June 24, 2008

INTERVIEW - Clive Barker Adresses Online Fans and Studio Foes of The Midnight Meat Train

If you haven't heard, Clive Barker's new film The Midnight Meat Train has been getting all kinds of kicked around by Lionsgate. After a tug of war with fans, the studio has agreed to give the movie a theatrical release-- a measly 100 theaters, nationwide, followed by a speedy DVD release.

I spoke to Barker himself (!!!) this week, who is urging not just horror fans but all movie fans to let Lionsgate know what we think about studios flushing perfectly good movies away because of personal agendas. Follow this link to my interview, where you'll find more details as well as a link to Barker's site that has contact info for those at Lionsgate who are calling the shots on MMT.

Seriously, considering how well the trailer and then the movie itself have tested with audiences, it's obvious something is fishy here. I'm very grateful that Clive himself took the time to share his feelings about this with me, it's not an experience I'll forget anytime soon!

June 11, 2008

INTERVIEW - Abe Sapien and Doug Jones, BFF

Ever since Pan's Labyrinth I've been keeping track of the man who was able to tap into our worst nightmares with a flick of his pointy red fingers. In the past few years he's become downright sought-after for certain demanding roles that few humans could ever convincingly take on. One of those is as the mysterious, amphibious Abe Sapien in the Hellboy movies, who recently got his own five-issue comic book miniseries-- thanks, I'm sure, to fan interest that Jones' performance has helped generate.

Jones is a truly dedicated performer and a wonderfully entertaining guy. You can read more about the comic in this week's column, but you'll miss out on some great acting advice and interesting insights into Abe unless you read our complete conversation right here.

[Click here for the interview!]


TB: You have a great voice—I’m surprised! I mean, I’m surprised because I don't think I’ve never actually heard it before.

DJ: Yes, I’ve been dubbed over only three times, but they’ve been three notable times.


TB: I've read that you had a background in theatre, so I really shouldn’t be surprised.

DJ: Yes, we boom to the back row! [Booms]


TB: Dark Horse has released a Hellboy miniseries completely devoted to your character, Abe Sapien. Have you read it yet?

DJ: When we were filming Hellboy 2 in Budapest I heard people talking about the Abe Sapien series, but hadn’t had a chance to pick any up or study them. Now that the set is finally complete, I think I’m going to swoop them up in my arms and bring them home and devour them.


TB: Too late to help you with character work now... maybe in the next sequel, if there is one?

DJ: Certainly. Guillermo had plans for three all along... He’s got ideas, but I haven’t heard all of them yet.


TB: You play three characters in Hellboy 2. How much time did you spend as Abe, compared to the time you spend with these other two?

DJ: Abe was the bulk of the movie for me, the role was beefed up so much from the first one. The entire film was a 128 day production schedule. I worked 108 days of that 128, so I worked a lot! Most of that was Abe Sapien... I spent one week as the Angel of Death and one week as the Chamberlain.


TB: You're beginning to be widely recognized for being unrecognizable. How do you feel about the Lon Chaney comparisons that people make?

DJ: It’s the hugest compliment, as you can imagine. I feel bad, though, like I’m soiling his good name!


TB: Not at all! In a way, you’re living out a lot of dreams of his, special effects-wise.

DJ: Especially with special-effects makeup the way it is now, and our ability to use CGI to enhance what we have-- he’d be in heaven right now!


TB: In the trailer I could tell the Angel of Death was you, just by the shape of your head. Are they going to have to start burying you even deeper in makeup to keep people from recognizing you?

DJ: Oh gosh, can you imagine how much more would that take? Please, no! I actually get comments on my hands too, though. People recognize my hands, the way my thumb is structured.


TB: Do you think it's a sign of hope for theatre actors that there are opportunities for this kind of body-work in film?

DJ: I hope so. Acting is a full-body experience, and it always should be, because communicating is a full-body experience. What you can’t see over the phone is that I’m making facial expressions, my hands are waving in the air, I’m sitting here with a certain posture, and there’s so much visual story going on. My training as a mime back in college really got me in tune with how much storytelling really does go on without words, so when you bring dialogue back into the picture after being trained as a mime, then you’re very much aware of the entire experience. I’ve been able to roll that into the characters I play because they are so incredibly visual. The makeups I’ve been able to wear over the years, and the costuming, have really broadened the kind of characters that I can play, which I could never get to do with my own face.


TB: Do you have any tricks to keep from going crazy during the long hours in the makeup chair?

DJ: I have a really good relationship with my makeup artist, no matter what movie I’m working on. The people who do creature effects makeups tend to be really creative people and really funny people, and very well-read people. and crazy people who drew demons in their notebooks when they were supposed to be in math class. You find yourself being in really fascinating company. My one make-up artist who has done the most is Tom Floutz, he did both Hellboy movies and also made me up as the Silver Surfer, and he’s one of the funniest people, a very charming compassionate human being, and you find yourself really leaning on these people, because you’re with them all day. Also Simon Webber returned for Hellboy 2. Once you’re in a makeup, you can’t see as well, you can’t hear as well, you can’t taste as well because you have teeth in your mouth. You become like this nursing home patient, and your makeup people are the ones who stay with you all day and take care of you. So we have built a bond over the years... We put in a full day of work before they even start filming that day. We laugh a lot, we share stories, we watch DVDs or funny videos on YouTube. Thank goodness for the technology age and how it helps fill up our five hours! It goes by much faster than you’d expect.


TB: What have your comic book convention experiences been like?

DJ: I’ve devouring the comic convention world now! This year I’m doing a complete blitz because of Hellboy 2: I’m going to be in New York this week, and then I’ll be in Knoxville, TN this weekend, and in Mexico City for something later in the month. What I find at these conventions is a fanbase that’s different from any other in the world... they are intelligent and creative, smart, smart people. People ask me all the time whether it tires me, whether I find weirdos there, and all that-- and in any crowd there’s someone who leaves that impression, of course! But for the most part, these fans really just appreciate my work, appreciate this other world they can crawl into and fantasize in. So it’s not at all like the typical fan that’s hiding in Brad Pitt’s bushes who says, “Hey, you’ve got great abs, can we have a life together??”


TB: These people actually sound a lot like the people you were talking about who help you into your make-up...

DJ: Exactly! And it’s amazing how many of these people have contacted me on Facebook or Myspace or my own official website, and sent emails asking me, “I want to do what you do. I’m an aspiring make-up artist, can you give me any advice?” That’s a large portion of the messages I get, so they’re out there, more than I ever thought.


TB: In regards to the kind of extreme make-ups you’ve worn, I suspect that the weird facelessness is what made some of them so alien and scary-- but that lack of a human face is also what allows people to project themselves onto characters like Abe Sapien, really connect with them. Do you agree?

DJ: Absolutely, I totally agree. Guillermo Del Toro is a huge fan of that kind of storytelling. He always taps into the human condition with these otherworldly creatures that he makes-- same thing happened in Pan’s Labyrinth too. He has the golden touch with that.


TB: Do you do any special training before adopting such physical roles?

DJ: I just had my 48th birthday, so yes! A couple of years ago I asked myself, “How long can I do this?” So, especially when I have a job coming up that I know is going to be very demanding, I hit the gym in ways very specific to that character, and pay attention to whatever movement evolves for it. I usually have to really work on my core muscles like my back and abs-- a lot of the characters I’ve played had a certain stance or squat or lunge that human beings don’t normally do. In fact, I just did a cameo in a movie called Legion a few weeks ago, and I actually had to wind up on all fours, galloping toward a building! That gallop had me a little bit worried about whether I could do it take after take-- could I pull that off? So ultimately it was me, in the gym, at night when no one else was there, watching myself in the mirror crawling around on all fours and figuring it out.


TB: I think that’s an experience most film actors really miss out on!

DJ: As film actors, we depend so much on close-ups and dialogue so much that we get caught up in the words. It’s an easy thing to get trapped in. When you back off, and go back to the stag experience and pretend that you are performing to that back row in the theatre, you need to involve yourself from head to toe and work the space that you’re in.


TB: What kind of surprises did Hellboy 2 have in store for you?

DJ: Watching the evolution of the Abe Sapien character was kind of surprising to me. It’s a testament to Guillermo Del Toro’s storytelling, how he can make these otherworldly creatures-- who would never fit in at the mall, right? And he can make them into leading romantic characters. Abe Sapien was a kind of one-note intellect, just a sidekick in the first movie, and in this one Guillermo beefed up the character into a romantic leading male. As a fish-guy! He looks like a freak of nature, but I found myself really connecting with Abe this time in a way that was deper. He’s like my best friend now. He does everything from wielding a weapon and fighting bad guys, to and going on adventures with Hellboy and Liz Sherman, you see all of that buddy time and brother/sister time, but a subplot for Abe is that I am a love interest. My princess is played by Anna Walton, who did a fantastic job on this character. And this love story creates a triangle that’s a bit of a problem in the plot, which I found charming. I think that the fanboys will fall in love with the princess, because she’s like, Cate Blanchette-stunning-- such genuine regality, not pushed or fake. In the meantime, I think the fangirls will look at Abe and sort of tilt their heads and say, “Awwww.” Because he’s a bumbling idiot when it comes to love, and he hasn’t really dealt with that part of his life.

June 7, 2008

Tarot In Plain Sight


In case you don't know, I also run a blog about the Tarot called Arcanalogue. In this entry I dissect the Hermit card and set up associations to the Statue of Liberty. But something about the card that I didn't address is that it is one that I have always identified with, from the very first time I personally encountered the cards. I mean, what lonely teenager wouldn't? But still, that card became a launchpad for my creative identity, and I have tipped my hat to it many times, even in the conceptualizing of this very site. A little backstory for you folks who care. The rest of you will still be glad you came-- this Tuesday I'll be posting my interview with Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth star Doug Jones, as well as one other that I'm keeping hush about for now.

I hope you enjoy Arcanalogue, I look forward to covering the Tarot in this style many times over.

June 6, 2008

Knucklebones

Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab has expanded their Carnaval Diabolique line of fragrances, which now includes dozens of twisted midway treats. Whether you're into candy floss or you're more of a freak-show, there is something here that will astound, amaze, or entertain.

Other than free samples I'd gotten with other stuff, I'd avoided the Carnaval so far. But I could tell right away when I saw the new ones that I'd be ordering Knucklebones:

"You hear a clatter on the ground, and a small bleached bone smacks against your foot. Cloaked in shadows between the tents, three men crouch playing knucklebones. Distress clouds the face of one of the men, while another bursts into a wicked smile and the last one sighs in relief. Scooping up his winnings and shaking his head, the victor makes a soft 'tsk' noise as he reaches towards the loser's chest, positioning his hand over the man's heart. Pressing forward, his hand moves through cloth, flesh, muscle, and bone to extract the beating organ. Tossing the heart onto the ground, he says to you, 'Mind handing me those bones, buddy? I've got a game to run here.'

"Black musk, bay rum, lime fougere, orange blossom water, gin, and tobacco."

It's the actual elements of the fragrances that I weed through, looking for exactly what I want; The creepy little blurbs that accompany them are just something extra to flavor your impression, and let you know that somewhere, someone has a job that's way more fun than yours. My bottle arrived today, and I'm excited to find that this perfume oil blend smells exactly the way I hoped. Well... I'd have loved it to have a slightly stronger hint of orange blossom. But really, it's the ideal summer counterpart to the Black Forest I'd purchased for winter. Both have that black musk and juniper combo, but Knucklebones is airier and spicier.

And, I got to spend time learning about the actual game called knucklebones. Which I will not play when I go to Coney Island tomorrow, because I'd like to keep my organs right where they are, thank you very much.

June 2, 2008

INTERVIEW - Betty Buckley Steals the Show (Again) in M. Night's The Happening

In the "Who Loves Horror?" articles I write for AMC, Carrie almost always winds up on people's top-ten lists. People have a very personal relationship with this film, surely because of how nakedly it depicts the destruction of a true innocent and outcast. In her first film role, Betty Buckley was on fire as Miss Collins, the only adult who understood Carrie's torment, becoming her fierce advocate and protector. When I spoke to Buckley for my column, she seemed surprised that this role from 1976 still meant so much to people, but no doubt we've all longed for a Miss Collins of our own, a teacher or mentor who could offer a sincere helping hand-- or at least beat down the bitchy Chris Hargensens of the world.

However, Buckley has shone many times brighter since then, with more film, Broadway, and recording accomplishments than I can count. When I discovered that she was slated to appear in M. Night Shyamalan's The Happening, I couldn't wait to find out whether her role had any meat to it, and whether it signaled a true return to the genre that she kicked off her career with. I think you'll find there's a lot we don't know about Betty Buckley-- and even more we (still) don't know about The Happening!

[Click here for the interview!]


TB: Can you tell me about your character in the The Happening?

BB: I can’t really! I had to sign a confidentiality agreement. I can tell you her name is Mrs. Jones, and I’m in the last portion of the movie, and my character is one of the reasons we have an R rating-- It’s Night’s first R-rated movie. And that she’s weird and odd and scary... Mark Wahlberg and Zooey Deschanel are on the run, and they come to my house. I can tell you that.

TB: You’ve worked with some of the best film directors of all time: De Palma, Woody Allen, Roman Polansky, etc. Can you tell me what it was like working with Shyamalan?

BB: Incredible! Night surrounds himself with incredible people in every job category, from the production team and crew to the cast. At the end of filming, I told him that if I could just do a movie for him every year (and some concert work too) I’d be a happy camper for the rest of my life. He has a beautiful family of people who have worked with him on all his movies. He’s very childlike, a very enthusiastic human being, so you just want to do anything he asks you to do-- which I did in this movie! [Laughs] I’m really excited to see it. The producers have written me some very sweet notes about my contribution to the film, very loving, but I’m a little scared to see it! I’ve never really played a part like this before.


TB: So it’s a mystery to you too!

BB: Yes. I’m very curious to see how it comes together, because I felt very bizarre! I kept going back to Night saying, “Are you sure this is what you want?” and he’d say, “Absolutely! Go further.” And I’m like, “Go further??” It’s really nuts; I’ve never played anything on film that is this scary.


TB: Is that something you’d like to explore again?

BB: Sure, I wouldn’t mind. I’m at the point in my life where, whatever, let’s play! It’s very freeing to play a character like this. It’s harder to play someone glamorous, because you have to watch yourself from every angle and make sure that you’re put together right; with stuff like this you can go all out, and the further out you go, the better they like it. I’ve really never done anything like this... I’m interested to hear how people who follow my work feel about it. And everyone else too, of course.


TB: You’ve played some dark roles over the years, but this seems to be a real return to horror for you, as far as I can see.

BB: Yes, that’s sort of what I was thinking. Though I was a victim in Carrie, not part of the action really.


TB: What do you think it is about your character in Carrie that has remained with people all this time?

BB: Miss Collins? I didn’t know it had remained with people all this time, thank you for saying that.


TB: Yes, that's a big part of what my column will be about. As an actor, are there insights you have now about Miss Collins that you wish you’d had then?

BB: Well I wish I hadn’t let me wear those socks! I wish I’d worn normal gym socks, but they put me in those knee-highs. When I first saw it on the big screen, that really bothered me. It’s always a shock to see yourself on the big screen, which is why I’m so anxious to see The Happening, to see myself in this form!


TB: I’m going to have to send you an email after the film comes out--

BB: --You have to, Tom. You have to tell me what you think!


TB: No, I meant I want you to tell me what you think! Now, on another subject entirely... when I told the owner of my local video store that I would be talking to you, he immediately showed me your brief, powerful scene in Woody Allen's Another Woman, which he thinks stole the whole show. Woody Allen is notorious for not giving much direction to his actors; did you muster all of that firepower on your own?

BB: It was hysterical. He’s so very vague! I played the ex-wife of Ian Holm, who is having his engagement party with Gena Rowlands (who’s one of my favorite actresses in the whole world, and I got to go to work with her every day-- we shared a car and I was in heaven the whole time!). Gene Hackman and all these great New York actors were also in the scene as the guests. And Allen just said to me, “You’re coming over to break up the engagement party, with the excuse that you’re returning some stuff," and you know, whatever. And then he turns to all these incredible actors who are in the room for the party-- very serious, wonderful theatre actors-- and says, “Some of you know her, some of you don’t, some of you have a friendship with her—I don’t know, whatever you feel like.” And one of the grips just started laughing, and so did I, because he really had no idea what he wanted us to do. And he turned around and looked at me then, sort of mischievous and gleeful.


TB: Did you film any more scenes in that movie that were cut?

BB: It was just that one scene, but we did about twelve takes. And my favorite version of it was when I had this whole tantrum in the doorway, and then as I was going out, I ran into the door! I thought it was perfect, but he didn’t use that take. Actually, that reminds me of when I was filming Tender Mercies: I was in a scene where I had a tantrum in the dressing room, in the scene with Wilford Brimley, and when he leaves I throw this wine glass against the wall. Well, in one of the takes, I threw the glass and the wine flew through the air and hit me in the face... you couldn’t duplicate it--the liquid flew in a perfect arc, right into my face! But of course they didn’t use that either.


TB: While we’re on the subject of directors you’ve had, are there any that you’ve missed so far that you’d really like to work with?

BB: Well I'd been really hopeful to work with Sydney Pollack, and I was so sorry when he died, it was very sad. I’d love to work with Baz Luhrrmann; I just did a miniseries called Pacific which will air next year, which was produced by Tom Hanks and Stephen Spielberg, and I’d love to actually be directed by Spielberg. There are a whole fleet of directors I’d be thrilled to work with! De Palma again, and Polanski, I hope. Scorcese, of course-- I frequently want to write him a fan letter and ask “Can I work with you?” but I’ve never had the courage to do it.


TB: Well when The Happening comes out and you see what’s there, you may suddenly find yourself feeling very brave!

BB: [Laughs] I just hope people know I’m playing a character! When you play these crazy people, sometimes people think that’s who you are.


TB: Don't they know by now? It’s not like you’re an unknown actress just starting out...

BB: People have short memories, they tend to remember the most recent thing you did. That’s about as narrow as our imagination often is.


TB: Maybe so, but in talking to people about this interview, I discovered that you've covered so much ground that no two people seem to have the same concept of what you’ve actually done.

BB: Thank you, that’s very nice. I felt as a young person that it was important to be good at a lot of different things, so that you were always employable.


TB: Do you have some incredible talents we don’t know about that you’re saving in case all this falls through?

BB: Not exactly, but I do ride cutting horses on my ranch in Texas, and I show them—and I’m not very good at it. I’m desperately trying to be better! I’ve got a lot of time this summer to practice, I found a trainer right down the road, so I’m hoping this summer I can get better. It’s frustrating to not be good at something at this late age in my life! I’d also like to learn to play the guitar. And recently I had this a great experience working with a choreographer for a possible Broadway show, and that re-inspired my love of dance and made me want to go back to dance class, and even I’m thinking “You’re nuts!” My body’s getting older-- why do I have all these lofty physical goals? Do I really have to show horses and play guitar and take dance classes all at once? At the very least it seems like a reason to roll out of bed each day and have some fun.