INT: World Trade Center

I have met the legend, master director himself, Oliver Stone. Need I say more? Incredibly charming and charismatic, Stone has directed some of the most paramount and influential films in history such as BORN ON THE 4TH OF JULY, THE DOORS, PLATOON, NIXON, NATURAL BORN KILLERS, JFK and many more. WORLD TRADE CENTER is yet another compelling masterpiece. Although hesitant to relive the horror and painful reminder of 9/11, I was completely unwary of the emotional rollercoaster I was about to experience. This is definitely a tearjerker! Tissues are a must!

Based on a true story of courage, survival, hope and sacrifice I believe his movie has impeccable timing. Understandably so, people may feel the need to forget this unjustifiable act of violence, however it is important to remember how this vicious act bore humanity. Tragedy challenges mankind’s tolerance and strength. This film is a reminder of people who rose above, risked and sacrificed to help one another, and ultimately restored faith in humanity again.

The authenticity of WTC is indisputable and I had the honor to sit down with the talented cast and crew of WTC at a recent press conference in New York to talk about the challenges and significance of making this film. Check out what Nicolas Cage, Oliver Stone, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Pena, the writers, producers and Will and Allison Jimeno (the real-life people portrayed in the film by Michael Pena and Maggie Gyllenhaal respectively) had to say.

What is it that attracted you to this kind of film at this point of your career?

Oliver Stone (OS): Don’t pigeonhole I change.  I don’t think that if you go through time but if you go through the film by film there’s quite a bit of changes that go on from Heaven and Earth to Natural Born Killers, you know there’s pigeonholing, this film is another one.  It’s just a departure in the sense that stylistically it’s a simpler film, a modest film about working class people and we have here a series of facts, a line, a chain of evidence that’s amazing and it’s still fresh enough after five years that we can go back and have Will, John, Scottie Strauss, Chuck Sereika, Scottie Fox, numerous rescuers, the transcripts of Dave Carnes to help us.

I actually put together a, almost a, I can’t say a documentary, it isn’t cinema art, it isn’t United 93.  It is a very tightly connected, emotional, in the tradition of Hollywood , tightly connected emotion of four characters.  Two wives, two husbands.  That’s a challenge to do things that way.  I mean that’s not to say I will always do things that way.  I might surprise you next time and do something sci-fi. 

This story is traumatic about 911. How do you actually focus on those two police officer’s stories and the cause to tell their stories over others?

OS: There’s 3000 dead and approximately what, 20 survivors.  These two men and I can’t speak for the other 18, but these two men went through the epicenter of the story symbolically they were at the very center of the collapse.  And because of John’s foresight went to the elevator shaft and saved their lives.  Only two of the five made it.  It’s a story waiting, dying to be told.  And the rescue of the men by this accountant in Connecticut, this ex-marine is something from a Hollywood movie.  People don’t believe it at first.  We had previews and people were shocked.

They didn’t think this guy existed.  He did.  He went to Iraq, 2 tours and the rescuers themselves, Scottie Fox played himself and many of the rescuers played themselves.  Scottie Strauss cooperated from the beginning.  Each rescue was very complicated.  Will was a rescue in itself that was finished by midnight.  Many people don’t realize that John was rescued from about midnight to 7:30 in the morning.  That’s a whole other ballgame.  That’s 2 different types of rescues.  So many challenges to this movie, so why not tell that story.  It’s dying to be made, dying to be made.

This question is for Will and Allison, how does it feel talking about the turmoil you went through 5 years ago? How does it feel to do a film about your story?

(Will Jimeno) WJ:  It was difficult to see but at the same time proud of it because we were tired of watching the towers fall and not hearing the positive stories.  When I heard that they were thinking about doing this film I thought about doing it just for my teammates.  That’s what I concentrated on.  Debra Hill who was one of the producers who approached us, she saw the bigger picture.  She saw the picture of humanity.  She saw the picture of strength of our wives, the rescuers and everybody who came in.

Was it difficult to do the film? Yes and I’ll tell everybody that it was a difficult subject, but I think that subjects such as these have been confronted and when we have such positive things coming out of a film like this, and this cast is amazing, from Nick, Michael, Maggie, Maria to Oliver Stone and the producers, have done such a good job at it that it stunned everybody who critiques Hollywood who say you have to go here and have to go there.  They picked up the ball and ran with it.  I mean, think about it, nobody had the courage to take on such a subject.  They’ve done it well.  And again when you see this film, if you don’t walk out of this film saying you know what it’s tragic but we’re taking the good out of the tragedy then if you don’t come out with that then it wasn’t a tragedy.  That’s not just for America but of the world.

What were your conversations like with your real life counterparts in the process of getting to know them?

(Nicolas Cage) NC: Well I had never met anyone before who had been tested to the level that John McLoughlin had been tested on that day. So I did go into those initial meetings with some nervousness, but he put me at ease right away.  I asked him literally thousands of questions about the experience, how he got through it, what he relied on, images of his family, Will Jimeno, the two of them keeping each other alive and prayer.    So it was enormously helpful.  I really wanted to get it right.  I didn’t want to let John McLoughlin down, I didn’t want to let Will down, I didn’t want to let the rescue team down, the families and Oliver Stone.  So without John McLoughlin’s help, it wouldn’t have happened.

(Maggie Gyllenhaal) MG: I heard that Michael (Pena) kind of moved in with you guys, that was the joke anyway.  I know he was there all the time.  He did a lot more of what you (Cage) were saying, ask thousands of questions and spend lots and lots of time as well.  With Allison and I it was a little bit different.  I also felt like I didn’t want to let them down and I wanted to make a movie that was as effective as possible as well.  For me, I thought the way to do that was to experience the things that Allison experiences in the script myself.

For me I was worried about falling into the trap of trying to imitate Allison instead of experiencing it myself.  Every time I was with Allison, it was a really intense experience that really impacted me and I think I was mostly interested I being near her less than asking about that day although we did do that.  Mostly what was going in really was just being near her.  But then when I watched the movie I kind of thought I seemed like her and I think that has to do with you (Stone) than I did.

OS: You are terrific and highly instinctive Maggie. You and I, you know it was good, we had conflict. I like that. She’s a preferred brat.

(Michael Pena) MP: When I met Will we got along right away, right off the bat. I asked him a lot of questions.  I was asking so many questions, so many questions and really, just like everyone else, I didn’t want to let anybody down.  I just felt fortunate that I was given into this movie.

OS:  Well that’s just not true Michael.   Will was complaining to me about how we’re going to get this wimp to play me.    And we had to build Michael up.  We had to send him on expeditions with Will.  (laughing)

MP: No, no, no, the thing I wanted to get right and more than anything is kind of the brotherhood and the real feel of like on TV love that you have for the people that you work with and the people that you save.  There’s this line specifically when he says “my whole life I just wanted to be a cop.”  I’m like t I think we should cut it.  Then the first time I met him that was the first thing out of his mouth.  So I was like ok, I got to reevaluate this whole thing.  That’s basically it.

Where were you on 911 and the thoughts that were running through your mind?

NC: It’s thoroughly unexciting that I was at home.  I got a phone call saying you can’t believe what’s on television, turn it on. And I saw those images that like the rest of us saw would never be able to get out of my head.  It’s as simple as that.

OS:  Me too.  I was at home in Los Angeles sleeping.  My wife woke me up.  Yes I thought terrorism right away.  We had a clearer picture than John and Will did.  We knew when the second plane hit. 

MG: I was living here but alone actually out of the country at the time and I happen to check my email and my mom said before anyone knew what had happened that the WTC had been bombed.   Then I did everything to get home.  Took a little while, it was hard at the time.

MP: Yeah I was at home in Los Angeles and got a phone call.  What was interesting and I thought the movie kind of did this as well, was that at that point you kind of had the need, you know I went to a friend’s house and it was funny that 20-25 people went there, and that’s the reason I was excited about this movie because we all know what happened that day but this is kind of a different story and more of the story that touches on that, like the need to be with each other, like that people do pull together in times like this.

The movie is a roller coaster of emotions. How did you manage to express it and portray it in the movie?

OS:  Through the wives.  You can only do it through the wives.  Donna and Allison, what they go through, we try to pay special attention to it because we want to be out of the hole, to relieve the burdens of the whole, but to get to the light and to get back to Jersey, but these women went through hell.  There had to be a moment in that day when they accepted that their husbands will probably not come home.  That was a very important moment to go beyond cliché.

What makes Donna, married to John for 30 years with 4 children, what keeps them together?  It’s just a cliché to say you’re married.   That doesn’t mean anything.  What is marriage?  What are the little things in life that they will miss, take for granted.  You have to ask Allison and Donna. Maria and Maggie played it the way they thought was right.  For them it was hell.  That’s the only way we can relate to it.  We can’t the NY experience, only through them.  And the marine. 

Speaking of the marine, I’m curious to know why you chose to use those characters in that way?

OS:  I think it would’ve been politically incorrect to sanitize that and I couldn’t live with that.  The film is accurate to every single person who’s in it.  And their emotions are naked.  Some people live things we don’t like, we got to live with. 

What do you all feel about trying to avenge 911 and going out there to find Osama Bin Laden and the war?

NC: My comment is that our movie ends on 9/12 and that’s probably the story we’re here to tell. 

OS: And I think we could just go a bit further by saying where were we on September 12th, 2001 and where are we now and if you answer my question honestly you have to wonder something went wrong.

NC:  I really don’t want to attach politics to this movie.  This movie is the triumph pf the human spirit, it’s about survival, its’ about courage and I think trying to link it to anything else right now would take away from what the movie is really about.  It’s a very emotional film and it’s not a downer.  You walk out feeling that angels do exist and these people are heroes.

Do you think that the film reflects that most civilians are the primary victims of conflicts rather than soldiers? 

OS:  We made the point at the end of the film.  Citizens from 87 countries were destroyed.  Most of them were civilians.  It’s the nature of modern warfare since Dresden, since WWII, its gotten worse and worse and worse.  So you’re talking about the nature of modern warfare.  When is it going to end?  I don’t know and I can’t tell you.  I’m not an expert, I just hope to God that we can move to a peaceful world where we can respect the rights of civilians and I don’t know how to do that except for international bodies, a sense of commitment form everybody to stop this destruction of civilian life.

Maggie, although you weren’t pregnant during the time of filming this, can you better identify with your character now that you are?

MG:  Well I have to admit that I was a little bit pregnant at the end of this movie but most of the time I wasn’t pregnant.  Yeah I think being pregnant now, and I think for anyone who hasn’t been pregnant, it’s very hard, I mean it’s very different than you think it’s going to be.  So yes I do think maybe now I can relate differently to what Allison went through.  Either you are so emotional when you’re pregnant but I found that I’m also strong and pretty clear in pregnancy in a way that I wasn’t before.  So maybe there’s that kind of mix that it was probably more emotional and more rooted for Allison than I had imagined it might have been.

For Michael, Nicholas and Oliver, you guys were trapped the entire time. Talk about shooting those scenes and being stationary the entire time?

NC: Well it was actually quite liberating.  I’m a very kinetic actor.  I like to move.  When I was in that hole, boxed in like that, I didn’t necessarily think about movement. So I was able to inward and rely on my imagination to try to recreate in some small way what John’s experience might have been like.

MP:  Similar thing for me, in a weird way for me dealing with that it was almost like doing one big monologue

OS:  We created and built these vast interior holes in California as well as exterior rubble set.  These were vast sets and we had the actors in different modules and they never saw each other in the whole time so that’s an interesting aspect to this.  You don’t’ even have visual contact.  So that’s all suggested.  I think the key is lighting I really do. There’s not much camera work you can do.  When you see the final film out I hope you appreciate the shot. To get this story it’s always about shadow and light, they were in the darkness reaching for light.

And one of the greatest shots is Nick coming out of the hole at the end into the light, and it’s the struggle to the light and even at home.  That’s why we go after the families because there’s light there.  As the day steps and their hopes diminish you see the night turns on. So we reverse the holes in the domestic situations where it becomes darker and the holes become lighter at the end.  So there’s the whole kind of concept of light and dark we were playing with.

How do you decide a movie gets made as a filmmaker? Do you decide you want to go away from your last picture or is it more instinctual where a certain story catches your attention?

OS: It’s partly that and every script caught my attention, slammed me in the side of the head and said this is it; this is the one to do.  Partly because I’ve been in the Macedonian royalty and politics and Persian courts for three years certainly it was refreshing to come back to working class New York.  I had done working class originally, Born on the 4th of July and Wall Street, Any Given Sunday, Platoon.  It’s good to come back and remind yourself, there are very extraordinary people because they do it everyday, they do it consistently.  John McLoughlin wakes up at 3:29, Will gets up at 4 o’clock, I mean these guys are out and go to work and aren’t;’ thanked very often for a tough job.

Michael, what has been your best experience in working with Nicholas Cage and Oliver Stone?

MP:  It was an amazing experience.  When they tell you Oliver Stone wants to meet you in his office for one of his movies, you think they’re joking.  I thought it was bull crap.  It was amazing.  Working with Nick he was very specific and very, very prepared going in and I took some lessons form that to be honest with you.   It was very easy to work with him and he was very encouraging with things that were interesting. Oliver also did the same thing, encouraged me.  His attention to detail, he has tremendous passion for that and he would always shake his head.  It was sometimes more important how he said something as opposed to what he said because of the passion.

WORLD TRADE CENTER opens Wednesday, August 9th

Source: JoBlo.com



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