Sunday, January 29, 2012

My 2nd Leonardo Di Caprio Interview (J. Edgar)

DiCaprio at his best in J. Edgar
By Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated January 23, 2012 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

MANILA, Philippines - Funny how this writer regularly find interesting tidbits of regular, random conversation between stars and their handlers when I review my recording before I start transcribing my interviews. The exchanges are mostly about the temperature of the room where the interviews are being held or whether the stars needed something before we start counting down the 30 minutes allotted to us. To my welcome surprise, my recorder offered me just that when I was reviewing the interview I had with Hollywood superstar Leonardo DiCaprio recently.

This writer met with the handsome actor sometime in November last year during the junket of his current movie, Warner Bros.’ J. Edgar, the acclaimed biopic directed by the legendary Clint Eastwood.

Ordinarily, we start running the recorder just as soon as we get notice that the star is on his way to join us in our interview suite. So, just as we were about to begin our interview, I started my recorder and it captured a brief but charming exchange between Leo and his handler just as he was settling in to his seat. The subject of the conversation was rather trivial but it offered something new to add to the list of things that make the actor really, really nice and likable in person.

The handler asked if he wanted a cappuccino instead of the regular coffee he brought with him. Leo initially said yes but later declined the offer. “I wish I had a cappuccino,” he said. “But actually I don’t want one. This is my fifth cup.” You know what made it really interesting? First, he was drinking the same coffee that everyone was drinking and, second, it was only 10 in the morning yet he already had five cups of coffee!

Leo is already in his mid-30s with few telltale signs of fine wrinkles up close yet, if one would listen closely to his voice when he speaks, one wouldn’t notice anything different to the Leo today and to the young actor who played Jack in Titanic 15 years ago. He still has that distinct voice and speaking style that’s a cross between an excitable young adult and an impatient adolescent.

Ask him anything and he will give you a lengthy but substantial response. He is famous for his utmost dedication to his craft and one can glean this trait when he starts talking about the current project he is doing or promoting.

J. Edgar, is based on the life of former FBI director J. Edgar Hoover who is considered by many as perhaps the most powerful and feared person in America during his time. The movie brings to light the true story of the enigmatic J. Edgar — from the creation of the FBI to his much-whispered homosexuality. Leo’s powerful and impassioned performance has garnered some of the best reviews of his career and he is expected to receive his fourth Oscar Best Actor nomination when the nominations are announced on Feb. 24 — but just don’t mention it to him.

“The truth is I have learned through my experiences in this industry that there is absolutely no way to control or do anything as far as people’s opinions on your performance or movie — and that is the truth,” he declared emphatically when asked about his Oscar chances. “You go out there and you promote your film and you hope people like the work that you did and they are gonna respond the way they are gonna respond when they are in the room with that ballot. Who knows? I am thankful that people are talking about it but ultimately, I truly have no control over it. I really don’t.”

Make no mistake about it, Leo’s performance in J. Edgar is not just one of the strongest this year, it is also one of his best ever. And he could just win the Oscar any year with this performance. Again, just don’t mention it to him.

“I don’t think anyone would say that they wouldn’t want one. They’d be lying, I think. But that is not my motivation when I do these roles. I really am motivated by being able to work with great people.”

He added that he was more interested in having a “creative body of work for myself that I can look back and be proud of.”

“I was 15 years old when I had my first opportunity in movies. I went and watched movies for a year and a half. I watched every possible great film and every great performance I could and since then I’ve said to myself how could I ever emulate such great artistic master that’s been done in cinemas past. That’s really my motivation and that’s a fact. I feel like I want to do something as good as what all my heroes have done.”

Leo picks his projects meticulously. He revealed that two of the primary reasons why he did J. Edgar were the opportunity to finally get to work with Mr. Eastwood and to be able to play a character as complex and ambiguous as J. Edgar Hoover. Some critics have noted that he seems to be attracted to suffering and tormented characters. Case in point is his two masterful turns in Martin Scorsese’s taut thriller Shutter Island and Christopher Nolan’s mind-blowing masterpiece Inception last year.

In J. Edgar, he adds another great character to his body of work that already includes, among many others, Howard Hughes in The Aviator, controversial poet Arthur Rimbaud in Total Eclipse and, of course, Romeo Montague in Baz Lurhman’s now classic Romeo+Juliet.

What attracted him to J. Edgar Hoover’s story was his unquestioned place in American history. “His life was a reflection of the changing of our country,” he said. “I think that he had great intentions for our country. I think that most of what he did was under the auspices of being a great patriot and great American and I think that he also really wanted personal glory. He was very ambitious... (FBI) was his baby and he wanted to be the symbol of it — the symbol of power in his office — and to hold on to that power at any cost necessary. It’s hard to like somebody who has that kind of attitude about their job, but I do believe he was a patriot and his intentions for protecting our country were there.”

J. Edgar Hoover is credited for creating the most powerful and most sophisticated law enforcement agency in the world but at the expense of personal liberty and freedom as some critics would contend. “He had despicable tactics towards the end of his life but it was all under the auspices of the fact that he thought he was a great patriot and he was doing a service to the country.”

Another aspect of J. Edgar Hoover’s mysterious life that’s tackled in the movie is his presumed homosexuality, including his apparent life-long love affair with his assistant Clyde Tolson, who is portrayed in the movie by handsome newcomer Armie Hammer. Note: The Screen Actors Guild recognized Armie’s impressive performance with aBest Supporting Actor nomination.

Oscar-winning actress Judi Dench and Oscar-nominated actress Naomi Watts are also part of the incredible cast.
Leo may be too modest to talk about how impressive he was in this movie but there is no denying that his powerful performance carries the movie as it navigates through the more than 50 years in J. Edgar Hoover’s colorful life. Watch it and be amazed.

(J. Edgar opens in theaters on Jan. 25)

My Robert Downy, Jr. Interview (Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows)

The game is on for Robert Downey Jr.
By Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated January 06, 2012 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

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Robert is back as the world’s most famous detective Sherlock Holmes in A Game of Shadows
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MANILA, Philippines- There is a small, cozy coffee shop in a little corner along Melrose Ave. near San Vicente in West Hollywood called Urth Caffe that’s a favorite among Hollywood celebrities who seek those few minutes of anonymity while doing some of the most basic errands ordinary folks do  like getting in line for a cup of their favorite coffee.

A couple of months back, while this writer was at this coffeeshop, a Hollywood power couple quietly sauntered into the shop and unassumingly took their spot in the usual long queue to order what I assume was coffee for him and hot chocolate for her and pretty much enjoyed being in a crowd where everyone was polite enough to just give them a quick recognizing look and leave them to their privacy. Unfortunately for them, we were there.

One of my friends recognized Robert Downey Jr. even if he was clad in full winter garb and a bonnet and immediately alerted us. I had to take a second look to confirm. Yes, it was Robert with his pregnant wife, producer Susan Downey.

Thrilled as were, we pretended that we were cool about this celebrity sighting  but I had to alert my Facebook friends about it, though  and kept our distance. I have met and interviewed Robert before but when you’re someone who adores the movies and movie stars like me, nothing beats the exhilaration of unexpectedly bumping into a superstar in person.

And lo and behold, a week after that fun “fan” day, I received an invitation to the press junket for Warner Bros.’ SherlockHolmes: A Game of Shadows. I was doing an interview with Robert! I didn’t have to think twice before accepting the invite, previous commitments be damned.

You just don’t say no to Robert Downey Jr.
With Jude Law, who reprises his role as Sherlock’s trusted friend Dr. Watson

The Hollywood superstar belongs to that rarefied group of actors whose name alone can command instant adulation. He is A-list in the truest sense of the word. His last four movies made nearly $1.5B in worldwide box-office! And he is so cool about it. He can even be lighthearted and funny.

At the junket, during the cast press conference, someone asked Robert who between him and his producer-wife was the boss at home and the actor replied in his typical dry humor: “First of all, I am definitely the boss at home,” he stressed with a sly smile forming on his face. “And I am also the boss on the set!”

“There is no room for discussion ever,” he continued. “I am so happy she’s sitting in the back of me right now because that’s where she belongs.” Susan, who, along with Joel Silver, has produced Robert’s string of megahits beginning with 2008’s Iron Man, was present during the junket and laughed along with everyone else.

But, no, the Urth Caffe encounter was never brought up.

Robert has enjoyed an enviable success over the past couple of years. He has two huge franchise hits to his name: Iron Man and Sherlock Holmes.

In the latter, the actor returns as the world’s most famous and smartest detective which again features the returning Jude Law, as Sherlock’s trusted friend Dr. Watson, and director Guy Ritchie, whose hyper-kinetic directorial style provided the original Sherlock Holmes a distinctive appeal.

“Robert was a great friend to me so it was with great enthusiasm that we embarked on the second one,” Guy replied when asked to describe how it was working with Robert again, “and I enjoyed it more than the first.”

Jude skipped the L.A. junket because he had a previous commitment in London.

The stunning and beautiful Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, who made a splash last year when she made the original The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo joined the junket and was surprisingly relaxed and very articulate in person. She stars in the movie as the mysterious gypsy woman who may hold the key to Sherlock solving his current case.

This is Noomi’s first Hollywood movie (she will be appearing in Ridley Scott’s Alien prequel, Prometheus later this summer) and she revealed to us how both excited and nervous she was when she learned that, for her first Hollywood outing, she was going to be in a movie with Robert, which proves that, apparently, no one is immune to Robert’s charm, even among actors.

“I was a bit nervous,” she said. “I met Robert and Susan six weeks before we started in a very intense and crazy 30 minutes in their office and Robert was on the floor trying to find a fan for me because he’s like, ‘Noomi needs a fan because it’s way too hot for her,’ and he was just fantastic from the first moment I met him.”

Robert with Swedish actress Noomi Rapace, who plays a mysterious gypsy in the film
“He was so sweet. We had a good chat. We talked about movies, dreams and what kind of things we want to do,” she added. 

To the curious, the answer is “No.” Noomi wasn’t offered nor she turned down the American version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. She told this writer during a private conversation that she made it clear after finishing the original Swedish trilogy that she will not revisit Lisbeth Salander again because, according to her, the character and the movie took a such huge emotional toll on her.

But I digress.

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows also brings to screen Sherlock’s foremost enemy, the equally clever Professor James Moriarty, portrayed by British actor Jared Harris.

This rousing and action-packed movie jumps from London and takes the audience to an adventure in France, Germany and in Switzerland. Complementing the thrilling journey is the impressive production design, which is such a visual delight, and the original music composed by Oscar-winning Hans Zimmer, which incorporated authentic gypsy music into the score.

The sequel has retained nearly the same team from the first Sherlock Holmes. Even Rachel McAdams provides a brief cameo in the movie.

Among the characters he has portrayed, Robert considers Sherlock among his favorites. “I am not particularly like Sherlock,” he said, “I think the great thing about it is Jude and I found a lot of escapism and aspects of ourselves in Holmes and Watson.”

Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows opens Jan. 8. in theaters.

My Laura Dern Interview

Laura Dern gets Enlightened
By Raymond de Asis Lo L.A. Correspondent (The Philippine Star) Updated January 04, 2012 12:00 AM Comments (0) View comments

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Laura Dern with Luke Wilson, who plays her good-for-nothing ex-husband.
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MANILA, Philippines - Just because one is an activist, that doesn’t mean one has to sacrifice one’s sense of style. For award-winning actress Laura Dern, who is a staunch supporter of the Healthy Child Healthy World organization, a worldwide campaign to provide protection and care of children affected by environmental disasters, the stylish way to do it is by donning the luxurious Italian brand Prada — occasionally, that is.

“Save the planet and a few dresses,” the beautiful star joked during an interview in Beverly Hills a few months ago before coyly adding, “we have our own weaknesses,” to the delight and understanding of the international press present during theHBO event held in July.
Laura’s choice of wardrobe was excusable. She had to look lovely as she was doing press for her new TV series, the comedy-drama Enlightened, which premiered this month in the Philippines and airs every Tuesday at 10 p.m. on the HBO Signature channel.

The Hollywood veteran is a life-long advocate for social activism and her new series is a culmination of her long-held dream to reach out to as many people as possible: Challenge her audience to think about issues vital to society, make them aware of what’s going on and, if possible, get them to act and be catalysts for change.

“I want to play a woman who is so enraged by the apathy in this country — which seems to just be a given now, like, we never march on the streets; it’s gone!” the actress offered when asked what was her motivation for Amy, her character in the series, which she co-wrote with acclaimed filmmaker Mike White. (Note: this interview took place during the middle of summer, a couple of months before the Occupy Movement was launched in Wall Street and inspired similar Occupy protests all over the world. Laura must have had a wonderful holiday seeing how many people seemed to have been reawakened to societal inequities and started demanding for real change.)

“It’s just tragic,” she added. “Maybe the blessing of what we witnessed in Egypt is, ‘Oh, we can actually do that again and it will start to transform things,’ but in the last so many years, we all witnessed that America stopped being angry and so, I thought, ‘What does it take to actually use your voice,’ especially for women because there are issues on what women are supposed to be like.”

Laura co-stars with real-life mom Dianne Ladd in the HBO series
Laura, despite growing up in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and being the daughter of great actors Bruce Dern and Dianne Ladd, was someone who was always aware and who always exercised her position in the industry to stir attention in the social causes that she believes in.

She stars as Amy in Enlightened, a self-destructive health and beauty executive who, feeling all trapped and unable to cope with pressures to her personal life, had a very public workplace meltdown and spent a few months at a treatment center. After she recovered, she returned and surprised everyone by just casually picking up the pieces of her old life and uncharacteristically deciding to take on a different personal path — one that she hoped would reshape the world around her.

She is “a rager (sic) who becomes a whistleblower,” was how she described her character. “I think we all share something that my character shares. It’s a character who turns on CNN and is devastated at every moment because something horrific is going down and she is the kind of person who feels everything in an enormous way which is a cause for great comedy as well as sadness because she can’t contain it.”

Laura’s real-life mom, Diane, is also starring in the series along with Luke Wilson, who plays her good-for-nothing ex-husband.

This is not Laura’s first HBO project. She previously appeared and received numerous awards in the 2008 television movie Recount, which was based on the contentious 2000 US presidential elections.

The actress is widely known to film enthusiasts for her startling turns and memorable performances in several David Lynch classics (Blue Velvet, Wild At Heart, Inland Empire) and her record-setting 1991 Oscar nomination for Rambling Rose. That recognition was significant because she was nominated for Best Actress in the Martha Coolidge drama while her mom was cited for Best Supporting Actress — the first time a mother and daughter tandem ever received Oscar nominations on the same year!

Over the years, she appeared in several Hollywood blockbusters (Jurassic Park, Little Fockers, etc.) but she most notably thrived as one of the best actresses working in smaller independent movies and, in Enlightened, she continues her association with independent filmmakers by working with noted directors Jonathan Demme, Miguel Arteta and co-writer Mike White, whose own nervous breakdown partially inspired the story, too.

In a career spanning nearly four decades, Laura has seen Hollywood rise and fall. Independent filmmakers come and go, and in the present, she, along with many independent artists, considers HBO her home.

“Working for a big studio is not where I get to tell a story now,” she explained when asked to assess her experience in the business. “Now, HBO is the Fox Searchlight because all the studios had their indie companies disappear because the hedge funds disappeared and the banks disappeared in America. Luckily, HBO is willing to do very brave content and has the money to support it.”

The leading cable network, HBO, has produced some of the best, very popular and most provocative series on television in recent years: True Blood, Hung, Sex and the City, Boardwalk Empire, The Sopranos, among many others.

Viewers will see more of Laura because Enlightened has just been renewed for another season by HBO.

— With reports from Anselmo Manosca

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