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Stuff has to happen


Tony Goldwyn may be best known as the dastardly villain in 1990’s blockbuster weepie, Ghost, or the voice of Disney’s vine-surfing Tarzan in 1999, or maybe even the self-cloning bad guy in last year’s The 6th Day. (You may not know that he appeared in both Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives and Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood—as different characters!) He certainly has the movie business in his blood, being the son of actress Jennifer Howard and producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr., and the grandson of producer Samuel Goldwyn, one of the founders of MGM. In 1999, the boyishly handsome 41-year-old actor revealed another side, when he released his directorial debut, A Walk on the Moon, a low-budget, independent film starring Diane Lane and Liev Schreiber. Now, seated in an armchair and drinking bottled water at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons, he’s talking about his new movie, the romantic comedy, Someone Like You.



Cynthia Fuchs:

Your first film, A Walk on the Moon, was so very different from the usual genre movies that come out of Hollywood. What made you want to do a film that took you back to a more formulaic project?



Tony Goldwyn:

I wanted to do something different, and what appealed to me about Someone Like You was similar to the case of Diane Lane [in A Walk on the Moon]. I knew that Ashley Judd could kill in this part. But I also wanted to do something that was more formulaic in an interesting, fun, fresh way. It was a challenge to take something that could be done very superficially, that you’ve seen a billion times, and try and bring some substance to it, and surprises, and have it be an emotionally satisfying and entertaining experience. A Walk on the Moon was a very simple, personal, intimate story, and I wanted to do something 180 degrees different than what I had done before.



CF:

I know that you reshaped the script—do you write dialogue?



TG:

I don’t actually write, no. But I do a lot of acting for the writers. I had a theory about how to make the script work, because structurally it was quite different at first, and I had certain things that I wanted to bring to it. I pitched my take to the studio, and then to [screenwriter] Elizabeth Chandler, and they all said, “That makes a lot of sense.” I had a theory and then we had to see if it would work. In the original, Eddie [Hugh Jackman] and Jane [Judd] don’t get together in the end. Jane just had a realization about what love meant, and it had nothing to do with Eddie. But I said, this is a romantic comedy, and wanted them to discover each other. We tightened it up. It was intensive work with Elizabeth, but the most “writing” that I’d do is that I’d improvise scenes for her. Only in one case, literally on set, I rewrote a scene.



CF:

When you direct, do you control the set or do you see yourself as flexible?



TG:

I view the whole thing as a collaboration. As an actor, I always found that to be the most freeing thing, when the director would collaborate with you, so that together you’d come up with something exponentially better. With A Walk on the Moon, I didn’t know what I was doing as a director, but I knew having worked with a lot of first time directors that the ones who surrounded themselves with good people were successful, if they knew what story they wanted to tell. I knew I had strengths in terms of storytelling and was confident I could get good performances out of the actors. So it was an effort to empower every person to do their best work, and them, collate all of it. You end up making decisions about everything and sometimes manipulating things to get what you want, but I have all these incredibly gifted people, who sometimes know of a hell of a lot more than I do, and if not, at least bring a fresh perspective. I try to milk that perspective. I find that the more open I am, the more decisive I can be in the end.



CF:

It sounds like you are fairly confident. Were you always that way?



TG:

No, it’s something I’ve cultivated. It was something I discovered only five or six years ago, that really improved my work as an actor. I used to agonize over choices. And literally, a shrink helped me; he said, “As soon as you’;ve done something, forget it. Move on to the next thing.” He told me that in business there’s a statistic, that the people who make the most successful decisions make the most decisions. The more decisions you make, the better, statistically, your odds of success are. And what I also learned was, it doesn’t matter: anything can be fixed. When you’re directing, you can agonize, but you can’t indulge. Stuff has to happen.



CF:

One of these good people with whom you worked on this film is your cinematographer, Tony Richmond. I know that you wanted a “realistic” look for the film—what does that mean for you?



TG:

Tony shot A Walk on the Moon, and he and I had such an intimate relationship [on that film]. And his style is very realistic, very organic, he moves the camera with the actors. And that’s what I wanted to do, with regard to the formulaic nature of the genre. While being true to the genre, I wanted it to be real. I wanted it to be in New York, and fought shooting in Canada. I wanted New York in a real way; I didn’t want to do Nora Ephron’s or Woody Allen’s New York. If Jane’s in the belly of the beast, let’s go to the meat-packing district! Let Hogs ‘n’ Heifers be the bar they go to. Let’s have her live in Chinatown, and feel that cramped sense. I wanted a more rough-around-the edges feeling, and not be post-cardy. Ashley is a movie star, and she’s beautiful, but she worked to not glam herself up. It’s still Ashley Judd at the end of the day, but we were trying to bring other feelings to it.



CF:

There’s another strand in the film, that has to do with this tension between reality and unreality—that has to do with the critique of pop media, the talk shows and Jane’s pseudonymic alter-ego, Dr. Marie Charles.



TG:

Exactly. It’s something where I had to make a choice. In the original script, the third act of the script was really all about Marie Charles. It was commentary on the New Cow Theory and how big it had gotten. My feeling was, it was interesting from a topical point of view, but at the end of the day, it’s really about her discovery that her heart is connected to the last person on earth she ever thought her heart would be connected to. And only when she can throw off her preconceptions, can she find something. Put another way, I said, the Eddie-Jane story has got to be the money here. The other thing has to become subservient to that.



CF:

The tv scam is more interesting, though, than the New Cow Theory, which is obviously a hook. And Jane’s emotional journey is certainly more interesting than the theory.



TG:

To me it was. I felt like if we started saying that the Theory is the thing, we’d lose everybody. The book is all about the Theory. It’s a funny book, but it’s not something you’d sit for, for ninety minutes in a movie. The book is acerbic and witty, but I said, “I don’t care about this theory.” The theory is only useful as her way of realizing how ridiculous it is. What really interested me was the phenomenon, of what we do when we get hammered in life, this obsession with making sense of it or coming up with a policy or a principle that protects us from it ever happening again. To be guarded against the world like that is a recipe for disaster and loneliness. That lesson is interesting to me.



CF:

There are so many pieces that give us access to Jane—the secondary characters who have their own plots and have to come together. How did you pull all that together?



TG:

The sister was tricky, and Marisa [Tomei] was tricky.



CF:

She could so easily have been the Joan Blondell character.



TG:

And that’s why I chose Marisa, because I thought that exact thing, that she could fall into being “the kooky best friend.” In the book, Liz was a man-hungry desperado. Marisa said, I’m not interested in playing that character, and I said, I’m not interested in that character. Liz as to have her own point of view. And for the sister, she’s only in three scenes—how do you do that and not make her into a device? It’s a matter of making everything relevant. For instance, I had much more of Ray and Jane’s relationship in the beginning of the movie, to explain why she fell for this guy. And I realized that the audience was way ahead, and this was eating up too much time. A friend of mine said, “I loved all that stuff, but when she moved into Eddie’s apartment, I thought, now the movie’s really getting started—this is going to be a long movie!” So it was imbalanced. It was painful to cut because Greg was so brilliant, but you gain so much more when you cut. I hope Greg feels that way! Everything has to pay off in an economic way, as the movie finds its own rhythm.



CF:

How are you imagining your directing future?



TG:

I want to keep doing different things. I’d like to do a more personal, dramatic movie next, I think. But as long as it’s about characters and good writing and good parts for actors, that’s what’s important. I don’t want to do an action movie, because I’ve acted in them, and they’re so boring to do, because they’re so technical. The headache of that is daunting. But… if it were an action movie with really interesting characters, how great would that be?

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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