Archive | September, 2012

Daniel Gillies and Rachael Leigh Cook: Class acts in “Broken Kingdom”

28 Sep

There are actors who work mainly for the fame, the glory and the big paychecks in the motion picture industry. And then there are those who work truly for the love of the craft—the art of taking an idea, working tirelessly to bring it to the screen, and who sacrifice their blood, sweat and finances to make it happen. They become the true “stars” of the industry—the real class acts.

Daniel Gillies and Rachael Leigh Cook are two of those stars. Their passion for filmmaking goes further on display with the release on October 2 of a pair of films—“Broken Kingdom” and “Kingdom Come.” Between them, they wrote, directed, executive-produced and star in “Broken Kingdom.” The companion film, “Kingdom Come,” serves as a documentary and tribute to the challenges that these two actors, who have been married since 2004, faced in bringing their film to fruition.

Neither needed to set out on this journey. Daniel stars as Elijah Mikaelson in CW’s “Vampire Diaries” and was a lead in NBC’s “Saving Hope” last season, while Rachael will soon begin filming the second season of TNT’s popular “Perception” series opposite co-star Will McCormack.  They have long, impressive resumes in Hollywood, but they share two common passions—the work ethic as actors to never rest on their laurels, and the desire to stretch themselves in roles opposite of ones they’ve played.

Rachael Leigh Cook

“I didn’t really see the burgeoning value of television,” Daniel said during a 45 minute-plus telephone interview with ON AND BEYOND from the couple’s Los Angeles home. “It was sort of in a state of upheaval when I first came to town. TV was seen as being a tier below cinema, though I don’t see it that way at all now. Like a lot of actors, I was kind of waiting for that golden movie role to come along—more or less willing to consider doing just about any old thing in the meantime. And I was deeply regretful about that.”

So in 2007 at the age of 31, he made a career-altering decision—to create “Broken Kingdom.” Over a three-year period, both Daniel and Rachael began assembling the pieces, in every sense of the word—becoming do-it-yourself filmmakers. It proved to be “five times harder that we thought it was going to be.”

The digital revolution helped. Thanks to advancements in equipment, filmmaking has become much less expensive for independent producers and directors. Still, the couple bankrolled the production with their own money.

“I was tired of hearing myself complain like many other actors who felt opportunities weren’t coming along,” Daniel said. “The function of an actor in L.A. is you’re always a creature that’s waiting, and we’ve seen many great talents in this city who have been destroyed by that inertia.”

“We both love being actors—and it was time to create our own identity,” Rachael added. “I was excited from the very first moment when Daniel started formulating the idea. I knew this would be a great, but very challenging, experience for both of us.”

Daniel Gillies

“Broken Kingdom,” which Daniel wrote, tells the story of someone who’s on the run, for reasons that he doesn’t even understand at first, and the people he encounters. It weaves from the slums of Bogota, Columbia to Hollywood. “I love multi-layered stories, leaving one narrative and weaving back into another. And of course I wanted to work with Rachael, which was wonderful,” he said.

For her part, Rachael loved her character, definitely playing against type from her roles in dozens of films and TV series like “She’s All That,” “Josie and the Pussycats,” or as FBI agent Kate Moretti in “Perception.” The film showcases her talents in a way not seen before.

“If it wasn’t for Daniel believing I could do this, I probably wouldn’t have had this opportunity,” she said. “It’s helped our creative relationship. Even though it was a rough role in many ways, I learned a lot playing this character. It’s made me feel more capable and more confident about doing these types of parts.”

A very unique aspect of “Broken Kingdom,” which has already garnered rave reviews from those who’ve seen it, is the platform by which it is being released. Following a live stream of the film worldwide on October 2, the film (along with “Kingdom Come”) will be offered only as a download, and for just $8 for BOTH films combined. They can be ordered online at http://brokenkingdomfilm.com. The film also has a Facebook page and Twitter site, where fans can learn more and post comments. The vehicle for release of the films has been intentional from the get-go.

“We didn’t want to limit the releases to just the major cities, or those who do have theaters where independent films are shown,” Rachael said. “Everyone has a chance to download and view these films.”

Companion film “Kingdom Come” tells the story of independent filmmaking, and includes interviews with both Daniel and Rachael, as well as others who’ve worked the indie world. Among those featured are Selma Blair, Ed Burns, Don Cheadle, Alan Cumming, John Hawkes, Bill Pullman, Mark Ruffalo, Tim Roth, Kevin Smith and Morgan Spurlock.

So I had to ask, “Would they do it again?”

“Absolutely, “ Rachael proclaims. “There’s a creativity involved in making movies–the literal ‘making’ of movies–that is unlike anything else you can experience in this profession. It’s freedom-giving, it’s empowering.”

“I can’t stop dreaming and thinking about the next one,” Daniel adds. “It’s great to work with a small crew and give them the latitude to move. Suddenly the camera operator sort of dances around the actors, and everyone is part of the creative process. It’s an environment where everybody is the artist.”

And it’s what separates Daniel Gillies and Rachael Leigh Cook from the crowd in Hollywood—acting for the love of their craft, and for the enjoyment of the rest of us who love watching their work.

–Tom Haraldsen

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Don McLean: An American Troubadour

20 Sep

“A long, long time ago, I can still remember how the music used to make me smile.” Can’t we all?

Image courtesy of Webster and Associates,LLC

That opening line from the classic song “American Pie” has been played, replayed, covered by other artists, sung badly by amateurs in karaoke bars and loved in its original form by tens of millions of music fans. It’s hard to believe that it was 40 years ago when singer/songwriter Don McLean’s ballad reached the #1 position on the Billboard pop music charts. His journey before, and since, that song’s inception is part of a new authorized documentary titled “Don McLean: American Troubadour,” released this month by Time Life. Emmy-winning filmmaker Jim Brown was granted unprecedented access and interviews for the film, as McLean gave his personal account of his career, as well as offering 15 live performances of his biggest hits. McLean also spoke with me for ON AND BEYOND.

His decision to work with Brown on the documentary was based partly on their long-time friendship.

“I knew him when he was a kid,” McLean said. “He made a movie called ‘The Weavers: Wasn’t That a Time’ that I had a part in, then 30 years later, he called and asked about doing some interviews. I said, let’s go.” Brown took the idea to TBS and Time Life, they liked it, and McLean started telling his story on film.

““I’m a songster—I’ve always sang the songs that interest me, that I think I can get a handle on,” he said. “I really internalize each song, rather than just jump around.” It’s the formula that has guided his career. “Music has always reflected everything going on in my life. Without realizing it, my life and my music have been so intertwined and so personal that making the movie just made total sense.”

“American Troubadour” reveals things about McLean that even his most ardent fans might not know. He loves to do interior decorating (“I like antiques, rugs, color combinations, fun stuff like that,” he told me), has a huge home that he loves to tinker around in while his wife tends the garden, and is a “western horseman and trainer. I’ve been doing that for more than 35 years.” He says the documentary shows a lot of the struggles he has fought to get to where he is today, including “a breakdown that I had in the 1970s.”

But it’s largely about his music; his influences that included Elvis, Buddy Holly, and Pete Seeger; and how important Frank Sinatra was in formulating McLean’s ways of singing.

“Sinatra would sing some very slow songs, and I practiced that,” he said. “He showed me the importance of controlling a slow song.”

Born in 1945 to parents who “were a generation older than those of my friends,” McLean felt as a youngster that it was “really me against the world. My folks had already raised a daughter, so I was a surprise. I just gravitated towards music as a kind of refuge.” He admits that “I probably thought I was a better singer that what I was.” But timing is everything, and as he grew and his experience and talent developed, so, too, did the influence of his instrument of choice—the guitar.

“Before the guitar came along, if you wanted to be a singer, you had to sing with a band, and you had to read music,” he recalled. “I just had to learn chords, didn’t have to read music or make arrangements. In fact, a friend showed me how to play an E chord.” He learned quickly and, as history has shown, mastered the art of making music that has endured for generations.

After graduating from prep school in New York, he attended Villanova University, but dropped out after four months.

“I was not doing well, but in Philadelphia, I heard about this club called The Main Point. I visited there and got a job in 1967 working with Janis Ian. It’s also where I reconnected with Jim and Ingrid Croce, who I knew at Villanova. In 1969, just as Jim was getting his career going, they invited me to their home. Jim was a terrific guy.”

Both at the Croce’s home, as well as at The Main Point, McLean was surrounded by musicians who would become legends of their time. A long list of stars launched their careers in part at The Main Point, and “not everyone got to play there.”

In a press release about the documentary, Brown states that “Don McLean is a true artist and rugged individualist. He has deep American values that have defined an amazing and admirable life. I think some of his best work is yet to be discovered.”

If that’s true, then all of us who’ve loved McLean’s music have much to look forward to.

“Don McLean: American Troubadour,” both as a video and a CD, is available from a number of online sites, and more information can be found on his website at www.don-mclean.com.

–Tom Haraldsen

Image courtesy of Webster PR

‘Compliance’ cast discuss the new indie release

11 Sep

 

From left, actors Pat Healy, Dreama Walker and Ann Dowd, along with director Craig Zobel, of the recently-released film,”Compliance.”

In April of 2004, an unusual thing happened at a McDonald’s in Mt. Washington, Kentucky. A man called the manager and told her one of her employees had stolen a customer’s purse. He described the employee perfectly to match one of the workers, identified himself as a police officer, and gave the manager two choices: have the girl hauled to a police station for questioning, or follow his instructions to locate the evidence herself so police could proceed with an arrest. The store manager and employee both complied. Threatened with arrest, the employee agreed to be subjected to some very lewd interrogation acts. Only when one of the male employees objected to the proceedings did the caller hang up, because the whole thing was one elaborate prank to see how far those involved would actually go.

That’s the premise behind “Compliance,” a radically different and somewhat controversial film by director Craig Zobel that drew plenty of reaction at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Some who saw the premiere praised it, others literally booed when it was shown for the first time on Jan. 21. The film is not a retelling of the McDonald’s incident—the setting is different—but mirrors many of the details of the accounts given by the victims involved. When Zobel read a story several years later about the events at that Kentucky restaurant, he said, “It stuck with me. I just kept wondering what it could have been like, in order for things to get as far as they did? What was the guy on the other side of the phone saying?”

Fast forward to a snowy afternoon in Park City, Utah at Sundance, where Zobel is joined for our interview by veteran Bristish actress Ann Dowd, who plays the manager of a fast food restaurant; actress Dreama Walker, who is now starring on ABC’s hit comedy “Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 24 C,” and is the employee in “Compliance” who is stripped of both her uniform and her dignity; and actor Pat Healy, who portrays Daniel, the “officer” on the phone calling the shots. Our interview takes place one day after the film’s premiere.

“When I came across this story, I was not looking to make a movie about it at all,” Zobel said. “It had things about it that initially I couldn’t believe were possible. Even days later after reading it, I couldn’t really process why people did the things that they did.”

“I read Craig’s script and thought it was fantastically written,” Dowd said of her reasons for auditioning for the film. “I was drawn to my character for sure. To all the characters, really.”

Actress Dreama Walker with ON AND BEYOND editor Tom Haraldsen at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival

“I was familiar with the incident,” Walker recalled. “I remember just being completely bewildered and intrigued, and feeling the same way as Craig, that at some point in all of our lives, we’re involved in something or partly involved in something that we don’t wholeheartedly agree with, but go along with because we’re told to.  That’s part of humanity. In this case, it was very extreme.” She also liked the way the story was told from the viewpoint of those involved—their feelings and their internal conflicts.

“I don’t think these people were idiots,” Walker said. “I don’t think they were morons. I think they were naive, and I think that at that moment, the walls were closing in on them; and my character in particular really felt that her whole life was coming to a halt, and that she was going to be thrown into prison and lose everything. That was terrifying for her—the stakes were very high for her.”

Healy had worked with Zobel previously on a film called “Great World of Sound” that also dealt with an implausible but real-life situation. Like with this film, it was an exploration of human behavior and why people would do things they wouldn’t normally do.

Dowd said the tight shooting schedule for “Compliance,” which lasted just 21 days, gave the actors another advantage in playing characters who they may have not necessarily liked or, as in Healy’s case, found “despicable.”

“You’re less likely to second-guess yourself, which is very helpful on a film like this,” she said. “On a gut level, if you understand the character, and you take off the resistance, then you’re going to move right through.”

It makes for tense drama, and as Walker intimated, puts each of the film’s characters into a moment-of-truth situation.

“The specter of a cop is a powerful thing,” Zobel said. “It gives people pause. People were scared enough by the idea of police that they didn’t question it. They don’t want to say the wrong thing. They don’t want to get into more trouble.”

“Compliance” is now playing nationwide in select theaters. As for the real-life incident on which the story is based, Louise Ogborn, the person whose situation most resembles what Walker’s character Becky goes through, was later awarded millions in punitive and compensatory damages. Walter Nix, her “guard” who committed the physical abuse, went to prison. And the man accused of ordering him to do so, David Stewart, was found not guilty – but there were no more reported hoax calls of this kind after his arrest.

–Tom Haraldsen and Chalese Dalton