2008 in Review: The Top 5 Film Interviews of HollywoodChicago.com

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CHICAGO – After participating in close to 25 interviews in 2008 for HollywoodChicago.com, the mechanics of each sit down are interestingly similar. The reporters gather at a pre-determined spot (usually a Chicago downtown hotel).

And then either one-by-one or part of group, we are led into the inner sanctum of the actor or director’s interview room. Then, getting anywhere from 14 to 40 minutes, we get to ask questions.

Sometimes there are phone interviews. Nothing is more surreal than sitting in the home office, surrounded by everything that is familiar, and talking to one of the industry’s most notorious playwrights or an admired character actor.

The goal of each profile became the opportunity to either ask a question the interviewee had never heard, or to get a nugget of information that distinguishes the film or television show that they’re promoting. It is a terrific challenge.

After assessing all of the 2008 interviews, it was these five that stood out.

StarMelissa Leo, Lead Actress, “Frozen River”

“Frozen River” star Melissa Leo in Chicago on July 16, 2008.
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

The Background

After playing Sgt. Kay Howard on the TV show “Homicide” in the 1990s, and having notable supporting character roles for years, Leo got the opportunity to be the prime mover in this unusual story of immigrant running on the Canadian border.

The Quote

“We are here to grow into our best selves. That is my religion. Whatever can get you there and whatever the trials, that is what betters us. That is how the story of this film is played out.”

Behind the Scenes

When asked about playing Suellen O’Hara (Scarlett’s sister) in the mini-series “Scarlett” (1994), she laughed that it was “ancient history.” When informed that the 1939 Suellen (Evelyn Keyes) of “Gone With the Wind” had died the week before, she regretted never meeting her.

StarChiwetel Ejiofor, Lead Actor, “Redbelt”

“Redbelt” star Chiwetel Ejiofor in Chicago on March 31, 2008.
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

The Background

This fascinating British actor (name pronounced choo-ih-tell edge-o-for), who began his career working with Stephen Spielberg (”Amistad”), has played many memorable roles for directors ranging from Spike Lee to Woody Allen.

He was amazing as a Jujitsu master in the underrated David Mamet film, “Redbelt.”

The Quote

“If anything, the film is commenting on the way of how people – through their own volition – favor a simple way of living within their own moral framework, but find themselves at times vulnerable to the bigger machines at work.

The lesson within the film is that if you maintain your own position, you’ll find ways of engaging if not defeating anything that comes your way.”

Behind the Scenes

While talking about Hollywood politics, we both got into a spasm of uncontrolled laughter.

StarSteve Conrad, Director/Writer, “The Promotion”

“The Promotion” writer and director Steve Conrad in Chicago on April 22, 2008.
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

The Background

This Chicago-based writer/director put his heart and soul into the charming and brilliantly observed human comedy “The Promotion.” Passionate about the character of Chicago, he convinced the producers to film, with his all-star cast, on location in the city.

The Quote

“I would always try to measure the comedy through real human behavior. Among others things, it’s about carving out the space in America to become your better self, how that challenges you and what it costs. It amounts to the fight of all of our lives.”

Behind the Scenes

The interview was conducted in Conrad’s favorite tavern in the Bucktown neighborhood of Chicago.

StarRichard Jenkins, Lead Actor, “The Visitor”

Richard Jenkins in
Richard Jenkins in “The Visitor”.
Photo credit: Overture Films

The Background

Getting the lead role after a career of supporting portrayals (most notably as the father on “Six Feet Under”), Jenkins took “The Visitor” on his shoulders as the complex but heroic character of Walter Vale.

The native of DeKalb, Illinois, also spoke about his younger days watching movies at the Egyptian Theater there.

The Quote

“There’s nothing like walking onto a Hollywood sound stage.

You walk onto Warner Brothers and on those big sound stages that have been there for years there’s a list of every movie ever shot there. You are in the same place where Spencer Tracy, Errol Flynn, Jimmy Cagney and Humphrey Bogart made movies.”

Behind the Scenes

His distinct gravely voice felt like a private performance when coming out of the speaker phone. It was Richard Jenkins as Richard Jenkins.

StarNeil LaBute, Director/Writer, “Lakeview Terrace”

Director Neil LaBute and Samuel L. Jackson on the set of
Director Neil LaBute and Samuel L. Jackson on the set of “Lakeview Terrace”.
Photo credit: imdb

The Background

One of the most notorious and controversial playwrights in America, LaBute put his distinct spin on race relations in his must-see morality film, “Lakeview Terrace.”

His unblinking instinct to showcase human beings in their most unsettled form formulates a provocative atmosphere.

The Quote

“If Rodney King asks the question ‘can’t we all get along?,’ I would say after much scrutiny the answer would be ‘just barely’.”

Behind the Scenes

Even though the indication was that Mr. LaBute would be available via phone only for 17 minutes, he graciously went overtime and engaged in all of the interview questions.

StarQuick Takes on Some of the Other Good Ones in 2008

Funniest Interviews

“Shaun of the Dead” Simon Pegg loved his personalized water bottle, and frenetic Sam Rockwell did several minutes on trying to light a cigarette.

Master Class

One of the top and most famous documentary makers, Errol Morris, held a group of us in awe as he spoke of his craft.

Big Stars

Oscar winner Chris Cooper was a larger-than-life presence and Rainn Wilson – Dwight Schrute himself of “The Office” – rhapsodized about fulfilling a life-long show business dream.

Finally, Dude, You Are So Old & Boring

One of the subjects of the documentary, “American Teen” spent most of the group interview surreptitiously text messaging a distant friend. “OMG, STFU!”

StarRead more interviews from critic Patrick McDonald.

HollywoodChicago.com staff writer Patrick McDonald

Staff Writer

© 2009 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

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