Bye Bye Black Sheep: The Interviews
I am not ordinarily a name dropper. Over the last ten years, I have had the opportunity to interview dozens of filmmakers and actors and I’m about to drop all of their names in your face right now. I don’t want to brag; no, my goal today is to look back and take a moment to soak it all in. Black Sheep Reviews has provided opportunities for me to meet some of the most incredible people working in the film industry today. I just listed them all to myself and was floored by how fortunate I’ve been and I want to commemorate that here.
My first interview with someone recognizable was with Bill Pullman at the Montreal World Film Festival for a film nobody saw called YOUR NAME HERE. The interview was thrown together randomly and by the time I caught up with Mr. Pullman, he was pretty darn drunk on the hotel patio. It was the middle of the afternoon but this is Montreal after all; that’s how they do. The interview was never published as the film never really got any traction but I thought that was a pretty nifty way to start out.
Over the next little while, interviews were rare as I wasn’t really a name yet. Still, I managed to connect with some important Canadian directors like Jeremy Podeswa (FUGITIVE PIECES), Bruce McDonald (THE TRACEY FRAGMENTS), who was also fairly drunk, which as I understand it is to be expected, and Paul Gross (PASSCHENDAELE).
During this period, I met with two indie filmmakers that I genuinely connected with and whose films I worked hard to get people to see. The reason I remember them to this day is because our conversations were real, which is not always the case when it comes to junket interviews. If you ever get the chance, check out ALL THE DAYS BEFORE TOMORROW by Francois Dompierre and DIED YOUNG, STAYED PRETTY by Eileen Yaghoobian. Both are incredibly personal and touching films.
After I started writing for Hour, one of Montreal’s two now defunct alt weekly papers, the opportunities got a little bit bigger. I headed out to NYC for the Tribeca Film Festival, where I ended up interviewing Canadian auteur, Atom Egoyan (ADORATION) and Oscar nominee Kirby Dick (OUTRAGE). This is also where I had my first brush with greatness. I somehow managed to score an interview with one of my favourite directors, Mr. Steven Soderbergh (THE GIRLFRIEND EXPERIENCE). It was in the penthouse of some fancy Park Avenue hotel and was catered better than some weddings I’ve been to. Soderbergh was intense and intelligent and provided great insight to his process. I was freaking out the entire time in my head but all of that glitz and glamour fell away quickly when I had to catch a cab across town to some sweaty west end Manhattan apartment to interview first time filmmaker, Damien Chazelle (GUY AND MADELINE ON A PARK BENCH). It was night and day but I’ll never forget that day as long as I live. In case Chazelle’s name sounds familiar to you, his second feature was the Oscar nominated WHIPLASH.
I moved to Toronto shortly thereafter. I was no longer writing for Hour but I was still working whatever connections I could to break into the Toronto market. My first interview in the new city was with Oscar winner, Louis Psihoyos (THE COVE). He wasn’t an Oscar winner at the time but he became one the following year for the film we discussed. The interview was done in a Roots store but I did end up selling it to a glossy magazine so who cares?
By the time my first TIFF came around, I had made a few connections and those led to some pretty incredible interviews that first year. Most notably, Lee Daniels and Gabourey Sidibe from PRECIOUS: BASED ON THE NOVEL “PUSH” BY SAPPHIRE. Sidibe was beaming given how much that film was changing her life at the time and Daniels was incredibly candid about being a gay film director. He actually cried.
By the time the next TIFF came around, I had had a pretty good, if not random, year. I spoke with Dolph Lundgren (THE EXPENDABLES) and Gemma Arterton (THE DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED). (Arterton is one of two Bond girls I’ve met with; I later interviewed Naomie Harris for THE FIRST GRADER). I even somehow got myself a Skype interview with Michael Moore (CAPITALISM: A LOVE STORY) that year. I’m not sure how but I don’t care either. Moore was quite personable which was a pleasant surprise.
TIFF 2010 was insane! I was formally accredited for the festival for the first time and I just dove in head first. So many movies, so few meals and interviews with people I still can’t believe I spoke to. Where to begin … How about with Ryan Reynolds (BURIED)? Reynolds was just as charming as you would expect him to be. Before taking a seat, he shook my hand and introduced himself, “Hi, I’m Ryan.” Really? How could he think for one second that I didn’t know that already? Still, very gentlemanly … Next up? How about Javier Bardem and Alejandro González Iñárritu (BIUTIFUL)? Clearly I thought I was on a roll at this point because I distinctly remember getting cocky with Bardem about how he had referred to himself as “Melon Brando” (you had to be there). I also remember that he smoked non-stop even though the hotel was clearly non smoking … Will Ferrell (EVERYTHING MUST GO) is a very tall man. He is also not particularly funny when promoting a drama … And then there was Xavier Dolan (HEARTBEATS). I’ll never forget this interview, ever. I had to rush from a film to get to the interview on time and I was still sweating, which as a bald man, is a little hard to hide. I wanted nothing more than to gush about how much I loved his work but Dolan wasn’t having it. He was defensive the entire time and I had no idea how to handle that. I don’t know who sat with him prior to me but they must have upset him greatly because that was an extremely unpleasant ten minutes. I just wanted to give him a hug and tell him that everything was going to be ok at one point. If you read that interview, you will see how hard it was to make lemonade out of that lemon of an experience. I interviewed Dolan a few years later for the fantastic TOM AT THE FARM and it was a completely different experience. For one, I wasn’t sweating. More importantly though, Dolan was a perfect gentleman. He was cordial and engaging and when his rep suggested we would only have a few minutes to chat in total, he looked at me and nodded to suggest that I didn’t have to worry. He made up the time and easily made up for our first experience together.
The interviews kept coming and the next year opened up even more doors when I returned to write for Hour. Before the following TIFF even came around, I mixed it up with the likes of Paul Haggis (THE NEXT THREE DAYS), and no I did not ask him how he sleeps at night after robbing the Oscar from BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, Morgan Spurlock (THE GREATEST MOVIE EVER SOLD and again later for COMIC-CON), Jacob Tierney (GOOD NEIGHBOURS), Mike Mills (BEGINNERS), Dominic Cooper (THE DEVIL’S DOUBLE), and one Matthew McConaughey (THE LINCOLN LAWYER). McConaughey was also a gentleman and as charming as one can get.
TIFF 2011 was out of control! I was fully accredited for the second and final time (more on that later) and as I was being published regularly in Hour, and its Ottawa counterpart Xpress, I booked a lot of interviews, and big one’s at that. Here is a sampling … Gus Van Sant (RESTLESS), who was not as forthcoming as I had hoped he would be … Jean Marc-Vallee (CAFE DE FLOR), who is maybe one of the most forthcoming people I’ve ever met. (I would later interview Vallee again for WILD.) … Michael Shannon (TAKE SHELTER) who is a very nice guy but still a little intimidating in stature at an early morning interview … Elizabeth Olsen (MARTHA MARCY MAY MARLENE), who was nothing but gracious … Antonio Banderas (THE SKIN I LIVE IN), who can talk for a half hour without stopping … I interviewed both Jean Dujardin and Michel Hazanavicius from THE ARTIST. Dujardin had a translator, which was good because my recorder stopped working half way through and I had to write it out from memory when it was done. I used the translator as justification for paraphrasing because so was she really … I interviewed a Canadian filmmaker by the name of Mathieu Roy (SURVIVING PROGRESS). Roy’s father had just passed away a couple of days prior and I was just in awe of his bravery to be there at all … And then there was Michael Fassbernder (SHAME). I don’t think I’ve ever had more people volunteer to assist me with an interview than for this guy. And no, we did not talk about his penis … Oh, and a little heartthrob named Ryan Gosling (DRIVE). Along with Bryan Cranston, Albert Brooks and director, Nicolas Winding Refn, Gosling joined for revolving roundtables. I asked him an elaborate question about his character and the dark places one had to go to get as violent as he did in the film. His response? “Yes.” He clearly really wanted to be there.
The party would soon come to an end but not before I got to speak with Jay Baruchel (GOON), who I gushed about Montreal with, Drew Goddard (THE CABIN IN THE WOODS), who I gushed about The X-Files with, and Mr. Harry Potter himself, Daniel Radcliffe (THE WOMAN IN BLACK), who swears way more than you would think and cannot sit still to save his life. I thought I was at the top of my game and that I had it all figured out when I was going to have the cover story on Xpress (Lee Hirsh, director of BULLY) and the cover of Hour (Mark Ruffallo for THE AVENGERS) the same week. That week, I found out it would be the last issue of Hour and I was crushed. Xpress closed up shop a couple of months later. Without the credentials, I was not invited to meet with Channing Tatum for MAGIC MIKE shortly thereafter. You can imagine my disappointment.
I was not accredited the following year at TIFF and I was pretty bummed. I remember specifically sitting to dinner before a movie and feeling sorry for myself thinking it was all over when I got the perfect email at the perfect time. I had booked an interview with Jake Gyllenhaal (END OF WATCH)! I had no idea how that happened but I really didn’t care. When the time finally came to speak with Gyllenhaal, I thought I would be crafty and ask about the harrowing nature of police work given the film he was promoting but I also asked how he felt now that his hair had grown back (as he, like I, was bald in the movie). He answered my first question head on and then, in a room full of people, he asked me to repeat my second question. I sheepishly said, “Uh, I asked you about your hair.” His reply was basically, “Yeah, I just wanted to make you say it out loud again.” Jake Gyllenhaal was playing with me and my life was made.
The interviews that followed were fewer but no less exciting. I spoke with both David Cronenberg (A DANGEROUS METHOD), who is surprisingly quite funny, and his son, Brandon Cronenberg (ANTIVIRAL), who is not … Deepa Mehta (MIDNIGHT’S CHILD), who is wise and warm … Matthew Goode (BURNING MAN), who’s big, blue eyes are so easy to get lost in … Anna Kendrick (END OF WATCH), who is, well, just like you imagine she is, only more awesome … Robert Pattinson (COSMOPOLIS), who is less lifeless than you would expect … Ellen Page (THE EAST) who I frankly found a little closed … Edgar Wright (THE WORLD’S END), Aaron Eckhardt (I, FRANKENSTEIN), and Ralph Fiennes (CORIOLANUS) … and Denis Villeneuve (ENEMY), who basically told me he was really happy I didn’t fully comprehend his movie and then didn’t explain anything about it.
There were other unique experiences that meant a lot to me … like speaking with Jonathan Caouette about his breakthrough TARNATION on its anniversary … or with composer Gustavo Santaolalla about his work on BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN … or SHARKWATER director and activist Rob Stewart about his follow-up, REVOLUTION … I had one of the most genuine conversations ever with Jeffrey Schwarz (VITO) about gay history and how far removed the gay present is from its past … and I got to speak to both director Richard Linklater and star Ellar Coltrane about their monumental triumph, BOYHOOD. I actually sorta suggested to Coltrane that it was all downhill from here because what could possible top this experience? It was unintentional, I swear.
There were a few missed opportunities along the way … For instance, I passed on the chance to interview Jennifer Lawrence for WINTER’S BONE. I had no idea I would like the movie so much or that she would become J.Law … I also passed on interviewing Jessica Chastain for THE TREE OF LIFE. I couldn’t make it work with my work schedule so it wasn’t my fault. I thought I had a second chance a while later for TAKE SHELTER but that interview literally got canned the night before. I stopped in the street when I read that email and may have yelled at the sky and shook my fist at the air … And I had to pass on the chance to interview Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig for FRANCES HA because I was flying out of the city that same day. The fun part there is that the flight was delayed until later in the evening and I could have easily made the interview.
I’ve also done a few red carpets but I generally dislike those. Still I got to stand a few feet away from Madonna, Woody Allen and Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson from THE HUNGER GAMES. I didn’t get to ask them any questions because that never seems to happen at carpets but standing near them was cool, I guess. Not cool was the time I went to the DIVERGENT red carpet and my pants split as I bowed under the velvet rope. It was winter (thank god!) so my long coat concealed everything but that was definitely the last carpet I attended.
The last two TIFF’s provided some wonderful final interviews too. As I knew all of this would eventually be coming to an end, these interviews were of great import to me … I spoke with Gael Garcia Bernal and Jon Stewart about Stewart’s debut ROSEWATER. I was so intimidated to meet Stewart (I had met Bernal before so we go way back already). When I told him he was constantly turning me on to documentaries on The Daily Show, he seemed genuinely pleased. I almost peed … I met with the handsome Jeremy Jordan (THE LAST FIVE YEARS) and got geeky about one of my favourite musicals with one of my favourite singers … And I tried very hard to not just stare at Channing Tatum’s chest when he sat across from me to talk about his incredible turn in FOXCATCHER. His buttons looked like they were working really hard to keep all of that manliness intact so it was hard to look away. He was joined by Steve Carrell and Mark Ruffalo … As quiet as this year was, which is just what I needed, I still got to speak with yet another Oscar winner, Davis Guggenheim (HE NAMED ME MALALA) … and I got to speak with the cast of one of my favourite movies of the year, ME AND EARL AND THE DYING GIRL.
And this doesn’t even include all of the interviews that my writers have done for the site over the years!
My final interview for Black Sheep Reviews was with Brie Larson for ROOM. Larson was lovely; she sat down on the ground instead of the high chair so she could be closer to the journalists in the room and she was very open about her experience making the beautiful film. I was last in line to ask a question and it wasn’t clear whether they would even get to me. At some point during the interview, I realized that this was my last interview and while Larson was staring directly at me and telling me all about her elaborate process, I was transported back to the film itself and overcome with emotion between that and the finality of the situation. All I kept telling myself in my head was don’t cry in front of Brie Larson. Whatever you do, do not cry in front of Brie Larson!
It’s been quite a ride. Thank you to all the amazing public relations people who made this ride possible.