DID YOU READ

Interview: Melissa Leo, Misty Upham and Courtney Hunt on “Frozen River”

Posted by on

07292008_frozenriver1.jpgBy Stephen Saito

When Melissa Leo went home for Christmas last year, she took a copy of “Frozen River” to show her family. It was a month before the film would go on to pick up the Grand Jury Prize for drama at Sundance, but those closest to Leo wasting no time in observing that “this is different.” Therein lies part of the charm of Courtney Hunt’s debut feature, a thriller that veers with the same reckless abandon in its narrative as its two leads do behind the wheel of a rickety Dodge Spirit, ferrying illegal immigrants across the St. Lawrence River in the trunk. “Homicide” alum Leo and Misty Upham play Ray and Lila, the prickly pair of single mothers/smugglers who struggle to make ends meet by forming an unlikely partnership that utilizes Ray’s car and Lila’s status as a Mohawk protected from the cops by her residency on tribal land. As a director, Hunt had to be even more resourceful in translating “River” from its previous incarnations — first, as a poem, then a short film — into a feature that could be shot over 24 days in sub-zero conditions in Plattsburgh, New York. The result is a chick flick that Quentin Tarantino could love — and does, as Hunt, Upham and Leo recently told me during a sit-down at, ironically enough, the Los Angeles Film Festival.

How did the short become the feature?

Courtney Hunt: I wrote a poem, I had a central image — women driving across the ice. There’s a smuggling culture that exists at the border up there and I was fascinated by why people would do that. The poem came out as an interior monologue of Ray’s character, and I went up and shot the short with Melissa and Misty and then we waited to see…is this going to catch on? Are we onto something here? We went to the New York Film Festival and I got a strong sense that there was an idea there people wanted to hear more about, so I went home and just poured out the idea as it was kind of coming together in my head. I threw out the short and started over again and wrote the story from beginning to end.

Was the chemistry there between you two from the start?

Misty Upham: The first night of the short when we met and we spent time together, I think I fell in love with her immediately and through the short, we really just became sisters.

Melissa Leo: We really bonded as actors. There were a lot of dimensions to our relationship — teasing each other, being hard on one another, being gentle and kind — all those different colors. Ray and Lila have certain ways they deal with each other, but Misty and Melissa dealt with each other on all those [levels]. It was a great working relationship.

07292008_frozenriver2.jpgThis film almost plays like a heist film in terms of its energy, and I remember seeing an interview where you mentioned you were disappointed with how female-driven films were usually referred dismissively as “character studies” or “relationship dramas.” How did that impact what you ended up putting on screen?

CH: I was concerned with that because sometimes women-driven films are criticized for being too talky or too concerned with relationships and not committed to just [telling] a good yarn that keeps you on the edge of your seat. When I stumbled upon the situation of these women who smuggled, I was like this is good, because they’re doing something. I had to work backwards and figure out why, so I could put the relationship in. The action part of it appealed to me first, even though it’s not an action picture.

ML: Oh! I thought it was!

CH: It was…[both laugh] because she did all the driving. [points to Leo] But the action part of it, you set it up that way and then the relationships take care of themselves. You set up the motivation, you set up the action.

And because of the budget level, I’m assuming you had to do your own driving.

ML: That was primarily why Courtney cast us. We had a driving test and she and I both passed. [laughs] She lucked out she had Misty and me behind the wheel.

CH: She’s good. [nodding towards Upham]

ML: People driving in films are…it’s a scary thing. Misty did a remarkable job.

MU: I used to race illegally in Seattle in high school, so…

ML: When Misty got behind the wheel, I thought oh, put me to shame.

CH: But the truth is there’s so much car stuff in the movie and there are situations where you really have to just [direct the car] — “can you move the car back and over just a hair?”

ML: The car is a beloved character in the film.

Courtney, what were the worst case scenarios running through your head before production started?

07292008_frozenriver3.jpgCH: The ice melting…[slight laugh] Mainly we wanted to make sure that we made our days. It was a lot of scheduling…we started days, we worked into nights, we went back to days — that’s really hard because you go from being a daytime creature to a nocturnal creature and then back. [That was] my main worry, personally, and for the cast and crew, that the weather would somehow run us down because you know how bitter cold can slow you down. Your engine has to really warm up, except if you’re her… [points to Leo] Her engine’s always warm.

ML: I went in a sauna to raise my internal temperature so I didn’t have to work so hard keeping warm. I was training my body to keep warm while we worked. Part of our difficulty was as you’d shoot, it would snow in the morning, it would be bright sunshine by noon, and snow again in the afternoon.

CH: It would start snowing between a two-shot. We’d do her close-up, snow…no snow.

ML: But that’s how the days go up there. What might seem incontiguous is in fact how the weather goes up there by the lakes. The crew liked to call the film “Frozen Feet.” I was well-prepared for it. Playing the role, having my focal point be on that character and not the weather was very important to me. Ray lives in that cold weather. She survives it. I just put myself in her shoes with it. There was an arduousness to the shoot, [which] I as an actor choose to use for the role, much in the same way as shooting in Western Texas on “Three Burials [of Melquiades Estrada].” The climate informs the character.

Quentin Tarantino famously remarked when he gave you the Grand Jury Prize at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “It put my heart in a vise and proceeded to twist that vise until the last frame.” Were you surprised by the attention?

MU: That was the cherry on top.

ML: He’s a cherry, isn’t he?

CH: He is a cherry on top.

MU: He’s so behind the film and us as a trio. I can’t say enough how grateful I will be to him for plugging us that much. But yeah, Tarantino has [put the film] on a level that’s almost surreal, with the amount of attention, devotion and support he’s given us. It’s amazing how much he cares and how much he wants us to succeed.

CH: I didn’t even know he was a juror [at Sundance] because I didn’t look to see who the jurors were because it’d make me nervous. I walked by him at the director’s brunch and I thought “oh God, he’s going to hate this movie.” And I was soooo wrong.

[Photos: “Frozen River,” Sony Pictures Classics, 2008]

“Frozen River” opens in limited release on August 1st.

Watch More
Weird Al Conan O’Brien

Off the Wall

Watch “Weird Al” Talk About Parodying Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney

Comedy Bang! Bang! gets weird starting Friday, June 3rd at 11P on IFC.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Conan / TBS

Song parodist and Comedy Bang! Bang!’s newest bandleader “Weird Al” Yankovic dropped by Conan to chat about the upcoming season of the IFC series and drop a few bits of trivia from his past. For example, did you know meeting Michael Jackson is a lot like meeting an alien? Well, you probably did, but “Weird Al” confirms it! Also, Yankovic discusses how he had a little artistic dispute with Paul McCartney over the use of “Live and Let Die” for a parody titled “Chicken Pot Pie”. (We’ll let Al fill you in on details.)

Check out “Weird Al” talking about his odd encounters with Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s joke-ruining suggestions in the video below. And be sure to catch Al on the new season of Comedy Bang! Bang! premiering Friday, June 3rd with back-to-back episodes at 11P and 11:30P.

Watch More
Ron-burgendy-big-pic-drinking-milk

Bottoms Up

10 Movies That Make Hitting Rock Bottom Look Like Fun

Maron hits rock bottom tonight at 9P on IFC.

Posted by on
Photo Credit: Dreamworks Pictures

This season on Maron, Marc is hitting rock bottom. He’s lost his career, his home and even his cats. But since Marc is involved, we figure he’ll be good for a few laughs on the way down. Thankfully, Marc’s in good company here. Some of our favorite movies feature characters who have hit the emotional basement face first. We’re glad we’re not them, but we definitely enjoy watching them fall apart.

10. Office Space

Office Space

If you’re going to flame out, at least do it with some panache. That’s the lesson office drone Peter Gibbons teaches us in Mike Judge’s cult classic, when a hypnotism gone wrong allows him to gain a little perspective on life. Soon he’s phoning in his job, and happily telling his superiors the ugly truth to their faces. This, of course, only makes him more popular around the office, a place he now has no need for. Peter has a mental breakdown with a smile on his face, and a bounce in his step, showing us that there is life beyond the cubicle.


9. The Weather Man

Weather Man

Sure, your job’s a joke, your kids are a mess and your father is disappointed in you, but there’s a shortcut to self-esteem that no one tells you about. It’s like a cheat code for when you want to turn your midlife crisis into a midlife adventure. That secret is arming yourself to the teeth. In local weatherman David Spritz’s case, that means carrying a bow and arrow around with him wherever he goes. Nicolas Cage has made a cottage industry of playing people in the midst of nervous breakdowns, from Leaving Las Vegas to The Family Man, but here he really separates David from the pack by going full Hawkeye on us. The lessons is, it doesn’t matter how bad you’re feeling on the inside when everyone is scared to death of you on the outside.


8. Trainwreck

Universal Pictures

Amy Schumer seems to have flipped the script when it comes to bottoming out. Sure, your life may be an unending stream of stripper heels, hangovers and one night stands. If you keep telling yourself everything awful about your life is completely awesome, who’s to say it isn’t? Mind equals blown. That, ladies and gentlemen, is called empowerment. Or delusion. It’s called something, and either way, Schumer knows how to make it hilarious. We may not want to be blackout drunk on a weeknight, but Amy sure makes it look like it doesn’t have to be the worst thing ever. You go girl.


7. American Beauty

American Beauty

Lester Burnham is just an ordinary guy with nothing to lose, and boy does he know how to quit a job. It involves admitting to masturbating in the company bathroom, and then blackmailing your boss into a year’s pay with benefits. If you’re going to hit rock bottom, you may as well get a little cash for the way down.


6. Rachel Getting Married

Rachel Getting Married

You can’t really hit rock bottom unless you take a few people down with you. That’s the lesson of this 2008 indie drama, in which Anne Hathaway plays a destructive addict inadvertently laying waste to her sister’s wedding. Sure, that doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, but Hathaway’s “I don’t give a f*ck” performance makes her character Kym feel like the cool girl we all wanted to hang out with in high school. Sure, she’s probably going to end up dead or in jail, but what a time she’ll have before she gets there.


5. Anchorman

Anchorman

There’s nothing quite like chugging milk on a hot summer day to remind you that you’ve made some bad choices in life. Out of work, friendless, womanless, and mustacheless, legendary local newsman Ron Burgundy finds out the hard way that nobody loves you when you’re on the bottom. Not even your weatherman, who seems like he’d give up just about anything for one weekend alone in a New England B&B with you. Fortunately, Mr. Burgundy has a secret up his sleeve, and no, we’re not talking about his jazz flute. With a conch shell, a baby panda news story, and some swagger, Ron Burgundy reminds us that the only way to stop a downward spiral is with the help of your friends and fellow anchorpeople.


4. 28 Days

28 Days

Yes, the opening moments of 28 Days are supposed to be a cautionary tale. An out of control Sandy Bullock shows up drunk to her sister’s wedding and delivers a rambling speech, before destroying the wedding cake. In a panic, she steals a limo, and crashes it into a house while trying to find a cake store. Now, granted, if you’re planning a wedding, this is pretty much the worst case plus one we can imagine. But, if you’re a guest, well, this kind of sounds like fun. As days go, taking a limo joy ride in desperate search of cake sounds like time well spent.


3. Kill Bill

Kill Bill

Okay, being buried alive isn’t fun. That’s a given. But what if you were a master ninja who ate black belts for breakfast looking for some vengeance? Well, then waking up six feet under might just be the thing. Sure, The Bride had a bad run, with a massacre at her wedding rehearsal and the whole coma thing, but this is the moment she turned from a wronged heroine into an ass-kicking machine. Everything she did after this was thanks to her premature funeral, and the folks behind it.


2. Bridesmaid

Bridesmaids

Weddings bring out a lot of emotions. Happiness, joy, regret, bitter jealously, a need to find the open bar. But for Annie, who lost her job, her apartment, and her boyfriend, only to see a fellow bridesmaid get the credit for a bridal shower she planned, it’s just too much. And when life throws a punch at you, you need to punch back, preferably if there’s a giant cookie nearby asking for a beating. Meltdowns aren’t fun in and of themselves, but going commando on a giant chocolate fountain is a dream we’ve had since childhood.


1. Fight Club

Fight Club

Yes, a schizophrenic breakdown, precipitated by the existential pain of a life left unlived, isn’t the most desirable way to spend a weekend. But what if you found out that the coolest guy you knew, the best looking, the guy you dreamed of being was actually (spoiler alert for a 17 year-old movie!) YOU? What if YOU planned the fight club? YOU had a six-pack? YOU were a freaking legend? Well, maybe blowing up a few buildings and crashing this whole system would be worth it. It certainly beats voting for Trump.

Watch More
Marc Maron on Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon

Kool Keith

Watch Marc Maron Talk About Sharing a Cigarette With Keith Richards

Maron returns tonight at 9P on IFC.

Posted by on
Tonight Show / NBC Universal

If there was anyone who’d geek out over a chance to meet Keith Richards, it’d be Marc Maron. The host of the WTF Podcast and star of IFC’s Maron appeared on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon to talk about the time he broke a ten-year hiatus from smoking and shared a cigarette with the Rolling Stones guitarist. A garage rock star in his own right, Maron related how he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to partake with a music legend and how grateful he was that he “caught Keith at the right time” — given the other substances he could’ve been carrying in his younger days.

Watch Marc share his Keith Richards story — as well as discuss the preparation that went into his landmark interview with President Obama (snipers are involved) — in the video below. And catch the season premiere of Maron tonight at 9pm ET/PT on IFC.

Watch More
Powered by ZergNet