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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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Hard Out

Comedy From The Closet

Janice and Jeffrey Available Now On IFC's Comedy Crib

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She’s been referred to as “the love child of Amy Sedaris and Tracy Ullman,” and he’s a self-described “Italian who knows how to cook a great spaghetti alla carbonara.” They’re Mollie Merkel and Matteo Lane, prolific indie comedians who blended their robust creative juices to bring us the new Comedy Crib series Janice and Jeffrey. Mollie and Matteo took time to answer our probing questions about their series and themselves. Here’s a taste.

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

Mollie & Matteo: Janice and Jeffrey is about a married couple experiencing intimacy issues but who don’t have a clue it’s because they are gay. Their oblivion makes them even more endearing.  Their total lack of awareness provides for a buffet of comedy.

IFC: What’s your origin story? How did you two people meet and how long have you been working together?

Mollie: We met at a dive bar in Wrigley Field Chicago. It was a show called Entertaining Julie… It was a cool variety scene with lots of talented people. I was doing Janice one night and Matteo was doing an impression of Liza Minnelli. We sort of just fell in love with each other’s… ACT! Matteo made the first move and told me how much he loved Janice and I drove home feeling like I just met someone really special.

IFC: How would Janice describe Jeffrey?

Mollie: “He can paint, cook homemade Bolognese, and sing Opera. Not to mention he has a great body. He makes me feel empowered and free. He doesn’t suffocate me with attention so our love has room to breath.”

IFC: How would Jeffrey describe Janice?

Matteo: “Like a Ford. Built to last.”

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

Mollie & Matteo: Our current political world is mirroring and reflecting this belief that homosexuality is wrong. So what better time for satire. Everyone is so pro gay and equal rights, which is of course what we want, too. But no one is looking at middle America and people actually in the closet. No one is saying, hey this is really painful and tragic, and sitting with that. Having compassion but providing the desperate relief of laughter…This seemed like the healthiest, best way to “fight” the gay rights “fight”.

IFC: Hummus is hilarious. Why is it so funny?

Mollie: It just seems like something people take really seriously, which is funny to me. I started to see it in a lot of lesbians’ refrigerators at a time. It’s like observing a lesbian in a comfortable shoe. It’s a language we speak. Pass the Hummus. Turn on the Indigo Girls would ya?

See the whole season of Janice and Jeffrey right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

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Die Hard Dads

Inspiration For Die Hard Dads

Die Hard is on IFC all Father's Day Long

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIPHY

Yippee ki-yay, everybody! It’s time to celebrate the those most literal of mother-effers: dads!

And just in case the title of this post left anything to the imagination, IFC is giving dads balls-to-the-wall ’80s treatment with a glorious marathon of action trailblazer Die Hard.

There are so many things we could say about Die Hard. We could talk about how it was comedian Bruce Willis’s first foray into action flicks, or Alan Rickman’s big screen debut. But dads don’t give a sh!t about that stuff.

No, dads just want to fantasize that they could be deathproof quip factory John McClane in their own mundane lives. So while you celebrate the fathers in your life, consider how John McClane would respond to these traditional “dad” moments…

Wedding Toasts

Dads always struggle to find the right words of welcome to extend to new family. John McClane, on the other hand, is the master of inclusivity.
Die Hard wedding

Using Public Restrooms

While nine out of ten dads would rather die than use a disgusting public bathroom, McClane isn’t bothered one bit. So long as he can fit a bloody foot in the sink, he’s G2G.
Die Hard restroom

Awkward Dancing

Because every dad needs a signature move.
Die Hard dance

Writing Thank You Notes

It can be hard for dads to express gratitude. Not only can McClane articulate his thanks, he makes it feel personal.
Die Hard thank you

Valentine’s Day

How would John McClane say “I heart you” in a way that ain’t cliche? The image speaks for itself.
Die Hard valentines

Shopping

The only thing most dads hate more than shopping is fielding eleventh-hour phone calls with additional items for the list. But does McClane throw a typical man-tantrum? Nope. He finds the words to express his feelings like a goddam adult.
Die Hard thank you

Last Minute Errands

John McClane knows when a fight isn’t worth fighting.
Die Hard errands

Sneaking Out Of The Office Early

What is this, high school? Make a real exit, dads.
Die Hard office

Think you or your dad could stand to be more like Bruce? Role model fodder abounds in the Die Hard marathon all Father’s Day long on IFC.

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Founding Farters

Know Your Nerd History

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC.

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Photo Credit: Everett Collection, GIFs via Giphy

That we live in the heyday of nerds is no hot secret. Scientists are celebrities, musicians are robots and late night hosts can recite every word of the Silmarillion. It’s too easy to think that it’s always been this way. But the truth is we owe much to our nerd forebearers who toiled through the jock-filled ’80s so that we might take over the world.

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Our humble beginnings are perhaps best captured in iconic ’80s romp Revenge of the Nerds. Like the founding fathers of our Country, the titular nerds rose above their circumstances to culturally pave the way for every Colbert and deGrasse Tyson that we know and love today.

To make sure you’re in the know about our very important cultural roots, here’s a quick download of the vengeful nerds without whom our shameful stereotypes might never have evolved.

Lewis Skolnick

The George Washington of nerds whose unflappable optimism – even in the face of humiliating self-awareness – basically gave birth to the Geek Pride movement.

Gilbert Lowe

OK, this guy is wet blanket, but an important wet blanket. Think Aaron Burr to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Hamilton. His glass-mostly-empty attitude is a galvanizing force for Lewis. Who knows if Lewis could have kept up his optimism without Lowe’s Debbie-Downer outlook?

Arnold Poindexter

A music nerd who, after a soft start (inside joke, you’ll get it later), came out of his shell and let his passion lead instead of his anxiety. If you played an instrument (specifically, electric violin), and you were a nerd, this was your patron saint.

Booger

A sex-loving, blunt-smoking, nose-picking guitar hero. If you don’t think he sounds like a classic nerd, you’re absolutely right. And that’s the whole point. Along with Lamar, he simultaneously expanded the definition of nerd and gave pre-existing nerds a twisted sort of cred by association.

Lamar Latrell

Black, gay, and a crazy good breakdancer. In other words, a total groundbreaker. He proved to the world that nerds don’t have a single mold, but are simply outcasts waiting for their moment.

Ogre

Exceedingly stupid, this dumbass was monumental because he (in a sequel) leaves the jocks to become a nerd. Totally unheard of back then. Now all jocks are basically nerds.

Well, there they are. Never forget that we stand on their shoulders.

Revenge of the Nerds is on IFC all month long.

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