National Board of Review Hails 'Social Network': So What?
The year's first influential salvo of kudos, Thursday's National Board of Review awards, did important things:
1) Showered four top awards on The Social Network and invited The King's Speech into the Top 11 Films group only to pee on its shoes and favor its rival.
2) Gave slow-mo contender Lesley Manville the best actress cred she desperately needs.
3) Reversed the Gotham Awards' controversial decision depriving Jennifer Lawrence of breakthrough performance honors.
4) Helped the Afghanistan doc Restrepo gain ground on frontrunners Inside Job and Bill Gates-backed Waiting for Superman.
5) Gave newcomer Jacki Weaver of Animal Kingdom and scrappy Christian Bale a fighting chance at repeating their NBR best supporting wins come Oscar night.
But let's get real: how much chance is there that NBR foretells Oscar behavior? NBR foresaw gold for No Country for Old Men and Slumdog Millionaire, but those were oddly arty wins in Oscar history, much more in keeping with past NBR picks like Quills. Movies only win Oscars if their moment is right, not because NBR gave them a shove. At the Telluride party after Slumdog's premiere, I told Danny Boyle it would win the Oscar. He widened his eyes, shook his head and said, "A movie half in Hindi is going to need all the help it can get." But history gave him an unexpected push. "Slumdog caught a wave of Obama optimism," says its screenwriter Simon Beaufoy. "A wave of hope and openness, openness to the rest of the world." Hope and openness are over. Maybe this means The Social Network's study of our nasty, brutish, winner-take-all, friendship-be-damned society is the movie of the Oscar moment. Or that we now crave retro movie comfort food like The King's Speech, a reprieve from a time when there are no good guys .
If the NBRs weren't so early, they wouldn't get so much attention. They probably do more for underexposed candidates like Manville than overexposed frontrunners. Though I have no idea who did what to court the NBR, the evidence is consistent with a guess that Sony Pictures Classics put some effort into it, sending screeners out early, while less-NBR-winning Fox Searchlight didn't, perhaps figuring it's too early to matter, and what a headache to schlep stars to a Meredith Viera-hosted gala January 11 that won't make that much of a difference at the Kodak February 27. Or will they?
What Hollywood Earns
Covering The Race
Benedict Cumberbatch, Channing Tatum and Actor A-List on Hollywood Fame, Embarrassing Moments and Stage Poop
This story first appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
A clear cultural split was evident at this year's Hollywood Reporter actor roundtable, with three Americans and three Englishmen grouped around the table (plus an English moderator). Even as some of the Americans marveled at the Brits' training ("Our whole culture is worshipping actors who come from this theater background," said Ethan Hawke), the Brits envied the opportunities enjoyed by their U.S. friends ("Most people, if they were given a part in a Hollywood movie, would jump at it," said Timothy Spall). Accents, training and education apart, the six award contenders — Benedict Cumberbatch, 38 (The Imitation Game); Hawke, 44 (Boyhood); Michael Keaton, 63 (Birdman); Eddie Redmayne, 32 (The Theory of Everything); Spall, 57 (Mr. Turner); and Channing Tatum, 34 (Foxcatcher) — found a surprising amount in common.
Some of you have played real-life characters. In the research you did, what most surprised you?
BENEDICT CUMBERBATCH What surprised and relieved me was that everything [British code-breaker Alan Turing] brought to us as a scientist was brought about by his interaction with the world — as a physical body, as a sexually active homosexual man, as an Olympic-standard marathon runner and somebody who wasn't isolated in an ivory tower or this removed brain in a glass jar. He was very in tune with his world, [and] that's immediately an easier way to understand someone who's so removed from your capabilities. It helped humanize a very complex intellectual life. At the end of his life, he was given this sentence after being prosecuted for being gay in the '50s in England, and he was given the choice between two years' imprisonment or two years' chemical castration through sanctioned estrogen injections. And he chose the latter in order to carry on his work.
MICHAEL KEATON Pardon me. When you hear that, honestly you almost laugh because it's like if somebody did an insane, brilliant satire on people's attitudes toward homosexuality, that's what you'd come up with. It's insane.
CUMBERBATCH It's beyond imagining. Given the choice —
ETHAN HAWKE We're going to make him wear a bra —
It's a horrible choice, between castration and prison, but which would you take?
CUMBERBATCH Prison, I think. But this man was so driven by his work. I spoke to a colleague of his, who said the doctor gave him the opportunity to implant a slow-release device in his hip that was supposed to stop dosing him after two years, and well past the two-year sentence, Alan said, "It's still dosing me. That's not really cricket, is it?"
Eddie, how far were you into the process of preparing for Theory of Everything when you met Stephen Hawking?
EDDIE REDMAYNE It was actually quite far in. From the second Felicity Jones and I were cast, we'd been wanting to meet Jane [Hawking] and Stephen. But Stephen's incredibly busy solving some quite hard-core problems out there. (Laughter.) It made it complicated, and then there was the fear: What if when I meet him I realize I got it all wrong? And of course you want approval. And so I went in to meet him, and he now just uses this [single] muscle beneath his cheek, and when he moves this muscle, [his computerized voice program] stops on one letter. So when you spend time with him, there are these long, long pauses. I was horrifically nervous, and I hate silence. And so basically I spent 45 minutes spewing out information about him, to him. It was really chronically disastrous.
HAWKE It's like one of those Saturday Night Live skits.
REDMAYNE It was.
HAWKE You know, like [Chris Farley] meeting Paul McCartney.
REDMAYNE Yeah. (Laughs.)
KEATON Didn't you ask him what sign he was?
REDMAYNE Thanks for bringing that up! He was born on January 8, which was [the day Galileo died], and the reason I brought it up is because he makes a big point of the fact that he was born to the day 300 years after Galileo [died]. And so I was telling him this about himself and I said, "I actually was born on January 6. So we're both Capricorns."
CHANNING TATUM We say such weird stuff when we're nervous, man.
See more Making 'The Theory of Everything'
Benedict played him in 2004's Hawking. Did you see that before you played him?
REDMAYNE I had to make a quite hard-core decision about whether to watch it. Ben is an old friend and I'd heard it was extraordinary. And I thought long and hard about it and decided not to — purely because I thought I'd try and steal his best bits.
HAWKE It's interesting that you both played this part.
CUMBERBATCH It's amazing. There's a lot for us to talk about. I remember being fascinated by the idea of having to face up to something which, in most cases, is a two- to three-year life sentence [Hawking suffers from ALS]. You know you're locked into a body that's quickly degenerating.
If you had two or three years to live, what would you do differently?
TATUM Oh, man.
KEATON Hang out with Jonah Hill less. (Laughs.)
TATUM Or a lot more. I probably wouldn't be trying to solve the mysteries of the universe. I don't know — just try to live with the people that I love as much as I can.
Would you work less?
TATUM Probably not at all. I love what I get to do. But I think I throw myself into [movies] so far that I don't get to experience the rest of the world.
KEATON I wouldn't even think about doing a movie.
You certainly at one point turned your back on Hollywood to a degree and moved to Montana.
KEATON Not really. I never turned my back on it, really. I just went through a phase of getting tired of hearing myself do the same old thing. I'd hear the same rhythms and tricks. And frankly, it's not like someone was knocking on my door with a tremendous amount of quality work — [though] if they had, I'm not sure I would have been particularly interested.
Channing, you initially turned down Foxcatcher. Was it because you didn't identify with the character?
TATUM I wouldn't really say that I turned it down. The movie wasn't clear to me. But you're right, I didn't understand it. I didn't know what the movie was saying, [but] this was after I'd done, like, my second film, and I just had no idea what I was doing as an actor or as a storyteller or anything.
What's the biggest mistake you've made?
CUMBERBATCH Wow, you're not holding back.
TIMOTHY SPALL I think one of the biggest mistakes you could make is, you think that you know enough — because you can't, otherwise you'd stop and you'd just keep repeating yourself.
HAWKE It's funny. I did a movie, I was about 29 years old. And I was feeling really confident at the time. And I remember being very frustrated with the director because I felt that he was an idiot and he was really holding me back from doing the work that I wanted to do. I felt this real need to tell everybody that I knew more than they did, you know? And when I think back on it now, I feel so embarrassed. There was a moment, and then a couple of years pass, you turn 30. All of a sudden, I saw hallways of things I didn't know. And the older I get, the more I would never be frustrated with a director like that. There's a great Brando quote: "You have to meet every director as your kind of spiritual spouse." You just have to marry them to make the movie they want to make. If you watch Last Tango in Paris, that is an actor completely committed to that story — and he's inside a very dangerous film, a film that deals with erotica. Human sexuality is something nobody wants to talk about on a real, adult level: mourning, death, fear of death, fear of getting old, sex. I mean, you're talking about Turing and being gay, and I can't help but think 20 years ago how radical it was for an actor to play a gay person. When River Phoenix was in My Own Private Idaho, this was about a young kid who wants to be gay. It was radical that he was doing that.
Today, is there any threshold that you can't cross?
SPALL Pedophilia, probably.
Could you make The Last Temptation of Christ today and get away with it?
HAWKE Martin Scorsese could. It was dangerous at that time. He would have trouble now.
KEATON The Farrelly brothers might have a hard time.
Who taught you the most?
CUMBERBATCH My first-ever teacher taught me extraordinary truth by literally line-reading Shakespeare at me, so I can read it like prose. My modern drama teacher opened the doors of American theater to me and the wonders of Mamet and Miller and Tennessee Williams; the whole raft of it. And then, beyond that, you get incredible nuggets of wisdom — about being present, about grounding a truth from within. I grew up doing a lot of stuff at school. I went from playing Titania, queen of the fairies, [in A Midsummer Night's Dream] and Rosalind in As You Like It to playing Willy Loman [in Death of a Salesman] at age 17. So I had this huge kind of showing-off period.
REDMAYNE But that's the thing that drama schools and even schools did in England: You're playing old people, women, from an early age and you're pushing the boundaries, particularly in [repertory theater], when you were playing characters that sometimes weren't your casting type.
What's the most difficult character you've played?
REDMAYNE My first professional play, playing Viola in Twelfth Night opposite Mark Rylance. Having had that experience, being able to play people so far from who you are, gives you a sense of where you can go. That's the other thing: The [British] films that make it over here are often to do with heritage and legacy and history.
SPALL That's very true, but Hollywood is a broad church. Never, never underestimate how much the British yearn to work in Hollywood. It's not like, "Oh, darling, we just do it 'cause we're slumming." That's a load of balls because most people, if they were given a play or a part in a Hollywood movie, would jump at it and they'd say, "You can stick Polonius straight up your arse."
HAWKE Our system isn't built to teach young people the craft. You know, Julia Roberts came to New York to do a play and of course the critics are gunning for her — and of course she has no experience. It's a difficult thing to excel [at], and yet we know there's a lot to be learned from it because our whole culture is worshipping actors who come from this theater background.
Channing, what was the biggest challenge for you in Foxcatcher?
HAWKE Kicking ass. Beating up Mark Ruffalo.
TATUM Getting my head kicked in every day by Bennett [Miller].
HAWKE Did you really make Mark's nose bleed? I wondered in that scene, it looked like you really popped him in the head.
TATUM I had never done anything like this before and I had no idea how to approach it other than just to talk to Mark Schultz [the real-life wrestler I play]. He's a very interesting person — he's so factual, he knows what move so-and-so did in the '84 Olympics, and he just reels off all these things. And you're trying to sort through them all. I just started to get rid of all the data that he was telling me about his life, and I just clicked into [what he said:] "I never wanted to win. I just didn't want to lose."
HAWKE But what is the difference between not losing and winning? What does that mean?
TATUM For him? It was fear of not being the person that he saw himself as, I think. Dave, his older brother, was this shining example of something he knew he could never be. He was never going to be this charismatic individual that everyone flocked to. So he decided to go the other way, and he wanted everyone to be afraid of him. He didn't want anyone to get close to him. And I think that's a really lonely walk to choose.
CUMBERBATCH Did he have script approval? Did he look at the script at all? And did you feel, "I need something from you, but you might not get anything back except something that's going to upset you."
TATUM That was my fear. Because I knew all these things he was telling me he wanted weren't in the script — you know, the retribution of people that he felt wronged him. I was terribly afraid that he wouldn't —
CUMBERBATCH What was the seduction of getting him to open up?
TATUM It wasn't. He was completely free and open with me, as far as I could tell. Within the first seven seconds of talking, he was welling up with tears. He's a very emotional person, and I think all of it was pretty overwhelming for us both.
KEATON It's not surprising that he remembered every move. Athletes, they're not like the rest of us. It's a different type of mentality. Baseball players, they'll remember the pitch, what the wind was doing, they'll remember everything. And there's something in particular about wrestlers. I come from a large family, and one of my brothers was a wrestler. He's like us and he's totally unlike us. This intense determination.
TATUM Wrestling is very similar in a metaphorical way to acting: You're wrestling; you're literally in a fight with [a role]. Because in wrestling you're not just fighting someone else, you're fighting what's going on with you. You're in a suffocating situation, and there's no resting. You can't take a minute; you're constantly in this uncomfortable state of being attacked. You're dealing with a lot of emotions, a lot of fear — not that I see acting as exactly that, but there are some parallels.
Fear of what?
TATUM Fear of doing it honestly, of giving everything you could have given to it. And not walking away and being like, "God, I didn't do the work for that one."
Is it harder when you're a star? The media picks on every single thing you do.
TATUM They pick on us all. And I'm talking about "us all" meaning pedestrians. Everyone gets picked on. I don't think it's just because we're up on a screen.
Do you like being a star?
TATUM I don't really look at it that way. I've been afforded a lot of opportunity in this world and I've tried to walk through every door that I've been given, and some of them have been great on the other side and other ones haven't.
Which doors weren't great?
TATUM The pressure of what school is projected as, when you're growing up — that going to college is the answer, and to me it wasn't. I went and I didn't get it. And I failed at it miserably. And I felt like a failure for it. And so I went and tried to find another door.
KEATON That's not a failure at all. To me, that's a victory. He said, "I'm going to do what's me."
Benedict, I've always felt you resist fame to some degree.
CUMBERBATCH There's so many strands of it, aren't there? If you mean being scrutinized in your public life, which isn't your work; if you mean requirements of your time which distract your focus and your energy from what actually brought you to that point where you're being distracted, that's a complete Catch-22: The more work you do, the more attention there is. You try to escape by dissolving into work, and it keeps catching up with you every time you stop because it's part of the process of work now, to publicize it. But I feel it's just [about] getting used to it, and knowing how to play with that and have fun, which I do. I really do.
Do you have a role model whose career you emulate?
CUMBERBATCH We talked before the tape was running about Stephen Dillane's Hamlet when I was 17. That had a massive impact on me — the sort of essential, quiet, still truth of what he did. Nobody else was Hamlet but him.
HAWKE And then you saw mine!
REDMAYNE I've never said this to you, Tim, but when I was a kid, one of the first things I saw was A Midsummer Night's Dream at The National Theatre. Tim was playing Bottom, and it was all set in mud and there was a contortionist playing Puck, this woman.
SPALL I had a French-Canadian contortionist on my back when I was trying to do Shakespearean comedy. And it felt like hell. You'd go backstage and there were people wearing verruca socks, which are worn [to prevent] plantar warts, you know? It was in a massive pile of water, and one day somebody came in and said, "You've not heard the latest. Someone's done a poo in the mud." I said, "What are you talking about? I'm lying in that before the audience comes in!" I went to the stage doorkeeper, who had been there for years, wonderful woman. I said, "You'll never guess what I've just heard. You know the fairies who are all diving around in the mud? Someone's done a poo in it." She said, "Oh, we've had a phantom shitter at the Royal National Theatre for years." (Laughs.) Here's a pantheon of the most brilliant classical actors in the world, and someone was dropping a log in the [mud].
CUMBERBATCH I've worked in the National Theatre, but I haven't pooed there. I have peed there.
Spall, Tatum, Redmayne, Hawke, Keaton and Cumberbatch
Reese Witherspoon, Julianne Moore and Actress A-List on Nude Photo Hack, Renee Zellweger's "Cruel" Treatment, Hollywood's Female Problem
This story first appeared in the Nov. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
If the vibe at this year's Hollywood Reporter Actress Roundtable was especially convivial, it was because the panel was packed with longtime friends and colleagues. Patricia Arquette, 46 (Boyhood), has known pal Laura Dern, 47 (Wild), for more than two decades; Dern has worked with Julianne Moore, 53 (Still Alice), and currently is promoting her supporting turn in Wild with star Reese Witherspoon, 38; Amy Adams, 40 (Big Eyes), and Hilary Swank, 40 (The Homesman), met each other at THR's Actress Roundtable in 2010 and stayed in touch after Adams sent Swank a thank-you note; and relative newcomer Felicity Jones, 31 (The Theory of Everything), has been getting to know her self-professed idols while making the rounds this awards season. The hourlong roundtable, held for the first time in a soundstage on the 20th Century Fox lot and taped to air on the A&E network Dec. 28, featured a candid discussion about everything from Jennifer Lawrence's hacked photos to the recent attention on Renee Zellweger's face ("It's cruel and rude and disrespectful," says Witherspoon). An edited transcript is below, with the full video available Nov. 25 on THR.com.
What has been your bravest moment as an actress?
HILARY SWANK For me, it would probably have been Boys Don't Cry, playing Brandon Teena or Teena Brandon. I felt a huge responsibility because it was a harrowing, tragic event that happened and I wanted to be able to tell it as honestly as possible. What about you guys?
REESE WITHERSPOON I played Cheryl Strayed in Wild. And she was standing there the whole time, which was hard. I felt embarrassed for the first three days. Was I doing her voice right? And is she going to judge me? She was amazing and really lovely. But one of the hardest days on that shoot was, I had to do a sex scene with two guys that — I've never had to do a sex scene like —
JULIANNE MOORE Two at once? (Laughs.)
WITHERSPOON I called Cheryl that night, and I was like, "I can't believe I have to do that." And she was like, "Sorry I was such a slut in the '90s!" (Laughs.) Laura [Dern] was on the set because she's an apparition, watching me. She had to literally watch me, and she told me a great story that helped me get through that. But I don't know if you want to tell that story.
LAURA DERN Yes! I worked on this film Citizen Ruth and it was the first day of the shoot and Alexander Payne, it was his first feature. So he came up and said, "OK, we're going to start with this love scene and I want you to meet the guy you're going to be doing the scene with." And I was like, "Great, you know, what actor is playing that part?" And he goes, "His name's Lance; we just picked him up at the bar down the street." (Laughs.) And he came in and he was like, "I am so excited to be here! I just went down to the 7-Eleven and I got some Arrid Extra Dry and some breath mints. Let's go!" I'm just like, "Oh my God, day one of Citizen Ruth."
FELICITY JONES I played a real person in this film Theory of Everything and, like you guys, it's that thing of knowing they're going to be watching it at some point. You think, "What if they just hate everything you've done?"
Amy, there's a nice photo of you and Margaret Keane together at the end of Big Eyes. How much did you consult with her?
AMY ADAMS She's a very private, very quiet person. I wasn't sure if she'd be open to me coming up and picking her brain about her private life. But there's not a lot of footage of her, so I had to really use her as my resource.
PATRICIA ARQUETTE I was joking that the most brave thing I've ever done on film was natural childbirth. But that's my own actual natural childbirth, and you can't have any of that footage.
Patricia, after spending 12 years working on Boyhood, what were the emotions like watching the premiere at Sundance? Were you surprised at what made it in or didn't?
ARQUETTE There's one beautiful scene that I hope someday makes it somewhere. It's a scene where I'm sitting with [co-star] Ellar [Coltrane], and we're talking about his grandfather dying and our connection to people who have died. But other than that little scene, nothing else was cut out. We had such a small budget; we only had $200,000 a year.
MOORE It was extraordinary. That scene where you're sitting and having dinner with your kids, and the kids are so little, and you're telling them that you're going to move. I was so struck by your authenticity, and how real they were; they weren't really acting, they were just behaving. And you had commandeered the entire scene. It was so, so good.
Julianne, you've made some very bold choices in your career. I'm curious what your most challenging moment has been.
MOORE Maybe going to the Golden Globes six weeks after my son was born. (Laughs.) You don't even know how big you are, you know? You're just like, "Oh, I look good! I like this dress, I'll put this dress on." I put on a dress that had this low thing; and by the end of the night (gestures to her low-cut dress), I was almost choking. (Laughs.) [I had] a horrible hairdo, it looked like birds of paradise coming out of either side of my head. It was terrible. Every time I get ready to go somewhere, I think, "It could be worse."
WITHERSPOON "This is not that, it'll never be that again."
ADAMS That's amazing.
That leads to a good question for the group: your most embarrassing moment in Hollywood?
WITHERSPOON Bad auditions, where you just totally f—ed it up. I did this audition for a director and I really wanted that part. I got to the end of it and I thought I nailed it, and he was like, "Why are you playing it stoned?"
DERN I had just got my first professional job [in 1980's Foxes]. I was 11 and Scott Baio was a very beloved actor. I saw him from across the room and he was wearing a white leisure suit. He looked so stunning and I was so excited, and I knew I was about to make the best first impression and he would love me forever. The director was there and the producer and it was a big deal — it was my first opportunity to be a professional actor. My dog was with me, and my dog got her period on his pantsuit. (Laughs.)
DERN I got down on my knees with a bottle of club soda and proceeded to clean the blood out of his pants. It went over really well. I've actually never seen him again.
Patricia and Laura, what did you learn — both good and bad — from growing up in Hollywood families?
ARQUETTE My dad [Lewis Arquette] was really a struggling actor; to raise five kids he would do any job that he had to do. So my parents were miserable when I told them I wanted to be an actress.
DERN My parents had a very similar response in terms of their fear about me going into a business that had no real stability to it. But the greatest gift for me was, (to Arquette) I was raised like you, with a clear awareness that it's about following a path because there's no other option. It's something you love to do.
Now that some of you have kids, what would your response be if they wanted to become actors?
WITHERSPOON It's a wonderful business. I feel like I've seen the world. I've met amazing people. I used to have all these regrets; I didn't finish college. And about a year ago it was like, "Why would I regret not finishing college?" I've had a wonderful life and I've been everywhere and I've gotten to work with creative people and tell stories. That's all I ever wanted to do. So if [my kids] wanted to do it, I'd be very encouraging. I do think it's hard. I would definitely illuminate all the difficulties. But my kids don't seem to gravitate toward it anyway. So we'll see.
MOORE I'm most disturbed when there are young people who can't figure out what they want to do with their lives. My son went to camp this summer and a lot of the counselors were college students. He goes, "Mom, nobody knows what they want to do for a living." I worry about that, for them. He couldn't understand why they felt directionless.
Reese, you've had success as a producer this year with Gone Girl and Wild. A lot of actors have transitioned into producers, but far fewer actresses have done that. Why is that?
WITHERSPOON I can't speak for other people. I just recognize that about three years ago, I started seeing this complete lack of interesting female leads in film. First I got mad, really mad. And then I was like, "It's nobody's fault; if you're not proactive about things …" I'd had a company before, but it was basically about trying to develop things that I would eventually be in. So I just switched the idea: If I can develop anything for any other women, I don't care who it is; I just want my daughter to grow up seeing complex, interesting, nuanced women in film. So I started it with my own money — you know, the first thing people tell you is, "Don't put your own money into anything" — so I was like, is this really dumb? But I got a great partner [Bruna Papandrea] and the first two things I sent her were Gone Girl and Wild. And those were the first books that we optioned.
Did you ever think about starring in Gone Girl?
WITHERSPOON I was always open to doing it, but whenever David Fincher says he wants to do a project, you just sit back and say, "Whatever you want to do." We had a long conversation where he was like, "You're not right for it. And this is why." And I actually completely agreed with him.
Do any of you reach out to people out of the blue whose work you like?
DERN I cold-call. I'm on Tinder. (Laughs.) "Guys, I'm at a restaurant on Abbot-Kinney with the following 10 actors. Let me know if you're within a five-mile radius. You also have to be really cute." (Laughs.)
WITHERSPOON Actor Tinder!
DERN I remember in the old days, I had the privilege of my first time [being] nominated for a film, and I was so touched because other actors sent me telegrams.
SWANK Amy wrote me a letter three years ago after our [first Hollywood Reporter] Roundtable. She wrote a letter just saying, "It was so lovely meeting you." It really was touching.
ADAMS I'm actually very shy so I would rather write or sit and have coffee. Because when I get in large groups, I get weird. Reese has sent me something before.
WITHERSPOON Yes. I've always admired your work and I just thought you were amazing last year in American Hustle. So brave and bare and just fearless, you know? And you looked like —
MOORE So hot.
ADAMS It's amazing what a spray-tan can do. Who knew I was meant to be tan?
How has fame impacted your personal lives?
SWANK I got this award last night at the Outfest for my work in Boys Don't Cry, which has been 15 years now. I started the [transgender] conversation with that. But the presenter got up and said, "When I was 19 years old and I was questioning my sexual identity, I was looking for things that helped me connect to myself, and Boys Don't Cry was a pivotal moment and it changed my life. And in fact, in a lot of ways it was my lifesaver." I never became an actor for that. But that became this side effect of it, and it is so touching.
ARQUETTE My sister is transgender. … As a sister, a sibling of a transgender person, it's really scary when you're growing up, especially in the world of the early '80s. You're going to get killed, people are going to beat you up. People are assholes out there; it's a dangerous world. And also, will you be accepted? Will you find someone who loves you, who accepts you as you are? So when I saw that movie, it just was so important to me.
JONES When you get to see people being vulnerable and you get moved by something. Films do that all the time. I was thinking Michelle Williams in Blue Valentine, and seeing that.
On the fame question, what did you all think when you saw that Jennifer Lawrence and other actresses had their private photos hacked and leaked online?
ARQUETTE I feel really strongly that there's nothing deviant about two lovers sharing sexual intimacy. That is normal. It's been happening since the beginning of time. Through any different medium. We had paper. Before that, we met behind the bush. You know? What is deviant is when a community decides that they can break into your sexuality, steal that from you, insert themselves, observe your private sexuality. And what really disturbed me — I ended up in a lot of Twitter battles with people about it — is, I feel like we're teaching our children social values. I had a lot of women write to me that [the hacked actresses] were stupid to take those pictures to begin with. Victim-blaming — we have a long history of that. And, of course, someone who has a long-term relationship — three months that [Lawrence was] away [from her boyfriend], they're going to share their intimacy with their partner. That society thinks it's OK [to hack the photos], that it's their fault — that's deviant. That's what we're teaching our kids, that if somebody messes up or does what they want in their private life, they're stupid and you can, basically, communally molest them.
SWANK Well said.
DERN My boundaries are clear about how I want to live my private life. How I want my children to be protected. The privilege of having a community of friends who do deal with the Internet celebrity and their intimacy being exposed or invaded, they help me define everything. "Oh my God, I just came out of the mall and they're taking pictures of my kids! Is that right? Should they be able to take pictures of my kids?" That I can call you guys and go, "What do we do about this? And should we be doing something? And how do we protect our children?"
What do you think about the attention Renee Zellweger got recently for her appearance?
WITHERSPOON It's horrible. It's cruel and rude and disrespectful, and I can go on and on and on. It bothers me immensely.
JONES What's sad is when people start to self-censor and start not doing certain things because they're worried what X or Y is going to think about it.
WITHERSPOON I know this is so Pollyanna of me, but why — and it's particularly women — why do they have to tear women down? And why do we have to tear other women down to build another woman up? It drives me crazy. Like, this one looks great without her makeup but that one doesn't look good without her makeup, and it's all just a judgment and assault that I don't — look, men are prey to it as well. I just don't think it's with the same sort of ferocity.
ARQUETTE I had a big fight with one [paparazzo].
ADAMS I wish I had been there to have your back.
ARQUETTE He kept following us. And I said, "OK, leave us the f— alone." And he goes, "Nice, mom! Good job!" I said, "I'm teaching my daughter. If a man is following you and you tell him to go away and he doesn't, you turn around and say, 'F— you!' as loud as you can." Because there's no difference. I don't care if he has a camera.
Is there a contemporary woman whom you would each like to play?
MOORE You know, I feel characters don't exist without a narrative. You need a beginning, a middle and an end.
ADAMS I just want to be her.
Why did you say yes to playing Sarah Palin in Game Change?
MOORE It was a great story.
ADAMS Speaking of brave, that was so awesome.
MOORE But by herself, just the character, I wouldn't have known the story. It was the story. I said yes before I even thought about it. And then I hung up the phone and went, "What am I going to do?" Everyone knew her voice, everyone knew her mannerisms and she wouldn't go away! You know? She was very public.
WITHERSPOON You've done so many brave things. I have a question for you. I just imagine every part you've played. I think of Boogie Nights, so many roles; I'd be so scared to do the things that you've done. The day before, do you not panic?
MOORE I panic more on stage. I really have a lot of stage fright. I get really shaky and it's not fun for me. But in movies, I don't. I had a therapist say to me once, "You know, a feeling can't kill you." And it can't. What I'm really afraid of is skiing, and going fast, and people knocking me down, and maybe breaking my teeth. Those are the things that frighten me. But being on a movie set with a lot of really terrific actors and having some great language and the director —
SWANK I've got to rub on you because every time I walk on, I'm like, "Oh, can I do this?" I don't want to mess it up and let everybody down.
MOORE Even if you do fail, what could happen?
JONES They'll cut it out. (Laughs.)
MOORE So you stink, you know? So you stunk in a movie. OK. When I was doing The End of the Affair with Neil Jordan, we had shot the entire movie and it was the part in the middle of the movie where the big explosion happens, and we think that Ralph Fiennes is dead. And I'm supposed to run down the steps in my tiny slip, and throw myself at his body and burst into tears. And I run down the stairs, I run [to the] right, and I was like, "You know, I'm sorry." (Laughs.) And the third time, I just stopped and Neil went, "Ahh, I think you'd be crying here." And I was like, "I know! But I can't cry! I can't!"
If you could give your 20-year-old self advice on your career, what would you say?
JONES I spent my life trying to make myself cry because I thought that's what an actress had to do. Pinching myself. Punching myself in the face. And then realizing that just because it says "cry" in the script doesn't mean you have to do it.
ADAMS Just let it go, Amy. In the words of Elsa, just let it go.
DERN The best advice my third-grade teacher, Mrs. White, gave me is, "Keep your eyes on your own paper." That's a good one.
ABOUT THE ROUNDTABLE SERIES
THR's signature discussions with the top awards contenders continue throughout the season. Watch the full videos on THR.com or THR.com/iPad, or tune in to the A&E network Dec. 28 to watch the Actor and Actress Roundtables.
Writer Roundtable: Chris Rock, Gillian Flynn on Their "Perfect Movies," 'Gone Girl' Backlash and Unhappy Endings
This story first appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The year's THR roundtable series kicked off with an unusually prepared group of writers. Jon Favreau, 48, who wrote, directed and starred in the food-truck dramedy Chef, once hosted Dinner for Five, a weekly IFC roundtable show with a format very similar to THR's series; Chris Rock, 49, whose raucous comedy Top Five is garnering the best reviews of his film career, used to grill fellow talents on his HBO talk show; and Gillian Flynn, 43, who adapted her own novel Gone Girl, was a magazine journalist before she became a best-selling author and screenwriter.
See more Inside THR's Writer Roundtable
They joined blockbuster-maker Jonathan "Jonah" Nolan (Interstellar), 38, and fresh scribes Anthony McCarten (Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything), 53, and Graham Moore (The Imitation Game, the story of British code-breaker Alan Turing), 33, for a lively discussion of "perfect" movies, stinging criticism and what it feels like to get a congratulatory call from Jerry Seinfeld.
A lot of your films have autobiographical elements. How do you decide what part of you to put in your writing and what to hold back?
JON FAVREAU I've never written anything that's not autobiographical. But it gets hidden. I remember with Swingers, it was like, "Oh, that's your life." Well, it kind of wasn't, but you accept that because it kind of was, in a weird way. Chef the movie, for me, was kind of like the food truck that the chef was opening up to feel reinvigorated creatively.
CHRIS ROCK The line is basically, "Don't put in anything that will get you sued." (Laughs.) Yeah, I'm a comic, I play a successful comic who has had some bad movies. I can relate to all of that, but I still have the balls to say it's not me.
GILLIAN FLYNN When I was trying to find out who these characters were, I gave Nick, the main guy, a lot of my biography: from Missouri, went to New York with kind of a chip on his shoulder about being from Missouri and got a magazine job. People are always like, "Are you Nick or are you Amy?" I'm more Nick, actually. They assume because I'm a woman I'm more close with Amy, but thank God that's not the case.
ROCK Thank God.
FLYNN (To Rock) Come sit by me. (Laughs.)
FAVREAU It's like a good lie. The more you keep the truth in it, the more believable it is. Writing sometimes is coming up with a good alibi, a good story that is plausible.
Jonah, you make movies with your older brother, Christopher Nolan, directing, and your sister-in-law, Emma Thomas, producing. How does that dynamic impact the filmmaking process?
JONATHAN NOLAN There's no politics. No bullshit. You just create. Famously in Hollywood, your friends stab you in the chest. If you can trust the people you collaborate with the most, then hopefully you can reach for that higher level with the material.
What happens when you get rewritten by your brother?
NOLAN It's a conversation. (Laughs.) I grew up with him watching movies, thinking about movies and always understanding movies. I think of film as a director's medium, with no disrespect to the writing aspect of it, but it's f—ing light in a box.
GRAHAM MOORE Was that hard for you, Gillian? With the book, you're completely in charge of it. And then you give it to a director and …
FLYNN I mean, I gave it to this guy named Fincher. … I don't know if you've heard of him.
NOLAN Yeah, what's he done?
FLYNN I did breathe a big sigh of relief when it was David who came aboard to do it. He's who I wanted from the beginning.
FAVREAU What's the biggest difference between writing a novel and [a script]?
FLYNN I realize how decadent writing a novel is. You really own this world, you can do whatever you want to it. You can go inside people's minds. Gone Girl has a lot of internal monologues, so it was a big struggle to figure out how to have them show you who they were instead of like, "Here's about me." The entire time I was adapting the screenplay I had a giant sticky note above my computer that said, "IT IS A MOVIE!" to remind myself to not try to take everything from the book that I liked and jam it all in.
That must be a similar challenge when you're adapting a person's life. How do you choose what to put in, what not to put in?
ANTHONY MCCARTEN It's a bit like stars in the sky. There's vast distances between the stars, so if you think of these highlights, these points of someone's life, you've got to chart your path to the next star, and this is where the invention comes in. I call it emotional ventriloquism. I have to somehow write dialogue for a genius when you're something far less than that, so you end up with 95 percent invented dialogue — 50 percent of the scenes didn't quite happen in the way that you're representing them. But you're hoping you're getting an emotional authenticity out of it.
Chris, who is your sounding board? Whom can you ask, "Is this funny?"
ROCK Louis C.K. For the last 20 years, Louis likes to go, "What would really happen?" And that's what I try to take into any writing. What would really happen?
FAVREAU That's Neil Simon, too. That's the big, "What is this really like?" And I don't think people ask that enough.
NOLAN That has limited use when you're doing a Batman movie. (Laughs.)
FAVREAU (To Rock) I haven't seen your film yet, but we did a table read of it together and I knew something was coming out. There was a point of view that had been acquired over decades of being in the business where even just an offhanded comment has a lot of spin to it. I would rather watch something that's authentic than see something that's geared towards me in a very homogenous way.
ROCK I love a movie that I don't get three or four things.
MCCARTEN That's like when I came upon Hawking's A Brief History of Time, and you start reading it and you're going, "I'm at page 10 and I'm still getting this." And then, "OK, page 15, lost me." (Laughs.)
NOLAN Yeah, that's where I dropped out, too. I have three copies of it.
MCCARTEN The most unread book in the history of publishing.
FAVREAU Just for the shelf.
MOORE But it looks so great sitting there.
FLYNN Pristine because you never get past 20.
MOORE People talk about such-and-such being a perfect movie, but you don't really want to make a perfect movie. You want to make a movie that's imperfect in new and interesting ways.
NOLAN You want to piss off at least a few people.
Do you guys have that perfect movie? What's the one script that you really wish you had written?
NOLAN Back to the Future is a perfect movie. Raiders of the Lost Ark, another perfect movie. The great moment in Raiders of the Lost Ark where Harrison [Ford had] dysentery, or whatever the crazy story was, so they had to cut out the whole sword fight and he just shoots the guy — the screenwriter was probably sitting there thinking, "f—ing A." But it makes for a perfect moment.
FAVREAU The Bad News Bears is a really well-told story where the good guy seems not to be likable and requires clever storytelling and great performance. It seems like there's a lot of conflict, but really there's a lot of togetherness, and it's one of those where a lot of people remember that they won in the end, but they really didn't.
NOLAN Wait, they didn't?
FLYNN I love unhappy endings, I'm all about the unhappy ending. I will not give you what you want.
FAVREAU But you'll still be happy.
FLYNN It's not the most satisfying, it's the most correct and true. I remember being 5 years old, seeing that movie in theaters and first they lose, and you think, "What's happening now? They lost." And then the team comes over and apologizes, and you expect the Bad News Bears to gracefully accept their apology, and instead the kid's like, "Take your trophy and stick it up your ass!" And I was like, "This movie is great!"
FAVREAU Rocky also. The same era. You could not get that done now, unless it's independent.
MOORE Do you think you could make a movie where he'd lose at the end like that?
FAVREAU You'd be fighting upstream a lot. It wouldn't test well.
ROCK It would never test well. The beauty of Rocky is, Rocky's like life. You think you're watching a boxing movie, and at the very end you realize, "Oh shit, I've been watching a love story the whole time." And life is like that. We write and we do all this stuff, but your happiness is going to be found in your relationships. If you talk about school right now, you went to school every day and you learned for six hours a day, but if I ask you about school, you'll remember who you were f—ing, who didn't want to f— you, that's all you remember. And that's what the beauty of Rocky is. Yeah, yeah, yeah, he just got punched in the face a thousand times by this big guy, but it's all about this girl.
MOORE Your work is tricking the audience into thinking they're watching one kind of movie and then actually, through the process, there's something else.
So what is Gone Girl really about?
FLYNN Well, on the surface, it's a mystery of "Did this guy or did he not kill his wife?" But to me, what was interesting was that idea of the game of emotional con artist that we are [playing] when we meet people, and we're telling each other very specific stories to get you to like me. I like the idea of what happens two years, three years, four years down the road, when you don't have that energy to keep up the mask anymore.
ROCK You're never meeting somebody, you're meeting their representative.
Chris and Jon, do you write differently when you're writing for yourself? Do you care about likability?
ROCK Boy, I hate the word "likability." Especially when you're doing comedy because you always like funny people. You know what I mean?
FAVREAU Louie DePalma [from Taxi].
ROCK Louie DePalma is exactly what comes to mind. If the person's funny, you will like them no matter what. If they're unfunny, f— them. That's just the rules of comedy. It doesn't apply to Batman, but …
NOLAN F— that guy.
ROCK I hate to say I don't give it that much thought, but I just kind of assume people are going to like me. (Laughs.)
MOORE You're not wrong.
ROCK A lot of likability is just casting. It's just, "I like you!" (To Favreau) I just like you more than other people, and some people can just get away with shit. I did a movie that wasn't that good awhile back that I directed, and I remember Alexander Payne talked to me and goes, "I watch you do stand-up, you can get away with anything. And I watch your movies and you're so safe. What are you doing?" And I took that note into this movie.
MOORE Were you consciously in this film like, "F—it, I'm going to do whatever I want? No rules. I don't have to be safe."
FAVREAU And it's the one people like the most, right?
ROCK It's the one people like the most, yeah.
MCCARTEN I'm going electric, I'm plugging in!
Chris, you said you made some bad movies. Did you know they were bad when you made them?
ROCK Not at the time. Here's the weird thing: You don't know how bad you've done until you do something good and you see the difference in the reaction. Because people tell you everything's great! People tell you your movie's great, your stand-up's great, and then you give them something good and you see the same people and their reaction, and you go, "Oh shit, you were lying about that other thing!"
FAVREAU But are you grateful for the lying? Because I've become more grateful for the emotional [support].
ROCK (To Favreau) You know what? The movie I did before this one [I Think I Love My Wife] died a miserable death, and you, Jonah Hill, a couple of people were so supportive. Without the support, I don't think I would have made another movie.
NOLAN Honesty in those moments is overrated. There's a big difference between being honest and being an asshole.
FAVREAU You learn a lot from being a parent, actually, because a lot of it's just surrounding them with enough support that they're going to have the strength to get through the challenges that they're going to face.
ROCK (To Favreau) I think you called me, even.
FAVREAU I did! And I saw you and we spoke.
ROCK I don't know if I would have ever directed another movie.
MCCARTEN Without his phone call?
ROCK I swear. I'm not saying that because you're here.
What do you do for inspiration if you have writer's block?
NOLAN Well, I used to ask that question, "What's writer's block?" I don't really get that. Then I realized one day, "Oh, that's every day."
FAVREAU Eat more fiber.
ROCK I always have two books I'm working on [reading].
FLYNN That wakes up your brain.
ROCK Yeah, that wakes up your brain. I should always have two books. I should always have a stack of magazines.
NOLAN When I'm writing, I try to avoid fiction in particular. I tend not to read a lot, because you're worried you'll pick up someone's voice just by watching a great movie. Or read a great book and spend the next day writing like Hemingway.
ROCK I don't have that problem. (Laughs.) (To Flynn) I read your book when I was making this movie.
FLYNN Oh, really? That's pretty awesome. All right.
Who are your movie role models?
ROCK Woody Allen. That's an easy one. It's almost cliche to even say. He's the best.
NOLAN One of my heroes is Ernest Lehman, who wrote North by Northwest and The Sound of Music. If you can write North by Northwest and The Sound of Music, hats off. That's versatility to me.
MCCARTEN When I was growing up in the '80s and working in the theater, David Mamet exploded with a whole new reworking of what dialogue should sound like. It was punchy and raw and repetitive, bursting with dynamic. I remember that switching on a lot of lights for me.
MOORE It's so exciting when you have a writer like David Mamet or Aaron Sorkin, someone who has a voice that you can hear.
MCCARTEN Dialogue is our domain. It's the one area where the viewer doesn't go, "Wow, that's beautifully directed."
NOLAN It can be galling, too. I remember watching The Dark Knight for the first time, and Heath Ledger's incredible in it and there's stuff that I worked on really hard. But his two best lines in the film are "Yeah" and "Hi," neither of which were scripted.
What's the best piece of advice someone has given you about filmmaking?
MOORE I had a moment, right before we shot our movie, I talked to my friend Fred who has made a bunch of movies. "As a writer on set, what's my job?" And he was like, "Well, there's one simple thing you have to remember: You're the writer on set, shut the f— up!"
ROCK [Filmmaker] Reggie Hudlin said, "Eat with the crew." Just eat with the crew. You'll get more out of your crew if you just eat with your crew every day.
Gillian, Chris and Jon all have films that include pointed critiques of the media and especially critics. Where did that originate?
ROCK You got to write what you know. There's nothing like the Friday your movie comes out. We all had a prom or whatever, but you couldn't bomb at your prom. (Everyone laughs.)
MOORE I beg to differ, actually. (Laughs.)
ROCK Imagine reading about your prom the next day.
For someone who has had as much success as you, the critics still hurt?
ROCK A little bit, yeah. You didn't do this to not be liked. You didn't do this to not get attention. When I tell or when Don Rickles tells a joke that's mean, there's always an aside to it. "No, no, I'm serious, you're a beautiful woman." The critics never do that. They just rip your thing to shreds.
And Gillian, as a former magazine writer, you had a media background.
FLYNN Yeah, I have been on both sides now. I don't feel this monolithic opinion weighing down on me because I know it's just some person sitting at their laptop with a tuna salad sandwich and writing their opinion.
People have taken Gone Girl to task for promoting a negative message about women. What do you think of that?
FLYNN I had one single dark 24 hours, where I was like, "Did I destroy feminism? Dang it, I did not mean to do that! Am I a misogynist?" There was a weekend when all those think pieces came out and then I very quickly bounced back because I thought, "That's absolutely ludicrous." Just because you have a bad woman in your movie doesn't mean she's indicative of all women or suddenly we're going to go back 20 years, and that goes back to some idea that women had to be protected from evil or were seen as evil, and that's fairly ridiculous. I think we're tough enough to handle it.
MOORE I'm sure you must have had moments of having other filmmakers you like or other writers come up to you and shake your hand …
ROCK The best feedback — oh my God, meaningful to me — probably Eddie Murphy.
FAVREAU On Swingers, I got a call from [Jerry] Seinfeld. I was Eric the Clown on one episode [of Seinfeld], and all of a sudden people have your number, and that's when you had answering machines. (In Seinfeld voice) "Jon, loved it. Loved Swingers. That's all I got to say."
MOORE Did you save the message?
FAVREAU Not long, it just disintegrated from playing it over and over again. That's when you realize you have to make those calls to people because of how much it means to you. If I like something and it's not hitting, that's the most important call I'll make. "You got it, keep going, this isn't your fault. It's a bad weekend. You're opening up against a Nolan film."
Chris Rock Top Five
About the Roundtable Series
THR's signature discussions with the top awards contenders begin with this issue and continue throughout the season. Watch the full videos on THR.com or THR.com/iPad, or tune in to the A&E network in December to watch the Actor and Actress Roundtables.
Animation Roundtable: 6 Top Filmmakers on 'Frozen' Lessons and Why Sequels Are "Killing" the Industry
This story first appeared in the Dec. 5 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
They hail from as far away as Mexico and Ireland, and they've imagined creatures with a wide range of physics-defying powers — dragons that soar through the skies, troll-like creatures who dwell underground and a squishy robot who can squeeze through tight spaces, to name a few — but the minds behind this year's animation contenders all see eye to eye about one thing: Their films often are not given the artistic cred they merit.
This and other aspects of their unique craft were the subjects of a lively discussion Nov. 5 at The Fig House in Los Angeles, where the directors and producers behind some of 2014's most engaging 'toons were eager to compare notes on their varied projects, which all took years to bring to the screen. Tomm Moore, 37, director of the hand-drawn Song of the Sea, came the furthest, all the way from Dublin. Travis Knight, 41, who not only is the CEO of Laika but also served as both animator and producer on the stop-motion-animated The Boxtrolls, flew in from Hillsboro, Ore. Mexico-born director Jorge Gutierrez, 39, director of the Latin-inflected The Book of Life, traveled from his home in Dallas. The Hollywood contingent included Dan Lin, 41, producer of The Lego Movie; Bonnie Arnold, 58, producer of How to Train Your Dragon 2; and Don Hall, 45, director of Big Hero 6. Topics ranged from art (the quirks of voice casting — The Lego Movie discovered Christ Pratt before Guardians of the Galaxy did) to business (the pitfalls of audience testing and the debatable wisdom of making sequels) to the surprisingly intimate: the heartfelt stories that inspired each of their films.
Last year, Frozen became a worldwide phenomenon, with $1.3 billion in global box office. What lessons did you all take from that?
BONNIE ARNOLD Well, I've got my buzzword: That one was, "Go, girls." I was excited to see female heroines and not just boy movies or new movies that appeal to boys. Because I do think there's this crossover. And it makes you think more as a producer or director, or creator or filmmaker, of how to incorporate things that are going to appeal to both boys and girls.
DON HALL And, conversely, it wasn't just a girl movie, either. To gross that much money and have that many people come see your film, it does have to appeal to a large swath of people. That was the big takeaway.
DAN LIN And also it's a fresh spin on a familiar genre, the princess genre. And certainly having a great song really helps.
TOMM MOORE I was at a little airport in Belgium, and there was a little girl in the queue in front of me dressed as a princess, singing "Let It Go." That's a big phenomenon.
JORGE GUTIERREZ I remember thinking, "We're so screwed." It did so well and the pressure on everybody saying, "Where's your 'Let It Go' song?"
ARNOLD That's a little bit cyclical, too. My daughter, who's now 20, grew up in that whole age of Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid, and then that seemed to fall out of favor a bit. But it comes back. Sometimes for animation, it's a little bit harder for us to [jump] on the moment because some of our projects take three to four years to gestate and get made.
TRAVIS KNIGHT Three to four years? I wish. (Laughter.) I think it's dangerous to try to figure out why it worked and why it didn't. Sometimes, things just capture the zeitgeist. And certainly it's not something that someone could re-create easily. And nor should they try. As animators and as filmmakers, the only thing that we can do is try to live up to the ethos of John Lennon: Just give us some truth. And try to sell something that's emotionally true. And in the end, it has to be a personal thing, otherwise it's hollow. And I think the filmmakers behind that movie, that's exactly what they did.
Live-action movies, and especially the big tentpoles, increasingly are based on best-sellers, superheroes and other very well-known, marketable commodities. But most of you decided to work with either original material or somewhat obscure source material. What was the inspiration for each of your movies?
HALL For me, it was a simple conversation I had as I finished [directing] Winnie the Pooh. It was about delving into your childhood passions. I loved animation, and I loved comic books, and the idea of mashing those two things up was very enticing. I found this little gem at Marvel called Big Hero 6, which is a very obscure property. Ultimately, the story centered on loss. This kid loses his big brother, and the robot becomes a surrogate big brother and heals this kid's broken heart.
KNIGHT I first came across Alan Snow's book Here Be Monsters!, which ultimately became the film The Boxtrolls 10 years ago, when we were developing Coraline, and those were the first two things that we liked and developed to become films. That's why when you say "three to four years," I smirk, because it's been a nearly 10-year journey for us to make this as a movie. There was something about Alan Snow's book that just captivated me. It was reminiscent of great children's literature like Charles Dickens or Roald Dahl. He had a great biting sense of humor like you find in a Monty Python sketch. Coming on the heels of Coraline and ParaNorman, which were both contemporary stories and set in modern-day America, we wanted to do something that was different. It was me and our directors Tony Stacchi and Graham Annable — at the time, we were all fathers of young children. Anyone who works in film or animation knows that it comes at a cost; it takes you away from your loved ones for long stretches of time. So trying to find that balance in your work and your family life is very difficult. And we infused that into the narrative of the film, and it became a story about that generational thing between parents and their children.
Tomm, you turned to Irish folklore?
MOORE The way it started with Song of the Sea is something like Travis' story. My son was 10; he's 18 now, in college. Shows you how long these things take. It's just glacial. But we were in Dingle on the West Coast of Ireland on holiday, just at the start of the production of The Secret of Kells, and I was sketching on the beach. My son saw some seals that had been killed. The lady whom we were renting the cottage from told us that local fishermen had started to kill seals because they were blaming them for the fallen fish stocks, even though [it was] fairly unlikely it was the seals' fault. But she said that wouldn't have happened years ago. There was this belief in selkies: People believed that seals could be the souls of people who have been lost at sea. It got me thinking about the fact that folklore and nature and wildlife were very interconnected. While I was working on The Secret of Kells, this other story was forming. So it kind of became almost like a spiritual sequel. I named [the main character] Ben, after my son. It was that bittersweet thing of an inverse Roman candle where my son was getting taller than me as I was still drawing this 10-year-old version of him.
Bonnie, you produced a sequel, but what inspired the original How to Train Your Dragon?
ARNOLD The [Dragon] films are based on a series of books by Cressida Cowell, a British author. And there are 12 books in the series. But very early on, we decided on a combination of storytelling. Sometimes the book is the movie, and sometimes it's not exactly. So the Dragon films are definitely a departure from the book. The first film was very successful; we were very fortunate. And Jeffrey Katzenberg, who runs DreamWorks Animation, came to Dean [DeBlois] and was talking to him about doing a sequel. But Dean, who was the writer and director on the film, said the only way that he would consider doing a sequel is if he could go somewhere different with it. And he came back and pitched the idea of it being a trilogy, this three-part story of the coming of age of Hiccup and [his dragon] Toothless. He took some bold risks like aging the characters up five years; Hiccup and his gang are five years older. And I have to say also Dean lost his dad at the age of 20, which is how old Hiccup is in the film. And so, again, it was something personal.
Personal connections seem to be a theme here. Jorge, was that also true of The Book of Life?
GUTIERREZ I've had this thing for 14 years. Day of the Dead is something really special to me. I was married on Day of the Dead. I lost a lot of people; when I was a kid, I lost my friend. And so Day of the Dead was the way I stayed in contact with him. And so eventually I said I want to give this gift to the world. Mexico in the news is known for really violent, ugly things. I wanted to remind the world there's beauty in our country. Every place told me no. Everybody slammed the door in my face. After a while, a studio in Texas, Reel FX, got behind the movie, took a big chance on it. And then Guillermo del Toro became our producer. It was not an easy film to get made. It's about Day of the Dead; most people who are not of Mexican descent think of Day of the Dead as zombies. Or they think it's a horror movie. And then there's a bullfighting element in the movie. I mean, we could not have made it harder on ourselves. And then the look of it is so different. All the things that people now like about the movie were the exact things that made people not want to make the movie. … The movie is very much inspired by Orpheus, and I love storytelling. It's my first movie, so I figured I might never get to do another one. And the movie became about making the movie. Like this journey of this artist whom this town turns on, and no one believes in him. And he has to go into this magical world to succeed. It's very ironic I had to leave Mexico to make a movie about Mexico. Even though [it's] a big movie, it's super personal to me. I still cry every time I watch it. The biggest thing in the movie for me was, I got to see it in Mexico City with my father. And he's an architect. And so my going into cartoons was kind of a bad thing for him. He didn't consider it a true art form. He's very conservative. And so we're at the premiere; this is the first time he sees it. He's sitting next to me, and he puts his hand on my arm. And every time there's a big emotional moment, he squeezes my arm. And at the end of the movie, he looks over and says, "Jorge, this is the best conversation we've ever had." And I (mimics flooding tears) just lost it. And so just for that, it was worth it.
Dan, when Warner Bros. announced it was making a movie about Legos, a lot of people raised their eyebrows. How did you figure out what it was going to be about?
LIN It took a while. I was inspired by playing with Legos; my son at the time was 5. And it took us five years to make the movie. He's kind of a free-form builder. He wasn't following instructions; [he was] building really cool inventions of his own. But also I saw that when he was putting bricks together, he saw a much greater adventure than what was in front of him. And we captured that experience in an animated movie. Chris Miller and Phil Lord, the writer-directors of the movie, said to me, "Dan, we don't want to make a toy commercial." And I said, "What approach would you do?" They're like, "OK, Dan, if we made this movie, this is what we would do: use Lego as an art form the way people paint; the way people use clay. And then let's tell it as a love story. It's a love story between us and the Lego-playing experience when we were kids."
How much do you think about international box office and reaching a wider audience when you're making these films?
GUTIERREZ In the beginning, I thought, "There is no market. There is no interest in this subject matter. There is no audience for [a] Latino theme story." Now I get asked, "Did you know that the Latin American market was going to explode?" And I just got lucky. That's the only reason this movie got made — because that audience is exploding, and they were hungry to see themselves.
MOORE [International] was a big part of the writing process. We had to make sure that this wasn't only for Irish kids, you know? We took the liberty to twist the story a little bit to make sure that it was right for this moment and talking to kids of this generation.
Travis, The Boxtrolls has a very British inflection to it. Did you feel pressure to make it more universal?
KNIGHT The sensibility is very much rooted in Dickens and things like Monty Python, which does get into kind of the entrenched class system and all that kind of stuff. But it felt like we would be doing the story a disservice to set it in some other place just for the possibility that it might be more universal. As Tomm and Jorge were saying, I think the most personal works are the most universal works.
ARNOLD It feels like these days, with all this communication, this social networking or whatever, good news travels. Dragon 2 is playing all over the world and in places where you wouldn't expect.
Dan, your movie is full of pop culture and pop culture references. Warners has a big investment in its live-action Batman franchise. How did you approach Warners and DC to let you show a somewhat comical Batman figure in the Lego world?
LIN We approached both Warners and Christopher Nolan. And myself, Chris Miller and Phil Lord, we pitched a different kind of Batman. We said, "You guys have your live-action Batman, we have what we called the Lego Batman. A Batman that's very self-aware. That is, you know, a bit of a jerk at times." As soon as they understood there are different universes, that worked out OK. But that was a big challenge going to all the different rightsholders, saying, "This is how we're going to take your character and Lego-ize it."
Was Who Framed Roger Rabbit an inspiration?
LIN It definitely was. Roger Rabbit was the inspiration for the whole movie, to be honest, with all the different cameos.
What's the status of The Lego Batman Movie?
LIN It's deep in production. It comes out in 2017. And Will Arnett is going to come back [as the voice of Batman].
As someone who has been producing live-action movies, what was the learning curve like shifting into animation?
LIN The time that it takes to make one of these is unbelievable. In live action, things happen a lot more quickly. The ability to rework a movie is very different [for] animation than in live action. We had a whole version of the movie that completely failed, and we threw it out. And I was freaking out, and Chris and Phil were just like, "Dan, we gotta hang in there. This is not like live action." In animation, you don't finish the movie. You literally just release the movie. In live action, we really do finish the movie. I was shocked at how much until the very end you can change an animated movie. The difference between seeing animated movies six months before release and then the final product is radically different.
ARNOLD That's because in animation, you edit the movie first. And then you shoot it. That's the advantage.
HALL The storyboarding process [is] where the movie can change drastically. We were doing story screenings about every three months. So you're able to watch it internally as a group with your colleagues. And then go upstairs and say, "OK, what didn't work?" Most of it. "And what did?" OK, hold on to that little thing.
Do you arrange your schedule so there's some footage finished early on that can be used for marketing?
KNIGHT That's always an ongoing debate. Can we pull things up in the schedule to shoot things that we need to use in our trailer or commercial? Sometimes you can, sometimes you can't.
MOORE There was one scene I was so sure was going to be in the movie. We put it into production. And we were in the middle of animating it, and then in the next room we were having the story meeting with the writer, and we realized that scene was gone. So it became the conceptual trailer that we released; it's not even in there.
How do you test animated films when the animation isn't fully completed?
LIN We give [the audience] all the warnings: "Hey, the movie's not done. You're going to see a lot of gray scale." And then the comments come back: "Why isn't the animation done? Why isn't it in color?"
ARNOLD Having done the first Toy Story movie, I remember Buzz and Woody looking like two Popsicle sticks. There's no way you could have done any kind of testing on that. Now, previz [rough computer-generated versions used in planning] has gotten so sophisticated-looking that a lot of people get it confused and think it's final animation. So I think it is tricky to know when to test because I think you can get a lot of false positives when you go out too soon.
MOORE Sometimes when you show the whole movie in storyboards, and it gets a good reaction, you go, "Shall we even animate?" (Laughter.)
KNIGHT I've never tested a film. We have limited physical assets, and our budgets are relatively meager in the animation world. So for us, testing would be self-flagellation. Even if we got good feedback, there's nothing we could do about it because we can't change.
GUTIERREZ I love testing. I mean, I threw up the first time we screened it. It was like, "I think this joke's going to work." And then, silence. And then some stuff that got big laughs was stuff that even I was surprised by. And so there were all these magical things that kept happening.
When does the conversation about sequels start?
HALL They haven't happened for us yet, to be honest with you, because we just finished the film 17 days ago. If [my co-director] Chris [Williams] and I both agree that we want to do it, [then we will] because it's really in the director's hands at Disney. It's never really a corporate-driven-type thing.
Travis, from your reaction, it looks as if you're not a fan of sequels.
KNIGHT I just think that as a whole, sequels are killing our industry. When you go back to when I was a kid, the kind of films that I grew up watching were original ideas, bold voices, really challenging material. We don't see a lot of that anymore. We live in an era of reboots and remakes and sequels and prequels; where old presents are rewrapped and offered up as new gifts. … It's not to say that you can't tell a compelling story in a sequel; you certainly can. We have Godfather and Empire Strikes Back and How to Train Your Dragon 2. But if you think about storytelling generally, your film should be the most significant, most poignant moment of your hero's life. And so the sequel automatically is a diminishment of that. As artists, we have to look at it and say, "Is this good for us in the long run as an industry to continue to churn out these same things?" We get to an end of a trilogy, and then we restart that; we reboot it in another way. And at some point, we just become an echo chamber. Some stories are big and require a big canvas. And I think some stories should never have a sequel. And that's why we will never do a sequel.
LIN I look at it as a fan, though, as a kid growing up after I saw the first Indiana Jones, the first one [Raiders of the Lost Ark]; I wanted more.
KNIGHT Yeah, but you know what? The Temple of Doom sucked. (Laughter.) As did The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and The Last Crusade. They should have stopped at one film.
MOORE Well, my favorite movie is Rocky. And I think it's such a pity that it's not the only Rocky.
But, Travis, isn't that philosophy problematic for investors, who want a sure thing?
KNIGHT Yes, it's stupid. It's a dumb philosophy. It makes no sense. I recognize that. But I think we as filmmakers need to challenge the conventional wisdom, the prevailing orthodoxy, and be champions for new ideas, new voices, new films.
Let's shift the conversation and talk about voice casting. You've all worked with an array of really talented actors this year. Some of them are well known and some aren't. When you're casting, do you meet with actors? Or do you listen to tapes of their voices? How do you separate an actor's face and personality from the voice that we'll be hearing coming through the character?
LIN We'll have listening sessions to figure out who's the right tone, who brings the right sense of humor. But you have lots of plug-in surprises with The Lego Movie. Chris Pratt, the world knew him in TV but didn't really know him in features. This process takes a long time, but we cast him three or four years ago. The character is an ordinary person who goes on this extraordinary journey. And I think [after his starring role in Guardians of the Galaxy] the whole world is now seeing Chris Pratt going on this extraordinary journey. So I think that's really exciting.
ARNOLD We were lucky enough to be included in the [Oscar] nominations in 2011 for the first Dragon. [At the ceremony] I went over to get something to drink, and Dean comes to me, "I just ran into Cate Blanchett. And I'm writing [the mother] part for her, and I just pitched her the thing on the way to the bathroom."
GUTIERREZ We have the largest Hispanic cast in the history of animation. But at the same time, I personally didn't want to scare white people into thinking it was just for Latin people. Channing Tatum, when I pitched him the movie, I told him, "You're going to have the suaveness of Argentina and the smoothness of Brazil and the machismo of Mexico. You're going to be Captain Latin America." At the end, he took me aside and said, "Jorge, you know I'm not Mexican." (Laughter.)
MOORE The casting was a dream because the Oscar nomination [for my first movie, The Secret of Kells] really opened doors, and nobody said no. Our biggest challenge was the same one as the last movie; it's always the same when you have to cast a kid. But we were lucky enough [to know] David Rawle, who was in the TV series Moone Boy, and we were doing the animation for that series. He was like the most talented 11-year-old actor in Ireland.
When you look at all of the Oscar categories, do you feel there are categories where animated films are overlooked?
GUTIERREZ Art direction.
MOORE But isn't it weird that Gravity and Avatar aren't animated films? They're not considered animated films, but there's so much animation in them.
ARNOLD To me, animation is a technique to tell the story. I wish sometimes we weren't as relegated to the kiddie table, as I feel like we are.
THR's signature discussions with the top awards contenders continue throughout the season. Watch the full videos on THR.com or THR.com/iPad, or tune in to the A&E network Dec. 28 to watch the Actor and Actress Roundtables.
Mike Nichols Remembered by Angelina Jolie and Bennett Miller During Emotional Conversation
Some of award season's top directors are paying tribute to Mike Nichols, who died Wednesday at the age of 83.
Earlier this week while participating in The Hollywood Reporter's Director Roundtable, Interstellar's Christopher Nolan and Boyhood's Richard Linklater praised 1988's Working Girl as among their favorites. Unbroken director Angelina Jolie said she had never met Nichols, but "you could tell from his films — I can't imagine he wasn't a really great person."
Watch more Trailers for 10 Classic Mike Nichols Films
Foxcatcher director Bennett Miller knew Nichols well and became emotional while remembering the late director, saying he didn't know "anybody like him."
"He was somebody who had an impossible amount of curiosity and care and love for so many people," said Miller. "I saw him about a week ago and emailed with him three times yesterday, and he was as sharp as a tack and making jokes and funny."
This is just a small portion of the Director Roundtable, which will debut on THR.com Dec. 10. The roundtable was moderated by THR features executive editor Stephen Galloway.