Q&A: Hugh Jackman On Les Miserables

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of AwardsLine.

Hugh Jackman has carved out an image as a major movie star who can easily switch gears from action to drama to comedy and all things in between. But until now the man who made Wolverine a household name has never done a movie musical. That’s a bit surprising since Jackman also happens to be a classically trained musical star outside of movies. He’s starred in stage classics like Oklahoma!, won a Tony on Broadway as Peter Allen in The Boy From Oz, an Emmy for hosting the Tonys, and worldwide recognition for his singing and dancing as host of the Oscars. He recently did a one-man musical show on Broadway, and that’s one of the reasons he says he is even in Les Misérables and making his long-overdue debut as star of a musical on the big screen.

AWARDSLINE: Would you consider this to be one of the toughest screen roles you’ve done?

JACKMAN: For sure. There is not an element that really wasn’t the toughest. One of the reasons I did the Broadway show was to make sure I was vocally fit to not only sing it, but sing it all day long, wake up the next day, and have another 12 hours of it. I put on 29 pounds from beginning to end. Tom (Hooper) told me, “I want people to worry, I want your friends to think you’re sick.” The physicality, the emotional (aspect) acting-wise, was tough.

AWARDSLINE: You rarely see musicals of this size anymore.

JACKMAN: That’s true. It’s a big risk. I’m not surprised it’s taken 27 years to get there.

AWARDSLINE:Despite the fact that the actors in the film are very well-known and talented, I understand everybody auditioned for it.

JACKMAN: Everybody, and by the way, when I auditioned Tom wasn’t signed to the movie, but there looked like there was going to be a clash between The Wolverine and this. I rang up Tom and told him I really wanted to do this part. He said I’d be a perfect shot, but (that) he wasn’t even signed on to it but was thinking about it. I asked him if I could audition for him anyway, in case he would sign on to the film. I sang him three songs, and he just sat there for a few minutes and gave me feedback. I could see the director in him. Three hours passed, and I had to put my hand up and tell him, “Tom, I have to put my kids to sleep.” So I auditioned very early on, and everyone auditioned. 99% of what is shot is live, just the beginning with the water (was not) because you couldn’t put microphones in that much water.

AWARDSLINE:I can’t remember another movie musical that did it on this scale—is it helpful to you as an actor to be able to do that?

JACKMAN: Especially for Les Mis. It’s so emotional, and as an actor you have some freedom to go with how you are feeling at the time—to have that restrained by a performance you did three months ago would have been hell. I think it made a huge impact. If Simon Hayes doesn’t win an Oscar for the sound design, I don’t know who will. What he pulled off is phenomenal. It feels like thought; it doesn’t feel like song.

AWARDSLINE:There is one new song in the film that you sing called “Suddenly.” How did they decide to that?

JACKMAN: That was Tom’s idea. Victor Hugo writes about two lightning bolts of realization: First is the virtue and the second is the lightning bolt of love. Tom was like, “This is one of the greatest moments I have ever seen on film, and we don’t have a song for it. This is ridiculous.” They (songwriters Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg) knew my abilities with my voice, and they wrote the song for me. It was a pinch-yourself moment.

AWARDSLINE: Les Mis has been so phenomenally successful for the last three decades—what is it about this show and movie that connects with audiences?

JACKMAN: It’s a really spiritual book, in a nonreligious way: “To love another person is to see the face of God.” We can live tough lives, but the human spirit is stronger, seemingly, than anything. There is redemption, hope, and love. This book brings this out. All different forms of heartbreak, but beyond all that there is hope, there is love. There is beauty and bliss. Even though the title doesn’t make it sound like a romantic comedy, in the end it is. There is something for everybody in it.

AWARDSLINE: When you watch yourself for the first time, are you nervous going in?

JACKMAN: I’m more nervous than I have ever been in my life. It’s tough to watch a movie (you’re in)—you put everything into it, you want everything to work, and you never know until you see it all together. In a musical, those feelings are tripled because you have a lot of elements that have to come together. Watching myself on screen for the first time is a little bit difficult, but watching myself sing on the screen is double the anxiety. In the end, I rationalize it because the nerves are the care and passion I had for the project. It becomes a bit like a baby. I would love to do more movie musicals. Maybe next time I’ll do a little more dancing.

Q&A: Grant Heslov On Argo

This article appeared in the Dec. 19 issue of AwardsLine.

Having a script that everyone loves doesn’t always ensure the quickest path to production. Just ask Argo producer Grant Heslov of Smokehouse Pictures. Five years ago, Heslov and producing partner George Clooney hired screenwriter Chris Terrio to turn Joshuah Bearman’s April 2007 Wired article, “The Great Escape,” into a script. The previously classified true story of the CIA’s collaboration with two Hollywood insiders in setting up a fake production company and turning six trapped diplomats into a fake film crew as a way to smuggle them out of Iran was a riveting read in first-draft script form. Nevertheless, scheduling proved an issue for years until the script made its way through Warner Bros. to Ben Affleck, who was eager to make Argo his next project. With the boxoffice hit and festival-circuit favorite firmly entrenched in the awards conversation, Heslov took time from the set of his next project, August: Osage County, to talk about arriving at the right budget number and why Smokehouse is always involved in the marketing of its films.

AWARDSLINE: It took Argo about five years to make it to the screen. Was it just a matter of scheduling for you or were there other roadblocks that were holding things up?

GRANT HESLOV: We found it about five years ago, and we developed it, and it was one of a few films that we had that we felt were ready to go. But George (Clooney) and I just hadn’t had time to get it made or figure out what we were going to do with it. When we were shooting The Ides of March, we heard that Ben (Affleck) was interested, so we got together with him, and that’s how that ball started rolling.

AWARDSLINE: How concerned were you about dramatizing some of the real events in order to make them work for a film?

HESLOV: You know, we weren’t. George and I have done a bunch of films that are based on the truth, and (for) this one, we felt like as long as we stayed within the spirit of the story, the things we did to add drama—and there aren’t that many, when you really look at it—we didn’t have any problem with that.

AWARDSLINE: There’s always haggling with the studio and the director over what that budget number is going to be. Do you go in with a number that you know you can’t go under and have the film still work? How does that process work for you?

HESLOV: We know how much we can make the movie for, have a gut feeling. (But) it’s not just how much do you think you can make the movie for but how much do you think the movie can make. There’s a lot that goes into it, and we’re not cavalier about it, we really think. For instance, a film like Good Night and Good Luck, you make that for $7 million because you know it’s a black-and-white film, and it’s not an easy sell. If you make it for $7 million, then everybody can have a chance to make a little bit of money, and you get to make the film you want to make.  But on a film like Argo—it’s period, there’s a lot of locations, and there’s a big cast. You have a gut feeling about the number and you go, “Look, we know we can’t make it for anything less than this, and if we can make it for more than this, then that would be great.” Then getting to the haggling with the studio over what the number is, it’s never as much as you want, but they usually come up a little, and you go down a little, and find someplace in the middle.

AWARDSLINE: How involved are you as a production company in marketing the films that Smokehouse produces?

HESLOV: We’re incredibly involved. If you asked the studio, they’d probably say we’re too involved. But look, George has been involved in the release of tons and tons of movies. Even when he’s an actor in the film, he still has to sign off on everything. So he has years of experience, and I’ve learned from him that you just have to be on top of all the marketing stuff. We have very strong opinions about the way that the films that we work on are sold. The studios, as they should, want to extract every dollar out of that opening weekend. But at the same time, for us (a film) is what lives on with us forever, as a one-sheet on our wall, as part of a legacy that we’re trying to put together. You want to have stuff that you feel good about in the way the film was marketed, and you also want to make sure that you’re selling the film that people are actually going to want to go see, because that can backfire on you. We’re very involved.

AWARDSLINE: Did you think that Argo would be tough to market?

HESLOV: Yes. It’s got an odd title, and it’s a very hard film to sell. On one hand, it’s a real nail-biter thriller and on the other hand, there’s a lot of comedic moments in it, but it’s not a comedy. If you sell it as a comedy, people are going to be disappointed. So it was tricky, but the studio did a great job. We’re really happy with what they did with it.

AWARDSLINE: Is it tough to balance the rigors of promoting a film while you’re on location with a high-profile film like August: Osage County?

HESLOV: It’s not really hard… We premiered at the London Film Festival, and we couldn’t be a part of that because we couldn’t leave. There were certain screenings that I wish George and I could have been at. You know, you make a movie and you’re proud of it, and you want to share those moments with your collaborators. But in terms of the actual work that has to be done, everything I do is practically on the phone anyway, so not so bad. (Laughs.)

Q&A: Tony Kushner on Lincoln

Mike Fleming Jr. is Deadline’s film editor. This article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of AwardsLine.

Whittling down the 56-year life of a landmark U.S. president to a feature-length screenplay is a daunting task, and playwright Tony Kushner initially turned down the offer to adapt Abraham Lincoln’s story for the big screen for Steven Spielberg, even after their Oscar-lauded collaboration on 2005’s Munich. But if there’s one writer who can effectively generate emotional drama against a political venue, it’s Kushner, whose Pulitzer Prize-winning seven-hour-long Angels in America play dramatized the AIDS crisis amidst the complex attitudes of Reagan-era times. While length worked in Kushner’s favor during Angels, on Lincoln it was the rock that he pushed up a hill. But after conferring with Spielberg, Kushner soon found the cornerstone that would condense his first 500-page draft down to a 150-minute film: Lincoln’s political fight to get the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution pushed through Congress while the Civil War lingered.

AWARDSLINE: What was the biggest challenge you had in terms of focusing on a part of Lincoln’s life and keeping this feature length?

TONY KUSHNER: It very easily could have been a miniseries. There were a lot of challenges in that regard. It was just an astonishing amount of really incredibly dramatic historical material. By the time I finished doing my research, I could pretty much make a miniseries out of any weekend Lincoln was in the White House. And I know that is not in any way an exaggeration. More than any other moment in American history, (the Civil War) is a gathering of all our country’s central themes. My goal from the beginning was to not make a bare-bones outline of life in his administration. I wanted it to be a drama dictated by the working out of contradictions and conflict rather than a faithful recounting of all the high points in Lincoln’s life. It was very important that we not try to cover too much terrain, rather dramatize it in a small moment. The expanse of time itself defuses a certain amount of dramatic tension.

AWARDSLINE: Why didn’t you say yes to Lincoln right away? Was Munich a tough one to crack as well?

KUSHNER: Not at all. I really loved working with Steven on Munich, and it was hard in certain ways, but I just thought, “How do you write a character named Abraham Lincoln with anything other than an immortalization that you know? And who’s going to play him? And is Daniel Day-Lewis available?” I was told that he wasn’t interested in playing Abraham Lincoln at that point, and it just seemed like it was fraught with sandtraps and pitfalls and improbabilities. I feel even more strongly now than I did six years ago that Lincoln is one of the personalities like Mozart or Shakespeare—real genius is a word that I don’t use loosely or lightly—somebody who is capable of things that are actually beyond great. If you set your goal as explaining what they did and how they did it, the minute you’ve succeeded in doing that you’ve failed because you couldn’t possibly have gotten it right. You can’t explain how Mozart wrote Don Giovanni or how Keats wrote To a Nightingale or how Einstein came up with the Theory of Relativity. If we could figure it out, we could do it. Lincoln is, without any question, the greatest political leader this country has ever had but also one of its greatest writers. And, according to pretty much all accounts, a rather astonishing human being.

AWARDSLINE: What was the most frustrating part of the six years you worked on the Lincoln script?

KUSHNER: The first two years were spent around the fall of 1863, which is when Salmon Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, began to really openly campaign for the Republican nomination again with Lincoln. I was going to start there and go through the end of April of ’65. I wrote about 100 pages and got as far as Dec. 25, 1863. I thought, “OK, there has to be some way to condense this material.” Every time I tried, I wound up pretty much around the same thing. I don’t think I ever got into 1864. And there’s a vast amount of stuff that happened in 1864 that you just couldn’t skip over. Steven was waiting and I said to him, “I just don’t know what to do. I don’t how to make this a feature-length film.” I was hoping he would say “Well, let’s do it as a miniseries,” but he wanted to do it as a feature-length film. So during the writers’ strike when I wasn’t writing, I put it away, and I had my suspicion that something happened because as soon as our strike was over, I called Steven and asked, “What are we going to do? Shall we just drop this?” And he said, “Why don’t you come up and talk about it? We’ll talk through all of the material and see if we can figure something out.” Two days before I was to go see him, I had a little eureka moment and thought in the last four months of Lincoln’s life there were several immensely dramatic incidents. I went to L.A. with the outline, which Steven thought was still long. I started condensing it and didn’t get very far, so I just took a deep breath and started writing in May of that year, then worked for about eight weeks and produced a 500-page first draft. At some point we eliminated a couple of months and started focusing on the beginning of the end. What Steven was caught up in from the very beginning was the battle behind the scenes for the 13th Amendment. And the more I worked on it, the more I realized that in a way, without any stretching of history, it is a kind of perfect microcosm of what Lincoln contended with during the entirety of the war.

AWARDSLINE:When you turned Angels in America into this big HBO project, was that 500 pages, more or less?

KUSHNER: Angels was probably less than that because it’s seven or eight 60-page scripts. I don’t remember. But I think that we figured out that if Lincoln was a miniseries, it would have been about 10 hours.

AWARDSLINE: What quality allows you to spend six years on a project like this?

KUSHNER: It takes me a very long time to get ready to write and feel ready to write, after which I’m pretty fast. One of the things I love about my job as a playwright or as a screenwriter is that I get to do a lot of research and a lot of thinking and taking a lot of notes before I turn it in. It is a long time to spend on a screenplay. I certainly spent at least that much time on Angels. Most of my plays have taken two or three or four years. But it sort of takes the time it takes. I had never intended to write anything about Abraham Lincoln, so this kind of came out of nowhere for me. I knew that I was going to be handing over a good portion of my adult life to this and that it was going to be tricky.

AWARDSLINE: Was there anything you learned from working with Spielberg on Munich that prepared you to take on something like this?

KUSHNER: Certainly. When I did Angels in America with Mike Nichols, I’d never written a screenplay, I’d never been on a film set before. Mike gave me some incredibly valuable lessons in how to work on a screenplay, and I learned an enormous amount from Steven in terms of screenwriting. I sat behind him the entire time we did Munich, so by the time we were done, I felt I had really learned a lot. I think there’s a certain way in which Munich and Lincoln are connected in that both are sort of about due process and legal versus nonlegal means of getting what you want. Munich asks some questions that needed to be asked and always need to be asked about a policy of targeted assassination for the national and international context. And Lincoln is an investigation. It seemed to me that in a couple of ways the story of his battle for the 13th Amendment in January of 1865, there was a story about legal and quasi-legal manipulations that he felt were necessary to get what he needed. I see no evidence that Lincoln really strayed over the line into illegality. There are a lot of people who criticize him for martial law and for suspending habeus corpus and closing down newspapers. He made some tough decisions, and there was certainly no question that had he lived, the courts would have had a field day. But he struggled a lot because the Constitution doesn’t define war powers: You have them but (it) doesn’t say what they are.


Q&A: Chris Terrio on Argo

This article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of AwardsLine.

Hearing that an Oscar-winning screenwriter has just signed on to direct the highest-profile script of your career could be somewhat nervewracking. But for Argo’s Chris Terrio, working with director Ben Affleck was made easier because of Affleck’s writing background. “At the beginning, you’re slightly defensive, thinking, ‘The director’s going to come kidnap the baby and carry it away,’ but there was zero of that. From our first conversation, it was just us geeking out about how we could make every scene better,” Terrio recalls about working on the film. Terrio is enjoying the experience of watching audiences see his first major-studio project, all while learning the ropes of awards season as a serious writing contender. Terrio recently spoke with AwardsLine about the complexities of researching the script and what he learned from working with Affleck.

AWARDSLINE: Were you familiar at all with the Argo story when Smoke House’s Nina Wolarsky first called you about writing the script?

CHRIS TERRIO: Of course I knew something about the Iran hostage situation, and I had always been curious about it and had read various books, but no, I didn’t know anything about Argo. I had read Tim Weiner’s Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, and that book briefly mentions it, but I think I read it without ever thinking too much about it. One of the few people in that book that comes off well is (Argo plot architect and CIA agent) Tony Mendez because that book is (about) a litany of mistakes that the CIA made; in fact that New York Times writer is not very popular at the CIA.

AWARDSLINE: You obviously started your research with Joshuah Bearman’s April 2007 Wired article, “The Great Escape,” but what other material did you consult for the script?

TERRIO: The Wired article, it’s short, and I credit Josh completely with the clash of worlds depicted in the movie, which is to say Hollywood and the CIA. But if you’re going to write a two-hour movie, there’s tons of research that you have to do that isn’t in the article. I spent probably the whole spring, and even longer, just circling and circling: Read every book that I could find on the 444 days, anything I could about Iran; looked at some Iranian movies from that period, ones made by expatriates. The Iran Hostage Crisis is the beginning of the 24-hour news cycle, so there’s an enormous amount of video footage that you can see at places like the Carter Center and the National Archives and the Paley Center in New York.

AWARDSLINE: How did you go about boiling it down and making sense of the multiple narratives and still feel like you were being true to the story?

TERRIO: Some of it is just instinct and trial and error. There were definitely moments where I worried that I wasn’t giving a comprehensive enough version of this moment in history. As American filmmakers, we can never tell a comprehensive story about the plight of people in Iran at that moment, but the film—without ever losing the forward momentum—lingers a bit to remind you that there are all these unresolved stories. I have to credit Ben with all that. Those stories could be scripted, like the Iranian housekeeper plot, or could just be a closeup of people waiting for their visas at the beginning of the film. Those closeups tell all kinds of stories: There’s a woman who’s wearing a mink stole and has put on makeup and is just sitting waiting for a visa. I look at that closeup, and I imagine her whole history—it’s just a two-second shot but I think at every margin of the story there are these little hints of stories that we’re not telling.

AWARDSLINE: How long did it take you to write the script?

TERRIO: The script was written in a matter of a few weeks after months and months of research, but I think that’s always the way with me. I need to circle something for a long time, and the characters are gradually showing up and taking their places. Finally, by the time I was ready to write, I knew. They had told me what they wanted to say, and I could sort of take dictation, which I know sounds a little crazy, but I’d imagine most writers would say that. You’re afraid every morning when you sit down that the characters aren’t going to show up for work, and sometimes they don’t, but when they do, you’re happy and you write fast.

AWARDSLINE: You’ve directed film and TV—did you pick up anything from Affleck while you were on the set of Argo?

TERRIO: The mood that Ben created. Ben is very easygoing, but that belies somebody who knows what he wants and knows how to get it. Ben’s ability to work with (cinematographer) Rodrigo (Prieto) and quickly get what he wants, know what he needs, and give himself options is a great thing that I picked up. He already is cutting the movie in his head when he’s making it. He immediately has an instinct about when it’s in the can and when it’s not.

AWARDSLINE: What’s it been like being a part of the awards-season machine so far?

TERRIO: I live in New York, so I’ve been at the margins of it, and I haven’t necessarily been in the belly of the beast yet, if it is a beast. It’s just been a rush for me to see people watching the movie and responding to it, but also to capture a little bit of that film-school excitement about movies.

Q&A: Tom Stoppard On Anna Karenina

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of AwardsLine.

At age 75, Tom Stoppard is still at the top of his game, and still seeking new challenges in film, television, and stage. The legendary writer responsible for such original theatrical experiences as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Arcadia, The Invention of Love, The Real Thing, and Coast of Utopia has also made his mark with a slew of memorable movies including Brazil, Empire of the Sun, Billy Bathgate, and his Oscar-winning script for Shakespeare in Love (cowritten with Marc Norman). Now he is partnering, so to speak, with Leo Tolstoy on a risky but thrilling new version of the Russian classic Anna Karenina. Though there are many film and TV versions already in existence, Stoppard was frightened by the prospect of following in their footsteps yet he embraced it.

AWARDSLINE: Why did you want to take on Anna Karenina? It’s a very ambitious project.

TOM STOPPARD: I had no thought about it until I was asked whether I would be interested in doing it with Joe Wright, and I was immediately interested in it. You don’t often get a proposal to do Tolstoy for a really interesting director—that’s easy to say yes to.

AWARDSLINE: Did you have any trepidation about adapting something that had been done so many times before?

STOPPARD: I probably shouldn’t tell you this, but the first thing I did was to watch all the other ones. (Laughs.) And I suspect in screenwriting class, they tell you not to do that, but I was tempted, and I fell. I watched Greta Garbo, and I watched Vivien Leigh, and I watched Sophie Marceau, and about three others. It was immediately clear that, in a sense, the best one was the BBC—it was hours and hours. So that made one think about what does one do (with) two hours? And I got to the thought that one should deal with the subject of love and not worry too much about local government, agriculture, or (Leo) Tolstoy’s other preoccupations with Levin (Domhnall Gleeson). Levin is the character who represents Tolstoy in many ways, and Joe and I talked about this a lot. And I said, “We should just try to make a movie where the word love just keeps dropping in, like a pebble into a pond, and deal with the way that love works.” I don’t mean love between lovers only; I’m talking about Anna’s love for her family—intense love in the novel. That was the guiding track for me.

AWARDSLINE: I talked to Joe Wright after I saw the film in Toronto, and he said he absolutely shot your script. But he also said that he came up with this theatrical device. Were you in on that decision initially?

STOPPARD: He called me up and said, “I’ve got to see you urgently.” This was a few weeks before we went into production, and he came to my flat with this big file, which turned out to contain the storyboards of a lot of the movie. There was a terrifying moment where he said, “I hope you like it, because if you don’t, we can’t do it.” So I felt I had to like it before I saw it, and I was just staggered by it. I was also worried by it, for obvious reasons. But as I turned the pages, I began to understand that it could be an extremely exciting piece of storytelling. When we got to the horse race, for example, I thought, “This is insane, but insanely brilliant!”

AWARDSLINE: In a play, you are going to have interaction with the actors—did you go on set or interact with the actors to talk about your point of view for the film?

STOPPARD: That all happened before there was a set. I was at rehearsals, but once we had done rehearsals, frankly, the writer really doesn’t have a function on the set. If the script is stabilized, then the writer becomes a celebrity tourist visiting the set, trying not to get in the way. It’s very good for the ego, to go visit a film set if you are the writer, because they give you a special chair, and tell you where you can sit to watch the monitor. They make you feel special, but at the same time, they make it perfectly plain that you are irrelevant! (Laughs.) I think that the one time you’re not needed is during production. You are needed again in post—I love to do postproduction. I am good at being shown something and counterpunching. I am in no way a director, but I’m a quite good critic.

AWARDSLINE: Once you got into postproduction, what kind of changes did you see?

STOPPARD: You always end up with too much, so it’s good to be part of the conversation about not just what you can omit, but how you are going to do the grammar of the omission, how you make things continue to work when there’s something missing. It’s your last chance to rewrite. Rewriting isn’t just about dialogue, it’s the order of the scenes, how you finish a scene, how you get into a scene. All these final decisions are best made when you’re there, watching. It’s really enjoyable, but you’ve got to be there at the director’s invitation. You can’t just barge in and say, “I’m the writer.” (Laughs.)

AWARDSLINE: Would you want to work with a director that did not allow you into that process?

STOPPARD: I don’t think I would, actually. It just doesn’t make any sense to me.

AWARDSLINE: Do you have a preference for movies or theater?

STOPPARD: I’ve never actually written an original (screenplay), so the theater is my only original work. I really enjoy great (film) adaptations—you’re given the story and the characters by somebody else. So it’s more like a collaborator, even if your collaborator is dead. The first job always is to deconstruct the piece that you’re working from, the novel, and I find that it’s really enjoyable because it’s a manageable job, it’s not actually a creative job. You can see what you really need and what you don’t.

Q&A: Mark Boal on Zero Dark Thirty

Thomas J. McLean is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of AwardsLine.

As both a journalist and a screenwriter, Mark Boal is no stranger to writing about modern soldiers and the wars they fight.

Zero Dark Thirty reunites Boal with director Kathryn Bigelow—both won Oscars for The Hurt Locker—to chronicle the hunt for Osama bin Laden. It’s a subject that made the movie infamous long before its release as pols and pundits accused the White House of trying to bolster its image by granting Boal and Bigelow improper access to classified information about the May 2011 raid that killed the Al Qaeda leader.

While Boal denies the charges—the released documents fail to prove improper access—the movie itself has at last emerged to defy political pigeonholing and throw a surprise shock into awards season. Eschewing policymakers and presidents, Zero Dark Thirty relies on first-hand accounts of events and focuses on CIA analyst Maya, who spends a decade obsessively hunting bin Laden. Like all the characters in the movie, Maya, played by Jessica Chastain, is based on a real person—though not so much so that anyone can identify the real agent.

Speaking with AwardsLine less than a day after Zero Dark Thirty first screened, Boal reflected on the intense process of putting together a complex film under such unusual pressures.

AWARDSLINE: You’ve been telling stories about today’s soldiers and modern wars. What do you find so attractive about these subjects?

MARK BOAL: Ever since 9/11, I found myself interested in chronicling the war and the war on terror and the way that this giant machinery was affecting individuals. As a screenwriter, I’m fascinated by people that put themselves at such great risk. And there’s so many inherently dramatic components—for example, the intelligence community—that make fertile ground for a dramatist.

AWARDSLINE: You were working on a movie about bin Laden’s 2001 escape into the caves of Afghanistan. How far had you gotten on that project and what kind of state was it in when bin Laden was reported killed?

BOAL: We were planning to shoot late that summer.

AWARDSLINE: What was your first thought about the movie when you heard he had been killed?

BOAL: I was thinking about friends I had lost on 9/11, to be honest with you. But eventually I came around and started thinking about it narratively, as a screenwriter, and it occurred to me that I had a lot of work to do and that I’d probably have to throw out years of work.

AWARDSLINE: How did you gather your first-hand accounts? Were you going through official channels or were you tracking down people on your own and using your own contacts?

BOAL: It was a combination of all three of those methods. I certainly went through official channels, the public-affairs offices of the relevant agencies, as any reporter would do. I also did independent reporting, and you just kind of follow your nose and you build what you know one interview at a time.

AWARDSLINE: How quickly did the script come together?

BOAL: I felt like I was working with a gun to my head because I felt a lot of competitive pressure to do it quickly. It was a couple or three months of writing, and another three months of research. I was researching while I was writing.

AWARDSLINE: How much did the script change through production?

BOAL: We shot the first draft, more or less, but I was always tweaking scenes on set. There were no conceptual revisions, really, but once I get a sense for an actor and how the dialogue sounds coming out of his or her mouth, I like to craft the character to what I perceive to be their strengths. Probably not a day went by when I didn’t churn out revisions of existing pages.

AWARDSLINE: A lot has been made in the media of the production getting assistance from the government in researching the movie. How did you approach the government and what kind of assistance did they provide?

BOAL: If you’re trying to do your homework, as I was, the first thing you do is you go directly to the offices that are set up and designed to work with reporters or book authors or screenwriters. That’s what their job is: Communicate the facts and the goals of whatever agency they work for. That relationship between people seeking information and government agencies sharing the information is one of the foundations of this system that we have. What was unusual in this case was we got caught up in an election year and our movie became a chew toy, a talking point in a presidential election campaign. There were all sorts of things that were said about the film that were just not true.

AWARDSLINE: How fictionalized is the Maya character and what are some of the challenges of writing this kind of character?

BOAL: It’s what screenwriters do all the time when they work from life. Part of what astonished me in my research is there were a lot of women involved in this hunt that played a big role, and I just wasn’t aware of that side of the CIA. I chose to tell the story through her eyes because that seemed to be to me the most dynamic and interesting way to do it. You’re also trying to dramatize events to tell a story most effectively. That doesn’t mean the events aren’t true, it just means you’re making them as dramatic as you possibly can. Then there were also things that I did to the character that I’m not going to discuss for obvious reasons to make sure that nobody would be able to watch the movie and draw a dotted line between a character in the film and somebody in real life.

AWARDSLINE: Was it a conscious choice to steer clear of putting politicians in the film except for brief glimpses of TV news reports?

BOAL: That was a creative choice. For better or worse, most of my writing life has been about people that work behind the scenes. I’m interested in finding extraordinary moments in otherwise normal people. Not to say there couldn’t be a great movie about the White House—I’m sure there will be some day, and somebody should write that movie. It just won’t be me.

Q&A: Ben Affleck on Argo

This article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of AwardsLine.

After directing two successful features, Gone Baby Gone in 2007 and The Town in 2010, Ben Affleck has come into his own, perhaps finding greater creative success behind the camera than he ever has as an actor performing in front of it. In fact, the Oscar-winning screenwriter stands a good chance of earning another nom, this time for helming Argo, an almost unbelievable real-life story about how the CIA teamed up with Hollywood to rescue six diplomats stranded in Iran after the Shah’s fall. Affleck also stars in the film, and he’s clearly still passionate about acting. “The director part of me thought it would be too much trouble not to give the actor the part. I’d never hear the end of it,” he says about taking on the role of agent Tony Mendez. He recently spoke with AwardsLine about directing himself and the challenges of shooting the film’s pivotal embassy-takeover scenes.

AWARDSLINE: At the film’s DGA screening, you talked about how it was important for you to foster a bond among the six actors playing the houseguests in Argo. Can you talk a bit more about what that rehearsal process was like?

BEN AFFLECK: I wanted them to get to know one another better and just be more familiar and at ease around one another, and that could only be accomplished really with time exposure. I wanted them to know what it was like on a subconscious level to feel trapped and holed up in a place. So this idea that I came up with was to put them up someplace for a week inside the set. We dressed it and had everything that they would have when we shot: There were newspapers from the period, magazines from the period, and I put in movies from that period that I wanted them to watch, records and a record player—all kinds of things. I didn’t give them much instruction and said, “This is where you have to be,” because that was the circumstance under which the people were (living). They didn’t have any goals other than to sort of stay there and stay hidden. I didn’t know (what) would develop in the rehearsal process, but whatever happened, it was genuine, it was good. Ultimately, I don’t know what happened. It was part social experiment, part reality show with no cameras. (Then) we came, and we set them free. (Laughs.) I knew it was good because they didn’t seem to want to talk about what happened.

AWARDSLINE: Did they leave at night?

AFFLECK: No, they lived there! They slept there. It takes time to develop a sense of humor, shared world views. I just felt like putting them in the bag and shaking (it) up—you don’t know what the pattern of flour and chicken is going to be, but you know you’re going to get some good fried chicken.

AWARDSLINE: The script was completed before you signed on, but you ended up extending the opening sequence before production started. Were there other tweaks that you and screenwriter Chris Terrio worked on?

AFFLECK: There were all kinds of adjustments and back and forth, just work that goes on between a director and a writer. (As) a director who is a writer, I have respect for writers, so I’m less likely to step on an idea or a line. We were both really comfortable telling each other that things didn’t work if we didn’t think they worked.

AWARDSLINE: And Terrio was on set for a lot of the shoot, too, right?

AFFLECK: Yes. Initially I thought, I’m going to get this script and run with it, and do my thing, like I did with the other two movies I made. Then I talked to Chris, and he was so smart and insightful and had done all this research, and so I was like, “This guy would be a huge asset and a great writer, so let’s keep him on.” On my other two movies, stuff had to be rewritten, and I would go off into a corner and puzzle over it. It would take me forever, and I would stay up all weekend. It was so nice to be able to say, “Exactly what the agenda is of the State Department in this scene? Could you rewrite that scene?” and have him come back later with the answer. I felt like I was looking at the back of a test.

AWARDSLINE: How does it work when you’re directing yourself?

AFFLECK: Everyone has a different approach, but I like to shoot a lot of film anyway. I like to shoot until we have a relaxed environment on the set, and I try to schedule that. And I do the same thing for myself (as an actor) that I do for others. I get to the point where I feel relaxed, and then I just shoot a ton of material and make a lot of different choices. (I) try new things and give myself permission to fail and experiment because only that way can you get really successful. I don’t go back and look at the monitor between every take; I wait until I feel like we finally got it right: “Let me stop and look at that last one on the monitor.”

AWARDSLINE: In terms of the location shoots, were there other Middle Eastern locations that you considered?

AFFLECK: We scouted all over the place. There’s the competing concerns of creativity and budget, and that was a pretty close race with this movie. We scouted Jordan, we scouted a couple of countries in North Africa—this was before the Arab Spring. Jordan we would have been OK, but the truth is, it looked very Arab. Persia is very different from the Arab Middle East in terms of architecture and language. Even though we think of them as one big Middle Eastern area, in truth, Persia’s quite distinct. So we looked at Bulgaria, which also happens to be profoundly inexpensive, and then we looked at Turkey. That was the last place we went, and it was also the nicest place.

AWARDSLINE: What was the most difficult scene to pull off in terms of scheduling and budget constraints?

AFFLECK: The (embassy) takeover stuff in the beginning, where we had 2,500 extras, that was really hard to do in Istanbul. We could only afford so much, so it was hard to pay people enough so that they would come out there and work all day. Turkey’s growth rate was 8% last year—it’s not a developing country. You have to pay people real money. And we had to pick people up in buses at one in the morning, get there, get everyone in wardrobe, get them out in the street, give them signs, and teach them how to chant their slogans. In the extras’ holding area, I put our research on a loop, which is images of the actual revolution, so people could get a sense of the anger and the power of the whole thing. They were psyched; the extras got into it. So that was really fun. (But) it was cold, it was raining, (and) it was very hard to keep people around. Of course, it turned out somehow we didn’t have enough food, or we didn’t have as much food as we thought—there were all sorts of problems like that. Meanwhile, I’m worrying about the big shots with the cranes, and as we lose people, I keep making the big shots tighter and tighter. The other issue was that the people who were available to be around all day are the elderly; the younger people are working. So basically, we had a lot of folks who were over 65 in a student revolution. So they made up for it with passion. They were chanting, going nuts. It was ultimately exhilarating, fun, and thrilling and felt like we had a real partnership. I’ve been an extra in, I don’t know, 20 movies, so I feel like I know how it is. I’m trying to make people feel welcome and feel valued.

Q&A: Steven Spielberg on Lincoln

Mike Fleming Jr. is Deadline’s film editor. This article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of AwardsLine.

Steven Spielberg would like to dispel a few rumors about the kind of set he ran for his latest film, Lincoln. Yes, it’s true that star Daniel Day-Lewis remained in character even when the cameras weren’t rolling, and his sole contact on the set was the director. However, Spielberg himself did not have his costume designer dress him in period-appropriate attire every day—he simply wore a jacket and tie. And although the director admits that there weren’t many visitors to the set, perhaps helping to create the perceived mystique, the intimate nature of the production stemmed more from a sense of pride and respect over its main character than anything else. “Lincoln has not been honored in a dramatic motion picture for 72 years,” says Spielberg, adding that Raymond Massey was the last actor to play the 16th president on the big screen. That attention to detail and reverence for his subject matter has paid off in boxoffice, earning more than $86 million domestically at press time, as well as plenty of Oscar talk. Spielberg recently took time to discuss how he got his first choice of actor for every part and how he and screenwriter Tony Kushner found the right angle to tell the story properly.

AWARDSLINE: It seems unusual that the most successful director in Hollywood would require as long a courtship as you waged to get Daniel Day-Lewis to play Lincoln. How did you finally convince him?

STEVEN SPIELBERG: Daniel had about six years to think about it from the first time I offered him not this Lincoln, not the Tony Kushner-written Lincoln, and not the Lincoln written from Doris (Kearns Goodwin’s) book, but an original Lincoln script that I developed. After turning me down to play the character, I don’t think he ever forgot our encounter. What really did the trick was when he read the Tony Kushner script, and I was able to get a take two, because my good buddy Leo DiCaprio simply called him up one day and said, “You need to reconsider this. Steven really wants you for this, and he’s not willing to make the movie without you.” So Daniel, based on Leo’s phone call to him, offered to read the Tony Kushner script, which he had never read, and also the Doris Kearns Goodwin script, which he had never read. That was the beginning, and I think that’s when the courtship was over. Once he read the script, then he really had to come to terms with the big decision he would eventually have to make, which was, “Can I, with honor, equip this character in a way I’ll be able to live with the rest of my life?”

AWARDSLINE: Have you ever put in as much time convincing an actor to make one of your movies?

SPIELBERG: Never. I’ve never gone on a campaign to get (an actor). I pretty much took no for an answer. It’s one of the few times in my entire life where I was not willing to accept that answer. When he eventually said he would play Abraham Lincoln, the only caveat was he asked me to wait a year. Some of that was because he was sorting out his physical location, where he was living, between Ireland and then eventually he was going to move back to New York, but a lot of it was I think he wanted to really go deep into his own research. And I needed that year too, even though I was ambitious enough to jump into the picture four months after he said yes. We spent a lot of time on the script, and it gave me a year to cast the picture, which means I got all of my first choices. No filmmaker ever gets their first choices consistently, but by waiting a year, I was able to wait for actors to free themselves up for this one.

AWARDSLINE: Describe that eureka moment, if you remember it, where you found that kernel that became this terrific movie?

SPIELBERG: We were trying to tackle the last three years of the president’s life, which is the experience that the senators and representatives had, and that the president and his cabinet had. They didn’t see the action; they weren’t in the battlefields. Lincoln visited the troops, but he didn’t do it with the frontline, except once, and we depict that at the end of our picture. This was going to be a story of his last three years, but the script was 550 pages long. For me, the most compelling part of that screenplay was a 65-page section, which was the struggle to pass the 13th Amendment that abolished slavery. That section is where I stood up and said, “That’s it, that’s our story, that’s our film.” There were so many bullet points in Lincoln’s life that actually the more we spread that out over 550 pages, the (more) superficial his character seemed to feel. Once we focused everything on two great issues—the passage of the 13th Amendment and the Civil War—everything got a lot more concentrated and a lot more focused.

AWARDSLINE: When you have a great actor like Daniel Day-Lewis, how hands-on do you get?

SPIELBERG: Very hands-on, which is what I do, and it’s also what Daniel requires. He is very collaborative. You talk to the directors who have directed him before, from Scorsese to P.T. Anderson—he is an extremely collaborative actor, and the director is his only point of contact on an entire production. We were there for each other from the very beginning, and we spent three and a half months in active conversation, from the smallest moments to large pieces of history.

AWARDSLINE: What was most important to you and Sally Field about the way Mary Todd Lincoln was conveyed?

SPIELBERG: We wanted to be fair. We’ve all read different accounts of Mary and what her condition might be defined as in modern medicine. We knew one thing that everyone could agree to, and that is that Mary was the engine of Lincoln’s ambition. Without Mary, Lincoln would have probably taken his losses. When he lost the senate to Stephen Douglas, he probably would never have imagined that he could go for the highest office in the land. It was Mary that supplied the motor that put Lincoln in a direction with his own destiny. He looked to her as a guiding force, a light, also as damaged goods. He knew when she was being rational and politically savvy, and when she was being emotionally irrational. He would just sit with her for hours and let her vent until she came out of a fog. In that sense, he had so many burdens during his presidency.

AWARDSLINE: I read that you addressed your actors by their character names throughout and retained a feeling of period all the way through. It almost sounds like a Method set. How and who did this help?

SPIELBERG: It helped me, principally, because I took this very seriously. We were playing with one of the most beloved—and mysterious—characters in American history. It doesn’t have anything to do with Method, it has to do with authenticity and having the actors come to work in the morning and feeling a bit like stepping back into time.

AWARDSLINE: You worked on this film for so long—have you ever had a project that’s taken this long for the pieces to fall into place the way they have here?

SPIELBERG: Schindler’s List took 12 years between the time Sid Sheinberg purchased the film rights to the book by Thomas Keneally in 1982, and I began shooting the film ’93, so that was 11 years. I bought the film rights to Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln in 1999, which Doris was just beginning to write. So to answer your question, you’re right. This is the longest.

AWARDSLINE: You skipped releasing this movie during the election because you said you didn’t want this to be a political football. Now it comes out amidst these contentious partisan battles to stave off the debt cliff. What qualities about Lincoln would you most hope to convey to these folks who find it so hard to agree on anything?

SPIELBERG: Lincoln’s leadership is based on a number of precepts, but my favorite one is that he acted in the name—and for the good—of the people. In that sense, the two great things he did at the end of his life—to end slavery, peace for the Civil War—was for the good and in the name of the people. And he put people ahead of politics, although he was artful in using politics to be able to accomplish his task.

Q&A: Wes Anderson On Moonrise Kingdom

This article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of AwardsLine.

The deadpan, rhythmic pop-and-snap banter. The dysfunctional parents and rebellious teens. And that classical-funk soundtrack played against those doll-house sets. These are some of director Wes Anderson’s stylistic hallmarks, idiosyncrasies that point to the cinematic evolution of absurdist theater. “I certainly have often thought of Harold Pinter,” says the Houston, TX, native about his muses, which have also included J.D. Salinger and François Truffaut. “(Pinter’s) a writer who has always inspired me. Samuel Beckett maybe in a more distant way, but Beckett through Pinter is one. The sparseness and abstractness of Pinter has always been a real inspiration for me.”

But while a number of absurdists maintained cynical views toward humanity, Anderson couldn’t be more optimistic. No more is this apparent in his Cannes Film Festival-launched summer arthouse hit Moonrise Kingdom, which has earned $65 million worldwide. The tale about two lost, romantic adolescent souls whose lives are more together than their parents has charmed critics since its bow, and its momentum has continued to a Gotham Award best film win and five Indie Spirit nominations including feature, director, and screenplay.

AWARDSLINE: What was the genesis of this project?

WES ANDERSON: It was some years ago, and I wanted to make a story about my memory of falling in love at age 11, but also my memory of the fantasy that went with it: The desire for something bigger to happen and the desire to be living a fantasy life, which was a strong feeling for me at that age. Moonrise Kingdom is autobiographical in the sense that it’s very close to the experience that I envisioned for myself when I was the age of those characters. All of my films are filled with personal details, and a lot of those personal details are where the emotional connection comes into it.

AWARDSLINE: Is it easier for you to launch a production nowadays? Do you simply make a phone call to producers Scott Rudin and Steven Rales?

ANDERSON: Even if you have people like Steven and Scott supporting you, one still has to figure out the foreign-sales numbers and other factors, like who is in your cast and how much are we getting for various territories, which helps you figure out a reasonable budget number. While that’s happening, there’s another kind of preparation that needs to be done and that I like to do: There’s a thorough, rigid preparation for my movies. Plus, the biggest thing with Moonrise Kingdom, once there was a script: Who are the actors for these two kids? Because if we can’t find them, we don’t have a movie. So we set aside time to search.

AWARDSLINE: Expound on your filmmaking relationship with Scott Rudin.

ANDERSON: My hunch is that Scott does something different on every movie he works on, and he has very different relationships with moviemakers. On some movies he’s saying (to a director), “Here’s a book you have to do” and bringing the material. And on some movies, he is on the set every day giving feedback. On my movies, his role has been very consistent over the years. He’s my producer-ial adviser—he’s my key adviser along with Steven Rales—and Scott is a great script reader and analyst. He has a very good feeling for storytelling. The main thing he gives me is a bunch of criticism that I may or may not use and that may aggravate me, but always leaves me with something to do next. The best thing you can ask for is that your conversation with your collaborator continually results in making a project better. He’s also important when it comes to releasing a movie and how we’re going to handle it.

AWARDSLINE: Every awards season, you seem to be in the conversation. What’s your takeaway on the season?

ANDERSON: It’s great to get (Oscar) nominations; I have not gotten many. I’m not one of those guys (that) if you go to my office, you find a staggering number of trophies on the shelf. We got one for Darjeeling Limited at the Venice Film Festival called the Leoncino d’Oro. At first we thought we won the Golden Lion, but slowly realized, “Wait a second, this means the Lion Cub.” It turned out it’s an award given by school children in Venice. We took that home, and it was really small. That same year, we also got an award from the American Association of Retired Persons as their favorite film of the year, which was strange. We were honored by the youngest Italians and older Americans. I always find something like this very moving and a surprise.

AWARDSLINE: It goes without saying that your filmmaking style stands out. Would you ever change it up?

ANDERSON: What makes my movies like my other movies—all those different things I do that prompt someone to say, “Well, I think we know who did this one”—those things are like my handwriting to me. What I’m focusing on (in each movie) are those things that are different and that I’ve never tried before. I’m always directing a movie where I wrote a script with a collaborator. It’s something that I invented and feels automatic and natural to do in my handwriting. If I was adapting Dashiell Hammett, I might find myself working in ways that are less recognizable as my thing. I’m not positive about that. But at some point along the way, I don’t want to force myself to make my movies unlike my other ones. Instead, I want to force myself to make them as entertaining, personal, and moving as I can make them.

Q&A: Tom Hooper on Les Misérables

Pete Hammond is Deadline’s awards columnist. This article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of AwardsLine.

Tom Hooper has had a distinguished career in television for more than a decade, earning an Emmy in 2006 for Elizabeth I and nominations for Prime Suspect 6 (2003) and John Adams (2008). But his feature-film career consisted of only two small films—Red Dust (2004)and the critically acclaimed but little-seen The Damned United (2009)—before he hit the mother lode with The King’s Speech in 2010, winning both the DGA Award and the Academy Award for best director on his very first time out. Now, defying the odds again, Hooper is back with the movie version of the worldwide musical smash, Les Misérables. This overnight film-business success at age 40 is among those top-tier contenders who could take it all again for finding a way—after producers have spent a quarter-century trying—to make Les Mis sing on screen as powerfully as it did on the stage.

AWARDSLINE: I was talking to Hugh Jackman about the audition process, and he said at that point you weren’t even involved. When did you get involved?

TOM HOOPER: I was involved. I didn’t want everyone to think the film was going to happen until I worked out how I was going to cast it. People always wanted to make the film regardless, but I needed to have the right cast. We needed actors that could sing at this level. The audition back in May of last year was huge—it was an extraordinary moment. That’s when I knew I had a movie. I’d go so far to say, the movie wouldn’t exist without Hugh Jackman. There was no second choice; I still don’t have a second choice. (He’s) an extraordinary actor and singer, with extraordinary musical-theater training. He had a great moral compass, very fitting for this very spiritual man. When he sang, he accessed an acting I had never seen in film. The singing really opens up new possibilities for these actors—possibilities you can’t do with normal dialogue. The sheer power of singing

AWARDSLINE: I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen a musical film with the singing done live, which Jackman said is 99.9% live. It gives it so much more power. I imagine that was still a risk on your part.

HOOPER: There were a lot of people telling me it wasn’t a good idea, that less of it should be done live. But I said the film wouldn’t have happened without Hugh Jackman, and I thought the film wouldn’t have happened if it were not done live. I love the movie musical, (but) there’s something slightly distancing about it. There’s a lack of fundamental realism or naturalism. It’s one thing for the musical to be light or comedic, but this is all about emotion. I thought if we did it live, it would make it much more real. Once you do it live, it becomes a completely different medium.

AWARDSLINE: You used the original book in helping you craft this.

HOOPER: It’s what I used for inspiration—it’s a truly brilliant work. One of the things I got from it was a great line: “It was the second white apparition which he had encountered.” The first taught him virtue, the second taught about love.

AWARDSLINE: What was the biggest challenge of doing a film of this scale?

HOOPER: I think one of the challenges that’s less obvious is doing it with the live piano, not a pre-recorded track. Each scene was a one-off event. You couldn’t cut the scene because of the tempo of the piano or the singing of the actor. I had to preserve the integrity of each scene and make sure I had all the camera coverage I needed to cut shots from each scene. Each time I shot with at least three cameras, up to six cameras. Each scene was a unique event.

AWARDSLINE: I didn’t know Russell Crowe could sing.

HOOPER: He actually started in musical theater; that was his original passion. He’s so passionate about singing, he said, “Tom, the rest of my life, whenever I am starting on a movie, I’m going to be wishing I was starting Les Misérables all over again.” He trained for six months for the demands of live singing.

AWARDSLINE: What was it like having the original creators of the musical available?

HOOPER: So exciting! Every change I made was with them, like the new song (“Suddenly”) was with them. The fans will recognize the original DNA.

AWARDSLINE: I know you had the world offered to you after The King’s Speech won best picture. Was this the obvious followup for you?

HOOPER: The secret thing I was doing during The King’s Speech was reading the (Victor Hugo) book on the planes back and forth. I explored it very thoroughly. For me, to choose a movie, you have to fall in love with it. It’s not an easy musical to adapt, but I got very addicted to the music. The brilliant thing about The King’s Speech was how it made people feel; the best reward was how it touched people. I want to work in an emotional place, a story with song, music. I also thought I should use some of that success to take a little risk and take myself somewhere new.

Q&A: Judd Apatow And Leslie Mann on This Is 40

Paul Brownfield is an AwardsLine contributor. This article appeared in the Dec. 12 issue of AwardsLine.

The first scene in Judd Apatow’s dramatic comedy about marriage, This Is 40, is the only love scene. Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann) are having birthday sex in the shower, but what Debbie doesn’t know is that Pete has popped a Viagra. Thrusting is soon followed by tumult.

First seen in Knocked Up, Pete and Debbie functioned in that film as “the ghosts of Christmas future” for the two main characters, played by Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl. But This Is 40 doesn’t pick up where Knocked Up left off, it starts afresh.

Let us assume the Viagra shower episode hasn’t happened in the real-life marriage of Apatow and Mann. But both the writer/director, edging into more mature terrain, and his actress wife, truly starring in a major Hollywood film for the first time, are aware that they’ve made something that feels, anyway, like an autobiographical film. In the time before making This Is 40, Apatow went back and watched, among others, Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage, “which had more humor in it than one would expect,” he says.

AWARDSLINE: Early in the movie, Pete and Debbie go away for a romantic weekend to get away from domestic and work stresses and reconnect as a couple. I think they have sex but they mostly do platonic things, like get stoned and order off the room-service menu. I’m curious what each of you thinks that says about marriage and long-term relationships.

JUDD APATOW: Well, I intended it to look like they had sex. If Paul Rudd had agreed to show me his behind, maybe that would have been clearer. The intention of it is to show that everybody has too many things they’re juggling. Between their marriages, work, all the kid stuff, it is very stressful and time-consuming, in addition to their extended families and health issues. Sometimes you need to get away for a few weeks just to figure out who you are again.

LESLIE MANN: But originally we had (Pete) taking Viagra.

APATOW: There was a funny shot where she sees him try to sneak the Viagra, and she just gives a look like, “Oh, God.”

AWARDSLINE: There’s another scene where Debbie catches Pete in the bathroom at home, playing Scrabble on his iPad, and says to him, “Why are you always trying to escape?” That seemed like a crucial line in the film.

APATOW: I’m a big fan of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus. They talk about how men like to go to their caves, and women are always trying to get men out of their caves. That’s always my excuse for my escape. And it probably is just that I’m exhausted, and it’s fun to read the Huffington Post for 12 minutes on the toilet. Leslie will track how long I’ve been in the bathroom based on my Tweets. She’ll say, “I know you’re not going to the bathroom, you’re Tweeting.” She never opens the door. I think the second I hit the toilet, she signs on to Twitter to see if I’m really doing what I’m saying I’m doing. But I think everybody does that. There’s no guy who’s seen this movie that doesn’t say that they escape into the bathroom. I just think it’s a natural thing. Do you think women don’t do that, honey? They don’t feel the bathroom is a place to escape?


APATOW: To catch a breath?

MANN: I don’t think so.

APATOW: Where do you catch your breath?

MANN: We don’t. We’re women. We’re stronger than you are.

AWARDSLINE: Judd, The New Yorker once described your process for scriptwriting as involving a mostly male “Bucket Brigade of actors, writers, and directors” punching up each other’s scripts. Did that happen here?

APATOW: Not really on this one. Some movies are more of a joke fest, so it’s helpful to have a lot of input. Some movies survive just based on how funny each individual joke is, but because this is a more intimate movie, it really started with this idea and a year of Leslie and I talking about it and what our feelings were at this time of our lives. So I would tell Leslie some of the story I was thinking about, and then she would comment on that and pitch me ideas for scenes based on what she was going through. That’s how I outline. I just list hundreds of scene ideas, and then slowly the actual plot starts revealing itself.

AWARDSLINE: Did you workshop the script or show it around?

APATOW: The first person to read it is Leslie because we talk a lot about it. Leslie doesn’t like reading the early, really crappy drafts, so I tell her how it’s going and talk through the scenes with her. Then when I feel like it’s pretty decent, I give her the script. I’m also well aware that if she doesn’t like it, we’re not making the movie. So that’s actually the only scary read for me. Then I’ll get her notes and do a pass, and I do give it to a ton of people, which makes Leslie very nervous. I’m always just sending the script to people, and a lot of friends who are the writers I most admire read it. James Brooks read it, and Eric Roth, and Jake Kasdan, and Adam McKay. I send it around and say, “Am I crazy? Does this make sense at all, what we’re trying to do here?” And they’re very, very supportive and insightful and helpful.

AWARDSLINE: How long did it take to get from first draft to a shooting draft?

APATOW: Very short. I only finished the script because we were about to start shooting. So I drafted the script in December of 2010, and we shot in the summer of 2011. But we started doing rehearsals and table reads about five weeks after I finished the rough, vomit pass. Very early Leslie and Paul’ll come in, and we all talk and play and see how we feel and what’s missing.

AWARDSLINE: Since this film is somewhat close to your personal lives and is such a family affair, did it feel different when you started shooting?

MANN: I feel like Judd always protects me from anything that would stress me out in that way, so it’s only about being creative, which is stressful enough. But he kind of shields me from all of the little things, the business things. He creates a really safe place for us to be just creative. So I didn’t think about, “Oh, wow, this is however much money the budget was.” (To Apatow) How much was the budget? See, I don’t even know. So I didn’t worry about that. I think he may have been worrying about that but didn’t say anything about it. He’s just really snotty and having stress allergies.

AWARDSLINE: Did you feel as though you were crossing a line, putting your own family life on film?

MANN: I don’t see it that way. I know that there are certain things that are kind of pulled directly from our lives. Like, we don’t have wifi in the house.


MANN: We have it in my bedroom, but don’t write that because (our daughter) Maude doesn’t know. But most of it, emotionally, I feel like it’s true, and what a woman goes through and what a man goes through at that stage of life feels really honest. But I think that’s pretty universal. So I didn’t feel like I was exposing this really personal thing about myself. I just felt like I’m playing a character and this is different from my life, but the same emotionally, you know? Does that make sense?

AWARDSLINE: You mentioned your daughter Maude. Both your kids act in your movies. Did that feel risky this time, to expose them to more scrutiny? I guess in this era of social media that isn’t the big deal it once was.

MANN: It’s weird because they haven’t been able to see the movies. I mean, Maude just recently saw some of Knocked Up, right?

APATOW: She fell asleep at the halfway point, which was very insulting to us.

MANN: Their friends don’t see the movies, and they just go to school every day, so they don’t really know what they’ve done. It kind of doesn’t affect them in their lives at all. But now that Maude is almost 15, it’s probably a little bit different.

AWARDSLINE: And she has a big part in the film.

MANN: And she’s really good in it. And I think that can’t hurt her. I don’t know, we’re very protective of them, and we’re just going to do our best. I hope that it doesn’t hurt them in some way.

APATOW: We think of it more like a singer-songwriter. You write about what you care about, and you share that with people. And hopefully that makes it OK because you are doing it with a positive intention. When people do that in their music and in movies, I always really appreciate it. I think it is what we liked about Annie Hall. We all knew that they dated. We didn’t think it was like that exactly, but we knew that something had inspired it.

Q&A: Paul Williams

Although the documentary Paul Williams Still Alive didn’t make the Academy’s short list this week, there’s an original song by the Oscar-winning composer wrote for the doc, aptly titled “Still Alive,” that remains in contention. Williams, who at first resented director Stephen Kessler’s attempts to document his childhood idol, now calls the doc “a gift” that has allowed him to gain a new appreciation for his songwriting work. While the doc doesn’t discuss much of Williams’ current activities, he’s been working behind the scenes as chairman and president of ASCAP since 2009, something he calls an honor, quickly joking, “I’ve got a black belt in back slapping.” With several new songwriting projects in the works, including a musical version of Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, Williams is still very much alive and still busy. He recently spoke with AwardsLine about his reticence to participate in the doc and reflected on his Oscar win in 1977.

AWARDSLINE: What made you finally decide that you were going to agree to participate in the documentary? It’s pretty clear that you weren’t thrilled initially.

PAUL WILLIAMS: There was a time in my life when I became much better at showing off that showing up. If you put down a couch and a camera, Paul Williams would appear on that couch. You know, to feel like you’re really different is difficult. To feel like your special, in my case, it was addicting. Eventually my addiction to alcohol and cocaine outran all other addictions—I think I ignored songwriting; my craft kind of fell off. For me, to revisit this with Steve… He started by sending me an email. For some reason, I just backed off immediately about the idea of somebody following me around, and didn’t want to participate in another VH1: Where Are They Now?. I didn’t know if he wanted to make fun of me, (but) he seemed to really know my music and be a real fan. I found that every time he would hang a microphone on me, there was a little place that kind of tightened up, and it just was like, “I don’t like this.” I have a lovely balance to my life right now. I have a great relationship with my wife and my kids, and I’m working just about as much as I want to. There was a lot going on that didn’t make it into the film. While we were filming, I went to Disney and pitched an idea for the Muppets: I wrote the songs, I cowrote the story and cowrote the teleplay for a one-hour TV special for the Muppets (A Muppets Christmas: Letters to Santa). I got nominated for an Emmy (for the song “I Wish I Could Be Santa Claus”). That’s not in the movie, though. I think that if Steve Kessler had found me living in a trailer behind a junkyard playing at the Red Lion Inn and singing to a sock puppet he would have been thrilled, like, “Look how far he’s fallen.” That really wasn’t the case, but he eliminated things to tell the story in the best way.

AWARDSLINE: It also reflects the view that a lot of people have about fame: If people don’t hear about you anymore then you must not be doing anything.

WILLIAMS: You cease to exist, yeah.

Paul Williams MupptesAWARDSLINE: What has been the response since the film’s release?

WILLIAMS: First of all, I had no idea it would get the kind of response it had. I wrote the title song about three weeks before we went into Toronto, and the response to the film and song was just amazing. What Steve did that was a real gift to me was his willingness to put all of his ineptness at certain moments back into the film. Those things where I challenged him and said, “You’re interrupting a meaningful story about my dad taking me to the ballgame so you can ask some silly-ass questions about a talent show. Put that in the movie,” and he did. Moments where he’d ask me questions that, frankly, just felt like a dig. God bless him, he put them in the film.  So you wind up with a film where you observe a relationship begin to take place with us, which I think is funny and interesting. I think part of the journey for Steve was he went into the process thinking that fame equals happiness, relevance. And then in the midst of it, in 2009, I was elected president and chairman of the board of ASCAP with 150,000 people that are fighting to make a viable living through music. For the first time in my life, I felt really, really connected to the world around me. And that’s what I was afraid of giving up if we shot this film.

AWARDSLINE: The original song you wrote for the documentary, “Still Alive,” is getting some Oscar attention, which has to be fun for an awards-season veteran like you.

WILLIAMS: I’ve been nominated six times, and the fact is, the nomination comes from your peers—just from the music branch—so the huge event is being nominated. When I really look at it, I see that it’s the win to be nominated. (But), obviously, it’s amazing to walk up on the stage. You know, they play my acceptance speech (for “Evergreen” with Barbra Streisand) every now and then because I looked at the audience and said, “I was going to thank all the little people, and then I remembered I am the little people.” I remember walking out, andNeil Diamond gave us the award, and I hugged Barbra and I looked at the audience: It’s like, there’s Kirk Douglas, there’s Gregory Peck, there’s Elizabeth Taylor. You see me backstage in the green room having a conversation with Bette Davis and Cary Grant, and you go, “Oh, my God, how did he get here?” Now if I look at it, I would say that what I did to get there was a small part of it. (It was) immense good fortune and the people that I met along the way.

Listen to Williams’ original song for the documentary: Still Alive