INT: Mike Binder

Mike Binder does triple duty for his latest project, writing, directing and acting in the comedy/drama THE UPSIDE OF ANGER, opening this Friday. The story centers around Terry Wolfmeyer (Joan Allen), a suburban housewife whose life turns to disarray when her husband suddenly disappears. Soon she’s drinking heavily and sparring regularly with her four hot daughters, played by Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Alicia Witt and Keri Russell (of "Felicity" fame). Much comedy/drama ensues.

Binder, who got his start on the Detroit stand-up comedy scene, is known primarily for his acting work in such films as THE CONTENDER and MINORITY REPORT. He’s also spent some time behind the camera, writing and directing a few indie films. Binder’s short-lived HBO series, "The Mind of the Married Man" won some critical raves before getting canned after two seasons.

Binder stopped by the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills to talk about THE UPSIDE OF ANGER. Check it out.


Do you enjoy playing the unlikable characters?

That’s the problem – I don’t come at it that way. Not to compare myself to Gary Oldman, cause I never would, but when we were doing the Contender, it was really obvious to me that Gary didn’t know that he was the movie’s bad guy. Let me tell you something, that’s the only way you can do it as an actor. I don’t see these guys as bad guys, I don’t see Shep—I fell in love when I was 25 and I’m still married. So I’m not out single, but if I was single and I had a shot at it, I think I wouldn’t be that much different than Shep. What Shep was trying to say is that he’s just glad for anyone he can end up with. It’s about who he had a connection with; he’s not a guy who has connection with women his own age and that doesn’t make you a bad guy.

As a writer, you don’t see him as a more distasteful character in the piece?

In the piece, yes. But I really came onto it once I started testing it with the audience. The audience showed me that. I really thought he was the coolest guy in the piece as I was making it. I really thought this guy’s really got it going on. The other side of it, the funny footnote is, Ericka Christensen, when I hired her, she did not look like what she did in the movie. I don’t know what happened. I hired her cause she’s a great actress and she was so great in Traffic and she looks like she could be Joan Allen’s daughter. She came to my office and she was cute, but she wasn’t like, “Wow!”

I wasn’t looking for that; I really didn’t want that character that character to be that sexy. And first of all, what I wanted was an actor that could hold their own with Joan Allen, which is why I went with Evan Rachel Wood and Keri Russell and that kind of actor. But when she got to London , it was five months later, she had thinned down and her hair was different and I would look through the camera lens and say to the DP, “This girl is so hot.” So that was never really what I was going for.

Did you draw from your own experience growing up with divorced parents?

My parents were divorced when I was a kid but their story was completely different. The things that were autobiographical in the piece were more WRF rock radio where I grew up and I used that. Denny McClain, not only was he Denny McClain, when I started as a stand-up comic in the late 70s in Detroit, Denny McClain had a radio show and I’d go on it to promote club work. And he wouldn’t talk about baseball so that was very—then it became Kirk Gibson too. I would say to my wife, “You know, this guy is a cross between Denny McClain and Kirk Gibson and you know who that looks like.” If you had Denny McClain and you took Kirk Gibson and you had them run to each other real fast you would end up with Kevin Costner.

And Kevin Costner has had so many baseball movies and I said, “That’s kinda good cause that guy comes with built-in back-story. I’ve already seen him before. I’ve seen him play baseball. I’ve seen him in the minors.” So I called him.

He wasn’t a friend – we’re acquaintances. He came up and introduced himself to me at the Palm once and he liked my stand up and he gave me his number at a party once and said, “Call me.” And I never did and when I called him, he said “You know, I’m not really looking to do a supporting role in another movie and I’m watching your show every Sunday night and it’s like watching my own dirty laundry.” Which I went, “Ok, whatever that means.” And he said, “I’m curious what kind of script you came up with at this point in your life.” And I said, “Well just know that it’s a baseball player,” and he said, “That doesn’t bother me. If it speaks to me, it speaks to me. Baseball players don’t scare me.” And oddly enough, he called me up and said “You know what, I like it. I’ll do this.”

What does he have to do the burnt-out roles?

I think he’s got a lot of it in him. He went to the top of the business; he wrote and directed a movie and won the Oscar, an epic. People don’t realize how successful Kevin was. I think people forget or something, he was really successful for a while and I think he understands that there’s that and then there’s the story after that flame on.

Did you encounter any resistance in regards to Joan’s character?

The only thing that I, my only, the only thing I ever dealt with was that people said you had to tone her down cause I never felt that—once I got Joan and I got Kevin, I felt my job was to keep this thing real and not to get talked into toning it down. I understand it; I’ve been there and I understand how consuming that anger is and if you play the TV movie version of it, you get the TV movie. And there are people that I know that told me they didn’t like the movie cause it was just too hard to watch her and she was relentless, and I said, “Then you need to see another movie,” cause the whole the point of this was—this whole thing was an exercise of taking a great racehorse and letting her run.

What made you think of Joan Allen for a comedic role?

I know her to be one of the great actress’ working and I thought, this whole idea, it came from, she asked me “Will you write a script for me?” And I said, “Be careful what you ask, cause I will. I will sit down and write a movie for you.” Afterwards, she came to a party HBO had for us in NY and she was sitting at a dinner table. “Now I’m gonna write this thing if you keep asking me if you want it written. You can’t do Joan Allen.” She’s a great comic, she’s a great actress, she’s got it all. And the whole idea is, how do I set it up? Run and do it.

Your next project is MAN ABOUT TOWN, starring Ben Affleck. Are you feeling any pressure for this movie to resuscitate Ben’s career?

I feel it cause I’m not stupid. But I don’t feel pressure on myself. Plus, he delivered. When we started working on the movie, he wasn’t quite in the situation he was in. we started working on this movie back in September and we committed to it last March. And Jersey Girl. I’m not gonna—there’s just too much “actor of the moment” thing going on with the studios. I think he’s a good actor. Ben’s a bad actor in bad movie and a good actor in good movie, and who isn’t? Some people are lucky they don’t do that many bad movies.

But also, if you look at the choices Ben’s made, to work with John Woo, to work with Marty Brest, who I would do anything to work with, to work with Kevin Smith who he had worked with before, and the Surviving Christmas script was great - I wanted to direct it. I didn’t get the job. So he made choices I understand, they just didn’t work out. And I also think that—he had a bit of a backlash. And listen, the guy won the Oscar at 24; he’s 32. He needed to stumble and he’s not going anywhere; this guy is going to be around for a long time. He learned a lot from the last 2 years; trust me. He loved this movie and he wanted to go with us up to Sundance. He knows; the guy is a smart guy, he’ll be around a long time. I’m more worried about my career than his.

Can you tell us about Man About Town?

I wrote it. Man About Town is actually a movie I wrote for Steven Spielberg to direct. I developed it with Steven and he decided not to do it and I went out and did it myself. And it’s a movie about a talent agent who’s wife has an affair with his most important client and—it’s really a movie about a man who’s wife cheats and has to figure out a way to forgive her cause he’s in love with her and he can’t just leave her. He just has to figure out some path to forgiveness and he’s very good in the movie. The client is Adam Goldberg and John Cleese is in it and Gina Gershon. I’m in it – I’m the Jew agent. (Laughs)

Questions? Comments? Manifestos? Send them to me at [email protected].

Source: JoBlo.com



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