Thursday, January 7, 2016
Interviewing Mary Rylance earlier this year I would have never suspected that I'd be talking to a major 2015 awards contender. He was promoting The Gunman, a no frills action movie starring Sean Penn. Rylance's supporting work in the film was unsurprisingly one of the -rare- great moments of the film. For an actor that's always shied away from the Hollywood spotlight and opted for the rush of theatre plays , Rylance surely did not expect the storm that was about to happen for his role as Rudolf Abel in Steven Spielberg's Bridge of Spies. Then he's a legend in his own right. Gaining the reputation as one of the great Shakespearian actors of our time, Sean Penn has said that Rylance is "probably the closest thing to a magician we have in the field”, Al Pacino has chmed in with the upmost respect for the guy "“Rylance speaks Shakespeare as if it was written for him the night before.” said Pacino a few years back and even Steven Spielberg chimed in by saying Rylance was “one of the most extraordinary actors working anywhere”.
In 1987 Rylance famously turned down a role in Steven Spielberg's "Empire of the Sun" and instead opted to follow his muse for other more personal projects. "I met my wife by turning him down," says Rylance, smiling Meeting the actor you'd never think for one second that you're talking to a three time Tony winner and future Oscar nominee, Rylance is the gentlest most sincerely humble interviewee I've had the chance of meeting this year. His bushy eyebrows and calming eyes don't necessarily stare at you as much as wander around the room and then look back. A very spiritual man, an animal rights activist that told the Guardian earlier this year “And on the news the other day there was this amazing thing about dogs smelling prostate cancer in urine! And cats being trained to detect breast cancer in women! Maybe in 50 years they’ll just see not only how cruel we were to torture and kill and eat animals, but how foolish not to develop a healing relationship with them.”
In the late 80's Rylance met composer Claire van Kampen, then married with two small daughters, Nataasha and Juliet. Rylance became the father figure for those two girls, but tragedy struck when Nataasha died suddenly, aged 28, of a brain haemorrhage on a flight in July 2012. “To some degree, all my principles went out the window when my daughter died. I couldn’t quite see the point of anything. It seemed like nothing really mattered. Why the fuck does it, you know? So I’m only kind of recovering my sense that what I do makes a difference.” I stutter condolences. “Well, lots of people have very difficult things happen.” He's good friends with the Coen Brothers and almost got the lead role in their 2009 classic "A Serious Man", the experience of not getting it was "upsetting" and a role in the 2011 Jason Statham vehicle Blitz sealed the deal "I've made some bad films, too, that have not been enjoyable, At a certain point after one of them I did a few years back, I said, 'That's it. I'm not interested in this anymore ... I was done, I fired my agent and I decided to concentrate on theater ... I had forgotten how satisfying it was being a theatre actor and this venture I had was just greediness"
For Rylance it was a challenging time "I thought: I need to be happy with who I am, where I am. That can be the kind of miners' dust of being an actor," he says. "For an actor, being dissatisfied with who you are can be the reason for becoming an actor, but it can become an illness." Then came Spielberg, reigniting a cinematic interest in Rylance. "I wanted to work with Spielberg. I'd seen his Lincoln and I bumped into Daniel Daniel Day-Lewis for the first time in 20 years and he spoke so warmly about working with Steven. I think he got me the job." Spielberg was urged to see Rylance in "Twelfth Night by Daniel Day-Lewis. "He sent Steven along to see me in Twelfth Night; Steven came backstage and, later, offered me the part." He calls him "a shape-shifter, a man of a thousand faces and voices who can play any part." Two weeks into shooting Bridge of Spies, Spielberg asked Rylance if he would be interested in taking the leading role as the titular giant in next year’s The BFG. 'Seldom has an actor been around for so many distinguished years on the stage and yet had not been fully discovered for the screen,' said Spielberg by email “Mark understands that the camera records stillness better than in any other media. His transition from the stage to ‘Bridge of Spies’ was graceful and invisible.”
Set at the height of American/Soviet paranoia in the early 60's, Bridge of Spies has Rylance playing Rudolf Abel a Russian spy caught in New York and put on trial. Tom Hanks plays his lawyer James B Donovan in a perfectly delicate performance that only Hanks could pull off. The powers that be – prosecutors, judge and the CIA – want the death penalty, and a short-sharp trial with a sure guilty verdict. After everything that's been mentioned it is no surprise that the screenplay is by the Coens and Rylance gives a beautiful performance that could well bag him his first Oscar nomination.
Perfectly explaining Rylance's real-life persona when Hanks’s character asks Abel why he’s not worried, he replies: “Would it help?” The same exchange gets repeated three times throughout the movie “That sense of shrugging the shoulders, that sense of nihilism ... why get worked up about this?” comments Rylance. “It feels like that’s a part of the Russian character.” "Tom's character takes an ethical stance," explains Rylance. "His character says: The only thing that makes us Americans is the rule book." "What are you fighting for," wonders Rylance, "if you're not fighting for the standards that define you as a nation? "I surprise myself – on a few occasions; I frighten myself, maybe. I'm more ashamed of myself; I suffer shame – I’ve been ashamed at how angry I can get with people.” he loves a story and his 'story' is that he rescued me from theatre and brought me into film.
It's 2010 and we open in the bathroom of a modest, suburban home. Reflected in the mirror is a leg hanging over the bathtub's edge and blood splattered on the wall. A left camera pan gives us a brief, but shocking glimpse of a dead man's body before the camera tightly focuses its grip on real estate agent Rick Carver who seems un-scarred by the scene and all business. In this single, beautifully unedited shot the world of 99 Homes is established and you'd be hard pressed to not remember this world. It is a world just after the housing bubble burst in which horror scene after horror scene was not uncommon and the government bailed out the big banks with little thought for the individual families affected by adjustable rate loans and easy-to-get second mortgages who were dumped onto the streets or into seedy motels with little monetary resources.
Here's the deal with 99 Homes: It made the festival rounds in 2014 showing up at Teluride, TIFF and Venice -among many other fests. Michael Shannon, Andrew Garfield and the film itself were very well received. Not too long after that Broad Green acquired distribution rights for the film and set it for release in 2015. My review from TIFF 2014 for AwardsDaily read as follows: “99 Homes” is not a perfect movie but the artistry is major and director Ramin Bahrani creates a movie that you’ll keep thinking about for days on end" - I was right, more than 15 months later I'm still thinking about the film. Whenever a movie is released almost a year after its film fest premiere doubts starts to emerge, why was it delayed for so long? The ultimate answer is only in the hands of the Broad Green team, but that hasn't stopped the critics from showering the film with praise. Its 91 percent RottenTomatoes ascore speaks volumes about how this film truly hits home.
Michael Shannon has also emerged as a very viable Best Supporting Actor threat with a Golden Globe nod and an L.A. Film Critics Association win. Here's an actor that is among one of the very best of his generation with incredibly masterful turns in Revolutionary Road and Take Shelter among others. Ramin Bahrani’s tense, but terrific film stars Andrew Garfield as Dennis Nash, a man whose family home gets foreclosed by arrogant, money-hungry real estate mogul Ray Carver, devilishly played by Michael Shannon. Circumstances lead the desperate Dennis to work for Carver to get his home back. Both are excellent, and Laura Dern as Dennis’ mother is heartbreaking in an exceptionally resonant role, showing us the immense talents this underused actress possesses. It all plays out like an unrelenting tragedy One that plays like an action film with its episodic structure of different homes being foreclosed and the families heartbreakingly powerless to authorities. Bahrani brings an authentic documentary-style feel to the whole thing, using handheld cameras to swerve with the characters and raise the tension.
This is about a society gone astray (hell, a country gone astray) and a poisonous system that doesn’t just seem unfair, but criminal. This is a movie for its time about its time, that is frighteningly urgent and has more than enough relevance to pack a punch. Though laws and regulations have helped repair the real estate market in America, there is still a rapidly growing. Every setting in the film holds illustrative significance; Carver's posh estate for his three daughters is built off the robbery of other families' homes, and the unfurnished mansion were Craver and Nash meet speaks to the former's emotional detachment and suggests the latter's fruitless departure from his honest carpenter days.
Bahrani never lets you forget the dooming decisions that are constantly made. Sparse injections of snappy vulgarity fail to humorously cultivate within Shannon's sphere of authentic monotone character mentality. His Craver preaches, "Don't get attached to real estate." But, of course, you do. How could you not? Any right-minded person with a heart would cringe at every family desperately pleading to keep their homes. On the surface, it seems like a typical good versus evil story against corrupt business. It is, but the film's convention plays this a little different. First of all, Michael Shannon not only makes Rick's despicable character a love-to-hate guy, but we do get an insight into his profession and how the housing crash worked to his playing field. The film establishes that he had the personality to pull this off, not many could have the stomach of watching the sheer desperation of people when it comes to this situation. Their livelihood is at stake and all that Craver does is watch from aback as authorities force their way into the homes and kick out the tenants.
In its entirety 99 Homes is an absolutely devastating film, one of the saddest, yet most relevant, I've seen of this decade. Its narrative essentially operates on a field of landmines. Much credit must go to Director Bahrani, whose previous films were as low-budget as professional indie filmmaking could get. Check out his 2009 film Goodbye Solo if you feel like watching an unheralded masterpiece. Late film critic Roger Ebert was a staunch supporter of Bahrani’s films and for good reason despite some of the concessions that had to be made for a big studio movie -primarily a tacked on "action" finale- the artistry is major in this film and Bahrani creates a movie that’ll give you nightmares.
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