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INT: Collateral

08.04.2004

Living in the East coast (Montreal), I usually don’t get the chance to cover many of the movie junkets/press conferences that we’re invited to. We have people in N.Y. and L.A. that usually that care of that for us. But, as luck would have it, I was in Los Angeles last week and so when we got the call to speak to Tom Cruise (TC), Michael Mann (MM), Jada Pinkett Smith (JPS) and Jamie Foxx (JF) for a COLLATERAL press conference…I jumped at the chance.

No big surprise on the Tom Cruise front, the man was as charming, funny, cool and likeable as he is when you see him doing interviews on TV. Maybe there is something to this scientology fad. SIGN ME UP, yo!! Cruise even went so far as to change sides on the tape of somebody’s recorder when it stopped halfway through the interview (I noticed Jamie Foxx did the same for mine – Thank God). I expected Mann to be reserved but he was exactly the opposite, yucking it up with the other three and giving very candid and enthusiastic responses to the questions he was asked. I’m not the world’s biggest Pinkett Smith fan but after seeing her performance in the movie and witnessing her very shy and humble demeanor during the interview session, I must admit she’s starting to win me over.

As far as the actual film goes, it’s one of those that you’ve just got to catch at the cinema. It’s an intelligent, slam-banging thriller in the same vein as Mann’s HEAT and THIEF. It’s a very nice bookend to the Michael Mann L.A crime trilogy. So, before you head to the theaters on August 6th to check this son-of-a-bitch out, read on to see what this foursome had to say about their experience with the film…

Tom, you look much younger than you did in the film, what did you think of yourself in the film (with gray hair)? Are you going to go back to that?

TC: When it happens (in real life) I’ll go all the way, no worries. It was cool, Michael Mann came up with that look and he asked for some pictures and so I went in and had to go over different colors until it was perfect. It was fun.

How was it playing the part? This is such a different role for you.

TC: I was look for a challenge and for something that’s different. It definitely had every element and promise of being that, and it was. I wanted to work with Michael Mann and these guys (Jada & Jamie) and it was very challenging. And the ambition that Michael Mann had for this picture, you know when he sent the script, he sent different stills, almost like an art motif, just things he was thinking about and what he wanted to explore and it was really something else. His vision of L.A. and what he sees it has a real emotion, a real poetry.

Also, about your character’s look…do you think this is the way Vincent looks or is it a disguise half of the time?

TC: Well, he definitely thinks about that suit. I know we thought a lot about that suit (laughter).

MM: It’s not really a disguise but it’s anonymous. That’s what we wanted to achieve. If somebody actually witnesses him, and the police ask for a description, what are they going to say? Kind of a middle-aged, middle-height guy in kind of a middle gray suit and a white shirt. It describes anybody and nobody. In terms of trade craft, which Tom mastered, there are lots of different aspects to that trade craft, including a whole bunch of things that aren’t even in the movie.

Tom and Jamie, can you speak about your characters a little bit?

JF: The one thing that I really did draw upon as far as a black experience in Max is the “I don’t want to tell on anybody, I don’t want to tell on you, I don’t care if you kill anybody I just want to go home, to my crib”.

TC: That’s the human experience.

(laughter)

JF: But it’s a different thing, there was one thing, unbeknownst to Michael Mann and my character development that I said ‘there is this thing about calling the cops as a black man’, like I’ve done it before. Like I live in Tarzana, a very nice neighborhood, my neighbor’s alarm goes off and I call the cops and I forget that I call the cops. You know, I’ve got my beanie on, I’m in the front yard and they come get me. And now I’m out explaining…

(laughter) Dude, I’m serious. I mean, I live here. So, in that sense, just that underlying thing that I really want it to go away, so that’s what your feeling. It’s like Max is just kind of exhausted, he’s the type of guy that wants anything bad or good to happen in a day. I just want the day to get over so I can get home and just do whatever I do.

A question for all of you. Can each of you speak about your wildest, craziest taxicab experience. And a second question for Tom , do you have director yet for MI:3?

JPS: Um, New York City, my girlfriend and I hail a cab, and it pulls over and I don’t know if he thought it was just me getting in the cab but there were two of us. I start to get inside of the cab and my girlfriend comes up behind me and then the cab just pulls off. With me halfway inside.

JF: Uh ,Tijuana!

(laughter) I went to college in San Diego and we would go to Tijuana because it was cheaper for college kids, and they have no rules, you can get as many people in the cab as you want, on two wheels we would fly all the way to the club.

MM: I was in a cab in New York and the guy asked me where I was going and I said I’m going to hotel, ‘cause I was getting married the next day. And he said: “Why do you want to do that?” And he started asking me a whole bunch of questions and then he turned the meter off and he said let’s go for a ride in the park. (laughter) He tried to talk me out of getting married.

TC: Summer? Marrying Summer?

MM: No, the one before my wife.

TC: Did he talk you out of it?

MM: No.

TC: Mine is, just, you know, New York. I was dropping this girl off, and for some reason he decided to race another cabbie at 4 in the morning. I said, look, could you get there quick, and he just took off. Ripping through red lights…It was fun. I gave him a big tip. As far as a director for Mission, it’s something I’m looking at right now. Evaluating--

Jeffrey Abrams?

TC: I’m looking at everything right now. Now, I’ve kind of put it on hold and plugging COLLATERAL and just evaluating.

It was nice to see L.A. as a character in the movie and not be substituted by Toronto or Vancouver. I wonder would it have been that much cheaper shooting outside of L.A. considering some of the problems filming in L.A. brings about.

MM: The idea of shooting an intense film like this in L.A. at night actually preceded the COLLATERAL screenplay. It’s something I wanted to do after the last 2 films, which were both historically real subjects and characters. So it was never any question of us not shooting in L.A. California and L.A. have got to compete with Canada, ‘cause there should not be runaway productions. It hurts all of us, it hurts the films crews, the other craft people that we work with. Productions should be staying here.

What about the actors?

JPS: It doesn’t hurt, you know. It’s definitely nice. But for me, it’s just like where is the great project taking place? It just so happened to be in L.A,. so here we are.

JF: The great thing about it with my experience is that working with Tom Cruise and working with Michael Mann, I got a chance to invite some of my friends down that are actors who hadn’t gotten a chance to work on whatever big budget type movie. And they were cool enough to say bring ‘em all down and let them look over our shoulders. And Tom Cruise, like I said, he’s the most well adjusted millionaire you’ll ever meet in your entire life. Michael Mann, who is known for intensity but we had a great chemistry on this film and I think it had something to do with being in L.A because we really felt comfortable doing it but it gave me a chance to really kind of tell my friends: “I’m working with Cruise man, come on down.”

(laughter) And girls. Come on to the set, girl…

What do you feel is special or different and unique about this action film compared to other action films that are out there?

TC: Michael. Michael Mann.

MM: Thank you. But I don’t really look at these things as action films, I don’t really decide on what genre are we going to do today so we do that genre. We don’t really see it as an action film. To me, it’s a drama, it’s as extreme as it could be because in this one night, wherever these guys have been, whatever their expectations or dreams are for the future, if they even have them – everything is going to change. They will not be the same people after tonight as they were before tonight. So that’s kind of the idea, this dramatic idea. And then we all worked very hard to build our characters, to make them as real and three-dimensional as possible. Just the way all of you are in your own lives, with as much as specificity as we can build on them. And then we kind of do the dramatic scenario and that’s really it. So we don’t really think of it in terms of genre types.

Jamie, since everyone is kind of buzzing about the fact that you’re coming up, as far being from a comedic background and making an impression as a dramatic actor; I wanted to know do you feel like you’re setting a new standard for comedians who are trying to transition into more serious roles? And do you feel like you’re setting a new standard for black actors?

TC: I’m just going to answer one first. Which is, here’s the thing about the kind of talent that Jamie has. That is, talent is talent. You look at Foxx, I mean you talk about him as a stand-up comedian but before that he’s a classically trained musician. He’s a singer, a songwriter, this guy is….

(laughter from all the flattery)

TC: Seriously, you should hear his music. It’s also, his ability at comedy to create characters that have insight to the people…he makes jokes about it but it’s also about something. And he’s played dramatic roles before this, I mean he’s carrying the movie here. I just think talent is talent and I think Michael Mann as a filmmaker was smart enough to put the three of us together in a movie. If you look at just that opening, one of my favorite scenes in the movie, it’s with Jada and Jamie. That scene captures two people meeting each other. That is the high bar – it is such a difficult thing to accomplish.

MM: It’s a tricky piece because you meet them in the front and you have to care about, you have to remember her. You have to remember Jada, she has to make such an impression on Max and us. She has to be alive to you all the way to the other end of the movie. So you really have to think about it, you have to make a very, very strong impression about two people that just happened to meet and have the intimacy that’s only possible amongst total strangers who know they’re never going to see each other again. It’s just an amazing piece of work by these two folks. Jamie is a renaissance man, he’s a man for all seasons…

Jamie, do you feel like what you’re doing now, do you feel like that’s setting a new standard for black actors in Hollywood?

JF: I think that any step you make, and I’m not the one to run away from that question, like I said when I had guys there and they were on the set, that were colleagues of mine that were brothers and it was like, man, we just want to see the work. Because work is coming now. In the seventies it was Richard Pryor -that was it. In the eighties, it was just Eddie Murphy. In the nineties things started to open up, look at Will, you look at Denzel, you look at Chris Tucker, you look at Martin – so it’s opening up now. The one thing that they’re a little jealous of is the fact that I do get a chance to do these roles. When I looked at my life it was like all the slots were taken.

You look at Chris Tucker he had a slot sewn up, you look at Will he had slot sewn up; as far as the comedic aspect of it. And now this is kind of like my thing that I’ve been lucky enough to have. The comic thing was that I came in from music. Like, I was going to be the next Lionel Richie. I had the curls, I had the shoulder pads and the suit, the whole nine…

(laughter) So what happened was it wasn’t happening in L.A., so I saw at the Comedy Store, dudes doing comedy. So I acted like a comedian. I went up and held a microphone like Eddie Murphy would hold it, or Richard Pryor and I started acting as if I was a comedian to get to IN LIVING COLOR, to get to these other things, to get to this point.

TC: Can you give us a little Lionel?

JF: (singing Hello) I’ve been alone with you inside my mind, and in my dreams I’ve kissed your –

Tom, can you talk to us a little about the layers of your character? We realize that Jamie’s character, at the end, frees himself from his own limitations. How does your character change?

TC: Well, you look at this kind of anti-social character, there is a lot of discovery, months really, of talking to Michael and finding that point of fracture. Where does it all go wrong for Vincent, where does it start? Building in, we just kept creating layers. Normally I do a lot of research, particularly something like this. The back story has to inform every scene. But with Michael, he went and got pictures of where I came from. We discussed a lot of different aspects –where I live, how I became the way I became…as Vincent. And so that will emotionally inform the movie and we start to look at where this fracture will happen.

MM: What we intended to do was put the audience in the state of mind of starting to pose a question – not come to a conclusion but pose a question. Like after we establish Vincent as a professional and kind of immaculate in his presence you have to wonder is there something wrong with this guy tonight? And we didn’t want answers, we wanted just a question posed leading to the very end of the film. And it started after the regret he feels after he shoots Daniel. And what was that? And then there’s more unexplained things. There’s the sibling rivalry. Why does he deviate to get into a sibling rivalry with Max for the affections of Max’s mother? And win it.

And then goes on to the other story about his father and so by that time Max is seeing beyond the end of the gun and really sees Vincent for the very first time after the shootout at the Korean club and he starts to see Vincent as damaged goods. About now, Tom is able to play being impacted upon by what Max is saying and Max finishes by saying (not literally) well why haven’t you killed me yet and that’s a really big question. So you start to feel in this one night, Vincent, who is the antagonist and the mover of all these events… is there something happening with him? He’s perhaps cracking up inside. What is really in there?

Can the actors talk about how it was working in a cab? Did it limit you as far as body language, not looking in the eyes of your fellow actors…

JPS: The biggest challenge for me was trying to create this substantial connection with Jamie’s character in the first 15 minutes and here I am in the back of the cab trying to do this by looking at the back of his head. But I loved being in the cab, because it gives such an authentic feeling, there’s less that I’ll have to imagine. Because I’m in the cab, we’re driving on the street and so the environment is there. But I did find it a little of a challenge but in a very good way. It really helps to have the real space there because it helps perpetuate that authentic feeling. I really appreciated being on the street and in the real cab.

TC: We had a bunch of cabs made, different kinds that were supposed to be tested for sound so that I could hear Jamie and he could hear me. So that we could talk in a very relaxed and natural way. I say supposed to because the first time was just…

(laughter) They had to work the bugs out of it.

JF: Did you fall asleep?

TC: Huh? When?

JF: Remember I fell asleep a lot, when we first started. Because the car that was driving us, the big motor, the fumes were seeping in. I was going to sleep at like 9 (p.m.), I gotta work with Cruise and…Then I get in the car and YEAH, and I’m like get it together Foxx. So there were a couple of tricky things.

TC: They hit you right in the face. A couple of times I said: “What? What did you say? Foxx did you say your lines?”

MM: We built 17 cabs, some had no front, some had no sides, you know, some we didn’t use at all. What actually worked out was that the simplest way to do it was to be in a real cab.

Tom, as you know your fans are endlessly fascinated with your life and your going’s on. Could you help bring us up to date, and the other actors as well, just away from work, what’s going on, the highlight of your summer, traveling, are you taking any time off for yourself in between work?

TC: No.

(laughter)

I’ve been busy. Hanging out with kids, releasing COLLATERAL. I got a Cameron Crowe picturing we’re producing, ELIZABETHTOWN, with Orlando Bloom and Kirtsen Dunst and Susan Sarandon. That’s going really well. And just working, you know, working on MI:3 and a few other pictures. I haven’t had a break yet, I will. I’ll take time but I haven’t gone on vacation in…I’m having a good time. Life is actually very good. Very good.

JPS: I’m excited, you know, my band and –

TC: Music.

JF: Talk about it!

Are you still on tour?

TC: She rocks.

JPS: No, I finished the tour with Britney and hopefully I’ll get on schedule with everything and jump on the Rock The Boat tour seeing as I’m very passionate about getting out there.

You and Jamie make music together on set?

JF: We can. (laughter)

With the supervision of her husband.

(Tom explodes in laughter)

JF: She has a joint. She has a joint called Taste My Fruit.

JPS: It was cool ‘cause we got to share, he had a number one song out and I was like: “Jamie, check this out, I just did this club remix, tell me what you think about this?” So we’d go back & forth.

TC: She wasn’t even telling us that she had a band. One night I came over and she just started singing and I heard she’s going on tour and I was like: What in the world?”

JF: Are you taking a break, Mr. Mann?

MM: No. We went to Hawaii for a week it lasted three days.

Michael I noticed it said that the film was shot 80% on digital. What were some of the challenges shooting like that, if any?

MM: Motion picture film could not see the world that these characters inhabit. You just can’t see it, can’t see into the night. These environments where there’s kind of a red desert and depopulated refineries just at the moment where Max and Vincent are going to become personal for the first time and talk about themselves. That’s the backdrop to set it off in and film can’t see that stuff. So we had to modify digital technology to be able to see it and it’s a very interesting medium, you can manipulate it a lot more than film as well as being able to see at night. When Mark Ruffalo shows up at that crime scene, you’re seeing two miles away, downtown, a little American flag on top of a building. You couldn’t see any of that otherwise.

It’s not just the seeing of it, it lends itself to taking atmosphere and real landscapes and pushing them into a mood to drive into a scene and affect a scene and affect the way you feel about these characters. It’s all story driven. And L.A. is unique in that sense because it provides us with those places, it’s kind of like a landscape of dreams. But they’re yesterday’s dreams. Somebody’s idea in 1958 about what’s the sci-fi apartment building of the future, you know but it’s the ’58 idea. And then it became a Hispanic neighborhood and now it’s a Korean neighborhood and coyotes are walking through it. And that’s L.A., that’s what’s unique about this city.

Jamie this movie hasn’t even come out yet and already there’s people whispering about maybe an Oscar nomination for RAY coming up. Can you talk about what it’s like for you right now being in the middle of all this and also what did Ray’s (Charles) passing mean to you?

JF: Well, you know a lot of people say “Don’t jinx it”, you know “Don’t say Oscar” and I say: “Hey, say it!” And the only reason I say that is because if you’re playing basketball, you’re playing for the Lakers or whatever team, you want to go to the championship and if you look at the Oscars that would be what you would consider the championship. And as far as looking at that being the only reason you do your career –no. I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world and when you get L.A. buzzing, I mean I got billboards up on Highland and Sunset and a couple of other places.

That’s when it feels good, when other people are acknowledging you. I hosted the ESPY’s and Tom Cruise showed up and Denzel was there and Sharon Stone and all these people are kind of noticing. At the end of the day, it’s not about how much money or how many awards, it’s the moments and the marks that you leave and that admiration from people you’ve been looking at for whatever amount of years when you’re coming up in your career. That’s what makes it good for me. I’m just going to keep riding it and if any of these movies get those acknowledgments, it’s great.

As far as Ray Charles is concerned, he got to view the movie in his own way before he passed away. People should know that. His is a story not to hard to tell because Ray Charles is a great man.

Source: JoBlo.com

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