Interview: Director John Goldschmidt on “Dough”

Posted on May 2, 2016 at 3:40 pm

John Goldschmidt is the director and co-producer of the film “Dough,” a sweet comedy about an Orthodox Jewish baker (Jonathan Pryce) whose new assistant is a Muslim teenager from Darfur who has a side business dealing weed. The marijuana gets mixed up in the bread, and suddenly the bakery has a lot of new customers just as a predatory developer is trying to take it over and the baker’s son is trying to get him to retire.

In an interview, he told me that he made this film because he was looking for a project that had “something to say about the state of the world that’s particularly relevant but it will also entertain, in other words a film that will treat serious issues with a comedic like touch.” In a film like this one, he said, casting the lead “sets the standard for everything” and attracts the other performers. His casting director, Celestia Fox, called to tell him she had seen Pryce at a party and he had a beard, so he already looked the part. “Jonathan is one of the most celebrated theater actors in London. Once he’s involved, other people seem to say, ‘This is must be a good project.’ So Pauline Collins, who acted with Jonathan Pryce years ago at the National Theater loved the script, knew about me and got involved.

It was more of a challenge to find the young man to play the African immigrant. “I auditioned a lot of people and choose six of them along with Jonathan Pryce to see the chemistry between them.” Jerome Holder won the role. “I chose Darfur as the country for this Muslim boy to come from because I had seen George Clooney’s film about the persecution of the African Muslims in their villages by Arab horsemen. I thought the people looked so beautiful. I wanted to avoid the complexities of the Middle East. I wanted it to be unencumbered by that whole situation. We needed to get all that detail about Darfur and we needed to get Jerome to have an African accent. He’s from a Christian family, a church based family. He had to acquire an African accent for his dialogue. He did very well I thought because I didn’t want it to be too strong for people to be alienated by it and yet he couldn’t really talk like a London guy. I didn’t want him to have a dialogue coach because if you get too self-conscious about these things it can knock around with your head. I just wanted him to retain his naturalness because he’d never been in a movie before.”

Goldschmidt, whose favorite Jewish bakery treat is challah, said Pryce spent a week in a kosher bakery to play a man who has been baking for decades. They shot in Budapest, where they completely replicated the Jewish bakery in North London. “My producers say that a lot of the best films about America are being made by European directors who see America through fresh eyes,” he told me. His own background contributes to his tendency to appreciate cultural differences. “My family are classified as victims of Nazi persecution. I was born in London, I grew up in Vienna. Came to England to go to art school when I was 17. And so in a sense although everyone thinks of me as totally British, I do have a slightly different angle on things. I just liked this particular idea because it’s like the odd couple. It’s about two characters who are as different as possible could be. One is old the other is young. One is black, the other is white. One is Jewish the other is a Muslim. I wanted to make an entertaining, uplifting movie in the end. This is the story of a very unlikely friendship and I wanted to make a film in these dark times where people would leave the cinema with a smile on their face and yet at the same time I wanted to address the issues that I thought one has to deal with in this period that we are living in.”

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Directors Interview

Chris Brown and Michael Phelps — What Do We Tell Kids?

Posted on February 9, 2009 at 3:42 pm

This has been something of a bad boy week. A-Rod confessed to steroid use. “Dark Knight” star Christian Bale was taped when he erupted into a furious and very profane rage at a technician on his set. A photograph of Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps puffing marijuana at a party was published in England. And assault allegations against pop star Chris Brown have already led to suspension of his ad campaign with Wrigley, though so far no charges have been filed.
This is particularly troubling in the case of Phelps (age 23) and Brown (age 19) because they have been role models for many young fans who may be disappointed and confused. It is a good chance for a family discussion of consequences — reputational and financial — for foolish choices. The Phelps photograph was apparently taken with a cell phone. Parents must make it clear to teenagers that in a world of omnipresent capacity for taking pictures and videos and instantly making them available via the internet, even if the subject is not a celebrity. Even these very young performers have devoted a great deal of time to building careers that rest as much on their reputations for honesty, dedication, and professionalism as on their talent. A momentary bad judgment has put all of that at risk. When our generation was in school, a threat was having some infraction on our “permanent record.” In today’s world, everything goes on the permanent record. Even a photograph removed from Facebook or Myspace lives on forever, to be accessed by potential employers, admissions directors, and friends. This is a good time to talk with them about the choices they make in posting photographs of others as well as those taken of them.
It is also a good time to talk about apologies. Bale said nothing for four days and then impulsively called into a radio station that had been making fun of him. While he apologized unreservedly, he said “I regret it. I ask everybody to sit down and ask themselves if they have ever had a bad day and lost their temper and really regretted it immensely.” That “bad day” reference sounds too much like an excuse; I guarantee the person who was having the bad day in that situation was the technician on the other end of the tirade. A-Rod tried the same “different era” excuse that Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain used to explain his $1.2 million office decorating expenses.
Phelps’ apology was prompt and unequivocal. He is suspended for three months from competing but his endorsement contracts seem to be staying with him. Brown has not yet made a statement. This is a good opportunity to talk to kids about what people do to acknowledge and rectify mistakes and about how loyal friends and fans can still support people even if they’re not perfect. And it is a good opportunity to let them know that however they feel — disappointed or supportive or both — that is legitimate and understandable.

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Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Pineapple Express

Posted on August 5, 2008 at 8:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Adult
MPAA Rating: Rated R for pervasive language, drug use, sexual references and violence.
Profanity: Constant extremely strong, vivid, profane, and crude language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters are drug dealers and characters are habitual drug abusers, drug use by adults and young teenagers
Violence/ Scariness: Very graphic blood-spattering violence, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: August 8, 2008

Another week, another Apatow movie. Another Apatow movie, another story of lame, pot-smoking slackers up to all kinds of hijinks and discovering the true meaning of friendship.


Comedy is often grounded in the pleasure of seeing someone get away with bad behavior we are not allowed to enjoy or seeing someone safely other than ourselves squirm through a nightmare scenario of humiliation and failure. This kind of comedy has an essential and revelatory childishness that reminds us, sitting comfortably in our stadium seating, how fine the line is between how we try to appear and what we are really thinking.

But whether that is slapstick like the Three Stooges bashing each other or outrageous behavior like Howard Stern’s radio show, there has to be something that keeps us on the side of the anti-heroes and this movie runs out of goodwill long before the finish. In The 40-Year-Old Virgin the leading man was a decent guy who just somehow missed one of the essential off-ramps to adulthood. In Superbad we get to witness one of those efforts to make it to the off-ramp as it happens. Adolescent behavior is expected when the characters are actual adolescents. But in this movie, most of the characters are unappealing, generic, and just too skeezy.

Except for James Franco. Casting directors take one look at those cheekbones and assign Franco to the brooding category. One of his early break-out roles was the broodiest of them all, the lead in a made-for-television biopic about James Dean. More recently, he smoldered his way through the “Spider-Man” movies as best friend/rival/nemesis Harry Osborn. Only Apatow saw Franco’s gifts as a comic actor and cast him in “Freaks and Geeks.”

As Saul, a sweetly stoned dealer who just wants to take care of his Bubbe, watch some television, and make some friends, he turns in one of the choicest comic performances of the year, making every moment about more than just being dim or baked. When he says that smoking the super-potent strain of marijuana that gives the film its name is almost like “killing a unicorn” or is happily reminded, when he says he’d like a job that involved hanging around and getting stoned all day that that is exactly the job he has, or when he unexpectedly finds the mental capacity to come up with an astounding list of possible ways that the bad guys might track them down, he gives us a character who is enchantingly caught up in a world of perpetual possibilities.

Seth Rogan, who co-wrote the script, is far less interesting as Dale, a 25-year-old process server with a high school girlfriend who is vastly more mature than he is. He can see that even through the constant cloud of marijuana smoke, and that only makes him more insecure and needy — and juvenile.

A vicious drug dealer (Gary Cole) and a corrupt cop (Rosie Perez) come after Dale and Saul, and various other people get caught up in the chase, including a fellow dealer whose loyalties are rather fluid (a funny Danny R. McBride). Extreme and graphic violence is interspersed with various stoner riffs and random encounters, including Bubbe’s assisted living facility and a surreal suburban family dinner with the parents of the high school girlfriend. Franco continues to find fresh ways to engage us but Perez and Cole are drastically underused and Rogan is as stale as last week’s bong water. It’s not outrageous enough, it’s not audacious enough, and it’s just not funny enough.

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Comedy Movies -- format
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