Un-Hollywood film lets its story unfold in a natural way

Rick Bentley
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

The challenge filmmakers face these days is how to be original. Most movies are aimed at those in their late teens and early 20s.

But director/writer Tom McCarthy bucks Hollywood's obsession with youth. His latest film is "The Visitor" and the lead character is in his 60s.

"I have never seen this character represented before," says McCarthy in a phone interview in April from San Francisco where he was to promote his film "The Visitor."

That's really an understatement. The focal point of "The Visitor" is Walter Vale, a 60something college professor whose life is stuck in neutral since his wife died. He befriends a couple who have illegally sublet his New York apartment and ends up involved in immigration issues.

And if that wasn't far enough off the typical Hollywood film path, McCarthy cast character actor Richard Jenkins in the lead. He's best known for playing the dead dad on "Six Feet Under."

Casting a little-known veteran actor would seem to be a huge negative.

"That's nothing new for me. I am the guy who wrote and directed a movie about a lonely dwarf," McCarthy says referring to his movie "The Station Agent."

To Jenkins, recognition has bad and good sides. Film goers recognize his face but not his name. But he loves that he can play lots of different characters instead of being labeled a "leading man."

"The only time it is frustrating is when someone says they recognize you. Then they ask what they have seen you in. Sometimes I get to the name of a movie and they will ask 'Why would I see that.' Or they still don't know me after I list everything," Jenkins says in the same interview as McCarthy.

Jenkins prefers to be the "every man." That has made it easier for him to land roles in such diverse movies as "Hannah and Her Sisters," "The Core" and "Cheaper By the Dozen."

In "The Visitor," Jenkins' character and one of the tenants connect by playing drums. That was the easy part of the job for Jenkins. He has played the drums for years.

And as if McCarthy hadn't already made the anti-Hollywood movie, his script doesn't discuss much about immigration laws. The film could have been driven by heavy debates on immigration, but McCarthy preferred a softer approach.

"This is much more than a movie about immigration. What is happening is a simple reality. There is a political element. But the movie is more about how the relationship between these people is affected," he says.

The Cigarette: A Political History (By the Book)

Sarah Milov's The Cigarette restores politics to its rightful place in the tale of tobacco's rise and fall, illustrating America's continuing battles over corporate influence, individual responsibility, collective choice, and the scope of governmental power. Enjoy this excerpt from Chapter 5. "Inventing the Nonsmoker".

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