Tom Segura is one of the best comedians out there right now. The Cincinnati native released his first Netflix special, Completely Normal, back in 2014, and in the five years since, his skills as a storyteller have only sharpened. Segura’s jokes continue to grow longer and funnier, making for some of the most consistently funny Netflix comedy specials available. You can often find him at The Comedy Store in West Hollywood and, most recently, all over the country and Europe for his recent tour, “Take It Down.” If you didn’t get a chance to see him perform on his latest tour, the good news is all his new material will be available this month in a new special.
Segura can also be seen in the new horror movie, Countdown, which is produced by director Sean Anders. The two worked together on Instant Family, which gave the comedian his first prominent role in a major studio comedy to date. Segura isn’t only interested in acting in comedies, though, as he told us.
During a recent conversation with the comedian, actor, and co-host of Your Mom’s House podcast, he told us about his hope to see in all kinds of movies and what’s different about his new material.
How’s your new material playing?
It’s been doing well. I’ve actually been touring with it for quite a while. I have a new special coming up, so this [tour] is kind of winding down.
Even though it’s winding down and you’re about to leave for Europe, are you still tweaking material or, at a certain point, is it complete?
In my experience traveling in different countries, it’s best to not overthink it, just do it, and see how it goes. I think we tend to get in our heads about it, but if it works in most places, it probably works in other places. I’ll just do it and see what happens. I feel like most of it will translate. Some of it is real specific, you know, like a reference to a story or city people might not know, and you might have to explain that reference, but other than that, it’s fine.
I can’t think of too much from your specials that wouldn’t translate. It’s mostly universal material.
I think so, I think so. I mean, especially if you’re telling stories about relationships, your kids, parents, or someone you ran into. All those kinds of usually make sense.
For Countdown, since you had worked with Sean Anders, was it just a phone call you got for the part or did you have to go through auditions?
No. I got lucky because they just called me. Initially, they offered me another part, but when I read the script, the Derek stuff just made me laugh. When I said I wanted to play that role, they said, “Are you serious? You want to play that?” I thought it’d be funny, so I was excited to play that part.
I just like the idea of you playing a part in a demon movie. What people know about your stand up, was it also just a funny idea to you?
It is. When you think about it in terms of the catalog of your film career, it excites me to be in all types of films, you know what I mean? I would want to do children movies, a thriller, or a really physical comedy. Doing all types of stuff is exciting. I feel like it would be fun to mix it up. When I was on set and I got to see the demon, I thought, “This is amazing.”
When you’re going out for auditions, is it usually comedy or are you trying out for thrillers and dramas as well?
I’m trying to think. It’s funny, when you’re on tour it’s so demanding. When things start coming in I can’t even… I don’t have time to prepare for auditions. I’m thinking about the last few auditions I did. I did one a week ago for a pretty serious thriller, and then a silly comedy one. I guess I lean a little more comedy, but yeah, it’s a mix of things.
With your experience of performing in theaters, is it not that intimidating auditioning in front of a few people or do you still get nervous for an audition?
I feel like it really depends on the day. I mean, auditions can be super intimidating, but it is like performing live in that, day-to-day, it can vary. You’re not always the same every day. You can do a show and feel a certain confidence and calmness, but then there are days where you’re all worked up about it. I think auditioning is like that. The best auditions are when you’re relaxed and dialed in. I feel like I get that sometimes, and sometimes I don’t. I don’t like auditioning, I’ll say that.
[Laughs] I feel like few people say they like it.
I’ve heard a few people say they don’t mind. I’m like, are you serious? “Yeah, no, I don’t mind. The process is fine.” I think the biggest turnoff of acting is the auditioning. It usually feels awful, man. It really feels awful. It’s weird, too, because hands down the best I’ve auditioned, you don’t hear anything. I’ll think, “I nailed that,” and then you don’t hear nothing. Then when you feel like you’ve stumbled through it you’ll hear, “Yeah, they want to see you again.” What?
It’s funny, I did a podcast a week ago with Judd Apatow, which hasn’t come out yet, but we were talking about picking talent, like selecting talent to play different parts. We’d look at Internet videos of weird people and he’d say, “Oh, I’d cast this guy, I’d cast that guy.” I was like, “Would you really cast them?” And he went, “Yeah, because there’s so much charisma.” Then I asked him, “When you’re looking for potential actors for a part, do you look more for charisma than auditioning well, knowing your lines?” He said, “100%. For comedy, if I see a spark in their personality, I’m going to cast that person.” I just thought it was interesting, you know? Sometimes I do think, “How did I not get a callback for that? I did it so well.” It just happens.
It could be them, not you, but when you leave auditions do you ever think, “Screw it, I’ll just go work on material for myself”? Do you write many scripts for yourself?
Totally. I think like that all the time. I just wrote, directed, and acted in this sketch we’re going to release on my podcast youtube channel. I do it for that reason, like, I just gotta make stuff, man. The other thing is, too, they’ll let you know if they’re moving on [with someone else]. Most of the time you’re like, “What did they say?” And you hear, “I don’t know, man. They said you were great, but…” It’s a very unfulfilling and unsatisfying feeling. It’s not my primary career, but if I want to act in something, I’ll just go make something and shoot it.
Plus, being a stand-up, you could easily walk away from auditioning one day.
Oh yeah, I would say I primarily do that [Laughs]. I shot four movies in the last year, and they were all from phone calls. People called me, like, “Hey man, you want to be in this movie?” “Sure.” I did audition for Sean for Instant Family because he requested I audition, but even he said, “Yeah, it wasn’t a very good audition, so…” [Laughs]
[Laughs] One of my favorite characters of the last few years is DJ Dad Mouth.
Do you have more characters like that in mind you could do as a movie or show one day?
Yeah, there are different ones. There’s one that I can’t tell you about that’s coming out, which I shot. You are going to shit your pants. I’m telling you, dude, you should hit me up after. It’ll be on my personal youtube channel, Twitter, and Instagram. I shot it in a 14-hour day with an unbelievable level of production. I think you’ll go, “Oh my God.”
I look forward to it. You have such a strong voice as a comedian. I was wondering, do comedians have that a-ha moment of, “I’ve found my voice,” or is it just a natural progression?
I think it’s a progression thing. In a way, you knew it was there all along, but it wasn’t developed. It’s like, “Oh yeah, that’s who I am.” You just didn’t realize it, you know? It’s when you realize how you present it to people. It’s finally developed when people anticipate it, like, yeah, they know who I am. They know you’re going to have an opinion, and they might not know the words, but they know how you’re going to feel about this, and that’s when you feel like a developed comic, I think.
With the recent tour and the new special, what were some new things you wanted to try as a performer?
You’re always trying to improve. I’m always trying to be a better comic. I feel like the one thing I tried, and I’ve heard some people acknowledge it, is being a little more physical and a little more animated. You know, a part of it was deliberate. Another part of it is being uncomfortable being animated. When I say physical, don’t picture Jim Carrey, you know what I mean?
[Laughs] That’d be cool to see, though.
[Laughs] Yeah. For me, I’m feeling a little more versatile.
That’s interesting because to me, you’re such a less is more comic.
Yeah, yeah. I think that’s always my wheelhouse, but it’s moments where you’re more animated with the expressions. For me, movements are three steps this way, three steps that way. It’s not pacing the stage. Those little things, for me, usually involve just standing still.
There is so much more we’re going to learn about New Zealand-born actress Thomasin McKenzie in the coming years. With each new role, we see her abilities tested and our expectations exceeded. After a small role in The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies when she was barely even a teenager, she continued working in shorts and local television series, until her breakthrough role in 2018 in Debra Granik’s much acclaimed Leave No Trace, opposite Ben Foster.
Not surprisingly, the offers and work came in rapidly, and in 2019, she can be seen in the just released Netflix feature The King, directed by David Michôd and co-starring Timothée Chalamet and Robert Pattinson, in which she plays Henry V’s sister Philippa. At the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year, she also starred in the Australian biographical crime drama True History of the Kelly Gang, which presumably will open stateside in 2020. And in September 2020, she’ll be seen in director Edgar Wright’s latest work, Last Night in Soho.
But it’s her current remarkable take as the Jewish teenager Elsa in writer/director Taika Waititi’s Jojo Rabbit that is garnering her significant notices in this World War II satire that follows a lonely German boy named Jojo Roman Griffin Davis whose world view is turned upside-down when he discovers his mother Scarlett Johansson is hiding a young Jewish girl in their attic.
/Film spoke with McKenzie in Chicago during the recent Chicago International Film Festival, and she discussed the responsibility of playing the only Jewish character in a film set during World War II in Germany, the benefits of shooting chronologically, and why she thinks it’s important this story be told today. Jojo Rabbit is in limited release, opening wider in the coming weeks.
Each time Jojo comes back to Elsa during the course of the film, our knowledge about her history, her personality, and how she ended up in the house grows. For a large part of the movie, you were shooting in a single location, were you able to shoot chronologically to make it more natural to show that growth? I know that’s not how films are usually made.
We actually did shoot Leave No Trace chronologically, and for this film, I think we did film those scenes more or less in order. We weren’t filming the end at the beginning.
As an actor, that’s got to be useful—almost like doing a play and the progression makes more sense.
Definitely. With filming Leave No Trace, it almost felt like we weren’t filming anything. I knew we were working, but it felt like we were just doing it and living it. I was inhabiting this person’s life for the period of the shoot. It wasn’t like a meta performance or anything. I did a film this year [Last Night in Soho] where we very much did not shoot in chronological order, and it does take a lot of planning. I ended up having to write up a timeline for all the scenes and refer back to it and go. “We’re here now, and I filmed that moment already. But I haven’t filmed that yet, so I don’t know that has happened.” It was a bit of a mind game.
When we were filming Jojo Rabbit, I was still figuring out who Elsa was. At the beginning, in the very first scene we shot was the very first scene you see Elsa in. And when I started that day, I had one idea of Elsa, but I ended it with a completely different idea of who she was. It definitely helps to film in chronological order because as the shoot goes on, you learn more things about your character and grow with them. Like with Leave No Trace, it was weird watching it back because I was watching myself getting older. My hair was growing, my features were getting darker somehow. I could see these changes happening as the story developed.
When you first read Taika’s screenplay, what do you remember about Elsa and her story that hooked you?
I think it was her strength. This story has been told a lot of times in a lot of different ways, and there have been a lot of similar variations of Elsa, who’s something of an Anne Frank character. What I liked about Elsa in Jojo Rabbit is that you really see her strength, and you get to understand that she isn’t just a victim, but she is a victim, of course, but that’s not what define her—she’s so many other things, which isn’t something you always get to see in this kind of character in a World War II film.
Her being the only Jewish character in the film, were you more aware of the representative nature of her, that she was representing this event and an entire people? Tell me about the weight of responsibility that puts on you and what you did to make sure you understood that in the performance.
Yes, totally. That’s something I thought about even before I had the role. I was thinking that this was a big responsibility, and you’re representing a lot of people, and it’s not something you can take lightly. This community of people has been through so much—their history is not a joke, so that was definitely something that was on my mind for the entire shoot, even now. In preparation, that was my main priority, to make sure I know the facts and had some understanding of their history of what they went through. I could never fully understand it; no one who didn’t go through what they went through could. But I wanted to know as much as I could, so I did a lot of research.
I always approach new roles with research—that’s one of my favorite parts of the process, the research. But with one, it was to a whole new level. From the get go and throughout the entire shoot, I was researching and reading books like The Diary of Anne Frank and about four other books about young Jewish girls living through the Holocaust. I used our modern-day tool, the internet, and I watched Schindler’s List. When I was in New Zealand, I went to museums. Interestingly, New Zealand was the first country to declare war on Germany in World War II because of the time difference—so for a few hours, it was New Zealand vs. Germany.
And once I arrived in Prague, I spent a lot of time going to different cemeteries, including the Jewish cemetery with my manager, who is Jewish herself. I went to the Old-New Synagogue and the Spanish Synagogue, also to the Jewish Quarter, which has been really well preserved. I worked with a historian who told me the Nazis had a plan to use the Jewish Quarter in Prague as a museum for an extinct race, which is makes you sick to think about.
I was going to ask about Prague, because it does still have an old-European feel to it. Did that make shooting there make you feel like you were going back in time?
Yeah, you really do. I didn’t get to spend a lot of time on location in the different sites where they filmed, but Roman does talk during the Q&As about when he was filming those scenes in the town, he really did feel like he was there in 1944.
I read somewhere that Taiki wanted you to watch Mean Girls and Heathers before shooting this, because he thought Elsa might have been something of a bully in school. What did that add to the character for you?
That definitely did change my view of Elsa. When I first met Taiki, I went into that meeting with all of this research I had done and I had this certain kind of confidence because I wanted him to know that I’d done the work. So I told him all of this, and he went “Oh, yeah. Cool. Go watch Mean Girls and Heathers.” [laughs] And I’m so happy he did that because it really did change my perception of Elsa. Had he not told me to watch those things, I would have played her as where we would have seen less of her strength, and she would have been different. But watching those films made me realize that she lived a whole life before the war, and she’s got so many layers, so many experiences, and she wasn’t always looked at as being a monster. So that’s something that I needed to think about in this performance.
Anytime a filmmakers makes a movie set in a specific period, you wonder why is now the time to tell this story. Why do you think this story is important to tell today?
Everyone knows there’s a lot of anger going on in the world at the moment, and people with hateful ideas being encouraged to express those beliefs on a bigger scale—or maybe similar scale. Those thoughts have always been around, kept underground, maybe not so noticed. But now they are coming out into the open, and hateful people have a certain level of confidence these days. I think it’s important to those people and every kind of people, of all ages, to see this film and be reminded to think of our past, and be reminded what led to World War II, what were the causes of the Holocaust. There are some similarities between what caused World War II and how we got to that place of anger, and how things seem to be escalating today.
I know there has been a lot of talk about the use of human here and whether it’s appropriate to have laughter around the subject at all. But I think it deepens the emotions. I’ll admit, I was not prepared for how deeply emotional I felt throughout the film. Watching Taiki work, could you spot him adjusting the humor at different places?
Yeah, and I think a lot of that process was in the edit as well. They tested Jojo Rabbit 15 different times on different audiences, and from that, they knew at what points in the film humor might have been too much or too little, and they were able to adjust based on those test screenings. That’s definitely something Taiki worked on a lot. Like you said, you definitely go into this film without expecting to be so emotionally moved, and Taiki says that’s because you’re going into a comedy and not with your arms crossed expecting to be told to listen. You’re open and receptive to the emotions. When you’re watching it, you’re really on a rollercoaster. I remember at the premiere in Toronto, where I watched it for the first time with a big crowd, we felt like everyone was going through this together and all feeling exactly the same thing at the same time. I don’t think it would have been at that scale if it has been a straight drama; I think that the comedy has opened people up to this film.
I want to ask you about a specific scene, the one with Stephen Merchant, where he’s looking through that book that Jojo has put together with all of the hurtful Jewish myths. That’s a defining scene for your character because she has to fake ownership of something so hateful to her people in order to stay hidden. Tell me about the importance of that scene to you.
For that scene, we see Elsa walk into a room full of Nazis and people who have called her family and friends disgusting thing like vermin and a monster and told so many lies about her and her people. And we see her walk into that room and say “What you say about me is not true. Here I am. I’m still standing, and you have no idea that I’m a Jewish person, but you’ve created this whole image of me.” There’s so much strength in Elsa in that scene, which is incredibly moving to see. When she has to say “Heil Hitler” as well, it’s rough. And in the second half of that scene, we really see her unsure and off balance for the first time, because before that she held so much power and confidence over Roman, and in that scene, she’s got no idea what to do because she’s doesn’t know if she’s going to get caught.
Having already celebrated huge success in Cannes, where it won the prestigious Palme d’Or, as well as having been selected as South Korea’s entry for the Best International Feature Film for next year’s Academy Award, Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite is now unleashed upon American theaters. Bong revisits some of the themes he explored in Snowpiercer to craft a meticulous story of class, scams, and prejudices. In his review for /Film, Jason Gorber said Parasite “takes the audience along for a twisty, twisted ride and gets under your skin.”Bong takes the story of a family that scams its way into being employed by an upper class family, and makes it a roller coaster of expectations and emotions, one that plays with the home invasion genre, comedy, and epic tragedy all at once.
Following the Texas premiere of the film at Fantastic Fest, I talked to Bong Joon-ho about crafting such a twisted tale, its operatic score, and how much he wanted to reveal of that shocking ending. There will be major spoilers after the warning below.
Why did you choose to go with such an operatic score for the movie?
The film features Italian opera and classical Baroque tracks, but if you think about the characters in the film, no one really seems like they would listen to classical music – neither the Kim or Park families. So I thought it would be really fun to surround these characters in that sort of grandiose music. Also, as the Kim family infiltrates this rich household, they all pretend to be super sophisticated and elitist, so I thought the music suited that pretention very well.
Did that sentiment extend to the camera work? Because whenever we follow the Kim family in the beginning, the camera is very frenetic, but as soon as they move in with the Parks, it gets very still.
Overall, I wanted the film to sort of follow the perspective of the protagonist, and make the audience feel like they were infiltrating this rich house together with the characters. And as we’re walking into this space with these characters, you feel like you’re stepping into a different movie. The production designer and I worked on the structure of the rich house so that even if we move the camera just a little bit, we would see things we weren’t able to see before. The structure of the house itself allowed this sort of reveal of secrets and conspiracies, like when you first see the daughter eavesdropping in the background, and we also see the entrance to the basement covered in darkness, foreshadowing what comes next.
*There will be spoilers from now on.*
How early did you know that the movie was building up to this violent and bloody climax?
I didn’t set out to make a violent movie, but I had a feeling early on that the violence would gradually escalate as the story progresses and that it would ultimately lead to this unexpected tragedy, and I was prepared for that. If you think about these characters, they’re all people who are very far removed from violence in their daily lives, they’re just very normal and average people. So for me what was important was exploring what could get them to become violent.
Is that when the basement part of the story came into play?
In the beginning it was originally a story of just the two families. I had the idea for the script in 2013 and while I worked on Snowpiercer and Okja I sort of left this idea brew inside my mind. The third and final family only came to me during the last three months of the actual script writing process. I didn’t want to make a typical film that deals with class struggle, and what makes mine different is that the poor characters in my film have no intention of attacking the rich. All they can think about is how they can just stick onto their lives and make a living for themselves and pay respect to the rich family as well. So, there’s this irony where the have-nots fight one another, and they even try to hide that fight amongst themselves from the rich family. So if you think of the triangle structure of these families you have the Parks on top and then the Kims and Moon-kwang and her husband Geun-sae together at the bottom, fighting.
Did you always want to leave the ending that open?
I always like films that leave you thinking about them even after you leave the theater and go home. I never really explain everything 100%. I want to think I always leave room for the audience to think for themselves. So even the final character you see on the phone is very selective. I always make a very sharp and focused decision on who to end the film with, and it always focuses on this one character. With the rest you have to simply imagine what happens to them.
So then why choose this particular character of Ki-woo?
I think overall this story is something that I want to tell to the young generation of our times. We live in a world where it’s difficult to have hope, it’s difficult to feel hopeful. But it’s not as if we can just kill ourselves. We have to continue on with our lives. So as the story became a story for a young generation that is going through difficult times in their youth, I wanted to end the film with the young son.
Do you have an interpretation of what the ending means?
That’s quite difficult to say, but I have my own thoughts on the ending. I’m always curious myself as I write a script whether it’s about the characters or the situations or the ending. I have several interpretations for the ending myself, but with this ending I just wanted to be honest. I didn’t want to create false hope and pretend to be hopeful. It’s sad but I wanted to show reality in a raw and unfiltered way.
2013’s Frozen was about two estranged sisters finally coming together again after years of separation, with their small family restored and everything seemingly set up for a “happily ever after” ending. But directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck didn’t think the story of Elsa and Anna was finished, and even though the dynamic has changed between the characters, the sequel presents them with new challenges as Elsa experiences a far-off voice calling to her in the night.
Several weeks ago, /Film sat down with Lee, Buck, and producer Peter Del Vecho for an early Frozen 2 interview, and now we can finally share it with you. The filmmakers told us about how Anna has “everything to lose” this time around, the element of this sequel they’re most proud of, crafting this new story in the shadow of the first film’s mega-hit status, and letting the characters guide the story instead of the other way around.
In the shots of Elsa running on the waves, the water looks so impressive, so photorealistic compared to Elsa, who’s clearly an animated character. Is ever a point where the disparity between those two aspects becomes too stark and you have to dial back the realism a little?
Buck: Yeah, sometimes the computer can make things so realistic that you’re exactly right: the marriage doesn’t quite work. So we do have to pull back and there’s a stylization that happens with any of our elements like that, just to make sure our character still fits in that world.
So much of what we saw today was about Elsa’s journey and evolution as a character. Can you tell me more about Anna’s desires and role in Frozen II?
Lee: What’s interesting is that there’s so much more in Anna’s journey that we haven’t been able to talk about because it really gives away too much of the film. But I think her determination to protect Elsa and be there for her sister and makes sure that Elsa stays safe and doesn’t go too far is a very different drive from the first film, which is, ‘I just want [to be] together.’ Her need to hold on, not in a dysfunctional way, but in a very protective, looking-out-for-her-sister way, and that burden when you are non-magical in a magical world and your sister is caught up in that magic, I think that’s her greatest struggle. I will say I’m really proud of Anna’s journey of this, and the end of the film, I think the two will stand equally in terms of the power of their journeys.
Buck: One of the things we talked about very simply in Frozen 1, Anna had nothing to lose because her sister was gone and she was trying to get her sister back. In the end, everything was good. In this movie, she’s got everybody in the beginning, and now she has everything to lose.
Jennifer, what kind of changes have you made to Walt Disney Animation since taking over after John Lasseter’s exit?
Lee: For us, we’re very focused on the films that are in production right away. It was Ralph [Breaks the Internet] and Frozen [II] and Raya [and the Last Dragon], and the sense of sameness of keeping our story trust going and working. One of the the things that I’m excited about is we really want to develop new talent from in house and bring new talent in. Having our rooms really reflect the world we live in.
I’m excited to be announcing a few new directors in the fall – I will not be the only female director, which is exciting for me. Really, the biggest thing is creating new opportunities for young talent. Not every department has access to story. Creating that access, building new shorts programs for people to try pushing technology in ways that we haven’t done and new styles that we haven’t tried, and using the short form to do that. I think those are about all I’ve had time for so far. laughs And there’s a lot more to do, but I think those are the biggest things that I can mention.
You mentioned new styles, and they mentioned at the presentation earlier, this is the tenth anniversary of The Princess of the Frog [which Peter produced]. Is hand-drawn animation on the table for Walt Disney Animation moving forward?
Del Vecho: That’s such a big part of our legacy, and I loved Princess and the Frog. I would say that there’s still a lot of hand-drawn influence going into our CG films.
Lee: In our films.
Del Vecho: I think we’re one of the only studios in the world that can do both, and how that evolves over time and how we experiment with different styles. But it ultimately comes down to the filmmakers and how they want to tell that particular story.
Lee: Yeah, and some of our new shorts you’re going to see, as they come out, new styles. Watercolor styles, even things we’ve never done, but using technology to help us do it in ways that are exciting as well.
Buck: And there’s another thing. People aren’t even aware of it. The hand drawn animators have helped out a lot with our CG animators. I think there’s an appeal that the hand drawn animators, it’s innate in them, and they’ve been teaching the CG animators –
Lee: Silhouettes and the swirls, that language.
Buck: – putting that into their work. So when you look at some of our movies now, even though it’s CG on the screen, underneath it is the hand drawn deal.
But it sounds like you guys might be open to it if a filmmaker came to you.
Lee: Of course. And it really is, the style is driven by the filmmakers and certainly there’s a lot of – as we’ve developed new talent – excitement to try different styles.
For each of you, what are you most proud of about Frozen II?
Lee: I think for me, I’m most proud of Anna and Elsa’s journeys and what they’re willing to do and all they take on. I’m just proud of them.
Buck: Sort of piggybacking on that, I think the two of them are such – they were in the first one, but I think even moreso in this one – such inspirational characters, and sort of aspirational characters for men and women, I think. I’m really, really proud of that.
Del Vecho: I think I’m proud of the fact that you guys approached the second movie the same way we did the first one. Building it from within, from the characters, letting the story tell us where it needed to go and what it needed to be, even with all the outside pressure of the world. The process, I think, was very similar to the first movie.
Knowing the intense phenomenon that the first movie became, did that impact the story direction at all? Were you completely closed off to that when you were in the development phase?
Lee: We kind of had to be. It’s funny because people talk about the requests that come through, and if I told you all the different types of requests that came through, some of it, you would be like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t know anyone could put those two things together.’ So we had to shut that out, because if we don’t do it true to where the characters are right now, who they are, you’ll feel the lack of authenticity. And it’s really hard when you watch a film and it’s the filmmaker coming in with a point of view versus a character, wrestling with a point of view. We didn’t build the first one that way, so we made a pact that we were just not going to worry about it. We protected each other on that.
Buck: Really, there wasn’t pressure from the outside, from my perspective. Our pressure, in our own story room and amongst ourselves, is so great because, just like the first one, we’re trying to make the best movie we can. And we keep pushing and pulling at it and making sure that it’s true to the characters and a great journey where we get to see our characters grow.
Now that you’re in the home stretch, is there anything that popped up thematically, because of the decision to let the characters lead the way, that surprised you in the final version?
Buck: One thing that’s not really surprising, but Frozen 1 and Frozen II, sort of overall – when you talk about thematically, we talked about this – love versus fear was always in the first one. And it’s in the second one, too, that love is stronger than fear, basically.
Lee: That wrestle.
Buck: That wrestle. And with that, again, I’m pretty proud that Frozen 1 and Frozen II feels so much like one complete thought, one complete movie.
Lee: We kept saying Frozen 1 is love versus fear through the look of being different, and Frozen II is love versus fear through the look of change. We didn’t quite ever build the story with the sentence of that in mind, but when you look at it, we go back and we’re like, ‘Oh, wow, that’s interesting.’
Frozen II arrives in theaters on November 22, 2019.
Quibi has acquired a documentary series about the scandal that led to former Los Angeles Clippers owned Donald Sterling being forced to give up his NBA franchise and being banned from the league for life.
Blackballed, which counts Will Packer among its executive producers, highlights the five days during the 2014 NBA playoffs, when players and coaches led an unprecedented movement to hold racism accountable. The series that examines the cultural context of race in America through the lens of one of the most explosive events in recent sports history.
When Sterling's infamous racist audio recording was leaked to the press in April 2014, every player, coach and employee of the Los Angeles Clippers was faced with the same question: How do you stand up in the face of bigotry and ignorance when the entire world is watching and everything is on the line? In Blackballed, Chris Paul, Doc Rivers, DeAndre Jordan and JJ Redick, along with some of the biggest names from the worlds of sports, politics, business and media, explain how they asserted their power, leading to the most definitive and unprecedented punishment in sports history.
The recording was made from a phone call between Sterling and his then-girlfriend V. Stiviano in which he told her, among other things, not to bring black people to Clippers games. Check out captioned audio of the call here:
“This powerful story, which portrays a defining moment in the history of the NBA, shines a spotlight on a cultural divide that has affected our country for decades,” said Will Packer. Added Blackballed director Michael Jacobs: “The Sterling scandal was so much more than a leaked tape. This series will offer a first-person retelling of the ened drama and raw emotion surrounding a pivotal moment in sports history.”
The series is executive produced by Chris Gary and Ryan Simon, Sam Widdoes and Peter Cambor for District 33; Packer and Kelly Smith for Will Packer Media; and James Widdoes.
Quibi is the digital shortform service run by Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman that launches in April.
What makes Martin Scorsese’s films so indelible is the world he creates, populated by dozens of characters that all in their way shape our perception of the environment he creates. The main players in his news movie, The Irishman – played by Robert De Niro, Al Pacino, Joe Pesci – capture most of our attention, yet there are dozens of other performers both known and unknown that always bring their own magic to the big screen.
For years the Israeli-born, New York-raised Danny Abeckaser was a “club guy”, shepherding models to various events, planning massive parties, and making sure that his clients were taken care of. He helped open some of the biggest nightclubs around, and hustled in that world for years. In 2010 he followed his passion into filmmaking, helping produce Kevin Asch’s Holy Rollers, which found critical notice following its Sundance debut. Over the years he’s done a number of independent productions and character roles, including several under the direction of Martin Scorsese.
In The Irishman Danny is credited as “Louie the Deadbeat”, one of those relatively simple roles than in a lesser film would be forgettable. In Marty’s world, however, no scene is superfluous, and thanks to Abeckaser’s unique look and some improv with De Niro, he’s immortalized in this truly remarkable film. /Film spoke with Abeckaser about this role, how it affects his own creative pursuits, and just what it’s like to be working with masters of filmmaking craft.
So you started out in clubs basically making making sure they have a good time. How has that shaped your role as a character actor in Hollywood?
A lot of my acting comes from experience. I’ve been around a lot of people and different kinds of scenarios. The Irishman‘s a little different because no one’s ever pulled a gun on me!
Your role as a character actor must be very different, but surely there’s crossover as you produce and direct.
Well, I have no power being a character actor, I’ll tell you that! Producing a movie is kind of like producing an event – putting it together, doing all of the little things behind the scenes. Directing comes from a place of me having OCD and being a perfectionist and doing things my own way. I don’t think I could have been in the position that I am today without doing what I did for a living for a long time.
What is the biggest thing that we would misunderstand about your life in the club days? We think of it as glamour, we think about it as debauchery, but what would we not expect, how much work it was?
I never did drugs in my life. A lot of people think people in nightlife, they’re on drugs, and they’re partying. For me, it was really a business. I mean, I drank a couple of beers, I had some wine, I never drank really hard liquor. It was a business and I was really good at it, but I knew that at some point I’m going to try to get out of it and continue to do what I really want to do.
Was there ever a moment when you looked around at the ostentation – I mean, you’re there in Vegas, people spending $7000 for bottles of vodka – was there ever a moment where you we appalled? Or was it always that you saw I have a product to sell, these people are willing to buy, and so I’m going to go ahead and do that?
Well, you always take a step back because no matter what and who you are, you still sometimes feel like you’re a kid. You often have a “I can’t believe this is happening kind of moment”, you know what I mean? I always look at myself as a kid, and no matter what I do. I had those moments where I took a step back and I said wow, this is really working out.
But there wasn’t a moment that you were horrified?
No, never horrified, I mean, sometimes, I’d be like oh my god it’s late, I’m exhausted, and I have to do it all over again tomorrow kind of thing. But I took it as a business. Once I realized that I could be successful at it, it just motivated me to even better and better, so I was way more focused.
Which brings us to working with Marty – or, uh, Mr. Scorsese. I know that you had a small role in Wolf of Wall Street. Can you talk about the casting of that?
Wolf of Wall Street was when I first started acting a little bit. I remember going in and the casting director said to me “do you speak any other language?”, and I said I speak Hebrew. She said, “why don’t you do it in Hebrew because Marty’s looking for people to talk in several different languages”, so I did and they gave me the role. It was like five seconds on screen, but just that experience alone, and just being on set with Marty was incredible. It prepared me for The Irishman, which was a real substantial role, and really creating a character.
You’d worked on Holy Rollers, it played Sundance, you’ve had a bit of success there, you were working with some great performers. But what was it like the first time you stepped on a Martin Scorsese set?
Honestly, it’s kind of like an out of body experience. I remember being in the room – I hadn’t seem Marty yet, and we’re all, after hair and makeup and wardrobe, and we’re all in this investment centre where my scene’s being shot, and everyone’s chatting, everyone’s talking. All of a sudden, the room just goes silent. I was looking the other way, I didn’t realize it, but I turn around and Marty walked in. The respect that he commands! Everyone was so professional and I realized that I was in the presence of greatness at that moment. I didn’t know him at the time, like I do today, where he knows me by my name and we’re friendly and we’ll talk. Back then he was just addressing everyone at the same time. I remember just the presence that he had.
After that, you worked again with him on the pilot for Vinyl
I auditioned for that, and I got it, also again. It was a small little scene, maybe three or four lines, with Bobby Cannavale. I spoke to Marty a little bit because he was directing me, like “hey, Danny, when he comes in, touch him with your left hand”. For an actor, to be on that set is like for a basketball player to play one on one with Michael Jordan. It’s one of those moments that’s surreal, but I’ve gotta tell you that when you get to set, you’re just an actor, and he’s the director, and you just do what he says and just try to give the best performance possible. That is the one thing that I realized about this whole thing, is that you do the work, no matter who it is.
Which led to The Irishman. You certainly have a pivotal role that shows not only your character, but enlarges our understanding of De Niro’s as well. Could you talk about the audition process, and just expanding this character from the page to how it ends up in the final screen?
I auditioned four times for different roles. They thought that I’m right for the world of The Irishman so they brought me in for a couple of different characters, yet it didn’t work out, and then they said. Finally they told me they want to bring me in for “Louie the Deadbeat”. In the script it was a page and a half, not that big, but obviously I wanted it so bad. I auditioned for Ellen Lewis and I remember getting the email, Danny’s got the role! I was ecstatic.
Was it at all connected to them previously casting you in these other events, did they just like what they saw and they were looking for a spot for you?
I think it was more that they just knew me. I’m a New York actor, they knew my personality and what I can do, and I think that’s the kind of character they were looking for.
So they were looking for the right part for you to fit, basically?
I remember Ellen saying that Marty and Bob really thought that I’m right for the world, but they just didn’t know where the right fit is.
Was that Ellen’s call, or is that call made at the directorial and producer level?
I think it’s Marty and Bob, Ellen just like says what about this guy, what about this guy and she’s pinpointing what she thinks I’d be able to succeed at, and I think after a while they were like he’s right for Louie The Deadbeat. I heard that Marty picks his own extras, he’s that meticulous.
So then you get this role, as you said, it’s a page and a half, and you’re working directly with Robert De Niro. Working with him comes with a lot of emotional, intellectual baggage, could you just talk about overcoming that and working through that with your character?
I realized once I got to set they’re not going to go by the script. These guys are the best in the world at what they do, and 95% of it was improvised. They added so many things – he was never hitting me in the script! It was supposed to be two scenes, him picking me up in the car, and then there was supposed to be a scene in between and then I land in the bar where that whole thing happens. But Marty connected it both so it looks like one big scene.
Is the improvisation stuff coming from you or from them on set?
It organically happened, with me and Bob De Niro kind of riffing on where it’s going to go. In the previous scene, he says “oh, he probably going to tell you his mother died or something, don’t believe a word he says”, so De Niro just throws at me, oh, what are you going to say your mother died? So, he just continued to improvise and add lines, and I just kept sticking to what Marty kept telling me.
You mention out of body, is that sort of what you’re feeling at this time, or is there a real sense that here you are really crafting this character?
I think Robert De Niro is the greatest actor of all time, that’s my personal opinion. I gotta be honest with you though, when you’re on set, and you’re there to perform, and you have a job to do. When they call action, you just go into character and you don’t think that that’s Robert De Niro, to you, it’s Frank Sheeran, and he’s got a gun, and you owe money to Skinny and you’ve got to pay up or you’ve just got to do whatever you need to do to get out of there. So I just stayed in character. Only when my role was done, a couple of days later did I take a step back and go oh my god, that was just the most incredible experience of my life! But then you’re start to think, are they going to keep the scenes? It’s only two scenes, are they going to keep it? A few people have seen it, and some think I did a great job in my performance, that it’s a really meaty cool role because it’s the first time Frank, De Niro’s character, shows violence. It’s very pivotal to the character, it really starts snowballing exactly who he’ll become.
In the world of Scorsese it’s almost a Michael Imperioli-type role, one of these tiny scenes where you see the violence of the individuals around them. When Spider gets shot in Goodfellas suddenly that becomes so indelible because that shows what the other characters are doing, so you are a foil for their violence.
Thank you for saying that because that’s how I kind of perceived it. It was like a Spider-kind of character in the movie. I would have played anything, by the way, but I didn’t want to play the typical gangster guy. I wanted to do something different to stand out. Did you think it was a memorable role?
I believe we empathize with the people that are getting the shit kicked out of them more than we empathize with the people doing the shit kicking.
I like it!
This is a very technical film with the de-aging process and the multicamera madness. As a direcgtor yourself was there a moment of sort of tech envy or intimidation of all of the camera people around?
I make small little independent films. The Irishman set is massive and there’s hundreds of extras and people and PAs, can I get you anything. I was so laser focused on what I needed to do that I took it all in. It took all day to shoot one scene and the next day to shoot the second scene. They shot with two different cameras, sometimes three.
Was any of the de-aging stuff distracting?
I didn’t know exactly how they were going to do it, but then I realized that De Niro had these white points on his hat. I realized those were the focus points of where they needed to see his face for the de-aging stuff.
As a director, do you nerd out about that stuff, are you geeking out about all of the camera equipment?
Oh my god! I mean, you give me one crane, one day on my movie, and I get ecstatic. They’ve got cranes, and the cars, and the wardrobe, and just everything was just awesome. People were telling me, Danny, this movie is probably going to go down in history, it could be one of those movies like Goodfellas and The Godfather where everyone’s going to see it!