – obviously.

There was rumor of a terrorist attack on set – was that true?

I was in Paris at the time but all I heard was that it was a bad joke – a firework going off. Unfortunately everyone thought it was a terrorist explosion. Thank God it wasn’t true.

And to finish off on a far fluffier level, you are the face of Emporio Armani 2005 – what does that entail?

As the image for Armani Spring Summer 2005 I’m lucky enough to get a certain amount of credit for clothes. And I love Armani – I’m wearing him right now – he’s so chic and simple.

So bottom line – model or actress – which one’s it gonna be?

Guess! Acting of course.

Kingdom of Heaven is released on May 6th.

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Interviews: MATT DAMON (Bryan Woodman) Q&A

QUESTION: This is not an easy film for the audience. Does the complexity come through in the process of making the film?

MATT DAMON: Yeah. It’s a pretty complicated topic. We all did a lot of reading. [Stephen] Gaghan had a pretty good-sized reading list. He sent me like 12 books and I read some of them. I did my best.

Q: What kind of books did he send you?

MATT DAMON: Well, I read both of Bob Baer’s books, which are terrific, by the way. I highly recommend anybody out there going and picking them up. He’s just a really fascinating guy; really smart, really dedicated guy. And everything from books on oil, like the book The Prize, and one of Tom Freedman’s books, From Beirut to Jerusalem. They’re basically a syllabus for all of his actors. So, I worked my way through that. Maybe there are actors who can just show up and say lines and not have any idea what they’re talking about, but I’m not one of them. I have to be somewhat grounded in what I’m talking about. But, having said that, they had a couple of these oil guys there who were trying to explain to me the derivatives. I’m totally lost when these guys are talking. It really is complex stuff.

Q: How much did you know about derivatives beforehand?

MATT DAMON: I knew absolutely nothing. No. I would sit there and I would talk to these guys and we were talking about mergers and deals that I think anybody can relate to. So, if you just make emotional sense of that in your mind, then the minutia of what you’re talking about can be Greek.

Q: Talk about the emotional stuff your character is going through.

MATT DAMON: That’s the real part of my role that is important to the movie as a whole, the balance of the movie. You’ve got four storylines going. Mine is the most emotional from the outset because of what happens. So, in that sense, it’s the least complicated of the four stories. It’s very easy for an audience to follow what’s going on with the Bryan Woodman story because it’s this big visceral occurrence at the beginning of it. So, that was my job in this one – to try and make that stuff be believable. One of the things I really liked about it is Gaghan is not reductive with his characters. It’s not that the guy is just ambitious. All the characters are pretty complex, are human. They’re various shades of gray.

Q: What were your impressions of how the people thought of you being there? Did you come to respect that community a little more?

MATT DAMON: What, in Dubai? Everyone was very nice. Dubai is a pretty popular tourist destination, certainly for a lot of Europeans; lesser for Americans. But I wouldn’t say that I gained insight into the Middle East. Dubai is very different from other parts of the Middle East. It wasn’t like we were shooting in Saudi Arabia, Syria or Jordan. We stayed in a very nice hotel right on the Persian Gulf, and it didn’t feel like a cultural trip, necessarily. It felt like we were shooting 12 hours a day, and eating and sleeping and getting up and shooting again. It didn’t feel like a cultural exchange program or anything like that.

Q: Do you have any insight into what’s going to happen over there?

MATT DAMON: That’s a very good question. Bob’s second book is all about Saudi Arabia and it’s really interesting. He talks about it as this giant welfare state that’s about to collapse. It’s really on the verge of collapsing. The families keep growing and the oil’s running out; it’s going to collapse. Meanwhile, they’re funding a lot of these fundamentalist colleges. So, these guys are coming out of these colleges with no possible job opportunities but having this hard-line philosophy. It’s like a doomsday scenario over there. The way Bob talks about it, he doesn’t make it seem too complicated.

Q: In this movie, did you get a sense of what it’s like to choose your job above your family and everything else?

MATT DAMON: I don’t know that what I’m doing is necessarily just. He’s pretty ambitious, and he is trading on his son’s death. So, I wouldn’t say he’s doing something that’s totally noble. But, yeah, I do understand people who choose that. I met a lot of them – Bob, or guys like the technical adviser in this other movie I’m doing [The Good Shepherd], who put in 30 years at the CIA. They make huge sacrifices.

Q: How did you like playing a family man?

MATT DAMON: I liked it. I had fun. I really like the little boy, Nick. I hung out with him a lot, and he was a real cool kid.

Q: Are you part of the celebrity crusade against gas-guzzling cars? Do you drive a hybrid?

MATT DAMON: I do drive a hybrid, but I wouldn’t say I’m part of any crusade. Nobody called me that there was a crusade on. I just do it for my own personal reasons.

Q: Which are?

MATT DAMON: Well, I don’t have a car in New York. But we just got a place in Florida, so we got a car there, and it’s a hybrid. You don’t need all that car under you. I don’t need a Suburban to drive myself around. It just seems to make common sense to me. My father drives one; my brother drives one. Why would you ever drive a regular car? There’s no reason to. These cars are just as good; they just use less gas. So, I don’t understand why everyone isn’t driving them.

Q: I saw your character as an ambitious guy who decides to be the reformer and take an emotional interest in the development of this country. How did you come about this?

MATT DAMON: Well, with the death of his son, it’s like there’s this streak of nihilism that’s running through him, where he’s just like, “Fuck it.” He gets humiliated when he goes to pitch and he doesn’t even get into the room. So, now this guy says, ‘I’ll give you this field; one of these fields are about to open up.’ He is professionally a little better and personally pissed off and self-destructive enough to be able to make a suggestion like that. Plus, it’s not a bad idea to hook up with existing and run the oil overland rather than sail it all the way around Africa. It’s a good idea. And it’s kind of one of those common sense ideas, according to them, that is radical, but it makes total sense. Anybody who knows the ins and outs of it goes, ‘Yeah, well, that would be really smart, but it would cut all these people out of the pie.’ So, it never really gets suggested.

Q: Your character essentially gets involved in a coup.

MATT DAMON: Right. These two characters – one is this reformer and idealist, and the other one’s this nihilist who has had this personal tragedy – they just collide at the right or wrong time, depending on what your opinion is, and it goes from there.

Q: Do you come away from this politically more aware?

MATT DAMON: I know a little bit more about it. I’ve read a few more books than I’d read. I met some people that really do this for a living, and were really interesting to listen to, so there is a change. But the movie was made really to spark conversations. I know you guys have to be here and have to ask the questions. But hopefully, if people go see the movie, it’s the type of movie that they’ll go with someone and grab a drink afterwards and talk it through. It’s not meant to give you answers. It’s not like there’s a, ‘ta-dah! Here’s the solution.’

Q: What did you and George do when you were not shooting? Was there a nightlife in Dubai? Did you hang out?

MATT DAMON: No, no, no. He had put on all that weight, and he was really depressed. Did you guys see Super Size Me? The guy puts all the weight on but he gets depressed. And George was like that, because he’s a really active guy and he couldn’t move around. He had to just sit there, and I had never seen him like that before. He’s normally like the life of the party, but he was just really depressed. He also had his neck problem, so he was immobile and a little angry. But, coming out of it, he literally wrote and directed Good Night and Good Luck, and edited it and put it out. It was like he had so much drive coming off that experience because he was made to sit still for four months or so.

Q: Would you ever envision yourself working in the government in any way, shape, or form?

MATT DAMON: Yeah, yeah.

Q: Doing what?

MATT DAMON: Oh, I don’t know. There are so many different jobs that it’s like, ‘what other job would you like?’ I would never say that I’d be in the military, but my roommate from college had a job. He was in Special Forces, and he went to Bosnia and was hunting war criminals. I thought that was a pretty great job. He really would come out of there with these guys, and we’d take them over to the Hague, and I thought that was a pretty noble thing to do. So, I think there are some good jobs in the government.

Q: What do you think the reaction will be from audiences to this movie?

MATT DAMON: My hope is that people will really like it; people have been missing movies like that. There’s a lot of pressure on people who make movies to not make them confusing because you have two hours to tell a story, and the story costs x amount of dollars, and you want the maximum number of people to see it. The problem with that is that you get movies that are just so stupid that audiences don’t like them. I think people want the discourse to be elevated a little bit, to be a little more challenging with your subject matter, and with your characters, and not reductive about them. Look, it’s hard to read people in real life. I don’t know what you’re thinking right now. But a movie is going to tell you that I’m supposed to know exactly everything about you when you walk onscreen and open your mouth? I personally don’t think that’s that interesting. So, when you can make a movie that is a conversation-starter, I hope that the reaction will be like, ‘Thank God, we’ve been waiting for this.’

Q: It seems like you want to avoid the celebrity crusades.

MATT DAMON: Not at all. I don’t look to avoid it. The climate’s changing little bit now. People are starting to catch on. But, before, they were really good at characterizing anybody who spoke out, and cutting the legs out from under their argument. They’re pretty incredible. When you can make George Bush seem like the war hero and John Kerry like the draft dodger, it’s like: how did they do that? You know what I mean? But, no. I just want to say it right when I say it. I think that’s a mistake. People run their mouth off a little too much sometimes.

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Interviews: GEORGE CLOONEY (Bob Barnes) Q&A

QUESTION: Why was the time right for you to make this film?

GEORGE CLOONEY: Well, it was an interesting time. When we decided to do it – it was a couple years ago, or three years ago, really – it was even a tougher time, if you remember, politically. Anybody who talked about anything, raised any questions at all, was framed as unpatriotic at that point. So, I thought it was fairly brave of the studio to be willing to jump onboard and take on some of the subject matter. When you see the film, it’s not an attack on the administration at all. It is certainly questioning 30 or 40 or 50 years of flawed policies in the Middle East, which I think everyone agrees with. Most of the conservatives who have seen the film agree with it. Most of the Liberals agree with it. So, to me, it wasn’t that. I felt we were fairly safe in taking on the subject matter. My job was to know as much as I could so I wouldn’t marginalize the piece. But I’m not the writer or the director. I spent a lot of time with Bob Baer – really interesting guy. For him, it was much more about the disenchantment of how little he was needed anymore. After the Berlin Wall came down, the decision was made by several administrations, including the Clinton administration and the Bush administration, which was: surveillance equipment would take care of it; you don’t need people who speak Arabic or Farsi. What you realize, of course, is that it would have been very helpful to have those people. We look at the problems with some of the evidence that led us into other places. It would have helped to have people in there speaking those languages. He’s very disenchanted with all of that. You guys have all seen him out speaking before, so that’s not something new.

Q: What was the morale of the people there towards you? What was it like shooting this during the high holy holidays?

GEORGE CLOONEY: Interesting. It’s an interesting thing to be shooting in Morocco and Dubai during Ramadan. And the Emir had just died, who, in Dubai, was basically the man who made Dubai what it is. He was about 100 years old. So, there was a huge funeral, and Mubarak and everybody showed up at our hotel. You think I had security guards – we look like the Mickey Mouse Club with these guys showing up. So, it was an interesting time to be there because you can’t eat during the day, and you have to play by their rules, which is a good thing. It’s a nice thing to do. But it’s very hot, and it’s a very different world. I was concerned with the idea that they wouldn’t understand what we were doing, that they would think that we were making a movie where it’s just black and white, bad guys, terrorists, because, as you guys know, we’re not the most popular country overseas. We were concerned with the idea that they didn’t think we were just flat out trying to characterize them as the evildoers. But I don’t know how you can translate that very well. If you have 400 extras who were all Muslims and a lot of them Islamic fundamentalists that are there with you, working side-by-side with you, I’m not quite sure if they ever understood that or not. They may when they see the film.

Q: What was it like learning fluent Arabic for this movie?

GEORGE CLOONEY: Brutal. Well, I don’t know if any of you can speak any of those languages. I had a roommate in college who was Iranian, so I understood and could speak a little bit of Farsi, which helped. There are some similarities, so it helped with the accent. But there are no Latin derivatives. So, it was a tricky thing to do. You learned it phonetically. You just did it over and over. I did it for two months, just to do those few paragraphs. I wake up in the middle of the night going (speaks Farsi) just because you had to learn it that way.

Q: And what did you just say?

GEORGE CLOONEY: I said “Hello.” (speaks Farsi)

Q: Do you think that the film is doing things that journalism ought to be doing? Is that the place of a film to expose these things?

GEORGE CLOONEY: Well, no. I think the difference between journalism and film is that I don’t think films are designed to provide answers. I think films are designed to ask questions. I think journalism is designed to ask questions to get answers. We’re actually just asking questions and sparking debate. That’s what we tried to do with Good Night, and Good Luck and it’s the same thing with this. For me, my job was to understand what Bob was doing as a producer of the film, to be well enough informed on the subject to understand the plot lines and what we were trying to tell. For Good Night, and Good Luck, I double-sourced every scene, because I owed it to the people whose story I was telling, which was a true story, not to get anything wrong, because if you got anything wrong, it would all be marginalized, which is the popular thing to do right now. There are some people out there that are anxiously trying to talk about what a great guy McCarthy is, which still blows my mind. So, with this film, my job was to be as best informed as I could be in general. But I always felt that way about anything. And then, to try and make it entertainment – because it is still a film. I think the good news about both these films is that they’re not civics lessons. They’re actually entertaining films. Tough, not easy, but entertaining films.

Q: Did your political views change at all after making this movie?

GEORGE CLOONEY: No, it doesn’t change things. And it doesn’t necessarily reinforce things either. What it really does is it opens your eyes to other issues and other thoughts. I remember standing on the roof of a building about four stories up as a siren went off, which would go every three hours during Ramadan. And you’d hear a prayer over loudspeakers – we were in Casablanca then – and everyone in South Dakar got out in the middle of the street and faced Mecca. A sea of people got out of their car, got out on the streets and kneeled down, faced Mecca and prayed. We were sitting there watching this and thinking, ‘if we think that we have religious clarity or any kind of a belief system that overrides anyone else’s’. When you see that, it would scare you – the idea that you could in some way bomb the Islamic fundamentalists away-and these were Islamic fundamentalists – but those guys are that passionate. And see how poor they are, and that is the only thing they have. It was scarier to me because I thought, ‘Well, I understand,’ in no way justifying what happens, obviously. Nobody here is saying, ‘the guys who are bombing people are good,’ but understanding how it can happen. And understanding why it can happen was really interesting.

Q: I would imagine Bob Baer’s worldview can be a real education.

GEORGE CLOONEY: I can’t tell what his political bent is. He spent a long time with me at my house. My sense is he’s probably a bit of a conservative who was ticked off at the Clinton administration mostly for his being taken out of the CIA slowly, or leaving the CIA – but equally as ticked off at the way that the information was used in the lead-up to the war. He was pretty mad about that as well. I think certainly the ex-operatives, and a lot of the people who were there in the CIA, felt the same way. I know the people in the State Department did. But he’s such an interesting guy. If you’re on a set, they’ll have a police expert; he’s a cop. He’ll be like, ‘Yeah, I killed six guys, shot this guy in the head three times. I capped him three times.’ They always tell you some story that probably didn’t happen. Here’s a guy who has probably done some pretty amazingly heinous things. And he’s like, ‘Yeah, there were some things that had to be taken care of that happened. But they didn’t want to side with us on that. So, I don’t really recall what happened.’ I’m like, ‘Well, the whole place was blown to bits.’ ‘Yeah, that’s probably what happened.’ Everything is very vague. He doesn’t ever say he has done anything, which makes you feel like he’s really done a lot. It was very strange having him at your house because he’s very smart, and he knows a lot about what he’s talking about, especially in the Middle East.

Q: What do you think would have to happen to better realize the potential of television media to inspire thought and enlighten as well as entertain and distract?

GEORGE CLOONEY: I don’t know. I was hoping that in putting a film like that out there, it would open the discussion for people who are in those positions – some of them are friends of mine – to say, ‘Okay, we understand that this is a dilemma. I understand that having watched what happened with my father as an anchorman, I understand that the idea is that news has a problem, which is, they’re losing viewers. And how do you keep news out there, and do you preserve it? Do you preserve it by destroying it along the way? And what do you do to not let that happen?’ So, it’s one of those difficult fights. I understand that it’s not black and white and easy. But I think it’s something that should be constantly waged and talked about and argued about, until somebody can come out with some solutions. I am concerned about the same thing that probably you-all are concerned with and the same thing that my father has been concerned with his whole life and fought, which was finding ways to have room for both, but not losing content along the way.

Q: Talk about the through-line of the family throughout the course of the film despite the politics of the characters.

GEORGE CLOONEY: There’s a through-line that you have to look for, which is fathers and sons. I think that’s an interesting through-line all the way through this. There’s a lot of moral ambiguity between them. Some of them play better than others; some of them are clearer. Sometimes it’s because when you’re telling such a multi-layered story, it’s hard to flesh out all of the other parts of the story. You’re not quite sure what Bennett and his father’s issues are. That to me became less important as you watched the film and more just an interesting piece of the thing. I thought what Stephen did with fathers and sons and showing just these relationships, flawed or not, along the way, helped land all the questions and answers that these guys are going through with much more weight. Bennett has to come back and look at his dad in the eye, after doing some of the things he has done. And I’m failing at both my job and my son. Because I’m not doing either one of them well. And Matt’s character had done everything right. Everything would have been fine had nothing bad happened. But something bad happened along the way. And I think the two boys and the one father, the Pakistani boys, is a really interesting storyline too.

Q: Do you own a hybrid?

GEORGE CLOONEY: I have an electric car that goes zero to 60 in four seconds. It’s faster than the Porsche Turbo, which is fun. It will go 150 miles before a charge. Quite honestly, I certainly had to make those considerations. I’ve always ridden a motorcycle almost everywhere. It wasn’t about gas; it was because I liked riding motorcycles, but they don’t use a lot of gas. I figured, I can’t do a film about oil corruption and consumption and drive a Bronco – seems a little ridiculous. So I’m learning, and I’m evolving along the way in terms of my own personal responsibility towards fuel because of that. I think if you’re going to get out there and say, ‘let’s talk about these things,’ you’re going to have to participate in all of them. I think you guys know me well enough now; I’m not out there preaching what you should do. I’m just saying, these are questions that should be asked, and along the way, I should probably follow some of my own questions.

Q: Can you comment on being made one of Peoples’ Most Sexiest Men Alive?

GEORGE CLOONEY: I was a little hurt that pretty boy McConaughey now takes over. It’s a big responsibility; it’s a heavy crown for him, Mr. Abs himself. But I think he can handle it. I think he could take it. We’ll see. Pitt did it twice. And he was really the only guy that could handle it two times. Brad “Pretty Boy” Pitt. I was a little disturbed that Matt Damon didn’t get front page. And I think you guys will talk to him later, and ask him if he was at all hurt by that because he campaigned a really good campaign. And we thought for sure he was going to pull it off this year.

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With his screenplay for John Hillcoat’s THE PROPOSITION, the internationally revered singer-songwriter Nick Cave has produced a richly crafted story of beauty, savagery and redemption. A bushranger western set in 1880s Australia, THE PROPOSITION stars Guy Pearce and Danny Huston as Irish outlaw brothers caught up in a deadly Faustian pact with a British police captain and his wife, played by Ray Winstone and Emily Watson. It was shot in extreme conditions that only heighten the intensity and tension on screen.

# How did you come to make a western set in the 19th century outback?

Cave: “Johnny is a very good friend of mine. He came to me and said, ‘would you write a movie about bushrangers in Australia, a fictional story?’ It’s not something I’d do under my own steam, but it’s something I’d do for him. And three weeks later I sent it off. It took three weeks to write.”

Hillcoat: “Nick and I have been collaborating on various things for a long time. I’ve always been obsessed about trying to do an Australian western with the ingredients of the Outback, conflict with Aboriginals, bushrangers, all those elements. I was developing the idea and Nick was on board to do the soundtrack. But the years went by and Nick got more and more frustrated with how long things were taking, so I asked if he wanted to give the screenplay a go. I did suspect, because of Nick’s narrative songwriting, where the characters are so vivid, that something really good would come out of it.”

Cave: “For Johnny, Australia had its western story as well. It had its wild west, and that hadn’t been exploited cinematically at all. There weren’t genre films being made about that period unless they were biopics of famous Australians – the Ned Kelly story, the Mad Dog Morgan story or whatever. So this was a rich mine to plumb.”

# Your intention was to make The Proposition a distinctly Australian story. What elements make it particularly Australian for you?

Cave: “We didn’t want it to sound like an American western that had been dumped in Australia. There’s a certain incompetence that exists in the Australian character today, a real savagery and cruelty behind that kind of attitude. And the humour, which is as dry as the desert. That comes out of people being where they probably shouldn’t be. And certainly this film is about an isolated community, people struggling in a place where they really have no right to be.”

Hillcoat: “At that time, it was the last frontier. They basically just went further and further into the desert, into the most inhospitable terrain.”

Cave: “To me the major point was that it was so far out in inhospitable countryside. So Captain Stanley and his wife can’t go anywhere, they just had to stay there. The answer to Stanley’s problems, really, is to quit his job and go somewhere where he and his wife should be. He’d probably have quite a nice life. And the same goes for the other characters as well.”

# How much historical research went into the film?

Cave: “It’s hugely researched on Johnny’s part. From my point of view, not a hell of a lot of research, but I read a book about the Aboriginal situation because Johnny wanted a different take on the way Aboriginals are usually treated in Australian films. He wanted a different take to the liberal view that’s thrust upon the Aboriginals, where they just stood around and allowed themselves to be wiped out. The indigenous actors were really pleased to be in a film where they got an opportunity to fight back.”

Hillcoat: “We wanted a kind of mythic and deliberately created fiction, not to be bogged down in a specific historical events, although I guess we were a bit like magpies where you just pick out the best bits to create a drama. This story really does run true to some sort of history.”

# You shot The Proposition in the sweltering Queensland desert in high summer, and everyone in the cast seems to be covered in filth and flies. Was it as uncomfortable to shoot as it looks?

Hillcoat: “Yes. The cast were completely shellshocked by the conditions, because they were wearing three layers of clothing and it was like 57 degrees Celsius. The hottest day actually was riding on the clay plane, which was like a reflector. I’m not exaggerating but the thermostat actually broke because it got so hot. It would have probably been close to 60 Celsius.”

Cave: “You were the local joke really, because it kept sliding further into summer, and the locals were thinking it was going to be really funny watching these people try to make a movie under those conditions. Nobody could even open their mouth without a fly crawling into it.”

Hillcoat: “The poor actors. Most of the crew had hats with nets, and the actors of course couldn’t do that, so everyone had a dose of swallowing flies. As soon as one is going down your throat, there’s a kind of gag reflex if you’re quick enough. So we were sharing the secrets of how to cope with swallowing flies, and there was also a horse lotion that we adapted. I kept saying ‘flies are our friends’, trying to encourage them to be part of the story. Which they ended up being.”

# As well as writing the script to The Proposition you also composed the soundtrack with Warren Ellis. How was that different to writing and recording together in the Bad Seeds?

Cave: “There is an enormous freedom when you have the themes given to you, so the writing of it is faster than a Bad Seeds record. What slows down the whole process of making a record is writing of songs, but if you’ve got the themes in front of you it’s just a matter of making some music that energises the film or adds a lyrical quality or whatever. Having said that, Warren had a massive input into the soundtrack, he played most of the stiff on it. A lot of the music came from ideas he did in his bedroom.”

# There is extreme violence in The Proposition, but only in brief bursts. Was it a conscious decision to keep these incidents short, sharp and shocking?

Cave: “There was certainly an attempt, from the start, to say this is going to be a violent film. You are to expect some violence. And I guess part of the exciting thing about writing this script, for me, was delaying those inevitable acts of violence for as long as we could get away with.”

Hillcoat: “There was a conscious decision to try and be realistic, not gratuitous. I think it’s actually becoming more gratuitous, violence in mainstream films. We could have gone the Mel Gibson route – in fact, the more lucrative route. And because we were trying to show the harsh reality what was happening on the frontier, you can’t shy away from the fact that it was extremely violent.”

Cave: “Some films these days make me sick, because they are basically just relentless body counts. I don’t think this is like that at all – there are genuinely sensitive moments, and an intelligence to the script and the dialogue. It is about an inhospitable environment. For the type of film it is and the period it’s set in, I personally found the violence quite restrained.”

Hillcoat: “Also you see the consequences of the violence. In fact a lot of the story is about how it impacts on people’s lives as opposed to just the sensation of it. But there is always a sensation to violence, no matter how it’s represented.”

Cave: “I actually have a problem with violence on the screen. A lot of it I find tiring and boring, almost as boring as sex on the screen. But an attempt was made here not to exhaust the audience through having to sit through some sort of horror show, blood and guts, for two hours. So the violent episodes are very necessary for the thrust of the story. They were really just punctuation points between a fairly meditative, slow kind of film.”

# Queensland looks almost like another planet in The Proposition. Does that landscape have a different character to other parts of Australia?

Cave: “There’s an extra bleakness to it in a way, but it’s very beautiful too. That was the real surprise to me, from seeing the thing on paper and then actually seeing the film. It is very faithful to the script on one level, but I wasn’t prepared for how beautiful the film actually looks. The way the landscape is described on paper was much more brutal and hard.”

Hillcoat: “I think there was a real advantage, and a conscious decision on my part, to get an outside cinematographer with an outside perspective. The Outback has been photographed in a certain tradition, but Benoit Delhomme had a real fresh eye for it – he was very excited as well as being terrified by it, he was like a little child. But in the harshness there was this intense beauty as well.”

# This is your third screen collaboration together after Ghosts… Of The Civil Dead and To Have And Have Not. Is there any connection between the three films?

Cave: “I guess in all these films there is a sense that morality is a luxury that we can afford in less fraught times. In extreme situations and extreme environments, morality becomes a very grey issue.”

Hillcoat: “There is a connection in that all three deal in extreme environments and characters under extreme conflict. I have to say I am most happy with The Proposition. I’ve got my reservations on all three but I’m most happy with this one.”

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