The RogerEbert.com Interviews of 2018

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Below is a collection of some of our favorite conversations from this year. Each interview features a quote from the conversation, as followed by a link at the end to the full interview. Enjoy this survey into a year of top-notch work from actors and directors, and we’ll see you in 2019. 

THE STARS 

Adriana Barraza (“Everything Else”) on life after her Oscar nomination for “Babel”: 

 “All the red carpets and these types of events, I’ve lived them and I will continue to live them as a fairy tale where you wear a beautiful outfit, like when you were little and wore your mother’s dresses to feel like a princess. I never forget that’s all just an instant, and everything else is about the work.” [link]

Steve Carell on his first time doing motion-capture acting, for Robert Zemeckis’ “Welcome to Marwen”:

“Like the advice that Bob [Zemeckis] gave me on day one, just think about it as very low-budget theater. And use your imagination. And I’ve done just the black outfit and everything, a couple chairs onstage. It’s ironic because, doing it back then you were at the mercy of your finances. And the irony now being, to do something like that is expensive to do and very complex. It’s fun. Just give yourself over to it, and enjoy it. It’s play time.” [link]

Tyne Daly on going between movies like “A Bread Factory” and “Spider-Man: Homecoming”: 

“A film like this is my antidote. They pay you no money at all. They pay you lovely money to do Spider-Man. But this is about characters and situations that are deeply human and not at all cartoon-y.” [link]

Paulina García (“The Desert Bride”) on acting with minimal dialogue:

“I love characters of few words because they allow you to move in multiple directions, which when you have a character that experiences a sudden and significant change, like she does over the course of the story, the viewer can understand it, can follow it, and can believe it. Characters are much more malleable for me when they have little dialogue.” [link

Lil Rel Howery on the cathartic comedy in “Uncle Drew”: 

“Comedy has always been used as a weapon, but it’s also the most consistent thing that everybody needs because people need to laugh. You gotta laugh through crazy times, and yes, what we’re living through right now is crazy, but there have been other insane times throughout history, and laughter has always stood out in their midst.” [link

Isabelle Huppert on “Claire’s Camera” and what moviemaking means to her: 

“Moviemaking to me is sharing different experiences each time with a different director. [It’s not something] I want to repeat with someone else because all great directors have their own manner, their own way, whether it is Michael Haneke, Paul Verhoeven, or Hong Sang-soo. What’s exciting is, being different each time.” [link]

The great Quincy Jones on de-categorizing music and breaking genre: 

“We’ve been stuck with—well, blessed, I should say—with 12 notes for the last 700 years. That’s heavy. That’s all we have is 12 notes. The first guys—Brahms, Bach, and Beethoven—took all the good stuff, you know? Through rhythm and harmony, we had to find a way to make those melodies ours. It feels like you belong to it, and that’s not so easy.” [link] 

KiKi Layne on the biggest challenge in acting in Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk”: 

“I think having to communicate so much without having too much dialogue. Tish doesn’t really speak that much, but she has so much to say and so much that has to be communicated. That was a really tough part of getting to the truth of this film.” [link]

Thomasin Harcourt McKenzie (“Leave No Trace”) when asked whether she might write or direct some day: 

“I’m at my happiest when I’m acting. At the beginning of this year, I was having a bunch of meetings with different agencies and they were talking about other opportunities I have with starting projects and producing and directing. These would obviously come further down the line if it all works out, you never know.” [link]

Amy Schumer (“I Feel Pretty”) on how confidence comes internally:

“For me, definitely in college was when I was really confused about my value. People make you feel like it’s all about how you look, and you realize slowly that it’s totally not true, and it’s all about how you feel. You determine your own self-worth. Some of [that] sounds like it would be on a fucking mug, but it’s true.” [link]

Amandla Stenberg on why she wanted to make “The Hate U Give”: 

“I fell in love with the book because of Starr and one of the first things she does is speak so candidly about having these two versions of herself that she presents depending on the environment that she’s in. That was so special to me as someone who has experienced that. I think it’s part of the contemporary black experience that you understand that your success is often conditioned upon how you present yourself.” [link] 

John Travolta (“Gotti”) on the magic behind great co-star chemistry: 

“People say that chemistry is an innate thing, but it’s true that it can also be created. If I ask the right questions of you, and you ask the right questions of me, I can assure you, we’ll start looking good together. You know what I mean? Like buddies. You can do the same thing with acting.” [link

John David WashingtonBlacKkKlansman” on loving acting from a young age: 

I’ve loved acting since I can remember. I’ll never forget watching my dad perform in a Shakespeare in the Park production of Richard III in New York. I also watched him in “Glory” so many times that I knew every line from every character in the film, so it was clear that the love was there back then. [link]

Forest Whitaker on whether he could tell that collaborating director Ryan Coogler would be successful with “Black Panther”: 

“I did have the feeling that it would match some of the other “Star Wars” and other films. I did feel that way; I thought something special was happening. I know Ryan and I know Ryan is a great filmmaker with a great mind, and I think given the proper tools which he was allowed to utilize, and a great cast and a great crew, that he would be able to do something exceptional and that people would want to see that.” [link] 

Steven Yeun on how “Burning” is not a film that can simply be solved: 

“We speak in brain. We speak in words. We speak in tones and boxes and ways to compartmentalize things. We try to figure things out. And so people will watch this and try to connect every piece and by the end you have a dissertation about what this thing is, but, really, he was trying to convey an emotion. So, if you got that, your body got it but your brain maybe doesn’t and so you have this dissonance and you’re trying to wrack your brain to catch up with your body. It’s this thing that you feel but can’t exactly process.” [link] 

THE FILMMAKERS

Desiree Akhavan (co-writer/director, “The Miseducation of Cameron Post”) on releasing her film in the middle of the Trump administration: 

“What’s interesting about living in a time like this is that you also get to be a part of a rebellion against it. More women are running for office than ever. I think young people are getting politically motivated in a way that they weren’t before. I want to be part of that change.” [link]

Bo Burnham (writer/director, “Eighth Grade”) on how “Gucci” became a big catchphrase for his film:

“That was Elsie’s! Elsie said that on set all the time. I didn’t know what [it meant.] And then we [shot] those videos on the last few days, And I was like, “She’s gotta have a sign-off or something,” and then it was like, “Well, just give her ‘Gucci.'” Elsie literally gets the last word of the film. I still don’t know what it means.” [link

Ruth Carter (costume designer, “Black Panther”) on creating the costumes for the Dora Milaje: 

“I had a lot of stories behind the costumes because that’s how culture is. It always has a story and the costumes have to be a part of it. That’s why that female fighting force had to live and it couldn’t just be a fantasy.” [link]

Aneesh Chaganty (co-writer/director, “Searching“) on looking at technology in a positive light: 

“We’re looking at things that talk about how negative technology is, and how addicted we are to this, or how obsessed we are with that, or how much it alienates us and all that stuff. And we’re like, yeah, that is true, but it’s just one aspect of the stuff. It’s like zoom out and get this macro picture of what technology does as a whole; as much as it can alienate, it can connect us. As much as it can make us hate, it can also make us love.” [link]

Sara Colangelo (adapting writer/director, “The Kindergarten Teacher”) on creating a challenging female character: 

“It was an opportunity to create a female anti-hero, and somebody that isn’t perfectly likable. I think it’s high time that we see stories like that. For me, there’s something about this last election that [made] women’s likability an issue. I like the idea of having a character that isn’t this kind of lovely, ethically perfect person.” [link]

Ryan Coogler (co-writer/director, “Black Panther”) on his aspirations with the action genre: 

“My favorite action movies have themes that are deep, that you can chew on, and that what we were trying to do, to make a movie that functions the way it was supposed to but also has some depth to it.” [link

Debra Granik (co-writer/director, “Leave No Trace”) on making a film that encourages open-mindedness:   

“One of my jobs as a storyteller, in the way that I self-describe my job, is to engender some kind of consideration or empathy; to ask some questions that at least make you motivated to want to understand another person. Something about what they’ve lived through, what they think about.” [link] 

Nicole Holofcener (writer/director, “The Land of Steady Habits”) on the through-line of flawed characters in her filmography: 

“I guess I like taking regular human frailties and building on that to kind of be more dramatic for a movie. It’s certainly not anything I planned or I think about when I’m sitting down to write. It’s just what I’m drawn to, I guess. You’d have to ask my therapist.” [link

Barry Jenkins (writer/director, “If Beale Street Could Talk”) on celebrating art that moves him: 

“I just know how open and wonderfully connected the world can be. And so if I see something that I respond to, I want to share it with the folks. And I want to encourage the people who see making beautiful things to make more beautiful things.” [link]

Tamara Jenkins (writer/director, “Private Life”) on connecting with her characters:

“My goal as a writer, which I guess is every writer and actor’s goal, is putting myself in each person’s shoes and believing their truth. And I just feel like I’m all three of those women easily. They’re all different. From each one of their perspectives, I can see why they feel the way they do about what’s happening.” [link

Bing Liu (cinematographer/director, “Minding the Gap”) on the healing power of cinema: 

“Healing begins when you are able to open up about things that are painful. I believe in the power of cinema to help you survive. Films like “Kids” and “Gummo,” as well as songs like “This Year” by The Mountain Goats, along with various books, are what got me through my childhood. It’s all about feeling like you are not alone, and that’s the hope these stories provide.” [link

Lynne Ramsay (writer/director, “You Were Never Really Here”) on the presence of sound in her movies:

“I really think about sound and music when I’m early on in the process because of what they do to your subconscious. It’s not just put on at the end, for me. Even when we do a cut, we do sound work after a cut [to] inform the next cut. I’d get the music from Jonny Greenwood and I would re-cut to the music. So, it was very organic. It wasn’t a very conventional method.” [link]

Boots Riley (writer/director, “Sorry to Bother You”) on collaborating with his actors for the unique tone of his film: 

“I think all of these actors, what made it was that none of them were in a comedy. While we were filming this, none of them were in a comedy. This was all real life, and if it ended up being hilarious then it was hilarious. Sometimes the characters would be trying to make jokes with each other and sometimes, purposely, those jokes weren’t funny because that’s how it is in real life.” [link

RaMell Ross (director, “Hale County This Morning, This Evening”) on editing his documentary down from 1,300 hours of footage: 

“I was editing the entire time. When you quote-unquote shoot someone, I hate that term … when you film someone, you’re constantly searching for meaning or representational moments, right? These moments are in dialogue with moments you’ve seen before in films, specifically with people of color; certain types of humanizing touches or gazes. You’re always confirming your own relationship to meaning.” [link] 

The legendary Tom Savini on his approach to directing: 

“Directors are visually inspired, you have a shot list, and I do the same thing. The movie’s over when I create it on paper, but now I have to go out and shoot those shots. If you have a great crew and everyone is on your side, you can create those pieces exactly the way you created them on paper. That’s the fun of it.” [link]

Paul Schrader (writer/director, “First Reformed”) on the spiritual quality of his film: 

“Taking things away from the viewer is the same as meditation. Good things happen to people who wait and making people wait until it happens to them is the delicate dance of a spiritual style. You have to use boredom like a scalpel to contour an emotional reaction without it becoming plain old boredom.” [link] 

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