KIRSTEN DUNST: WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU PLEMONS… + DOCUMENTARY & INTERNATIONAL: THE RACE IS ON
How the spirit of Diana, Princess of Wales, guided Kristen Stewart and Pablo Larraín as they shot Spencer
First Take 4 CLOSE-UP: Kirsten Dunst is a The Power of the Dog 10 QUICK SHOTS: The House of Gucci; The Eyes of Tammy Fay 12 FRESH FACE: breaks out in The Hand of God 14 ART OF CRAFT: Belle 16 DOCUMENTARY: National
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FRESH FACE: FILIPPO SCOTTI
KIRSTEN DUNST GOES TO A “BAD PLACE” FOR JANE CAMPION’S OLD WEST EPIC THE POWER OF THE DOG
By Damon Wise
C LOS E- U P
because I had so much time on my hands—which I really don’t like—and then these really big emotional scenes. I just felt a lot of pressure. I mean, it’s a Jane Campion movie! She hadn’t made a movie in 12 years, and I didn’t want to let her down. And I think I might have magnified that pressure, because the person I was playing was so insecure and it kind of rubbed off on me a little bit, in terms of the way I felt about my acting and myself. So, it was very nice to have Jesse on the set with me, to have my back or give me a hug.” Dunst seems at home in this kind of era, as she had in Little Women (1994) and The Beguiled (2017), but she isn’t especially drawn to the period. “To me, it’s the director,” she says. “I really would play any role. I don’t really have anyone I’m dying to play.” Perhaps tellingly, the directors that seem to get the most out of her tend to be women—notably Sofia Coppola, who single-handedly reinvented Dunst in 1999 with The Virgin Suicides, an elegant, pitch-perfect study of burgeoning teenage sexuality. “I really think working with Sofia at such a young age, at 16, gave me the feeling that I was beautiful,” she says. “I looked up to her so much. I thought she was—and I still do—just the coolest girl. She was the queen bee, an older sister to me, so the fact that she thought I was pretty, or cool—getting that validation from a woman you think is the coolest means you don’t need it from male directors. You know what I’m trying to say—it’s like, I didn’t have to be looked at through the male gaze to feel like, ‘I’m sexy.’ Sofia made me feel that way. My coming-of-age film, when people first saw me differently, was The Virgin Suicides. And that was through a female director’s eye, which is so different to how a male director would have seen me, I would think.” It’s at this point that Dunst’s mother walks into the backyard, just as the conversation turns to #MeToo, Harvey Weinstein and the predatory nature of the film industry. “Cue Inez Dunst!” she laughs. “My mother was always with me, and I went to a normal school, so I felt always protected, actually. And, I’m sorry, everybody knew Harvey was who he was. There was
“I’m sorry,” says Kirsten Dunst, “you’re going to have to be quiet.” She’s talking to her two children— Ennis, 3, and James, who was born last May. “I’m just letting them know that I’m not talking to myself, I’m just talking about myself,” she laughs. “What were you saying again?” Fortunately, though she’s juggling a telephone and two infants while she’s meant to be getting herself ready for Jimmy Kimmel Live, Dunst is not easily distracted. Turning 40 next spring, she’s been in the business for more than 30 years now, since her debut in the 1989 compendium film New York Stories—and where lesser talents might have flamed out or flaked out, Dunst only seems to become more focused. The proof of this is in her performance in Jane Campion’s new film The Power of the Dog, based on Thomas Savage’s 1967 Western novel, in which she plays Rose, a widow who marries into the Burbank family. Rose’s son Peter (Kodi Smit-McPhee is fey and effeminate, which enrages her new brother-in-law Phil (Benedict Cumberbatch). Phil’s glowering, possibly closeted disapproval, coupled with the increasing absence of her husband (Dunst’s real-life partner Jesse Plemons), drives the poor woman to drink. Plemons was cast first, and Rose nearly went to Elisabeth Moss until The Handmaid's Tale got in the way, but Dunst had been in Campion’s sights for a while. “She wrote me a letter in my early twenties,” Dunst says, “saying that she loved The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette and that she wanted us to work together. It was an Alice Munro short story called Runaway that she wanted us to workshop together. But then, who knows? I don’t know if it was a rights thing, but nothing ever came of it.” As with that proposed project, Power was very much a collaboration between actor and director. “As an actor, I really had to fill a lot of gaps in a small space,” she recalls. “But Rose was more loved in Jane’s script than the actual book—there wasn’t much to draw from there, except for the history of my son and me. So, in terms of Rose’s descent, it was really about creating her demons. What would drive someone to drink? She’s so uncomfortable in that house. She doesn’t even leave her bedroom. So, it was about finding that inner insecurity, that bad place, that self-destruction of the mind.” It helped, she recalls, that the sets were so authentic. “We did all the exteriors first, in the South Island of New Zealand, where the mountain range was the most like a Montana setting. And the ranch that was built was one of the most incredible sets I’ve ever seen. It felt like you could actually live there. The amount of love and care that went into it was pretty remarkable to me. You could open any drawer and there’d be little old books, or some poems. It felt very real wherever you were.” The schedule, however, was a lot less helpful. “I didn’t work every day,” she says. “I’d have five days off, then I’d have to burst out of the house, screaming. It was hard for me to get into a flow in the beginning,
Kirsten Dunst is Rose Gordon, a woman who battles her inner demons in the Old West.
C LOS E- U P Dunst’s real life husband, Jesse Plemons, plays her husband George Burbank in The Power of the Dog.
literally no surprise. I remember once my manager saying, ‘Harvey doesn’t think you like him,’ and I was like, ‘So what? I’m not kissing his ass!’ “I always knew he was kind of gross,” she says. “Even my young teenage self knew that. I just thought, ‘I’ll keep my distance.’ But I never was put in a situation where I felt vulnerable, where I was alone with someone. I had one inappropriate question by a director when I was younger, and maybe an older guy tried to hit on me at a party once, but I knew it was gross. And because I had Sofia as a role model, and because I went to normal schools and I had my own friends, it kept me safe. And I didn’t feel like, ‘Oh, I have to dress sexy for the red carpet.’ I was like, ‘I’m going to wear whatever I want!’” She has always been confident, she thinks, but in retrospect, she didn’t always have a thick skin. That came later, after Marie Antionette, her second collaboration with Coppola, in 2006. “I saw the movie before it came out,” she remembers. “I was alone in the theater, and I just loved it. I was really so proud. And...” And then the reviews came in, and they were less flattering. “It bummed me out,” she says, “because it was so personal to me. I thought, Did I let everyone down? But ultimately, I was playing the essence of the character, a perfume of it. It wasn’t like we were making a historical drama.” She pauses. “Listen, if that film came out now, it’d be a different story. We were clearly ahead of the time, and we were celebrating a female director, too. Now, it’s cool, but then it was like, ‘Oh, you can’t play with the boys yet.’ I think that was part of it. I think it was threatening.” Worse was to come in 2011, when Dunst attended the Cannes film festival with Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia. The Danish director’s trademark gallows humor went horribly wrong with a flippant remark about his German roots (“I’m a Nazi!” he joked, to the horror of the world’s least cine-literate
press). Dunst is still proud of his film and thinks of him fondly (in a strange quirk of fate, she shares a birthday with him and Campion). “Lars is a very vulnerable filmmaker when he is working with you,” she says. “He’s ready to share his stories and he’s very fragile, so you feel like you want to protect him.” So, this time round, the bad press didn’t set her back so much. “None of this stuff really matters,” she says matter-of-factly. “Your experience is really all you have. It’s all you have. As you grow up, you become more confident in what you’re doing, and you also realize that the person reviewing the movie, well, their word is not the be all and end all, either. If someone likes the movie or not, that’s very personal, too. Usually, the ones that everyone agrees on are usually pretty middle of the road. So, if you’ve made something that’s upset people, then I think you’ve probably made something great.” At a time when many actors are looking back, Dunst is looking firmly forward—in fact, her best work may be ahead of her, given the awards talk around The Power of the Dog and recent Sony series On Becoming a God in Central Florida. She’s even thinking about directing, but only when the kids are older. “I would love to,” she says. “I was going to do The Bell Jar and that fell through, but I think I will. My children are too young for me to spend an entire year making a movie. But I’ll do it. I will.”
Q U I C K
S H OTS
Charted Territory At press time, here is how Gold Derby’s experts ranked the Oscar chances in the Lead and Supporting Actor races. Get up-to-date rankings and make your own predictions at GoldDerby.com
House of Gucci costume designer Janty Yates on the evolution of Patrizia’s style
Actor in a Leading Role 1 Will Smith King Richard ODDS ................................
2 Benedict Cumberbatch The Power of the Dog ODDS ...................................
a famous fashion brand like House of Gucci, getting the clothing right is incredibly important. For Lady Gaga’s character, Patrizia, costume designer Janty Yates had to evolve her style as she married into the Gucci family. “She starts off very innocent and she was kind of a bit, I would say, she was nouveau riche,” Yates says. “So, we put her in little jumpers and skirts and little fresh dresses. Then, she marries into the Gucci household and starts to get a lot more into silk dresses and power suits.” Although Patrizia may have been part of the Gucci family, Lady Gaga didn’t wear much Gucci clothing on the screen. “There’s only two Gucci Patrizia Reggiani didn’t really like Gucci,” Yates says. “She loved Yves Saint Laurent, she loved Dior, and she loved Givenchy.” In terms of transforming Lady Gaga for the role, “Patrizia herself was a bit more Joan Collins than LG,” Yates says. “LG we made based on Gina Lollobrigida with a bit of Elizabeth Taylor and it was actually LG who had put on three necklaces, not one. She’d put on four bangles, not one. She’d put on big earrings, not small. She loved to pimp herself up a bit, but you know, Patrizia Reggiani had real jewels. She liked to show her wealth, that was the way she could do it quickly.”
Jessica Chastain as Tammy Faye Bakker.
3 Andrew Garfield tick, tick... Boom!
Larger Than Life How makeup designer Linda Dowds transformed Jessica Chastain into Tammy Faye Bakker
For The Eyes of Tammy Faye, makeup designer Linda Dowds was tasked with replicating the bold style of Tammy Faye Bakker. “Her makeup was fairly extreme,” Dowds explains. “She tattooed the liner around her eyes, her lips, and her brows. For that, we used a waterproof pencil and applied the line in the same coloring as she had,
“In all my research, there was never anything where you saw her with makeup running down her face,” she says. “That was something that became a part of late-night comedy sketches where she would have mascara running down her face from those heavily mascaraed and tattooed eyes.” With that in mind, it was important for Dowds to stay true to reality. “The most difcross that line into caricature,” she says. “Not only would it be a betrayal of her, but it also would take us out of the movie because up until that point where she goes into this full-on heavier look, we wanted believable.”
4 Denzel Washington The Tragedy of Macbeth ODDS ...................................
5 Peter Dinklage Cyrano ODDS .................................
Actor in a Supporting Role 1 Kodi Smit-McPhee The Power of the Dog ODDS ..............................
2 Jared Leto House of Gucci ODDS ...................................
3 Ciaran Hinds Belfast ODDS ...................................
as she would’ve had it. I think because she was such an emotional person, that’s what we remember about the actual makeup and how intensely she’d done her eyes.” Dowds also says that one of the most common images that people think of when they hear Tammy Faye, is actually a fallacy.
4 Richard Jenkins The Humans ODDS ................................
5 Bradley Cooper Licorice Pizza ODDS .................................
F R ES H
“I understood it was just me and I panicked. Paolo Sorrentino really told me to trust him and to follow him. He’s a master. A great director.” Who: Filippo Scotti Age: 21 Hometown: Naples, Italy
By Antonia Blyth
When Filippo Scotti snagged the role of Fabietto in Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God, he knew he would be playing a version of the young Sorrentino. Understandably, Scotti was “terrified,” especially when he realized that as the protagonist, he would also be in almost every scene. “I understood that it was just me and I panicked,” he says. Fortunately, although Scotti had little feature film experience, he had something in common with Sorrentino—both are Naples natives. Also, Sorrentino was extremely supportive. “He really told me to trust him and follow him, basically. Paolo is a master. He’s a great director that is telling you things that are very specific. So, he’s not talking just for talk, he’s very concrete. He asked me to watch The Man Who Loved Women by François Truffaut. That’s basically a movie on desire. And [The Hand of God] is a movie too about desire, and about hope, and about love, and about pain. And he recommended to me to watch Road to Perdition directed by Sam Mendes, because The Hand of God is a movie about family, too. He asked me to pay attention to Jude Law’s walk. For Paolo, the actor’s walk is very important.”
Why: Scotti first felt inspired by film at the age of nine when his father took him to see Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. “After that movie, I understood that I really wanted to be able in the future to be an actor,” he says, “to be able to give emotions to the audience in that way. Basically, from that moment, it started my passion for cinema, thanks to my father.” Then, Scotti’s mother encouraged him to attend a theater workshop in Naples, which led to parts in some short films and theater roles. “I started in 2016 to see this hobby and this passion becoming, little by little, a job,” he adds. “And then I started to do theater with the great artists, great actors and actresses.” Scotti found an agent and landed Netflix series Luna Nera.
Where & When While Scotti can’t confirm any new roles just yet, he has a wish list of directors he would love to work with: “Wes Anderson, Iñárritu, Cuarón, Xavier Dolan.” But he’s not thinking about specific dream roles, instead he’s focusing entirely on the quality of the scripts he sees. “A good script and a good story, that’s something that touches me, first of all. And then hypothetically, the public too.” Working on Sorrentino’s movie has created a benchmark for him, in a way. “I would love to find something like this again,” he says.
T H E
C R A F T
“The architecture is very modular-based, so it’s made up of a simple component that then modulates and tessellates throughout the whole city, and it’s imagined as this linear city, this single line. But this single line also switches scale and becomes something quite vast and ginormous.” – Eric Wong
Architect Eric Wong designs an expansive digital city for Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle By Ryan Fleming
“U” went through three key design phases before reaching the
Director Mamoru Hosoda selected British architect Eric Wong to design the virtual world.
a linear city resembling a river.
The script called for a metropolis of skyscrapers, geometric shapes and forms, and glistening lights for the characters to glide through.
Wong had to build a world that could accommodate 5 billion people, so he created an expanding cityscape which could
The design was inspired by parts of Hosoda’s previous
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and the digital world created for Summer Wars. The city was built to be industrial, as a contrast to the magical surrealism of the characters. There is always a horizon line evident in the city, dividing the twilight sky in the background.
E RI C WO N G
THE ART OF CRAFT
In Belle, “U” is an online virtual reality world where players can be “another you.”
FO C U S
O N :
D O C U M E N TA RY
F E AT U R E
Introducing, Selma Blair
Citizen Ashe Roadrunner
NAT GEO MAKES MOVE IN WIDE OPEN OSCAR DOCUMENTARY FIELD By Matt Carey
In The Same Breath
“And the Oscar for Best Documentary Features goes to… My Octopus Teacher… to American Factory… to Icarus.” The Motion Picture Academy has enveloped Netflix nonfiction features with love again and again in recent years, rewarding the streamer with three trophies since 2018, not to mention half a dozen nominations overall. But the story this year seems less Netflix and more National Geographic. In a typical year, Netflix might easily boast five contenders. But this time around it’s Nat Geo with a quintet of competitors: Torn, The First Wave, Playing with Sharks, The Rescue—directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin—and Becoming Cousteau, the film about celebrated French marine explorer Jacques-Yves Cousteau directed by two-time Oscar nominee Liz Garbus.
FO C U S
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D O C U M E N TA RY
F E AT U R E
Playing With Sharks
“Nat Geo has taken the scene by storm,” Garbus concurs. “The films are really, one and all, so different and so beautiful.” When Disney acquired most of the Fox assets in 2019, National Geographic came along with the deal, fresh from having won the Oscar for Vasarhelyi and Chin’s Free Solo. Any lingering doubts about whether Disney would continue to back National Geographic’s theatrical documentary ambitions has been answered by the current slate. Disney has also greenlighted impressive Oscar campaign budgets, including private events promoting The First Wave at DOC NYC, and The Rescue at TIFF. The scale of Oscar doc campaign budgets correlates with films tied to streaming platforms, or to a cable channel, or both. Spending on individual contenders can be justified as promotion for the entire distribution entity. Becoming Cousteau and The Rescue, for instance, are streaming on Disney+, while The First Wave streams on Disney-controlled Hulu. In fact, the entire Oscar documentary race—at least from a campaign point of view—can be read as a proxy battle between rival streamers. Upstart Discovery+, which launched only last January, has flexed marketing muscle for its three Oscar hopefuls, among them Introducing, Selma Blair, Rachel Fleit’s touching, intimate and often humorous film on the titular Hollywood star, who revealed her diagnosis with MS in 2018. Discovery+ also competes with two films that may appeal to Catholic tastes of Documentary Branch voters—Francesco (about Pope Francis) and Rebel Hearts (about a progressive order of L.A. nuns). HBO Max kicks in with LFG, a documentary about the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team’s fight for equal pay with their male counterparts. Apple Original Films fields contenders with two music-driven docs— The Velvet Underground, and Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry. From Amazon Studios comes Val, a self-portrait of actor Val Kilmer, and My Name Is Pauli Murray, a documentary about the underappreciated civil rights and women’s rights lawyer directed by Betsy West and Julie Cohen, the duo behind RBG. MTV Documentary Films’ slate streams on Paramount+, including Sabaya [an early frontrunner later hobbled by a disputed New York Times report claiming some of its subjects didn’t consent to being filmed].
The Sparks Brothers
Hulu boasts Homeroom, directed by Peter Nicks, and Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), a big favorite for Oscar recognition directed by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. Summer of Soul, jointly distributed by Hulu, Disney’s Onyx Collective, and Searchlight Pictures, retrieves from unjust oblivion the Harlem Cultural Festival of 1969, an event that attracted giants of Black music, from Nina Simone to Sly and the Family Stone. The film has won numerous awards, and the hearts of viewers as well as critics, like Rolling Stone’s David Fear who declared Summer of Soul “damn near a masterpiece… a tribute to the artists and, just as importantly, their audience — which is what makes it not just a great concert film but a great documentary, period.” Netflix has taken a somewhat less aggressive promotional stance for its Oscar doc slate than in past years but weighs in with contenders Convergence: Courage in a Crisis, a Covid-themed film directed by Oscar winner Orlando von Einsiedel, Robert Greene’s Procession, and A Cop Movie, an innovative documentary on the realities of policing in Mexico City directed by Alonso Ruizpalacios. This is not to suggest that only streamer-connected documentaries will win the favor of Oscar Doc Branch voters, who determine the feature shortlist and the eventual nominees. The branch has grown dramatically in recent years, with many of its new members based abroad; that has, in turn, boosted the prospects for international documentaries. Last Oscar season, two international documentaries earned nominations (three, if you count the South Africa-produced My Octopus Teacher): Chile’s The Mole Agent and Romania’s Collective. The most honored
D O C U M E N TA RY
RO U N D U P
The Velvet Underground
international-focused entrant this year comes from Neon, the animated doc Flee directed by Jonas Poher Rasmussen. The story of a gay Afghan man’s arduous journey to life in the West won the top prize for World Cinema Documentary at Sundance and has claimed wins at other festivals from Jerusalem to Oslo and Philadelphia. Summer of Soul won the corresponding Sundance prize for U.S. documentary. “It’s been really amazing to see how people can relate to the story, even if they’re not refugees or gay,” Rasmussen tells Deadline. “And I know it really means a lot to [main subject] Amin, because he’s kept his story a secret for so many years. I think he was a little scared people would just kind of react like, ‘Huh,’ and then walk on. But the fact that people really relate to it is really, really important.” The international factor may not only lift Flee, but several other films including HBO’s Simple as Water, directed by Megan Mylan, a vérité look at four Syrian families struggling to keep body, soul, and the family unit together despite the destabilizing impact of civil war. Faya Dayi, directed by Mexican-Ethiopian filmmaker Jessica Beshir, has won raves for its poetic depiction of life in rural Ethiopia. HBO’s In the Same Breath, directed by Nanfu Wang—a Chinese-born filmmaker now based in New Jersey—examines how both the Chinese and U.S. governments used propaganda to shape the narrative around Covid. President, from director Camilla Nielsson, revolves around a charismatic young politician’s effort to win the highest office in Zimbabwe. It may be set in the Southern Africa country, but President echoes recent political happenings in the U.S. “Two sitting presidents, Mnangagwa and Trump, were intent on maintaining their grip on power regardless of election outcomes,” Nielsson told Filmmaker magazine, “in contravention of their sworn duty to respect their respective constitutions and were willing to go to great lengths to do so.” Ascension, Jessica Kingdon’s documentary on increasing class disparities in a booming China, constitutes another international-themed film with a very strong claim to Oscar recognition. It has come on strong of late, earning five nominations for the Cinema Eye Honors and six nominations for the Critics’ Choice Documentary Awards. America’s troubled history with race (to put it mildly) has informed some of the most important documentaries of recent years, including Oscar nominees Time, 13th, Strong Island, I Am Not Your Negro, and 2017 winner O.J.: Made in America. This year, notable documentaries touching on that theme
include Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America, from Sony Pictures Classics; Citizen Ashe, the doc from CNN Films about the late Arthur Ashe; the previously mentioned My Name Is Pauli Murray, and Attica, about the notorious 1971 prison uprising and brutal crackdown. Attica comes from Showtime, part of an impressive lineup of contenders from the premium cable channel joined by The Real Charlie Chaplin, and Cusp, a revealing vérité exploration of young women coming of age in rural Texas, in an environment of toxic masculinity. Last Oscar season, 238 feature docs qualified for Oscar consideration, shattering a record. That had much to do with eligibility rules relaxed because of Covid. The standards are a bit tighter this year, requiring a week-long theatrical exhibition in at least one of six metropolitan areas. The eligibility window is also smaller, running from March 1, 2021, to Dec. 31, 2021 (truncated after the eligibility window was lengthened the previous year due to Covid). Fewer docs may be submitted for consideration for another reason—any doc feature uploaded to the Academy viewing portal will be deemed ineligible for Emmys, according to a new rule imposed by the Television Academy. Still, there appears to be no shortage of hopefuls. Along with all the films cited above, many more are contending, among them Not Going Quietly, Jacinta, The Sparks Brothers, Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain (the top documentary at the box office this year), The Lost Leonardo, Like a Rolling Stone: The Life and Times of Ben Fong-Torres, Bring Your Own Brigade, and Julia, the documentary about Julia Child directed by Pauli Murray’s West and Cohen. The feature doc shortlist will be revealed Dec. 21. With so many aspirants, and only 15 slots, the announcement can be counted on to trigger a combination of celebrations and lamentations.
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CANNES STILL THE SPOT TO LAUNCH INTERNATIONAL FEATURES, BUT IT’S FACING STIFF COMPETITION
than half a century, the return of the Cannes Film Festival proves one major point: the event is still a significant launch pad when it comes to the International Feature Film Oscars. Indeed, of the 90-plus submissions recorded so far this year, nearly a quarter made their debut on the Croisette, be it in Competition, Un Certain Regard, Directors’ Fortnight or Critics’ Week. It’s perhaps to be expected—since the Academy first introduced the category in 1956, foreignlanguage auteur works have dominated more commercial fare—but the skew towards Cannes is telling. Other festivals have their place—notably Berlin and Venice, with Sundance emerging this year as an unexpected new contender—but, as a rough guide, Cannes has physically premiered six of the last 10 winners and presented last year’s victor, Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round (Denmark) under the umbrella of its virtual 2020 label. There are several elements at play in the International Feature Film category, some of them mutually exclusive. For example, many countries go for a domestic hit,
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which explains why Hong Kong opted for Jimmy Wan’s sentimental sports biopic Zero to Hero, while others go for critical heat—France’s option, Julia Ducournau’s violent horror fantasy Titane, may have won the Palme d’Or this year, but its audience figures were a fraction of its 2019 predecessor Parasite (South Korea), Bong Joon Ho’s Oscar breakout. Some countries present “issue” films, some prefer entertainment, and some, optimistically, choose stories that are so culturally specific they fail to make the long list. Interestingly, the field has become more varied lately. Not so long ago, the idea of Colombia submitting a movie would have seemed a long shot. Back in the ’50s, Europeans held sway, with France and Italy leading the pack, until the arthouse boom of the early ’60s introduced Sweden’s Ingmar Bergman and the Czech New Wave. Much like a football championship, certain national cinemas dominated the field, but a not-so-surprise win for Taiwan in 2000, with Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, marked the start of much more interesting period, one perhaps made increasingly exciting with the arrival of digital filmmaking in traditionally poorer countries. This year, Taiwan is leading a surprisingly weak charge from Asia, with Chung Mong-hong’s Venice title The Falls, the follow-up to his acclaimed 2019 film A Sun. As previous noted, Hong Kong’s choice Zero to Hero is unlikely to trouble the long list, while South Korea’s choice is Escape from Mogadishu, a fact-based drama from action director Ryoo Seung-wan set during the Somali civil war of the early ’90s. After seeming to fall out with Zhang Yimou over his 2020 film One Second—a title withdrawn from the Berlin International Film Festival and scarcely seen since—China is offering his latest film, the ’30s-set spy thriller Cliff Walkers, which, unusually, has barely troubled the international festival circuit that traditionally fetes Zhang’s new movies. The one to beat, however, is Japan’s heavy-hitter Drive
My Car. Directed by Ryusuke Hamaguchi and adapted from short stories by Haruki Murakami, the film won Best Screenplay after competing at Cannes and was, for some, a much stronger title to take the Palme d’Or. Similarly, Cannes titles are at the forefront of submissions from the Africas and the Americas. From the former we have a strong list of socially relevant works: Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s Lingui (Chad), a femalefronted abortion story; Nabil Ayouch’s Casablanca Beats (Morocco), about a rapper turned youth counsellor; and Khadar Ayderus Ahmed’s The Gravedigger’s Wife, in which a medical emergency drives a poor family even further into poverty. From the Americas, things are a little more lyrical: though set in the dangerous world of cartels, Tatiana Huezo’s Prayers for the Stolen (Mexico) focuses on three female friends caught up in a warzone, while Natalie Àlvarez Mésen’s Clara Sola (Costa Rica) tells the magic realism-infused story of a middle-aged woman’s sexual awakening in the confines of a remote village. Perhaps the oddest of the bunch is Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Memoria, his first film outside of his native Thailand; starring Tilda Swinton as a woman haunted by a strange sound she hears at daybreak. It’s a dream-like phantasmagoria that may make the cut given its U.S. distributor Neon’s intention to release it more as an art “experience” than a film. Looking at recent form for the Middle East, there is a clear leader in the field, being Iran’s Asghar Farhadi,
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who won the category in 2011 with A Separation and with The Salesman in 2016. This year, Farhadi returns with his Cannes Competition hit A Hero, in which a man is allowed out of debtor’s jail to ask his creditor’s forgiveness. Like his two previous winners, it’s a very specifically Iranian story, but his fans in the Academy don’t seem to mind that. It’s possible, however, that bolder voters may seek out Haider Rashid’s Europa (Iraq), in which an Iraqi refugee flees vicious mercenaries turned migrant hunters; Eran Kolirin’s Let It Be Morning (Israel), the satirical story of a wedding guest trapped by the Israel-Palestine conflict; or even Ameer Fakher Eldin’s The Stranger (Palestine), about a doctor struggling with life in occupied territory. Europe, of course, is where the battle will be bloodiest, and the fact that France’s decision to opt for Titane—over Celine Sciamma’s festival hit Petite Maman or Audrey Diwan’s Venice Golden Lion winner Happening—was unpopular even in France doesn’t bode well for grand-slam success. Even Italy’s choice—Paolo Sorrentino’s The Hand of God isn’t quite the sure thing this year, being a subdued, personal account of his own brush with mortality rather than the brash spectacle of his 2013 winner The Great Beauty. Germany is sticking with Maria Schrader’s warmly received Berlinale title I’m Your Man, which ponders the future of human-robot relationships. Spain, meanwhile, after wavering over Pedro Almodóvar’s Venice opener Parallel Mothers, opted instead for Fernando León de Aranoa’s factory-set comedy The Good Boss. Reuniting the director with Javier Bardem, star of his 2002 hit Mondays in the Sun, the film recently scored a record 20 nominations (over 17 categories) for the country’s Goya awards. Surprisingly, the Sundance Film Festival has increased its influence on the International category significantly in recent years, with three of this year’s submissions having aired on 2021’s ambitious but highly successful virtual platform. Blerta Basholli’s Hive (Kosovo), swept the board in the World Cinema Dramatic category, taking three awards for the story
of a woman forced to provide for her family after her husband disappears in war-torn ’90s Kosovo. From Malta there was Luzzu, in which a struggling Maltese fisherman turns to the black market to survive. But perhaps the clearest contender from the Sundance pack is Jonah Poher Rasmussen’s Flee (Denmark), the animated but harsh true story of Amin, who fled wartorn Kabul in the ’80s and escaped to Copenhagen. Could Flee make it a double for Denmark? The Nordic/Scandic/Icelandic region is proving especially fertile this year, with Valdimar Jóhannsson’s mysterious genre entry Lamb (Iceland), starring Noomi Rapace speaking in her native tongue, vying against Juho Kuosmanen’s gnomic road movie (albeit on a train) Compartment No. 6, both Cannes premieres this year. Sweden’s Tigers is much more straightforward than either, which could be a handicap this year, being the true story of Swedish soccer star Martin Bengtsson, whose dazzling career was hampered by mental illness. But if any film can benefit from the Vinterberg effect, it will most likely be Joachim Trier’s The Worst Person in the World (Norway), which takes a lighter new path for the director of male-dominated, existential dramas such as Reprise and Oslo, August 31st. It’s been a long while since anything resembling a romcom competed in the International Feature Film, but this star-making turn for Renate Reinsve, as a young woman surveying the wreckage of her love life, might not be such an outside bet in these turbulent times.
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After a charged premiere at the Venice Film Festival, PABLO LARRAÍN’S Spencer has become one of this season’s hottest contenders. A haunting study of one particular Christmas at Sandringham for DIANA, PRINCESS OF WALES, as her marriage falters and the Royal fairytale turns grim, Spencer features a landmark performance by KRISTEN STEWART that has catapulted her to the top of the Best Actress race. Joe Utichi meets Larraín and Stewart to dig deep into the production.
hat was the jumping off point for Pablo Larraín and Kristen Stewart for the film that would become Spencer? The pair share a look and laugh. “It’s a very reasonable question,” Larraín says. “And a reasonable start of a conversation,” Stewart agrees. But it’s also impossible for them to know how to respond. “Depending on how we answer the conversation can go any which way, so which conversation is this going to be?” The truth, of course, is there were a million jumping off points. “We could articulate different versions and they’d all be true,” Larraín says. There are the tangibles: the fascination with Diana that both shared, the script by Steven Knight that focused a narrative on a three-day period marking a crucial turning point in Diana’s relationship with the Royal Family, the sheer challenge of bringing to life a figure that had meant so much to so many people. Larraín, for example, saw his own mother in the story, and found some a point of connection with another English-language movie of his, Jackie, which had told a similarly confined narrative of an iconic woman, in the immediate aftermath of JFK’s assassination. For Stewart, Diana was a “cool” figure whose death had an impact on her, though she had only been 7 years old at the time. She was also obsessed with Netflix series The Crown, and fascinated by the inner workings of the unknowable Royal Family. But there were other reasons to do Spencer that, to this day, neither party can fully explain. A kind of energy that drew them to the film’s set—a grand palace in Germany standing in for the Sandringham estate. There was an energy on set they never wanted to let go of, and the story they were telling felt like a moment of victory for Diana as she made the decision to leave “The Firm” behind… even though they never lost sight of what would happen to her next. What drew them to the film, then? “There’s something in the simplicity of this that is probably the most deep,” says Larraín. “It’s just: there’s a movie in her.” “There’s nothing more,” Stewart adds. “That’s the whole thing.”
There’s an aspect to this movie where it feels like it formed as you were making it. You obviously had a solid script and a structure in place, but the movie feels very organic, even ethereal. Did it feel that way on set? Kristen Stewart: The script is very precisely written, and in a way, it has a very composed feeling, but the way it has been captured feels very much like you’ve just caught something that’s falling off a table before it shatters apart. You would maybe think, as well, with a movie that tackles a subject matter as coveted and well-covered as this one, that there would be more rehearsal. We talked about the script a lot, and I learned my lines word-for-word. I never lived in the accent, but I spent so much time making it a physical, involuntary thing that when we got there, there were embedded intentions and little buried treasures everywhere. How we found these things was: everything felt fleeting. It felt very much like we didn’t have a ton of time to shoot the movie, and so we didn’t map anything out or rehearse. Or even block… there wasn’t a shot list. Every day was walking into that space, knowing those scenes by heart and going, “Gosh, I wonder how these are going to come out. I wonder how they’ll unspool.” And it always felt as though we had a unison that allowed us to be really messy, but always I felt that we caught it at the last moment. I never felt unseen. I never felt something that I was feeling deeply, internally wasn’t somehow being physical in the room. It was somehow materializing in the room in this weird way that we were all able to catch. Because sometimes you have those feelings and you’re not speaking the same language. The visual vocabulary is not in unison with the performance. You think, I’m doing stuff and it’s not translating. In this case, to do so little actual blocking and planning and then have it present itself… it’s the most fun way to work, but it’s also scary to do because if it’s not the right combination of people, what happens is you go, “Oh, man, we’re not doing anything.” Pablo Larraín: It absolutely was the right people. Everyone that we admire so much. People like Jacqueline Durran on costumes, Guy Hendrix Dyas on production design, Jonny Greenwood with the music, Claire Mathon the DP, and all the incredible English actors. But I was thinking on that word you used: ethereal. This movie is set in a world that is very unusual for everyone. The Royal Family is not reality anyway, but also this is a period movie. If we were making a movie set this far back in the ’80s, the movie would be set in the ’50s. 30 years, it’s a lot.
Kristen Stewart as Princess Diana.
Kr i ste n St e wa r t & Pa bl o L a r ra ín ph otog ra ph ed excl u s i vel y for D ea dl in e b y M A R K M A N N
So, you combine the distance of time with a natural disconnection with these people who are so isolated in their own traditions and history and logic. Getting in there and feeling empathetic is very hard. And it’s not needed, I think… right up until the point where Kristen lets you in. That’s where it flips. If it didn’t happen, there would always be glass between the audience and the movie, and the movie would be very different. It would be colder. It could be interesting… Stewart: I was just going to say, the more you describe it, I’m like, “I’m in!” [Laughs]. Larraín: It could be. There’s an idea of art that you observe the object and you’re never reflected in it, and that creates a distance that’s very interesting and moves you in a different way. But there are other types of art, and cinematic exercises, where the dance of empathy becomes very interesting, and it depends on who you are that would determine that. I’ve been listening to some of the interviews that our heads of department have done, and it’s incredible how they all approached Diana in a different way. Everyone has a different opinion. Claire is French, Guy is English. So is Steve Knight, and he said that in a world so hard and harsh today, having the chance to focus on someone like Diana was a relief. All of a sudden, you go back and understand that a person that was so relevant and famed for so many reasons is ultimately someone so human. We need her here, now. It would be incredible to have her around. People can relate to her in their regular lives. Stewart: She was a born leader in that sense. Those are the people that you really aspire to be, and not even in a way that’s literal, but in a way that makes you feel closer to being human. You look at her and go, “I like my species.” She’s wonderful, she’s an encouraging force. It’s such a powerful thing and it’s so rare, but those people rise to the top for a reason.
In your research, did you conclude that she wanted to be a leader like that? There must have been love between her and Charles to begin with, but do you think she wanted that opportunity to speak to people like that? Stewart: From a very young age she said that she knew that was what she was going to do; that she was going to be very important. She tied that to the idea that she would marry someone really important, and this was way before Charles was a literal aspect of her life. It’s in all the interviews, and everyone who knew her as a kid was like, “It’s so crazy, but she said that.” She always said she was going to be destined for something bigger. Larraín: When I read that for the first time, I felt it implied a sense of real tragedy. Stewart: Right, because there was this weird isolationist mentality even before she found herself; before her plight was that loneliness itself. She always was separating herself from the crowd a little bit. There were certain things she didn’t do, certain things she avoided. She was like a social butterfly, but also not at all. She was saving herself, quite literally. She knew in some weird, psychic, strange way that there was something to preserve if she wanted ultimately to become that person. I think she knew she wanted to marry someone who was very important so that she could be, by osmosis, close to that power. And especially during that time, that’s what those girls are taught. That’s one way for women to be important. From this perspective, and this modern scope, that sounds crazy, but it’s the way it was. Did she want to be with Charles? I think she believed in the fairytale. She spoke about the bubble being burst, and the fall from that being violent because the belief in it was real and true. To have those
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Princess Diana spends a lonely Christmas at Sandringham.
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fantasies and that disillusionment at such a young age, and then the subsequent pressure of having to perpetuate something that is not only not true but painful, is so much for someone who is only just developing the skills of being a human being on this planet. She’s barely in her 20s and she has a baby. It’s just so much. I remember being that age, and I can’t imagine having that stunted experience, and to then be judged so harshly for the way she functions in the world. What chance did she possibly have? Actually, she did such a great job. It didn’t even take her that long to revive the love that was completely taken from her, even though she gave it up willingly. But sure, willingly did it on whose terms? On terms that were farcical and not real.
Perhaps that’s what’s so relatable, too. Inherent in the human condition is the notion that satisfaction is illusive because there are always going to be caveats to our dreams. Larraín: I think something that’s striking to me about that is her last words after the car accident. Someone comes to her aid, and she looks at that person and asks, “What happened?” Stewart: And it’s not literal. There’s something about those words where it sounds referential to her whole life. Larraín: It’s not, “What happened in the last 10 minutes?” It’s “What happened?” It’s a bigger question. And that is the most moving, absurdly painful destiny. Stewart: Oh god. Even now… it was something that occurred to me so often while we were making the movie, and those fucking words were ringing in my head all the time. To ask that of someone you don’t even know. In this weird world in which she exists as a character in my mind, I imagine her speaking her last words to someone she doesn’t know and who doesn’t know her and didn’t realize who she was at the time she said that. He didn’t immediately know it was Diana, he was just wrapped up in dealing with this horrific accident. For her to reach out to a stranger, because there was no one close to her… The movies are obviously telling very different stories, but the moment of Diana’s death was a seismic event for the world, as JFK’s assassination had been. Pablo, did you see any point of connection there between Jackie and Spencer? Larraín: Not in that sense, because I think that the Royal Family is a very English mythology, whereas Diana is universally personal. It’s not the same, and I think the reason why people care about the Royal Family is because they’re fascinated by the melodrama. That’s all it is, particularly outside of the UK. In the case of Diana, people see the reflection of themselves on her. I think that Spencer and Jackie are very different movies. Maybe because we shot that assassination so graphically—in that movie, we wanted to do it graphically. Everyone who had shot the assassination of JFK before had done it from afar, and we put the camera right in the car because we wanted to see the impact it had on her. But with Spencer, we went in the other direction. It’s way less graphic because we’re not even in that moment [of her death]. We’re away from that tragedy. We’re in another moment, and it’s a moment where she’s deciding to walk away from that house, from that family. Stewart: It’s a moment of victory.
Spencer is so internalized. We follow Diana’s perspective so closely that the people around her exist on the margins. She must decide to let them in, and she rarely does. And yet as an audience we need to
toe that line? Stewart: I think it’s really essential to personalize it, because what you said is key: everyone feels reflected, so therefore your reflection is valid. And it’s the only one worth examining, because you can’t do everybody’s at the same time. There’s no way to play the perfect historical figure of Diana. Or anybody, but especially her, because of what you just said. Then, like Pablo said, all the department heads came at her and found ways to her that were varied, and I think that collaboration is key and it’s totally essential that people feel free to express and have a director that will hear them. When a movie is unique and feels in and of itself its own thing, whether it’s good or bad—fuck good or bad, it’s its own beast—it’s because it is always funneled through this one person. A good director is able to take everyone’s selfishness and be even more selfish. To funnel it through his own lens. If you’re able to feel like a movie is completely yours and you’re not even the director, that’s remarkable. That’s the right feeling, but it’s a self-delusion because the movie actually is that director’s. It’s the best feeling because when you feel like that, you’re able to own it. And I feel like this movie is mine. Larraín: I think what you’re saying is very important and it’s very beautiful, but I would add that I personally enjoyed every moment of making this movie with you. Stewart: Me too. Larraín: Usually, when you finish, you’re exhausted. As I told you when we finished, I would have kept filming it. We ended up in London, and it wasn’t very pleasant because we had so much press and it became another thing. Stewart: Well, it was interesting because we were now the ones that were being hunted. Larraín: Yeah, of course, but when we were in those very controlled spaces in Germany, in this big house, we would walk in, and it felt like everyone was having the most incredible time. Stewart: Oh man, the weird thing was how much fun this was to me. It’s
Stewart on set with director Pablo Larraín.
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like a weird high. There was an absolute intoxication happening. There was a slap-happy, super exuberant, fluttery feeling. Even when we were doing scenes that were exceptionally sad and heavy. Pablo described the movie like a meteor that we were passing back and forth, and it was burning. There’s a hysterical nature to that. But also, as we’ve been saying, Diana was such a wonderful person that we felt her light refracted all over our set. And even if it was just our imaginations coming to life, through our imaginations she connected us to each other, and it felt like taking drugs. It felt so cool, so good. It’s so fun to be strong and powerful and funny and sexy. Larraín: It can’t get better than that. It’s very beautiful what you said and it’s true; it made everyone put joy into it. The work can be heavy, and it can be exhausting, but the material was just so fascinating. The places, the people. I remember when we talked on the phone for the first time, Kristen, I was like, “You know this will be a long ride. We’ll be together a long time, and I hope it works out.” And you were like, “Yeah, yeah, I know...” Stewart: Yeah, because you don’t know [laughs]. Larraín: You don’t know. But it was an incredible time. Of course, at the beginning it’s scary, because of the subject and the human materials in the story. But cinema is made beat-by-beat, right? It’s a slow process that involves hundreds of people running around, but in the end, it’s just a camera on very few actors, and it’s a moment of silence. It all builds up to something very specific happening in a brief moment in time. “Let’s be present right here, right now.” I was scared before we started shooting because of this wheel of desire that could take you anywhere, but once we started, I enjoyed it so much and I felt that everyone was having a really beautiful time. Stewart: It’s so rare to not have it become a slog at some point. That
That moment of silence you described, Pablo, after a team of hundreds of people have set up a shot, when you call action. Describe what that moment feels like for you. Larraín: It’s the only way to do it. Especially in the era of masks, everyone is walking around with their faces covered, and all I’d have to communicate with is my eyes. We would just look at each other and we’d know when we got that moment. It would be, “We’re moving!” Or, “Check the gate!” Because we shot the movie on film, so we fucking had to wait for the gate to be good. Stewart: Oh god [laughs]. Larraín: And sometimes there was hair on the gate or something and we had to try and get it again. Stewart: That was fucked. I mean, that’s one of the beauties of shooting on film—especially 16mm film, which is a trickier hair-in-the-gate situation. But it’s a young actor’s mistake to think there’s not a new way into a moment that most of the time, if you’ve done it once, coming back to it you can go deeper. There were a lot of moments like that on this movie. And you and I got so good at communicating with the masks on, even from very far away. There were times where I’d be like, “Boom, we’re done,” and then we had to do it again, sometimes a couple more times because the first one back was shit. It sometimes threw me that we would ever have to re-examine a moment that had lived so completely. But that’s what’s cool also. Larraín: It’s a crazy thing because you know that take with the hair is still usable, right? It makes it more expensive because you must clean it. Stewart: Yeah, and when he told me that, it was not at the beginning of the shoot. It was kind of towards the end [laughs]. I was like, “Ohhh…” Larraín: But at the same time—and look, I don’t want to get into this mystical shit, but I do believe in certain things that cinema creates, and [shooting on] film creates. There’s a rhythm. You have to load it and unload it and it’s not cheap. All the actors know it when you start filming. You have to be quiet, be precise. It’s not like digital where it’s like, “Oh, you’re rolling? I didn’t even know.” It just creates a different, good tension, so if there was a hair in the gate, OK, let’s go again. I worked years of my life to try to make movies like they were complete accidents, even with no script. And this was an exercise in controlling everything right up to the point that we were actually making it. It’s a different approach and I loved it, and what comes out of it is an
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feeling where you’re like, “Fuck, OK guys, I can tell everyone’s tired and it’s day 28, but there are 37 days…” Where we still have a lot left, but we’ve done a lot already, you know? I genuinely never felt like that. There was a certain point where I got a bit tired of walking around the grounds, because the only way to give that montage shot scope was to shoot little bits of it every day, but it was also the most beautiful meditative therapy session of a scene that carried us through the whole thing. There was never a point where it felt like we were slacking or that we had to encourage the crew. There’s always usually a point where the actor brings in an ice cream truck [laughs]. There’s always like, “Fuck! We need to get a coffee truck!” I mean, I can’t remember if we did anything like that, but we didn’t really need to. We really were all skipping.
exercise that is all the more sophisticated because of how you got there. Stewart: I’ve never prepped a movie like this in my life, and I’ve also never felt freer or more unbound. It might have been counterintuitive for me as a younger actor, but actually, oddly, it’s the way to really act. It’s the fucking way to fly through something. We chipped away at it. It felt like one little foot in front of the other every single day. I like shooting out of order, especially in a movie like this where it wasn’t like I had to contend with a huge age gap. In this sense, I enjoyed days where there would be a scene from the beginning of the movie and a scene from towards the end, because it made everything feel very close. Larraín: And possible. Because it takes so much weight out of you. If you’re doing the whole movie scene by scene, you only see what’s still to come. By shooting out of order, it’s just this little moment. Just this idea. Just focus on the little thing, and then the next one, and then the next one. Stewart: Who knows how different the movie would have wound up if we had shuffled a different deck of cards in the schedule. Had we just had a different reason to do it like we did. You learn certain things and then you take those things into the next day, and you build upon the scene that might come before or after. You don’t know how, if you shuffle the deck differently, it would have been informed.
Were there ever moments of wanting to go back to something you’d done earlier because of what you’d later learned? Stewart: Not really. To be completely honest, maybe a couple moments, but my immediate reaction to you asking is no. Perhaps there were one
or two things where I would have been overthinking because I really wanted them to land and be good, but there was nothing I was ever like, “Hey, do you think that we could go back?” Because if we had needed to do that, we were usually in a position where we could have gone back and done it. Larraín: It is so amazing when you work so hard around something and then it actually happens and it’s so short. That moment of capture is so short and fleeting. Stewart: I know. Sometimes we would get it and you were like, “Should we do it again? We might as well, because we’re here.” But oftentimes it would be the first or second take that probably wound up in the movie, and it became, “Let’s just taste it one more time because after that, that’s it. This is the last meal.” Larraín: The thing is, this is just like music. Sometimes you hear a song you like, and you imagine that person maybe only played it once. You can spend years of your life listening to that song, and it took them three minutes to record it. It’s incredible. Stewart: Yeah, it doesn’t matter if it was played a million times since, because that recording was just once. I always have visual flashes of them writing the song or recording it. I imagine myself there. Larraín: I just saw the trailer for Peter Jackson’s Beatles doc, and they were preparing the song “I’ve Got a Feeling”. That song will last forever, and how they created it is fucking cosmic. It’s incredible how time is just this weird perception. Sometimes on set you feel like you’re flirting with things you don’t fully understand, but the capture of that is short, and it’s nice that it’s short. I don’t like to do 50 takes. At most, maybe, we did 12, but the regular amount was three or four.
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Princess Diana with her boys; cradling Prince Harry (Freddie Spry) as Prince William (Jack Nielen) looks on.
Kristen Stewart: Five of the Best The Runaways (2010) Stewart plays Joan Jett to Dakota Fanning’s Cherie Currie in Floria Sigismondi’s biopic of
Stewart: There’s a cycle where the first few takes work and feel truthful, and then something falls out, but you keep going and you push through that to try and get back to it. It’s torturous and punishing as a process, though it can be fruitful on some occasions. But it doesn’t feel good, it feels bad. When you struggle to do anything, I don’t know if something really feels worth it. It’s not that it should be easy necessarily, but it should feel natural. Larraín: I’m not talking about you, but I’ve worked with actors where they wait, where they don’t get there on the first take. They do it slowly and they expect seven or eight takes, so they treat the first four or five takes as a rehearsal. Here, nobody worked like that. And with Kristen leading the charge… Stewart: I do the opposite. I start at 11 and take it down from there. Larraín: So, when we’re working with actors who are not with us all the time, they come and they see that, and they honor it, so it only needs a few takes. It creates a good kind of tension in everyone, from the actors to the focus puller and everybody. Stewart: That’s what I was going to say. I’ve been doing this a very long time, so it would be falsely modest not to acknowledge that focus and pacing can be controlled. The absurdity of pretending to be other people is inherently embarrassing, and it makes other people embarrassed not only because it’s odd, but because it’s really vulnerable and, at least at first, it’s fucking ridiculous. The only way to push through that, and not build awkwardness, is you take it as high as you possibly can, and maybe that’s too much but on the next take you can bring it down. It’s very nerve-racking to have a small amount of time on screen in a movie like this that is so intense. You only have a few opportunities to find your character, so it’s hard. It’s really hard. It’s so nice to be able to say to those actors, “We’re not working up to this. We’re ripping off the Band-Air right now.” People are exhilarated and surprised and shocked out of being too embarrassed to be vulnerable or whatever the fuck. It’s really the best part. You gotta lead with confidence, even if it’s false at the start. You have to fucking stick your head in.
us together physically,
even though her character was by no means the lead—or even the lead in her own story, in which she co-stars with Lily Gladstone playing a city attorney giving classes in completely unperturbed
Personal Shopper (2016) Stewart reteamed with Assayas for this surreal, impressionistic Cannes winner, in which she plays an American girl working in the world of Paris fashion who is literally haunted by the death of wrote the part for her on spec and was amazed honestly didn’t think she
Clouds of Sils Maria (2014) French auteur Olivier Assayas brought the rare distinction of winning a Best Supporting Actress César—the Gallic equivalent of an Oscar—for her role as Valentine, PA to a much older actress (Juliette Binoche) who is about to revisit the play that launched her to stardom
Seberg (2019) Stewart won Germany’s prestigious Jupiter award for her portrayal of American starlet Jean Seberg, who made it big in Europe in the 60s but crashed down on her she became involved in civil rights issues and
director Benedict a contemporary style icon who is incapable of
Does that extend to your drive to create? Not to be bleak about it, you’re on the planet? Stewart: It’s funny, I was just thinking about something similar to this general subject two days ago because I had this immediate existential
did not expect that, and
and Jean are the same in N EO N
Adapted from Currie’s book Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, the movie drew praise for its sensitive deconstruction of the band’s bad-girl rep, and Jett was particularly impressed by Stewart’s perfor-
Certain Women (2016) Based on a series of short stories by novelist Maile Meloy presenting a triptych of life in present-
Pablo Larraín: The Story So Far
The Club (2015)
Fuga (2006) A young musician becomes fascinated by the
Tony Manero (2008)
man becomes obsessed Ema (2019) Saturday Night Fever
Post Mortem (2010)
were dancing you wore sneakers because it was not possible. Stewart: I was scared [laughs]. I was genuinely afraid I was going to fall down. I even told them, “If I fall, do not fucking cut. Don’t have anyone run in, because men on set—which I appreciate, especially certain bigger dudes like stunt coordinators or grips or the camera operators—they are literally supposed to take care of you and would very naturally rush and go, “Are you OK?” I’m like, “Literally, if I break my face on the marble floor and you don’t fucking shoot that… I swear!” [Laughs].
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fear. I had a feeling of impending doom that if it ever did stop, it actually would be scary. I have friends and a dog, and I have a life that feels personal and normal and provincial, in the sense that my whole life isn’t just working. But pretty much, I go from one thing to the next, and I always have a ton of things going on, or I’m always trying to find the thing. If that did stop, it would be scary. So, I had that thought of like, If I lost my greatest interest, would I have no reason to be? It becomes: what is life for? These are just things you sip coffee and think about sometimes. Not all the time, but the other day I said, “Fuck, thank god I have one or two things to keep me occupied because I can’t be contemplating infinity all the time.” It’s super addictive. It’s just a way to be here, you know what I mean? [Laughs]. Larraín: I don’t think, in my case, you never really know what you’re doing. It’s a strange thing to talk about a film, because I personally must come to an understanding of what I want to say about the movie. It becomes a process, but there’s something in the desire of the filmmaking itself to meet you at that unknown place with materials that can be fascinating and dangerous at the same time. There’s something that pulls you in, that lets you exist, which is so simple. “How come it could be so fascinating to see Diana?” It’s so simple. I remember on the first day, Kristen walked in, and I had my camera and it was: “This is it!” Stewart: It did feel crazy [laughs]. It was so fucked up and freezing cold, but before that moment—before we actually went to make the movie—I felt like I was just playing dress-up, because we weren’t doing the scenes. There was a moment where Pablo told me to go back and start from where I began again. He said, “Just relax, and slow down, and hold the whole movie. Walk in, and hold the whole movie.” And that wasn’t a scene, but it was a scene. Everybody has asked me what was the first moment I felt the character, or felt like I had gotten her, but that was the first moment where we were doing the thing and it was the three of us moving together—me, Pablo and Claire—where I could tell as soon as we cut. I saw Claire pull away from behind the viewfinder and it’s always the same look of: something just happened. It was like we all saw the same ghost. Larraín: You know what also happened that day? I remember exactly the moment you’re talking about, where you walked over to the window, but it was also the first time we were quiet again, right? And I heard the heels… Stewart: Yes! On the wood floor. So haunting. Larraín: There, I understood something that was so important for this film, which is the heels. It’s about the heels. She’s trapped to the heels, so the connection she has with that space is through her feet. And you wore them even in close-ups, right, Kristen? Maybe sometimes when you
Intriguing one-on-one conversations with the top filmmakers of this awards season
W AT C H T H E S E R I E S AT: https://deadline.com/vcategory/behind-the-lens/
A paired conversation spotlighting crafts, and the c o l l a b o r a t i o n b e t w e e n t w o a r t i s t s . Wa t c h D i re c t o r s talking with their Cinematographers, Actors talking with Costume Designers, Writers talking with Composers and other fascinating discussions about the intersection of their craft.
W AT C H T H E S E R I E S AT: https://deadline.com/vcategory/the-process/
T he B es t O f 202 1 | Actors
How The Guilty was constructed around a new paradigm of moviemaking BY JOE UTIC HI
Jake Gyllenhaal’s powerful performance in The Guilty Fuqua after seeing the Danish-language original at Sundance in 2018, has won tremendous plaudits ever
safe ways to work during the pandemic. It’s also a big year for the Gyllenhaal clan generally, as Jake’s sister Maggie releases her feature directorial debut, The Lost Daughter.
Your sister, Maggie, has made a
I’m so close to it since I’ve been through the whole process of it. It’s almost like being in it, where I don’t have any perspective really. But to have been there with her in time it screened for an audience, it was like a huge relief followed by a huge celebration. It’s been amazing, and it isn’t surprising. Maggie is so smart, and she’s so brave to talk about complex feelings. I think it’s rare that feelings that complex get expressed, and it’s rare that they get the positive attention she has been getting for this movie, so I’m really excited about that. It gives me faith. She got so much support, and an incredible cast. She’s got all these nice little booster rockets.
a moment where everybody said, “Well, we can’t tell this story now.” I think it was an immediate reaction, with people not really looking at what was underneath; what this movie script to Antoine Fuqua, he said, “This is everything I want to be talking about right now, and it’s entertaining. People can listen again.” Both of us, Antoine and I, said, “Now is the time to tell this story.” And it wasn’t just about the relative ease of making it with the restrictions of the pandemic. It was because putting it into the American context was important. These are the times to tell stories like that.
When I look back at it now, it was very much an expression of that
moment for me. It’s an allegory. It’s very Greek, it’s very dramatic. I couldn’t go backwards when we shot, so we shot in order. It progressed into these kinds of big feelings that emerge toward the end of the movie. And there were many other big feelings under those big feelings. The Guilty
Both Maggie and I were raised to talk honestly about what’s inside us, and I want to continue to do that. I think I’m moving to a place where I just want to have more fun. And part to express those feelings myself; to create movies and tell stories on my own that communicate that, as my sister has done. And also, to be in movies as an
actor for hire that are just great fun to do. To enjoy the process. That’s not to say I haven’t had fun before, though I don’t know how much I was letting myself enjoy what was there. Some roles had been great fun over the years. Nightcrawler, even though people have a certain perspective on those characters, I found great fun to do. But the longer you’re lucky enough to get to do this, the more genres you explore, and if you can get stuck in there… I think I’m starting to get more interested in what an actual hero is, as an archetype and as an idea. And I’m interested in challenging that. I think most of the characters I played before have been more like antiheroes. Now, I’m sort of interested in what makes a real hero.
and it was
When you do it long enough, you start to work it out. Not to say those
Jake Gyllenhaal as Joe Bayler in The Guilty.
the start of the pandemic wanting to make the movie. Because it was contained, because it was centered on one character, it was a safe thing to do, and everyone was eager to be getting back in. Everyone jumped in. Then, George Floyd was killed. It’s hard for me, because I don’t want to give away too much of the story to people who may not have seen it, but let’s say that there was
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I do hope the movie inspires actual change, and I hope that perspectives like The Lost Daughter, which are already profound literary expressions, can be brought into the world more. I think there are many of them, and that was why I wanted to make The Guilty. You could see
conversations in the past haven’t been a part of it. At a certain point you learn to let go of doing what’s “right for the career.” That’s never made me feel good, and I’ve never been very good at it. I’ve done it at times, sometimes successfully and sometimes not. But I would say it has accounted for less than 10% of my career. Everything else has been stuff I’ve done where people have told me, “What do you think you’re doing?” Or, “We’re not interested.” It has to be something I believe in. It’s the same with Maggie, and she pushes me. We push each other. Denis Villeneuve has been that voice for me too. From the moment we Enemy, I remember sitting down for dinner with him and saying, “Oh, I might do this, or I might do that.” He said, “Well, what do you want to do?” I need reminding of that. But the expression is so fun. If you were to ask me, “What are you writing right now?” I would honestly tell you that I don’t know what it is. It will reveal itself to me, but I’ll be in the room, writing, and allowing myself that experience. That to me is what’s interesting, whether it’s a success or failure. Because I do still have my day job. And look, when I’m producing movies like The Guilty, I’m very aware I love the business of movies. I also love that. Outside of the creative is something I really enjoy. And I enjoy it because I love learning the language. I love knowing the minds of those people and how they work, what they need, and satisfying that. It’s not as simple as, “I’m going to follow my own vision, and if I don’t satisfy an audience, so what?” Was that balance always there with The Guilty or did it require some work? It just drove us all the way throughout. I always saw it in a particular way. I had a vision of it being what it was. Executing it, I had a vision of it being streamed. I don’t think there was ever an intention
Jake Gyllenhaal takes on mental health issues in a role he hopes will foster change.
There are so many people in the industry who are doing what we're doing because their lives have been rocked and shaped in the right way about the issues that are most important.
of theatrical really, in my mind. The challenge became: how long can you keep an audience intrigued without them clicking off to watch something else? In that sense, then, there was a different language to the construction of a movie that was bound for theatrical. Right. Using the experience for the viewer as a technique. That’s how we tried to do The Guilty. What I loved about it so much was, how long can you hold someone’s attention? Can you do that? And then, do you have to do it over 40 days of shooting? were processes that made it really fun for me and Antoine. It was such a different challenge to everything we’ve done before, and it was really interesting to think about the process of making a movie. We designed the process of shooting the movie to be just as entertaining as the movie itself. We didn’t build in any allowance to go backwards. Antoine said, “We’re shooting this thing, we’re doing it in order, and when the day is done, it’s over. That’s what we have to use.” It was almost like he was making his own set of Dogme rules. And in doing it, it didn’t feel restrictive; it felt liberating.
Given the themes The Guilty explores, do you believe in the power of art to foster understanding and bring change? I’ve witnessed it, on movies like Brokeback Mountain, and other of them [laughs]. But some of them break through, and what you hear is, “That movie, that expression changed my life.” There are so many people in the industry who are doing what we’re doing because their lives have been rocked and shaped in the right way about the issues that are the most important. So, you do want to try to do work that is going to change someone’s mind, for the better. That’s what I want to continue to do, and that’s why Antoine and I wanted to make this movie, and why we will continue to work together [in the future], because that’s who we are. When I came to him with the script, I said to him, “Read this thing. days.” He came back and said, “This is a story about mental health. It’s a story about people who need help, and who have no way of getting it.” I think that’s the discussion that matters. The discussion we’re having right now is about mental health, and about priorities.
of Newark, how big a fan of The Sopranos series were you when this all came about? I wouldn’t call myself a fan, before I was cast. I hadn’t watched the series top to bottom. Sopranos premiered the year that I graduated high school, so it wasn’t top of mind. When I was a college freshman, HBO would have been like caviar, like eating lobster. I didn’t have those frills then. I didn’t watch the series the but be aware of it because it was at the center of the cultural conversatime around.
What he found in David Chase’s script to inspire his performance in Many Saints of Newark BY MIC HAEL FLEMING
After playing Aaron Burr in the Tony-winning musical Hamilton and garnering a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination last year playing singer Sam Cooke in One Night in Miami, Leslie Odom Jr. this year turned his sights toward David Chase’s world of Jersey mobsters in The Many Saints of Newark. In the precursor to the celebrated series, The Sopranos, Odom Jr. plays Harold McBrayer opposite Alessandro Nivola’s Dickie Moltisanti. Their relationship grows from colleagues—McBrayer oversees a numbers operation for the other man—into bitter rivals in the backdrop of the Newark race riots, each escalating in violence and danger.
You just received a Grammy nomination for your song “Speak Now” from One Night in Miami. Congratulations. It certainly is a nice feeling. I mean, I don’t know. I’ve had the experience now of waking up and hoping to be nominated, and it happening. I’ve woken up and hoped to be nominated, and then, it didn’t happen. And I’ve had the very lucky experience a couple times now of waking up and being nominated for something I had no expectation at all to be nominated for. To hear about [being
nominated] from other people is my favorite. You are living your life, fully invested in the things that are in front of you, the people that are in front of you, and then, something nice like this happens. It’s surprising and, yeah, wonderful. You look like a million bucks in that suit. Do you always look this sharp for Zoom interviews? I’m tempted to go change my shirt. No pressure on you, but I’m trying to do this thing now where I just get rid of some of my slummier clothes.
It’s something about that pandemic malaise, you know. Taking a shower every day, but I’m in this same sweatpants and sweatshirt I’ve been wearing for the last four days. I’m trying to phase some of that out. There are signs that we’re coming to the end of, you know, really tough and impossible time with quarantine and all that. So, I’m trying, essentially, to just have some nicer shit in the closets, so that I will wear nicer stuff. I approve, and I feel appropriately shamed. On The Many Saints
How did this all come about, leading to the call from David Chase on one of the best roles in The Sopranos prequel? I didn’t think I was on David’s radar at all. I got a call to make an audition tape. At the time, I was in a really good spot because I was shooting a sitcom that was in production on a pilot at ABC. I was producing it with Kerry Washington, and I was really having the time of my life, starring in this sitcom. We didn’t go forward at ABC but that’s where my head was. I was fully invested in this sitcom; I wanted my Everybody Loves Raymond, the nine-season run. I was on the CBS Radford lot. And I got a call. They needed this tape very, very quickly. They were making a decision in the next two days, and I had to know it’s been a long day on the lot, but you got to go make this tape. It’s a great script. You read the script? I’m told they won’t send you a script. There’s just the scenes. But this is a big project! I make this tape with as little as they’d given me, but there was still something happening when I went to make the tape, there was inspiration there. The writing, nobody writes like they did. It was just out to drift and just open enough that you really feel like you can ex-
they were about keeping the actors auditioning in the dark. So, then, they sent me to New York. I met with Alan and David. I read the script, so I knew what I was doing. You level with them that you hadn’t watched the series? I kept that close to the vest, but in hindsight, I think that my experience might have been something akin to the actors in that original run, in that there was nothing for them to watch. But they were getting great scripts. They were getting great original David Chase scripts and they were trying to play those moments as honestly as they possibly could. So, that was my task. Bitter rivals: Leslie Odom Jr. and Alessandro Nivola.
press your own artistic soul. So, I made the tape, expecting them to make the decision the next couple days like they said. Next day, I got a call. OK. They love your tape. They want you to tape again, but this time, you’ll have some notes. I’m like, OK, but I thought they were making a decision right away. Just make the tape again. So, I make the tape again with their notes in mind. I get a call the next day. OK. They want you to tape one more time. I
to the director, or I need to read a script. I don’t know what I’m doing. I’m just making choices, jabs in the dark with this. I have no idea what the script is about. And so, Alan Taylor got on the phone with me. He said, “I love what you’re doing. It’s really great. We really like your take on this guy but don’t forget, in that second scene, you know, you just killed that guy in like “Alan, Alan. I had no idea about that. You haven’t sent me a script. That would be helpful to know. OK. laughed. He had a good chuckle with that, because you know, I don’t even know if Alan knew how serious
When you care about someone deeply, when you love somebody, that sensitivity to triggers and betrayal and slights is the stuff of great drama.
When Deadline did a 20-year look back on The Sopranos, JamieLynn Sigler who played Tony’s daughter said she went in knowing the title and little else. She’s a singer and she kept asking, “Do you want me to sing?” So, your notion seems spot on. After you got the job, did you immerse yourself in the show? I had very little time to prepare, and I knew my character wasn’t based on anybody in the series. So, watching the series top to bottom wasn’t the priority. I watched some episodes but didn’t have the 60 hours to really truly do that in that moment. I have since watched it, twice, during the pandemic. That was a time to watch all the great series I never got around to in the so much. like I said, he gives you so much upon the page, and then, there really is, in a wonderful and strange way, there also is so much that is up for interpretation. There’s so much of my [character’s] back story that I did feel comfortable adding personal touches to, and I worked with my acting coach to felt personal to me. David, he writes in such a sweet spot. Contrast the difference between
Dickie Moltisanti, and your character Harold. Dickie’s blinding temper ruins his life. Harold starts as his employee, but by the end, he’s emboldened to go against Dickie, with the help of the heroin kingpin Frank Lucas. I kind of thought of them as, I don’t know, brothers like Caine and Abel, or distant cousins. Something familial because of that thin line that we all know so well. When you care about someone deeply, when you love somebody, that sensitivity to triggers and betrayal and slights is the stuff of great drama. I wanted to make them as close as possible, and obviously, it was on the page already. It was inspired by David’s script. What I understand very well from the life that I’ve lived and also what’s been shared with me by generations before me, what I understood very well is that question that Harold has. I was talking to a writer friend of mine, really talented dramatic writer, and she said that she believes that every project has those central questions, and every character has a central question. I think for Harold, it might have been, but for the color of my skin where would I be? What can I achieve? What might I be capable of? You know if that is that character’s central question, yeah, it’s going to eventually lead to tension with him and his brother, with him and the guys that bait him and berate him constantly because of the color of his skin and where he grew up. You could see that at play in the series with Tony’s sister Janice. She did terrible things and acted like a mob boss, and I’m sure she felt if she had been born male, she would have been the boss. That is a really good observation. Yeah. Set during the Newark riots, this movie is such a study in class distinctions. We saw here and in the series that the Italian soldiers pictured themselves at one level. But the people who
lived near Tony were infatuated by knowing a criminal, and they pictured themselves above him. In the movie, your character was as ambitious as the Italian mistress who comes between Harold and Dickie. Clearly the mobsters felt that women, and people of color, were well below them. It made the
I think the things about the world that he’s chosen… there’s things about that world that Harold has accepted are a part of it. On some level, he has made peace with an untimely demise, you know, his own untimely demise. I think that for whatever reason, he’s chosen this world and the reward is worth the risk for him. I think he feels like he’s smart enough and savvy enough to survive it. That said, as a father, as a conscientious citizen in 2021, whenever I pick up a shotgun in a
Were you cognizant of that? Oh. Sure. I think David writes with a whole lot of symbolism. David’s writing too is so much about what’s happening in between the lines. Knowing at the center of the story, the original inspiration, was that it was about this mob boss goes to a shrink and sits on the couch for analyzation. A character like that would need to be complex enough to keep us interested enough for us to be curious about, season after season. Having watched the series, ceris the case with Tony, it really needs to be the case for almost everybody in The Soprano’s universe. That any one of them could be on that couch. They all need to be as psychologically complex as that character. So, of course, I thought about what David was doing symbolically and thematically and that really sets you free as an actor because so many different interpretations would work from moment to moment. You’ve played famous characters in Aaron Burr and Sam Cooke. Why were you reluctant to play the singer, in One Night in Miami? I mean, wouldn’t you be? Not if I sang like you… It just felt like… I thought there must be somebody better suited than I. But Regina King believed in me, myself. The most surprising thing, I think, was I don’t think that I had ever really considered until then this thing my dad had told me about. I was 10 or 11 and we were watching swans in a park and my dad said, “Do you see that swan in the water?
From left: Leslie Odom Jr., Terrell Gardner.
... As a father, as a conscientious citizen in 2021, whenever I pick up a shotgun in myself to be used to depict that kind of violence, I want to consider the costs.
Do you see how graceful it is?” And I said, “Yeah.” He said, “Underneath the water is this [mimics the swan’s feet churning].” He was talking about the effort, the tremendous effort underneath grace. I’d just never considered that where Sam was concerned. Publicly, he was so polished, and professional and deeply the tremendous effort that was underneath that until [I saw] Kemp Power’s script. This is probably a wonky parallel, but Sam Cooke was pressured by his friends Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, and Malcolm X everyone and sing things that needed to be said in the midst of the Civil Rights movement. Harold in The Many Saints of Newark was basically goaded into killing an employee who got out of line, by Dickie Moltisanti, to save face with the white mob family.
depict that kind of violence, I want to consider the costs. You know, I want to consider the cost in the performance, meaning I want the character to weigh the cost. I consider the cost as an artist, you know, what am I putting out into the world and why and do I think that it is useful in some way. I thought that the best way that I could make use of myself in that moment was to consider it, to really think about what it means to take a life and are you gleeful when you do something like that. Is there pleasure in it? Is there joy in it? I don’t think there’s any of that for Harold. I think that there’s a cost. I wanted that to reside somewhere. I certainly wanted it to exist in the performance, and so, hopefully, it would reside somewhere and that this wouldn’t be about encouraging that. This wouldn’t be about glorifying that kind of violence. Yeah. They are discussing the continuation of the story line of those characters, either in movie or series. Is that something that you might be interested in? I might be. Sure. If David calls me… I’d do just about anything to work with David Chase. He made me better. It wasn’t easy. David’s not easy but there is a divine tension, I think, that can yield powerful and memorable results if you make yourself available to it. So, I would make myself available to that tension again.
huge emotional memory of the time then. And because it communicated itself to me in such a manner that it placed me back in my childhood as well and the people that I was surrounded by. So, I connected it with it almost straight away. And I saw how beautifully structured and scripted it was and the rhythm of the speech and the color of the characters. He said, would you consider playing Pa? And I said that more than consider it, it would be an honor to accept it. And he said, “Good. I’ll just proffer you up the information that you have Dame Judi as your wife.” Well, I nearly went through the roof. I thought, ‘Oh no, I’m going to have to light a candle now to make sure that I don’t let anybody down.’ The stakes had suddenly got very high. He’s so gifted. And he’s such a soft, intelligent man, but he has this great warmth to him and a naturalness that then makes our work easier.
The Belfast star recalls his journey into both Kenneth Branagh’s past and his own Irish upbringing B Y A N T O N I A B LY T H
Belfast, he felt honored to step into the writer-director’s personal story, and to be cast opposite Judi Dench. Belfast centers around Buddy—played by breakout Jude Hill—a character based upon Branagh’s young self, growing up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Hinds would essentially be playing a version of Branagh’s own father—a tough call for even the most skilled actor. But fortunately, he had something of an ace in his pocket given that he grew up just down the street from Branagh.
You didn’t really know Kenneth he approach you? I’m 68, Ken’s just turned 60. He’s a young whipper snapper. And we come from the same part of the world, I live in the same city, but also, we grew up half a mile away from each other. I don’t know if Ken knew that, but I knew that, having read about him. I was just half a mile up the road. And in our youth, we actually would have gone to the same cinema, the Capitol in the Antrim Road, which, alas, is no more, but it was one of those old
1920 cinemas. And Ken, I knew, was always fascinated, him and his family, by the pictures. And we too, my family, were also great cinema lovers. So, we had that connection without ever meeting, and also because we were born on other sides of the famous religious divide in Northern Ireland. He was brought up protestant and I was brought up Catholic, so, we would never have met because of the segregation in schools. Ken got in touch via my agent. I was with my wife in Lyon in France, because she was rehearsing a play, so we spoke by Zoom and he told
me how he had written this story of his childhood in Belfast and how he carried it around with him, the memory of these people that he was so close to, and because of circumstances had to be, in a way, ripped away from them in a positive manner to create a new life for the family. He said, “Would you mind if I sent you this script?”
I read it and within a page or two or three, I understood that this had come from someone who really knows the city and obviously has a
Was it triggering or painful to read about that time for you? And everything that brought up? There weren’t any painful memories, but it does of course shoot your mind back. But at that time, when he wrote this, setting it in August 1969, I was 16. And what they call the Troubles kicked off. At the beginning, it was very exciting, weirdly, for a 16-year-old. Belfast was a town that not only was closed on Sundays at that point. Even the parks were locked up. And not only were the parks locked up, the swings individually in the park were locked up, and the slides were barred. So, it was a no-fun zone? That was a kind of a mindset. So, when things have kicked off, you go like, well, something’s happening. But we didn’t, at that stage, really hatred and the violence that would follow and kick off all this stuff that had been suppressed for such a long time. And I do remember that was then followed by a lot of horror and misunderstanding because when it
All in the family, from left, Judi Dench, Jude Hill and Ciarán Hinds.
arrived, it arrived in a big way. But my father was a doctor, and his surgery
he get him to quote that? Just their fashions. They set them, [and]
his patients were divided between So, as a doctor, of course, you treat
Did you draw on your own dad and other family members as an inspiration to play Pa? Yeah, they came to me rather, not me.
mind of my father and my mother’s father, so my grandfather, who we
He's a gift to us all. And in real life, he's a gem, he's a dote, he's funny, he's smart. And we just enjoy listening to him talking. He's a little boy from school, who did his part so beautifully.
There’s a scene in there where he puts that in, and uses it in a together. bit of my father, not my grandfather.
on. That’s the art of great writing of
and framed, and the choice of where then, wasn’t it? T
the second time, when we had to
the weight of this family, and what they had to do in this situation. And 2,000 individuals coming in, and bit-by-bit, humanity bonding together. And they’re caring for the humanity in front of them. It was quite emotional when I saw it with all those people. Did Kenneth talk to you about aspects of his own father, about Pa, the real man? No, that was very interesting. He might say something like, “My grandad used to do that,” but not in a way of who his grandfather was or who his grandmother was. I guess, because he didn’t want to confuse or burden us having to think that we might have to portray this or add this on as another level or another layer. The [main] character’s called Buddy. I mean, it is based on his story and a lot of the incidents happened in his life, but not all of them.
That’s the way to put it. And inside that he was just looking for the spirit of the people to live again. I think that’s what his aim was. And he’s such a master, not a manipulation—or maybe it is brilliant manipulation—but of just allowing things to happen or guiding people in a way that things can connect together and then he can capture. So, obviously, you aged up for Well, I told Judi, I said, “I’ll tell you what, we’ll meet halfway.” Because she could pull off playing Oh yeah. “If you come down a bit and I’ll go up a bit.”
that just comes to you intuitively through working on stage and the Yeah. I had to deal with that as well.
There's a certain point, I think, having seen it twice, that it sort of takes the audience and holds them and everybody's just given themselves happened, we sort of knew we were
out at one stage that he has to have go to the hospital for a checkup. [Because] when he was working in Leicester and he used to be a coal miner—remember all those guys suffered so badly, so it was when the emphysema starts. So, that idea of moving slowly is to save the breath a bit. How was working with Judi? She was very funny and she would always say, “It’s all right for you, you’re all from Belfast. I had to put [the accent] on. That didn’t sound very good. Did it?” I said, “Yeah, it was close enough. Go on. Don’t worry about it.” Caitríona is from Monaghan, which is more of a Northern Ulster country accent as opposed to [a] Belfast [accent]. But you wouldn’t know it when you hear her. And the same with Judi, because when she came in, when all across the width and the length of a very big table. So, we weren’t getting close and [were wearing] masks. And Jamie and Caitriona and myself were there already. And then in came the great Dame, wearing a tiger mask. The tiger mask was kind of ferocious. Like, well she means business. Are you talking tiger print, or did it actually have teeth? Teeth. That was her Covid mask. But it was such an introduction and done with such ease and panache, and then you know, she’s up for fun. Her work is... It’s her instinct, her constant search for the truth of things and no bullshit. But not to take yourself too seriously at the same time. I think we all understood what this meant to Ken. We were all very itself into something that I suppose he wasn’t sure how it would land. And because we all know the work he did and how he brought everybody together, what it meant to him, the fact that it’s been celebrated in this way, we just talked ... about generally how thrilled we are for him.
How was the experience of What did it mean for you all to watch it there? That was an extraordinary night. I mean, I’d arrived at two days before to see my sisters for a bit. And so, I hadn’t seen [the] company until we all arrived at a little bit of a red carpet. A red carpet in Belfast is a big thing, as you imagine. And we were in the Waterfront Hall, and I think about 1,600 people were there. It was Jamie and Caitríona. And we had this frisson of anxiety, excitement, saying, we’re bringing it home, because we’re from Belfast. I mean, it’s kind of exciting, but we know they call a spade a spade… They call it very basic, very straight, when their heart’s been taken by it you know? But for us it was exhilarating. There’s a certain point, I think, having seen it twice, that it sort of takes the audience and holds them and everybody’s just given themselves up. And when that happened, we sort of knew we were in the right place. And it’s about hearts opening [to] the story and for right, or for wrong, whatever agendas people arrived with, letting them drop, and just being human. And this is not an agenda-driven film. In the North, we have too many agendas and they’re all specific and everybody... and good agendas, bad agendas, but sometimes it’s better just to be human and feeling. And that night, it really felt that that opened up, which was a joy to behold... and for Ken as well.
He’s a gift to us all. And in real life, he’s a gem, he’s a dote, he’s funny, he’s smart. And we just enjoy listening to him talking. He’s a little boy from school, who did this part so beautifully. Did he think a year ago, [he was] even on your radar? Hollywood beckons? It’s kind of magical actually. And to me, the story of Ken is quite magical as well.
Mostly, it was the relationship between the father and son, because I’m raising three boys.
With the titular role in Old Henry, the actor presents a quietly contained old American hero B Y A N T O N I A B LY T H
In Old Henry, Tim Blake Nelson is the titular frontiersman, living a hermetic life, with only his son for company. His most central role since the Coen brothers’ The Ballad of Buster Scruggs, Blake portrays a man deeply bound by repression—that is, until a chance run-in with an injured stranger forces the emergence of Henry’s true self. Old Henry is part of the increasingly popular “elevated Western” genre,
Yeah. Henry worked on this movie [as an art production assistant]. I think Potsy really got two really essential aspects of parenthood: One is the desire for the healthy parent to want their offspring not to make the mistakes they did, and therefore, to be able to live a better and more healthy life; then, in the raising of kids, the tension that exists between wanting to protect them from the dangers and challenges of the world out there, and the desire to expose them to it. In one case you’re extending childhood, which is a good thing, to a degree. But in the other case, you’re teaching them how to deal with life’s challenges, and one is always struggling as a parent, with that balance, and I felt that Potsy examined that, in a sensitive, tender and knowing way. It was exciting for me, to get to rehearse that every day, playing this role.
personality and relationship dynamics. He describes his heartfelt decision to immerse himself in writerdirector Potsy Ponciroli’s vision, and in Henry himself.
How did it feel to be handed the
life. And what’s lucky for me is,
interesting movies, even if they’re smaller. I’d love to imagine a world in which a mainstream movie would dare to have me as its lead. But I don’t think that’s realistic, and so I’ve got to count on people like Potsy, or the Coens with Buster Scruggs, to want me to headline their movies, with off-center characters.
want to appear. I’m not going to end up the lead in a cookie cutter movie. But I’d rather play the interesting supporting roles in larger movies, and be given leads in more
Yeah, it is, but it’s an oxymoron, because it’s a self-selection, that
I think who and what I am, is a selfselective phenomenon, in terms of the roles I get offered. And usually that’s going to put me in supporting roles. Unless the
in a sense is beyond your control. So, I could go out and have a stylist, and comb my hair a certain way, and only take safe roles. But in the help. You are who you are, and there’s only so much you can do to change that. I’m certainly not going to go get any surgical augmentation, and I don’t want to do roles that don’t interest me, and so I’ve got to count on people like Potsy to think I’m the right guy for their lead, and thankfully, usually in that case, it’s going to be an interesting project.
Well, a lot of the process that Potsy and I went through, as we worked on the script, once he cast me, was to take away dialogue, because it was clear to both of us, that every time he reveals something about himself particularly with words, he’s endangering himself, because exposure of any biographical truth, even if it’s unwitting or oblique, could reveal who he really is, and therefore every word costs him something. Once we embraced that notion, we just decided this was a guy who’s going to want to say a lot
Henry (Tim Blake Nelson) stands his ground in Potsy Ponciroli's "micro Western."
the script. Luckily, Potsy agreed with that, because if he hadn’t, the words would’ve been left in, it’s his script, his movie. Then, one of the things I’ve also by directing movies, is that, whereas in theater, live theater, which is the medium in which I was trained, the audience sits far away, and sometimes very far away in a large venue, from the actors, movies, particularly with the closeup, are the opposite. And so, you have this apparatus, in terms of sound and image, where the camera sees more than the human eye does, and the microphone picks up more than the either speakers, or the closeup, meaning that the camera can see you think, and the camera can hear you think. And for theater actors, that takes a while to learn. And it is really true in the role of Henry, particularly once we stripped away as much dialogue as possible, it liberated me to do less. In fact, I probably did more internally in this role, than in most roles I’ve played, simply because the demands involved a lot of repressed emotion.
Obviously, you’ve worked with
the holster? I had done Buster Scruggs, and spent a good six months training with pistol tricks for that movie, and it certainly familiarized me with the gun, with the same sort of pistol, a .45 revolver from the turn of the century, that I was going to use in Old Henry. And yet, at the same time, the character’s dispositions and attitudes toward the gun were completely different, because Buster Scruggs sees the gun as an extension of performance, and Henry sees it as a laconically lethal tool. He wants to minimize its use, rather than demonstrate its use. When he shoots, he needs it to count, and he uses it with regret ultimately, in it away, which was something very deliberate that Potsy and I came up with. So, while I had a lot of training with the pistol, I also had to relearn how to use it, because the relationship was utterly different. That was great, and I luckily had a lot of time to do that.
Old Henry The Harder They Fall? I think our relationship to the Western is permanent. There’s never going to be a divorce. It will always be with us. I think it’s a quintessentially American genre, inside of a quintessentially American to America, is that the Western deals with American westward expansion, and that’s because we’re a young country, tied up with the gun. As opposed to in Europe, where borders were drawn, mostly with swords and the mace… Then you have the Western hero, who’s an individualist, and that again, I think is very American, because we are obsessed with individual rights here, as opposed to in Europe where it’s more of a collectivist approach. So, you have the Western heroes, the individualists, tied up with the gun, in this art form, which is this popular art form, which was at least making. That’s the Western, which of course came out of Western
serials, which were books in the 19th century. But I actually think, funnily actually British. Yeah, I think there was some sort of cowboy short, that
Tim Blake Nelson says less dialogue spoke volumes.
out there? The Searchers
interference of others. But also, I
John Wayne's The Searchers
this is not Potsy’s intention, but interestingly, I think it also says
to the griminess of a city, that’s What do you see in the near
issues that were And how do you think Old Henry Old Henry issues of the moment. One is walling
absolutely the right moment, as we but really, a historically accurate how one of the greatest thinkers
On opening up old wounds, exorcizing demons to climb into the saddle for Jockey BY DA M O N W I S E
in the ’30s and ’40s, so it was great
Capote. That oversight will hopefully be corrected this year with Jockey, the Sundance hit for which he shrank to 143lb to play the role of ageing rider Jackson Silva.
before actually getting to the track. Although it has changed, and it has evolved, which is what you see in
How did you get involved with the Jockey production? I had a working relationship with Greg Kwedar and Clint Bentley. Greg directed Transpecos did a few years ago that won the SXSW Audience Award [in 2016] and Clint produced it. It was Clint’s turn to direct, and he wanted to
hanging out with the jockeys, just soaking up their lifestyle.
of his childhood, which was horse jockeying, because his father was a jockey and he, also, was a jockey for
all those bad habits that directors the trailer park where he used to live in Inglewood, California. So, they these two guys. How much research did you do? do it with two friends that you trust
Did you have a lot of input into the character? way that we work together, which is beautiful because they don’t have
Was it a big commitment? It was. My closer friends all knew that I was going disappear for a the only [currency] you have is the
research that I did before driving out to Northern Phoenix, Arizona. I’d gather all this intel through obscure back into the history of horse racing
Molly Parker and Clifton Collins Jr. in Sundance hit Jockey.
do this one more time, I’m going to call-block you.” Sure enough, he called me—and I call-blocked him! Jockeys are incredibly fearless people, in terms of injuries… I get it. I mean, how many times have I done crazy stunts on shouldn’t do your stunts on every
a very physical guy, I’ve done a lot weapon-training since I was a kid. want me to race on real horses, let’s shoot that last, just in case I’ll go out on a limb here, but I think most true artists are going to have to
and I know it’s in the can, I don’t care
For me, it's like, 'Hey, if you guys want me to race on real horses, let's just shoot that last, just in case something happens—God forbid.
going down. I don’t. I got another movie in the can to leave the world,
Were the jockeys very guarded with you while you were doing your research? Yes, we did have to earn their trust, Personally, my biggest thing was just actor or, worse, a celebrity. That’s a terrible one to have to shake. I hate that label. I just wanted to be viewed as a regular person. So, it wasn’t like, “Don’t look in my eyes! Don’t talk to me!’ [Laughs] It was like, ‘You need
side. Not that Seabiscuit doesn’t have its audience. It does, but it’s not the real jockeys. Had you done much riding before taking this part? Westworld, I did quite a
the best horse wranglers that this Django Unchained. And that thing’s like a
service.” They all had my number, talk about movies, let’s get that out
know I have to do reshoots or pickup your world.”
Did the jockeys have any particular concerns about the movie world?
the case with the horses you get on the racetrack—they are the
Clifton Collins Jr. plays aging jockey Jackson Silva who is nearing the end of his career.
Your grandfather, Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez, had a long career in Westerns, but it’s a genre you don’t seem to have tackled yet. You’re 100% right. I haven’t done my Rio Bravo, I haven’t had chance to do any of that. Westworld [for HBO] was the closest. My grandfather was friends with [original Westworld star] Yul Brynner, so it’s really special. And when J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan found out that I had my grandfather’s gun belt from Rio Bravo, right away they emailed and said, “Is there any way you’d wear it for the show?” So that’s the closest I got, and then Quentin Tarantino hired me for Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood, where I appear in the Western pilot that Leo’s character is shooting. There’s a lot more that we shot—a lot—that I know Quentin’s probably going to use at some point. Sadly, we lost Luke Perry, rest in peace, and many my scenes were with him. Quentin’s a huge grandpa
Sometimes you've got to take the projects that come to you. You've got to pay the bills.
fan, and this was kind of a hat-tip to him. But, no, I haven’t really had my real Western yet.
Speaking of which, do you remember when you met Guillermo del Toro for the
You seem to have worked out a way of doing big movies and small movies. Is that something can you control? Sometimes you’ve got to take the projects that come to you. You’ve got to pay the bills. But when you’re starting out, you’re just hungry to
It’s funny, he asked me the same question last week, because we both were kind of like twiddling
true purpose is, and not every role will service that. At the same time, those projects, like the or the Tigerlands or the Capotes, will way I picked up some friends, some great actors I’m very blessed to have worked with, and they would reach out. There’s a lot of politics in play when it comes to the studios, and if you don’t have those politics on your side, you better hope you have a director that’s going to champion your cause.
We both knew we were fans of because of One Eight Seven , that he called me for. At one point he was attached to The Count of Monte Cristo, at another point he was attached to something else. So, we tried to work together a few times before. And then he wrote this fantastic role that was half Latino and half Asian in , hence my Cantonese dialogue in the Nightmare Alley, I play Funhouse Jack—I’m the only original character that’s not in the original run the carnival, so to speak. Like a song and dance man would.
I felt very compelled, and I think it helped that I felt such a personal the character of Jonathan Larson. What inspired that connection, do you think? creative person that has questioned, most days, whether I should be carrying on doing what I’m doing, or whether I have the chops, whether I’ll make it. How terrifying it still is to step onto stage or onto set, every time. Having to work through rejection and doubt. And then having that small voice inside, like Rilke talks about in Letters to a Young Poet, saying, “I must write, I must act, I must.” Whatever it is that we feel called to, that the world is testing us and really making sure we’re serious about that calling. It’s the artist’s initiatory journey. It’s like every single artist has to go through this over and over again. It does feel archetypal in that way, and I think that explains why so many people feel a real kindship with Jon. I love that it’s a story about failure and rejection and carrying on.
Capturing the artist’s struggle in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feature directorial debut tick, tick…BOOM! BY JOE UTIC HI
Jonathan Larson died suddenly in January 1996, on the morning before his musical Rent off-Broadway preview performance. A few months later, Rent would begin a 12-year run on Broadway and become one of the most successful musicals of all time. He never lived to witness its success, which makes it all the more remarkable that his project before Rent, tick, tick…BOOM!, is a story about the struggle between art and commerce. It comes to the screen courtesy of Lin-Manuel Miranda, who cast
You had seen Hamilton. You had seen the level at which LinManuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr., Renee Elise Goldsberry and the rest of the cast performed. And yet, when Lin asked you if you could sing, even though you had no professional experience whatsoever, you told him yes. What were you thinking? I know [laughs]. Foolishness, pure foolishness. You’re right. You’re absolutely right. But I think it was the exact reason I had to say, “Sure, I can get there.” Because it was Lin, and because Hamilton was on
way you can turn that down. It was in the peak of my obsession with Lin and all his brilliance, and I was just overwhelmed. I guess I knew somewhere deep down that I could get to a place where I could honor the thing. I knew I was a hard worker. It wasn’t an immediate thing. Lin said, “Go and see Liz Kaplan,” who is the vocal consultant on the movie. “Go see Liz and see how it feels.” It
basically texted Lin and said, “I think he can get there given the amount of
jumping, adrenaline junky thing about it for me. I love expanding. I love stretching. I love being scared. It’s not addiction, but it’s important family trait; my brother’s the same try again. But can you imagine saying no to this? How devastating that would be down the line to see somebody else play this role? I rarely feel that with something, but this is one of the rare ones where, for whatever reason,
Jonathan Larson wrote tick, tick…BOOM! before he wrote Rent. And Rent has earned its spot in the pantheon of Broadway musicals, but the movie of his life might have been the story of the creation of Rent if he hadn’t written tick, tick…BOOM! and given us something that focused on his earlier failure. Of course, the irony of him writing this before Rent is that without that global success at the end of the road, he was delivering a deeply uncommercial musical about how hard it had been to write a musical that turned out to be deeply uncommercial. uncompromising Jon was, and probably why he was hard to be around at times, because that kind of clarity of vision and the
Andrew Garfield as Jonathan Larson on "Sunday" in the Moondance Diner.
transmission of egoless art is… well, it makes him very unique. He had to go through tick, tick…BOOM! and Superbia to get to Rent, and to get to the place where his heart can break open fully for his best friend, for a generation that had been lost to the AIDS crisis, to the abusive, inhumane [policies of the] Republican Reagan administration. He had the heartbreak necessary to write and create a truly great piece of art, but only by going towards it and falling into the thing he had been running from. It’s that descent that is so interesting. We’re a culture obsessed with ascension, but descent is what we need. We’re a culture of Icaruses who are avoiding death and pain, and who have been sold this idea of the pursuit of happiness above all things. It’s a very shallow way to be. I’m not saying it there’s a balance to be had to keep us truly earthbound.
You played Prior Walter in a big revival of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America. That play and Rent
There's also some kind of cliff-jumping, adrenaline junky thing about it for me. I love expanding. I love stretching. I love being scared.
chapter in human history. It must take extraordinary courage to channel this kind of pain into art that resonates as much today as it did at the time. Yeah, channeling pain, if we meet it, moistens the soil. But only if we meet it, and that’s what happened with Jon, I think. It’s like he’s suddenly plunged into the depths of his own soil, and he has to wrestle with the humility of not being in control of things. But saying, “For for this thing. Got to wake up, got to write, got to sing, got to do it. Don’t know why, but I’ve got to do it.” You may never experience the joy of it. You may not get the harvest. applause, but you don’t need it. All you need is to do what you do. And that’s governed by us.
It’s true what you say. After Superbia, tick, tick…BOOM! was an anti-commercial intention. It was like he had to reclaim and process. He says, “OK, I’m going to write something really fucking personal. I’m keeping all my own commercial needy demons at the door. They are not allowed. This is a ritual for my family, my chosen family, my artistic family. This is for us. This is for my friend Michael, and everyone like him.” I get chills, because that was how we approached and intended to create the movie. We had a week and a half at New York Theater Workshop, where Rent was about to premiere before Jon passed away. run. His spirit was still there, and we felt it. We said, “We’re going to try and meet this moment together.” The struggle for Jon was that this show had to be pure. Commercial success or failure didn’t count because he was exorcizing what he
needed to exorcize. It was vulnerable and it was exposed, and it was totally naked and without frills. This is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s feature directorial debut. Describe what the atmosphere on set was like. It was everything you would imagine Lin to be and then some, like extra, extra, extra. I think about that glorious “Sunday” sequence at the Moondance Diner with a dozen or more cameos from Broadway greats. It was a deeply confusing thing for me as the actor in the middle of it. I kept on having to say cut, because there’s a lyric, “Sit the fools.” And I’m there looking at Joel Gray and the Schuyler sisters and Beth Malone. After 13 takes, where I would be in complete control of the diner, at that line my body would have an allergic reaction. I said, “Lin, I can’t do it. I can’t do this. You’ve fucked me up. This wasn’t written this way, to have all these legends present. It’s such a shit idea, and I can’t say it.” He’s like, “OK, buddy, let’s go for a walk.” We went for the walk, and I said, “I can’t call them fools. You’ve given me a room full of geniuses and my body can’t do it. The song doesn’t make sense to me anymore.” He said, really simply, “No, no. You don’t know who they are.” I was like, “OK, let’s shoot.” After that we did it in two takes and it was great. It’s one of the best What I love about it is Jon wrote it to sing alone on a tiny little stage on a piano. So, in a way, that sequence was Lin’s gift to Jon at the edge of the cosmos. He wanted Jon to hear the song sung by this divine chorus of his heroes, harmonizing in the most beautiful way to reach the back row of the galaxy. You had the additional pressure professionally, in front of that chorus. How do you overcome the vulnerability of doing that? You just do it. But it’s the Jonathan
From middle to left, Andrew Garfield, director Lin-Manuel Miranda and cinematographer Alice Brooks.
Larson story, every single time. It is vulnerable. I remember being in rehearsals for Angels in America,
The struggle for Jon was that this show had to be pure. Commercial success or failure didn't count because he was exorcizing what he needed to exorcize.
two weeks of rehearsal in a 12-week process. I’m in that very exploratory, open kind of place, and then suddenly Tony’s there. We do the run, and he can’t make eye contact with me afterwards. I’m having a full meltdown. I’m interpreting it in all the worst ways anyone could ever imagine. I go for lunch, and I’m walking up and down the South Bank in London going, “How do I throw myself into the river and break my own leg without making it look like I did it on purpose? How do I never again set foot in that studio? How do I avoid this chasm that has just opened up before me?” And then I was like, “Oh, hi old friend. Here we go again.”
It has been like that every single time since I started. It goes back to Jon saying, “I’ve got to go back in. All I have to do is get back into the room.” I have no choice. I do, but I don’t. And by the way, I think when you still step back into the room despite the gaping chasm that seems larger than ever, that’s a good indicator you’re close to something important. I think that’s what Jon was going through leading up to his workshop. He could feel something bubbling up. Actually, there was a line that had to be cut from tick, tick…BOOM! after he died, which was, “Sometimes I feel like my heart is going to explode.” They cut it because his heart did explode. He was 35 years old. He knew. He was pressured and he knew. It’s those moments where, when we’re about to cross the threshold where we feel like we’re going to die if we go across that we know: we will die if we don’t.
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