Category Archives: Interviews

Interview: Director Matt Reeves talks ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’

Smack dab in the middle of a summer movie season where most of the films don’t require audiences to give their brains a workout, director Matt Reeves clearly has something different in mind for audiences of the sci-fi sequel “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

Much like “Dawn’s” predecessor “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and the classic films in the “Apes” franchise, Reeves said he wants you to think about what you’re seeing.

“The intent behind ‘Dawn of the Planet of the Apes’ was to try and honor the tradition of where these films come from,” Reeves told me in an interview Thursday. “We wanted to do a movie that was going to entertain you, but that also had ideas and emotion behind it.”

Opening nationwide Friday in 2D and 3D theaters, and on large-format screens, “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” is set 10 years after the end of “Rise,” when the Earth’s human population has been decimated by the human-made Simian Flu virus.

A group of survivors find hope, though, in the redwoods outside of San Francisco, where the chance of restoring power rests in the same area where the highly intelligent ape Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his large band of evolved primates live. First viewing the humans as a threat, Caesar begins to regain trust and allows the humans do their work — at least until ape and human detractors each find a way to incite a war.

Caesar Dawn of the POTA inset Matt Reeves
Director Matt Reeves (inset) on the set of “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

A fan of the original “Planet of the Apes” since he was a kid, Reeves said the 1968 film to him was what “Star Wars” was to others. Finding the original film terrifying, thrilling and intellectually challenging all at the same time, signing on to direct “Dawn” was a no-brainer for the filmmaker. The bonus, Reeves says, was the story and technology that helped jump-start the franchise again in 2011.

“Doing the film was a really special experience in many ways, especially  to go back into the world of my childhood because of how big a fan I was of those movies,” Reeves explained. “Then as adult, one of the things that I loved about ‘Rise’ was how the technology and Andy Serkis’ performance actually allowed you to become an ape. It changed the perspectives in whole new way. In the original film it was about watching Charlton Heston trying to figure out what was going on and being fascinated by the apes, but in ‘Rise,’ you actually become Caesar.”

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Unique new direction

While there are fewer homages to the 1968 “Apes” than there are in “Rise,” “Dawn” still refers to its original source material, including scenes of apes on horseback and the use of the iconic edict, “Ape shall not kill ape.”

Reeves said weaving  the classic material into the “Apes” franchise is exciting because it gives him the opportunity to create fresh stories while laying the groundwork for where the franchise is headed — the story that propels the 1968 movie.

“For me, the big thing  was to try and be aware of entering the ‘Apes’ universe, but at the same time try to do something we haven’t quite seen yet and go along the same trajectory toward the 1968 movie,” Reeves explained. “The world of ‘Rise’ and ‘Dawn’ is so different than the 1968 movie, so the fun of that is, is to try to imagine how our world becomes the world of the original.”

Unlike the reference at the end of “Rise,” “Dawn” doesn’t mention the manned rocket getting lost in orbit and losing contact with Earth. But Reeves, who is signed on to direct the next “Apes” film, said just because they’re didn’t talk about the Icarus in “Dawn,” doesn’t mean the idea of wayward spaceship is lost, well, in space. After all, the return of the spaceship to Earth is what sets the 1968 movie in motion.

“I still find it interesting that when I first got involved in ‘Dawn,’ somebody asked me if it was boring knowing what the end of the story was, as long as you know that it becomes the world of the 1968 film,” Reeves noted. “I said that knowing that world was the most exciting part.”

That’s because, Reeves explained, the stories being told through the “Rise” and “Dawn” movies “don’t tell you about what happened, but about how it happened.”

“The idea of exploring the how and the why through Caesar and future generations makes it like an epic, mythic and exciting generational ‘Apes’ story to me,” Reeves said. “I’m actually hoping that we don’t get to the 1968 story too soon because there’s a rich story to be told along the way, but I definitely want to get there. I think that’s the part of the fun of the story, knowing that the Icarus comes back down and the astronauts return not knowing where they are, only to discover the planet that Charlton Heston did in the original. That’s in our minds as we’re trying to figure out the trajectory and as we’re trying to figure out the next story.”

For now, though, Reeves is happy to focus mainly on Caesar, especially because of the conflicts he’s forced to confront in “Dawn.”

“Caesar is such a compelling and interesting hero to be because he’s got roots such strong roots in his human side and on his ape’s side,” Reeves observed. “The idea of having to reconcile that and engage in a war that he never wanted to be a part of, and how his son would react, is interesting. We were thinking, ‘Is this sort of the way to do ‘The Godfather’ with apes or something? Caesar is like Don Corleone, and as we know, ‘The Godfather, Part II’ was a father-son story with his son becoming  the next leader. It’s not like we’re following that pattern with the ‘Apes’ films, but we certainly have the same sort of ambition to do character-based stories.”

Toying around

While “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” tackles some very serious themes, Reeves said he’s been able to have a bit of fun as a fan of the franchise, too, enjoying “Apes” merchandising like the new set of “Dawn” action figures made by the toy and collectibles company NECA.

“I was really excited to see them, and to be honest, my favorite is Maurice (the baboon),” Reeves enthused. “Toys were such a big part of my childhood and imagination growing up.”

Noting how a lot of kids grow out of the habit, Reeves said was glad to find company in this writer, as he  learned we’re about the same age and grew up with the same interests — namely movies and action figures.

“A lot of times I think toys are just for collectors. It’s fun to think that the people who are most excited about it are the kind of people like you and me,” Reeves said, laughing.

In a way, Reeves said, the new “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” action figures are like a full-circle expression of what the Mego toy company’s “Planet of the Apes” figures meant to him as a child, when he filmed Super 8 movies that starred his favorite plastic playthings.

“I did a weird mash-up of ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Planet of the Apes’ where I did a movie called ‘Galactic Battles,'” Reeves recalled. “It was a grand space opera, Saturday matinee kind of stuff. I used ‘Star Wars’ figures, and instead of aliens, there were gorillas.”

Interview: Kathy Bates talks ‘Tammy,’ Melissa McCarthy, more

Oscar winner Kathy Bates has done it all over the past three-plus decades, from comedy, drama and family films, to adventure, mystery  and horror — so you can about imagine how unique a film role has to be before she signs the dotted line. But when it came to the new comedy “Tammy,” it didn’t take her long to commit to the project, mainly because it presented her with a first.

“The main reason for doing it was Melissa McCarthy. I had seen her in ‘Bridesmaids,’ and I wish I could be as clever, wonderful and physical in comedy as she is,” Bates told me in a recent interview. “I wanted to get to know her — I really wanted to understand her secret. I wondered, ‘How can she stay so real yet push the envelope the way she does, physically and comedically?'”

Bates said she still doesn’t have the answer to the mystery, but she at least has a better understanding of who McCarthy’s gifts mirror.

“I can see a comparison in her and Lucille Ball in the way Melissa fearlessly goes places that a lot of actresses wouldn’t go,” Bates said. “She’s nimble, quick and fearless. ”

Bates added that being around McCarthy encouraged her to up her comedic game — or at least try to up it.

“It was wonderful to pretend for a while that you can be as funny as she is,” Bates said, laughing. “When we were all doing our improv scenes for the film, we were just shameless trying to be as good as Melissa because she raises the bar — but of course, we fell short.”

Kathy Bates in 'Tammy' (photo Warner Bros)
Kathy Bates in ‘Tammy’ (photo: Warner Bros).

Opening in theaters nationwide on Wednesday, “Tammy” stars McCarthy as the title character, a down-on-her-luck fast-food worker whose day starts off with a deer-car collision and quickly spirals out of control from there. There appears to beacon of hope, though, when her hard-drinking, foul-mouthed and sexually liberated grandmother, Pearl (Susan Sarandon), bankrolls a well-intended road trip that quickly detours into disaster.

Bates stars as Lenore, Pearl’s cousin who provides safe harbor to Tammy and her grandmother when Tammy runs into trouble with the law.

Apart from working with McCarthy, another first for Bates working on “Tammy” came with throwing a Molotov cocktail, which is featured in a scene where she’s helping conceal some evidence connected to one of Tammy’s many misgivings.

As Bates discovered, tossing the flammable firebomb was fun — and a bit dangerous.

“That was really a blast, I have to say,” Bates said with a chuckle. “I held one a little too long and it exploded in my hand. It was sugar glass, so you really had to throw it quickly once the end of the cloth was lit.”

Fortunately, Bates wasn’t hurt in the incident (“It caused a tiny nick from a sharp corner of the sugar glass,” she said), making her Molotov cocktail-throwing endeavors all the more enjoyable.

“It was fun to blow up shit or pretend that you were blowing up shit — and not be arrested,” Bates enthused.

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In addition to playing opposite McCarthy, Bates said she was also excited to work under the direction of Ben Falcone, McCarthy’s husband and co-writer on the film. Falcone, of course, has also worked often with McCarthy as an actor, too, in such films as “Bridesmaids,” “The Heat” and at the beginning of “Tammy” — and Bates believes his experience as an actor was not only beneficial to his creative partner, but to the whole cast.

“Ben had been with the script for six years and he knew how he wanted to shoot the film and the story he wanted to tell,” Bates said. “Being an actor is really a major plus in his makeup as a filmmaker, because a lot of younger writer-directors haven’t a clue how to talk to actors. But because Ben knows acting so well, he knows when to say something and when to shut up. He also knows when he’s got a shot. He doesn’t have to play it over and over from the beginning until the actors are exhausted and don’t know what the directors want.”

Bates, who stars with Sandra Oh as a lesbian couple in the film, also appreciates the way F

alcone presented the healthy relationship of the couple, which is revealed in a pivotal scene where Lenore in a tough love sort of way explains the hardships of life.

“In the scene, I wanted Lenore to talk about the difficulties 20 years ago of being in love with a woman, starting a business , trying to get to know people in the community and have a normal relationship with them,” Bates, 66, recalled. “Straight people in those days were probably ill at ease, of course, and others more accepting. So in the case of this film, to have two gay women build up this business and have the healthiest relationship of all of them, was inspiring. There were no caricatures. There was tremendous love.”

Another relationship examined in the film is the family dynamic between Lenore and Pearl — and Bates said she couldn’t have been more excited than to play cousins opposite Sarandon.

“I was very gracious to have scenes with her. The film really gave me my first chance to do scenes with Susan, even though we were both in a film with James Spader called ‘White Palace’ where I played Jimmy’s boss,” the “Misery” Best Actress Oscar-winner said. “I was very green as a film actor back then and was very much in awe of Susan. Still to this day for me, ‘Thelma and Louise’ is right up there as one of the most wonderful movies ever made. Susan’s and Geena Davis’ performances in that movie really get to the heart of women’s rage.”

Apart from Sarandon’s screen work, Bates said she loves how Sarandon “puts her money where her mouth is, politically, when it’s not fashionable to do.”

“She’s very well-versed about what’s going on in the world with global issues, so I’ve always admired that trait in her,” Bates said.

Interview: Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor talk ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’

Bigger is the operative word for the latest film in director Michael Bay’s “Transformers” franchise, “Transformers: Age of Extinction,” but not always in the way you would expect.

Can we say once again that there’s more than meets the eye?

“It’s a lot bigger — the effects are on a different level than anything that we’ve seen before,” actor Jack Reynor told me, joined by co-star Nicola Peltz, in a recent interview. “A lot of the camera work is very dynamic and very new, and at the heart of the film is a really great human story more than anything else.”

Opening in 2D, 3D and on IMAX screens nationwide on Friday, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” stars Mark Wahlberg as Cade Yeager, an auto mechanic who makes a discovery that not only draws the Autobots and Decepticons to them, but some very determined CIA agents who have a sinister agenda to carry out. Peltz stars as Cade’s daughter, Tessa, and Reynor plays her boyfriend, Shane Dyson.

Transformers Age of Extinction stars Nicola Peltz and Jack Reynor (photo Paramount Pictures Tony Nelson)
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” stars Nicola Peltz and Jack Reynor (photo: Paramount Pictures/Tony Nelson).

“When we start the film, the Autobots are in exile and are afraid of humans, and humans are afraid of them,” Reynor said. “Through the relationship between Mark’s, Nicola’s and my characters, we try to restore their faith in humanity. It’s at different scale. We really hope it’s going to be an enjoyable thing for the audience.”

The odd part about working on “Transformers: Age of the Extinction,” Reynor says, is while he comes from the independent film world, working on this franchise at times was much like work he was used to.

“It was still an intimate environment, because at the end of the day, it was still Mark, Nicola and myself,” Reynor said. “That makes it feel smaller than you would imagine. Even though the movie is incredibly big and the effects are on a different level of anything we’ve seen before, between the three of us, at least, it felt like it was a small environment to work in.”

Peltz, who has done green screen work before in big-screen adventure “The Last Airbender,” said she was surprised by the amount of practical effects and props used in the film, something that ultimately aided everybody’s performances.

“I actually thought there was going to be more green screen than there actually was working on the movie,” Peltz said. “Instead, Michael makes these beautiful, huge sets, which are all real, and the car chases and the explosions are real. So having the tools and being in situations where we could use them was really amazing. Of course, we had to use our imaginations when talking to the Autobots and talk to nothing in those cases.”

At the time of the interview, neither Peltz or Reynor had seen the completed film yet, but already had the thrill of seeing themselves among Autobots, Decepticons and Dinobots for the first time with an 11-minute presentation of footage at CinemaCon in Las Vegas earlier this year.

“Watching the footage, you go, ‘Oh, my God, when I was filming that scene, there was nothing there.’ But when then add the CGI, it’s truly mind-blowing,” Peltz described. “It’s so crazy to watch knowing you were part of the experience.”

To help his actors stay engaged without any Transformers visually present, Bay found a way to keep his everybody working on the film motivated, Reynor said.

“It’s a real cool thing Michael does about every three weeks, where he puts together a sizzle reel, which has about 10 minutes of footage of film from the last three weeks we shot,” Reynor recalled. “Even without any Autobots in it or any of the rendered effects, it still looks really, really impressive, and it’s really exciting and fun. That was a big confidence boost to us all. We felt like we were making a really cool film, even though we hadn’t seen any Autobots or Decepticons while making it. It’s a really clever thing that Michael does and it really boosts the morale of the cast and crew.”

On set, Peltz

said, Bay is ball of energy.

“Michael told me even before we started filming, ‘I move very quickly and you’re not going to be sitting in your trailer. Whether it’s your scene or not, you’re going to be on set learning and studying.’ I love that,” Peltz enthused. “His energy is so contagious because he is so excited about this film, so to work on it with him and feel that is really wonderful.”

Transformer Age of Extinction poster Wahlberg, Peltz, Reynor (photo -- Paramount Pictures)
“Transformers: Age of Extinction” poster featuring Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz and Jack Reynor (photo — Paramount Pictures).

Although Reynor was born in Colorado, he moved with his family to his mother’s native Ireland at age 2. One thing Reynor discovered, though, is no matter where you grow up, the Transformers — which began as Hasbro toys and were featured in cartoon form before becoming big-screen characters – will eventually find you.

“Since it was a Japanese concept and was around about 25 or 30 years before they made the first film, and it expanded across Europe quite quickly,” said Reynor, 22. “The generation before me grew up watching ‘Transformers’ on TV in Ireland, so it was definitely something I was exposed to in a big way and I had a full line of toys. I’ve always known of ‘Transformers’ because I’ve always been a fan of it, so to eventually to become a part of the franchise myself was an incredible opportunity.”

In a way, Reynor said, Transformers toys prepared him to work on the film, because while playing with the figures, he was making movies in his mind.

“The cool thing is, it doesn’t change a lot when you’re standing there on the set of the franchise yourself,” Reynor said. “You can try to relate to what you’re doing the same way you did when you were a kid. It brings a level of authenticity to what you’re doing and it makes it tangible for you in your own head. It really helps your performance.”

Being around six brothers growing up, Peltz, 19, more than had her share being around Transformers toys in her youth.

“I definitely knew of Transformers growing up, but it wasn’t only a boys thing,” Peltz said with a laugh. “I didn’t play with any of the toys, but my oldest brother loved them and my two youngest brothers are obsessed with the movies. All of them are very, very excited for me because of the film.”

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Interview: John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, Michael Lomenda talk ‘Jersey Boys’

Not only are Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons workin’ their way back into popular culture with the film version of the Tony Award-winning musical “Jersey Boys” — thanks to the introspective direction of screen legend Clint Eastwood, the story of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame group is being told from a unique, new perspective.

That’s because “Jersey Boys,” the movie — based on the 2006 Tony Award-winning musical — isn’t so much about classic songs like “Sherry,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” “Who Loves You” or “December 1963 (Oh, What a Night),” as it is the fascinating true story of four guys from New Jersey who through humble beginnings and tumultuous times form and sustain one of the greatest singing groups in pop music history. The songs are expertly performed and have their right place in “Jersey Boys” to be sure; it’s just that the film is much more than your standard movie musical.

“I would call it a musical biopic much in the way of ‘Ray’ and ‘The Doors’ – they have music in them, but they’re classified as biopics. We certainly wouldn’t call it a jukebox musical,” John Lloyd Young told me in a recent interview, joined by fellow stars Erich Bergen and Michael Lomenda.

'Jersey Boys'  2 (photo Warner Bros)

Young, who won the Best Actor in a Musical Tony for the original stage production, reprises his role as Valli for the film version, while Bergen plays Bob Guadio, who, sang, played keyboard and co-wrote many of The Four Seasons’ songs with producer Bob Crewe. Lomenda plays Nick Massi, who played bass and sang in the original lineup of the group and was responsible for many vocal arrangements; and Vincent Piazza rounds out the core cast as Tommy DeVito, the guitarist, vocalist and linchpin of the group who recruited Valli and fell headlong into the trappings of fame.

Even though the stage version of “Jersey Boys” moves along quite swiftly, Bergen likens the movie version of the story to smash Broadway drama “Lady Day,” which recently earned star Audra McDonald her record-breaking sixth Tony Award.

“It’s the story of Billie Holiday and there’s about 20 songs in the play, but it’s not considered a musical. The reason why, is, the songs further plot and serve the story,” Bergen told me. “It just so happens that Audra is playing a famous singer, much like we do in ‘Jersey Boys.’ The songs are a product of the play and serve as some of the plot points. There’s really not that much in ‘Jersey Boys’ about the creation of the music. ‘Sherry,’ ‘Big Girls,’ ‘Walk Like a Man’ — the songs are what these guys were doing for work. ‘Jersey Boys,’ though, is really about four guys growing up and going through life together and experiencing the problems of brotherhood.”

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Fans of the stage versions of “Jersey Boys will no doubt hail Eastwood for sticking to his guns and casting the best people possible for the roles instead of casting familiar Hollywood faces in attempt to appease a demographic. Young, Bergen and Lomenda were all personally selected by Eastwood after he watched them perform their roles on stage, and while they knew the stage production backwards and forward, they loved how the Oscar-winning filmmaker had them perform their roles in a new sort of spotlight.

“Clint Eastwood puts the story in front on you. The music is what they do, but we also go behind the story of these guys,” Young observed. “Whereas on Broadway, the music is put in front of you and it’s electrifying every time they do a number, and that’s great. I love both mediums. The play is like looking at the outside of a mansion, and you could see where the guys lived. But ‘Jersey Boys’ the movie is like taking you inside that mansion for a tour. The psychological reality of these characters is much more immediately on display in a close-up on film than you would get in an evening on stage.”

“Jersey Boys” is bold in that it’s a warts-and-all story of the founding four members, including their ties to the local mob in New Jersey, the in-fighting between the group’s members, and the critical role each of them played to truly make The Four Seasons gel. And while most identify the group by Valli’s trademark falsetto, the movie delves into less-celebrated aspects of the group, including Gaudio’s role as songwriter, DeVito’s muscle to find success for the band at any cost, and Massi’s melding of the vocals.

“Frankie has sometimes said that Nick was his first vocal coach, and you see a little bit of that in the film which is really cool. He had great ears and helped shape Frankie’s raw talent,” Lomenda said. “Nicky was a musician first and his talent was arranging, so it’s great to see him partially get credit for putting Frankie’s vocals up top and all that harmony below.”

Unfortunately, Massi and DeVito earned their credit the hard way through the troubles they experienced as the group started to come together.

“People, of course, know of Frankie, but story opens the curtains for the other guys,” Lomenda said. “Not only do we see their musical history, but we see that they’re hardcore, from the wrong side of the tracks guys who were in and out of jail. It took them a while to form The Four Seasons, because they couldn’t stay out of jail.”

“Nick learned how to play guitar in jail. They called the jail ‘The Rahway Academy of the Arts,'” Lomenda added with a laugh. “The thing that’s cool about them is that they’re singing songs like ‘Sherry,’ ‘Walk Like a Man’ and ‘Big Girls Don’t Cry,’ which some people consider as bubblegum pop. But these guys were really scrappers.”

Jersey Boys
John Lloyd Young, Erich Bergen, VIncent Piazza, and Michael Lomenda in “Jersey Boys” (photo: Warner Bros.)

Parallel universes

Those who caught the Tony Awards recently will no doubt recall the brilliant stage duet between “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical” star Jessie Mueller and the real Carole King. However, because of the old wounds “Jersey Boys” opens up for the Valli, Young doesn’t expect to experience such a surreal moment anytime soon, even though the singer, 80, is still touring and is active as ever.

“He would never want to do that. Frankie is very possessive of his own life and career, and he sees them and ‘Jersey Boys’ as two separate things,” Young said. “Frankie would much rather have a documentary of his life made … because the way some of the things portrayed in film were done for dramatic effect. That’s interesting to play for actor, but that’s not true to life from Frankie’s perspective. He’s got a mixed-up feeling about it, and the mixed-up feeling the man has for the story being out there is something I can build from and put it into my character.”

Bergen said the feeling is exactly the opposite for Guadio, though, as the legendary, 71-year-old  songwriter has been intricately involved in “Jersey Boys” since the beginning.

“Anyone who has done a ‘Jersey Boys’ stage production has worked with him,” Bergen said. “He’s very involved in the music, and he’s produced the cast album and the soundtrack to this film. On the touring production I was in, he really encouraged us to leave out theater voices behind, and really found the R&B and doo-wop sound. We have a different relationship with him than we do with Frankie. Bob is very much a producer of the show and will do whatever the audience likes.”