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Josh Hartnett on “August”

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07152008_joshhartnett1.jpgIn the mere decade he’s been filling movie screens, 30-year-old actor Josh Hartnett has already worked in both mega-budget studio flicks (“Pearl Harbor,” “Hollywood Homicide”) and with auteurs like Sofia Coppola (“The Virgin Suicides”), Robert Rodriguez (“The Faculty,” “Sin City”) and Brian De Palma (“The Black Dahlia”). Maintaining his stance with one foot in Hollywood, the other currently leaning more heavily in Indiewood, Hartnett’s latest — which he also co-produced — is a time warp back to New York during the summer of 2001. Only marginally a pre-9/11 film, director Austin Chick’s “August” is an implosive study in hubris set against the backdrop of the dot-com economic meltdown. Hartnett plays Tom Sterling, a narcissistic millionaire CEO who is far more concerned with his materialistic rock star image than he is for Landshark, the sinking ship of a company that he began with his brother Joshua (Adam Scott). Hartnett chatted with me about the film, why he considers himself a gambler, and being intimidated by co-star David Bowie.

As a well-recognized actor, have you ever thrown your celebrity weight around to get your way, as Tom does?

No, I’ve never considered such things. [laughs] Of course, yeah. There are times, especially in New York, where the nightlife is run by the loudest voice in the room. There are so many celebrities here in their own right who are just local celebrities, and it’s hard to keep that status alive. But I don’t play that game. I’ve seen a lot of people who are like that, and that’s where the character Tom came from, as far as my understanding of him. There aren’t that many situations where I have to throw a tantrum. I’m not all that demanding, I don’t think. My family might think otherwise.

What Landshark actually does or produces is kept largely ambiguous in the film. Were there any challenges or concerns approaching a character who had so many blanks to be filled in?

It just makes my job a little bit more creative. I get to decide more myself what his job really is, what the company is, and how he thinks his own life will play out. For this script, the character was so well written that I had faith that I wasn’t going to look moronic up there. Leaving it ambiguous was the right choice, and I think it turned out well. In a way, it’s not all that important to let the audience know what the company does. The more ambiguous Tom’s pitch is, the more people seem to buy it.

07152008_joshhartnett2.jpgAre you a tech geek in any way?

My abilities on the computer are limited pretty much to iTunes and YouTube. I check my email as much as anybody, but I’m more old-fashioned, in a certain sense. My interests are guitars, cars, and vacation. I’ve been playing guitar all my life. My dad was a professional guitarist, but I’m terrible, which lets me off the hook, so I just play for myself.

Speaking of musicians, David Bowie makes a wonderful cameo role in the film. Do you have any on-set anecdotes involving him, or for that matter, your co-star Rip Torn?

Rip’s a character — he said he’s worked on more films than any other American actor. I don’t know if that’s true, but he’s been around for a long time. We had a good relationship, and he was only on set for a few days, and David Bowie was only there for one day, so I didn’t really get to know either of them that well. But with Bowie, I was just awestruck when he was around. Right before Bowie came to set, I saw all his old videos, and that made me doubly intimidated by him when he got there.

Between Bowie, iTunes and your family of musicians, it’s probably fair to ask what you’re listening to these days.

Wolf Parade just came out with a new album, and I’ve got a huge musical infatuation with [vocalist-keyboardist-guitarist] Spencer Krug; I think he’s a genius. He has that band Sunset Rubdown, too, and Swan Lake. I’ve been really excited to hear the new album, so I’ve been listening to that a lot. My musical tastes go from Zeppelin to Bob Dylan to Kanye West and Lil’ Wayne. Anything modern and progressive.

What’s the biggest gamble you’ve ever taken?

Relying on the movie business to feed me was a pretty large gamble. I got lucky there. I’m kind of a gambler at heart. I take a lot of risks with my career and my life. I move around a lot, and I love my family and friends, but I do kind of keep moving and don’t spend a lot of time in one place. I traveled to China a little bit last year — that was exciting, but I won’t [be traveling again until] the beginning of next year, because I’m doing this play in London, which is also a gamble.

07152008_joshhartnett3.jpgYou mean the Tom Cruise role in a “Rain Man” stage adaptation? I had no idea that project existed until this week.

It was just written into a play last year. They sent it to me, and I was thinking at first, why would I reprise a role that was done so well before? Why would I take on a theater piece based on a movie? But I read the script, and I couldn’t deny it was one of the richest characters I’ve ever read. I’ve been looking for a piece of theater to do, in London specifically. One of the producers who I’ve met with out there sent it to me and said, “I think this would be terrific for you.” I read it, loved it, we went out and found a director, another actor, and here we are.

What preconceived notions do you think people have about actors, acting, or even you as an actor?

The perception of me has hopefully changed over the years. At the beginning of my career, it was odd to me that people saw me so much as the heroic type. “Pearl Harbor” was one of those heroic characters, and that was the biggest movie I was in, but I try to experiment with different types of characters. My first film was Robert Rodriguez’s “The Faculty,” and I played the reluctant cool guy. In “The Virgin Suicides,” I played something that I thought was completely different, and worked my way up like any other actor in the industry. Then suddenly, there was this invitation put out to journalists to categorize me when I did “Pearl Harbor,” and that was obviously a huge publicity machine. I found myself at the center of it, and I’ve been labeled ever since.

I hope the work I’m doing is showing people that I’m a real actor and that I want to try different things. In general, I think actors are labeled as pampered and [not having] a lot of scruples. I know a lot of actors who are incredibly intelligent and care very much about all areas in life. They’re not just preening in the mirror all day long… but some are like that, too.

“August” is currently playing in New York and will be released in Los Angeles on July 18th.

[Photos: Josh Hartnett in “August,” First Look International, 2008]

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WTF Films

Artfully Off

Celebrity All-Star by Sisters Weekend is available now on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Sisters Weekend isn’t like other comedy groups. It’s filmmaking collaboration between besties Angelo Balassone, Michael Fails and Kat Tadesco, self-described lace-front addicts with great legs who write, direct, design and produce video sketches and cinematic shorts that are so surreally hilarious that they defy categorization. One such short film, Celebrity All-Star, is the newest addition to IFC’s Comedy Crib. Here’s what they had to say about it in a very personal email interview…

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IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Celebrity All-Star is a short film about an overworked reality TV coordinator struggling to save her one night off after the cast of C-List celebrities she wrangles gets locked out of their hotel rooms.

IFC: How would you describe Celebrity All-Star to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Sisters Weekend: It’s this short we made for IFC where a talent coordinator named Karen babysits a bunch of weird c-list celebs who are stuck in a hotel bar. It’s everyone you hate from reality TV under one roof – and that roof leaks because it’s a 2-star hotel. There’s a magician, sexy cowboys, and a guy wearing a belt that sucks up his farts.

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IFC: What was the genesis of Celebrity All-Star?

Celebrity All-Star was born from our love of embarrassing celebrities. We love a good c-lister in need of a paycheck! We were really interested in the canned politeness people give off when forced to mingle with strangers. The backstory we created is that the cast of this reality show called “Celebrity All-Star” is in the middle of a mandatory round of “get to know each other” drinks in the hotel bar when the room keys stop working. Shows like Celebrity Ghost Hunters and of course The Surreal Life were of inspo, but we thought it
was funny to keep it really vague what kind of show they’re on, and just focus on everyone’s diva antics after the cameras stop rolling.

IFC: Every celebrity in Celebrity All-Star seems familiar. What real-life pop personalities did you look to for inspiration?

Sisters Weekend: Anyone who is trying to plug their branded merch that no one asked for. We love low-rent celebrity. We did, however, directly reference Kylie Jenner’s turd-raison lip color for our fictional teen celebutante Gibby Kyle (played by Mary Houlihan).

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IFC: Celebrity seems disgusting yet desirable. What’s your POV? Do you crave it, hate it, or both?

Sisters Weekend: A lot of people chase fame. If you’re practical, you’ll likely switch to chasing success and if you’re smart, you’ll hopefully switch to chasing happiness. But also, “We need money. We need hits. Hits bring money, money bring power, power bring fame, fame change the game,” Young Thug.

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IFC: Who are your comedy idols?

Sisters Weekend: Mike grew up renting “Monty Python” tapes from the library and staying up late to watch 2000’s SNL, Kat was super into Andy Kaufman and “Kids In The Hall” in high school, and Angelo was heavily influenced by “Strangers With Candy” and Anna Faris in the Scary Movie franchise, so, our comedy heroes mesh from all over. But, also we idolize a lot of the people we work with in NY-  Lorelei Ramirez, Erin Markey, Mary Houlihan, who are all in the film, Amy Zimmer, Ana Fabrega, Patti Harrison, Sam Taggart. Geniuses! All of Em!

IFC: What’s your favorite moment from the film?

Sisters Weekend: I mean…seeing Mary Houlihan scream at an insane Pomeranian on an iPad is pretty great.

See Sisters Weekend right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib

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Reality? Check.

Baroness For Life

Baroness von Sketch Show is available for immediate consumption.

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Baroness von Sketch Show is snowballing as people have taken note of its subtle and not-so-subtle skewering of everyday life. The New York Times, W Magazine, and Vogue have heaped on the praise, but IFC had a few more probing questions…

IFC: To varying degrees, your sketches are simply scripted examples of things that actually happen. What makes real life so messed up?

Aurora: Hubris, Ego and Selfish Desires and lack of empathy.

Carolyn: That we’re trapped together in the 3rd Dimension.

Jenn: 1. Other people 2. Other people’s problems 3. Probably something I did.

IFC: A lot of people I know have watched this show and realized, “Dear god, that’s me.” or “Dear god, that’s true.” Why do people have their blinders on?

Aurora: Because most people when you’re in the middle of a situation, you don’t have the perspective to step back and see yourself because you’re caught up in the moment. That’s the job of comedians is to step back and have a self-awareness about these things, not only saying “You’re doing this,” but also, “You’re not the only one doing this.” It’s a delicate balance of making people feel uncomfortable and comforting them at the same time.

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IFC: Unlike a lot of popular sketch comedy, your sketches often focus more on group dynamics vs iconic individual characters. Why do you think that is and why is it important?

Meredith: We consider the show to be more based around human dynamics, not so much characters. If anything we’re more attracted to the energy created by people interacting.

Jenn: So much of life is spent trying to work it out with other people, whether it’s at work, at home, trying to commute to work, or even on Facebook it’s pretty hard to escape the group.

IFC: Are there any comedians out there that you feel are just nailing it?

Aurora: I love Key and Peele. I know that their show is done and I’m in denial about it, but they are amazing because there were many times that I would imagine that Keegan Michael Key was in the scene while writing. If I could picture him saying it, I knew it would work. I also kind of have a crush on Jordan Peele and his performance in Big Mouth. Maya Rudolph also just makes everything amazing. Her puberty demon on Big Mouth is flawless. She did an ad for 7th generation tampons that my son, my husband and myself were singing around the house for weeks. If I could even get anything close to her career, I would be happy. I’m also back in love with Rick and Morty. I don’t know if I have a crush on Justin Roiland, I just really love Rick (maybe even more than Morty). I don’t have a crush on Jerry, the dad, but I have a crush on Chris Parnell because he’s so good at being Jerry.

Jenn: I LOVE ISSA RAE!

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IFC: If you could go back in time and cast yourselves in any sitcom, which would it be and how would it change?

Carolyn: I’d go back in time and cast us in The Partridge Family.  We’d make an excellent family band. We’d have a laugh, break into song and wear ruffled blouses with velvet jackets.  And of course travel to all our gigs on a Mondrian bus. I feel really confident about this choice.

Meredith: Electric Mayhem from The Muppet Show. It wouldn’t change, they were simply perfect, except… maybe a few more vaginas in the band.

Binge the entire first and second seasons of Baroness von Sketch Show now on IFC.com and the IFC app.

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G.I. Jeez

Stomach Bugs and Prom Dates

E.Coli High is in your gut and on IFC's Comedy Crib.

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Brothers-in-law Kevin Barker and Ben Miller have just made the mother of all Comedy Crib series, in the sense that their Comedy Crib series is a big deal and features a hot mom. Animated, funny, and full of horrible bacteria, the series juxtaposes timeless teen dilemmas and gut-busting GI infections to create a bite-sized narrative that’s both sketchy and captivating. The two sat down, possibly in the same house, to answer some questions for us about the series. Let’s dig in….

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IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

BEN: Hi ummm uhh hi ok well its like umm (gets really nervous and blows it)…

KB: It’s like the Super Bowl meets the Oscars.

IFC: How would you describe E.Coli High to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

BEN: Oh wow, she’s really cute isn’t she? I’d definitely blow that too.

KB: It’s a cartoon that is happening inside your stomach RIGHT NOW, that’s why you feel like you need to throw up.

IFC: What was the genesis of E.Coli High?

KB: I had the idea for years, and when Ben (my brother-in-law, who is a special needs teacher in Philly) began drawing hilarious comics, I recruited him to design characters, animate the series, and do some writing. I’m glad I did, because Ben rules!

BEN: Kevin told me about it in a park and I was like yeah that’s a pretty good idea, but I was just being nice. I thought it was dumb at the time.

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IFC: What makes going to proms and dating moms such timeless and oddly-relatable subject matter?

BEN: Since the dawn of time everyone has had at least one friend with a hot mom. It is physically impossible to not at least make a comment about that hot mom.

KB: Who among us hasn’t dated their friend’s mom and levitated tables at a prom?

IFC: Why do you think the world is ready for this series?

BEN: There’s a lot of content now. I don’t think anyone will even notice, but it’d be cool if they did.

KB: A show about talking food poisoning bacteria is basically the same as just watching the news these days TBH.

Watch E.Coli High below and discover more NYTVF selections from years past on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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