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Feature: Top 25 Interviews of 2014, By Patrick McDonald

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CHICAGO – One of the specialities of HollywoodChicago.com is the film and personality interview. The majority of these chats came through me, Patrick McDonald, and I couldn’t narrow it down to a top 10 or even a top 20. For 2014, there were 25 top interviews, and it is a diverse range of voices.

It is a privilege to get the opportunity to participate in the promotional tours, awards ceremonies, film festivals, book appearances, phoners and other lucky happenstances that feature the notable among us. To whittle down the list, I mostly thought about what was said in these interviews, whether inspirational or provocative – plus the status of the participants, whether they are up-and-coming or established.

The interview highlights are broken down by “Background and Behind-the-Scenes” and the “Memorable Quote” associated with each subject, and are often accompanied with exclusive photography by Joe Arce of HollywoodChicago.com. Four notables who just missed the list include (click the name) Greg Kinnear, Crispin Glover, Andy Garcia, John Turturro, and Joel Murray. The following list represents the films, events and nostalgia of 2014.

StarRob Reiner, Actor and Director
 

Rob Reiner
Rob Reiner in Chicago, June 18, 2014
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: One of the great voices in modern American film directing came from a TV sitcom star from the 1970s – Rob Reiner. The son of famed TV producer and filmmaker Carl Reiner, Rob was best known for playing “Meathead” Mike Stivic on the controversial TV series “All in the Family.” He was in town promoting his latest film, “And So it Goes,” but I was just as fascinated with his years on that sitcom as I was with “The Princess Bride” – among his stellar filmography. He didn’t disappoint in any reflection.

Memorable Quote:When I was a kid growing up, my father was an idol to me, I loved what he did and I loved him so much. I wanted to be like him. My mother tells a story about when I was eight years old I came up to her, and told her I wanted to change my name. Immediately she thought, ‘Oh, the poor kid, it’s the pressure of living under the shadow of a famous father.’ She asked me what I wanted to change my name to, and I answered, ‘Carl’ [laughs]. I wanted so much to be like him. 

So really our major ‘separation’ came later in life, after I became single again in my early thirties, after being married for 10 years. I made the film ‘Stand By Me,’ which for the first time really reflected my point of view, which was separate and apart from anything he would have done. I had to find my own voice, and I finally did it.” 

Click here for the full interview of Rob Reiner.

StarChaz Ebert, Producer & Steve James, Director, of “Life Itself”



Chaz Ebert
Chaz Ebert on the Red Carpet at the Chicago Premiere of ‘Life Itself’ on June 30th, 2014
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: “Life Itself,” the brilliant document of film critic Roger Ebert’s life, is not only the front-runner for Best Documentary at the Oscars, but is also a passion play for it’s creators – Chaz Ebert, producer and Roger’s wife, and Steve James (“Hoop Dreams”), the director. As an acquaintance of both individuals, the interview was more of a celebration of Roger’s life and what it meant to all of us. As long as I’m a film critic, I will always owe a debt of gratitude to RE, and as follows his brilliant biographers, Chaz and Steve.

Memorable Quote:[Chaz Ebert] Live your passion in life because that’s what Roger did, and that’s why he had so much fun. I called it ‘living out loud.’ If he loved a film, he was unabashed in his praise of it, and I loved that he did that. I also loved that he loved me, my children and grandchildren, so much so that we’d have that same fun and that same joy. I want people to understand if you have someone close, hold them closer. I loved that he wrote about the movies so beautifully, but I also loved that he wrote about life so beautifully – whether it was race, politics, religion or anything else. He also showed us how to look death in the eye and say, ‘I am not afraid, I’m coming for you,’ and embraced death as much as he embraced life.” 

Click here for the full interview of Chaz Ebert and Steve James.

StarLiv Ullmann, Director and Actress 

Liv Ullmann
Liv Ullmann at the 50th Chicago International Film Festival
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for HollywoodChicago.com

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: I’ve been fortunate enough to meet some true legends of cinema, and they don’t get more legendary than Liv Ullmann – filmmaker, actress and muse to director Ingmar Bergman. Attending the 50th Chicago International Film Festival for her new film “Miss Julie,” Ullmann sat down for a few nerve-racking (for me) questions, and gave some special insights to the life and times of her legacy. Speaking to her was a blessing.

Memorable Quote:If Ingmar Bergman had been a woman, that greatness would have destroyed him. No woman could have lived their work as much as he did, and demanded so much without consequences, and have someone else take care of the children. He lived a very self-forgiving life. Because he was a man he could do that, and everyone respected him and thought he was great, including me…I’m very proud, and still don’t understand why he wanted to work with me so much, after we met each other. I asked once and he said, ‘don’t you understand, you’re my Stradivarius.’ I do believe he was a genius in his art, and as I read a script now to adapt for the stage, he was also a thinker and a philosopher – that is why he will last. The art of cinema will always come back around to him.” 

Click here for the full interview of Liv Ullmann.

StarJason Schwartzman, Actor
 

Jason Schwartzman
Jason Schwartzman in Chicago, October 24, 2014
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: Schwartzman was in Chicago promoting his underrated film “Listen Up Philip,” and he was an amazingly personable and warm interview subject. He was engaged and enthusiastic, and it wasn’t an act. He is, of course, a stock performer in Wes Anderson’s universe, who gave him his first big break in “Rushmore,” and did you know he was the son of actress Talia Shire (“Rocky”)? Our interview was a crazy quilt of his love for portraying authors like Philip and his adventurous career. He is a real treat of a human being.

Memorable Quote:I think a lot of it had to do with our ages at the time we met. I was 17 years old and Wes [Anderson] was 27. He definitely is a mentor, and there is always that person that comes along at the right time in your life, and steers you in the direction you need to go, and that was Wes. He was the kind of guy that turned me onto the French New Wave cinema and grittier American films. When I got the script for ‘Rushmore’ I remember reading it and thinking ‘this is exactly what I think is funny.’ I never realized it until then, and never knew that someone could articulate it so well. I remember thinking I wasn’t going to get the part in the film, but I couldn’t wait to see it. To this day, he makes me laugh. I don’t know how it ‘shaped’ me, but I’m with my friend, and we’re brothers in arms.” 

Click here for the full interview of Jason Schwartzman.

StarActor David Oyelowo, Director Ava DuVernay of “Selma” 

David Oyelowo, Ava DuVernay
David Oyelowo Consults with Ava DuVernay on the Set of ‘Selma’
Photo credit: Paramount Pictures

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: This was a film that made my Top Ten List for 2014, and it’s an inspiration both for the events it portrays – the voting rights march in Selma, Alabama, circa 1965 – and the man who led that march, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The actor David Oyelowo imbued his portrayal of Dr. King with a humanity that brings the icon to life, and the director Ava DuVernay – who is directing her first major film – gives a balance and reverence to the events as they unfolded. A must-see for soul cleansing, especially in the light of Ferguson and New York City. I spoke with the creators of this film via phone in mid-December, and their feeling and truth came through the distance.

Memorable Quote:[David Oyelowo] Racism is real, inequality is real and a ‘minority mentality’ that blocks us from where we want to go is real. But what is also real is the beauty of who we are as human beings, as black people, and what we have to contribute to society. Our human spirit is stronger than the forces that oppose us, and I have a true belief in that – and that’s what I expect to live with everyday, to defy whatever injustices I may face.” 

Click here for the full interview of Ava DuVernay and David Oyelowo.

StarBennett Miller, Director of “Foxcatcher” & “Capote”
 

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Bennett Miller
Philip Seymour Hoffman (left) and Bennett Miller on the Set of ‘Capote’
Photo credit: MGM/Sony Pictures Classics

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: Why this director ends up in my “hot six” for 2014 interviews, became clear as we spoke. Miller is a intuitively honest man, and it was obvious he was not up for my analytic questions about his new film “Foxcatcher” or the legacy of his close friend, the late Philip Seymour Hoffman – the lead actor in Bennett’s “Capote.” It was refreshing to experience his complexity and his truth. Finally, somebody calls me on my bullsh*t.

Memorable Quote:I bet you could write a thesis paper on [your analysis]. The problem with your questions is that each one of them could a be term paper. [laughs] You could take these three films, teach a class, and each one of these questions could be an assignment – and don’t forget the reading lists alongside them. Listen, part of me is like that cat wanting to hit at that dangling feather in regard to your questions. We could line up five coffees and really get into it all. They are valid and fascinating, but I can’t answer them in soundbites.” 

Click here for the full interview of director Bennett Miller.

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