The Looming Tower Explores the FBI and CIA Before 9/11

Posted on March 8, 2018 at 10:32 pm

Hulu’s new series, “The Looming Tower,” is based on Lawrence Wright’s Pulitzer Prize winning non-fiction book about the US intelligence agencies in the years before 9/11. His focus is on the rivalry between the heads of the FBI and CIA operations investigating Osama Bin Laden and the rise of Al-Qaeda and how their unwillingness to share information made it impossible to prevent the attack. In the series, adapted by “Capote” screenwriter Dan Futterman, Peter Sarsgaard plays CIA Analyst Martin Schmidt, a fictionalized character, and Jeff Daniels plays John O’Neill, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s counterterrorism operation, who was killed on 9/11 in the World Trade Center.

I interviewed Wright and the actors. On, my interview with Jeff Daniels, Peter Sarsgaard, and Wright talked about the personal and professional animosity that kept the investigators from cooperating and why now could be the time for a deeper look at what happened.

For the MPAA site The Credits, I talked to the actors, including Tahar Rahim and Wrenn Schmidt about the characters they play.

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Most Valuable Players: Actors Who Appeared More than One Top 2017 Film

Posted on January 19, 2018 at 1:31 pm

Copyright Sony PIctures Classics

Michael Stuhlbarg, Timothee Chalamet, Sally Hawkins, Lucas Hedges, Alison Brie, and Caleb Landry Jones are among the actors who appeared in more than one 2017 awards contender. Some are well-known actors we are seeing in a new light, like Bob Odenkirk, or well-known actors who just keep being great like Nicole Kidman and Robin Wright. Others are reliable stalwarts like Stuhlbarg, Tracy Letts, and Bill Camp. Others seem to have come out of nowhere to astonish us, like Chalamet and Jones. Indiewire has a great gallery of last year’s MVPs.

Copyright Fox Searchlight 2017
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Interview: Charlie Plummer on “All the Money in the World”

Posted on January 4, 2018 at 4:10 pm

Copyright 2017 TriStar
Charlie Plummer stars in “All the Money in the World” as John Paul Getty III, grandson and namesake of the wealthiest man in the world. When Getty III was kidnapped at age 16 in 1973, his grandfather refused to pay the $7 million ransom. In an interview, Plummer (no relation to Christopher Plummer, who plays the flinty oil baron), talked about the challenges of the role and what he learned from director Ridley Scott.

For a story like this, based on a real-life incident, is your performance based exclusively on the script or do you do outside research about the people and the times?

I did do outside research. I don’t have a lot of experience and this is certainly the first time I played a character who was at all based on a real person. So I did take full advantage of that and I did do as much research as I could. But I also didn’t want to overwhelm myself with research because I wanted to do my own interpretation. I thought if I was going to do it, it would really have to come from who I am as well. I then spoke to Ridley to really see his vision of the character and who this person was at this time in his movie; that was also really important for me. So I think all of those components really made up what my performance ended up being like.

Your character is somebody has had great wealth around him but he himself has not been super privileged because his grandfather would not give his mother any money. How did that affect him?

That was one thing that I think really sparked my interest. This guy who has this status, this name and what that means and when he walks into a room he knows that all people are talking about him is if he’s this person but then he goes home and he doesn’t have all of that wealth. By the end of the film you see who he is when he does have all this wealth.

What’s interesting for me is at the start of the film where he doesn’t have it, though. He just has the name, the status. And so there is that emptiness inside of him. He had a certain emptiness in him and one that couldn’t be filled by status or wealth . John Paul Getty III got into this argument with a friend of his, actually the night he got kidnapped. He was drunk and they were fighting and the friend said “You’d be nothing without your name. No one would even care about you.” I think that that really does weigh on him in terms of who he is as a young person. At that age he was surrounded by these accomplished people, whether they were in politics or the arts, and really the reason why he was in those rooms was because of his name.

What was it like to inhabit the 70’s and what surprised you about that era?

Ridley is such a master for so many reasons and he had such a point of view on this decade and on this time. Janty Yates who did the costumes for the film and Ferdinando Merolla did the hair — all of that makes it a lot easier to slip into who that character was at that time. Janty was really the first person other than Ridley that I got to share ideas about the character with and so that was such an important relationship throughout. When that’s the first thing you see, it does have an effect on how the audience receives him and what they think his life has been like and so it definitely had an effect on my whole process. When you’re walking around and you see all the cars and the clothing and and it it all so iconic and it’s right at your fingertips — it really helped me slip into what that character was going through. At the end of the day it is not about the era. It is really is just about these people and what’s going on internally for them and that is certainly what it was for me.

What did you learn from your director, Ridley Scott?

I learned so much from him. Just being around him you learn so much and that was certainly the case for me getting to just be on set with him you and seeing how he speaks with people and how he works in his own environment I think was such a learning experience. Every time I see him he always asks what I’m doing and what I’m working on next. The way he is so interested in everyone and everything and the way that at age 80 how he’s still working as much as he is. I just saw him and immediately he started talking about the next thing he’s doing. For a young person especially that is such an important lesson to always keep moving forward and always keep fighting to learn and grow. He is such a good example of that.

Originally published in HuffPost

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MVP of the Month: Michael Stuhlbarg

Posted on December 30, 2017 at 1:46 pm

Copyright Fox Searchlight 2017
Movie critics have been releasing their end-of-year top ten lists and mine, like many others, includes three films that feature one of Hollywood’s finest actors, Michael Stuhlbarg. In “The Post” he plays New York Times Executive Editor Abe Rosenthal, friend and rival of Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, played by Meryl Streep. In “The Shape of Water,” he plays a scientist at a top-secret government lab who is hiding a secret of his own. And in “Call Me By Your Name” he plays a professor deeply imbued with culture and learning spending the summer with his family in Northern Italy. The wise, compassionate speech he makes to comfort his heartbroken son is one of the most moving scenes ever filmed.

I once had the privilege of interviewing Stuhlbarg. The movie we were talking about was “A Serious Man,” written and directed by the Coen brothers, where he played a professor of physics. In one scene set in a classroom he covers the blackboard with equations, writing so quickly that I assumed it was a camera trick until the shot opened up and it was clear that it was him and he really was writing all of the numbers and Greek letters as though he had been doing it all his life. I asked him about it and his answer was simple, straightforward, and very meaningful. He said that the character would have been able to write all of the equations very fluidly and he wanted to make it look as though he was completely familiar and at ease, and so every night he just wrote them and wrote them and wrote them over and over until it was completely natural.

Copyright Sony PIctures Classics
Stuhlbarg is an immensely talented actor who brings enormous depth to every role. I highly recommend taking a look at “Men in Black 3” to see his gem of a performance as an ineffably sweet alien with extraordinary powers of perception and “Steve Jobs,” where he plays a frustrated computer scientist who finally speaks up to his demanding boss. He is also outstanding in “Trumbo” as Edward G. Robinson, a sophisticated art collector who played tough guys in movies and as actual tough guy Arnold Rothstein in “Boardwalk Empire.”

Stuhlbarg will return to Italy in the upcoming “Gore,” playing the longtime partner of writer and enfant terrible Gore Vidal. I am looking forward to it.

Originally published on HuffPost

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Tribute: Rose Marie

Posted on December 29, 2017 at 12:29 pm

Copyright Rose Marie 2017
We bid a sad and fond farewell to Rose Marie, a star from the era of radio to the era of Twitter, who died yesterday at age 94. She is best remembered today as Sally Rogers, the wisecracking comedy writer (inspired by Selma Diamond) on the fictitious “Alan Brady Show” in my all-time favorite television series, “The Dick Van Dyke Show.” Sally’s brash humor, mostly directed toward herself and her single status, was a perfect counterpoint to Van Dyke’s suburban dad and Morey Amsterdam’s non-stop one-liners. For me, and I imagine for many girls and young women across the country, the writer with the bow in her hair who was the only woman in the room was an inspiring example of an independent, respected working woman. In her appearances on talk shows and “The Hollywood Squares” she was as quick and funny as the character she played. And could she sell a song.

After all, she had been a singing superstar as a little girl with a very big voice and and a bigger personality, billed as “the child wonder.”

Here she gives her thoughts on comedy.

And how the Sally Rogers character was based on her own personality.

I was proud to contribute to the Kickstarter campaign for the documentary about Rose Marie that came out earlier this year. It includes many remarkable stories about her early days as a child superstar and her appearances in Las Vegas back when the mob was running the casinos.

Carl Reiner, creator of “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” wrote on Twitter:

I was so sad to learn of the passing of Rosemarie. There’s never been a more engaging & multi-talented performer. In a span of 90 years, since she was four, dear Rosie performed on radio, in vaudeville, nightclubs, films, TV, & Vegas & always had audiences clamoring for “more!!”

Bill Persky, a writer for the show, paid tribute on Twitter as well: “Laughter lost a friend today with the passing of Rosemarie, Every line we wrote for her was guaranteed, she never failed to deliver, The New Year will be less happy with her gone.”

Columnist Amy “Ask Amy” Dickinson wrote in her book that her appearances on the NPR show “Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me” are inspired by her inner Sally Rogers. I think all of us of that generation, especially those who write, have a bit of Sally — and Rose Marie — in us.

May her memory be a blessing.

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