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.


New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…


IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.


IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.


The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”


Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).



Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.


And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.


Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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GIFs via Giffy

In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.


Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.


Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!



Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.


Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.


If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.