Kelly McCormick Interview

Nobody is an action-thriller with an unlikely hero played by Bob Odenkirk.  I recently had the chance to speak to producer Kelly McCormick about the project…

Matt:  For the most part, Australia has been on top of the COVID-19 pandemic and cinemas have been open here but I know cinema managers and the public have been disappointed by the lack of product coming out of Hollywood.  Nobody was originally scheduled for release in August 2020 so what’s behind the decision to finally push the button and get it out there?

Kelly:  You can’t wait forever and I think people are really wanting new material.  Universal has been bullish in making sure there’s a theatrical release for this.  It’s a great film to experience with an audience.  We expect that a lot of people will come to theatres for something like this and for those not yet comfortable, it’ll be released on streaming 3 weeks later in the U.S. and they can watch it in their own homes.

Matt:  You’ve been involved in a few action films like Atomic Blonde, Deadpool 2, Hobbs & Shaw and Shadow in the Clouds.  In your eyes, what are you looking for if producing an action flick?

Kelly:  The company 87North, which is David Leitch and myself, are looking for iconic characters that are rich, detailed and complicated.  They go on a journey that’s relatable and the journey is heightened and improved with action moments.  I think Nobody has that in spades in that he’s an “everyman” and has a lesson to learn in that he needs to show up and be there for his family.  When Bob Odenkirk came to us with the idea, we were over the moon.

Matt:  I was going to ask where the idea first came from.  Did it come from Bob Odenkirk?

Kelly:  It did.  It’s based on a true story in his life.  His house was invaded and he wished he had acted in a different way.  I told him he probably acted in the right way in real life and it’s for the best that we live out this alternate version in movie form.  You can feel the passion in his performance.

Matt:  It is a genre that get stale and repetitive but writer Derek Kolstad gave us something fun and original with the John Wick franchise.  This is his first effort since John Wick so how did he get involved?

Kelly:  It’s his first produced since John Wick.  I’ll note that he has a lot of scripts in motion in a lot of places in town.  Bob’s dream writer was Derek.  Both Braden Aftergood and I had previous working relationships with Derek and so we could connect them.  Derek and Bob have become close friends and they did a lot of tailoring of the screenplay together.  It’s been a team effort and a wonderful experience.

Matt:  If you asked me to put together a list of actors who might transition into the action genre, I have to admit that Bob Odenkirk wouldn’t have been the first name that popped into my head.  I realise it was his idea but did he always know he would star in it himself? 

Kelly:  I don’t when he decided he wanted to become an action star to be honest.  Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad had action adjacent to him but he often wasn’t involved.  We at 87North are always looking for who that next “unexpected actor” would be that you could put into something different.  It allows you to do some unique things because they don’t look and seem like a typical action star.  That’s exciting.

Matt:  I don’t know a lot about Russian director Ilya Naishuller.  What can you tell me about his approach?

Kelly:  Ilya is awesome.  Biting Elbows is a great music video and then he also did Hardcore Henry which is inventive.  He’s bold, lyrical, organized and thoughtful.  He knew what he wanted and we loved the experience with Ilya.  He brought so much to the picture including some of the most authentic Russians in American action movies.

Matt:  I love the touch that the villain is a fan of karaoke and he opens with a musical number.

Kelly:  Isn’t it ridiculous?  I love it.  That guy, Aleksei Serebryakov, is a serious actor in Russia and then he comes over here to the United States and plays this fantastic villain.  He’s quite a performer.

Matt:  With any action film, it’s always a question about how far to push things when it comes to violence.  I’d say this film doesn’t overdo the gore but there are some moments that’ll catch audiences off guard and there are some “creative deaths”.  What was your approach in terms of that?

Kelly:  87North always works with the director to find the right style.  With the main character, we find out what they can do physically and then what they want to do physically.  We then create the energy and the choreography around that.  That allows you play.  For us, it’s not trying to shock every time but rather, it’s about what’s original and what hasn’t been done before.

Matt:  Without giving anything away, there was one moment with a drinking straw that will certainly stick in my head for a while.

Kelly:  That was actually Ilya’s idea and it was pretty intense.

Matt:  Nobody is an action comedy set in the current day but the soundtrack list includes Andy Williams, Louis Armstrong, Pat Benatar and Gerry and the Pacemakers.  What was behind that creative decision?

Kelly:  Isn’t that a cool throwback?  It was about “what does Bob hear in his head?” and “what informs us about who he is?”  He’s also a throwback character in the sense that he’s older and we thought – why not go with an old-school, classy vibe as he kicks ass throughout the movie.  It’s one of my favourite parts of the movie.

Matt:  Hopes to make a franchise out of this or is it intended to be a one-off?

Kelly:  Lots of hope.  Derek planted a lot of seeds and Ilya allowed for them to grow.  There are a lot of different ways for it to take off whether it looks more at the family or Chris Lloyd’s character or the other mysterious characters in the middle of it.  What is this agency?  There’s a lot of things we can play with.

Matt:  I realise COVID-19 has made life difficult but is there anything you can share that you’re working on at the moment?

Kelly:  Yeah.  David and I are shooting a movie now called Bullet Train and it’s a crime caper set in Japan with Brad Pitt, Joey King, Bryan Tyree Henry and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  We’re having a ball.

Florian Zeller Interview

The Father was recently nominated for 6 Academy Awards including best picture.  Back in November 2020, I had the chance to speak with writer-director Florian Zeller about his terrific movie…

Matt:  Your acclaimed play was first performed close to a decade ago.  Where did that idea first come from to tackle the subject matter of dementia and to do it in this particular way – through the eyes of the sufferer?

Florian:  I was raised by my grandmother, who was like a mother, and she started to suffer from dementia which I was 15 years old.  While I have a very personal connection with the issues, I realised early on that everyone is connected to it unfortunately.  When the play was on stage in Paris and then in other countries, I was surprised and touched to see the response from the audience was the same everywhere.  People were coming to us after every performance to share their own story and I realised there was something cathartic about it.  Art has the power to make you feel part of something bigger than yourself and that’s the reason why I wanted to make the film.

Matt:  At what point did you envisage that it could also work as a film?

Florian:  I kept the narrative of the play which, as you say, is to try to tell the story from the “inside”.  I wanted to put the audience in a very specific position as if they were in the middle of a labyrinth trying to figure out where they’re going.  I wanted The Father to be an experience as much as a story.  I wanted them to know what it’s like to lose your bearings.  It was a way for me to play with the audience and try to disorientate them. 

All of that is taken from the play but I didn’t want to just film a play.  I worked a lot with Christopher Hampton to make it as cinematic as possible.  For example, we worked a lot on the sets to increase the feeling of disorientation.

Matt:  And you serve as both writer and director here.  What lured you into the challenge of directing for the screen (I believe this is your feature film debut) as opposed to handing that responsibility over to someone else?

Florian:  From the very beginning, my desire was to direct the film.  I was familiar with the material because of the play and I was clear about the emotions I wanted to share.  Strangely, I also wanted to do it with Anthony Hopkins from the very beginning.  That’s the main reason I did it in English.  I’m French and it wasn’t an obvious decision but when I started to dream about the film, the one and only face that came to mind was Anthony’s. 

I spoke with my friends at the time and they were laughing at me because I’m French and this is my first feature film.  Most of the time, it’s us who close the door on what’s possible but this time, I followed my desire and my intuition and sent the script to Anthony Hopkins through his agent.  I waited a bit and one day, I received a call from an unknown number and it was the agent saying Anthony wanted to meet with me.  I took a plane to Los Angeles to have breakfast with him and this is how it started.

Matt:  How’d you get Olivia Colman on board with the film?

Florian:  I have always adored her as an actress.  She’s been the queen in my heart for years as I’ve known her through films and series and stage.  I really think she’s the greatest actress in the UK.  There’s something magical because you love her as soon as you see her on screen.  I don’t know how she does it.  It’s the same as real life.

I knew this film needed her because it’s not just the story of a man losing his bearings but it’s also the story of his daughter trying to save the situation and face this painful dilemma.  What do you do with the people you love when they are starting to suffer from dementia?  I needed someone you can instantaneously feel empathy with and she’s a genius for that. 

Matt:  It’s an interesting setting in that almost all of the movie takes place inside of the apartment but it feels like a character in itself in the way our view of it changes.  Can you talk about that and the approach to the cinematography and production design?

Florian:  You’re right, it’s like a character.  When I wrote the script, I also drew the layout of the apartment and so it was always part of the story.  When you start thinking about adapting a play into a film, the first ideas you have is always to write new scenes and stuff outdoors to make it more cinematic.  I didn’t want to go that way through.  I wanted to stay in the apartment and do the whole film in a single space so that it would be like a mental space.

We are in Anthony’s apartment but step by step, we are making small changes in the background.  You can’t tell what’s happened but you know something has happened.  We shot the whole film in a studio so it was easy to move walls, change proportions and change colours so you have this strange feeling that you know where you are but at the same time, you’re not quite sure where you are. 

Matt:  I like the use of music also.  It’s quite haunting and reflective in places.  Can you tell me about your approach with composer Ludovico Einaudi?

Florian:  He’s a fantastic Italian composer.  He did a very small composition for us and we also used music taken from a French opera by Georges Bizet.  The story is connected to Anthony Hopkins.  We were chatting before shooting the film and we discovered we were both in love with an aria taken from The Pearl Fisher by Bizet.

He discovered that piece of music when he was 30 years old and he was touring with a play in the UK.  He ran to the piano in the hotel trying to find the melody and everyone in the hotel went nuts because he played it for 3 days.  He said he’d always dreamt to make a movie one day with that music in it.  It used it 3 times in the movie to fulfil his dream because he’d fulfilled mine by starring in the film.

Matt:  The film premiered back at Sundance and it’s been touted as an awards season contender but clearly this has been a crazy year for films and movie theatres.  Has the release and promotion of the film been affected heavily by COVID-19?

Florian:  It’s hard to tell because we’re still right in the middle of it but up until now, everything has been virtual.  It’s a bit sad but we’re lucky that we can still stay connected to each other in this crazy world and to talk about what we have done.  I really hope people get a chance to see this in theatres because making a film is a lot about sharing experiences and emotions.

Lucas Hedges Interview

Lucas Hedges is just 24 years of age but he’s already had the chance to work under directors including Wes Anderson, Jason Reitman, Terry Gilliam, Kenneth Lonergan, Greta Gerwig, Martin McDonagh and Steven Soderbergh.  I recently spoke to him about his career to date and his latest performance in Azazel Jacobs’ French Exit…

Matt:  Over the weekend, people were reminiscing on social media about the most bizarre moment in Oscars history when Moonlight won best picture and La La Land was read out incorrectly.  You were there that night as a nominee for Manchester by the Sea sitting just a few rows back from the front.  What’s your memory of how it all played out that crazy night?

Lucas:  It’s so funny I was there and it was such a bizarre moment.  I remember that everything was going to plan with La La Land winning and then I heard somebody gasp and I saw people running back and forth across the stage.  It looked like something bad had happened but I didn’t know what.  Then I heard one of the producers say “we lost by the way”.

The night itself up until that point felt artificial.  There’s a lot of formality like not trying to step on each other and not getting make-up on each other’s shoulders.  The Oscars look much cooler on person than they are in person if I’m being honest.  However, that moment just blew a ton of fresh air into the room.  Suddenly, every single person was part of a real experience and it was like we were all going through a traumatic incident together.

Matt:  They often say that someone is only one great role away from making it in Hollywood and that felt like the case with your superb performance in Manchester by the Sea.  Did it open doors as easily as you thought it might?

Lucas:  It did but I didn’t appreciate how much of a “golden ticket” it would be.  After Manchester by the Sea premiered at Sundance, I thought I’d be going back to drama school and keep studying but the world definitely had different plans for me.  I started working a ton and I haven’t really stopped until the past year.

Matt:  There are actors like yourself and Timothee Chalamet and Zendaya and Florence Pugh who breakout and go from relative obscurity to people who are Googled a thousand times a second by a knowledge-hungry public.  We see it with professional athletes too.  Is it easy to still be your natural self or is there pressure to put up some kind of “brand” of what people expect Lucas Hedges to be?

Lucas:  I keep getting asked to play these very dramatic roles which is something I’d like to change but I think I’ve done a good job doing projects that haven’t pigeon-holed me too much.  It’s a little weird the extent to which people around the world have a relationship with me before I have a relationship with them but that’s also part of the gift of being an actor.  It’s nice being known.

People like Timothee and Zendaya feel like superstar-level pop stars at this point whereas my life is more quiet and reserved.  That said, I haven’t been in public without a mask on for a whole year.  I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to be recognized which was happening regularly before COVID-19.

Matt:  Leading roles are what many dream of but you’ve had the chance to play supporting to the likes of Casey Affleck, Saoirse Ronan, Frances McDormand, Meryl Streep and now Michelle Pfeiffer.  What do you see as the secret to creating a great supporting performance?

Lucas:  Wanting to be there.  I’ve got to love the story I’m in and want to be a part of the movie.  I don’t think it’s possible to be good in a movie you don’t want to be in.

Matt:  I remember the late Peter O’Toole speaking at the Oscars about how he would draw energy from working with young actors.  Without making you sound too egotistical, do you ever get that feeling yourself – that these experienced, iconic actors love working with you as much as you love working with them?

Lucas:  I’ve gotten a sense from some of them that I’m fun to work with.  Others are more self-sufficient and self-contained and I haven’t felt like I was a huge disruption or inspiration to their acting process.  But yeah, I’ve also been good to the extent that I’m in awe of them and that makes it more fun from their perspective to be around me.

Matt:  Here in French Exit you’re playing Malcolm Price – a young man sticking by his self-destructive mother who is burning through money and doesn’t seem to have any plan.  It’s a very unusual relationship between parent and child and I’ve love to know how you’d describe the connection these two characters share?

Lucas:  I think they have a very codependent relationship.  Malcolm was sent to boarding school and wasn’t raised by his parents until he was 13.  I don’t think he thought of himself as a “real” person and he had no one to validate his existence.  His mum then comes into his life and is like a shooting star across the sky.

Despite how bizarre and self-destructive Frances is, she becomes the basis of his life.  The two are inseparable to the point when she runs out of money and moves to Paris, he chooses to go with her instead of his fiancé because she feels more real to him than his life independent of her.  I think it’s a story of codependence and awe and falling in love with a way of being that reflects a child’s dependence on his mother.

Matt:  Your role is one that doesn’t require a lot of dialogue.  It’s as much about reacting to Michelle Pfeiffer and her character’s eccentric way of doing things.  How do you approach that as an actor?  How do you how you to react and carry yourself in those scenes?

Lucas:  I did and I didn’t know.  I loved the writing so that’s what showed me the way but there were still question marks about the character that I didn’t fully understand.  I was willing to accept that because I loved the story so much.  To answer your question, what guided me most was the moment-to-moment storytelling laid out so beautifully by writer Patrick deWitt and then the thoughts of our deeply sensitive director Azazel Jacobs.

Matt:  And I’ve got to ask – you’re working with one of the best here in Michelle Pfeiffer who picked up a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.  Do you have a favourite memory or a favourite learning from the experience?

Lucas:  The thing that stands out most about Michelle is how much work she puts in and how these days were built on her back.  She carried us every single day without complaining once.  It was as if she was as quiet as an extra and it was amazing how little space she took up.  She knew what she had to do and she just did it.

Matt:  We know COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the film industry and movie theatres.  How has it been from your perspective as an actor?

Lucas:  I live a pretty isolated, hermit-like lifestyle anyway and so it hasn’t changed my life that much.  I’ve missed going to movie theatres.  I can’t speak to how it’s changed my life as an actor because I haven’t found a project I wanted to do and I haven’t worked during COVID-19.  I do hope to be on a set soon and to find a project that feels right. 

Matt:  The Golden Globes are today, the Oscars are coming up next month.  What have you liked over the past 12 months that you’ve love to see honored?

Lucas:  I loved The Dig with Ralph Fiennes and Carey Mulligan.  It’s incredible.  I really liked Malcolm & Marie and I thought Zendaya and John David Washington were great.  Those two stand out to me.

Gregory Kershaw Interview

The Truffle Hunters is a fascinating documentary that recently made the shortlist (top 15 films) for best documentary feature at the upcoming Academy Awards.  I had the chance to speak to one of the film’s two directors, Gregory Kershaw, about the project…

Matt:  A documentary about elderly men and their dogs searching for rare truffles in Northern Italy. Where did the idea for his first come from?

Gregory:  We stumbled on this world by chance.  My filmmaking partner Michael Dweck and I were both obsessed with finding worlds that exist outside the sphere of globalisation and technology.  Those worlds that had maintained their identity and maintained their connection with local history and culture.

We didn’t realise it at the time but one summer, we were both separately travelling through the Piedmont region in northern Italy.  We were struck by the place and it felt like we were moving through a fairy tale land.  It’s spectacular.  Every hill top has a little town, there are beautiful vineyards, and there’s a sense that it’s removed from the modern world in that it moves at a different rhythm.  It hasn’t been taken over by globalised culture. 

As part of our time there, we’d heard about these truffle hunters.  They were a secret society of old men who scoured forests in the middle of the night for the while Alba truffle – one of the rarest and most expensive food ingredients in the world.  Unlike all other types of truffles, this one can’t be cultivated.  It’s beyond the grasp of science and human knowledge.  There’s something delicious about that idea.

We then decided to go back and explore.  Two weeks later, we finished another project we were working on and we started an exploration process that led us into the 3 year process of making this film.    

Matt:  It’s one thing to have an idea but it’s another to make it work. A lot of the people we see are very secretive about their work and so how easy was it to convince them to appear on film?

Gregory:  Everything in this world is a secret.  Even the town keeps the identity of the truffle hunters a secret.  Before starting filming, we had to go into these communities and build relationships with people.  We’d go to a trattoria where they were serving truffles and we’d ask the owner if we could be introduced to the hunter who provided them.  He’d say “I’ve never met him.  I just leave some money in a box and a truffle appears the next day.”  He’d then go “talk to my cousin who a priest” and then the priest would introduce us to someone else and so on.

Slowly, over a very long time, we were finally introduced to the truffle hunters.  They hunt at night because they don’t want anyone to see where they’re going.  Even the market place where they sell the truffles is a secret.  There are black markets on street corners at 3am in the morning that no one knows about. 

It took a lot of time to build up those relationships.  Luckily, we were filming in a part of Italy where the food is fantastic and the wine is plentiful so we had a lot of long meals with them.  We followed the hunters all day and observing the rhythm of their lives and letting them know we loved their world and we wanted to express it on film.

Matt:  The conversations between some of these characters feel so open and candid. Was it easy to achieve that given they would have known cameras were on them?

Gregory:  Something was different about filming in this region and a lot of it had to do with the lack of technology in the lives of these people.  There are so many places in the world were people know what a film is and when you put a camera in front of them, they’re not quite themselves.  They start performing and putting on their idea of what it means to be a documentary or reality television show.  

The people we were filming don’t watch TV and they don’t have an iPhone in their pocket.  They’re not constantly consuming media.  It was a remarkable thing.  Once we started rolling the camera, they would seem to forget about us almost immediately and would just go about their daily lives.

We shot the film in a very unique way in that it was just one shot per day.  That’s unheard of in a documentary.  They love to talk in this region and they use a local dialect.  We’d just set the camera up and let it roll.  Sometimes they’d talk for up to 3 hours where they’d talk about everything going on in their lives.  We’d just take a tiny snippet to use in the film that helped tell the story and highlight the magic qualities of this world we’d discovered.

Matt:  It’s not often I say this about a documentary but the cinematography is quite striking. Set cameras in precise locations as we watch these characters converse. Can you speak a little about that and how the shots were framed?

Gregory:  We wanted to bring a deliberate perspective to the filmmaking.  It’s a documentary but we wanted to capture more than just the facts.  We wanted to go deeper and find a “subjective truth” and translate the feeling of this place to the audience.

It’s like when you have your phone and you’re just snapping pictures.  You can take a photo of some place and use it to remember the fact you were there.  For example, it’ll show there was a building there and it’s capturing the “objective truth”.  For us, we wanted to create images that felt like the place and took you into them and made you feel the same thing we did.

It took us a lot of time to construct those images but at the same time, we’re filming a documentary so we needed to be free enough to capture reality as it was happening in front of us.  That’s part of the reason why the film took 3 years to make.  We were so deeply intertwined in the lives of these people that we’d wait until the moment was right before putting a camera in front of them.

Matt:  You’ve made the short list for best documentary feature at the Academy Awards and some are tipping the film will receive a nomination. What are your thoughts on that?

Gregory:  We hope so and our fingers are crossed.  The reception of this film has been astonishing.  We premiered it over a year ago at Sundance and we finished it the day for its premiere.  Michael and I had seen it with our sound mixer and that was it.  We hadn’t shown it to anyone else and so we had no idea what to expect at Sundance.  Luckily, we had an incredible reaction from people who connected with it.

The film is a celebration of the human spirit and we wanted to make it because we fell in love with the place and these people.  They have a joy, a happiness, an exuberance for life we wanted to share with the audience.  This past year has been challenging for so many people in so many different ways and we wanted to give people something to celebrate and show there’s still beauty and hope left in this world.