Join SBIFF for an in-depth discussion in this video Working with actors, part of 2011 SBIFF Directors' Panel: Directors On Directing.
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Peter Bart: See everybody on this stage, it seems to me, the pictures you made moved the needle. They really had a significant impact in one way or another, except for Mr. Ferguson, because the fact about Inside Job is that in the world that you depicted, nothing ever @#$&^% changes. You've got--do you feel that way or not? Charles Ferguson: Well, this part of the world isn't changing fast.
That's for sure. The Obama Administration has been a gigantic, tragic disappointment. I think the Obama Administration will go down in history, at least in this domain--with regard to things like Egypt and other matters, the verdict might be very different-- but with regard to these issues, which are very important issues about the structure and future of our society. When Barack Obama was elected, he had an extraordinary unique chance to do something about these questions.
He had an incredible mandate, a heavily Democratic Congress. The country was in deep crisis. And he had a moment, and many of us, including myself, were hopeful based on the things he had said during his campaign that something would actually happen. It was a huge disappointment when he took that moment and used it to appoint as his economic and regulatory team a group of people who had in fact caused this crisis.
Peter: You might say he really had casting problems. Charles: Very, very severe casting problems. Yes, and the new cast isn't any better. The people who've just come in as the replacements for the first set of people who left, they are not any better; in some cases they are worse. There are several people at senior levels of the administration who arguably should be in prison. That's disturbing. That's very disturbing. Peter: Well, I feel you should get an Oscar. (applause) I felt you should get an Oscar for making the most depressing movie of the year.
(laughter) Charles: Thank you so much. Peter: So Darren, I read, it was in New York Magazine, I think, that you changed during the course of this picture from being a control freak to being an out-of- control freak, which struck me as a very interesting description. Would you explain that? Darren Aronofsky: I have no idea what that writer was writing about, so I think he was trying to make a point about probably what happened between The Fountain & The Wrestler.
I think. But definitely my approach of filmmaking changed. I don't know if it changed radically, but it was definitely going from a film where everything was very, very-- every shot was very, very symmetrical and controlled, to taking on this sort of cinema verite style, and sort of allowing the actor complete freedom. It sort of came out of a necessity of working with Mickey Rourke, who doesn't really respect marks or lines or directors or filmmaking, just sort of-- (laughter) Peter: He is wonderful, but he is lazy.
Darren: He respects the square footage in his trailer, and that's about it. I love Mickey, and he is one of the great actors, but it definitely changed the way I had to work. Then I tried to bring that with sort of the formalism, because someone like Natalie Portman is incredibly disciplined and technical, as well as being really talented. So I could bring back some of the other type of filmmaking that I had done earlier and combine it with some of the lessons I got from The Wrestler. So maybe that's it.
Peter: I think what the writer was also suggesting that you wanted, in a sense, your actress, Natalie, to lose control of themselves and to be out there. Darren: Well, I always talk--it's funny, because people sort of accuse me of pushing actors, and I don't really push them. I just sort of I kind of remind them of why they've started in the business. If you go down to an acting school on Melrose Avenue, all you'll see is a bunch of student actors screaming "Stella!" crying their eyes out, doing anything Darren: to emote. Peter: Yeah.
Darren: I think in the Hollywood system, it's sort of--people forget that. I've had actors on set when they're like, "Well, I can't do anything more than three takes," and I am like, "What are you talking about? What do you want to do? Sit around the craft service table and wait for them to light for another seven hours. This is our chance to just do stuff, and this is--it's our set. Let's have fun and let's push each other." So I don't find actors ever lose themselves. I mean Ellen Burstyn or Natalie Portman or any of the other kind of psycho trips my actors have taken, I think they're always in control, and acting on film, it's a 30-second burst of intensity and then you call cut.
And all the actors I've worked with, when you call cut, they are back to being who they are, you know, because there is a movie camera there, and there is the boom person there, and there is a makeup person in their face, and you take a breath, and then you go back into it. I think the intensity of the physicality of Black Swan, with the kind of emotional stuff with all the training Natalie had to do was really, really tough on her. But she never got that close to the edge, I don't think. Peter: Debra, when I run into Jennifer Lawrence, I rarely have seen an actress who in person seems more of a contradictory character than the character that you had her play.
That was an extraordinary performance and an extraordinary movie. Did you do a great deal of rehearsing with her? Debra Granik: Jennifer was very willing to come down to Southern Missouri before the shoot and spend a week on the location. We were shooting in a family's holler using their homes, the various homes that were in that family property. She was willing to work with the young girl that lived in the house that we were going to be filming in, getting to know the animals on the property, learning things.
We did skinning workshops. She learned all the things that she was going to have to perform in the film, and she was extremely amenable to that. She wanted to have that time, and she was also willing to go back to Kentucky, her home state, prior to that, and just reorient, listen to the dialect, just get herself re-steeped into things that she had known and observed. She obviously does not come from any circumstances that resemble the film, but hearing voices of people who were using the dialect from the region and the accent--huge help, just to have that in her.
Peter: So when you said cut, I can't imagine that everyone just went back to their basic characters in that environment, because those were kind of characters. Debra: This is exactly for self- preservation what Darren is speaking about. I mean actors absolutely do. They retreat to, many-- I mean, my experience is limited, but they retreat to a place that is to recharge, to get ready to go again, to contemplate what might be done differently, to respond to something that I might be asking of them.
So it's a very, it's a very lucid, precise kind of retreat that they perform, and I think this is--it's almost like the only way to go. I also think that it varies very much between the actors, in terms of how they actually regroup before the next performance. Peter: You bet. But Tom Hooper, is the game changed when an actor--in this case, Geoffrey Rush-- feels that he really discovered and developed, nurtured the material, and I guess transformed, helped the process of transforming it, as did you, from a stage play into a screenplay.
Does that change the relationship between director and actor? Tom Hooper: I think, actually, I think probably Geoffrey felt rather unanchored in Tom: the character. Peter: Bit louder. I can't quite hear you. Tom: Geoffrey felt rather unanchored in the character at the beginning, because we knew so little about Lionel Logue, and we had no photographs. We didn't know how many kids he had or what they were called. We didn't know where he grew up in Australia. He was a character consigned to the footnotes, the marginalia of history, because the English famously aren't very relaxed about the idea or the need for therapy, unlike here in the State, good State of California.
(laughter) I am sure the Royal Family were a little embarrassed by it, and so it's not surprising it was kind of push the margins. I think despite his involvement from early on, I know it was only when we discovered the papers of Lionel Logue belonging to the grandson, when we suddenly had photographs of him, and we could see his handwriting, and we could see the way he wrote, and we knew how many sons he had, we knew about his wife, and we knew fragments of his biography, that Geoffrey finally felt that rather than inventing this character that there was these wonderful clues to go on.
So, but I certainly think it gave him a strong sense of ownership on the project, and I do remember, I do remember one rather interesting moment when his representatives were fighting for his rights to arrive six days before the shoot. He got on the phone with me and said, "Well, it's five weeks before. I am not doing anything. Why don't I hop on the plane tomorrow," and that kind of thing. When he is on the other side, and knows that it would be much more helpful for him to be there five weeks out in the same city as you, and then turning up and saying, "Why don't we start rehearing, because I am sitting in my hotel room." That kind of--when you can form that kind of alliance with an actor early on that he is carrying it with you, that makes a huge difference.
Peter: So David, I think the most discussed bit of casting certainty of any film is Christian Bale, who I notice in his acceptance speeches, always responds in a different type of Cockney accent. (laughter) So, how did you get to that place where you decided he was right, and Mark was certainly a part of that too, because he--Mark at some point, Mark Wahlberg had to say, "He has got the better role." David O. Russell: I think what happened was Christian so fell in love with Dicky--to answer your awards thing, about the accent-- he so got into Dicky that his whole accent, way of talking sort of morphed with Dicky's way of talking.
He said he hopes that people don't mind if Batman speaks like Dicky, because he just loved it. I think one of the reasons he loved it is that we have of two types of casting in the picture, which are against type, which I love to do. It is very exciting for any director, and very exciting for any actor. When you add to that, you're playing real people with big hearts, that makes it all the more exciting, which is that Christian had never played such a garrulous, warm, outgoing guy, which Dicky is.
He stayed in character all the time, and he loved it. Lowell is a very--I hope you can feel from the film--it's a very warm, real place. No pretense, real people, and they really love each other, and everything is on the surface right there. Their every emotion, every failure, every desire, every anger, every love, is right there, and that's what I loved about the people. That's what I fell in love with. Amy Adams, same thing, had never played against type like that. So she was excited to play such a powerful sexy tough woman.
Mark did bring Christian to the table, because both their daughters go to the same school. He'd had the idea from seeing Rescue Dawn and The Machinist, he knew that Christian would disappear into a character. When I was speaking to Matt Damon recently, he said, interestingly, he said, "This goes to show that the right person is supposed to play the right role at the right time," because I don't believe that Matt Damon believes that he would ever have disappeared into that role as Christian did. I am fortunate enough to think that my producer Mark Wahlberg says the same as me, that Darren would have made a beautiful film no doubt, and for whatever the Gods, the movie Gods decided, this is the film that got made, which got changed into a different voice for whatever reason.
Peter: Unfortunately, Mark then did Hereafter, where he was really wrong for the role. David: Oh, yeah, I did ask Mark. I said, "Do you realize that you're giving him the flashier role, right? Peter: Yeah. David: He said, "Yes, I understand Christian is going to get the flashier role." He said, "I am okay with that, because I want to be in the ring. I want to be fighting, and I"--and he played a guy closer--he takes the quiet guy, the James Garfield style of acting where you are just grounded and emotional and real, which allows Melissa and Christian to be big.
That's a very generous actor that gives you that bed of emotion, and it was Mr. DeNiro who said to me he felt that Mark's performance was perhaps the most underrated of the year, because it is so quiet. It's nice to know that Mr. Quiet himself, Mr. DeNiro actually felt that he wanted to say that--like he made a big deal out of it to me and to Mark. He doesn't make a big deal out of much, so that was nice.
Moderated by the vice president and editorial director of Variety Peter Bart, these six directors speak to the pressures of being on the Oscar circuit and the need to get back to work as soon as possible. Unusual for a group of nominated films—with the exception of Toy Story 3 at an estimated $200 million—these are all relatively low-budget films, ranging from $1 million to a high of $14 million. The directors discussed how not having a big budget to work with forced them to be more creative and focused on the story.
This panel includes Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan), Charles Ferguson (Inside Job), Debra Granik (Winter's Bone), Tom Hooper (The King's Speech), David O. Russell (The Fighter), and Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3).