Jim Jarmusch’s Dead Man is a truly one of a kind film, a film that I have been entranced for over a decade by, and constantly revisit it’s haunting beauty, poetic absurdities and stark, gorgeous black and white cinematography (holla to Robby Muller). Johnny Depp basically plays a meek, downtrodden east coast boy mired in a wild, violent and confusing journey through a western outpost town and after a love triangle ends in murder, possibly his own, he embarks on a strange, spiritual walk through a Pacific Northwest netherworld of pine trees, outlaw bounty hunters, and oddball characters, led by a Native named Nobody (the excellent Gary Farmer). Is he dead? Was he even there to begin with? Jarmusch abandons logic for an expressionist approach, and the film ends up as a hypnotic tone poem and visual palette of events that don’t really make sense, and may frustrate some. But to those open to its idiosyncratic writing and determined, enigmatic style, oh what a film it is. The cast is absolutely to die for. Depp is incredible in the best performance of his extremely uneven career. The character arc he inhabits here is wonderful, taking a feeble, checkered suited mess of a man and morphing him into a ghostly, predatorial, terrifying wilderness archetypal bandit, a force of nature among the trees and mountains. Haunted eyes, quick draw kill streak, moody contemplation, it really is his finest work. Michael Wincott steals his scenes as a chatty assassin and Lance Henriksen is scary as hell, playing a hired killer who “fucked his parents, then cooked them up and ate them.” (Don’t ask, just go with the film’s demented flow). Gabriel Byrne, Iggy Pop, Billy Bob Thornton, Robert Mitchum, Milli Avital, John Hurt and an especially weird Crispin Glover all nail their cameos, and Neil Young’s beautiful, melodic, elemental score is the beating heart of the film. Dead Man isn’t a traditional film in any sense, and in fact seems to take place in a cliché free, bizarro alternate western dream universe where the rules don’t apply, but all the beauty, mysticism and rugged frontier intrigue of the genre still remain. Fine with me. One of my all time favourites.
I am proud to present my recent interview with the incredibly talented writer and director Howard Goldberg, the man behind one of my favourite indie films of recent years, Jake Squared. He’s a great guy with a lot to speak about. Enjoy!
Nate: Did you experiment with film when you were younger, make any shorts etc? What led you to writing and directing.
Howard: I was always a film buff. Whenever the subject of film came up people would always say, “Ask Howard. He knows everything about film.” I remember always thinking, “Man, they’re nut! Little do they realize, I don’t really know that much.” I thought I had a bit of a phony reputation. But, then one day, I was looking through this long list of the greatest films ever made and I realized I’d seen them all! I thought, “Wow!! I really do know a lot about film.”
I started officially making films when I became a Film major at The University of the Arts in Philadelphia. I spent three glorious years there and made many short films – all pretty experimental in nature. Nice to see that after all those weird films, many years later I’m making really straight narrative films that are quite conventional in nature. Like “Jake Squared!” Oh wait, that’s right… “Jake Squared” is weird as all get out!
Nate: Care to talk a little bit about your writing process, envisioning characters on film, where your ideas come from, how your creative process works?
Howard: As Dorothy Parker said – “I hate writing. I love having written.” My writing process basically follows the time-honored tradition of sitting at the keyboard until my forehead bleeds. There are many writers who just spew it out, page after page after page. I am not, unfortunately, one of them. Hard work. Endless procrastination. Things percolating and stewing in my brain. Endless drafts. Great fun! But, “I love having written.” The end product is almost always worth the long process of getting there. At least to me!
Nate: I know how you feel, I procrastinate in my work as well. Interests, hobbies besides writing and filmmaking? I read that you have done sculpture as well, is that still something you are involved in?
Howard: For a long time, I was the only struggling filmmaker in New York who supported himself by sculpting. I know that sounds ridiculous, but it was true. I was working on screenplays and constantly trying to raise money and, at the same time, I had fallen into a lucrative career as a sculptor. I did many fine arts piece and (financially) more importantly, many commercial pieces, like for The Basketball Hall of Fame, the Clio Awards, etc., etc.
I have two hobbies – My kids (which is not really a hobby, but a calling) and collecting old watches.
Nate: Jake Squared: How did that idea come about, how was the process of making it for you, did the final project resemble what you envisioned when writing it? (I ask because I write as well, and having gone to film school have seen how vastly different ideas on paper can become when put through the wringer of filmmaking) Also, I must ask, is the film in any way autobiographical?
Howard: “Jake Squared” just evolved. It came out of many hundreds of pages of writing all kinds of thoughts about all kinds of things. Somehow, out of all these unconnected scribblings, a character started to emerge and take form. Writing such a seemingly freeform piece became like juggling 7 balls at one time. When it was finally done, I was very happy and very satisfied.
Making the film itself was a dream. It came together the most quickly of any project I’ve ever done. Once Elias Koteas had signed on the rest of the cast started falling into place. From the time he said yes to the time we started shooting was only about 4 months. Unheard of.
I am completely and totally thrilled with the film. In terms of the script I wrote and how I originally envisioned the film, I think it turned out even better than I could have hoped. There is nothing I look at in it and say, “Wow, I wish I had done this or that or this differently. To me it’s the best incarnation of the film I wanted to make that I could have made. That being said, some people adore it and some absolutely despise it. That’s a different issue entirely. Me? I’m perfectly happy with everything about it.
Is it autobiographical? Well, yes and very much no. Many of the characters and situations have some small part of me in them, but they also have thousands of parts of other people, their lives and their situations as well. All of the characters and situations are really fictionalized and dramatized composites of many people and places.
Nate: In an interview I heard you say you made Jake Squared free from the pressures and permissions of powers that be- essentially on your own. What resources did you use, casting, equipment etc to pull that off? Because it looks so polished, the editing is out of this world and it seems like every aspect just really came together (Get used to me gushing about the film lol I’ve seen in 4 times already since June :P)
Howard: Since I produced the film and put together all of the financing privately with no pre-conditions, I was able to do exactly what I wanted to do. I love to collaborate, so I had a remarkable team, from actors, to makeup and hair, set design, cinematography, editing, etc. and that’s what makes the film great. But, I got to choose them all, listen to their advice, and rebel in their help in bringing about and even making better my original vision But, the bottom line was always me and that’s what I liked. The film is 100% my own artistic vision – so if one were to love the film or hate it, the buck stops here.
That being said, I couldn’t have made it look like I did without my incredible team.
Nate: Do you have any films you are trying to get made now? Scripts, stories, anything in the works you want to speak about?
Howard: I’m trying to get a new film off the ground right now called “Once in Blue Moon.” I wrote it with my friend, Broadway composer and librettist Paul Gordon. It’s a modern day “Midsummer Nights Dream” that take place all in one night, a night of a Blue Moon, at a restaurant/bar/indie-alt music club. It’s about love and regret and angels and music.
I also am just finishing a new screenplay, tentatively called “Clear.” That one I couldn’t possibly describe yet as I’m still trying to figure it all out. But, it makes “Jake Squared” look like a straight narrative!
Nate: What are some of your favorite Directors, films, stories, anything that has inspired your own work?
Howard: Jean Cocteau, John Huston, Martin Scorsese, Preston Sturges and about 500 more!
Nate: Awesome, Howard, thanks for sharing!
I recently had the honour to chat with actor and firefighter Robert John Burke, a great guy and experienced veteran, appearing in excellent character arcs in Gossip Girl as Bart Bass, Rescue Me as Cousin Mickey, Law & Order SVU, Person Of Interest, Generation Kill, The Sopranos, Oz, Sex & The City, Homicide: Life On The Streets and more. He’s also worked in many films, including Robocop 3 in the title role, Limitless, Safe, Tombstone, Munich, 2 Guns, and the George Clooney directed films Good Night & Good Luck, and Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind. He’s one of my favourite actors, and I was beyond excited to be able to interview him. Enjoy!
Nate: How did you get into acting, was it something you knew you wanted to do at an early age, or did you fall into it? Did you got to school for it at all? Where?
Robert: I kind of fell into it, and for an acting degree I went to State University of New York, at Suny Purchase.
Nate: Robocop 3 happened pretty early in your career, with not a lot of film credits before that (or at least as far as I can tell from imdb). How did that come about, and did you enjoy taking up the mantle of such an iconic character from Mr. Weller?
Robert: Robocop 3 came about.. In God’s great earth they thought I was the only actor who could do it, I don’t know why. I think physically I poked like Peter Weller, and I had also had extensive karate training, pantomime training, and body training, and I fit the suit. I held out for a long time, I was very hesitant to do it, but then after about six or eight months I finally agreed.
Nate: You are are a certified NY firefighter, and from what I’ve read participated in rescue efforts following 9/11. Would you care to share your experience with that at all? Did that contribute to your being casted in Rescue Me, or is that just coincidence?
Robert: I became a firefighter in 2002, my best friend was a fire captain, Captain Patrick Brown, he worked at Ladder 3, and when I went down to the World Trade Center to dig and look for Pat, that kind of became the first time I operated as a firefighter, returned to my hometown, joined the volunteer force, and after thirteen years I’m now a captain.
Nate: You frequently play offbeat, corrupt higher ups and gruff lawmen or criminals, always under the radar, but always absolutely memorable. Do you find that a career as a character actor was what you saw yourself doing upon entering the industry? Or have you surprised yourself with the direction your work has taken?
Robert: It has surprised me that I’ve become kind of a character actor, and the style of roles, the gruff detectives. People say do you worry about being typecast, and the operative word there is ‘cast’. So if we leave out the word ‘type’, what they are essentially asking is do you worry about about being cast, and no, I don’t, it sure beats unemployment. I love playing the bad guy, it’s always more fun, always more interesting. Who wants to play the good guy? It’s boring.
Nate: Who are some of your favourite actors/films/filmmakers?
Robert: My taste in actors is varied, I’m not much of a cinephile to begin with. I’d have to say that my number one actor that I really, really like is Alan Rickman. I don’t know what it is about Alan Rickman, the guy is just a consummate artist. I love Bob Duvall, also Gary Oldman I love. There are a lot of different actors I like for a lot of different reasons, but yeah, those would be the top three.
Nate: Awesome choices! Rickman and Oldman are absolute favourites of mine. You seem to have a ton of fun in your work, even when playing contemptible pricks. There’s always a glint in your eyes and an infectious energy that radiates off the screen. Do you find that that rambunctious, mischievous quality happens naturally via your personality, or do you consciously use your training to create it?
Robert: I always seem to have a lot of fun even when playing ‘contemptible pricks’, (laughs) I love that usage. Um, it’s fun, like in Person Of Interest, this character Patrick Simmons, whose kind of over the top, the story of Person Of Interest, the CBS television show, it’s kind of a comic book type of adventure, so you get to be a wee bit arch. But as long as I’m doing the definitive interpretation of the role, then I just am so grateful to be doing what I’m doing, that I don’t really apologize for it. Yeah I’m having fun, an acting teacher told me, why do you think they call it a play?
Nate: Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind- the million dollar question haha. Your monologue in this one is just sheer comic brilliance, and lights up the entire movie like a beacon of knowing, satirical fun. My buddies and I re watch the scene on YouTube all the time and descend into fits of laughter. How did the nature of that come about? Did you take it upon yourself to lay the over the top, hilarious nature of that character into it, or was it in the script to have him like that?
Robert: With Confessions Of A Dangerous Mind, that was my first audition after 9/11, I hadn’t auditioned in a year, I hadn’t acted in a year. I went for George Clooney and I read that scene, and he was.. snot was coming out of his nose he was laughing so hard. Then when I got up there subsequently to shoot it, I dialled it back a lot, and he said “What are you doin?”, and I said “well, I wanna be in the same movie YOU’RE shooting”, and he said “No, no, you have to do what you did in the audition, it was such a wonderful interpretation”, so I did it, and I really had fun with that. What was wonderful about George is that he’s an actor, so he allowed me to really just be fearless and not whatever the hell I wanted per say, but at the same time to reallyy stretch the boundaries of who this particular whacko CIA agent could be.
Nate: You have primarily worked in crime/action cinema. Do you find that a particular genre just kind of finds you based on your look, style and approach to the work, or did you actively seek out projects like that?
Robert: I think the reason that I work in these genres, of action adventure, well it’s not action adventure per say, but action. I guess it has to do with the way I look, you know, sharp featured, blue eyes. Western canon would say that I’m the consummate looking hunter, you know, killer. But I play a lot of military types, it’s interesting that that’s what is thrust upon me, I played like five or six Generals so far in the past three years. This is how I’m perceived, it’s kind of a surprise to me, but again it’s usually fun stuff, and interesting. I especially like doing historical work, playing someone who has actually lived, because then I get to do the research and being a history buff that coincides nicely.
Nate: How is life these days? Do you have any projects you are excited for and would like to speak about?
Robert: Life these days is good, I do a recurring role on Special Victims Unit, and he really was a contemptible prick, and now they’re softening the character up. I just finished a turn in the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie, and my volunteer fire service, July August I took off, that’s our busy time of the year, so just getting the fire department and the training materials, everything up to snuff, lots of training, lots of EMS calls, and the odd fire. There’s a lot of fire safety these days, so it cuts down on your fire service in that respect. But the training I love, and I’m pretty fortunate to have such good guys around me.
Nate: Thanks for sharing, Robert, I really appreciate it!
Greetings again! I just had the chance to interview veteran actor Pat Skipper, who has appeared in countless films including Erin Brockovich, Lethal Weapon 2, Demolition Man, Rob Zombie’s Halloween, Seabiscuit, Ed Gein, Independence Day, Predator 2 and more. He’s also shown up in many a TV Show, including Mad Men, ER, That 70’s Show, Charmed, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Bosch, The West Wing, Bones, Cold Case, Criminal Minds, Medium, Justified, The Mentalist and an intense character arc on The X Files as Bill Scully. He’s been a force to reckon with in the industry for a long while, and it was a pleasure to speak with him. Enjoy!
Nate: How did you find your way into acting, was it something you always knew you wanted do? What was your background before that?
Pat: I was a total TV head when I was a kid. I loved Lost in Space. I loved Billy Mumy (Will Robinson). Then, I saw him in a Twilight Zone re-run and he scared me to death. That’s the first notion that I had that someone was “acting.” I was amazed. But I got into doing it myself in the way that most kids from the sticks do. I got a part in the high school play. I probably had six lines. I was an Irish cop, I think. I realized that actors were “my people.” I kept doing it and never stopped.
Nate: Tell us a bit about your book, ‘The Working Actor’. How was the process of writing, and coming up with it? I will also include a link here in the blog post so that anyone reading who is interested can take a look.
Pat: I had been coaching a friend of mine, a young woman–a girl really–on auditions. I began to look back over my career. I saw my younger self reflected back at me while I was working with her. I thought, “I wish I had me for a teacher when I was 21.” So I started taking notes. Six drafts and 2.5 years later, I have my book, The Working Actor.
Nate: You have an impressive, intense character arc on The X Files. Did you enjoy creating the character of Bill Scully, and how was working on the series for you?
Pat: I loved X-Files. I was a big fan of the series. I thought then (and still think) that Gillian Anderson is one of the best actors alive. Playing opposite her was so engaging. She’s a tremendous athlete. She made me better.
Nate: I saw a comment from Michael Connelly on the website for your book. Did you know him prior to being cast in Bosch, or did you meet as a result of that. He’s a wicked author, and you are an incredible actor, I feel like he should write something just for you. Did you enjoy working on Bosch?
I was very excited to get cast in Bosch. I had been aquainted with the Producer Eric Overmyer 30 years before (when we were both starting out in New York). Something happened in that audiiton room. I just fell apart emotionally. I got the part. I was over the moon to meet Mike Connelly as I had read every single one of his novels. I couldn’t wait to meet him. When I did, he reminded me that I had worked with him before in a pilot for a TV show that he had written in the 90s! I didn’t remember him at all. I loved working with Titus Welliver. The guy is the quintessential Working Actor. He’s worked his way all the way to the top. Titus wrote the foreword to my book. That said, playing Sam Delacroix was brutal. Such an awful, selfish, morally corrupt and lost person. It cost me a bit of my soul to play him.
Nate: thank you for sharing that, and it’s super exiting about Bosch, I hope to start it soon. Any hobbies, interests besides acting and writing?
Pat: I had 12-year-old twins. They keep me busy. I play very mediocre golf. I read A LOT. I love football season.
Nate: Working with Rob Zombie on Halloween- Did he pursue you for that role? He tends to specifically request actors, and cast his films, even down to the minutest role, with old familiar faces and impeccably picked talent. Did you enjoy your experience on that film? Working with Scout, Dee Wallace and everyone?
Pat: Rob Zombie is a very sweet guy, surprisingly. And he’s remarkably inventive. He creates a very fertile work environment. Dee, Scout and I loved each other. He helped us create a very credible little family. Then he covered me with gallons of blood. I went to audition. That’s how I get all my jobs. No one has ever requested me for shit.
Nate: In your website bio it says you initially had trouble finding jobs just out of school. Care to elaborate? Specifically the esoteric nature of preparing for a performance or audition, versus the practical, professional way to go about searching for the work. The art vs. the know how etc.
Pat: Everybody has trouble starting out. Everybody. I had no idea how to audition for jobs. I totally sucked. I came to a revelation. If I was going to work in this business, I was going to have to create my own work. Cutting to the chase, I produced a hit play starring the then 21-year-old (and unknown) actress, Marisa Tomei. It opened doors–for both of us. I have come to the conclusion that Acting is not an art form. Acting is a sport. Acting is taught as if it were some fancy, magical, mystical thing. I advocate in my book (and with the people that I coach) that we should attack our careers–and our work–with the dedication and tenacity of professional athletes. Take the magic out. Work our asses off. Have a repeatable process. Learn through repetition. Work out to stay sharp. Never settle. Never stop getting better. Expect the best out of ourselves. Deliver every time.
Nate: Your career is primarily acting, and now the book. Have you ever considered getting into other aspects of filmmaking such as script writing, producing or directing your own projects?
Pat: I act. I coach actors. I wrote a book. That’s it.
Nate: What are some of your favourite roles you’ve gotten to play?
Pat: Bosch, X-Files, Bones, Boston Legal, Halloween. A lot of my best stuff has been in other projects that no one ever watched. So it goes.
Nate: Besides Bosch, any other projects coming up, cinematic or otherwise that you are excited for and would like to mention?
Pat: I’m a Working Actor. Right now, that means I’m looking for work. I auditioned for some TV show today. I’m running my studio. I’m coaching other people’s auditions. The book comes out in a month. I’m as busy as hell making that happen. It’s exhausting. It’s also kind of scary. Mostly, though, it’s pretty cool.
Nate: It’s the coolest profession anyone could hope to a part of indeed. Best of luck, I’ll see you soon in Bosch, and will most definitely be getting ahold of your book. Thanks so much!
Tarsem Singh’s The Cell is the kind of revelatory, mind blowing, breathtaking, once in a decade kind of fantasy film that is utterly unique, truly memorable and pure artistic creation. Singh utilizes so many visual elements and ideas that you get the notion that you are truly immersed in a human being’s subconscious inner realm, and not merely watching a film. It’s transcendent. Jennifer Lopez, in a performance of great empathy and serious emotional depth, plays a child psychologist who uses futuristic technology to literally enter the dreams of comatose patients and attempt to heal them. When a seriously disturbed killer (the monumentally talented Vincent D’Onofrio) enters a coma before the FBI can find his latest victim, she is hired to enter his mind to find out the location. A scary setup indeed. The first plunge into his mind is set up with a dread inducing soundtrack cue, and a sudden, Topsy turvy whirlwind of surreal images, sounds and stimuli which are truly eerie and intangible. The art direction, special effects and design of the spirit realm she ventures into are just something you don’t see in many films, because most people are afraid to think about that kind of raw, uninhibited subconscious content. Not Singh. He willingly explores the dark, mysterious side of the human mind and soul, with a complexity and understanding that is all to rare. For folks who find that too much surreal imagery and soul disturbing content makes them uneasy (hell, I’M one of those folks) those aspects are balanced out by the clean cut, very grounded in earth time plot line of Vaughn’s team helping him out from ‘earthside’, a standard cops vs. killer mentality to even out the strangeness. They even have a guy from CSI playing one of the cops. Vince Vaughn feels slightly miscast as the head fed, but James Gammon, Dean Norris, Dylan Baker, Marianne Jean Baptiste, Patrick Bachau and Musetta Vander all give stellar support. If you have a strong stomach (this film gets pretty brutal in ways you can’t imagine), and a wandering, artistically abstract mind for all things surreal and dreamy, definitely check this out.
I’m very stoked to present my recent interview with veteran actress Rae Dawn Chong, of Commando, The Color Purple and the iconic Quest For Fire. Enjoy!
Nate: You began acting at a fairly young age, did you train at any school? Did you know acting was something you wanted to do from an early age?
Rae: Early on I didn’t do much training as I as a child actor. As I grew older I studied with various teachers in LA. Some more famous then others, Barry Primas (Actors Studio) as one example. I started Milton Katselas but booked so much work I couldn’t finish the course. Another teacher was Ron Moss. I believe actors should diversify their training to have more access to tools which prevents you from being bullied with bad directors which there are plenty. At this point I am interested in coaching and teaching myself.
Nate: You spent a lot of time in both the states and Canada (in my hometown of Vancouver, as I’ve read!). How do they compare for you, in terms of life, and the industry? Do you like spending time in both places equally, or one moreso?
Rae: I adore Canada and am very proud to be Canadian. Having said that I prefer working state side as we get paid better and the unions are much stronger and we have better residuals. Canada has a LONG way to go still, and it is frustrating for performers because Canada is such a small country and most who work in the industry are all connected, which is good and bad. Because as an artist looking for protection against the abuses of say a film corporation like Atlantis Alliance well it is impossible because every single law firm in Canada is on retainer to them so we as artist- actors- writers have little or no recourse to collect money owed and that kind of smallness makes working in Canada less attractive.
Nate: Commando- Your role in this film is very unique because she’s not just a standard action film, damsel in distress tag along, she’s actually proactive and gets involved in the action. Was this a draw for you to the movie? How did you get that role?
Rae: Auditioned for it. Lots of actors had trouble with a certain part of the script (a dildo was involved) which I realized early so when it came time to say the offending line I reversed it and made it reflect on Arnold’s character and it was hilarious in the room. Luckily the offending part never made future drafts so I survived a huge hurdle and got the role.
Nate: Quest For Fire- I recently read Ron Perlman’s autobiography in which he says it was a really challenging shoot. How was it for you?
Rae: The most challenging, difficult, almost impossible shoot. Torturous would be too slight a term. We suffered every single day, all day. It was a mental test to be sure. It was like climbing a mountain naked without oxygen. Grim.
Nate: Your performance in it is extraordinary, how did you get into the headspace and bring about that energy and persona in your work?
Rae: I hated working with the director who made it his life work to be extra mean to me. So if Ron said it was hard you cannot imagine how it was for me. An example: I never officially got the role. I just did it. He never gave me the role, Jean Jacques he lorded this over me. The desperate producer Micheal Gruskoff was my champion and protector, he made me Ika, he demanded they book me. OMG, I survived it because I am stubborn and I never quit even when I want to. I wanted to but by the time we started we were hanging on to each other for dear life so why not finish the gawd forsaken job, you know? If one of us left it would have mentally unraveled the group. So much pain and well…thankfully it is a work of art.
Nate: I read that you are involved in many charities. Care to elaborate specifically which ones, and why this work is personally important to you?
Rae: Service is the soul food of life. When I can I give my time to all who need me. It is what one should do…love it.
Nate: You wrote and directed a short starring Chris Pratt. How did that project come about, and have you considered getting more into writing/directing any more?
Rae: It is my first full length feature and honestly it is an epic fail, or imperfect. I adore the film of course because it is my first born and a problem child at that. BUT it educated me and I learned what to do and not do as a director. You improve every time out. Chris is adorable and the film fun and funny. I heard IMDB lists it as a short and I have asked and tried to change it but IMDB is annoying. I will need to request they change it once again. UGH!
Nate: Do you have any projects, cinematic or otherwise that you are excited for and want to speak about?
Rae: Currently starring in a play called Climax at the Santa Monica playhouse. Developing a TV series called “Hello Sunshine” hoping it gets picked up this month. 3rd meeting with a studio…so close. I have another pilot I am work shopping to fix the bugs, make it the best it can be. I have a feature film I am producing that is called Theory of Invisibility by Aimee Pitte which is magnificent. We are looking for a (STAR) director and star to take it to the studios. I just accepted to produce a new play by Derek Botelho which is an intimate 2 character piece about a moment in Tennessee William’s life as friend and writer Carson Macullers share a cabin on the shore. It is exciting…this period in my life is amazing. I am loving LA and life as a film maker- actor. I am very happy creatively.
Nate: Sounds awesome! Thanks so much for your time Rae, and for chatting with me.
I’m excited to bring you my interview with Emil Minty. Emil was selected at the age of eight to appear in Mad Max 2, aka The Road Warrior, which is highly regarded as one of the greatest action films ever made, and a catalyst and inspiration for many of the post apocalyptic movies, video games and artwork we see today. Emil played The Feral Kid, a wild little guy who was never taught a language and functions almost like an animal, proving to be a great asset and help to Max in his quest. Enjoy
Nate: How did it come about that you auditioned, and got the role? You were very young so I’m assuming your parents submitted you. Do you remember much about that day? Was George Miller there?
Emil: I was around 8 years old and my sister was in an acting agency already and she suggested to my parents that I also join to make some pocket money.
Well they signed me up and i was lucky to get a lemonade commercial soon after I had joined.
I then had an audition for Mad Max 2, I don’t remember Who was there at the time but do know that We were not told it was for a movie called MM 2 until later on closer to starting production.
The audition process had got down from a number of kids to a few and we were asked by George Milker to come up with a story of how we became this wild kid in the wasteland.
My father helped me with my backstory and it was basically this:
My parents and I were flying in a plane and ran out of Fuel. My father left to find find fuel or help and did not return. My mother then left me and said she would find my father or help, but she also never returned and I was left alone in the wasteland to defend for myself.
Nate: Very cool! That adds quite another dimension to the role! Your performance is uncannily good, along with Max I’d say the best in the film. Your intuitive portrayal of a wild child was very convincing and believable. Did you receive any training whatsoever before that time, how did your process work to so that? Were you coached on set?
Emil: My mother was with me on set in Broken Hill for the duration of filming and she was always helping me get ready before each day and scene by making sure I was calm and focused on what I was told to do.
George would obviously tell me what I was to do in a particular scene and he was basically my coach throughout filming and getting me to do what he wanted out of my character.
I do remember Sandy Gore, George’s wife at the time was also on set and she would coach me also, and I recall her being there the day of the truck rollover and coaching me on being emotionally upset and hurt when Max carried me out of the wreckage and sits me on the tyre.
Nate: The stunts: you climbing out onto the hood of the careening vehicle looked scarily authentic. How did that work? We’re there safety concerns because you were so you ge? What are your memories of that rigorous experience?
Emil: In preparation for the stunt where I was on the bonnet of the truck, I recall going to someone’s house or work place in Broken Hill to get sized up and fitted for a harness to wear, I have a vague memory it was a leather harness.
I was attached to I think a cable of some sort that was held by a guy inside the cabin of the truck while I was out on the bonnet.
The truck for some parts was stationary and the crew used blocks and bars for leverage to shake the truck around to make it look like it was moving along the bumpy road.
Other times it was moving but I think only about 30kms give or take. I don’t remember being scared doing this or any of my other stunts.
By the way for the record the only stunt I didn’t do was the back flip, this was done by a local girl in town she was a gymnast.
I do recall the long nights, early mornings and very cold conditions out on location in Broken Hill and I actually got very sick at one stage almost getting pneumonia.
It was also really windy and dusty out on set.
Nate: After Mad Max, you went on to do some other films, as well as commercials, before moving on to other paths in life. Was acting something you really enjoyed and ever pictured doing long term, or did you also know you might end up doing something else?
Emil: I did a few short films after mad max 2 and enjoyed acting and being on a set and at various locations very much, I was doing something I enjoyed and seeing different places and getting treated very well by everyone involved in many productions.
I was still acting while I started working with my brothers mate, a friend of the family as an apprentice jeweller and acting just started to slow down and I just got more interested in having a secure job and getting a trade.
So I just sort of faded out of the movie and television industry and I still work in the jewellery industry and for the same person today 25 years on.
Nate: What are some films that you really enjoy?
Emil: I like all sorts of films so there’s not really any specific genre I like the best, but if I had to choose it would be action films.
One movie does stand out as my all time favourite and that would be THE BOONDOCK SAINTS, the first one as the sequel didn’t do much for me. This would be my favourite film as I can watch it over and over and it still gives me goose bumps when I watch certain scenes especially the music, it draws me into the film like I’m there.
As far as television shows then generally like Australian series that are family and real life drama orientated, of the top of my head like PACKED TO THE RAFTERS, SEA PATROL, POLICE RESCUE and my favourite has been all of the UNDERBELLY series.
Currently a series I love and watch with the family is a show I could not stand once upon a time but now actually watch it religiously is HOME AND AWAY, it’s something we watch as a family so I guess that’s why it has become routine and enjoyable.
Nate: Excellent choice! The Boondocks Saints is one of my favourites as well. So what is life like now for you?
Emil: Life these days for me I guess is just normal like everyone else, always busy working and doing things with the family.
I love the life I have had doing films and meeting the people I have and experiences gained and would not change it for the world nor would I change anything now.
I am currently in the process of building a new family home so this is pretty exciting and feel blessed to have a wonderful wife and kids to complete my life.
I have just purchased a 1973 Ford XA 2 door coupe and I am in the process of building a replica Mad Max Interceptor, so this is a pretty cool time as well and can’t wait to drive it around….so watch out for me on the road lol.
Nate: Sounds awesome! Thanks so much again for your time Emil, and for speaking with me, it means a lot.
I’m pleased to announce that I recently had the chance to chat with Jesse V. Johnson, a veteran stuntman who also has some films of his own that he has directed, which are excellent. He has done an unbelievable amount of stunt work, including Total Recall, Mars Attacks, Starship Troopers, The Thin Red Line, Point Blank, Mercury Rising, Charlie’s Angels, Planet Of The Apes, Terminator 3, War Of The Worlds, Beowulf, Avatar, Thor, The Adventures Of Tintin, The Master, Lincoln, The Amazing Spider Man, and so may more. He has directed his own projects including The Butcher, The Package and Charlie Valentine. I’m very pleased to have been able to speak with him in the interview below.
Nate: What were some of your favourite movies and directors growing up who inspired you to get into the world of stunts, and eventually directing your own films?
Jesse: I loved the Spaghetti Westerns of Sergio Leone, particularly the Good the Bad and The Ugly, which I would attempt to replicate on video with school friends, shot for shot, word for word. I loved Ray Harrihausen, and the Hammer Horror movies. When I started to get a handle on filmmakers and the Director as an author, I discovered the French New Wave, and Truffaut, Godard and Melville were huge for me, it was like this world that was opening up through film, and utterly intoxicating.
My uncle was a stunt Coordinator, Vic Armstrong, and was always very encouraging, we shot my films on his land, and he loaned me my first video camera, gave me my first assisting job and basically always offered pragmatic and down to Earth advice, this is very important for a beginner. There is a way to get what you want, but this is what it’s going to take – never no, never you cannot do that, I owe him a huge amount.
When my directing career was derailed by the 2008 hedge fund implosion, it was Vic who hired me back as a stuntman on Thor, I would have lost my short otherwise.
Working with Brannagh on Thor, Spielberg on Lincoln and PT Anderson on the Master for that period actually served to reinvigorate my directing drive, an although i was desperately panicked at the time, in retrospect it was a great privilege a directing master class.
Nate: Before getting into the industry, what other lines of work did you find yourself in? How did they lead into the film business, or was it a conscious choice to pursue movies?
I was a rough and tumble kid, I thought I was going to be a commando, I was a cadet and then took the Marine PRC at Limpstone, thankfully, Vic, my uncle, suggested stunts might be a wiser way to spend my energy. I worked on Total Recall with him in Mexico City, I was 16 and doing stunts with Arnold, I was a bit disappointed when they gave me my per diem envelope, it was only a few hundred for the week, I thought that was the pay-check – later I learned it was your living expenses and that there was a far more significant check coming, that was when my whole out look changed, and the Queen lost this potential commando.
Your goals are confused when you’re young, I look back and think, yup, always wanted to direct, but I found an old diary of mine and realized in fact I was far less focused for quite a few years than I would like to admit, travelling the world working with horses in Spain, exploring Europe as a painter or writer, mountain climbing, gold smuggling, were all occupations I tried my hand at or seriously explored.
Nate: How did you initially get into stunt work- did you pursue it or was it something that kind of just fell into your path, by chance or perhaps as a Segway from another part of your life?
Jesse: I was an Assistant Director for some time, under the vague misunderstanding, that that was a path to becoming a director, I worked with a brilliant AD team, for a few films, or at least they put up with me, Shawshank Redemption, Mr. Hollands Opus and Mortal Kombat, doing big crowd scenes and having a wonderful time, but being the non-DGA PA, on the shows, my pay-check was dismally small, and the hours very long, that along with the fact that an AD is more likely to become a producer than a director, caused me to look elsewhere. I headed back to the wonderful, creative and exciting work of stunts. A world which remains my default position between directing gigs, allowing me the financial ability to turn down poor directing offers and enjoy my life as a father of two demanding daughters, lol.
Nate: How was it for you transitioning from doing stunt work into directing and writing- the physical work of throwing oneself into a very technical scene, to, the very cerebral, intuitive process of overseeing your own vision brought to the screen?
Jesse: I think the best stunt men have an innate ability to direct, then two careers require use of the same cerebral territory, you’re making people feel safe, guiding a scene, respecting the characters, plot contrivances and continuity while building exciting moments for your audience.
Defining directing beyond that is entering the world of the vague and mystical.
Nate: The Butcher- I read somewhere that you were underwhelmed with the result of the process (I think it’s a terrific, slow burning noir, very well done). Roberts, Davi, Ironside, David, Woodbine etc, you assembled an absolute dream cast. How did the process differ from the result, was it a good experience in production, do you still revisit it, and does your opinion of your own films change over time, or remain the same?
Jesse: I directed a film for Don The Dragon Wilson, their director had stepped away at the last moment, and they called me in, we did a little action film for the Sci Fi channel that ended up being enormously successful financially speaking, for the producers.
They came to me and said, we love gangster movies. I had been shopping the Butcher script for a while, in fact it had heat on it, and it went into production very smoothly and quickly.
We had a hell of a time casting it, and had to rush to meet a fantasy deadline, that really in the grand scheme of things should never have forced our hand, instead we found ourselves hiring a lead actor who hadn’t and didn’t ever learn or I suspect even read the script all the way through.
This was a film written as a “tour de force” for an actor, a huge flamboyant character arc and enormous emotional moments – it was pretty much ALL lost, and I did my best with what I had. We had one of those red pencil meetings where you cross out huge sections of dialogue, knowing you’ll never get anywhere near what you need.
Basically settling for sentences that could fit on the back of post-it stickers hidden off-camera.
I was sickened, exhausted and disillusioned by the process, and threw myself in the action sequences trying to at least do something there that was a little special, but without the character development or story – action, shoot-outs in this case, might as well be gonzo pornography, it’s service to the story line is so blurred, it becomes the reason, instead of supporting the reason.
Yeah – I may resurrect that script and make it as it was in written originally –
Nate: Charlie Valentine (My personal favourite of your films, a knockout). Once again you assemble an unbelievable cast: Raymond J. Barry, Tom Berenger, James Russo, Keith David, Steven Bauer etc. How was your experience with this one? It almost has a rat pack like flavour to it, an old world gangster aesthetic that’s very nice to see. In watching these two films I’ve often though of you as a Walter Hill type, with your violent set pieces and broad, thrilling characterizations.
Jesse: I enjoyed making Charlie Valentine, the budget was too low, I think we had an incident where the IATSE – the trade union for film crews, showed up on set to attempt to turn the film union, basically upping everyones wage and incurring fringe payments, when they realized how little we were making the film for they left, and didn’t call again.
We found a shooting location, a furniture warehouse, that serviced the entire script except for the one day in the desert, and shot it for almost nothing, the producer and I had to fly to S.Carolina to screen the film for Beringer, as he didn’t believe it would be worth anything, for the money we were spending, he enjoyed the film, and gave his thumbs up to us using his name in advertising.
It was pretty unique watching the film with just the three of us in a hotel room.
The film was my love letter to Jean Pierre Melville, I really enjoyed making it, and spent more time with the actors than ever before, discussing the scenes, rehearsing, breathing life into the dialogue, it was a wonderful epiphany for me.
Thank you for the compliment about Walter Hill, he is a favorite of mine.
Nate: Do you have any upcoming projects you are excited about and would like to mention?
Jesse: I would love to send people to the Face Book page for my film, The Beautiful Ones, and to see that when it comes out, it is a cool film with some wonderful performances in it – basically my take on Romeo and Juliet, except these two don’t kill each other at the end, they kill their two warring families – although that is really not what it is about, at all. It’s a black and white about a criminal who thinks he’s Steve McQueen, but that doesn’t do it justice either.
Nate: I will be sure to check that out! Thank you so much for your time, Jesse, and best of luck with all your work and projects in the future.