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Taylor Hackford’s Trip to the “Love Ranch”

Taylor Hackford’s Trip to the “Love Ranch” (photo)

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Not since 1985’s “White Nights” has California-born director Taylor Hackford (“Ray,” “An Officer and a Gentleman”) worked with Oscar-winning actress Helen Mirren. That isn’t to insinuate any animosity from that first collaboration since, well, the two eventually got married. Loosely based on the real-life story of America’s first legal brothel, Hackford’s ’70s-set drama “Love Ranch” stars Mirren as a ballsy Nevada madam who becomes ensnared in a volatile love triangle after her shady hubby (Joe Pesci) invites a South American boxer (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) to train at the ranch. By phone, Hackford spoke with me about shooting sex scenes with the Queen, why HBO’s “Cathouse” is bogus and the one film of his that never got a fair shake.

Why did it take so long for you and your wife to work together again?

When you’re an actor, you can work four times a year. As a director, you work every two years if you’re lucky. Of course I had a desire to work with my wife, but when I’m making films like “The Devil’s Advocate” or “Ray,” there aren’t roles for her. There might have been a couple of support roles, which I offered her, and she politely said, “No thank you.” [laughs]

I didn’t have really substantial roles, and everything to a consummate actor is the role. At a certain point, I decided that I needed to find something for the very reason that we hadn’t worked together in 25 years. When you’re living with the world’s greatest actress, you want to take advantage of that.

06292010_LoveRanch2.jpgThis was the script you were looking for?

Honestly, it was accidental. Mark Jacobson, an old friend who writes for New York magazine, called and told me he had written a spec script on a story that I knew about from the mid-’70s, the Mustang Ranch. I had never thought of it from the woman’s point of view. The two male characters in that story were Joe Conforte, the huckster who promoted the legalization of prostitution in northern Nevada, and Oscar Bonavena, who had been the heavyweight champion in South America [and came] to the U.S. and fought the best of the best in the decade of great heavyweights.

I hadn’t thought so much about Sally [Conforte]. Mark talked about this triangle, and I realized this is a woman of a certain age who is incredibly great at what she does, but in terms of romantic quotient, you would think it’s past her. Real stories are often times more phantasmagorical than fiction could ever be, and in this instance, Bonavena and Sally had an affair, were really caught up, he ended up dead, and most people felt it was Joe Conforte who had killed him.

06302010_loveranch16.jpgI took the idea to Helen, and she immediately warmed to it — I was surprised. I think at a certain point, Hollywood tends to type people. She had brilliantly played Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II in the same year. Then everyone said, “Oh, you’re just a queen.” I said, “You’re the madam of a whorehouse,” and she didn’t reject it out of hand.

You must have an intimate shorthand in communicating with Mirren, so what’s most challenging about balancing the personal and professional in that situation?

What’s tricky is to make sure your collaborators, especially the cast, don’t believe this is a cabal of a married couple, so intimate that we’re talking about different actors’ takes and so forth. Helen and I completely approach this as actor and director. She came to the set, she has her job to do, and an actor has to be “in charge.” If an actress has children in the film, you can’t say to these child actors, “Make this your mommy.” The actress has to bond and get familiar enough with those children to make it seem real on camera. In this instance, you’ve got an actress playing a madam who is part businesswoman, part mother confessor, part disciplinarian.

06292010_LoveRanch6.jpgWe really separated the labor. We never had lunch together, she was always with the actors. It was actually quite refreshing that way. We did sleep together at night and I’d fall into bed after 18 or 19 hours, and we’d have Sundays together to drive around New Mexico, but effectively, we were separate. That’s the way it should be.

Does it get trickier when you’re shooting your wife for a sex scene?

To me, the film is a sneaky love story in that you start in the brothel and think you’re going to be seeing something like “Cathouse” on HBO, and it isn’t that at all. It really gets into the characters. Those things on HBO are not the way a brothel operates. They’re performing, just like every reality show. I make films about working class people and I was interested in seeing the workplace. A brothel may be an aberrant one, but it is a workplace nonetheless.

I wanted to look at three cynical professionals who have been through the major part of their careers. They don’t have any romantic illusions left. Is it possible for emotions to take over and explode: passion, love, jealousy, all those things that happen to people that seem to be inured to any real emotions? In that, the love scene is an important catalyst in the story. It has to be believable and passionate and all the things you would expect.


Hacked In

Funny or Die Is Taking Over

FOD TV comes to IFC every Saturday night.

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We’ve been fans of Funny or Die since we first met The Landlord. That enduring love makes it more than logical, then, that IFC is totally cool with FOD hijacking the airwaves every Saturday night. Yes, that’s happening.

The appropriately titled FOD TV looks like something pulled from public access television in the nineties. Like lo-fi broken-antenna reception and warped VHS tapes. Equal parts WTF and UHF.

Get ready for characters including The Shirtless Painter, Long-Haired Businessmen, and Pigeon Man. They’re aptly named, but for a better sense of what’s in store, here’s a taste of ASMR with Kelly Whispers:

Watch FOD TV every Saturday night during IFC’s regularly scheduled movies.


Wicked Good

See More Evil

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is on Hulu.

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GIFs via Giphy

Okay, so you missed the entire first season of Stan Against Evil. There’s no shame in that, per se. But here’s the thing: Season 2 is just around the corner and you don’t want to lag behind. After all, Season 1 had some critical character development, not to mention countless plot twists, and a breathless finale cliffhanger that’s been begging for resolution since last fall. It also had this:


The good news is that you can catch up right now on Hulu. Phew. But if you aren’t streaming yet, here’s a basic primer…

Willards Mill Is Evil

Stan spent his whole career as sheriff oblivious to the fact that his town has a nasty curse. Mostly because his recently-deceased wife was secretly killing demons and keeping Stan alive.

Demons Really Want To Kill Stan

The curse on Willards Mill stipulates that damned souls must hunt and kill each and every town sheriff, or “constable.” Oh, and these demons are shockingly creative.


They Also Want To Kill Evie

Why? Because Evie’s a sheriff too, and the curse on Willard’s Mill doesn’t have a “one at a time” clause. Bummer, Evie.

Stan and Evie Must Work Together

Beating the curse will take two, baby, but that’s easier said than done because Stan doesn’t always seem to give a damn. Damn!


Beware of Goats

It goes without saying for anyone who’s seen the show: If you know that ancient evil wants to kill you, be wary of anything that has cloven feet.


Season 2 Is Lurking

Scary new things are slouching towards Willards Mill. An impending darkness descending on Stan, Evie and their cohort – eviler evil, more demony demons, and whatnot. And if Stan wants to survive, he’ll have to get even Stanlier.

Stan Against Evil Season 1 is now streaming right now on Hulu.



Reminders that the ’90s were a thing

"The Place We Live" is available for a Jessie Spano-level binge on Comedy Crib.

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GIFs via Giphy

Unless you stopped paying attention to the world at large in 1989, you are of course aware that the ’90s are having their pop cultural second coming. Nobody is more acutely aware of this than Dara Katz and Betsy Kenney, two comedians who met doing improv comedy and have just made their Comedy Crib debut with the hilarious ’90s TV throwback series, The Place We Live.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a fancy network executive you just met in an elevator?

Dara: It’s everything you loved–or loved to hate—from Melrose Place and 90210 but condensed to five minutes, funny (on purpose) and totally absurd.

IFC: How would you describe “The Place We Live” to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Betsy: “Hey Todd, why don’t you have a sip of water. Also, I think you’ll love The Place We Live because everyone has issues…just like you, Todd.”


IFC: When you were living through the ’90s, did you think it was television’s golden age or the pop culture apocalypse?

Betsy: I wasn’t sure I knew what it was, I just knew I loved it!

Dara: Same. Was just happy that my parents let me watch. But looking back, the ’90s honored The Teen. And for that, it’s the golden age of pop culture. 

IFC: Which ’90s shows did you mine for the series, and why?

Betsy: Melrose and 90210 for the most part. If you watch an episode of either of those shows you’ll see they’re a comedic gold mine. In one single episode, they cover serious crimes, drug problems, sex and working in a law firm and/or gallery, all while being young, hot and skinny.

Dara: And almost any series we were watching in the ’90s, Full House, Saved By the Bell, My So Called Life has very similar themes, archetypes and really stupid-intense drama. We took from a lot of places. 


IFC: How would you describe each of the show’s characters in terms of their ’90s TV stereotype?

Dara: Autumn (Sunita Mani) is the femme fatale. Robin (Dara Katz) is the book worm (because she wears glasses). Candace (Betsy Kenney) is Corey’s twin and gives great advice and has really great hair. Corey (Casey Jost) is the boy next door/popular guy. Candace and Corey’s parents decided to live in a car so the gang can live in their house. 
Lee (Jonathan Braylock) is the jock.

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

Dara: Because everyone’s feeling major ’90s nostalgia right now, and this is that, on steroids while also being a totally new, silly thing.

Delight in the whole season of The Place We Live right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib. It’ll take you back in all the right ways.