- The Lunch with L.A. Weekly Chief Film Critic Amy Nicholson: Tom Cruise, ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ and ‘Snowpiercer’
- The Lunch with Director William Eubank of ‘The Signal’
- The Lunch with Gillian Robespierre, director, ‘Obvious Child’
- The Lunch with Alex Pappademas of Grantland.com on ‘X-Men: Days of Future Past …’
- The Lunch with AJ Bowen of ‘The Sacrament’
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Tag Archives: Reese Witherspoon
With her stand-up, best-selling books, notorious talk show and new sitcom based on her writings, Chelsea Handler is a stunningly busy woman. Now, though, she gets to showcase her comedic persona — the pottymouthed drunken best friend you never wanted — on the big screen in McG’s “This Means War,” as the friend and confidant to Reese Witherspoon as Witherspoon is torn between Tom Hardy and Chris Pine. We spoke with Handler in Los Angeles about her plan for media domination, why McG may not be the best PR man possible and why, in fact, the children are not our future.
MSN Movies: I was just talking with the genius director McG and he says, “Well of course we’re introducing Chelsea Handler to the world.” You have books; you have a talk show–
Chelsea Handler: McG is an idiot.
I was about to say, “Is he Amish?” Does he not know?
He knows he’s an idiot. I’ve told him he’s an idiot several times. Again he’s an idiot, if he thinks he’s responsible for anything in my career. He’s wrong.
Did you think about changing your name to McH?
No, I think about changing his name to McMess.
Because he’s got that freaky eye thing going on today, right?
He’s a mess. What is wrong with his eye? What does he have a sty?
He’s blown out a blood vessel.
Good, that’s his karma. He deserves it.
But apparently he blew it out when he was in the editing room to remove some of your more choice remarks.
Sara Gruen’s best-seller “Water for Elephants” offered its director and cast challenges — recreating a lost past, depicting romance in a real way in a fantastic setting, working with a 9,200-pound elephant in the title role and selling audiences on a film made not for the teens who love co-star Robert Pattinson in “Twilight,” but, rather, for a more mature audience. And yet, the finished film is remarkably successful and a gorgeous romantic tale full of life, love and beauty, as well as a celebration of old-fashioned show business.
For co-star Reese Witherspoon, playing acrobat and circus star Marlena, the challenges of both her part and the film’s world were a big part of taking the role on. “It’s definitely conceptual when you read the script and you think, ‘OK, that’s interesting.’ When you actually meet the elephant and I watched the stunt double do what I was supposed to do in the movie, and Francis Lawrence said to me, ‘I want you to do that all by yourself,’ I (said), ‘Are you kidding me? I’m not going to be able to do that.’ He (said), ‘I want you to try.’ I was like, ‘Ugh.’ I’m a sucker for ‘I want you to try.’ I’ll always try. It ended up being this incredibly fulfilling experience, really challenging but really worthwhile.”
So, I asked, was she always conscious of standing next to what was essentially a living truck, or, at some point, did Witherspoon get used to working with Tai, the performing elephant? “No, I think you’re always aware of it,” she said. “She’s a gigantic animal. She really instills trust with you and she never steps out of line or anything, but she’s big and intimidating. Sometimes people stand awfully close to her and not pay any attention. I feel like ‘That’s a giant animal; any moment anything could happen.’ But she was wonderful and very composed.”
Also wonderful? The film’s recreation of a lost era.”It was very magical going on the sets. They were out in the desert, we had the tents set up and the mountains were in the background. Every day, (with) people dressed in period costumes or performers on their lunch break, doing their routines, and animals everywhere. It really transported you to the time period.”
Witherspoon’s character is torn between her ringmaster husband, August (Christoph Waltz), and ex-veterinary student Jacob (Pattinson). Was there, I asked, a difference between working with the two? “Big difference,” she said. “Christoph is an actor, obviously: He’s been working for so long, and Rob and I were both in awe of his professionalism and his ability to create a character that was so multifaceted and dynamic, considering that it could be very much the villain. He played it with such vulnerability as well, because he really saw different aspects of that character. Then working with Rob, it’s lovely to work with somebody as terrific, at the precipice of a gigantic career and so excited to be there, so eager to work hard. I found him incredibly endearing and really hardworking.”
I also asked Witherspoon if the film’s ’30s costuming got a little overwhelming. “I think the guys’ costumes are amazing. But I was so lucky, I got to wear all these beautiful gowns and sparkling leotards. I have to say, I spent my entire career consciously avoiding bathing-suit shots, so I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m going to spend this whole movie in a leotard.’
Looking every inch the classic circus ringmaster in the red coat and top hat of the trade, actor Christoph Waltz — best known as Col. Hans Landa in “Inglourious Basterds” — is one of the great pleasures of “Water for Elephants.” I asked him how he played the part: if he researched circus ringmasters or just hammed it up in general. The German actor smiled: “Not any more than I usually do. No, I find it intriguing to study. I never went to university, so I have an inferiority complex about that, and now I try to catch up. I get interesting stuff to do, like playing a ringmaster in a circus in 1931 — that’s enough work for a few years in terms of study. I’m not too worried about running out of subjects.”
I also asked Waltz about working with Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson, and what it’s like to work with young actors who have been doing this for a while and yet still have youth and energy and classic movie star glamour. “That’s in a way like asking a chef, ‘How is it to turn on the stove?’ That’s what we do. We’ve all — thankfully — reached a fabulous level of expertise and professionality. We get on with it. That’s what we do for a living. We don’t really marvel at each other the whole time: We work. We’ve got a lot of stuff to do. An actor’s life or work looks very glamorous from the outside, but on the everyday job, so to say, it’s hard work. We appreciate each other’s presence and we demand each other’s professionality. We don’t think about each other’s glamour.”
And for director Francis Lawrence, casting Pattinson — who is world-famous for his work as a vampire — was less odd than it sounded. “In all honesty, before meeting him, I was wary,” he said. “I was wary because I only knew him from the first ‘Twilight’ — it’s the only one I’ve seen — and only wary of that because it’s such a specific movie and he’s in such extreme makeup and he’s wearing contacts and his hair’s a certain way, he glitters, the performance is stylized in that movie. You’d be hard-pressed to see what else he’s capable of because of that role — at least I was. But when I sat down with him, I thought, ‘My God, this guy’s actually a lot like the character.’ That’s why I cast him, because I felt like he’s humble even with all this crazy stuff that’s happening to him, and he still has a purity — and he’s not really that cynical, he loves animals, he looks at these elephants with wonder, and he’s really romantic and, God, he really knows how to look at a girl. I think it’s great, because he’s so different in this movie. If it works — and I think it does — then people will be surprised, and I think surprised in a great way that I think is fun.”
Robert Pattinson didn’t have any apprehension about taking the lead role of Jacob in “Water for Elephants” — until he saw the huge enterprise of the set. “I didn’t even really think about it, but then, when I saw the scope of what they built — I remember driving, because you could see the tent from miles away, because it was in the middle of the desert. You could see the train, the tent — there were three different tents — and then nothing for miles. There’s this huge tent with the American flag flying on top. I was like, ‘Oh God, OK, this is going to be a big deal.’ I had no idea. I’ve never seen such detail. Even the pegs which are plugging down the ropes of the tent were authentic circus pegs. It’s insane.”
In the film, Pattinson works opposite Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz — and Tai the elephant. Which was most intimidating? “You would have thought Tai, but she’s one of the easiest actresses that I’ve ever worked with, totally understanding, very giving. She’s always coming up with really great material. She likes to go off the book a little bit. Working with Tai’s so simple. She has this trunk, which is always wild, and it brings up scenes and you have to react around her. It’s always something fresh: She’s never bored; she’s always looking for some candy on you. There’s always some candy somewhere.”
Pattinson went right out of shooting “Twilight: Breaking Dawn” to do “Water for Elephants” press, and then will head right to the set of David Cronenberg’s “Cosmopolis.” Which, I asked, would he prefer to do more of after that film: take a break, or do something a little lighter? Pattinson laughed. “I think I need to take a break after this. I think the things I’m doing after this are way darker than anything I’ve done before. I’m trying to find something light; I just like killing people too much.”
Pattinson’s also grateful that the “Twilight” series is done — and enjoyed the literally more down-to-earth pleasures of making “Water for Elephants.” “It’s funny, because I was thinking when the ‘Twilight’ thing is over — I had to have my shirt off a lot in this last one — like, ‘I can finally stop working out.’ Because a lot of it’s about the guy’s body and stuff. I’m like, ‘Oh, God. I have to keep concentrating on this.’ I definitely am going to rejoice after not having the makeup and contact lenses in anymore. Just doing (‘Water for Elephants’) where it’s just mud all over your face, it’s a totally different experience making a movie where you can see. Being able to see on a set is really great.”
I also asked Pattinson what he hoped audiences took away from “Water for Elephants.” “I don’t know,” he said. “I hope they get the same feeling I got when I was making it. I think I was in some way transported away from something; it really felt like I was in a different world as I was making it, so hopefully that translates in the movie. I don’t think that many things are made like it anymore. I don’t think I’m going to ever make a movie like it again. It was such a perfect experience. Hopefully they’ll go away with that feeling.”
Finally, I asked Pattinson — only half-jokingly in regard to the film’s flashback framing sequences where the aged version of his character sets up the action — how comforting is it to know that when he grows old, he will look like Hal Holbrook? Pattinson laughed. “It’s a pretty good feeling, yeah. I weirdly feel like I will,” he said. “The first time he saw me, he was like, ‘I looked exactly the same as you when I was 20 years old.’ I was like, ‘That’s lucky. It’s good that we were both cast, then.'”
In “How Do You Know,” Reese Witherspoon plays pro softball player Lisa, who’s benched and fired and, in that tailspin, torn between casual, glib pro baseball player Matty (Owen Wilson) and disgraced financial maven George (Paul Rudd). It’s a return to familiar territory from writer-director James L. Brooks (and awfully similar to his best film, “Broadcast News“) and yet, at the same time, very different. Witherspoon, for example, is on-screen playing ball for only about 30 seconds, but trained three months to prepare. Witherspoon looks, carries herself, and speaks in a way unlike any time you’ve seen her before. And when I spoke with her in New York, she explained how that was entirely intentional.
“Yeah, I totally changed my body,” she said. “I was working out five hours a day, which is intense. Those athletes are exhausting. But also, just the way she walked: She was much more masculine than I am. That was an interesting female character to play in a movie. I had never done that before — she has a deeper voice, she’s kind of one of the boys, she’s hitting the guys all the time.”
And, according to Witherspoon, she and Brooks didn’t end their prep on the softball diamond. “We met a lot of Olympians, we met a lot of collegiate athletes, and we actually went to their apartments, took pictures, took their clothes out — I tried to have (my) clothes be exactly like their clothes, down to everything in the closet,” she said. “So there’s a lot of authenticity there. He really wanted it to look like … there’s an interesting sort of suspended adolescence with people who have been professional athletes. They’re kind of carried through high school, carried through college, and don’t really grow up romantically the same way — so that’s what my character’s going through.”
Just as her character has to deal with very different suitors, so, too, did Witherspoon have to deal with very different leading men. “Owen is much more laid-back and easygoing,” she said. “He’s Southern, too, so maybe there’s some of that Southern ease to it. And he’s such a great writer, so he really understands which part of the scene to emphasize. Paul is more, I don’t know, kinetic. He has a lot of energy, and he’s very physical, too. He’s very funny, his face is moving around a lot … and it’s hard not to laugh when you’re hanging out with Paul because he’s just so funny. He’ll say something hysterically funny and then they say ‘Rolling!’ and you’re like, ‘Oh my God.'”
As for Witherspoon’s own character, one of her biggest challenges was tapping into Lisa’s no-nonsense optimism and drive: “I think it’s interesting hanging out with a bunch of athletes. They use a lot of those affirmations and they really hold onto them as real parts of their personality to drive them forward. It’s about being positive, but being realistic at the same time, so it’s not false positives. You’re supposed to really evaluate yourself, and there’s a constant evaluation going on — they’re very hard on themselves. It was interesting to have those platitudes surrounding me at all times in the movie, and be able to touch on those. It’s an interesting way to live your life.”
As How Do You Know’s financial fall guy George — who’s exiled from his firm and may have to take a prison sentence from misdoings at the firm owned by his dad, played by Jack Nicholson — Paul Rudd varies between elation at meeting Witherspoon’s Lisa, the girl of his dreams, and depression at the fact his life’s become a nightmare. Speaking with Rudd in New York, I asked him how, as an actor, you find a way to play those opposite ends of the emotional spectrum without getting too broad or blown-out.
“Well, we did so many takes,” he said. “James Brooks likes to do lots of takes; he’s kind of known for it. We would do varying degrees with the hope that we would find a right tone in the editing room. If something’s justified, you can kind of go farther than you think — if it’s justified. Otherwise it looks fake and kind of phony and broad and big. It’s just trying to hold on to what the reality of the situation is and how this guy might really genuinely react. Then he has that line, too, where he says, ‘Optimism is sanity for me right now.’ It’s those moments.”
For his part, writer-director Brooks praises Rudd’s “rubber face” and comedy chops as a big part of George’s character. “If you say, ‘Cross the street,’ he’s going to do something funny (with it), as he does in this picture: He gets a laugh crossing the street,” Brooks said.
Rudd, reunited with Witherspoon for the first time on-screen since 1998’s “Overnight Delivery” — no, you didn’t know about that, because no one saw it — had a little past experience to ease the way, but not so much that he wasn’t on his toes. “We had worked together before, but it had been a long time,” he said. “So we knew each other, just had familiarity and friendship and all of that. So that was good. But there was nothing we ever really said. We don’t really sit down years before a scene and (discuss) this and that. It’s great working with her. She’s so good — you don’t have to do much.”
While Wilson may regret not logging any screen time with Nicholson, Rudd wishes he’d had more time to bounce off of Wilson. “It was a real bummer for me that I didn’t get to do more stuff with Owen, because I’m a huge Owen Wilson fan and I’d met him a few times, but I’d never worked with him,” he said. “So I’m excited that I’m doing this movie with Owen Wilson, and then we had very little interaction in the movie. But I did get to do all of my stuff with Reese and Jack Nicholson, and when you’re kind of working opposite people that talented, that good, you really don’t want to mess up. It makes my job easier, kind of — you just want to play at their level, I suppose.”
The run-up to the Pennsylvania primaries became so interminable — such a drawn-out waiting-period of rehashed analysis and punditry — that I knew I had to stop watching the cable news coverage before it wore a hole in my brain; I think the warning sign was when I started hearing the voice of MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann providing poll numbers and analysis on my day-to-day decisions. That made it clear I needed to take a break from politics, so I thought I’d take a break from politics with … a movie about politics.
And Alexander Payne’s Election (based on the novel by Tom Perrotta) may, in fact, work even better now than it did when first released a few years ago. Election revolves around an Omaha, Nebraska high school’s student council elections, with teen achiever Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon) bound and determined to become president and teacher and adviser Mr. McAllister (Matthew Broderick) bound and determined to stop her. McAllister begins his interference by encouraging football hero Paul Metzler (Chris Klein) to run against the unopposed Tracy — in the name of democracy and choice, of course, and not because Mr. McAllister has a long-standing grudge against Tracy for what may or may not be entirely legitimate reasons. McAllister’s interfering does not end there. It also does not end well.
Everybody knows the familiar, cynical phrase “Life imitates high school.” What’s just as depressing is that the reverse is true, too. And the election in Election is as full of insane ambition, fierce rivalry, dirty tricks and trivial distractions as any national political campaign. And the fact is that Election’s political satire is as smart as it is cruel. When Tracy gives her final speech to the assembled student body at Carver high, her words are straight from the Democratic primary stump speech playbook: “During this campaign, I’ve spoken with many of you about your many concerns. I spoke with Eliza Ramirez, a freshman, who says she feels alienated from her own homeroom; I spoke with sophomore Reggie Banks, who said his mother works in the cafeteria and can’t afford to buy him enough spiral notebooks for his classes. …”
Tracy wants to be president fiercely and fervently; at the same time, that’s hardly a reason to elect her. Slate posted a nice, brief mean-spirited video combining footage from Election with footage from the election this year, with Hillary Clinton and Tracy Flick contrasted and compared. But the fact is that Election’s political satire is just part of what makes it so good. Director and co-writer Alexander Payne — who, after Election, would go on to About Schmidt and Sideways — provides a commentary track on the Election DVD, and it’s a great glimpse into the observations and obsessions of a true talent, as Payne digresses on everything from drop ceilings to economically-appropriate haircuts, from the changes he made to Perotta’s novel to the visual themes and symbols throughout the film.
Election failed at the box office; while it was an MTV films presentation, the movie’s unblinking look at middle-age, middle-class failures and hypocrisy did not, in fact, make it catch on with today’s young people. Matthew Broderick — tired, worn-down, gray -haired — throws himself wholeheartedly in to playing a teacher whose enthusiasm and real love of the job have, over time, curdled into something rank and ruinous. And Witherspoon not only finds the flinty fire of ambition in Tracy, but also manages to make her fully human — not just a cardboard caricature, even with Tracy’s perky go-getter attitude shining out in every scene like a ray of toxic sunshine. Election came long before Witherspoon’s recent career string of light, disposable romantic comedies like Sweet Home Alabama and Just Like Heaven; it is, at least in my opinion, the best thing she’s ever done.
Election’s hard to watch. It may be a pointed political satire, but it also pretty much nails the personal. And, no, it’s hardly comforting; it doesn’t paint the rosiest possible picture of human nature and electoral democracy. Then again, it’s probably not telling you anything you don’t already know. We like it when the movies suggest that people — people like us — can learn and grow and change; Election firmly suggests that we, in fact, do not learn and grow and change. Still, Election works as great example of how a spoonful of medicine helps the sugar go down; the smart, cynical parts of the film actually make the broad, slapstick comedy-of-errors moments even funnier. And it was nice watching a political contest that didn’t involve accusations of theft from Rachael Ray or people being upbraided for things their associates did when they were eight or serious, sober questions about hairstyles. It turns out that after several weeks of unintentional comedy as we lead up to the presidential election, a little deliberate comedy made for a nice break.