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Tom Noonan Still Reflecting on “What Happened”

Tom Noonan Still Reflecting on “What Happened” (photo)

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For anyone that’s seen Tom Noonan’s “What Happened Was,” it would be certainly understandable why the actor/writer/director, who so effortlessly played the misanthropic paralegal on a first date with one of his co-workers, would be a little suspicious of an evening celebrating the film in Los Angeles over the long weekend.

“I thought I would make it and it would go away and it kept coming back,” said Noonan of the 1994 Sundance Grand Jury Prize winner. “And I’m glad.”

The screening of “What Happened Was” at Cinefamily was a rare treat regardless, since the dark, low-budget comedy has never been released on DVD. But Noonan flew in from New York to be a part of the repertory theater’s “That Guy!” series, which offered a similar tribute to Bruce Dern a day later and will continue on this month with fetes for character actors such as “Blood Simple”‘s M. Emmet Walsh and Udo Kier. Apparently, the fact that Noonan was sitting through his own work was equally rare, since he admitted he almost never watches his own work when he was describing his approach to playing so many memorable roles.

“To me, the reason people go to movies is to experience someone who’s being honest with themselves, who’s authentic,” said Noonan. “And all that stuff you do like reading and preparing and research, I think, just takes you away from who you are. I’m on the show “Damages.” I’ve never seen “Damages.” I don’t go to the readthroughs. When I read the script, all I read is my lines unless someone’s line comes in between – I don’t want to know nothing. It just doesn’t help me. All I want to do is talk about what it’s like to be me.”

01182011_WhatHappenedWas2.jpgOf course, unlike so many other “That Guys,” Noonan’s full range as an actor and as an artist is on display in “What Happened Was,” which operates as a battle of wits between Noonan and co-star Karen Sillas. It was self-financed from roles he had taken in films like “The Last Action Hero” and “Robocop 2” – as Noonan broke down his approach to taking work in one of the funnier moments of the evening – “What I’ll often do is I’ll take a job in a pretty good movie and then I’ll go off and do a lot of shit and I’ll turn it all down until I’m totally broke, then I’ll pick something really bad as the next thing I do.”

As it turned out, “really bad” could have different definitions in the case of “What Happened Was” since according to Noonan, the film ultimately may have cost him his marriage after then-wife Karen Young refused to take the role opposite him (and he dedicated the film to her) and few other actresses seemed interested.

“After my now-ex-wife wouldn’t do it, I have [the Paradise Theatre] in New York and a slot that I was going to put the play up during and I had to cast it. I had about a week, two weeks. So I started offering everybody I knew and I knew a lot of sort of well-known people. Frances McDormand. Elizabeth McGovern, all these people and they all read it and said, ‘you’re a nice guy, but there’s nothing here.'”

Only Sillas, who was suggested by Noonan’s agent at the last minute, seemed up for the role, which would segue from the stage run to the film without interruption, though Noonan would shoot the whole thing on video first and take out the last 40 pages of a 105-page script before committing it to celluloid. He would waste nothing, using only 8000 feet of film and even used a sound from the crux of the film, where Sillas’ character Jackie tells a horrifying story she intended as the first chapter of a fairytale, as a recurring motif throughout.

“I took the sound of [Sillas’] voice in telling the story, especially when she goes “huuuuuuuuuh” – that sound and put it under everything in the film like when she moves every chair, so you’re hearing her do that screech through the whole movie. I mixed it and you hear it. It’s subliminal.”

01182011_Manhunter.jpgModerator and Cinefamily owner Hadrian Belove encouraged Noonan to tell war stories from some of his other films, which he did with gusto. In particular, Belove wanted to know about Noonan’s work on “Manhunter,” which led to the high point of the evening, a story about how he first got cast in the film, which I’ll print in its entirety:

[Michael Mann] sort of felt like I embodied the feeling of that movie. All he really wanted me to do was to have that feeling that he sort of saw in me in the audition. Because in the audition, I was really good. I scared the shit out of this woman in the room. What happened is they wanted to put all Steppenwolf people in ‘Manhunter’ – John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, those people. And a lot of them either weren’t available or couldn’t do it, so he went to other people who sort of reminded him of them, which I guess I did. The day I went to audition, I had an appointment and they had me waiting for like an hour and a half to go in to read. And this script sounds so creepy and fucked up and I thought fuck this guy. I’m leaving…and I wanted to leave, which I do on occasion. But I waited and when I finally went in, I walk in the door [Michael Mann] started to talk to me, I said ‘Don’t talk to me. I’m going to read and then I’m going to leave. That’s what we’re doing.’ He said, ‘Okay.’ And I sat down and I’m so pissed off and this woman reading with me had just become a casting person. And I wasn’t doing anything. I was just sort of sitting back in a chair – I did the scene [when Francis Dolarhyde ties the guy] to the chair, [and says] “Do you see. Do you see…”

And this woman, she was like shaking and [Mann] was like walking around the room, real excited and watching me. Then I said, ‘Okay.’ And I started to leave. He said, “I wanted to ask you a question…” I said, ‘I told you.’ [smiles] And I left. You don’t talk to Michael Mann like that. He’s like a real control freak like Napoleon. So I left and I called my agent and he said, “You’ve got to go back there. He wants to talk.” I said, ‘Fuck him. He kept me waiting for an hour and a half.’ He said, ‘No, you’ve got to go talk to him.’ So I go back to the office and I come in, I say, ‘You get one question.’ This is not the way to talk to Michael. And he said, “How are you so scary?” And I said, [whispers in most ominous voice] “Scary is people who aren’t scared themselves.”

Noonan would go on to explain that Mann is, in fact, “the greatest guy in the world” – they would later work on “Heat” together – and perhaps it was his commitment to character that cemented the relationship, even if it was unintentional. Noonan said on “Manhunter,” when an assistant director came into his trailer as the sun was setting, the AD asked if he wanted the lights on, to which he jokingly replied, “Francis doesn’t use lights.” Noonan complained, “For the rest of the movie, I couldn’t have any lights on in any room that was dark… the crew would go around making stories and they were terrified of me.”

Other little factoids were learned: For the time being, Noonan only wants to appear in William S. Burroughs-esque attire (per his recent performance on “Louie”) and on “Robocop 2,” he constantly teased Peter Weller by knocking on his helmet and asking, “Peter, are you in there? And I’d say, why are you using a stand-in? Why can’t we get Peter?” But in total, Noonan seemed genuinely humbled by the screening and closed by saying, “It’s very moving to have done something in my life that I actually sort of am proud of and people sort of get it and it’s sort of amazing.”

It should also be mentioned that the Cinefamily opened the evening with this short, “Tom Goes to the Bar,” a slightly surreal black-and-white short featuring an upside-down Noonan and directed by future “Galaxy Quest” director Dean Parisot and edited by the late Tarantino collaborator Sally Menke, which was fascinating in its own right:

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SO EXCITED!!!

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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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.”

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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. 

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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-Craft

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?”

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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).

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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.

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