Interviews – Ricky Gervais, Alan Ball, Stuart Townsend

Been a busy week since I got back from Toronto – conducting phone interviews, transcribing Toronto interviews… and, oh yeah, movies.

Movies come later. Here’s a list of recently published interviews.

I interviewed Alan Ball, director of Towelhead and creator of Six Feet Under and the new True Blood, a few months ago when he was at SIFF. A brief version of the interview is in the Seattle P-I, the complete piece is on Parallax View.

Alan Ball
Alan Ball

This is your feature directorial debut. You directed a number of episodes of Six Feet Under.

I directed six episodes of Six Feet Under.

Is that where you learned how to direct?

Yes. Six Feet Under for me was kind of like film school. Prior to moving to Los Angeles I worked only in the theater. I directed in theater but I had never done anything for the camera and my first four years working in L.A. was working on sitcoms, which is basically theater with video cameras. And then when American Beauty was made, I was on the set every day, just observing, just watching. And then Six Feet Under was basically film school.

I see Six Feet Under as not just TV but long-form drama.

I’ve always said, without claiming sole authorship – because I certainly didn’t write everything myself, I worked with a really talented group of writers – it’s the closest I will ever come to writing a novel. There is certainly something I love about TV and this ongoing series, the scope that it has, it’s a different environment than a movie, which is two hours and you have to accomplish everything in those two hours. And I love that.

I find with really great TV on an ongoing drama like Six Feet Under, you have to bring a certain amount of closure in an episode but it is in no way definitive, the story continues until you reach the end of the run.

And you can also have your characters evolve and change over years in a way that is really not possible in movies. And nobody would ever let me make a movie about dealing with the existential presence of death in life if you’re in this business. That’s not a movie. You can have philosophical conversations on a TV show that you could never have in a movie. You know what I mean? In a lot of ways, TV is a… I don’t want to say TV is a better medium for a writer than movies are, because I mistrust any of those blanket statements, but I do think we are in a golden age of television right now, which is really exciting.

Read the complete interview here.

I interviewed Ricky Gervais at Toronto, where he was promoting his new film Ghost Town, for the P-I:

You’ve made a career playing very insecure, glib and overbearing characters on the small screen and here you are playing a glib, self-absorbed character as a romantic lead.

It’s very interesting you should say that because a lot of people have said, “Wow, we didn’t think you’d do a romantic comedy,” and I say, “Look at it again.” This is not George Clooney. This is not Hugh Grant. This has more in common with Woody Allen, Jack Lemmon, Jimmy Stewart, those guys. This is not an unfeasibly handsome man destined to get the girl.

Ricky Gervais
Ricky Gervais

It’s also your first big-screen lead.

I’d never been an actor for hire. I was always third on the list, really, and I did those roles because I was the best person for the job. I’ve been offered a hundred films since where I wasn’t the best person for the job and I knew that.

What about this script made you the best person for the job?

The script was funny and it was very me. I thought, “My God, this is my voice,” when he was being misanthropic and wisecracking and insulting. Still on the back foot, though. He’s a rich, Upper East Side … dentist who’s successful and in charge, but he’s missed out on everything else and he’s closed down emotionally. There’s a lovely line that Greg (Kinnear) says, “Your little Grinch heart started beating again,” and that’s really sweet.

Read the complete feature here.

Irish actor Stuart Townsend made his directorial debut with Battle in Seattle, which opened the 2008 Seattle International Film Festival (despite the fact that it was largely shot in Vancouver, Canada). I conducted a phone interview with him the day after I got back from Toronto. I’ve got some problems with the film, but I was more interested in talking about what I thought was interesting about it. The interview is currently running on Parallax View, and a feature on Townsend will run in the Seattle P-I on Friday.

Stuart Townsend (right) with Charlize Theron and Seattle Mayor
Stuart Townsend (right) with Charlize Theron and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels

I think the greatest triumph of the film is that you are able to show how the organization worked, of how they structured the protests and what specifically about them made the protests so effective and caught the city off guard and shut the talks down.

I would love to have gone even deeper into a lot of those issues. But yeah, you get the basic rundown of the fact that it’s these affinity groups and decisions are based on consensus so it’s a very democratic process, and yeah, these protesters weren’t like some dumb college kids like a lot of the preconceptions out there, these were very tactical organizers who had spent six months mapping out the geography of Seattle, realized that this was the perfect place because the I-5 cuts off a whole quadrant, that this was a good place to actually shut stuff down, and obviously they used direct action tactics of using lock boxes at the intersections and, yeah, they strategically beat them. They were this bottom-up foe that defeated this top-down Seattle police administration. And they actually got a book written about them, it was called “Networks and Net Wars,” and it was commissioned by the Rand Organization to actually talk about these tactics, these decentralized tactics that the protesters were using because they were so effective. And I think that’s what’s missing with a lot of… I was just at the DNC and the RNC protests and missing a sense of something tactical and a tactical objective, like shut something down or stop McCain speaking, I don’t know, instead of just protesting and doing your thing and then going home. In Seattle, it was like, ‘We’re going to shut something down,’ and when they did, obviously the rest is history. There was a major police response to that.

Another story that you reveal is, parallel to the protests occurring on the streets, there was another protest brewing among the representatives of the Third World nations whose concerns were being ignored by the body, and because the protests outside were so effective, they were also missed by the media.

Here’s the thing: What I found in found in my research and talking to people like Laurie Wallace from Public Citizen was there was very much an inside/outside strategy. The outside was the demonstrators and the agitators and the activists and because they shut down the WTO, because they brought attention, it actually inspired the inside developing countries, the African countries and Caribbean countries, it inspired them to stand up and speak against the WTO, which is obviously what our African delegate does. There was a scene in the film, unfortunately I cut it, where the African delegate is not allowed into a Green Room meeting, and that was definitely one of the things that happened. A lot of these countries were not allowed into Green Room meetings, where most of the real deals were getting down, mainly by the G8 countries, the richer, developed countries, and developing nations just didn’t have a seat at the negotiating table, and that was also what frustrated them, this lack of transparency, and that bubbled up toward the end of the week in African and Caribbean nations saying, ‘No, we’re not going to take this,’ and they shut down the round. But one of the things I found very difficult was I couldn’t find anything about what went on inside the WTO, because it’s non-democratic, it’s non-transparent. So in all my research, what I found really difficult was, how do I get in to the WTO? And that’s why I chose the Doctor Without Borders and the African delegate. They were my two chances to go inside and those characters were both based on true people. I didn’t want to just pretend and create a Director General character just for the sake of it, I wanted to try to remain authentic to what really happened instead of creating stuff that might misrepresent the WTO, so I didn’t actually do anything in terms of WTO characters, but the African delegate and the doctor were my way in, just to show that there was agitation going on inside the talks as well as outside.

Read the complete interview here.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I’m a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I’ve written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View.

I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

One thought on “Interviews – Ricky Gervais, Alan Ball, Stuart Townsend”

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