Katsucon 2017 – Recap

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Every February, a little bit of Japan comes to Maryland. Actually no, that’s not right. A LOT of Japan comes to Maryland. The annual anime and cosplay festival glow sticks comes to National Harbor and attracts a bevy of anime enthusiasts and professional and amateur costumers. It is a yearly celebration and with thousands of joyful participants, it is truly a time to treasure.

Hosted once again at the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center, Katsucon is a weekend long extravaganza that always promises fun and excitement to those in attendance. There are panels, screenings, merchants, games, and yes, a rave. People well-versed and even novices in anime would enjoy the informative panels. There are artists, vendors, and various individuals selling their wares. The floor is packed with interesting items for sale and many people eager to buy them.

Now I’ll be honest. I’m not much of an anime fan. In fact, I know very little about the art form but that’s okay because I still had a blast this year. Last year was my first foray into Katsucon and I was bit surprised. I have been to many comic cons before but Katsucon is really unique and something special and the reason I say that is because of two things: there is a game room and there is a rave. The game room is a large space that contains video games from yesteryear and today. I spent a good amount of time teaming up with a fellow con-goer trying to rescue Princess Toadstool in Super Mario Bros. 3. It was glorious. Also, with the con open pretty much all night, there is PLENTY of time to try and rescue said princess.

To finish off Katsucon, I immersed myself in the nightly rave and danced the night away with younger scantily clad attendees, waving around glow sticks, and showing off their impressive dance moves. All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, even better than last year and if you want to lose yourself for one exciting weekend, then I highly recommend glow sticks because you mill meet interesting people, gaze upon awesome cosplay, and form memories that will last you a lifetime. See you next year, Maryland!

Interview: Liam Neeson Talks ‘A Monster Calls’

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Over the decades, many actors have secured themselves as cinematic icons. To transcend the film screen and move into audiences’ hearts is no small feat. The hugely diverse Liam Neeson is one such actor and from Schindler’s List to Michael Collins to Star Wars to Taken, this is a man who is no stranger to diversity in terms of picking roles. His latest film is no exception and in A Monster Calls, Neeson takes on the role of a gigantic tree monster (in motion capture), only to help guide a young boy through a very difficult time. Neeson was kind enough to sit down with me and other members of the media in a very special roundtable interview. Here’s how that interview went:

What was it like working in motion capture?

I find it strange, certainly, for the first day. You know, it’s – you act in a, they call it a volume. Why they call it a volume, I have no idea, these computer people. It’s a space. I don’t know if you know the process, but seventy cameras in a circle, and then above you, there’s seventy cameras, and you’re in the middle. You’re acting your scenes, and the good thing is you don’t have to, you know, reset up for his point of view or her point of view, whatever. Everything is covered, you know? And Lewis [MacDougall] was there, and he was off to the side because I was acting to a puppet that size, just to get perspective, but Lewis, he was giving the full one hundred percent every time, and we weren’t able to look at each other obviously.

And yet you still had a great relationship on camera.

You know, that’s always…bit of that, let’s face it. But I’ve done a few movies with kids over the years, and he is very, very special because there was no – I wasn’t aware of him acting at all, and it was quite a revelation, you know. I’ve never experienced that before, actually, ever, from an actor, an actress, or a child.

And at fourteen.

Well, then he was twelve or thirteen. It was over two years ago. I did come away some days thinking, “I’m giving this up. This kid.” But seriously, he was going through like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the stuff he has to do, emotion-wise, you know? Phenomenal. Really phenomenal.

Was there a sense at any point, being a dad yourself, that you were wanting to protect him? Because he’s going through all of these really difficult, strong, hard emotions.

Yeah, I mean, that’s – I don’t know if you’re a father, but I remember my first one was born and somebody asked, “Has it changed you?” I don’t think – I’ve changed, but I know every time I put on a shirt, I boil a kettle, whatever I do is informed by the fact that I’m a father. So hopefully my acting is informed by the fact that I’m a father of two boys. I don’t do anything deliberately to be a dad with Lewis, for example, acting, but something obviously comes out, you know, in empathy, and it’s very easy to empathize with Lewis and this extraordinary story of this kid. He can’t talk to anybody. At the start of the film, you see him washing dishes and getting the laundry, and you think, this is a kid who’s having to manage by himself and nobody to talk to, really. It’s very sad, especially his mum is dying, and no one is confronting it.

Such a dark film in all the themes that are presented, but you play a tree. What was it like preparing? Was there any preparation for that?

Do you want the bullshit answer?

(laughter)

No!

If we were in Los Angeles, I would say, “Well, I hung out with trees. There’s a famous forest in Ireland, and I laid naked every night.” But no, it was – I’m a big myths and legends fan, and the yew tree is always featured, certainly in Irish literature, fairy tales, and stuff. An ancient tree that is a healing tree, and J.A. Bayona showed me the sculpture bust of what he wanted this creature’s presence to look like. It’s nose was kind of broken in some way, and I thought, oh, that will inform the voice to a certain extent, how it breaths and stuff, if it’s got a busted nose. And Patrick’s book is just, you know, I rate it with the best of Oscar Wilde, his parables, his fairy tales, and certainly the Brothers Grimm. It’s amazing.

How did the novel come to you? Was it your manager?

The usual process. I think it was Bayona’s team wanted me, and my agent calls and says, “I’m sending you this book because they’re doing a movie version,” and I had seen The Orphanage, and I thought he’s quite special, and he works with the Pan’s Labyrinth people, and it’s like, wow, that’s a pretty special film. Multi-textured, you know?

When I heard that you were playing the monster – because my son really enjoyed the book – I thought, of course Liam Neeson would play the monster, because you are a big man, but you are – in every role, you show physical strength, but you also have a softness to you, and that’s what this monster has. It’s a big, overpowering figure but with a softness to it. Is it something that you just are that way and it comes across in all your roles?

I think it kind of comes across. You know, we all have an aura. Everybody in this room, we all have a different aura, and you know, you can be the best actor or actress, most chameleon-like, but that aura still comes across, I think, that you can never change. Well, I tell a lie. Some people can. Meryl can, for example, but it’s just, I think I have those qualities, and maybe they’re not qualities in some roles, but there’s nothing I can do about it, you know what I mean? And for this, I think it was a nice mix of who I am and my aura with the story, you know?

I’m not a film critic. I write about parenting, and so watching these movies, maybe I reflect on myself and my parenting. But you tell the boy these three tales and are sort of helping him through things. How do you – as a dad, were you more of a father that follow-my-example to teach or how did you teach your boys about life?

It’s an on-going thing, you know? Sometimes, being a parent by the seat of your pants. There’s so many books written about it, but at the end of the day, you have to trust this. We’ve been around – we came down from trees, like 150,000 years. We’re doing something right, and I’ve read all the books, and I’m sure you have too when you know you’re going to be a father for the first time. At the end of the day, you just have to scrap them, you know? So I’m still doing that. Parenting is difficult, especially in today’s age. We’re talking about how the world is changing. We have this buffoon who is going to be the president, and it’s like, what’s happened to America? I’m not trying to divert the conversation. I ended up saying to my publicist, who is about to have her first child, that I’m so glad that I’m not growing up now, you know? My boys are twenty and twenty-one. I’m so glad they’re not three and four. I mean, and Russia interfering with a process they recognize, I mean, what’s happening?

Raising a daughter in this election was not fun.

What age is your daughter?

She is ten, and she was with me when we saw this movie. We had two different reactions.

What did she react to?

Her reaction was, “Well, of course he was always going through all of these things. It’s a part of life.” And for me, I was like crying, sitting next to her, wanting to protect this boy, and here she is, this is a part of life.

So she empathized with what he was going through but realized – as a female too, a mother in years to come hopefully – she recognized that this was kind of okay. I’m sure she reacted emotionally as well, but maybe in front of you, she wanted to be stoic. Lewis’ character Conor does that too, you know? Especially with the monster, he’s like, “I’m not scared of you.” It’s great, it’s a reaction you don’t expect. Kids are always full of surprises.

So Liam, out of all the roles you’ve played over the years, is there a particular favorite?

Michael Collins, I’d have to say. That’s still my favorite. The Grey I’m very proud of too, and Schindler’s List, of course, but Steven made a wonderful film. I wouldn’t have cast me in it, but he made a wonderful film. Michael Collins is still my favorite.

Not Darkman?

Darkman, yeah, for – listen, every movie has a unique experience, sometimes good, sometimes not so good, but I always carry something positive away. Darkman was terrific, working with Sam Raimi.

A fun ride.

It was a fun ride, yeah, sure. Kind of a strange one. (laughter) Hours in the make-up chair, my gosh.

And Sam Raimi has a reputation for torturing his actors.

Yeah, he did a bit of torture, yeah, but he was like a little kid, you know? Always wore a shirt and tie. Respect for his crew and cast.

What do you hope that audiences take away from this film?

I think it’s a wonderfully entertaining film. It’s unusual, and it’s clichéd to say there are life lessons, but there actually are. There’s no absolute solutions to any of the stuff that the monster presents the kid with, these tales. They are on-going, and he’s basically saying that life is complex and human beings are complex. We’re never just black and white, but I certainly when I read the book for the first time, I put it down and I thought. It just kept haunting me in some way, you know, and the script did too, and hopefully the film will with people too. There’s something, I call them refrigerator questions. You come back from the cinema. You’ve seen the movie, and you’re going to the fridge, and you go, “Wait a minute, I don’t understand…” It’s always at the refrigerator.

So, you kind of just said that there was something that you got from every movie, something unique. What would you say it is for this one, the big thing that you took away from the role that is going to make it stick with you?

Well, the motion capture process was a bit intimidating for the first day, and working with Lewis. I mean, this boy is – the gamut of emotions he went through, I’m not even doing it justice. It’s extraordinary, and it wasn’t showing off. It wasn’t acting – well, of course it was acting – but just taking that experience with him and Bayona. The Impossible and certainly The Orphanage, he brings these performances out of these kids that is like Spielberg. I remember thinking Bayona is like Steven, he can just get these performances from these kids. You think of Drew Barrymore in E.T. and god! It’s extraordinary, that performance.

And some might compare this film to E.T.

I know what you mean. Steven does it, and J.A. does it too. I could see him huddled, and he’s a small little diminutive figure. I could see him huddled when we were doing our motion capture stuff with Lewis. Never once does he talk down to a child. That’s the big mistake. Talk to him as an equal and talking about the emotion he wanted to try and reach, and he would say, “Well, what about – maybe think of this, or what about if you tried it this way or don’t move so much,” or whatever it was, but they were really connected. Directors just don’t – hit the mark, say the line, thank you, go back to your trailer.

I know a lot of actors are very critical, but I read that you weren’t as thrilled with your performance in Schindler’s List as some other people are, with your amazing performance in that movie. Hearing your voice, are you as critical as seeing yourself?

There’s always a level of criticism that’s in tandem with, oh, I didn’t realize the camera was at that angle. I should have, I should have – you know, there’s little acting notes I’ve always given myself. With Schindler’s List, it was a bit more deeper than that because I never felt that I had a handle on – I never felt that there was enough Liam Neeson in that performance. I was doing what Steven wanted, and Steven had an idea that Schindler was Steve Ross, the head of Time-Warner, who I had never met. Steven was trying to help me, sending me tapes of Steve Ross talking and stuff, and then I thought, well, I’ve got two people to play, the Oskar Schindler and this guy Steve Ross. I don’t know what to do, so there’s ninety-five percent of my performance that is Steven. There’s a couple of things I think like, oh, I recognize the actor now doing something, but – and that’s not a criticism, that’s just the way it was twenty-two, twenty-three years ago now. I just felt a wee bit constricted. But we made an extraordinary film.

Interview: Director Darren Lynn Bousman Talks ‘Abattoir’

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In his new horror-thriller, Abattoir, director Darren Lynn Bousman gives us a dark and disturbing film that poses many questions and puts the characters through the paces. Known for directing Saw II – IV, Bousman is no stranger to the macabre and creepy. Darren spoke with Unger the Radar recently and here’s how that conversation went:

What is it about horror that fascinates you so?

I mean, I think for me, horror is a feeling that is visceral, and it’s something that gets under your skin and stays with you. I think that we as a society deal with emotions every day. We deal with laughter and drama and anxiety, but true fear is something that is not something that is inherent in our everyday life, and I think that when it hits you, when it’s done correctly, it stays with you a lot longer than a tiny smile or a tiny laugh. The time that you are truly terrified is something that imprints in you. I can tell you the last time I was truly scared. I can’t tell you the last time I smiled or had some anxiety, but the last time I was truly terrified, yeah, I can tell you that. I can also tell you that growing up as a kid, movies that affected me, literally stayed with me, and they’re not comedies. They’re not animated films. They are movies that terrified me, and so I’ve always wanted to be a part of that world.

Personally for me, one of the scariest moments as a kid, one of the earliest memories that I have from a movie is in E.T. when they’re in the woods, and you first see E.T. He just pops out of the bushes. It was just the tension in that scene and the actual surprise. I guess it’s like an emotional scar that sticks with you.

Yeah, it absolutely is. It’s funny, I have a two-year-old son, and I shared E.T. for the first time. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but he loved it, and yeah, it’s great.

Yeah. So, how did you get involved with this project?

It was an original idea that I had years ago that, you know, I’ve always loved haunted house movies, and I’ve always loved ghost movies, but there was never a way in that hadn’t been done a million times before, and I think that in my career, I tried to make movies that are – I don’t want to say unique, but maybe that other people wouldn’t make, such as Repo or Devil’s Carnival. The type of strange things that, again, I don’t want to say niche, but aren’t necessarily mainstream, and so when I was trying to make a haunted house movie, it was like, how can I make a movie that is unique and original and a new stand on something that has been used since the beginning of cinema? And I couldn’t figure it out, and then finally, the idea hit. Instead of a movie about a haunted house, what about making it about building a haunted house? I always thought that was an interesting take into it was a character who went around and collected crime scenes, and I hadn’t seen that done before. I also always – for me when I make movies, I always want it to be about something different, and so while I wanted it to be a haunted house at the base level of it, it needed to be about something different. So the idea of this murder-mystery of a woman’s sister who was murdered and the investigation leads to this town harboring a very dark secret of killing a kid. To me, that was another way into the movie that wasn’t – so that it was about more than one thing. It wasn’t just about a haunted house but that the mythology was dense, and that was important to me as well.

Nice, nice. What were some of the challenges you faced on set?

There’s a million challenges. I think that there is never enough time and never enough money, having to re-work the script on the day, the small amount of time we had left or the small amount of budget we had to actually do it. You have to be creative when you write something. You don’t realize the environmental issues that you have to face, the wind, the rain, the cold, the sun rising in one hour when you have seven hours left to shoot. I think also on top of that, with this, you’re dealing with the dialogue, this dialogue is stylized. Nobody talks the way they talk in this movie. It was a very harsh thing to try to get the cadence down, and that was one of the big things was the cadence in this. It had to kind of sound real, but I also wanted it to sound more fantastical than real dialogue, and so it was a cross between modern and noir. They talk in a cross between 1940s and modern day slang. You know, people aren’t used to hearing that, and I think that I love that about the film. You can easily watch it and say, “Oh, the dialogue is terrible, they don’t talk like that.” Well, that’s the point. That’s the exact point of what I wanted to do. I’m a huge noir fan, and if Humphrey Bogart had continued to make movies and Lauren Bacal had continued to make movies and they were horror films, what might they look like today? That was kind of the idea, how they spoke in it.

It definitely had a very retro feel to it, especially in the beginning scene with the newspaper office and then the detective. Very 50s-style and even earlier, you know, 40s noir, and I really appreciated that. I thought that was awesome.

Here’s my thing. I want to take risks with everything, and to me, playing it safe is not cool. Playing it safe, anyone can do that. I think that one of my mantras as a filmmaker is that I always want to be dangerous in anything that I do. I want to make a rock opera where they don’t say one word. They sing everything. I want to make a horror movie where they speak in noir. I want to do things like that because I think there is so many of the same out there. This morning, I got up at 5 AM. My son woke me up, and I was going through Netflix, and this is not an exaggeration, I think 2 hours of going through every box, and I don’t want to watch any of it. It’s all the same. I’ve seen all of these movies, and so to try to find something that at least takes a risk and is something that is not stereotypical and not within that box. Those are the types of movies that I appreciate and that I like.

Yeah, no, I totally agree. As an artist, you have to take risks. If you don’t, then what’s the point? Are there any filmmakers that have influenced your style in any way?

A ton of filmmakers. When I grew up, it was Jim Jarmusch. It was David Lynch, and again, people that take risks in their movies and their careers. Terry Gilliam, I think Terry Gilliam is one of my favorites because here’s a guy that has had commercial success, and then he goes and makes the weirdest fucking movies you’ve ever seen. They’re insane, and I love that. I love that he got that I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude. To me, that’s what I respond to. Now, I guess more recent directors, Darren Aronofsky. Again, Darren Aronofsky and P. T. Anderson, and when you’re seeing things like Requiem for a Dream or Magnolia or those types of movies, I’m blown away. I’m blown away by them, and so more recently, guys like that.

Nice, nice. What do you look for in your actors?

A few things. One, I can get along with them. To me, it comes down to relationships. It comes down to – more than anything – because if they are good at their job, I can get the performance I want out of them. What I can’t do is gel with them personally, and I have to, and I know that maybe it’s a weird thing, that I shouldn’t let personal get involved with it, but I do. I have to like them and have to be able to connect because I think that when you’re spending that much time on set, you sort of enter a relationship where we’re requiring a lot out of each other. I’m requiring you to be there long hours and sit there and do lots of nothing. I require you to give me your creative input if things aren’t working, and so there’s that trust, so for me, I’ve got to trust them and have some sort of relationship with them, and that’s the very first thing I look for. Then after that, it comes down to can they say the words and do they look the part, but I think more so than anything, that there is a relationship and a trust there.

Nice. Awesome, awesome. So, what do you hope audiences take away from this film?

I mean, it’s a hard one. I don’t know. To me, why I made it was I wanted to create a mythology against mythology, and I wanted to do something that was familiar yet completely different than what they’ve seen. In the very end, I don’t think I’d call Abattoir a horror film. I think it’s a hybrid. It’s a macabre thriller noir. There is nothing horrific about Abattoir, but it is something that I do wish that I did see more of, which is, this is dialogue-heavy. This is tons of talking, and you have to listen to what they say. They’re not just talking for the hell of it and saying flowery words for the hell of it. The exposition is all said in the lines, and one of the things that we get a lot of in there is they might say a plot point only one time, one time in some weird cadence dialogue. If you’re not listening, if you’re not paying attention, you will miss it. It will fly past you, and so I wanted to demand more of the audience, that the audience is a lot smarter than sometimes they are given credit for. To me, Abattoir is a movie that you have to pay attention to. You have to listen to what they’re saying. You have to read what they’re reading, and I think that more movies that treat the audience, I think, with a little more respect and give them more credit is the type of movie that I love, and so I hope within this, they see past the crazy dialogue and the weird things that they’re writing on typewriters, and they can see that maybe it’s a more adult horror film. I set out to make an adult fairy tale, so I hope that people walk away and see that.

Yeah, definitely. It had a very mature feel. It didn’t go for those cheap scares or gross-out gore. It was subtle, and I think audiences will love it. Are there any film genres that you haven’t done that you’d want to do in the future?

You know, what’s crazy is that I have a two-year-old son now, and I watch movies with him, and you watch his face light up. He’s so excited by certain things. I would love to make a Goonies-like movie, like a young kid’s adventure movie. My kids aren’t going to be able to see my movies for the next fifteen, twenty years. I’d really like to make something that he could see and we could watch together.

Nice, so I take it Spielberg had a heavy impact on you as a kid?

You know, it’s funny. Yesterday, we watched The BFG together, which is a Spielberg film, and one of the very first movies I showed him – and I told you, maybe I shouldn’t have – was E.T., so yeah, Spielberg, absolutely.

But you know what, kids, they need to experience fear early on so they’re kind of prepared for it later on.

I think that’s where I got my creativity from and where I succeeded as a filmmaker is that my parents never shielded me from that. They let me watch what I wanted to watch, within reason. But I can remember when I was little and my dad and I watching Fright Night together and watching Gremlins and all these things that really introduced me to the macabre early on and made me have a love and admiration for the genre.

Nice, so you would want to do basically a modern-day Goonies. Are there any young actors out there that you’d like to have in the film or maybe for the older parts?

I don’t, but I do have a story that I’m working on right now, and it is a darker version of that. It’s a darker version of a kid’s fantasy. It’s like a Pan’s Labyrinth-like movie but not as dark as Pan’s Labyrinth. You know, when I watched Stranger Things, I was like, that right there is my ultimate goal. That’s a perfect show, and I think that being able to create something like that would be amazing.

Maybe you could link up with those filmmakers or screenwriters and come up with something really cool.

Yeah, I agree. I think that, to me, the older I get, the more mature I get, the more I want to delve into other genres like that. Always have that dark, nefarious twist, but still be something that a kid could watch.

That’s great. Last question. In your opinion, what makes a good story?

I mean, something that transports you out of your daily life for the time you’re in that story, and something that is immersive, and I think that we as an audience, we are so passive in what we do, and I don’t know if we’re ever truly there. What I mean by that is that every time I go to a movie or see a movie or watch a movie, I’m doing other things. I’m text-messaging, I’m checking Twitter, I’m looking at Facebook, I’m going to the bathroom, I’m talking to my kid, all of these things, and lately, we’ve had the ability to pull you in, suck you in, and make you forget about everything else. For those two hours that you’re there, you’re just there, and I would like to see more films that do that, and I remember the times I’ve been sucked into a movie. I remember the first time I watched Amelie, I was so entranced by what I was looking at and what I was watching that I wanted to be nowhere but there. Now, I find myself distracted. I think part of it is my attention span is shorter with technology, but I think to me what makes a good story is something that can pull you away from the bullshit of your personal daily life and for two hours, completely suck you in and make you forget about everything.

Right. That’s awesome, and that’s what a good story can do and should do, and I totally agree. Thank you so much for your time, Darren.

Thanks a lot, man.

Interview: Special Effects/Makeup Artist Tom Woodruff Jr. Talks ‘The Monster’

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Terminator, PredatorAliensTremorsPumpkinheadStarship Troopers. These are just a few of the many creatures special effects/makeup wizard Tom Woodruff Jr. has conjured up during his career. He has been creating some of cinema history’s most memorable characters for over three decades and his latest work is featured in the indie horror/drama The Monster. Tom was nice enough to speak with Unger the Radar. Here’s how that conversation went:

So you have been in the creature business for quite a long time now. How did you first get into the field?

Well – and I can tell you that Alec’s story is very similar – I grew up on the East Coast. Alec grew up on the West Coast, right around the same time we were 8 years old, 9 years old, and just loving monster movies. Alec always told a story about how as soon as he learned Harryhausen was the guy behind the animation of all his favorite movies, he totally fell in love with the idea of being a monster maker. For me, it was the old Universal monster movies that I would find on TV that made me think that’s what I wanted to do, and there was never anything else that ever kind of competed for my attention.

And you got right into the Universal spirit with Monster Squad.

Yeah, that was great. It was great, and it was this wonderful Shane Black script and Fred Dekker directing, and being able to do all those monsters I grew up with was a real blast.

So out of all the monsters that you grew up with, do you have a particular favorite?

I do. The ones that kind of brought me into this world, I always comment on the Creature from the Black Lagoon.

Oh wow, yeah.

I always thought it was the coolest monster, the coolest man in the suit. It was – I thought – way ahead of its time. I think there are aspects of it today that are still very effective and very successful.

Well, you know, I really hope they do a remake and that you are the man behind those effects.

Well, I tell you what. Go off somewhere, become a multi-millionaire, and then we’ll get this thing done. (laughs)

Okay! I’ll do my best. What attracts you to science-fiction horror?

Well, in general for me, those are the genres that openly embrace monsters, and whether the monster is the Alien, which is definitely science-fiction, or whether it is more of the Predator, which is less science-fiction and more horror. To me, anything that’s got some creepy, scary, deadly force – a creature character force – in it, I’m all in.

Nice. What makes a good monster movie?

In my opinion, a great monster is made from the story. I think to just have a big monster fest, I find that I get pretty bored with those now, and I don’t know if it’s because of my crazy advanced age or the fact that there’s so much stuff out there today. You know, I look at the online presence of so many artists and so many fans and so much creativity that to me, it’s really overwhelming in a way. There’s so much stuff out there now, and to just present it that way as opposed to – I think monsters really come to life when they are in stories or video games or whatever their realm is if it integrates them into an emotional story, I think is the most important part.

Okay, great. Tell me a little bit about your creative process. What goes into the thought process of creating these bizarre creatures that leap off the screen?

Well, for us, it’s like there is the perfect approach, which is the one I’m going to tweet about, where we are given a script, and we have the opportunity to talk to the director, and we kind of get his thoughts. Not kind of, I mean, we really get his thoughts and his ideas on what the picture is all about and what he wants to see of the monster. The more information he gives us, the better, and then we can kind of sit and cull through all of that on our own, and we will do an exploratory period where we produce not finished art that is ready to go on the movie poster, but it’s almost like a concept where it is so loose and subjective. In a way, it’s almost like we show them a lot of silhouettes of different kinds of creatures to get a feeling for it, like a Rorschach blot test, and find out what is really appealing to them and then we slowly build up from there and we create things. I mean, we’ll do flat art, we’ll do digital art, we’ll do sculptures, we’ll do 3D sculptures, and to me, the tools are not as important as getting to a feeling that he can understand. Unfortunately, the way that it doesn’t work so well and the way that is really being followed today is the studios will go to some sort of outsource design, and they’ll have a bunch of concept work produced, and then they will come to us, and they will hold this stuff very dearly in their hands because they spent money on it. They say, “This is what the creature has to look like,” and at that point, it’s a little bit of tying our hands creatively because we don’t have the option now to fine-tune things to the story or towards what we understand the director’s needs are, and we still do the best we can. We still make some pretty cool creatures that way, but it’s not quite a cohesive or as clean a through line as if we’re brought in from the very beginning.

So how do you get through that barrier of the director having his vision and you have your vision? How do you kind of just mesh? Is it a rocky relationship?

No, never at all. In fact, we’re big believers in the autonomy of the director. We still think the director is such an important part of the process that we will defer to him, and even in situations where – I can give you an example. On Alien: Resurrection, wonderful director Jean-Pierre Jeunet wanted the final third-act creature, this newborn creature that was going to erupt out of the belly of the queen, he wanted it to have eyes, and we talked to him at length and said you know, this is sort of breaking a very strong pretense in that the alien has never had visible eyes. We never knew how the alien found his intended victim, and the director would counter and say, “Well, this is something new,” and we told him, “You know, we’ll do the best job we can with it, but we weren’t really thinking that the audience will kind of be keen,” but at that point, we’re part of the director’s crew of bringing his ideas to life. We will certainly challenge directors and certainly answer director’s questions, but we’ve never gotten to a point where it’s ever been an argument or a rocky situation.

That’s good. Yeah, because I’ve heard working with James Cameron can be kind of an intense experience. How was working on Aliens?

It was fantastic. In my history, I was working with Stan Winston earlier on Terminator, and Jim was such a driving force, and he was so creative. It wasn’t like you were questioning the decisions, but it was the execution of those directions, and he had such a razor-sharp attention and focus on every aspect, every detail, and once Terminator was complete and it became a huge hit and then we were going back to work again on Aliens, I remember thinking that it was going to be a tremendously rough job on set, but at the end of the day, it was going to be an amazing movie. So that’s the balance that makes it all worth it.

I’ll tell you that the Alien Queen is probably one of the most memorable creatures ever put on screen, and I just want to thank you for that movie.

And that’s great, and that’s very nice to hear, and certainly a lot of that thanks belongs to Jim Cameron and Stan Winston and the rest of the crew. But you’re right in the thing that made that, again, what made that so fantastic, all of the decisions made from the way it was lit and the way it was presented and the way it was first revealed to the action, and that’s sort of a good example of highlighting what I was saying about the monster standing on its own. In some environments, it doesn’t do anything for me. It’s the build-up and the excitement and the anticipation and suspense that makes it all work.

And that brings us, fast-forward thirty years, to The Monster now, your newest film. How did you get involved with this project?

This is really cool. We like to do these little seek-and-destroy missions that come along where it’s quick and it’s small and it’s under-the-radar, and every once in a while, we will get a situation like this with the monster where it’s just so totally engaging. First of all, Alec was already into Bryan Bertino’s work, and he kind of turned me on to The Strangers, and I loved it. I just loved – to me, as a monster maker, I love it when a director and a storyteller can get so much suspense out of something before we even see what it is. You couldn’t ask for a better arena to play in, so we were all for it, and the script was wonderful, and Bryan had a couple of sketches of what he wanted the creature to look like, and it wasn’t a case where the studios had gone and spent money and had some high-end digital artist work for months. It was some pencil sketches he did and then with his description when we met with him of what he wanted to do, it was very easy to understand, and he had a very effective approach at getting this monster on screen.

Kind of going back to Alien: Resurrection, I don’t think this creature had eyes as well, am I correct?

No, actually, and this is interesting because very early on, he was very adamant about making sure he had these bright, very reflective eyes, and I think where it may have been lost to you is that the creatures’ appearances are so quick and so brief and startling, and you never get a chance to get this loving look at the creature because the creature was definitely not built to sustain that kind of attention. He was built again with Bryan’s input, from the point of view of Bryan, knowing exactly what he needed, and it had to be that tight because the budget didn’t give us the time and the money to build and shoot this thing in any other way than to get all of the pieces exactly right.

And it works beautifully.

Thank you, that’s so nice to hear. We loved – Alec and I saw it at a film festival out here in Hollywood when we first saw it in a full theater of people, and it’s wonderful. It’s just so revitalizing to get the feeling of the monster first before you reveal the monster.

Right.

And so beautifully revealed.

Yeah, because most of your movies, most of your monster movies, you see the creature in the whole body pretty quick early on in the film, but this, you know, it’s an hour or so into it, that’s when you really get the first glimpse, so I think it was kind of a change of pace for you guys. Am I wrong?

It is certainly a change of pace for most of the movies we work on, and again, I’m not going to bite the hand that feeds us. I love those movies. I love every opportunity. For me, from where my senses lay, I love the big movies, but I prefer seeing something like this once in a while, just to break it up. Also, because there is more of an intensity to this I think because this story was all about this woman and her daughter and not just them personally but this tragically messed up relationship between them. That, to me, resonates on a much more personal level than oh shit, these aliens are coming through a rift in space, and they’re going to destroy the world. That’s become so big and that becomes an adventure, and that’s great, but I don’t want to spend all my time on the roller coaster. Sometimes, I want to get in the spooky, scary haunted house and get some scares that way, so I think they all survive in the same world, but they are definitely grabbing at different parts of the psyche.

Right, you get the thrills but in smaller doses.

Yeah, so to compete with the less-than-grand scope of a bigger movie, you have to make the intensity of that emotional contact more intense. (laughs) I just said you have to make the intensity more intense. Can you add some more words? And the other thing we wanted to say about loving a project this size is being able to work with a guy like Bryan is so refreshing. It really helps give balance to the scope of projects that we’re working on from day to day.

I hear you. It’s a great movie, and I hope it gets the attention it deserves. It’s not a big blockbuster, but it’s still a quality film nonetheless. So what do you have next? Anything new with Amalgamated Dynamics?

We’re working right now on a movie called Bright for Netflix, which is about a lot of creature make-up in it, which has been really cool and great because it is shooting here in Los Angeles, which is a very rare occasion these days. We’re also at work building the creatures for the next Predator movie that Shane Black is going to be directing.

So were you responsible for the original film creature effects, the design of the creature?

That was all Stan Winston, and I worked on the show. There were a bunch of us working there at the time, so I didn’t go on set, but it was great to just be there and seeing it all come together and knowing that it was going to be a very cool monster.

Very nice. One of my favorite characters, favorite villains of all time. Side note, are you familiar with Todd McFarlane?

Oh, yeah.

He has taken a lot of your characters and then brought them to life, like little statues. I don’t know if you’ve seen his action figures of Movie Maniacs. He’s done Alien, Predator, Terminator, RoboCop, all that fun stuff, and I don’t know what your relationship is with him or if you have a relationship.

I have been in touch with him, and yeah, his work has always been phenomenal. It’s always been the best at this stuff and then there’s also, we’ve been working too with Sideshow Collectibles, which is a much higher-end version of collectibles. But in terms of realism and attention to detail, it just blows us away. It’s been great.

That’s great. Well, I hope you continue making beautiful art. You’ve done so for a while now, and you’re just going to do more in the future. I just have one question here, last question, what advice do you have for aspiring special effects artists?

That’s a good question. It’s a tough question to answer because things are always kind of evolving, and it used to be so easy to say that you have to plan on transplanting to LA, but that’s not the case anymore. There are some great artists at work in parts of the country and other parts of the world and the scope of work is always changing, so it’s tough I think for some of these artists. It’s certainly not a full-time occupation like it used to be, and it’s because there are so many more people involved and because the art is so accessible now. People are creating their own personas online with the kind of art they can deliver, and there’s still a lot of work out there, but there are so many artists available for it now, so it’s a really interesting point of time to see how it’s all going to shake down and how many people are going to be able to get to that point in their career that we all hope to.

And I’m sure you serve as a strong inspiration for a lot of those young people.

I hope so! I don’t have that self-awareness. I still think of my heroes when I was growing up that are sadly no longer with us, like Ray Harryhausen, Stan Winston, and John Chambers, and it’s weird to think that I’m now in the position that they were when I would write letters to them when I was thirteen or fourteen years old, and I remember, you know, they had the same problem with answering questions like how do I get into the business because it’s sort of the kind of thing you have to just experience.

Alright, so I have another last question. So with movies like Avatar and motion capture technology gaining more and more popular, do you find it more difficult to work in that current movie environment?

We find it difficult to get producers to value our techniques without seeing them as old-fashioned or old school. We’ve made tremendous advances in the technology, the materials, and the application of what we do, but they’re not really as cool and sexy as the latest CGI thing to come out, and there’s plenty of huge box office examples because of how great that production pipeline works. It’s basically throw everything into the CG world and just do it in post-production, so we’re always up against having to try to re-prove ourselves with every job.

Wow. Sounds challenging.

Yeah, it is, and in fact, thinking back, if I could ask you to give us a plug –

Sure, sure.

We have a channel on YouTube. The channel is just called Studio ADI. It’s very easy to find on YouTube, but there are hundreds of videos that we put up there of the kind of work that we do before it gets altered or changed or cut from the movies, and I hope that we can put something up there on The Monster after it finishes its run. We have to wait until the movie is out and people have had a chance to see it, but that’d be a great place for your readers and your followers to visit once in a while and get an idea of the scope of things that are created for these movies.

Sure, it’s Studio ADI. It’s on YouTube, right?

That’s correct, yeah.

Okay, cool. Well, that about does it for now. If you’re ever in New York City, we’d love to have you if you could do another interview and just want to thank you for your time, Tom. This was awesome.

Thanks, Randy.

Interview: Director Renny Harlin Talks ‘Skiptrace’

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Action is a film genre where directors tend to get a little lazy and just include explosions and over the top gunfights. Fortunately, this isn’t the case with Renny Harlin, a gifted filmmaker who has en eye for action and has supplied the film industry with some of the most intense and exiting action movies there are. From Die Hard 2: Die Harder to Cliffhanger to The Long Kiss Goodnight, the man definitely knows what he’s doing. In Skiptrace (his latest action/comedy), we get a fun buddy adventure starring Jackie Chan and Johnny Knoxville. Renny was nice enough to chat with me about the film. Here’s how that interview went:

Hello Renny. Thank you for joining me.

My pleasure.

So, my name is Randy Unger, and I’m with Unger the Radar, and I want to say that it’s a huge thrill to meet you, sir.

Well, I am very happy to talk with you, Randy, so thank you.

Thank you for making the time. So Skiptrace, very interesting film. Very interesting concept. Great action, great performances. How did you come across the project?

Well, I have a long history with Jackie Chan. I was offered in the mid-90s the original Rush Hour, and at that time, I wasn’t available, so I couldn’t do it. That was the first time we tried to work together, and then in the late 90s, there was another project called Nosebleed, which was another Jackie movie that we talked about making together, and something extremely tragic happened, which was the World Trade Center incident. That was the end of that project because the whole concept of Nosebleed was that Jackie is a window washer at the World Trade Center, and most of the action was about these acrobatics on the window washer rigs and so on. So that was obviously the end of that project, and then Jackie had this movie that he had been sort of dreaming about for over 15 years which he called his love letter to China, which was this road movie traveling across China and experiencing all these different events and different kind of environments because it’s such a vast country. So he sends me the script, and I read it, and I really liked it. You know, the script still needed a little work, but I got the concept, and I said, “I would love to come to China and work with you, and finally, third time being the charm, make this movie.” I flew to Hong Kong and sat down with him, and we talked about the project and decided to do it together.

That’s great, fascinating. So what is it like, directing Jackie Chan? That must be quite a wild experience.

Yeah, that’s a good question. It’s a wild experience because there’s nobody like Jackie Chan. I’ve worked with some action stars like Stallone and Bruce Willis, and everybody has a different approach. Jackie’s is a unique one, which is, you know, obviously he grew up in the Beijing Opera as a circus performer, and he became a stunt man, then he became an actor, and then he became a choreographer and a director, so he has seen it all. He has done it all, and he has the energy of ten people or a hundred people, so he shows up on the set as a first person of the day. He is there with a smile on his face, with a million ideas in his head, and so it’s really, working with him is like managing the situation because if you really let him do what he wants to do, the movie will probably take a year to shoot or more, as was the days actually when he directed. One of his recent movies from two years ago, he made this movie called Chinese Zodiac, and he directed it. They shot for over a year. It just kept going and going because he would never run out of ideas. My job as a director was sort of manage the story, manage the action, and get things done on time and on budget, and so on. So we would obviously have a script, have an idea what we are shooting on each day, and then Jackie would show up and say like, “Oh, I have a new idea. How about if we do this or this or this?” And then it would be my job to figure out what are the great ideas that we should definitely do and what are the ideas that we can live without and how to make it happen. And the big revelation, for me, about making movies in China, the biggest revelation was that where in Hollywood, I was used to everything is planned and organized and written, and we’ve gone through it in a dozen meetings with everybody, every department, and we’ve prepared everything for weeks or months. In China, especially with Jackie, improvisation is king, and so we could have everything planned, but Jackie could have all these ideas in the morning and say, “What if we do this and this and this?” And I would say, “Okay, that’s a great idea, but we don’t have the props and furniture and rigs to do this stuff,” and he would say, “Don’t worry. If you like the idea at lunch, we’ll have it all.” In the beginning, I was feeling very, you know, worried and cautious and concerned, but soon I learned, in China, you can make it up, and if you need something, they’ll throw fifty people at the challenge and after lunch, you will have it. Whatever you need. You need a piece of furniture, you need a set, you need a costume, whatever it might be, it will be there because they throw enough people at the problem and make it work. So it was very liberating for me to come in from Hollywood to see you can still be like a kid who comes up with an idea, and you can make it happen, and you can make it a reality. That’s one of the things I love about working in China.

So that’s a good tip for other Hollywood filmmakers. Just go to China and make your movie there.

Exactly, because you certainly can’t do that in Hollywood. People will look at you like you’re crazy.

Alright. So how would you define action hero?

You know, there are different kinds of action heroes, but for me, the best kind of an action hero is somebody who the audience can relate to, who will feel real, no matter what their abilities. There is the traditional action hero who is just a normal guy who is in a situation where he has to rise to the challenge and do something that he or us – the audience – would never normally do, but he has to do and he will. And then of course there is superheroes, which nowadays are commonplace in most of the big movies, but whether the common man or superhero, action heroes, to me, are somebody who you can relate to, who feels real, who has issues like we all do, who has fears and dilemmas in real life, yet rises above those things when called to action. My dog is barking in the background, but who rises to the challenge and does something that we all wish we could do in that situation. Defends those who can’t defend themselves, does something unselfish to save the day, and in general, I think that of course all big movies have some giant issue in the background like saving the world. The entire world is going to be destroyed if you don’t do this or that or whatever, but the best movies I think have a personal stake. It’s not about saving the world, it’s saving somebody that you love, somebody that you care about and just basically being everyman that we all are but doing something extraordinary when the circumstances press you to do it.

Okay, great, great. Out of all of your films, do you have a particular favorite?

I do. My favorite of my movies is The Long Kiss Goodnight, and it’s a movie where we started with the best of ingredients, which is a good screenplay. Shane Black is one of the best writers in years in Hollywood, and he wrote a script that I really loved and a script that was sort of like a mixture of really interesting character drama and comedic elements and actions. I always say that without a good script, there’s no good movie. Moviemaking is tough enough. You could even start with a good script and still end up with a bad movie, but if you start with a bad script, you will never have a good movie. So if you don’t have a script that’s good, there’s no power in the world that will turn it awesome once it’s on the screen. Working with Shane and being able to make this movie that had characters that were interestingly rendered, that had big emotions and issues, and then mixing that with some comedic elements and cool action was great for me. As a filmmaker, it was a fun movie to make, and I’m proud of that movie.

Well, I totally agree that’s one of your stronger films, and the idea of taking two people, totally different, and putting them in a situation and rising above it is an incredible formula that works to this day, so I commend you on that.

Thank you.

So basically, do you have a preference of films to TV, or TV to film?

In terms of working in TV or movies?

Yes, yes.

Well, you know, that’s an interesting question because if I was still working in Hollywood, I would say TV, definitely, because in TV nowadays, the quality of writing, the complexity of stories and characters is so far beyond movies that TV is a much more interesting medium nowadays in America, in Hollywood. You know, we see super interesting things with something like Breaking Bad or Stranger Things. I watched all eight episodes of Stranger Things in one day because I just couldn’t stop because I loved it so much. That kind of stuff doesn’t get made in movies anymore. Hollywood is so scared of, you know, making a mistake and getting fired because they do something original that doesn’t work, so it’s only when some strong filmmakers make something usually, you know, you have to start low-budget and get your fame in Sundance or something like that to show something with personality. Other than that, you know, you’re really with the studios who only want to make remakes or reboots or sequels, so TV is much more interesting, and that’s why I’m in China because China, to me, is like Hollywood in the 80s where there is a lot of excitement and passion and inspiration. People want to make movies and people want to figure out, you know, what’s the next big thing and not just rely on something that’s been done before. So for me, China is extremely exciting. I have a dozen movies in development, and none of them are following the formulas of Hollywood, and movies can be fun here, and I have absolutely no desire to return to Hollywood.

Really? None at all?

None at all, you know. What is Hollywood making? Reboots, sequels, and remakes and then a few romantic comedies and low-budget horror films.

Well, you know, I hate to call you out on it, you directed Die Hard 2 and Nightmare on Elm Street 4, so maybe there is some good that can come out of sequels.

(laughs) That’s absolutely true, and Nightmare on Elm Street was a movie that I saw the original when I was a little younger, and I loved it, and I had a really personal connection. Sorry, I have to take care of my dog. I had a really personal connection to it because I had nightmares and crazy dreams all my life, and so I really related to that movie, and I felt that I could really bring something new to that genre. So when I made, not Nightmare on Elm Street 2 or 3, but 4, you know, one could say that’s not very original, but I brought comedy into it, and I changed the genre in a way that nobody had thought could be possible. Nightmare on Elm Street 4 ended up being the most successful in the whole series and to everybody’s surprise, got really great reviews and was very successful, so I felt like I was still doing my personal statement when I made that movie. And Die Hard 2, yes, it was a sequel, and I understood what my job was, which was replicate the experience for the audience, yet give them something new, and actually, my biggest challenge in the movie was Bruce Willis, who had just recently become a movie star after being a TV star, and he said, “I want to make the movie completely serious and the character serious, and I don’t want to do this really humorous part.” My biggest job was convincing him that the reason why people loved the first movie was the character and this kind of sarcastic sense of humor. It has to be a part of the movie. So I still feel like I, you know, I sort of gave the audience what they expected from the first movie, and I was – but at the same time, I was able to take them on a different kind of journey and expand on it without going to where I think the latest sequels of Die Hard have. The idea has been, let’s go bigger. Let’s try to crazy, crazy –

It’s like a cartoon, almost.

Yeah, you lose the audience, you lose why the audience liked the character and then just go into some crazy territory. But yeah, so I get to answer your question, yes, I am guilty of making sequels as well, and I’ve had fun doing it. In certain circumstances, I think it is okay. If you make a movie that people love, why not take the character on another journey? But it’s the only thing that Hollywood does nowadays, and I think that’s the death of original storytelling.

Agreed, I totally agree. I totally agree with that. One more question. So going back to the idea of the buddy comedy formula, do you think that’s a formula that will live on or do you think it’s dying out?

No, I think it’s – I love that formula, and you know, there are so many examples of that in the history of movies, but maybe my all-time favorite is Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with Paul Newman and Robert Redford. You know, buddy comedy, it’s the ultimate love story, really. It’s two guys doing something together, and usually, it’s opposites attract. They have different views of life and different goals, but they end up together, and they bond to go through this stuff together and sometimes with really positive, fun times or tragic consequences. I think that the audience loves watching that kind of story of friendship. Friendship is the ultimate love story, and I think that it’s definitely a genre that should live on and will live on and the kind of stories that I love watching.

Terrific, me too. Thank you for your time, Renny.

Thank you, Randy.

Interview: Actress Tovah Feldshuh Talks ‘The Walking Dead Season Six’ (Now Out on Blu-ray & DVD)

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The Walking Dead may contain a bevy of flesh-hungry zombies but it’s really the human relationships that propel the action. Season five of the acclaimed television series introduced character Deanna Monroe (played brilliantly by seasoned actress Tovah Feldshuh. With season six now out on DVD and Blu-ray, Tovah was nice enough to speak with me about her work on the show, as well as her extensive career as a celebrated actress. Here’s how the interview went:

How did you originally get involved with The Walking Dead?

I was asked to read a scene where I play the head of the CIA at Bialy/Thomas Casting. I read a scene. I then got on an exhibition boat to the Galapagos, and 10 days later, I got a call saying I got the part as Deanna Monroe. And I said, “What is the part?” Because, as you know, The Walking Dead is so secretive that when you meet on it, you’re never given the script. You’re given a related script. So it was a big thrill to be chosen. Scott Gimple called me in the middle of a crater in the Galapagos, and they flew me in from Columbia almost at the end of my vacation, and I started to film in Georgia immediately.

Beautiful. Awesome, awesome. Are you a big zombie or horror fan?

I’m absolutely not a big zombie or horror fan, in any way, shape, or form. Don’t forget, people of my generation, death is no longer a foreign country. Death starts to become a neighbor. Not in the house yet, but it becomes a neighbor, so I don’t need to watch The Walking Dead because I’m close enough to the last third of my life. But I’m a big fan of the story, which is how to live under enemies that are pitted to literally eat you alive and where you’re outnumbered a thousand to one, where your chances of survival are slight. How are you going to behave?

Right.

That’s why this show is so extraordinary and so beloved. We have one thing in common, and The Walking Dead hits it. The one thing in common is that we’re all going to die. Now that we’re all going to die, how do we propose to live until that moment, particularly under these terrible circumstances?

Very interesting. Did you do anything to prepare for the role, anything special?

Well, I had the honor of having Hillary Clinton represent our state. She was our state senator. I remember her Listen campaign, and I had the honor of meeting her twice, which was a very good experience for me. So, I’m not a rabid anything, I’m not a rabid – I’m a rabid American. I’m a rabid American, but I’m not a particularly observant person of my religion. I’m not kosher or any of that, and I would vote for a great Republican if I felt there was one. As a matter of fact, I voted for Rudolph Giuliani because he changed my life as a mother, and he made our city safe, and I thank him for that. To make a long story short, I based some of the role on Hillary Clinton because she was my senator, and she did a great job, and she never gives up. I admired that.

That’s excellent. So, do you think Hillary would do well against an army of zombies?

I think she would do better than I did. She would do better than Deanna Monroe. How well she could do under these sort of circumstances, she would be sure to get herself a very good commander in chief of the army, the military. That was my idea, that they were going to let me live, and I said, “Oh my god, you’re not really going to kill me off.” That is the pattern, everybody comes on The Walking Dead to die, and usually with a good writer, they allow you to attach to a character. You attach and love them, and then you kill them off. Some people stay longer than others, but mostly, that seems to be what happens except for our beloved Daryll and Norman Reedus. Would you repeat the question?

Do you think Hillary Clinton would do well against an army of the undead?

The answer is she would do better than I. She’d do better than I, and she’s spent two-thirds of her life already as a stateswoman. I mean, how bad could you be if you’re in her business for forty years? I’m in my business for forty years, and I regard myself as rather skilled at the moment. I’ve been practicing it, day in and day out, for forty-five or forty-six years and professionally been on the marquee for forty, so she’s been doing diplomacy and statesmanship and politics for two-thirds of her life. She’d be equipped to deal with the problem. Whether she would succeed is another question, whether any of us would succeed.

Okay, okay, great. Speaking to your career, you’ve been on stage, film, TV, do you have a favorite medium to work in?

No, just give me a great role.

Do you have a particular favorite from your career?

Well, I loved doing Juliet at the National Shakespeare Festival for the director Jack O’Brien. I loved of course playing Yentl at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre. That was my breakthrough, that’s how I got on the marquee of a Broadway theater. In terms of television, Holocaust: The Miniseries, Law & Order with Danielle Melnick, and of course The Walking Dead, and in any movie of the week, I think my favorite was that of Katharine Hepburn with Tommy Lee Jones in The Amazing Howard Hughes. That was a wonderful movie.

Lovely, lovely. You’ve still got it!

Thanks, kid.

So are there any members from The Walking Dead cast that you’d like to work with again?

Yes, all of them! The interior circle is extraordinary. I didn’t have one bad experience, not one, not one moment where people weren’t dedicated to trying to tell the truth as they felt it and trying to do their absolute best they could to serve the story. That goes right down to the director, the assistant director, the props people, the special effects, I would work with them all again in a heartbeat.

That’s very nice. Did you guys hang out when the cameras weren’t rolling?

Yes, I mean, I didn’t live in Atlanta. I was in a hotel, and Andrew Lincoln did not live in Atlanta, and Norman doesn’t live in Atlanta, but we got together. I often got together with the crew, and then I would go to Atlanta from time to time to meet the kids. They all had apartments in one apartment complex. They enjoyed that life, commuting 45 minutes to an hour each way to the set. I said forget it, no, no, no. I was much closer to the set. And we see each other at the conventions all the time and have a good time together, a fine time.

Speaking of conventions, will you be at New York Comic Con this year?

I thought I was. When is New York Comic Con?

It’s early October.

Oh, I certainly hope I will be. Yes, I think I plan to be, and I’ll be in Philadelphia for the Walker Stalker Convention, that’s the first weekend. I wonder if that’s in conflict with New York Comic Con. I’m sure I’ll be at an event at the comic con. I’m sure Andrew is coming in and Norman, I would think so.

Do you like going to conventions? Is that sort of your thing, or…?

It’s not my thing, but I enjoy going because I enjoy meeting the fans face-to-face, and it’s the right thing to do, to support the series.

Now on the street, do people stop you for autographs and pictures?

Not very much on the street, one or two people, but in the supermarkets, at catered affairs, whenever I’m in certain neighborhoods with certain ethnicities, more people watch than others, and that was a thrill. Today at the manicurist, I was asked for several autographs from the people who give mani-pedis, and it’s my pleasure. At this stage of my life, it’s a thrill. No problem. You know, it’s wonderful to be recognized and to be acknowledged for your work. It’s absolutely fine with me.

What made you want to be an actor?

I was on the waitlist at Harvard Law, and I won a fellowship the same year called the McKnight Fellowship in Acting at the Tyrone Guthrie Theater, so I said, “Well, I guess this bodes real hope. This is the way I should go.” I was originally a musician, and I could not win concertos at national music camp. I got to the finals, I played the Mendelssohn G-minor for Van Cliburn, and I got to the finals the second year, but I could not win the competition and play with an orchestra. And I was never one that could stand my own mediocrity, so I said, “Maybe I should go out for plays with music.” I went out for H.M.S. Pinafore, and there were a hundred and ten campers in the operetta workshop at Interlochen, Michigan, and I was chosen to play Cousin Hebe, and I said, “Now this bodes hope. If I’m chosen out of a hundred and ten kids to do, ‘And we are his sisters and his cousins and his aunts,’ it’s okay. It’s a beginning.” And I never lost the faith and went on to much bigger roles, even as a camper, and my dream, I understudied all the size-seven leading ladies, my dream was to be a leading lady in repertoire, and I was. At the National Shakespeare Festival, at Stratford, at Stage West, and of course, finally, thank god, early in my career on Broadway through a play called Yentl and followed by several other plays.

Wow, it’s quite a career you’ve led and are still leading.

I feel very fortunate. In my singing mode, I’m in a series now called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend where I sing. I play the mother of the crazy ex-girlfriend. If you go to my website, you’ll see the number they first wrote for me called “Where’s the Bathroom.” It’s hilarious, and I’m doing my new nightclub act called Aging is Optional ‘Cause God I Hope It Is! I’m doing that at the Prince Theater in Philly, at the Gaslight Cabaret Convention in St. Louis, and I’m doing a concert of Tovah: Out of Her Mind! in Irvine, and on Monday night, I’m at 54 Below with Broadway Goes To The Movies, doing a big Gershwin unit.

Here’s a question not just for you but for everybody else working today, especially in the entertainment industry and aspiring. Where do you find the time?

Where do I find the time?

Yeah.

I make the time. I love to be with people. I love people, and it’s my job to tell stories and to be paid to do it.

So Tovah, do you think if ever there were a zombie apocalypse, do you think there would be an Alexandria, and how do you think it would do?

I think that The Walking Dead is pretty accurate, and that is Alexandria got lucky. All the walkers would end up in some quarry like they did. There was no enemy action, and therefore, there was no walker threat – I would scratch enemy action – there was no walker threat to my community, which allowed me to have a sense of law and order if you will. People woke up in the morning, had three meals a day. Little children had babysitters, people went to schools, they read books, they got an education. It wasn’t just, they weren’t outside the walls, eating live turtles like Enid had to do. I think if we were lucky, we’d do well for a while and then perhaps, god forbid, what happened to Alexandria could happen to us. On the other hand, maybe we would have tremendous access, for whatever reason, to military might and weapons of mass destruction, and maybe it would be the Sampson Theory, that if we were going down, we were going to take all those walkers with them. I hope we never face that situation like we have in The Walking Dead. God forbid.

Indeed. Well, thank you for your time, Tovah, and maybe I’ll see you at a convention in the near future.

Thank you so much.

The Walking Dead: Season Six is now out on Blu-ray and DVD.

Shirley MacLaine & Jessica Lange Star in New Comedy ‘Wild Oats’ Coming to Home Video October 4, 2016

wild-oats-trio-shot

The concept of the aging adventurer who has fallen from grace, only to try and rise again is something film and television has embraced wholeheartedly over the years. To laugh at one’s self in the face of getting older provides for some really strong entertainment and the latest pair to embrace this concept is that of Academy Award-winning actresses Shirley MacLaine (Terms of Endearment) and Jessica Lange (Tootsie). They have a new film coming to home video and Wild Oats may very well be the next Grumpy Old Men, but flipped gender-wise.

The film revolves around MacLaine’s character Eva as she accidentally receives a check for $5,000,000 instead of the intended $50,000. Eva’s best friend Maddie (Lange) then persuades her to use the money to live it up in the Canary Islands. Along the way the two “women of leisure” must evade shady conmen and a persistent insurance agent hot on their tale. Billy Connelly and Demi Moore co-star.

Light-hearted romps like Wild Oats don’t come along too often but when they do, it’s really rather special. One of the more recent films to present similar themes was last year’s Robert Redford/Nick Nolte vehicle A Walk in the Woods. Shirley MacLaine and Jessica Lang are an adorable pair and one can only imagine that their on screen chemistry is as vibrant as the film’s story. Older fans as well as a new generation of audiences are probably in for quite a treat with Wild Oats. Oscar winners and a quality script, what more can one ask for?

Wild Oats will be available on DVD (Anchor Bay Entertainment), Digital HD, and On Demand on October 4, 2016.