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Ben Foster: Shooting “The Messenger”

Ben Foster: Shooting “The Messenger” (photo)

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Few young actors are blessed with wildly eclectic bodies of work, but 29-year-old Ben Foster has utilized his trademark intensity to play a bisexual art-school student (TV’s “Six Feet Under”), a drug-addicted hoodlum (“Alpha Dog”), a winged superhero (“X-Men: The Last Stand”), a Wild West sociopath (“3:10 to Yuma”) and a wannabe vampire who steals the show in “30 Days of Night.” In his juiciest role to date, the Boston-born actor stars in “I’m Not There” screenwriter Oren Moverman’s terrific directorial debut, “The Messenger.” Foster plays Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery, a jaded Army vet who has just returned to the homefront after being wounded in Iraq.

Paired up with the hard-nosed Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson), Will is assigned to be a Casualty Notification Officer, a job that, in its own way, may be more difficult than combat. It’s an emotionally authentic story of friendship and coping with unexpected jolts of humor, and Foster is sitting pretty to nab an Oscar nomination for his tightly wound but subdued performance. The day after the film’s New York premiere, I sat down with him to discuss a certain hippie with a big heart, why “The Messenger” isn’t really a military drama, and his cooking abilities.

In preparation for the role, you met with wounded soldiers at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. What was most surprising about your interactions with them?

How young they are. They’re kids. You have this concept in your head of the indestructible character of the warrior, but these are boys and girls. They’ve got so much light in them, and they’re not coming from a political side, either. A lot of them were talking big smack about the last administration. We did this at the end of the Bush reign… of fire. There was a lot of contact. Seeing the wounds up close, touching the wounds — these are experiences you take with you, and you can’t get the pictures out of your head.

Why do you think some soldiers fight when they’re politically opposed to a regime that’s sending them off to war?

There are so many reasons. It can be full blown patriotism. It can be “I just want to make my dad proud.” It can be “I want a better education,” “I need to get out of this town,” “I want to travel,” “I want to shoot some shit” or “I want to be a hero.” There are so many grays of why someone would enlist. But they’re all very brave and motivated individuals, and we’re not taking proper care of them. Walter Reed certainly is, at least to our experience, really doing a great job rehabilitating. But that’s one spot, and we have 40,000 more troops going back. There’s a lot of responsibility we have to take as a country.

That reminds me of a line Harrelson says in the film about the Army being the best family you can possibly have. Is that a half-truth, in terms of taking proper care of the soldiers?

We talked to these guys who got blown up, and they were almost embarrassed — they wished they could be back in the theater of war, back with their buddies, making sure that they don’t get shot. So it’s this selfless act, and you’re looking at this kid who is missing an arm, a leg, he’s blind in an eye, and all he wants to do is get back out there. Not for the politics of it all, but for his guys. In that sense, it’s so intimate. It’s familial. In terms of the best family ever, sure, families are complicated. We don’t always know how to express love with our own families. Human beings, we’re clumsy. We’ve got a lot of heart and we don’t know how to maybe share it or take it. There’s definitely a family element, but all families are fucked up somewhere.

11122009_Messenger3.jpgThe complex camaraderie between Will and Tony is certainly about not being able to express feelings. They’re soldiers; men who don’t cry. How did such a sobering experience play out with Harrelson, who is known for being a fun-loving goof?

We shook off the ghosts quite a bit. You know, you have to. [Our connection] was instant, he’s one of those guys. You can’t not love Woody Harrelson, he just has that thing. He picks his dramatic roles very carefully. What did I tell somebody? “Who are you doing the movie with?” I say, “Woody.” “Oh, that’s so rad! What’s it about?” I’m like, “Casualty Notification Officers.” They’re like, “What?!” He makes strange choices, he’s accessible, he’s funny, he’s got these eyes, but it’s his heart. Woody’s heart is so big and he’s careful with it, but he gave it. He let it rip on this one. For him to go so against his own type, a self-proclaimed hippie from Hawaii who’s actually from Texas, to play someone so… I don’t even know what he is. He’s a beast. And I love the man to the bone.

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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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