More than half a century before Brandon Routh donned the signature red and blue tights in SUPERMAN RETURNS, it was George Reeves who first made the Man of Steel an on-screen icon. His untimely death in 1959 (officially ruled a suicide) marked an abrupt end of the innocence for children everywhere, many of whom saw no distinction between Reeves and the character he played.
week, the new film HOLLYWOODLAND
explores the mysterious circumstances surrounding George Reeves's
death. Cast members Ben Affleck, Adrien Brody,
Ben and Diane, you both played real people (George Reeves and girlfriend Toni Mannix). How did you see these people and why did you want to play them?
Affleck: George Reeves was an iconic guy because of who he played and that was, in some ways, tragic for him. And that very tragedy and kind of paradox in the sense that he got the thing that he wished for and ultimately it was very destructive is part of what makes the story so good and part of what makes the character so good. The onus was on me and on Allen and on the writers to be consistent with who the guy really is, because there is a kind of a burden and a responsibility and I think even more so because I see George as a guy who never really got a fair shake.
I thought it would be the least we could do here to give him his fair shake finally that he kind of didn't get in his career or following his death. So I researched it pretty meticulously and there was a tremendous amount of research that had been done before I came on that I was a beneficiary of in terms of the screenplay and Allen and the producers and what they'd done, so I was keyed in to were to look and who to talk to and I wanted to play his as authentically as possible. And fortunately he left behind a body of work that I could look at and watch. I saw all 104 episodes of the television show 52 in color, 52 in black-and-white.
And then So Proudly We Hail!, this movie he did with Claudette Colbert. He had other work. Obviously he was in the beginning of Gone With the Wind. So there's stuff available, so that was a great help to me. But to not belabor the point, yes, I really wanted to try to treat him fairly and you benefit from a whole wealth of information to draw upon. If I screw that up, I really have no excuse.
Lane: I always had a thing for George. I grew up and he was the definition of Superman for me and I bought it hook, line and sinker in the sense of that's all he was. I never looked beyond the curtain or considered anything about actors versus the characters I knew them to be as a child. So there was no black cloud over him in terms of the lore that the generation before me knew about. It was still on morning television when I grew up. It's interesting because there are so many layers to the story of George and I was very happy to portray some version of love in his life, because I was a fan.
What kind of woman is your character, Toni Mannix?
Lane: Well, it's interesting, because I was sitting next to Dominick Dunne very recently at a dinner and he knew Toni. I so wish I had spoken with him prior to filming. Everybody has so much to tell me now. I do feel a burden of responsibility to honor her as closely as I was told and could glean from things I'd read. I appreciated her vulnerability and how it came out all wrong and I just thought everybody in the movie was a truly interesting character in their own merit, so it's nice to be a thread in a very interesting tapestry.
Ben, what attracted you to the project?
Affleck: I was attracted to the project because of Allen and because of the screenplay and because of the actors I was going to get a chance to work with and because the story itself was pretty great. The way that I got into looking at the character, I think that I identify with him for, among other things, this idea of feeling like you were someone other than who the outside world saw you as. And there were injuries that he sustained, in some ways, from that. There's a lot just about him that he went through and dealt with as a person that I think a lot of people could identify with. I think he was an interesting guy who thoroughly lived his life and that offered a lot of entrees to understanding him and it was a pretty rich character.
In many ways, this movie is about your life in Hollywood not really going the way you planned. Could you talk about having those moments in your own Hollywood life?
Affleck: For me, it's about the condition of humanity, whereby it's never really enough, that feeling, that ambition that drives you to achieve and people to invent rockets and to build machines and the industrial age and also keeps us perpetually kind of dissatisfied, that sort of grass is greener thing and that those two things that at once propel, at the same time frustrate and stifle us and trying to live and manage those two things and it's really that contradiction, contrary impulses, that are universally human and that I think everyone can understand and that are really painfully. I'm like, How is my life not living up to my dreams? If I just had this then I'd be happy. Getting that and finding out that's not the thing I think that's really at the root of the thing, for me. I think it really kind of transcends Hollywood, although it's a really good example of that kind of thing, because it's to the extreme.
Lane: I would say that the whole myth of the word plan in your question relies on that little man behind the curtain in Oz, because there is no plan It's such a crapshoot. If they knew what made hits they'd make more of them. That's my bumper sticker on the whole industry. So I don't think you can live for that and I think the more you get caught up in that, whether you're a film star from the '50s who regrets that he was ever on television and the pop psychology of what it is to be a victim of the media and all of this that the film deals with is relevant today as it was then and it is a case study of what makes people happy and the myth of happiness itself.
Brody: Well, I think they've so eloquently describes this on a universal level. I think for me, my character is obviously part of Hollywood, but not within the industry that we're all in. The advantage of that is that it illustrates that it is not just something that people within this industry face. I think it's a common thread. Most people are under the impression that if they only had more of something, that would fulfill them and it's usually not the case and you don't know that until you reach that goal.
I'm fortunate, personally, to know kind of both. I mean that sincerely. I know what it's like to be a struggling actor. I know what it's like to be really successful and have a level of fame and the advantages of that and the pitfalls that come with that. In knowing both sides, I feel like I need less now. I need less. I need less for myself. It's nothing to do with my career or other people's perceptions. I have a better understanding of what I need and for that I'm really grateful for it, because I struggle less with certain things that I really thought would make me happier.
I think within the story, Simo's life paralleled George's in the sense that he craved respect and money and success and he looked for a bigger picture, rather than solving the smaller problems within his life that would have helped make him a happier human being. So that's what was fascinating to me. It shows that what may appear glamorous is rarely as glamorous as it appears.
Hoskins: Well, this is all completely new to me. Acting's my job. It's what I do for a living. The script turns up, I like it, I do it. If it doesn't turn up, sometimes I'm really great.
Tunney: I think... Who wants to see a historical movie that's a period piece unless there's some relevance in your life today. And I think that's why the film works, because everybody in America, they want the SUV and their wife should have longer legs or bigger breasts and everybody faces that day-to-day and I think that's why the film works now, because it's not just about an actor whose career wasn't enough. It's something I think we can all find in our own lives.
I've been in bad movies. This is one of the only good ones I've actually ever been in. But it doesn't define who you are and I think that's what makes you happy as a person, that you go, 'OK. This is what I do. And it can't define who I am.' This is my job and I go home and I love my wife and I love my kids' and have that be enough. I mean, that's sort of Simo's fatal flaw is that he's obsessed with making something of himself and can't look at his wife and say 'That's a beautiful woman.' And his son and his tiny house isn't enough. So I think it's the American Dream. We've read a thousand novels about it and it's the story of the tragic American Dream.
Do you think the recent release of Superman Returns will make people more curious about this subject?
Coulter: I mean, its certainly in the air now apparently there were some pseudo documentaries on television about George Reeves and about people who played Superman in the past. I think it never hurts to have interest in that subject out and about. It was certainly not anything we planned or knew about because we didnt know when we were going to begin, much less when they were. And we didnt know when we were going to finish and they certainly didnt know when they were going to finish. So its just a fortuitous thing, we hope, that happened and beyond that, I would say, we dont know what it will mean.
Affleck: Sometimes there are these external circumstances that come into play after youve made a movie and before it comes out sometimes they work against you and sometimes they dont. I think its good. But I think Superman as a character is pretty iconic, its in the zeitgeist and thats why they keep on making movies and TV shows about him. And I think its a really good representation of this icon, the American hero icon, particularly as seen through the media and movies. Thats the guy and everything goes down from there. I think that would have made sense with or without the other Superman movie and its such a powerful well known character that I dont think you have a bunch of the citizenry of the United States going, Wow, I forgot about that Superman guy, and then the movie came out this summer.
Whats it like doing a period piece?
Lane: Its always refreshing to step into another time. Ive often loved Westerns because it was so interesting to experience the oppression of being in a corset, you know, just to appreciate being able to complain about high heels and tight jeans when youre done with your days work. Theres always something to complain about, theres just different reference once you see what the limitations of the time youre portraying and the freedoms of that time because it cuts both ways.
Coulter: As far as the opportunity to work on a period film, we tried to take an approach that we hoped would lend some originality to the film. There have been some great films that take place in Hollywood in that period, not the least of which the ones we know about Chinatown kind of the mother ship and L.A. Confidential, another beautiful film. And so from the very beginning, I was not interested in getting on the playground with those guys because they were just consummate in what they did. One of the things that we did in the art direction and the emphasis for me was to try and make 1959, the period which the film actually takes place and world that Louis Simo lives starting June 16, 1959, make that the modern world.
And it was my opinion, that indeed that was the beginning of world that we live in now in many ways. The old studio system was starting to fade away, television was becoming preeminent. The way people dressed was the world of sort of a formal, reserved, maybe you could even use the word dignified, in appearances and proprietary of a certain kind. Im speaking superficially, not what went on behind closed doors, was fading away and the world that we live in now, the world of casual dressing and everything from posture to all kinds of things, was coming to the foreground and we tried to make that point. For example, letting Louis Simo be one of the first guys without a suit. Theres a comment on that and he ends up wearing one in the end.
But the fact is that we visually gave a look to the world of 1959 that emphasized its modernity and at the same time, when we went back in time to George Reeves world, we tried to make that look like an earlier era. It wasnt just the clothes; it was the soundtrack. We always heard recorded music in Simos side of the equation and always live music on Georges side. Simos side is much, much noisier. We hear the ubiquity of noise whether its a record player playing all the time, someone shouting in the next room, dogs barking and in the world of George Reeves, its much quieter, you hear a morning dove, only live music with the exception of when Leonora puts a record on.
But she also belongs to the new world that hes reluctantly trying to join or that hes being dragged into kicking and screaming really. So we did all kinds of things in terms of the art direction to make a point that Louis Simo lives in the modern world, the first wave. He sits in his crappy little apartment with his feet up on the coffee table; George would never do that. George wears suits and dresses in a certain way. All of you in that world would be in some form of a suit.
The film depicts an era when the audience was primarily interested in characters and not so much the actors personal lives, whereas today it seems the opposite. Does that make your jobs harder?
Brody: I think it differs for the individual. One doesnt have anything to do with the other. There is obviously a fascination in peoples private life, but some people are actually fascinated about films and about the work that an actor does, and about the transformation that individual makes, and thats what my motivation has been to be an actor, and continues to be my motivation and inspiration. I think its just part of life, and maybe more so today, but its just a part of life and we all have experienced it on different levels, but they are two separate things. I love the opportunity to be here and discuss my work and hear thoughts about the project and discuss things that I may have overlooked, or details that I worked on that someone caught, and the process and all of that. That to me is an interesting facet and part of my occupation. The rest of it just comes with it. I think it just is.
Hoskins: People dont seem to see me as a celebrity, they all think they know me, and I certainly think I know them. I had a guy come up to me and say, Hey, Bob, youve got to talk to my Maureen, shes out of order, shes doing this, shes doing that, and suddenly the guy realized that hed never met me before, he got really embarrassed. By this time I wanted to go around and give this girl a talking to. I dont know; people dont seem that interested in my private life, they just think they know me.
Brody: But that may have something to do with it, what hes saying. It may have something to do with it, its not just an obsession with peoples private lives, its this feeling that if you accomplish what youre setting out to do, youre expressing an intimacy and intimate moments and a vulnerability that you wouldnt share with a stranger, but it is something that youre called to do and you have to do, and you have to do it sincerely or else why should I expect you to believe that moment? And its often very difficult and very revealing about the individual, and even if it is a character there is a sense that you know the person who you saw experiencing those emotions, and then when you encounter them in real life you feel that you know them intimately sometimes.
Affleck: I think thats an excellent point, I agree with that 100 percent. That effort creates a genuineness that then seems like youre invested in the genuineness of that trauma, of the character of Louis Simo, so then it stands to reason that whatever I read about Adrien additionally in his personal life I would also be interested in, because its sort of the same human drama, in fact its the same character, its the same face. You become kind of like an actor on a soap opera that you have no control over the script or the direction, you just look at the paper every day and you find out what you did on this weeks episode. Adriens also right in that the actual art of what he does, the actual beauty and the grace and what it take to do that, people kind of arent as interested in really. It is really interesting, but actually what happens is what everyone wants to know about is the other side. You know what I mean? You dont want to see the sausage getting made, but you like to eat it. Thats sort of whats interesting. And its a shame because I think actually the other stuff is much more interesting.
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