Matt Damon, True Grit – He was the leading man starring in his Invictus director Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter. But his best chance at an Oscar is thought to be Joel and Ethan Coen’s True Grit in the supporting role of that gabby Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf, based on the Charles Portis novel. Deadline’s Mike Fleming interviewed him:
DEADLINE: You usually carry films. Why say yes to this smallish role?
DAMON: First and foremost was, it was Joel and Ethan Coen. I’ve been chasing them forever, hoping I’d get a call. Then it was reading the novel and the adaptation, which I thought was terrific. And the role was great. Even though the young girl is the center of the movie and Rooster Cogburn is an icon, that LaBeouf role is hysterically funny and I thought there would be something fun I could do with it.
DEADLINE: Though your character has some heroic moments, he’s a total blowhard.
DAMON: Obviously the guy is a windbag, and Joel and Ethan Coen took it to the absurd level of having him bite his tongue, almost severing it, and then still not shutting up. So we all had Tommy Lee in common and he’s not only from that part of the country, he can really hold court and he’s really fun to listen to. We thought, what if this guy had the presentation of Tommy Lee, mixed with the master politician charm of Bill Clinton, but he had absolutely no substance? That was our jumping off point. All style, no substance.
DEADLINE: What makes the Coens such magnets for actors like you and your Ocean’s buddies George Clooney and Brad Pitt?
DAMON: Actors aren’t stupid. When we see the place where good acting keeps happening, you want to go visit that place and get a job there. Not only George and Brad, but also Billy Bob, who was tremendous in The Man Who Wasn’t There, we’ve talked about their whole approach. There is a very small number of people who have a mastery of every phase of the process. But they write unbelievably well. They do storyboarding to the point you’re actually given the movie in comic book form before you go shoot it. They have the ability to improvise on the day if a better idea strikes one of them, or is suggested by somebody who’s working on the movie. As directors, they cull out of us what they need and want. And they post and edit the movie as well as anybody. You’re supposed to have strengths and weaknesses, but those guys just do it all on an exceptionally high level. There’s no way you can make as many great movies as they’ve made by accident. That’s why actors are desperate to work with them.
DEADLINE: It must be fun to run off and play cowboy.
DAMON: I did a movie in 1990 called Geronimo: An American Legend, which you would not be alone in not having seen. For me, one of the fun parts of this was making a Western that people were actually going to see. And I really got to overdo it with the spurs. We wanted the loudest possible set of spurs on his boots that they made. All the Texas trappings, as Mattie called them. Because, my guy is a bit of a jackass. That part was really fun, the kitting out of a cowboy and knowing we really couldn’t overdo it.
DEADLINE: You’ve also done more than your fair share of horseriding in movies.
DAMON: We had the same wranglers that we had on All the Pretty Horses. I was really comfortable with those guys. On that movie, I’d gone down really early just to work with the horses. I don’t know how 10 years got by me without doing any riding. By MIKE FLEMING
Michael Douglas, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps – He turned in strong performances in Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and Solitary Man, but his campaign for awards was interrupted by his treatment for Stage IV throat cancer. On the day that Deadline’s Mike Fleming interviewed Douglas, the actor was still waiting to find out if radiation and chemo had worked. He just announced that his tumor is now gone:
DEADLINE: With a health scare like this, how reflective do you become?
DOUGLAS: Well, based on the odds they gave me, this is an illness, and not a mortality issue. Although with the kind of incredible support and the stories I’ve been told about others, I have been touched. It has changed me a lot emotionally. I would imagine I’m going to kick this and continue. I am looking at a lot of actors now, in their 60s and 70s, who have a great third act.
DEADLINE: There is a lot sentiment for your performance as Gordon Gekko, this time in the Best Supporting Actor category. You’ve won Oscars twice before, for producing One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and then starring in the original Wall Street. What did each mean to you?
DOUGLAS: Getting the first one for producing affirmed that I could trust in my instincts. It was an indie, dangerous because we made it without a distributor. With Wall Street, it was being honored by my fellow actors, that really meant a lot to me personally. It’s a little harder where you’re trying to establish your identity in a craft when you’re second generation. It’s easy to make certain assumptions. It really got me out of the shadow of my father, and made me feel I had my own bit of originality. You know, Dad called me up about a year ago. He said, ‘Son, I was watching one of my old movies on television, and I couldn’t remember it.’ I said, ‘Well, Dad, that happens.’ He said, ‘I kept looking, and realized, wait a minute, that’s not me, that’s Michael.’
DEADLINE: When you walked away with the Oscar 23 years ago, did you imagine that Gordon Gekko would be taking another screen turn?
DOUGLAS: Nope. I’ve only done a sequel once in my life and never anticipated this. Ed Pressman called me and said, ‘Would you consider it?’ He was talking with Fox in 2008. Then the shit hit the fan economically, and I thought that was interesting. Stephen Schiff wrote a good script but by the time he delivered it to Fox, Bear Stearns had happened and it was already out of date. Oliver Stone had initially shown interest but withdrew. But when Allen Loeb’s script came in and the world had changed, Oliver changed his mind. He hadn’t done a sequel.
DEADLINE: What was your biggest reservation?
DOUGLAS: I wasn’t sure where we were going to go, but I saw the possibility of a much bigger arc as we started considering real time. The first question became, did prison change him? I thought, that’s cool, we can play with that.
DEADLINE: Do you see Gekko as a villain?
DOUGLAS: No, you never think of your character as a villain. I loved the guy. He wasn’t doing anything different than what a lot of people were doing. There was a lot of insider trading going on. It was seductive, and that’s who he was. In the end, I got stung by Charlie, who had a wire. And this time, we discover that Josh Brolin’s character, Bretton James, had a role in it.
DEADLINE: A lot of the new movie unfolds before your character becomes a factor.
DOUGLAS: I’ve done a lot of movies where you carry it in every scene. Sometimes it’s great to come in for a few well written scenes. Gekko was just this beautifully written character who took on a life of his own. Here, we struggled with balance, so the character wouldn’t overshadow the other stories.
DEADLINE: Some of the reviewers bristled at Gekko redeeming himself.
DOUGLAS: There was always a degree of redemption, but I saw some of that in the first movie, too. Still, he took a billion dollars from his daughter and gave her back $100 million. He made a good deal. What amazed me about the second movie is, there’s nobody who’s really redeemable. There’s no protagonist, really. Everybody’s lying to everyone. It was fascinating that Oliver was able to weave all that together.
DEADLINE: On the first Wall Street, you said Oliver was manipulative and contentious. Was he the same this time around?
DOUGLAS: Oliver, manipulative? I’m 22 years older. I love Oliver a lot. He plays hardball, and rightfully so. You look at all the performances from all of his actors, and many times it’s the best work they’ve done. You look back to Jimmy Woods in El Salvador, Tom Cruise in Born on the Fourth of July, Kevin Costner in JFK, Val Kilmer in The Doors. You can go on and on. The reason many males have given their best performance with Oliver is he treats you like an adult, like you’re in the trenches together in Vietnam. You watch each other’s backs. He doesn’t coddle. He expects and demands a certain level. On the first one, he wanted a little more anger from Gekko, more deep resentment. And he was not afraid to wind me up, so I would take that out on him. Here, we had a good working relationship. I don’t know how he does it. Works all day as a director, hits the Boom Boom Room at night, and then still rewrites 20 pages. Except, he tends to fall asleep from time to time.
Jeremy Renner, The Town – His eclectic film career culminated in the 2009 Best Picture The Hurt Locker which earned him his first Oscar nomination. He’s followed that up with a supporting role this year as an edgy career bank robber in Ben Affleck’s The Town and is again receiving awards buzz. Deadline’s Pete Hammond interviewed him:
DEADLINE: What did getting that Best Actor Oscar nomination personally mean to you?
JEREMY RENNER: It wasn’t until they actually announced it that I understood what it meant. It was something that no one can ever take away from me. People can say what they want, and they can speculate all they want, but that to me was something written in stone that you can’t erase. That kinda felt really cool, like wow, this happened and it’s documented and it’s tremendous!
DEADLINE: Does it put pressure on you to make the right kinds of choices after?
RENNER: You always attempt to do great work, but there are so many things in filmmaking that get in the way. It’s all obstacles. So much can go wrong. So it kind of worked out in a wonderful way having The Town because Ben did a wonderful job with the film. I felt like we got very lucky. It’s so great that, again, I am a part of a movie that was pretty well received with critics and then audiences seemed to love it. It ended up making quite a bit of money it never should have made. These are movies that Hollywood just doesn’t make at least in the studio system. So I was happy for Warner Brothers and Legendary Productions for taking the chance with this. And it’s better for everyone. For actors, you don’t have to do a 3D movie just to work.
DEADLINE: What made you really want to do The Town?
RENNER: A great character in a character-driven drama hidden in an action-packed bank robber heist movie. Now initially I knew it was a really well written role and it came from a really tremendous book, Prince of Thieves. I thought it was pretty electrifying on the page, and then I couldn’t wait to dive into it. And I wanted to work with Ben who’s so affable and smart and gregarious. And the mood he puts out on the set, it’s so comfortable that it just allowed for a lot of creativity. You could try something new every day. It was really, really fun.
DEADLINE: Does that come from the fact that he’s an actor too?
RENNER: Well it certainly helps. It’s a different vibe. Some directors want to try to convey different things to an actor and it’s very difficult and they’re not quite sure how to say it. But Ben was hands off. So was Kathryn Bigelow, and she’s not an actor. She would say, ‘you’re the man for this, you go do it.’ Ben was the same way. He would say that directing was 90% in the casting and in cinematographer and the crew that he had. It was his movie to really screw up.
DEADLINE: Does it inspire you to want to direct your own projects?
RENNER: I certainly want to experience more. Not that I ever want to star and direct in something, That’s a feat that’s pretty terrifying. But I’ve always wanted to tell stories in some other fashion than acting. So I have certainly watched how he handled himself along those lines. He asked a bunch of other people who starred in the movies that they directed, ‘What do I look out for? What are the pitfalls?’ And I think that’s really smart. That’s the main reason I did the movie. I asked him, ‘Ben, what makes you think you can star in and direct this?’ And he said ‘I don’t know how I’m really going to be able to do it.’ And then he told me not knowing anything allowed him the freedom to fall on his face.
DEADLINE: Was it intimidating to go into his hometown of Boston?
RENNER: The only thing I was concerned about was the accent. I knew the role I could do in my sleep. But I had to get over the fact of being freaked out about the accent because that can really ruin a movie and I didn’t want to be a part of ruining a movie. So we did the work on that. Once I got to Boston, it wasn’t about being intimidated at all. It was just a color palette that I couldn’t wait to access. Ben put me in front of a lot of guys that had robbed banks or had just gotten out of prison or were similar to my character in a lot of ways, and I just got to absorb what I could from these people who were very generous with their time. I’m very thankful for that.
Hailee Steinfeld, True Grit – Just past her 14th birthday and chosen from 15,000 girls, this True Grit heroine is being campaigned in the Supporting category. Yet her feature film debut matches scene for scene, tone for tone, line for line her Oscar veteran co-stars Jeff Bridges and Matt Damon. Movieline’s S.T. Vanairsdale interviewed her:
MOVIELINE: What’s your acting background?
HAILEE STEINFELD: Up until I was 8, I’d tried every kind of sport, every kind of dance, and I never stuck with anything. And when acting came along it was something where I found different inspirations that really pulled me in, one of which was a family friend who was in a school play. I was sitting a few rows back from the stage. And at that time I didn’t know what acting was. Just to watch her was really inspirational and led me to believe it was something I could do. After that I went to my Mom and asked her if I could start acting. I took classes, and after a year of studying, we got an agent, and it’s been however many years now. Six?
MOVIELINE: And then True Grit comes along, and 15,000 young actresses send in their audition tapes. Why do you think you stood out?
STEINFELD: Honestly, I don’t know. That’s a question I think the Coens can answer better than I can. But I do think that when I was put on tape when I went in, I was prepared. And I really think that’s what it’s all about is being prepared with the material when the time comes around. I had 15 pages of sides, which is a lot. But it was so helpful for me because I had so many references at my fingertips. I had the original film, which I watched when I heard about True Grit. So right there I had the mindset of that era and the characters. I didn’t read the book or the script until after I got the job. But having those 15 or 25 pages of sides said so much about the character alone that I knew the character and I knew the character’s background.
MOVIELINE: Jeff Bridges has mentioned that you had some nerves on the set, but also that you weren’t “nervous” per se.
STEINFELD: When I first heard I got the job, I was immediately jumping up and down, calling and texting all my friends. Then it got kind of emotional, ‘Oh my God, this is so surreal.’ And then, on the plane ride there, I realized, ‘Oh my God, I really have to do this now.’ It was kind of an intimidating thought. So going into it I was nervous. But the minute I met Jeff and the Coen Brothers and all the other actors, realizing how easygoing they are and they’re there to do a job and I’m there for the same reason, just made me feel at ease.
MOVIELINE: When in the process did the Coens throw on the back of a horse to ride through a river?
STEINFELD: That was actually the last week of filming. And that’s what was so great about this. One day I was in a river with a horse, and the next I was 35 feet high up in a tree. You know what I mean? Every day it was something new. I’d be shooting a gun or whatever it was. Oh, the snake pit. That was a double.
MOVIELINE: The dialogue in this film is almost Shakespearean in its levels of density and complexity. What was your process?
STEINFELD: The stuff that comes out of her mouth is stuff you’d never hear come out of a 14-year-old’s mouth. But I just had to go through it and make sure I knew what everything meant.
MOVIELINE: You were born the year Fargo came out. When you realized you were going to be in a Coen Brothers movie, how much did that actually mean to you?
STEINFELD: That’s a good question. I was very familiar with the Coen Brothers’ work going into this film, though I hadn’t seen a lot of them because they’re rated R, and I’m not really allowed to yet.
MOVIELINE: You’ve seen Raising Arizona, right?
STEINFELD: Yes! Of course. That’s probably my favorite. You know what I love about them? I feel like if you see five films not knowing who made them, you know which one is the Coen Brothers.
MOVIELINE: Have you met Kim Darby, who originated the Mattie Ross role in the 1969 adaptation?
STEINFELD: I did meet her recently after the LA industry screening. I didn’t know she was going to be there. I almost started crying when I met her; it was very overwhelming to know she was there. But she was very pleased with the movie, and that was great to know. She looked me in the eye and said, ‘Please, for me, pick the right thing next.’ She was very sweet.
MOVIELINE: Do you want to keep acting?
STEINFELD: Absolutely. I feel like every day I discover new actors and new filmmakers and different genres, and it’s just so cool. It’s funny, because I always get the question, ‘Who do you want to work with?’ And I just realize how fortunate I am to have worked with the people I did. So if I ever got the opportunity again, it’d be an honor.