E-MAIL THE AUTHOR | By Christopher Stipp
March 17, 2006
In this special, super-sized version of the Trailer Park, now with Riboflavin, I’ve got a lot of reading material for you peeps out there.
First up is an interview I did a few weeks ago with Sam Jaeger, an actor who will soon be on everyone’s lips as the dude who is going to make VA history by being the first “best friend” outside of Jason Mewes to appear on screen with Kevin Smith. Sam first came to me as a guy who is in the upcoming starfest, LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN, but in looking at his credentials I saw that there was a lot more to talk about than just shooting the crap about working with Ghandi and John McClaine. He was, genuinely, one of the warmest people I’ve been able to talk to in my tenure here at the ‘Shoot and I hope some of you aspiring actors/acresses read a little about what it’s like to survive inside the system of Hollywood while still retaining your sense of self.
Also, I’ve included a some trailer review action below the interview just in case an interview isn’t something you want to be doing with your Internets today.
And just in case you aren’t satiated by all of this writen goodness I wanted to let you know that I now can also be found writing periodically during the week over at Newsvine.com; my corner of that universe can be found right here. Not only is the site a solid destination to get all your news in one place without editorial oversight but it’s also very unique in that anyone can add to the news being reported on the site and I found that it was lacking a distinct voice in its movie coverage. Hence, I am spreading my stylistic talents like a mold virus through a piece of wet drywall. I’m testing out my skills at commenting on things that pop up during the week with regard to the movie business and I implore you to check it out and leave me some public feedback on the ‘Vine regarding what you think. My first real column was looking back at last week’s box office, commenting on Paul Haggis’ latest project and having a great time doing color commentary on Brett Ratner’s diary entry for UK Telegraph’s article on a day-in-the-life of a Hollywood director; it’s well worth your time and I am offering a free copy of the 25th Anniversiary DVD of HALLOWEEN to one random poster for any feedback left in the article’s comments section to get things started. I’ve also commented on some purported “test footage” of the new TRANSFORMERS movie that was “leaked” and offered up an opinion of this week’s announcement from theather owners’ planned push to have cell phone jammers installed in their multiplexes, or is it multiplexi?
Anyway, check it out if you can. I am confident that you won’t be sorry or let down by some additional content from yours truly; plus, and this is key, if you think it sucks harder than Paul Haggis’ CRASH you can publicly flog me for all to see. That alone should be worth the price of free admission.
Now, on with the column!
Usually interviews take on a rather superficial element not usually found in natural conversations; the actor/actress needs me in order to pimp their product and I, in turn, am looking for something intriguing enough to keep me involved and exciting enough to make you, the reader, curious enough to keep reading.
I have been fortunate that most every conversation I’ve had with someone involved in the making of a film or project has had a unique perspective on their respective roles within it. I’ve loved film all my life and I know that the predicate in the words “show business” wasn’t just a clever wording. It’s a cold fact that for every wicked awesome REQUIEM FOR A DREAM there is a HOW TO LOSE A GUY IN 10 DAYS just waiting to be unleashed into our lives; it’s a matter of knowing what audience can be brought in, how much they’re going to spend and what percentage the movie will make in profit that determines, in some odd mathematical way, people’s career trajectories. Need proof? Ask Steve Guttenberg why he isn’t in X-3.
In a sense, this is what brings us today to Sam Jaeger. An actor who has performed on a lot of television shows in roles that you really didn’t pay attention to, it’s okay, I never noticed either, Sam has made a living in the past seven years doing what actors do: auditioning and praying. He’s made a life for himself, and a pretty good one, acting in shows like LAW AND ORDER, SCRUBS and THE WEST WING. Now, in a few weeks, you’ll see him on the big screen in LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN, starring alongside Bruce Willis, Ben Kingsley, Stanley Tucci, Lucy Liu, Morgan Freeman and scads of others. And, for those in the know, Sam will make cinematic history of sorts in his role as Kevin Smith’s newest cinematic best friend, Mewes be dammed, in CATCH AND RELEASE, a movie that was tentatively slated to drop this spring but has been pushed back, way back, to 2007.
What Sam lacks in the numbers of people who know who he is he makes up for in a rich understanding of the machine that is his career: Hollywood actor. One of the poignant things that you learn about Sam is that he has the kind of perspective that you wish other actors have. He knows the fragility of one’s career and is a realist when it comes to looking beyond the work in front of him while enjoying the ride. It’s hard to not envy a guy who not only is getting bigger and more substantial roles but is also going to be responsible for being the first man to act alongside Kevin Smith in 2007’s CATCH AND RELEASE in a starring role as Smith’s best friend with Jason Mewes nowhere to be seen.
Part one of this two part series deals with Sam’s upcoming LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN, his thoughts on making a living by acting and shares what he thinks regarding having opportunities fall into his lap.
| Well, I am glad that I am finally able to talk to you about a couple of movies you’re going to be in. Yeah, Yeah… Now, I know LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN just came out overseas in the UK and Ireland…
Oh, did it?
Yeah, I spent the morning reading the reviews. I was wondering if you knew why those limeys get it first and we have to wait?
You know what, as an actor, you get to know so little about these things…unless you’re Kevin Smith…
No, I think…I just have no idea. I think maybe the film feels a little bit like something that Europeans would get into. It’s got sort of a PULP FICTION…I hope you don’t mind I’m doing dishes…
(The sound of rushing water fills my ear as the clink of assorted dishes also makes its way into the conversation)
No, absolutely not.
I just think it has a little more of a PULP FICTION audience that it lends itself to, a London audience to be specific. I imagine they’re testing to see how it goes over there and see what kind of momentum it can get. At least that’s my guess…but I’m no Weinstein.
So, I take it, then, you were there when the film screened at Sundance.
How did that go?
It’s such an…honestly, it’s a really stupid event. No, it’s really a great event but there’s something about it. I was there for 4 days and I saw 1 movie. The movies are impossible to get into. More people are going, there are more celebrities promoting their movies and it’s difficult.
I will say one of the strange parts was that I was involved with the whole schwag part of it. You know, you walk around places and people judge how big or insignificant you are and then give you gifts accordingly. It’s one of the stupidest things I have ever been a part of (laughs) and now that I am in the process of raising funds for a movie I’m directing this summer I am like, “You know what? We can sell all of this stuff online! I’m gonna call my uncle who has an E-bay account and give it all to him!” And, that’s kind of been the game plan.
I will say that the excitement at Sundance is really unique but, at the same time, there is a part of me that has tried to avoid Hollywood as much as I can. Living in Hollywood, and I live right in the middle of Hollywood, it is in the least celebrity heavy part of all of Los Angeles. I am surrounded by mostly Latino families just living their lives, working 9 to 5 jobs, and I really almost break out into hives whenever I cross La Cienega and get into Beverly Hills. It’s just not for me. It just makes me feel real uncomfortable.
I read that you grew up in the Midwest…Perrysburg, Ohio.
Yes, I grew up there and spent the rest of my life in LA. No, I’m kidding, I actually lived there all my life.
I can relate a little bit to you as the first time I visited Hollywood I was fresh off living in Illinois for nearly all my life and when I stepped into it I just couldn’t help but feel that it was a little weird. It didn’t feel real, it’s like reality but with a heavy coat of varnish on top of it.
Yeah. It’s a disappointing place to visit. You can see people come off the buses and it’s like, “What the hell? THIS is the magic machine?” And it’s not like I am disenchanted as I lived in New York for three years before coming out here and I like that Hollywood, at the least the middle of Hollywood, isn’t full of Rodeo folk. The people here are just trying to go about their work, their thing.
And the funny thing about going to Sundance was that my girlfriend and I were like, “You know, we flew a 1,000 miles to get away from people like this…And they all came.”
Is that what’s it come to? You hear people say of an annual event, no matter how great it is, that it’s never as good as it used to be.
That seems to be the whole theme of this year’s event was to talk about how it’s declining and the coverage is all about who’s hanging with Eva Longoria. Is the hype real or are there quality independent films still making their splash at this event?
Well, I think there was a need by some people to try and keep it an independent festival and, I can’t remember the selections, but the ones that were crowned king and queen of the festival were movies that could really be helped with a prize for distribution.
I think, when you come down to it, a great movie is a great movie. It just feels like the festival is engulfed by Hollywood. I guess that’s Sundance and will be Sundance for a long time to come. I don’t see fewer people going to Sundance next year. I think it’s significantly different from when Kevin won for CLERKS but, hopefully, people will keep the focus on films that are engaging, engrossing stories.
On that note, then, how did the screening for LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN go?
It actually went really well. I think people were really enthused. It’s a movie that kind of keeps you on your heels the whole time and it’s kind of like a puzzle that you piece together as the film goes along. It was a huge, the biggest theater, that was showing the movie and it was a packed packed house. In fact, one of the producers had to buy his ticket online for 200 bucks.
Yeah, yeah, it was near impossible to get tickets. I was fortunate enough to get them. It was a good event. I think Paul McGuigan is a really strong director with really good instincts. Certainly, great style. I think, visually, better than WICKER PARK.
I wasn’t going to break bad on WICKER PARK but…
You know, it was just under acted in some of the roles. But, like in that movie, I feel, Josh Hartnett gives his best. He’s a very dedicated, charismatic actor but I think he does a wonderful job in this one.
I feel like Josh is on this bubble. He’s got these boyish features but he’s making a great run at trying to carry a complete movie on his shoulders. Did he ever mention anything about what direction he wants to see himself going in?
In the few conversations I had with him he seems to actually be someone who is focused on avoiding the traps of superstardom.
Yeah, I think he had a lot of opportunity to do those kinds of films, he did PEARL HARBOR, and I think somewhere along that line he has learned his lesson from working with these major major stars and seeing how, sometimes, unhappy and maladjusted they are. And, again, I don’t know him that well, but I think that’s one of the things he’s wary of.
One of the frustrating things about my job is that depending on who you’re talking to, as you want to have a good conversation with the person you’re engaging, there can be a plethora of information or none at all. For you, then, your resume is packed with work done on LAW & ORDER, CSI, NYPD: BLUE, SCRUBS, ER, etc… but are you having to work to get these parts or are casting directors saying, “We need to have this guy”?
Well, every one of those shows I auditioned for. Nothing was handed down to me. You probably already know this but the mystique that opportunities just fall into people’s lap, and that some people can’t help but to be movie stars, or can’t help but be working actors, the same being true for writing, “He just sat at a typewriter and just had to come out of him,” it’s like…what a load of horseshit.
It just doesn’t happen and if it does happen then they are wrecked for the rest of their lives. I’ve been working now for almost seven years now and I would say that I have auditioned over a 1,000 times and things, eventually, fall into my lap because I do as much research and study my roles as much as I can before I go into an audition room.
I’ve just been fortunate to be a working actor for so long because I know how rare it is to be fully employed solely by acting. I just think it’s a matter of me being able to give the right performance at the right time. I will say that when I went and auditioned for CATCH AND RELEASE there was a pretty famous celebrity that walked out before I went in for the same role and I thought, “You know what? You don’t have a chance in hell so you might as well do the best you can.”
So, I walked in, I met Susannah, she was kind of reserved and I did the first scene and she had me go back and do it again and she said, “Great, Moving on…” And I thought, “Ok. She thinks I am a good actor but I didn’t get the role. That’s fine.” There were three scenes and then we moved on to the second scene and she was, “Good. Third scene…” By this time I am convinced there is no way in hell I am getting this, “She just wants to get me out of here. This woman is done with me, maybe I insulted her kids or something…”
I get done, I shake hands, I leave, I get into my car, my girlfriend is waiting in the car and I say, “I did the best I could but I just don’t think I have a shot at this.” And then, a month later, I get the role.
It’s always a mystery. I think it has to do with just doing the best you can and it eventually pays off.
When you go into an audition like that are you aware of that one person who really has the final say of whether you’re hired or not? Like a producer, the director or someone else involved with the project and are you ever aware of the person you have to impress?
Yeah, it usually depends on the director. There are some directors who are taken under the wing by some producers and remain there, I think. But, Susannah, just like Kevin, is very strong. She has such a confidence and is very intelligent and very present. You can’t help but to listen to her and heed her suggestions. I think that I was pretty much an unknown compared to the rest of the cast I think it was her confidence that sold the studio on me.
I once had to audition five times for a guest-starring role on Dark Angel.
Yeah. That was a dark period in my life.
The nadir of your career…
Right. My blue year. And, I didn’t even get it. This just goes back into why you just keep doing the work because I went into CATCH AND RELEASE and, 10 minutes later, I come out and a month later I get the role.
There is no specific scientific ways of getting these jobs. I just keep doing the work and then patting myself on the back because it’s all you can really do.
If I could compare the two, LUCKY NUMBER SLEVIN and CATCH AND RELEASE, big difference between production values and days spent shooting these movies? Was any one “more indie” than the other?
I think one of the things about SLEVIN was the sheer number of unbelievable actors. There was an energy there was at a little more serious than CATCH AND RELEASE. There was, and I don’t want to say a stress, but there was a tighter schedule on SLEVIN. You had to work in all these colossally vital actors into the movie and it was a balancing act plus you had 6 or 7 or 8 producers working on that film. That’s a lot of finagling.
For my role, I shot it in one week. Yet, two weeks after I am done shooting my role, they fly me back to Montreal from LA, put me in a hotel for three days, they bring me to the set, they do their thing, and, five hours later, I am back on a plane. What’s more is that they did it the following week as well. And they did it because they had all these stars that they had to accommodate.
For CATCH AND RELEASE it seemed much smoother despite rain trying to hold us back. It felt a little more like a studio film, I will say, because it felt like a 9 to 5 job, I was working at least 4 or 5 days a week but it had a little more a relaxed vibe to it.
I know Kevin kept an online diary of the production and it was nice to read about the process of making the film while getting the feel that it was causal on the set. There was work to be done but I didn’t read anywhere about some PA pounding on his door at 4 a.m. to shoot a scene.
No, it’s a night and a day difference from the independents I’ve done. I think the process has taught me a great deal about making movies, especially being around Kevin and having such a good relationship with him.
Was he schooling you while you were together? How did that relationship go?
I don’t think it could’ve gone any smoother. The funny thing is that the first time I met him it was for a table read, before the movie began, and he was talking to Timothy Olyphant, who plays the lead in the movie, and says, “I am a big fan of Deadwood, you did good work on THE GIRL NEXT DOOR…” and he turns to me and says, “And I have no idea what you’ve done.”
And I said, “I did a killer episode of ‘That’s Life.’ I can’t believe you didn’t see it…” It’s a relationship you’re just lucky to have.
I have nothing but respect for the guy and I think that’s what it is. We have a mutual respect for one another. He’s a great family man, he does everything he can for his friends and family; that’s kind of how I live my life. I live for my friends and my family, the people I love and he will go to bat for anyone who he loves.
That’s really nice to say…
Yeah, and I also like the fact that he speaks his mind. That’s what has got him so many fans. And his fans should rest assured that he is everything that he appears to be. He’s just a guy who says it like it is.
Did you find when you were with him in a scene that he just came in, did what he was expected of him and then leave or did he ever interject with suggestions of his own about a scene?
No, but that was one of the most fascinating aspects of the movie. Here’s a director who has directed six films, has written six films and is now being directed by a first time director. It would have been a lot more uncomfortable had Susannah not been such an accomplished writer, I mean she’s written ERIN BROCKOVICH, IN HER SHOES, and she is a confident woman. Kevin trusted her and they had a great working relationship once it got rolling. If there was a button on the scene that Kevin wanted to try she would let him try it so it was like having two writers on the set.
What would you say, going into a movie like SLEVIN or CATCH AND RELEASE, are you hoping to get out of your time on a movie? Some have said, “It’s a job, it’s just work,” but is there anything intrinsic to be gained from a movie set?
I think, in the past, my goal was to not get fired. And, I speak to that. On CATCH AND RELEASE I realized about two weeks in that, “You know what? Jennifer’s preggers. There is no way they can re-shoot this shit. I am in this movie for good.” You know? “They can edit me out, fine, but they’ve gotta keep what I’ve done here somehow.”
I love it.
I am only thankful to get a role. When you get a job, you want to do the best job possible. I would sometimes kill myself trying to get to this character and, coming from a background in theater, it’s an ongoing process where you try and develop a character and try to build it into something that’s comfortable but with film I’ve learned that when you get cast generally for these movies you’re already the person they were looking for because they’ve already seen 600 to 1,000 people. They don’t need you to make huge adjustments. The audition you give is often the mold they want your character in. I purposely try to lay off memorizing scenes and so forth till the day before because I know I have a tendency to overanalyze things and it can become overly stiff. And I didn’t want that to happen here because Kevin and I are supposed to be laidback guys with a really strong friendship. It wouldn’t make sense to be so strict about the lines, so meticulous.
| FIND ME GUILTY (2006) Director: Sidney Lumet
Cast: Vin Diesel, Annabella Sciorra, Alex Rocco, Peter Dinklage, Ron Silver
Release: March 17, 2006 (Limited)
Synopsis: A drama based on the longest Mafia trial in U.S. history, mobster Jack DiNorscio (Diesel), faced with a series of charges, decides to stand trial instead of ratting out his family and associates. A wrench is thrown into the system when DiNorscio opts to defend himself. View Trailer:
* Large (QuickTime)
Prognosis: Negative. Another movie set against the backdrop of a trial?
From A FEW GOOD MEN to nearly every John Grisham I am at a loss to understand the nature of what makes these movies such an appealing genre. I do know, though, that movies that fall under this kind of filmic purview, sporting events being one that comes to mind quickly, need to do something special in order to set themselves apart. It’s almost as if these movies have to work uphill even before they get started; where any other movie just needs to be original to be noticed these kind of genre movies need to additionally set themselves apart from those they share space with on the video shelf.
This is where I am coming from when this movie opens and you get the obligatory shot of flashbulbs, hubbub, boisterous news hounds and the frumpy, velvety track suits donned by the stereotypical Italian goombahs who find themselves in a courtroom.
It’s unimpressive. It’s flat.
I am intrigued by the card that tells me that I am about to see a story that revolves around one of the biggest criminal trials in our nation’s history but without context I am just left drifting in this trailer. What’s more, and this important to note, everything builds up for what should be something worthy of serious drama but we don’t get that. We’re offered, instead, Vin Diesel, mugging to the audience of his peers and I am almost sure this is being billed as a comedy.
You’ve got a jaunty soundtrack underneath Diesel’s claim that in this “trial of the century” he’s going to defend himself by being his own lawyer; when he’s asked whether he has any legal experience he states he’s been in the can most of his life and that he thinks sometimes he has, “too much legal experience.” Oh, the uproar this causes. Everyone laughs and thinks this the funniest crap they’ve heard. Is this a trial or a Saturday night at The Sands with Dean, Frank and Sammy?
I’m not too far off here as the subsequent clips that are chosen drip with a depression inducing grey palate with Vin talking about the man who shoots him four times, expressing the misguided sentiment that it was because his “family” loves him, and the trying-too-hard-to-be-poignant moment when he tells his old lady, his girlfriend, his daughter, who knows, that even though he’s being asked to rat on his friends the best two words in the English language are “things change.”
I’m just not sure what to make of a movie billed as a drama when Vin is playing the part of MY COUSIN VINNY. There is a lot of posturing for the camera, a lot of wacky and zany outbursts all the while one of the biggest legal battles between organized crime and the government goes on.
Even if, perchance, the movie is indeed the comedic equivalent of an episode of LA LAW there seems to be real drama with Vin getting his ass beat and him having to be restrained for his outbursts.
There is a movie in here, I feel it, but if this the marketing for what appears to be a marketing campaign that doesn’t know which way to sell the product then this movie is having its feet ensconced and being dumped in the Hudson.
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