Tag Archives: Clint Eastwood

Interview: Sienna Miller humbled by playing Taya Kyle in ‘American Sniper’

Film nominated for 6 Oscars Thursday including Best Picture

By Tim Lammers

It’s been a whirlwind year for heralded actress Sienna Miller, landing not one but two pivotal roles in two of the year’s most acclaimed films: “American Sniper” and “Foxcatcher.”

In oddly timed bits of casting, though, Miller plays the eventual widow of two real-life men who met tragic deaths early in their lives. Even in the face of tragic storylines, it’s hard to say no when acclaimed directors come calling, especially when it’s the likes of Clint Eastwood for “American Sniper.”

“I would have been happy to make the tea on Clint’s set much less be a part of the actual film,” Miller told me, humbly, in a recent call from New York City. “He’s phenomenal. As a young girl dreaming of being an actress, he’s one of the people I dreamed of working with. I still can’t believe this has all happened.”

Sienna Miller in 'American Sniper' (photo Warner Bros)
Sienna Miller in “American Sniper” (photo Warner Bros.).

Opening in theaters nationwide Friday, “American Sniper,” based on Chris Kyle’s best-selling novel of the same name, tells the harrowing true story of the Navy SEAL (played by Bradley Cooper), who is credited with being the most prolific sniper in American military history. The film nabbed six Oscar nominations Thursday, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Bradley Cooper and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Miller stars in “American Sniper” as Taya Kyle, who unwaveringly stood by her husband’s side as he endured the stress and danger of the battlefield in Iraq over four tours of duty; and found herself challenged by the deep, psychological effects the war had on Chris when he returned home to be with his wife and two young children.

“Ultimately, the title is ‘American Sniper’ is story about Chris Kyle, but I think his and Taya’s relationship is a huge part of the book and the film,” Miller observed. “I do think by looking at the relationship, it grounds the war. It helps you find the human behind the Navy SEAL. It shows what the man faced while trying to raise a family and be a husband, but it also shows the immense sense of duty he felt to serve his country when he wasn’t in active service. He felt that there were people dying that probably wouldn’t be dying if he had been there. I think that dynamic is really interesting, because his relationship with his family was a huge part of his life and was well-represented in the film.”

Bradley Cooper in 'American Sniper' (photo Warner Bros)
Bradley Cooper in “American Sniper” (photo Warner Bros.).

Miller, who was cast in the film last March and began shooting in May, worked very closely with the real-life Taya Kyle during the production, gaining access to communication between the couple when Chris Kyle was serving abroad.

“Taya is so unbelievably open, and so wanted this film to be a good representation of his and Chris’ relationship. She was just the easiest woman to talk to and so generous,” Miller said. “She kept all of their email correspondence while he was on his tours, and let Bradley and I have access to them. There were hundreds of really interesting emails, and she let us go through them so we could get a sense of what their relationship was like.”

In addition to the emails, Miller said Taya Kyle was open to any question she wanted to ask.

“Of course, there were questions you have to ask and you have to be really forensic in your examination of someone if you want to do them justice, but at the same time, she never made me feel uncomfortable at all,” Miller said. “She said, ‘Just ask me anything. I want to help. I want you to get this right. Please don’t be shy or worry about me getting upset.’ She told me almost everything, and we became really close as a result of that. So, while by nature I feel uncomfortable to ask those sorts of questions, I felt I had to serve the film and serve the performance and do my work.”

While she naturally respects Taya Kyle immensely for what she endured while her husband was alive and the harsh circumstances she’s faced since — including a defamation suit filed by former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura transferred to the widow after Chris Kyle’s untimely death in 2013 — she also feels a greater sense of appreciation for members of the military and beyond.

“I have such a new-found respect not only for the men and women in the military and who are serving in combat, but the spouses left behind,” Miller said. “I think in a way they’re making as much of a sacrifice because it’s impossible to raise a family and not know every day whether your husband is going to live or die. It has to be an unbelievable situation to find yourself in. Of course, Taya Kyle understood who her husband was, but at the same time, it’s an enormous sacrifice on both sides. Before I started the film, I hadn’t given enough thought to that.”

MORE: Sienna Miller talks about Jesse Ventura lawsuit against Taya Kyle

Tim Lammers picks top movies of 2014

Agree or disagree, here’s this year’s Top 10 list — wedging in 14 of the best movies on the big screen in 2014. See you at the movies in 2015.

10. “The Box Trolls”/”The Lego Movie”“The Boxtrolls” proves why stop-motion is still the best of all forms of animation, and “The Lego Movie,” a computer-animated film that mimics the under-appreciated art form, proves why we need more.

9. “Unbroken”/”Fury” — Directors Angelina Jolie and David Ayer shine proper lights on the unsung heroes of World War II: POW survivor Louie Zamperini in “Unbroken,” and a Sherman tank crew forced to do horrific things in order to survive in “Fury.” What Jolie lacks in context of Zamperini’s sufferings in the PG-13 “Unbroken” is more than made up for in brutally realistic R-rated “Fury,” starring, oddly enough, Jolie’s husband Brad Pitt.

Bradley Cooper in 'American Sniper' (photo Warner Bros.)
Bradley Cooper in ‘American Sniper’ (photo Warner Bros.).

8. “The Imitation Game”/”Big Eyes” — The amazing tale of Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is told on two levels: One about Turing the  genius mathematician who invents a pre-cursor to the computer to help the British break German’s Enigma code during World War II; and second Turing as gay man in a time where homosexuality was outlawed in the U.K. Since his covert efforts with Britain’s MI: 6 technically didn’t exist, not even saving millions of lives couldn’t prevent the persecution of one life – Turning’s o

wn. “Big Eyes,” meanwhile, tells another true story about secrets – this one set in pop art scene of the 1950s and ’60s – through the unique cinematic brushstrokes of canvas and film artist Tim Burton.

7. “Captain America: The Winter Soldier”/”X-Men: Days of Future Past” — While the wonderfully funny and action-packed “Guardians of the Galaxy” marked a departure to the light side for Marvel Studios, the latest film in “The Avengers” superhero saga daringly ventured down the complete opposite path with a ’70s political thriller twist, to boot. Though technically not a Marvel Studios property, “Days of Future Past” and star Hugh Jackman did its Marvel Comics roots justice by righting some wrongs from previous films in the “X-Men” series.

6. “St. Vincent” — Bill Murray is at his best in the feel-good movie of the year as a ne’er do-well with a heart of gold and chamber of heartbreaking secrets. Melissa McCarthy, Naomi Watts, Chris O’Dowd and newcomer Jaeden Lieberher complete the joyous halo that encircles Murray in “St. Vincent,” a dramedy that’s every bit as poignant as it is funny.

5. “Gone Girl” – Director David Fincher is at the top of his game in Gillian Flynn’s complex crime thriller, expertly adapted by the screenwriter from her own best-selling novel. Featuring one of the best ensemble casts of the year (including Ben Affleck, Carrie Coon, Kim Dickens, Tyler Perry, Neil Patrick Harris, Missi Pyle and Sela Ward), “Gone Girl” is taken to a whole new level by former Bond girl Rosamund Pike in what’s easily the best female lead performance of the year.

4. “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes” – Director Matt Reeves pulls off the impossible by topping “Dawn’s” predecessor, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” – a brilliant reboot of a classic film series. The apes continue to evolve in “Dawn,” and so does the story and Andy Serkis’ motion capture acting. Awards voters better soon get with the program and accept what Serkis does as a legitimate form of acting.

3. “Birdman” – Michael Keaton gives a career performance as a struggling big-screen superhero trying to reinvent himself on Broadway in “Birdman,” the most inventively staged film of the year. The only reason this film works is because of Keaton, who will no doubt enjoy a career renaissance with an Oscar nomination (if not a win) in his future. Of course, it helps to have Edward Norton in your cast, who is as brilliant as ever in a crucial supporting role.

2. “Whiplash” – J.K. Simmons gives the one of the best performances of the year as a conniving, vitriolic jazz conservatory instructor who uses mental abuse in an effort to try to bring out the best in his students – specifically an immensely talented but emotionally fragile drummer (Miles Teller). Simmons is so explosive in “Whiplash” that he makes Louis Gossett Jr. in “An Officer and a Gentleman” feel like a pre-school teacher.

1. “American Sniper” – Director Clint Eastwood places you in the thick of the battle in the Iraq war while Bradley Cooper puts you in Chris Kyle’s conflicted mind in this brutally honest portrayal of the most lethal sniper in the American military. Sienna Miller is also heartbreaking at Kyle’s wife, Taya, a woman suffering the residual effects war has on families. To say the film is riveting is an huge understatement, especially given the tragic fate that awaits Kyle as he finally finds his peace and tries to help other veterans adjust to life on the home front.

Most over-rated movie of the year: “Boyhood” — It’s a clever idea no doubt, filming a child’s life over a 12-year period and there’s no deny the effort and planning director Richard Linklater put into the project, but ultimately, “Boyhood” feels like a gimmick because of a mostly uneventful story. Perhaps critics were ultimately more fascinated with the idea of making a movie over 12-year period than the film itself. Besides, haven’t we seen characters grow up on screen before with the films in the “Harry Potter” saga?

Worst movie of the year: “Inherent Vice” — The film’s top-shelf talent is completely wasted by Paul Thomas Anderson’s pretentious writing and direction, and a nonsensical script that’s virtually impossible to grasp. Don’t pay attention to the film snobs who pretend to understand what’s going on in this bloated heap of “I’m smarter than you are” filmmaking, because they really don’t. Dreadful and disappointing, this movie should have been called “Incoherent Vice.”

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Interview: Sienna Miller talks ‘American Sniper’

 Sienna Miller in 'American Sniper' 2 (photo Warner Bros)

For acclaimed actress Sienna Miller, playing Taya Kyle, the wife of the most prolific sniper in American military history, Chris Kyle, has involved roller coaster of emotions. Miller said as an actress, working with director Clint Eastwood has been a personal high; but she also found it tough to enjoy the role because of the story’s tragic ending and lingering, traumatic effects on Taya Kyle after her husband’s untimely death.

One of the effects Taya Kyle has been subject to is the defamation lawsuit filed by former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura, who moved to sue Chris Kyle’s widow after the Navy SEAL was shot to death on a gun range in February 2013. A jury awarded Ventura $1.8 million in July for his claims that he was defamed in Chris Kyle’s “American Sniper” novel.

Calling Ventura’s lawsuit against Taya Kyle “outrageous,” Miller said she didn’t follow the court proceedings since she merely played her on film and didn’t experience the tragedy personally.

“From my point of view, I didn’t follow it through the press,” Miller told me in a recent call from New York. “It seemed wrong, disrespectful and ugly to do so, when the woman really involved in it in a desperate way is still going through all of this.”

The sad thing is, Miller said, Taya Kyle is going to be subject to even more. Ventura has filed an additional lawsuit against the publisher of “American Sniper,” and the man charged with killing Chris Kyle, Eddie Ray Routh, is still awaiting trial.

“I just can’t bear to think about it. My heart just breaks for Taya,” Miller said of the mother of two. “But she’s an amazing and resilient woman. She’s capable of strength that I don’t know that many people have. I’m there to support her.”

The Ventura book passage and subsequent trial is not chronicled in the “American Sniper” film.

Starring Bradley Cooper as Chris Kyle, “American Sniper” will open in New York, Los Angeles and Dallas Christmas Day, and across the country Jan. 16. Look for the full interview with Miller next month.

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.”