MVP of the Month: Michael Stuhlbarg

Posted on December 30, 2017 at 1:46 pm

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Movie critics have been releasing their end-of-year top ten lists and mine, like many others, includes three films that feature one of Hollywood’s finest actors, Michael Stuhlbarg. In “The Post” he plays New York Times Executive Editor Abe Rosenthal, friend and rival of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, played by Meryl Streep. In “The Shape of Water,” he plays a scientist at a top-secret government lab who is hiding a secret of his own. And in “Call Me By Your Name” he plays a professor deeply imbued with culture and learning spending the summer with his family in Northern Italy. The wise, compassionate speech he makes to comfort his heartbroken son is one of the most moving scenes ever filmed.

I once had the privilege of interviewing Stuhlbarg. The movie we were talking about was “A Serious Man,” written and directed by the Coen brothers, where he played a professor of physics. In one scene set in a classroom he covers the blackboard with equations, writing so quickly that I assumed it was a camera trick until the shot opened up and it was clear that it was him and he really was writing all of the numbers and Greek letters as though he had been doing it all his life. I asked him about it and his answer was simple, straightforward, and very meaningful. He said that the character would have been able to write all of the equations very fluidly and he wanted to make it look as though he was completely familiar and at ease, and so every night he just wrote them and wrote them and wrote them over and over until it was completely natural.

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Stuhlbarg is an immensely talented actor who brings enormous depth to every role. I highly recommend taking a look at “Men in Black 3” to see his gem of a performance as an ineffably sweet alien with extraordinary powers of perception and “Steve Jobs,” where he plays a frustrated computer scientist who finally speaks up to his demanding boss. He is also outstanding in “Trumbo” as Edward G. Robinson, a sophisticated art collector who played tough guys in movies and as actual tough guy Arnold Rothstein in “Boardwalk Empire.”

Stuhlbarg will return to Italy in the upcoming “Gore,” playing the longtime partner of writer and enfant terrible Gore Vidal. I am looking forward to it.

Originally published on HuffPost

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MVP of the Month: Brie Larson

Posted on August 17, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Brie_larsonI had the great pleasure of speaking to Brie Larson in 2006 about her film, “Hoot,” and I thought she was terrific, both in person and in the film. Last week, I had the even greater pleasure of seeing her in three outstanding new independent films.  In “The Spectacular Now,” she plays the popular high school girl who breaks up with the main character but acknowledges that he’ll “always be my favorite ex-boyfriend.”  She has just one line in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s “Don Jon,” but it shows that throughout all the other scenes where she was texting as her family argued all around her she was paying better attention to what was going on than any of them.  And she stars in the heart-wrenching “Short Term 12” as a sympathetic aide in a facility for abused and neglected teenagers who is still struggling with her own history of abuse.  Larson was funny, smart, and very real in the wild comedy “21 Jump Street,” and it is great to see her get a chance to explore a wider range of characters.  Up ahead, “Basimati Blues” with Donald Sutherland and Tyne Daly and “Relanxious” with Olivia Wilde and Jason Sudeikis.  Can’t wait.

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Interview: Katie Wexler of MVP

Posted on March 1, 2012 at 8:00 am

Katie Wexler is one of the stars of Most Valuable Players, a sensational new documentary about three high school teams competing to win the Freddy Awards for theatrical productions.  The Freddys are like the high school version of the Tony Awards.  The movie shows that musical theater can be as thrillingly suspenseful and wildly entertaining backstage as it is from a front-row seat.  Katie answered my questions about her dream role, her biggest challenge, and the best advice she ever got about performing.

What’s your favorite role that you’ve played and what’s one you wish you could play?
Picking a favorite role is tough! I always equate working on a show to gaining a best friend in the character you’re playing, and then never getting to spend time with them once the show closes. It sounds mildly morbid I guess, but that’s the kind of bond I form with the leading ladies I’ve played. I think I’d have to say I had the most fun playing Dot in Sunday in the Park with George. She is fiesty and hilarious and the range of growth she experiences throughout the show is tremendous, challenging, and an incredible ride for the actress on board. I am getting ready to work on Reno inAnything Goes in the spring time and she may give Dot a run for her money in the feisty department, so we’ll see how I feel come April!
Now dream role? Well, that’s every actor’s favorite question! No brainer. Eva Peron in Evita. And not the movie-Madonna-stuff…I mean Patti LuPone-Tony-Award-winning stuff!
Do you have a favorite musical?
I pace back and forth on the favorite musical spectrum between Sweeney Todd and1776. So, either a vengeful-murdering-singing-barber or singing-dancing-founding fathers. See? How can you not love musical theatre?!
What surprised you when you first began to learn about Broadway musical theater?
Hmm. “Broadway” musical theatre is such a teensy tiny microcosm of the art form ‘musical theatre’. There are brilliant musical theatre productions both old and new being mounted all over the United States in regional theatres, even some that tour through it! Broadway is only the tip of this wonderful iceberg. The regional theatres that adapt, engineer, and re-engineer timeless favorites, as well as invent new pieces that may make their way to Broadway, all over the country are the unsung heroes of the musical theatre world, I think.
What has been your biggest challenge as a performer?
Letting go. And whatever ‘letting go’ means on that day; whether it’s leaving behind stress, a terrible day, letting go of preconceived notions of what is ‘silly’ or feels uncomfortable. Letting go of insecurities and trusting yourself, fellow actors, and directors is so important. There’s really no room once you’re in the rehearsal space for anything else but letting go to the show or the piece and letting the work have an untainted life of its own.
What’s the best advice you ever got about performing? 
Embrace your own uniqueness. The sooner a performer is ok with who they are; I mean fully come to terms with flaws, insecurities, weaknesses, strengths, and skills, and like it. Love it! Our job is to honestly portray humans on stage and what a better well to draw inspiration from than the life you know best—your own!
Do the Freddy Awards create too much pressure or do they inspire kids to do their best?
As far as my experiences have informed me, there are no negative consequences of the Freddy Awards. Of course some people will take competitive situations to the next level, but that’s any situation in life. It’s no different from kid’s pitting rival sports teams against each other in high school, it’s another way we motivate ourselves to do better. I know concerns had been expressed that theatre was such a different medium than sports that to “judge” and “win” were somehow bad words to qualify an art form, but from my experiences in the theatre both at the college level and professionally, it is painfully competitive out there just as much for actors as it is for professional athletes. High school thespians deserve their moment in the limelight for all the heart and time those kids put into the productions, and the Freddy’s has done a great job at giving it to them. If a little competition brings the community into the process and pushes these young artists to work harder, I say no harm no foul!

Tomorrow: An interview with Producer/Director Matthew Kallis.

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