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INT: Bill Condon

Dec. 21, 2006by: Jenny Karakaya

Academy award winner Bill Condon has created musical magic! Writing and directing a fabulous motion picture adaptation of the Tony Award winning Broadway anomaly DREAMGIRLS, he demonstrates an ease and passion for creating an inspirational script that transitions beautifully from Broadway to the silver screen. Condon however, is no stranger to musicals. He is the Oscar nominated screenwriter of another famous Broadway show turned movie, CHICAGO .

As a longtime fan of DREAMGIRLS and having experienced the original Broadway show directed by the late Michael Bennett, Condon expresses a great devotion for conceiving powerful and accurate material that will impact audiences with the same magnitude as the original play did. DREAMGIRLS is a compelling story of a singing group in search of fame, but no journey to stardom comes without a price. Friendship, love, sacrifice, heartbreak and betrayal all play a significant factor as the girls attain their much desired success, crossing over into mainstream America and breaking records with their landmark sound. Their emotions are so effectively expressed through their music that it makes you want to cry, scream and cheer throughout the film.

See what Bill Condon had to say last week about his personal experience in making this film when I had the honor of sitting down with him to discuss his upcoming electrifying film, DREAMGIRLS.

Bill Condon

How do you go from Gods And Monsters to Dreamgirls?

Well there were few along the way (laughs). Both had actual characters, right?

Did you really go see the Supremes when you were eight years old?

Yes. I was growing up in Queens and Come See About Me had just come out and they came to the Paramount . My father took me and one of my sisters with him. They had been together but it was within the first three months that they had merged.

That had to be a sensitive child moment?

Yeah it was. He (my father) kind of got into it too. It was nice, yeah.

What do you think it is about this 60's girl group that speaks so much to the gay culture?

First thing, it's all the glamour and all that. I think the show got to the heart of something. When you are in someway an outsider to society and you're breaking through those barriers, how much of your own identity do you sacrifice or soften, or in your presentation in the world. I think that's something that speaks to gays specifically.

Why is everyone avoiding The Supremes question?

I think originally when the show opened, it took place a just a few years after the events were depicted and they were worried about that. I think now its clear. I don't avoid it because I think Dreamgirls the show was inspired by the Motown movement and by The Supremes. It should be acknowledged that it's inspired by them and made clear that it isn't literally their story is always the trick. It isn't literally their story but there is no question that when it came time to do their movie, it's set in Detroit and it's a real tribute to those pioneers who changed the world.

What was the most challenging part in filming this?

I would say the one that was personal heavy on my mind was And I'm Telling You, because you can do everything right but if that number doesn't kill in every possible way, it's so legendary on the stage and it really has to be the high point in the film too. So we didn't shoot it until the very end of the show when Jennifer could be as immersed as possible and all of us behind the camera could be as well oiled machinery as possible. And it was just making sure it worked I think.

How do you decide which parts of the film to be performed in music and which to be in conventional dialogue? What ingredients do you look for?

Whenever emotions get heightened, it should be expressed musically. So for example there was a new song called Listen that Beyonce sings at the end of the movie. That didn't exist in the play, but it says to me that it takes the whole movie for her to figure out that she's betrayed her dreams, and that Curtis has her in this cage, and when she does, it's a big thing. The movie's over when she leaves him. In a way it starts when they bump into each other and it ends when she leaves him. It seemed to me crazy that that wasn't musicalized when she finally finds her own voice. So that's a ballad we added to the film. You have to be selfless as the writer of a musical because anything really good that you write should be given to songwriters and put into songs.

It's incredible the way you start with that one moment from What About What I Need and it just keeps going. She kind of moves from there. You navigated that awkward moment really well.

There are little kinks along the way where subliminally people do it and you don't notice but if you remember in the alleyway when Jamie starts singing I'll Get You All The Breaks You Need, that's a purely movie musical moment. It's in reality and he's singing and moving kind of in a dance like way but I think it goes by so fast that you don't feel the pain of it. But we had enough of those that by the time you got there you felt....and also Effie doing it. Again, Effie's moments when speaking is not enough you know. Can you imagine Effie's dreams, suddenly you're going to sing back up and you're all, including your own brother, are against you. She has to sing. That's how you feel.

How many times did you have to shoot Am I'm Telling You I'm Not Going, to get it perfect and exactly the way you want it?

Well it wasn't so much that. It was using a lot of different camera angles to make sure it could be as exciting as possible. So we did shoot it over a period of four days and Jennifer kept up that incredible emotion during that whole period. It was amazing to watch.

How did you cast her? What did she bring to this?

You know I thought she brought all the stuff that Effie needs that we're used to which is the incredible power of her voice, and dominant personality and of course that amazing physicality, beauty but also something extra which I thought you needed on film but something original to her which is this great vulnerability you know. You saw that underneath all that bravado there's insecurity too and I think that's an important element that maybe hadn't been brought before in that character.

What do you think of this bizarre rivalry that the NY Post is trying to create between Beyonce and Jennifer?

I think it's so crazy and you know what to me it's a testament to what Beyonce pulled off in this movie. She had to go in the opposite direction. She had to convince you that she was not that special, not that beautiful, she's the wallflower. It's hard and she's got to be the person who takes the longest to form. She does it so beautifully but suddenly it's like oh, like these ridiculous things they were saying like her being an extra. It's not that. She played the part so well you know. First of all, it doesn't refer to reality you know. Beyonce knows the show so well; she knew exactly what she was signing on for so I don't know where you know...

What was your experience with the actual Broadway show?

I was there opening night in the back row with some friends. That's the first time I saw it, yeah. Again, the interest in the Supremes, the love of musical theater and Michael Bennett, A Chorus Line, Ballroom and this was his new show you know. So a friend had gotten tickets. Actually I remember another friend was cooking Christmas dinner that night and we all went there and talked about it all night. It was you know, an amazing thing to experience new. Yeah that was the thing. There wasn't the Internet you know, and you didn't know that there is a song And I'm Telling You. You just actually got to hear it fresh and it was what people expected. Again, being in the back row and feeling the force of that, and people cheering in the middle of it you know. And then Bennett being so amazingly Bennett that he took away the applause level.

What do you think of the idea of a filmable musical like between this and Chicago?

I think you just have to choose well. You know, you have to really, really imagine it as a film and think would it work because there are films, I think A Chorus Line is on film. I think that did not belong on film. It takes place in a real time in that theater and that's where it belongs you know, but this, there's such a long tradition of backstage musicals in film and I really did refer back when making this movie to the Bandwagon, Singing In The Rain, Love Me Or Leave Me. You know films like that do a lot to a story by a performance.

It seems as though Chicago focused a little more on casting great actors and not just singers.

In either case, you're always going to have somebody stretching to cover the other part. In this case, there were a few like that. You had to have people who could really kill these songs, not just sort of get through them you know.

Would you do another musical film?

I would love to do it once again.

Was Dreamgirls a musical that you have wanted to do for a long time?

Yes. I never consciously imagined I could but it's certainly something I've thought about and always thought would make a great movie.

Is this the first time you collaborated with Eddie Murphy and what was he like to work with?

Yes! It was great I mean he's very shy you know? I think that's why he doesn't do these things (interviews). So that was a surprise but then that light goes and wow, it's an amazing thing to watch.

On the surface, there's such so much different variety in the films that you've made but there's a similar undercurrent in all of them. What's the heart of what you look for in a project?

I don't know. That's a good question. It's totally instinctual. One thing that I might say though is that I do enjoy theatrical characters. Even Ben Kingsley is a theatrical character. He blossoms in the spotlight. One thing I would love to do is a talking lyric movie. I love those kinds of movies and I wish we would honor that tradition a little more you know.

Is there another genre out there that you've never done before that you would want to do?

I'm not sure. I have to say that I really, really have to say a really intelligent adult thriller. When that genre of film is done well, I think it's really intriguing.

Do you think a black film should have a black director?

I always felt that could have been an issue except for the fact that this was a musical so it felt like the gay part took care of that in a way. And in a strange way you know, Dreamgirls was honoring the Motown tradition workmen and now this movie is about Motown and Dreamgirls and as you say Dreamgirls is iconic for blacks and gays you know. But basically that's sort of a good answer. I do feel like in general part of the great thing about writing and directing is that you do get to explore the world. Musicals are more collaborative than other movies so having someone like Jamie Foxx or Beyonce Knowles who know more about the music business than I ever will know was invaluable but I understand the question. I think what it comes down to is whom do you connect to deeply what the story's about. I think that goes beyond color certainly you know, or sexuality.

Source: JoBlo.com

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