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‘Night at the Museum 2’ Press Conference, Part 2

Posted on May 16, 2009 at 1:00 pm

IMG_7469-1.JPG More from the “NatM: Battle of the Smithsonian” press conference:
Ricky Gervais, creator and star of the original British version of The Office returns as the director of New York’s Museum of Natural History. He said that he loves to play an “awkward putz” and that “the most fun for a comedian is to play a man without a sense of humor.”
Robin Williams, who returns as Theodore Roosevelt, looked around the historic Smithsonian Castle and said he felt like he was at Michael Jackson’s garage sale. As expected, he kept up a running commentary on everyone else’s answers. Amy Adams answered a question about how her success had changed her life with a joke: “I’ve invested in shoes.” (She was wearing some very fetching Christian Louboutins.) Williams said, “Ah, the Imelda fund.” And he described co-star Hank Azaria’s muscular biceps: “He’s got guns that make Michelle Obama look like an anorexic.”
IMG_7472-1.JPGOwen Wilson answered my question about the special challenges of his role as the tiny-in-stature but big-hearted cowboy Jedediah. He shot most of his scenes in a separate set to make it look as though he was only a few inches tall. “I never saw Hank or Ben, but Coogan was there. Jed doesn’t see himself as a miniature little cowboy. He is larger than life. You never had to worry about Shawn saying, ‘Do less.'”
They were all big fans of the Smithsonian and the other Washington sights. Adams said the Lincoln Memorial, where she and Stiller have a conversation with the huge marble President was “just gorgeous” at night, with a full moon. And Levy said that he loved exploring the Air and Space Museum at night with Stiller, when they had it all to themselves.
Levy said his biggest challenge in making the film was not the effects but his talented cast, who improvised constantly. “Almost every day we would throw out a plan.” Co-screenwriter Garant talked about how much he and Lennon enjoyed bringing all of the historical characters to life. “All of the characters are such archetypes they represent a giant idea.” And so they were able to include a couple sweet “would have been nice” moments in the film that allowed real-life characters to have conversations and experiences that never happened, but should have, as when the Tuskeegee Airmen got to thank Amelia Earhart for helping pave the way for their own unprecedented achievements.
IMG_7524.JPGDirector Levy commented on the Castle setting, too. He said that it wasn’t until they toured the Smithsonian and saw the original building that he knew where the bad guys’ hide-out in the movie had to be located. “We were inspired by the Gothic moodiness of the Castle,” he said. And so, with life imitating art, the Castle now houses the huge pile of Smithsonian treasures that appear in the film as the loot stored there by Ivan the Terrible, Napoleon, and Al Capone. Does that chair on the top of the pile look familiar? It is the chair used by Archie Bunker on the classic television show, “All in the Family.” The one in the movie is a replica, of course. The original is on display in the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History, now with a special new plaque:
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Actors Behind the Scenes Trailers, Previews, and Clips

‘Night at the Museum 2’ Press Conference, Part 1

Posted on May 16, 2009 at 11:22 am

Yesterday, I attended a press conference at the historic Smithsonian Castle and had the immeasurable and almost-surreal pleasure of sitting opposite Ben Stiller, Amy Adams, Robin Williams, Owen Wilson, Ricky Gervais, director Shawn Levy, and screenwriters Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, who were in Washington DC to talk about the sequel to the unexpected blockbuster “Night at the Museum.” This one is set in the world’s biggest (and in my biased opinion, best) museum complex, the Smithsonian Institution. I will be posting more shortly, but as a starter, here’s a short clip with Amy Adams talking about her role as Amelia Earhart and Levy talking about what he wants children and their families to learn from the film.

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Actors Behind the Scenes Interview Trailers, Previews, and Clips

Breakthrough Perfomer: Nicole Beharie

Posted on April 16, 2009 at 12:00 pm

“American Violet” is based on the true story of a woman who helped to expose corrupt and racist law enforcement in her Texas community with the help of the ACLU and local counsel. Dee, the lead role, is played by newcomer Nicole Beharie in a stunning performance mingling strength and vulnerability. Dee is afraid but never loses her dignity or her moral center. Be sure to check out Beliefnet’s exclusive clip to get a glimpse. Beharie is simply dazzling in this film and I look forward to seeing whatever she does next. I was thrilled to get a chance to interview her and found her every bit as engaging in person as she is on screen.
I was very relieved to find that this movie was not another in a long series that make the white person the hero in a story about black people. Although the lawyers are important, Dee really is the heart of the film. A lot of that comes from the vitality of your performance.
Thank you! But a lot of that comes from the script and their not wanting to do that. And some comes from the woman herself. Dee was very vocal up to the last deposition and suggested they use the African-American lawyer to depose the sheriff. It was a godsend that the attorneys showed up, but even before the lawyers showed up, Dee was active and outspoken.
Dee had to make some very tough choices under a lot of pressure. Could you have been as brave and persistent as she was?
I don’t know! Some days I say yes, some days no way. I like to believe that I could, seeing how much she sacrificed and how much it meant to her. It has made me think about what you do for the things you care about and what you ignore. Too often people do not do anything. They say, “They know what they’re doing” or “That’s the system.”
One thing that really impressed me was how many emotions you were able to convey at once — in some scenes you had to be scared and brave, worried and determined all at the same time. What do you to to prepare for a scene like the deposition or the one where your want to keep your daughters from their father and his girlfriend?
You take it all as personally as you possibly can, try to connect to it personally. What I thought of in the scene with my children’s father in that moment was fear for my children, a little bit of guilt in having them in this predicament, but once he busted those doors, its not about me — its about those two girls.
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What is your background?
I went to arts high school in Greenville, South Carolina, a public school for the arts and humanities. I fell in love with the notion of doing theater then. My director asked me to apply to drama school and gave me the 100 dollars for the Julliard application. I was accepted and studied there.
One thing that is so endearing about Dee is that with all of the stress and difficulty of her life, she still takes the time for some very serious hair. How do you act under all that?
Yes, Dee did give attention to her hair! I give a lot of credit to Charles Gregory Ross, who designed the hair and had it all laid out so I did not have to sit for hours. The most difficult thing was the bun with the freeze curls, all pinned and manipulated, and really heavy! Alfre Woodard had to deal with it to. She had a different look in every scene.
Your interaction with the girls who play your daughters feels very real and natural, even in the intense scenes. How did you work with them to make that happen?
I got a lot of my perspective from watching my mother raise the four of us. And when I first got to the set, before anything else happened, I got to work with the four real-life sisters who played my daughters. They had their own shorthand and hierarchy. They don’t know my name to this day. My name is Dee to them so it was natural for them to interact with me that way. And we involved them in the movie. All the artwork that is supposed to be from Dee’s children, so they got to see their own pictures hanging in Dee’s home.
Did you ever meet the woman known as Dee in the movie? What did you try to take from her in your performance?
I met her once I got to the set, but by then I had watched hours of footage. I paid attention to the way she looked out of the corner of her eye, to rhythmic things, to her pitch.
Are their particular performances that inspired you to want to go into acting?
“Miss Evers Boys” with Alfre, which made working with her so exciting for me, believe it or not “Ghostbusters,” “The Sound of Music,” “The Wiz.” I love Michel Gondry and really enjoyed his films, “Be Kind Rewind” and “The Science of Sleep.”
What’s next for you?
I did pilot for CBS, a medical show, and I play a social worker. And I have an Annenberg grant to develop my own material. I’m working on a theater program in South Africa.
And what makes you laugh?
My sister and my nephew make me laugh. He’s 12! My grandmother, too — my family will have me on the floor. They’re the only people who know what my goofy capabilities are.
Coming soon: an interview with “American Violet” screenwriter Bill Haney.

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Actors Breakthrough Perfomers Interview
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