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Rank #73 in Arts category

Arts
TV & Film

Off Camera with Sam Jones

Updated about 1 month ago

Rank #73 in Arts category

Arts
TV & Film
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Off Camera is a podcast hosted by photographer/director Sam Jones, who created the show out of his passion for the long form conversational interview, and as a way to share his conversations with a myriad of artists, actors, musicians, directors, skateboarders, photographers, and writers that pique his interest. Because the best conversations happen Off Camera.

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Off Camera is a podcast hosted by photographer/director Sam Jones, who created the show out of his passion for the long form conversational interview, and as a way to share his conversations with a myriad of artists, actors, musicians, directors, skateboarders, photographers, and writers that pique his interest. Because the best conversations happen Off Camera.

iTunes Ratings

1258 Ratings
Average Ratings
1132
73
21
15
17

Best interviewer

By C Casey - May 25 2020
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I just listened to the Ron Howard interview and finally nailed down why I like this podcast so much. It’s the refreshing experience of listening to an interviewer who is not a syncophant (sp?) and who listens intently, shown by follow-up questions on target -“hey, that’s what I wanted to know” on target- rather than moving to a planned question. Best of all- the guest is not interrupted by the host’s need to tell his own story.

A space for Artists

By Tamisha Francois - Nov 07 2019
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Much needed space for expression and insight.

iTunes Ratings

1258 Ratings
Average Ratings
1132
73
21
15
17

Best interviewer

By C Casey - May 25 2020
Read more
I just listened to the Ron Howard interview and finally nailed down why I like this podcast so much. It’s the refreshing experience of listening to an interviewer who is not a syncophant (sp?) and who listens intently, shown by follow-up questions on target -“hey, that’s what I wanted to know” on target- rather than moving to a planned question. Best of all- the guest is not interrupted by the host’s need to tell his own story.

A space for Artists

By Tamisha Francois - Nov 07 2019
Read more
Much needed space for expression and insight.
Cover image of Off Camera with Sam Jones

Off Camera with Sam Jones

Latest release on Jun 26, 2020

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Off Camera is a podcast hosted by photographer/director Sam Jones, who created the show out of his passion for the long form conversational interview, and as a way to share his conversations with a myriad of artists, actors, musicians, directors, skateboarders, photographers, and writers that pique his interest. Because the best conversations happen Off Camera.

Rank #1: Dax Shepard 2

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It’s been 140 episodes since Dax Shepard last sat down with me, and a lot has changed since—he directed a film (ChiPs), started Armchair Expert, which is one of the best and most popular podcasts of 2018 (after stealing all of my secrets, of course), and learned a lot about what truly makes him happy in the process.

In fact, his entire podcast is inspired by his fascination with true happiness.  “A lot of us go through life thinking, ‘I would be happy, if…’ ‘I would have self-esteem, if…’ ‘I would know contentment, if…’ But those are illusions that most people don’t get to find out are illusions.”

Dax had the dubious honor of learning that lesson first hand. Early in his career, he had all of the status markers and money that he thought would make him happy, but none of that prevented him from reaching one of the lowest points in his life, magnified by his demoralizing addiction to alcohol and drugs. Huddled in an airport bar, sucking down Jack and Cokes, Dax took a moment to evaluate his situation. “My whole life I thought, ‘Man, if I had a million dollars…’ Well, I had a million dollars, and I couldn’t get on a flight to fly 35 minutes from San Francisco to L.A.” It’s with that wisdom that Dax asks his celebrity guests, “You’re rich, and you’re famous. Did it cure all of the things you thought it would?” In general, it doesn’t.

Dax’s honesty is contagious—he brings it out in his guests and the people around him. It seems like his superpower is curating human vulnerability and talking frankly about the messiness of life, and that’s why he’s one of my favorite people to talk to.

Dax joins Off Camera to talk about the misnomer that is "rock bottom," the magic osmosis that makes his marriage with Kristen Bell work so well, and why you shouldn’t compare yourself to your neighbor’s seemingly perfect life.

Jan 31 2019

1hr 2mins

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Rank #2: Robert Downey Jr. 2

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Good old Robert Downey Jr. is back for a second time, and his career has gone quite well since his last appearance, on episode 5 of Off Camera. It is now our 200th episode, and Robert is here to remind us that great conversations should be unconventional, surprising, and sometimes just downright weird. Check, check, and check.Since the last time he was here, Robert’s Iron Man legend has grown exponentially—thanks to the massive success of Marvel’s Avengers franchise and the recent release of the final installment, Avengers: Endgame.  But if we rewind the tape, Robert’s journey on the project, like director Jon Favreau’s, started at a low point. “We were two people who had a film we were passionate about come out on the same weekend and bomb. His was Zathura, and mine was Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.” Their mutual comeuppance led to a creative bond, a big brother relationship. As Robert explains, “If that kind of synergy happens when you’re doing a movie, it’s going to be great. End of story.”Finding people who encourage and legitimize his creativity has been a theme for Robert, who despite moments of personal turmoil, possesses a deep-seated work ethic. Growing up, he was “Bob Downey’s kid,” the son of a groundbreaking, counterculture filmmaker, whose view of the industry was the following: “Anybody can act. Few can direct, and nobody can write.” Talk about humble beginnings.Robert joins Off Camera to talk about quitting (not getting fired from) Saturday Night Live after a year, why he thought (and still thinks) he could write a better script than William Goldman, and the great life advice he got from Figueroa Slim in jail.

Jul 18 2019

1hr 5mins

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Rank #3: Ep 2. John Krasinski

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As Jim Halpert, John Krasinski embodies The Office’s most beloved Everyguy, but his middle-achiever alter ego belies the actor’s impressive and accomplished resume. At just 33, he has written, directed and produced both television and feature films with some of the industry’s most talented heavy-hitters.

Krasinski shares his own version of the waiter-to A-list story and talks about staying true to his artistic path despite periods of self-doubt. An avid and humble student of experience, he discusses what he’s learned from his work with industry veterans such as Sam Mendes, Gus Van Sant and George Clooney. Krasinski talks to Off Camera about wrapping the final season of The Office, the value of supportive parents, and about his newest film, Promised Land, which he co-wrote, and co-stars with Matt Damon.

At one of the most interesting junctions in his career, an actor who’s arguably done it all looks ahead to what he hopes will be next.

Mar 12 2020

1hr 42mins

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Rank #4: Seth Rogen

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Believe it or not, the origin of Seth Rogen’s incredible acting, writing, and producing career traces all the way back to Bar Mitzvah class in Vancouver. That’s where twelve-year-old Seth met Evan Goldberg, a fellow movie enthusiast who loved writing just as much as Seth did. A creative partnership between the two began instantaneously, and they started writing what would become Superbad, inspired by their own high school escapades, by the time they were thirteen. “We always wondered if our very specific high school experience would be relatable to other people, because we were just writing what happened to us as Jewish Canadian boys in Vancouver. It seemed pretty niche.” Of course, it became one of the most successful movies about high school of all time.As his writing career post-Superbad took off, so did his acting career. Within the span of a few years, he became the face of American comedy, working on hit films like The Pineapple Express, The 40-Year-Old Virgin, and Knocked Up. In fact, he had so much success over that span of time, he just assumed that was how the business worked: “I didn’t appreciate how miraculous that streak was. At the time, I was like, ‘Oh, great. You make a movie. It turns out great. Everyone loves it, and you make tons of money. Perfect.’”Eventually, he learned that wasn’t always the case—and as the movie budgets got bigger, so did the stakes, with more creative pressure and input from studio executives. It took one bad experience as a studio’s most expensive movie for Seth to realize that it was more important for Evan and him to maintain their artistic freedom than make the highest profile movie. To this day, he holds onto that philosophy and it’s why he still loves making movies, including his newest film Long Shot, a political romantic comedy starring Charlize Theron and himself. “When Evan and I make a movie like Long Shot, and we’re able to sit in a theater and watch the audience laugh at and feel what we hoped—it’s really gratifying. It means they’re invested in the same things we are.”Seth joins Off Camera to talk about why moving to Los Angeles for a role in Freaks and Geeks was his version of going off to college, how he and Evan turn an idea into a full-fledged movie, and why saying no to a role on a CW sitcom early in his career wasn’t a hard choice at all.

Apr 25 2019

1hr 11mins

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Rank #5: Daniel Radcliffe

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Before Daniel Radcliffe became the face of the global phenomenon that was Harry Potter, he was just a typical kid struggling to get through his schoolwork and get along with his teachers. Back then, his only acting credential was the BBC miniseries David Copperfield, but he made a good impression on fellow cast member Maggie Smith, who recommended him for the role that would change his life. Despite his parents’ initial reluctance, Dan was allowed to audition, and once they started filming, he discovered his happy place. “I felt pretty sh** at everything in school, so it was nice to be on a film set where my hyperactivity and all the stuff that was irritating my teachers was actually useful and encouraged.”

Now nearly a decade removed from Harry Potter, he still finds acting to be a constant source of joy. When he made his first foray outside of Hogwarts, Dan bravely decided to take a giant risk, choosing the dark and psychologically complex play Equus as his coming out party. “I couldn’t do something half-assed for my first thing on stage. It was my chance to get far away from Potter as possible, both to show people that I was in it for the right reasons and to test myself.”

From his work on stage to his other films like Swiss Army Man, Jungle, and Kill Your Darlings, Dan continues to challenge himself—his most recent example being his broad, playful, and comedic role in the hilarious new series Miracle Workers, opposite Steve Buscemi.

Dan joins Off  Camera to talk about pressures that come with fame, taking on uncharted waters as a “magical dead guy” in Swiss Army, and how to get through a Japanese airport without dying.

Feb 21 2019

1hr

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Rank #6: Zach Galifianakis

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Zach Galifianakis had his big moment of success a bit later than most. Zach was a stand-up comedian with a small but loyal following, but when the massive hit comedy The Hangover came out, his life drastically changed. At 40 years old, Zach was unaccustomed to throngs of fans and perplexed by the attention brought by fame. As he says, “No one wanted to hear me speak or ask my opinion until I got into the movies. That doesn’t make any sense.”Zach’s down to earth approach to life likely originated with his family—a naturally funny and supportive crowd who encouraged Zach to follow his dreams of performing at an early age. After school, he moved to New York City to find an acting coach who could take him under their wing and provide an entrance into the business. Success wasn’t imminent though. As Zach says, “I worked for an uncle who managed a restaurant called Tequila Willie’s, where I had to wear a sombrero and pick up my tips off the kitchen room floor. Have you ever been on the kitchen floor on your hands and knees picking up quarters with a sombrero on? It’s very uplifting. Especially, when you’re still a busboy at 28.” Zach never found his long sought after acting coach but instead discovered stand up in the back of a burger restaurant, and never looked back.Even with his roles in big budget films, Zach continues to take on interesting, outside the box projects—whether it’s being a fake talk show host in the Netflix movie adaptation of Between Two Ferns or doing impromptu stand-up at a steakhouse in Pasadena. Over the course of our conversation, you’ll realize Zach’s honesty and modesty is as endearing as it is hilarious, as awkward as it is intimate.Zach joins Off Camera to talk about his favorite Between Two Ferns moment, his mission to take the piss out of “celebrity,” and why you should dress up as a witch and go find him on the streets of Venice if you want to have a nice ten-minute conversation.

Sep 26 2019

1hr 14mins

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Rank #7: Edward Norton

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For the past 25 years, Edward Norton has established himself as one of the greatest actors in his generation. His legacy includes roles in films like Primal Fear, American History X, Fight Club, and Birdman to name a few, and he’s the type of artist who constantly seeks to challenge himself. Take his new film Motherless Brooklyn, which he wrote, directed, and stars in. The noir-esque film is an incredible achievement for Edward, and it’s a direct product of all of his years of hard work and experience in the industry.For Edward, being an artist is more of a compulsion than a mere desire. As he says, “Most of us are one or two degrees away from obsession tipping over into a true condition and affliction. That’s how I feel about acting and writing.” Luckily, Edward has a creative place to put that obsession, and that creativity was inspired by the work of musicians like Bob Dylan and David Bowie when Edward was a teenager. The resounding message was: “The freaks are who you want to hang with.” So, Edward sought to find his own tribe of like-minded, creative people. It’s through that band of people that Edward got his first big role, and it also helped him fund and cast Motherless Brooklyn. As he says, “If I’ve got any collateral via what I’ve done, why wouldn’t I try to do something else? Why wouldn’t I try to swing for a story that I think I understand and say something?”Edward joins Off Camera to talk about identifying with his underdog character in Motherless Brooklyn, learning to put problems in perspective after his mother passed away, and why he has a hard time trusting anyone who actually enjoyed high school.

Oct 31 2019

1hr 4mins

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Rank #8: Jenny Slate 2

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I’m really happy to have Jenny Slate back again. She’s smart, funny, and charming, and she’s refreshingly honest about her struggles as an artist and human being. Every time I find myself in conversation with her, I feel inspired and joyful. She’s just released a Netflix special called Stage Fright, which is part standup, part documentary, part confessional, and wholly original. And she’s also released a new memoir called Little Weirds, which is probably the most esoteric and private book to ever land on The New York Times bestseller list. Bottom line, Jenny is an unapologetically human artist, and she is at the height of her powers.

Jenny had to do some soul-searching over the past few years. Divorce, the public spotlight, and emotional turmoil were inhibiting her creativity, and as she depicts in her memoir, she had to work through some of that “gloop.” Writing Little Weirds led to a maturity and self-assuredness that helped her reach not only new creative heights, but also to find peace and happiness within herself. She inhabits an interesting space between creating entertainment and soul-searching. As Jenny says, “I don’t think that there will be a world in which I don’t try to be funny and add levity to reality, but the most important thing for me as an artist and the only constant is, ‘Openness until death.’ Stay open until you’re terminal.”

Jenny joins Off Camera to talk about losing her creative spirit in the woods of New England, freaking out after she bombed the Stage Fright rehearsal, and the psychological and creative benefits of dressing monochromatically for a couple weeks.

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Dec 05 2019

1hr

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Rank #9: Josh Gad

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Josh Gad was drawn to acting ever since he took the stage as The Simcha Machine in Beth Shalom Academy’s kindergarten play. Onstage, Josh felt euphoria, but at home, he struggled with his parents’ divorce. Luckily, he found an escape through watching and performing in theater. Josh vividly remembers the first time he saw a professional play, sitting in the nosebleeds, and watching breathlessly. “What finally took me over the edge was going to New York City and seeing Topol in Fiddler on the Roof. I was sold. Sold. ‘I’ve got to do this.’”In addition to his dream of performing, Josh had an innate talent for making people laugh. Humor was how eased his mother’s pain after divorce, and it also helped him diffuse social tension. Josh explains, “One time a kid called me fat in front of a group of people, and instead of kowtowing, I started reciting a monologue from My Cousin Vinny to the point where the guy was like, ‘What is happening right now?’ Everybody was laughing at him, and I turned it into an opportunity to take the weapon out of his hands and make it my own.”For college, Josh went to conservatory at Carnegie Mellon, but getting work after graduation wasn’t easy. The cycle of auditioning and rejection was depressing, especially when his agents sent him on auditions against the likes of Nick Lachey. “Had my agents even seen my headshot?” Josh jokes. After a couple of years, he almost quit, but he finally got his big break as the lead in the Broadway show The 25th Annual Putnam Country Spelling Bee. In the years since, Josh has done work in a wide range of projects onstage and onscreen, including The Daily Show, Book of Mormon, The Comedians, Frozen, and more.Josh joins Off Camera to talk about the way voice acting taps into his childhood, the worst night he’s ever had on stage, and missing his calling as an opera singer.

Nov 21 2019

1hr 5mins

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Rank #10: Fred Armisen

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Fred Armisen is known as one of the funniest and most memorable Saturday Night Live cast members, but surprisingly, a career in comedy wasn’t something he originally envisioned. As a kid, he was obsessed with becoming a musician. Punk—his first love—was perfectly suited to his self-described “weirdo” sensibility. He and his band Trenchmouth had some success, but it paled in comparison to the record deals and acclaim his peers were getting. “The hardest part about watching all the bands around us get famous was that I wasn't able to enjoy music anymore because I was so jealous.”Fred wasn’t lighting the world on fire with his drumming, but he knew he had a gift for making people laugh with impressions—a valuable skill for entertaining band mates on long concert tours. Fred started wondering if he was supposed to be on a different path. “I worried for a moment that I was too late for this career, but the rewards were so huge that I made up for lost time. Within a few years, I was on Saturday Night Live. I went through the side door entrance, and even I wasn’t a traditional comedian, I had impressions and characters.”That side door proved to be the right one. Fred spent 11 years on SNL, developed and starred in Portlandia with Carrie Brownstein, did Documentary Now! with Bill Hader and Forever with Maya Rudolph, both fellow SNL alumni, and he’s at it again with Los Espookys, an upcoming Spanish-language show on HBO about goths, entrepreneurship, and chocolate. He’s keeping it weird, and that’s just how he likes it.Fred joins Off Camera to talk about finding a lifesaver and pen pal in director John Waters, why The Clash informs just about everything in his life, and the time he got sent to the school psychologist just because he wanted to burn down Main Street.

Jun 06 2019

1hr 10mins

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Rank #11: Jeff Bridges 2

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Jeff Bridges is back again, and this time, the legendary multi-hyphenate is joining me because he’s just released a new photography book titled Jeff Bridges: Pictures, Volume Two. Composed of behind-the-scenes photos taken throughout his career, the book is a wonderful representation of the magic and mystery of filmmaking.Despite so many years of experience, Jeff approaches every new artistic project with a "beginner’s mind." Whether he’s prepping for a new role, writing songs, painting, or taking photos, getting down to work is how Jeff staves off his self-critic. “We’re often looking for passion and where to find it, but it doesn’t come out of nowhere—passion is the fire you get when you rub sticks together.” It’s this passion that drew me to Jeff many years ago, and it’s why I’m excited to see what he’ll work on next.Jeff joins Off Camera to talk about his fear of making decisions, what he’s learned after 42 years of marriage, and why you better have a safe word or you might end up in the hospital.

Oct 24 2019

1hr 9mins

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Rank #12: Jake Johnson

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Jake Johnson’s made a career out of acting next to some of the top names in the business, and that’s exactly how he likes it. From his vantage point, he’s got the best seat in the house, watching people like Zooey Deschanel (New Girl), Tom Cruise (The Mummy), and Cobie Smulders (Stumptown) do their thing. All the while, he’s living out a dream that started when he was a kid, watching shows like Cheers and Roseanne and desperately wanting to be in them.Jake and his two siblings were brought up by their mother in a Chicago suburb. He wasn’t a great student, but he lit up when he discovered writing and acting in high school. “Back then, I was in a very tricky emotional place, but writing plays, I had total control, and I loved it.” Combine that with the praise he received from performing in the school sketch show, and he knew he found his thing.Now, Jake’s 41 and still doing it, and his favorite part of the work is getting to play within the world of make-believe. It’s why he’s drawn to the sets of filmmaker Joe Swanberg (Drinking Buddies, Digging for Fire, Win It All) and turned off by micro-managing directors who kill the magic and overshoot scenes. “I’m not here for your final cut. I’m here for right now—me and this other human being can act. Let us act, and get the camera out of here. Hide it, and let us go!”Jake joins Off Camera to talk about forging a relationship with his absent father, the rude awakening he got after dropping out of high school, and his stint as a degenerate gambler…luckily, he was saved by New Girl.

Oct 17 2019

1hr 1min

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Rank #13: Ep 26. Will Ferrell

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Just mention Will Ferrell’s name or glance at a picture of him and chances are you’re already smiling (or smirking or laughing out loud). But the really funny thing is that it’s not necessarily because his best-known characters are so gosh-darn loveable. See, Ferrell never bought the conventional movie truism that comedic leads have to be likeable, and went on to prove it, perhaps most pointedly with the iconic Ron Burgundy. In fact, he doesn’t even think comedy has to be particularly funny to be hysterical.

While working a number of “regular” jobs, (he actually almost became an anchorman), Ferrell did stand up in small clubs, clinging to his father’s surprisingly helpful advice that his ever making it would be a long shot. It was just that take-it-or-leave it approach that allowed him to pursue his unique comedic style free from the angst that might have otherwise crushed it. It might also explain a small sadistic streak that underlies his performances – if you don’t like what he’s doing, sit back and enjoy it anyway…or else.

In this issue, he describes his stomach-churning, knee-buckling Saturday Night Live audition and the even more daunting experience of joining the legendary show at one of its lowest points. He also shares his writing process, stories behind some of his best loved impersonations and his long and sometimes perplexing feature film cv. His success and work in projects as diverse as Elf and Stranger Than Fiction illustrate the rare genius of someone who can make the ridiculously absurd not only believable, but sympathetic. Chalk it up to talent or unquestioning commitment to any role he takes on, but not to hard work. Ferrell’s a firm believer in not overthinking the work or worrying too much about whether his projects succeed, as long as he’s having fun along the way. He may not be cerebral, but trust us, he’s brilliant.

Feb 19 2020

1hr 22mins

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Rank #14: Jason Mantzoukas

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Growing up on a little island off the coast of Massachusetts didn’t afford Jason Mantzoukas, an aspiring performer, much room to interact with the outside world, but it was a good place for Jason to hone his comedic skills. “I was a little Greek kid in a very WASP-y town. I very much felt like ‘the other’ and was subjected to lots of name calling and threats, but that’s where I came into being as a funny person—I diffused situations by making people laugh, and I never got into fights.”Jason’s world started to expand when he got bussed to a regional high school. That’s where his talent and passion for performing really took shape—he wrote and performed in sketch shows, played in bands, and did comedy bits for his class.After college, Jason received the Watson Fellowship to explore abroad. He was greeted by fear and loneliness the moment he landed, but working through that experience was essential to his growth. It’s why he got involved with improv and the Upright Citizens Brigade; it’s how he persevered through the rejection during his early acting career; and it’s why he writes, co-hosts a podcast, and has so much acting work on television and in film (The League, The Good Place, The Long Dumb Road, and John Wick 3 to name a few).Jason joins Off Camera to talk about his nervous breakdown in Morocco, why he’ll never stop doing improv, and why playing a maniac in The League made him a target for drunk bros everywhere.

May 16 2019

1hr 6mins

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Rank #15: Ray Romano

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Before Ray Romano graced our television sets with Everybody Loves Raymond, he was a hustling stand-up comedian, hoping to break into television like his peers Jerry Seinfeld, Tim Allen, and Rosanne. He followed all the proper steps—performing on late night television, selling out road gigs, and getting featured in HBO comedy specials—but radio silence was all he got from the powers that be. After eleven years as a full-time stand-up, Ray realized, “Maybe this acting thing just isn’t meant to be.” But that’s exactly when he got offered the development deal that would turn into the hit show Everybody Loves Raymond, and make Ray not only the highest paid actor in sitcom history, but one of the most recognized people in the world.

Despite all of his success and fame, Ray dealt with an unexpected identity crisis when Raymond ended. “It took about three months until the void smacked me in the head. It was this sense of, ‘What now? Where’s my passion? Where’s my direction? What am I throwing all my energy into now?’ I had this non-stop creative energy for nine years. And suddenly, I was empty.” But working through the existential void turned out to be a blessing in disguise. It’s what led to the creation of Men of a Certain Age, the show Ray co-wrote with his friend Mike Royce, and it led to a desire to flex his acting muscles in other, more dramatic areas.

Getting people to see him as more than a sitcom actor was difficult, especially after spending nine years in the shoes of one character that was loosely based on himself. “I didn’t want to make everyone forget about my sitcom legacy, because I was proud of it, but my goal was to do what I wanted—and what I wanted was to stick my little dramatic toe in there.” Since he made that decision, he’s evolved into a versatile and relatable dramatic actor with his work in projects like Parenthood, Vinyl, Get Shorty, The Big Sick, and most recently, Paddleton, opposite Mark Duplass.

Ray joins Off Camera to talk about the first and only time he was fired, how he turns real life into a comedic bit, and why it’s so hard for some men to say, “I love you.”

Mar 14 2019

1hr 5mins

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Rank #16: Olivia Wilde 2

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It’s been four years since Olivia Wilde last visited Off Camera, and a lot has changed—she’s had another child, taken a step back from acting, and embarked on a completely different career path as a director. “I almost feel like someone who’s come out of the closet. There’s this feeling of honesty about what I really want to do, and it's a level of comfort that comes from being true to yourself that I haven’t felt in a long time.” Booksmart, her first feature film, offers a unique perspective on friendship and identity during one of the most tumultuous times in life: the high school years.Being an actress for so many years allowed Olivia to see behind the curtain into the directing process, whether it was Martin Scorsese on set of Vinyl, Ron Howard on the set of Rush, or Reed Morano on Meadowland. But learning what not to do from her less positive experiences was equally important. “Knowing that my actors were walking onto a set that was the exact environment that I would want for myself felt really great. I used all my bad experiences for something good.” A perfect example of that was shooting a sex scene on a truly closed set on Booksmart.At times, acting in TV and film was an isolating experience for Olivia, who would often be brought in to shoot a scene and then promptly whisked away to her trailer. She felt more like a caged circus animal than a creative human being, and she longed for a more collaborative environment.Olivia joins Off Camera to talk about the importance of zooming out on your life every once in a while, why cell phones are the enemy of storytelling (and our souls), and how Converse high tops can double as chastity belts.

Jun 13 2019

1hr 11mins

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Rank #17: Constance Wu

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Before she became a household name from her work in projects like Fresh Off the Boat and Crazy Rich Asians, Constance Wu was a full-time waitress in credit card debt who was trying to break into the TV and film industry.Despite her BFA in acting, Constance struggled to get steady acting work for nearly a decade. Her love of the craft never wavered—no matter how tough it was to deal with the rejection. But times got so tough she finally had to ask herself, “Are you okay if you’re still waiting tables at 50 in order to supplement your income so you can do one or two plays a year?” Wholeheartedly, her answer was, “Yes.”Finally, when the creditors were stalking her, she got her big break. In 2015, she was cast opposite Randall Park in the groundbreaking and popular ABC sitcom Fresh Off the Boat, a hilarious look at life as an Asian immigrant in America. Another historic role followed with the film Crazy Rich Asians, which featured an entirely Asian cast. Most recently, she’s acting opposite J-Lo in the film Hustlers, a true story about a group of strip club employees who drugged and robbed their rich Wall Street clientele.Constance joins Off Camera to talk about how privileged she feels to have a voice in the discussion about racial diversity in Hollywood, why she still loves going to acting class, and she also reveals the joys of sucking at guitar.

Sep 05 2019

1hr 12mins

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Rank #18: Patton Oswalt

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I was excited to have Patton Oswalt on the show, because I have been following his career ever since I first saw him on stage at the legendary Los Angeles club, The Largo in the mid-nineties, where he made me laugh harder than perhaps I have ever laughed before or since. But as I learned in this conversation, the road to that kind of insight and humor is a long uncertain one. As Patton says: “I worked for years doing very uncreative jobs, and for some people that’s fine, but for me, it felt deadly. It felt like a premature death in a lot of ways.” That’s how Patton felt before he was able to make a living off of his art, and it’s why he so values a career in the arts and specifically, those special creative moments, when a joke or an emotion lands and transcends all the social barriers we put between each other.

Early on, Patton realized that staving off “life in a coffin” would be difficult if he let his self-critical voice take over, but he was so inspired by the arts, fellow comedians, and filmmakers that the creative doors in his head kept getting kicked open, making him realize: “Oh, I can go further because of what I just saw.” Instead of shirking in the presence of great comedians like David Cross, Sarah Silverman, and Zach Galifianakis, he stayed in the room with them and focused on working harder and getting better.

With that work ethic, it’s no wonder that Patton has become successful in nearly every artistic medium he’s tried. He masterfully melds comedy and tragedy in his astounding Netflix special Annihilation, where he discusses the sudden and devastating loss of his first wife. He’s written two entertaining and insightful memoirs, Zombie Spaceship Wasteland and Silver Screen Fiend. He’s even developed a successful acting career with roles in projects like A.P. Bio, Young Adult, and Justified. There’s only one thing left for him to do now, and that’s to take on one of his first loves—filmmaking. And as I found out, that subject is a little more complicated.

Patton joins Off Camera to talk about the terrors he had to conquer to make Annihilation, why making his own film scares the daylights out of him, and why you should think twice before you get a bowl of noodles from Yoshinoya on your lunch break.

Mar 07 2019

1hr 1min

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Rank #19: Busy Philipps

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For over 20 years, Busy Philipps has been navigating the highs and lows of a being an actress in Hollywood. With unrivaled determination and a strong belief in herself, Busy left her home in Arizona at 18 years old for Los Angeles to pursue acting and briefly, college. Her dream came true sophomore year, when she was cast in the cult TV show Freaks & Geeks, and since that time, Busy’s been a staple of American television, with roles in popular shows like Dawson’s Creek, Cougar Town, and Vice Principals.Despite her success, Busy hasn’t been immune to the uglier elements of being a woman in Hollywood. She’s dealt with body shaming, inequality, and harassment by male colleagues while also fighting the insecurity that comes with the job. But overcoming challenges is in Busy’s DNA: “I only do things the hard way. It’s the only interesting way to do anything, and it’s a part of my personality.”In response to her traumatic experiences and as someone who has “wanted to be seen” ever since childhood, Busy chose to write a memoir, titled This Will Only Hurt A Little, to give herself a voice and to memorialize her story. Between the book’s success and the large social media following she garnered by posting snippets of her daily life, Busy had an epiphany: “Maybe I need to lean into the thing that people are responding to and saying is really interesting.” That led to the creation of Busy’s late night talk show Busy Tonight, currently airing on E!. She’s spent her entire career in the shoes of different characters, now, she gets to be herself.Busy joins Off Camera to talk about the double standard that exists for female actors, losing a job she knew was hers because the television network deemed her overweight, and the first gig she ever booked…as a life-size Barbie.

Apr 18 2019

1hr 4mins

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Rank #20: Ep 37. Jake Gyllenhaal

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Jake Gyllenhaal has become somewhat synonymous with beyond-brutal physical transformations for movies like Nightcrawler, and more recently (and even more brutally), for the role of boxer Billy Hope. But after crying three times over a first-draft script for Southpaw, he knew it was worth taking some punches for. He’s no masochist, but calls any work needed to tell the story of characters that fascinate him a joy. Gyllenhaal is the kind of actor who knows not only that his character bears a certain scar or walks a certain way, but why. He’s become known for going deep, and seems embarrassed and proud in equal parts about how seriously he takes his work; the same guy who’ll spend five months in a boxing ring or memorize an entire script just to sound as robotic as Louis Bloom will also tell you the best analogy for acting is Super Mario Brothers. Level One, to be specific.

Though much has been made of his on screen metamorphoses, his most profound change in recent years is one we didn’t realize we were seeing. After coming to wide attention and critical acclaim in films like Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain, he found himself in the enviable position of being very young and very successful in Hollywood. That’s when everyone in the business will tell you exactly which projects and path will guarantee you a lucrative career. And that’s when Gyllenhaal stepped back and decided it was time to listen to his own voice about what he wanted to do and what his work would say about him. The results are sometimes perplexing (Enemy), or darkly comic (Nightcrawler), but always worth watching. And for Gyllenhaal, richly rewarding – the spoils being the experience, worldview and friendships he takes with him from every role.

From Southpaw, he learned that a mere five pounds of pressure is all it takes to knock a guy’s brain against the side of his skull and put him down, if you know just where to land it. It’s the kind of instinct that told him just how to play one of the most touching and terrifying scenes in that film, and the same instinct that now guides the career he’s designing for himself. In this issue, Gyllenhaal discusses his work ethic, how he chooses and prepares for roles, and why he’d like to see someone else take a shot at playing them – really. It’s an esoteric conversation, but don’t worry; you’ll love it even if you’re not into Talking Heads, Bruce Springsteen or Wild Geese.

Feb 26 2020

59mins

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Ep 61. Glen Hansard

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All artists are essentially storytellers, and the Irish are legendary storytellers (if you disagree, go immerse yourself in some Oscar Wilde, Samuel Beckett, Neil Jordan, or Christy Moore, and get back to us). For three decades, musician and sometimes-actor Glen Hansard has told his tales through song: first as a street busker, then as frontman for Irish band The Frames, next as half of folk rock duo The Swell Season, and now as a solo artist. If his early family life was a bit difficult and alcohol-dampened, it was also kind of enchanted. Household gods like Dylan and Van Morrison, a tradition of gathering to sing, and the folks he met on the streets of Dublin gave him as good an education as he’d ever have received in school—if he’d stayed there.

Hansard’s ear and general disposition are finely tuned to the tragi-comic, ironic side of life—the Irish seeming to have caught on earlier than most that life doesn’t really offer up an alternate side—and that sensibility helped propel The Frames to native-soil popularity. Their second album (Set List, recorded live) hit the top of Irish charts, The Sydney Morning Herald raving, “This glorious live recording shows exactly why The Frames are the darlings of Ireland’s music scene…There are moments of transcendental magic on this album, showcasing their ability to capture an audience’s interest as the crowd sings along to songs and reacts to frontman Glen Hansard’s anecdotes.”

We’re not sure if one of those anecdotes was one Hansard has told about seeing an advert for the film The Commitments floating in a dirty puddle on the streets of New York. While The Frames’ popularity remained chiefly confined to Ireland, Hansard’s popularity jumped the pond along with his appearance as guitarist Outspan Foster in the wildly successful film. It read as a soggy reminder for Hansard, who didn’t enjoy the acting experience and felt it overshadowed the band. Like many of his countrymen, he displays a cocked eyebrow at fame: “I make art, and that’s great; but digging in the hole and growing potatoes is a higher calling. In Ireland, the land is pulsing.”

Maybe so, but eventually the lure of a great story (or maybe just perversity) brought him back to the screen with fellow musician Markéta Irglová in Once, a film that charmed critics and virtually everyone else who saw it and went on to become a smash stage show. More music than dialogue, Once is a testament to what Hansard seems to always have known: some things are better conveyed and more profoundly understood through words that we sing than those we speak. Of the score (co-written with Irglová) The New York Times said, “What lends a special, tickling poignancy to [the] songs is their acceptance of loneliness as an existential given. These are not big ballads that complain angrily about how we could have had it all. An air of romantic resignation, streaked in minor-key undercurrents, tempers the core heartache of numbers like “Leave,” “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” and “Falling Slowly,” which earned the duo a Best Song Oscar.

His ability to temper a healthy respect for the muse with the nuts and bolts of his craft is most evident on his 2015 solo album Didn’t He Ramble, a hard-won work that’s at once sad, hopeful unsentimental and beautiful. If Hansard’s music—and Hansard himself—embodies worlds of contradiction, he holds true to those contradictions. After all, they’re what make all of us human; and they’re what make the humans who can write and sing about them, artists. You’ll still find him busking out on the evening streets, albeit mostly for charity and with friends like Bono and Eddie Vedder. “It may be a little cold,” he’s said, “but it warms my heart.”

Jun 26 2020

1hr 4mins

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Ep 36. Dax Shepard

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Philip Larkin drolly made parents the scapegoats of our generation with his observation “They f*** you up, your mum and dad…” And true enough, but with a bit of perspective and hard work, you can also come to see they’ve given you some tremendous gifts in the process. Dax Shepard grew up poor in Detroit with an absentee alcoholic father, and several stepfathers who weren’t necessarily an improvement on the original. Dax grew from an often-expelled trouble-making daredevil to become an alcoholic himself, all while pursuing…comedy. After some improv time in the Groundlings, he acted in a few comedies while also writing a few for hire – quite an accomplishment for a dyslexic who couldn’t read until age 11 and firmly believed in his own stupidity. Once in Hollywood, he endured an eight-year stretch of low employment and high self-doubt while he trying hard to find and produce work, and even harder to become sober (he succeeded). Then came marriage, parenthood and Parenthood, all of which have taught him plenty, but namely that sometimes the luckiest of us are those who’ve faced the highest stakes – it tends to make you really appreciate what they stand to lose.

But despite his hard-won maturity, Shepard is still a kid who loves fast bikes, car chases and blowing things up. And really, who doesn’t, just a little bit? It was part of the impetus behind Hit & Run, a movie he wrote, directed and starred in. Ostensibly it’s a car chase flick, but amid the Corvettes and mobsters, you’ll find some unexpectedly real and moving writing. Endearingly and refreshingly open, he knows his limitations, but also his potential. Beyond his love of his family, his day job and his motorcycles (we think in that order), he has an unabashed enthusiasm for making the films he wants to see, including his upcoming movie version of CHiPS – a film he was probably born to direct. So Citizen Kane it’s not, but we can already hear sirens and awesomeness in the background. The most important thing we learned about Shepard is how much we didn’t know about Shepard. Trust us, you’re gonna love this guy.

Jun 18 2020

1hr 13mins

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Ep 34. Rashida Jones

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Our news feeds these days are pretty reliably littered with examples of how easily kids of celebrities can be overshadowed, crushed or otherwise damaged by the weight of their parents’ fame. Rashida Jones, daughter of legendary and artistic force Quincy Jones and iconic actress Peggy Lipton rebelled from day one, becoming an avid reader, puzzle geek and serious student who declared her intention to attend Harvard at age six. Her status as a Mathlete also bears mention, just because, “Mathlete”. Once at Harvard (indeed, Ms. Jones does not mess around), her pursuit of the law soon turned to pursuits of a more theatrical nature, thanks to OJ Simpson and an Ivy League version of Mean Girls.

If being “daughter of” didn’t make life hard, it didn’t help much, either. She wasn’t great at auditions, she wasn’t white – or black – enough for casting directors, and roles were scarce. She was on the verge of quitting the biz for grad school when her serious, straight-man demeanor landed her a parts on The Office and eventually Parks and Recreation, where she was a skilled, subtle foil for the absurdity happening all around her.

Never quite comfortable on The Office and still not finding roles, she finally indulged her secret wish to be a screenwriter, penning the script for indie Celeste and Jesse Forever to show what she could do. A big studio’s offer to buy it validated her skill as a writer, but they feared she wasn’t box office enough to cast as its lead. She stuck to her guns, made if for under a million and starred in the film, of which Entertainment Weekly said, "it's been a while since a romantic comedy mustered this much charm by looking this much like life." Next? Disney hands her the keys to Toy Story 4, its most beloved franchise. In her spare time, she produced and took public criticism for the decidedly non-Disney Hot Girls Wanted, an insightful, concerning look at the porn industry. Oh yeah, and she’ll finally take on a lead TV role as an ass-kicking, cliché-wielding cop in the Steve Carell-produced farce Angie Tribeca.

Being a celeb kid does not make you special. Going to Harvard does not make you special. Being brave enough to throw out “the shittiest idea in the room”, standing up to rejection, developing confidence in your own voice and working your ass off, well, that makes you special. And an all-around quality human being. Rashida Jones may have been the smart girl we hated in school; now we want our daughters to be just like her. Jones will tell you she’s had a lot of luck. “With all due respect,” we disagree.

Jun 11 2020

1hr 8mins

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Ep 119. Chadwick Boseman

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Not much in Chadwick Boseman’s early life would lead you to think he would become an actor. Not his birthplace (Anderson, South Carolina), not his family (his mom was a nurse, his dad an upholstery business owner), not his interests (he was the quiet one who played sports). Not one thing, it seems, except he just decided.

A sad incident in his last years of high school prompted him to write and then direct his first play, after which he simply decided that’s what he’d do. He studied at Howard University and later at the British American Drama Academy in Oxford, and in short order, commenced writing plays: His 2006 Deep Azure was nominated for a 2006 Joseph Jefferson Award for New Work, and the Chicago Tribune called it “Fascinating…Especially because the 28-year-old Boseman is a fresh talent – a young, sophisticated African-American writer with all of the flaws that flow from youth and inexperience and all of the excitement that draws from those very same places. With a slate of cultural references complex enough to encompass the likes of jazz-speak, Shakespeare, Hebrew, Louis Farrakhan and Spider-Man, Boseman offers a creative, slick and arresting employment of theatrical language and imagery.”

But Boseman had also taken some taking acting classes in college. At the time, it was just to learn how to work with actors, but in 2008 he decided he was ready to become one himself. He got a few TV parts here and there (L&O, Lincoln Heights, Persons Unknown), but film parts – many of which he was sure he’d get – eluded him. One of those was in Django Unchained. Boseman wasn’t cast, but after his audition, director Quentin Tarantino told his casting director, “That guy is going to be something.” But what? Those were lean years, and Boseman was on the verge of re-committing to the stage. That’s when he got the call to read for 42, playing Jackie Robinson opposite Harrison Ford. Director Brian Helgeland tells a story of his audition: “[Boseman] came in and said, ‘You’re either going to like me or not, and we’re going to know in five minutes.’ He had to play one of the bravest men who ever lived, so I thought that he came in brave was a great indication.”

It was brave, considering Robinson himself had played the role in 1950’s The Jackie Robinson Story. Most reviewers felt Boseman did the better job. His bravery was put to the test again when he was asked to audition for the role of James Brown in 2014’s Get On Up. Boseman hesitated (the moves alone would’ve scared even more flexible men), but director Tate Taylor knew it was about more than the Mashed Potato. He needed to see Boseman play Brown in his 60s. “That was the Achilles heel of the whole project,” Taylor told The Guardian in 2015. “I thought, if this isn’t perfect, we will fail, and the whole tone will be wrecked. I need the best fucking actor I can find... and he nailed it.’” Variety agreed, calling his performance faultless. “Chadwick Boseman plays Brown from age 16 to 60 with a dexterity and invention worthy of his subject. We have a chance to see this remarkable actor in full bloom, whether he’s giving life to Brown’s signature dance moves…or burrowing deep into the performer’s tortured, little-boy-lost soul. He feels Brown from the inside out, the way Brown felt his own distinctive rhythms, and even when the movie itself seems to be on autopilot, Boseman never leaves the captain’s chair.”

Suddenly, Boseman seemed the go-to guy for movies about iconic black figures. It’s something he initially resisted, but this month finds him in Marshall, a biographical thriller about the first African-American Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall and one of the first cases in his career. Boseman is obviously in possession of a strong will, but like most real artists, he’s powerless when it comes to a great story.

His most iconic character yet may actually be fictional. Last year he joined Marvel’s blockbuster Captain America: Civil War as T’Challa/Black Panther, a brilliant scientist and king of the unconquerable African nation of Wakanda, not to mention a shrewd tactician and fighter. As the first in a five-picture deal with Marvel, it’s of no small significance to Boseman’s career. So is the fact that he’ll be the first black superhero starring in his own Marvel film when Black Panther premieres in 2018. NPR said his “regal performance” in Captain America “makes you wish it were arriving sooner.” If “you” means the 90 million people who watched the film’s teaser trailer within four hours of its release, that sounds about right.

But back to that decision to write and direct. Boseman has said he’s learned you have to choose a clear point of entry to the business, but once you define yourself, you can go into other arenas. That’s good, because we need artists like him pushing from behind the camera as well. However he decides to tell his stories, we’re listening.

Jun 04 2020

1hr 1min

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Ep 23. Jason Sudeikis

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As a high school sophomore, Jason Sudeikis switched schools in pursuit of serious basketball dreams and, of course, a girl. Instead, he discovered classes in radio and TV and debate – and a new career option. Soon after swapping Final Four tickets for a video camera, he gave up on college hoops and eventually college itself to go pro in the improv leagues. He honed his chops at ComedySportz, the Annoyance and ImprovOlympic before getting drafted by Second City and eventually Saturday Night Live, where some of his most memorable work occurred behind the scenes writing skits for Justin Timberlake, Amy Poehler and buddy Will Forte. Along the way he happily stole (a term he prefers to “borrow”) from lifelong mentors to develop his own comedic DNA (watch him in the We’re The Millers and guess who he’s channeling). In this issue, Sudeikis discusses his improv roots, his development as an actor and writer, his early love-hate relationship with SNL, the art of guest host management, and of course, hoops. To this day he’s a flashy, joke-cracking point guard who never lets you see how hard he’s working.

May 28 2020

1hr

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Ep 100. Ron Howard

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When a 16-year old Ron Howard was hanging out on set with Henry Fonda (as one does), Fonda gave the young actor a bit of advice: If he loved acting, he should focus on theater, but, "If you love movies, become a director.” Ron Howard loved movies.

The Oklahoma-born son of two actors, his earliest memories are of memorizing dialog from his dad’s summer stock plays as a 3-year old. Walking unaware into an MGM kids’ casting call in 1959, Howard senior mentioned he had a son who was a fine actor. They called young Ronny in, had him do a scene, and asked his dad if he could do anything else. "I really don’t know if he can." Ron Howard entered our living rooms a year later as Opie in The Andy Griffith Show, and didn’t leave for the next 25 years when Happy Days ended in 1984. That’s when we really saw what else he could do.

He started directing in 1977 by convincing producer Roger Corman to let him helm Grand Theft Auto (Howard agreed to act in Corman’s Eat My Dust! in exchange). Next came Night Shift, and then, at a point where most directors are still paying off film school debt, he delivered Splash, Cocoon and Parenthood. They were all charming, funny, well reviewed and commercially successful; and yet we still hadn’t seen the extent of what he could do as a director.

What Howard excels at is telling stories that tell us something about ourselves; real tales of real people – albeit writ large – whose lives and worlds double as themes he wants to explore: family, teamwork, hubris and adversity, to name a few. Another particular genius is his ability to translate those worlds visually, forging a direct connection from our eyeballs to our gut or heart, as the story demands. Consider a tale that takes place largely inside the head of a brilliant but unstable mathematician. In its review of A Beautiful Mind, The New York Times called his technique “as simple as it is inspired,” adding, “Mr. Howard has found an accessible cinematic way to present this insight: Schizophrenia does not announce itself as such to those it afflicts. Mr. Howard leads us into its infernal reality without posting a sign on the door.” The film, an unexpected success, earned him an Academy Award for Best Director.

When he took us into Formula One racing with Rush, a lot of people went along reluctantly, only to be surprised at how one tight shot of a violently vibrating tire could make their heart race as fast as the motor shaking it. That shot signaled danger more effectively than any deadly crash. Variety thought so, too. “To witness this level of storytelling skill (applied to a subject only a fraction of the public inherently finds interesting) is to marvel at not only what cinema can do when image, sound and score are so artfully combined to suggest vicarious experience, but also to realize how far Howard has come since his directorial debut.”

He was able to make equally dramatic cinema from two men sitting across from each other, talking. “You expect something dry, historical and probably contrived. But you get a delicious contest of wits, brilliant acting and a surprisingly gripping narrative,” said the Washington Post about Frost/Nixon. “Howard's cinematic treatment deftly exploits very conventional narrative techniques without one ever being quite aware of them.”

But of course the film that feels closest to his core as a filmmaker is Apollo 13. It has it all: exploration, heroism, history and the compelling factor of being true. Noting that the subject matter demanded Howard’s reverential treatment, the Los Angeles Times called it his most impressive film to date in a 1995 review. “Howard's willingness to be straight ahead with his directing, the film's derring-do aspects have the advantage of showing the men simply being heroic as opposed to acting like heroes.”

If some critics have made cynical dismissals of a perceived gee-whiz, all-American, hero-worshipping aesthetic, Howard makes no apologies. “I’m drawn toward celebratory stories. I feel that they are every bit as valid and useful as the darker, cautionary tales. And my favorite thing is when the celebration is not up front and in your face, but something that evolves. It’s something you can understand, that flawed characters can be a part of moments that are worthy of celebration and respect.” That’s sounding pretty good to us these days.

Howard’s work continues to follow his fascinations, from the depths (In the Heart of the Sea) to music (Made in America, The Beatles: Eight Days a week) to boxing (Cinderella Man). We explore along with him again in National Geographic’s first-ever scripted series Genius. His new anthology drama chronicles the world’s most brilliant innovators, kicking off with the famous physicist Albert Einstein. In it, and all of his work, Howard approaches his subjects with eye of a historian, a fan, a geek, and a loving adherent to detail.

So, how to summarize the life's work of someone whose 63-year career spans two Golden Ages of Television and some of the most acclaimed and successful movies of every genre? Fortunately we don’t have to; it’s still very much in progress.

May 21 2020

1hr 8mins

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Ep 162. Javier Bardem

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Acclaimed Spanish actor Javier Bardem comes from a long line of artists and filmmakers, but his love of cinema officially took shape when his mother, a working actress herself, snuck him into a movie theater to see Bob Fosse’s All that Jazz when he was 6 years old. It wasn’t exactly a Disney movie, but that didn’t matter—Javier was in awe. He wondered, “What is this mechanism of people, feelings, dance, music, colors, drama, and comedy? I want to be a part of that.”

His passion and dedication to the craft are evident in his work—take his award-winning performances in the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men and Iñárritu’s Biutiful, to name a few. In his newest film Loving Pablo, Javier takes on the legend and mythology of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and takes on an intensity and physicality that was even intimidating to his costar and wife Penélope Cruz. But Javier and Penélope know the difference between fiction and reality. As Javier says, “At the end of the day, I give her flowers and chocolates and say, ‘That was a lie.’ Even though it’s a part of my truth as a human being.’”

Honesty is everything for Javier, even though it’s hard to attain on a daily basis. “We tell so many lies during the day because we need to protect who we are for others. When you play a character, you have to give up on that and be naked. And that’s why actors love acting—it may be the only time in the day where we are honest.”

Javier joins Off Camera to talk about how being the target of senseless violence led him to discover his worth as an artist, why his marriage to Penélope Cruz works, and why therapy is the perfect tool for an actor.

May 14 2020

1hr 1min

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Ep 82. Riz Ahmed

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You keep up on things. You know what’s going on in arts and culture. Then inevitably, it happens. Someone who wasn’t even on your radar is suddenly everywhere, making you question not where they’ve been, but where you’ve been. Meet Riz Ahmed. By now, you probably recognize him from HBO’s The Night Of, but for years, Ahmed’s been busy making wide-ranging, significant, and accomplished work.

In person, he’s not some frenetic perpetual motion machine, but he does seem to function at a brisk and constant clip, creating, provoking and questioning. He approached Naz Khan, the role that’s brought him to recent wide attention, with a simple theory: “If you see the world in a certain way, the behavior follows.” Applied to Ahmed himself, it seems an apt description of how he creates art, and with it, change.

Born in London to Pakistani immigrant parents, he won a scholarship to north London’s Merchant Taylors’ school, where he found himself and most Asian kids a subclass in a sea of diplomats’ kids in full prep regalia. He decided to do something about it, specifically, rigging a vote to force the school into electing its first Asian head boy. When other frustrations were expressed more overtly – he threw a chair intended for another student through a window – one teacher had a suggestion: “If you can muck about on stage, you get applause for it, not a suspension.” Good idea. At Oxford University, he studied philosophy, politics and economics, and also put on the only play with two non-white leads staged during his time there. When he decided to put on a drum and bass night but didn’t have immediate takers, he printed up flyers minus the venue and kept at it until he found a club willing to fill in the blank. College confirmed something he’d sensed all along: You can make yourself an insider, but the world will send you occasional reminders that status is temporary. It’s a perspective that’s informed his work across genres, including film, TV, stage and music.

He did manage to work in some drama studies, and made his film debut at 23 playing a member of the real-life Tipton Three in Michael Winterbottom’s The Road to Guantánamo. He also made a three-hour debut at the Luton Airport, where he and another actor from the film were detained under the Terrorism Act by Special Branch upon returning from the Berlin Film Festival. We’re sure the Branch boys were just exercising caution; we’re also pretty sure that wouldn’t have happened to Matt and Ben.

Ahmed was nominated for his first British Independent Film Award for Shifty, and highly praised for his effortless, persuasive chemistry with other actors. His second came for Four Lions, Chris Morris’ hilarious satire on terrorism. Mira Nair, who directed him in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, recognized his unique ability to play characters that shift between worlds. "It's the most demanding, complicated role for a young person to carry a film on his shoulders, and to be somebody at once absolutely authentic to the Lahori universe, yet absolutely comfortable, elegant and savvy in the Wall Street universe; to spout the poetry of Faiz at one moment and ruthlessly cut out a factory in Manila the next."

Eventually American filmmakers saw his work (or at least got hold of reviews routinely peppered with words like “charismatic” “brilliant” and “natural”) and wanted in. His performance opposite Jake Gyllenhal in Nightcrawler was outstanding, and in its review of Jason Bourne, RogerEbert.com wrote, “Only Riz Ahmed makes any impact on a performance level, doing a lot with very little – watch the way he subtly plays a successful businessman who knows the skeletons are about to fall out of his closet. There's a much better version of Jason Bourne that focuses on him…” This year’s been a big one for him. He’s in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and puts a new spin on the gumshoe genre in City of Tiny Lights. He’s also working on a multi-generational Pakistani-British family story he aims to make for U.K. television.

If the industry (ironically) helped Ahmed’s early career with its tendency to see in stereotypes, it’s also allowed us glimpses of a depth we’d otherwise miss by occasionally looking past them. Needless to say, that goes for society as a whole, and Ahmed is not shy about voicing that opinion. But he knows that if you’re going to be an unapologetic button-pusher, you best avoid righteous self-aggrandizement and do it with some humor. And some serious rap. Under the handle Riz MC, he’s put out three albums of songs that have been critically acclaimed (and in one instance, banned) for their biting – and bitingly funny – take on immigration, race and other issues.

Ahmed specializes in playing, and being, an insider-outsider. If you’ve never felt like an outsider, don’t count yourself lucky; it’s a perspective that benefits us. Which is why we need this guy to keep acting, rapping, writing, and if necessary, throwing the occasional chair.

May 07 2020

58mins

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Ep 149. Sarah Paulson

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From the outside, it would appear that Sarah Paulson, after her Emmy award-winning performance as prosecutor Marcia Clark in The People v. O.J. Simpson, has "made it." She's got a role in Ocean's 8, her first "big sh**-kicker, popcorn movie,” and has the luxury of sifting through multiple film and television offers to choose a part that “sparks something inside of her.” What more could an actor want?

But that's exactly the problem for Sarah. She wants the want. Without it, she finds herself in a bit of an identity crisis. She wants to fight for roles and be challenged by an acting part that requires total commitment. As she explains, “Before Marcia Clark, I was full of all that want. I don’t have that anymore.”

The road to this point was not an easy one for Sarah. She never had her Cannes or Sundance moment like peers Carey Mulligan or Maggie Gyllenhaal. She fought hard for many pilots that never saw the light of day. When she did get her big break, on Aaron Sorkin’s Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, it was cancelled after one season. Luckily, Ryan Murphy eventually came into her life. The prolific producer, writer, and director saw Sarah’s unique talent of being able to completely disappear into characters, and immediately started casting her in projects like The People v. O.J. Simpson and American Horror Story. She's finally being seen, and she gives full credit to Murphy for continuing to throw her "the juiciest, meatiest bones on the planet." And lucky for us, she’s still hungry.

Sarah joins Off Camera to discuss why being an actor (or a person, for that matter) is not for the faint of heart, what's behind her decision not to watch her own performances, and why you’d better not fall asleep on a plane!

Apr 30 2020

1hr 9mins

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Ep 67. Thomas Middleditch

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If your impression of Thomas Middleditch is that of a somewhat befuddled, bumbling, awkward-bordering-on-geeky misfit, we won’t blame you... yet. He has personified that type in films such as Splinterheads, The Bronze, The Final Girls, and even The Wolf of Wall Street. So neither can we blame Silicon Valley co-creator/director Mike Judge for writing the role of socially discombobulated Richard Hendricks specifically with Middleditch in mind. And now, Hendricks’ wide-eyed, stammering bewilderment seems to stem from Middleditch’s genuine disbelief at his own good fortune; after all, he’s landed the lead on a series that’s become more popular than the latest tech fads the show sends up.

If it’s possible to be both a show’s star and its secret weapon, that’s what he seems to have achieved. In calling Middleditch the most underrated actor on TV, The Decider said, “One of the reasons that Silicon Valley quickly went from good to great to one of the best is because of Middleditch, who’s made Richard into an incredibly sympathetic, watchable character despite his by-design lack of dynamism.” High praise for an actor whose character has dwelt mainly in the shade of the charismatic type-As who surround him.

So Mike Judge did not misjudge. We’re guessing he knew what a lot of the show’s fans may not. Middleditch is a sharply funny and frenetic writer and comic who found his way out of bully crosshairs and subsequently out of Nelson, BC through theater. Impatient to get on with doing what he loved, he dropped out of school in Canada to start writing and acting in sketches, cartoons and commercials. Nothing happened instantly; he walked dogs and sold shoes while writing scripts that didn’t go anywhere and auditioning without success for Saturday Night Live. But sometimes all you need is the proper attitude. When asked to join the Improvised Shakespeare Company (a Chicago-based improv troupe that performs spontaneous plays in Elizabethan-sounding English), his first thought was, “That sounds impossible. Sure!” When you’re fearless and open, fate tends to fall in line. A goofy, impromptu sketch for a Second City training program, in which he rapped about his faux-abiding love for Chicken McNuggets, sat out on the internet for a year before it caught the attention of a creative director for McDonald’s, who cracked up. Cue commercials, newfound exposure and two valuable lessons: a) fate can hide in odd, deep-fried places and b) keep going until someone laughs. Since then, he’s worked with some of the most talented names in comedy, including Zach Galifianakis, Key & Peele, and Jay Roach. He’s created voices and characters for shows including Beavis and Butt-Head, The Office, Comedy Bang! Bang!, and cult web series Jake and Amir, all while writing and making a seemingly ceaseless string of odd, humorous shorts.

Even if all that hadn’t happened, we bet Middleditch would still be putting funny stuff into the world, if not to entertain us, then solely to entertain himself. You get the feeling that if his schedule ever slowed down or (god forbid), his internet connection died, he’d be perfectly fine in front of the mirror making faces, voices, and scenes. But small chance of that. He’s just finished playing the title role in Jeff Baena’s Joshy and will star in the upcoming Entanglement. He’s also slated to be animated in Henchmen and Captain Underpants.

Though his dance card is largely filled with comedies, Middleditch remains open to playing any kind of character that interests him, and wouldn’t mind venturing into more dramatic territory. We’d like to see him try. Seriously—we’d really like to see him try.

Apr 23 2020

57mins

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Ep 81. Michael Shannon

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If you’re an actor who’s signed on to share scenes with Michael Shannon, you’ve got yourself a bit of a dilemma. On one hand, you can count on people watching; on the other, you can be pretty certain they won’t be watching you. To be fair, nothing could be further from Shannon’s intent; co-stars and directors routinely praise his generosity and dedication to the success of any project he’s in. It’s just that the guy is – inherently, chronically and helplessly – riveting.

Evidence of this seemingly hypnotic power came to light most publicly with his fairly small role in Revolutionary Road. Variety wrote, “The pic’s startling supporting turn comes from Michael Shannon, who’s mesmerizing as the clinically insane son of local realtor and busybody… When Shannon is onscreen, it’s impossible to watch anyone else.” In that instance, “anyone else” included Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Or take 99 Homes, which Time magazine called “a showcase for Shannon, who magnetizes all eyes, like a cobra in the corner.”

Those are just two in a canon of some of the most consistently beaming reviews an actor could ever hope to paste in his scrapbook, though Shannon doesn’t seem like the kind of guy to keep one. If he did, it would be encyclopedic, as he’s piled up over 50 award nominations and an impressive number of wins over a career that comprises at least 100 film, TV and stage credits. So why is he not a household name? Hard to say, unless actors have to become “stars” to claim any permanency in our memory banks.

What’s more confounding is that Shannon never planned to be an actor. He was a troubled, late-blooming kid who floundered in school and only defaulted to drama to get out of sports. He left school at 16 and with no formal training, was on stage in a year, TV the year after, and in Groundhog Day the year after that. Shannon tried working with an acting coach only once in his career, and said it was the worst audition he ever had.

With fate apparently having done the heavy lifting, an impressive range of directors were quick to capitalize, including Michael Bay, Cameron Crowe, Oliver Stone, Peter Bogdanovich, Sydney Lumet, and even Tom Ford. As did HBO, casting him as Boardwalk Empire’s repressed G-man Nelson Van Alden. But no one has taken better advantage of Shannon’s facile embodiment of complex characters than Jeff Nichols, who directed him in Take Shelter, Midnight Special, and Shotgun Stories. Nichols has said, “Shannon makes me a better writer. He certainly makes me a better director. I wanted [Midnight Special] to be a very lean screenplay in terms of narrative and exposition, and if you’re writing that part for Mike, he’s going to be able to fill those spaces with all the subtext that you don’t want to have to write about. He can carry all of that on his face, and that makes him a very powerful tool for a writer/director like me.”

What more directors need to take advantage of is Shannon’s range, which seems to be hiding in plain sight. He’s known for playing menacing, angry, possibly crazy guys whose ability to keep it all just beneath the surface keeps us in their thrall – quiet bears you do not want to poke. While he plays them subtly and brilliantly, he also made a surprisingly good low-key romantic lead in Frank & Lola. His comic chops are most evident on the stage, where he still spends as much time as possible. Look no further than his portrayal of showbiz huckster Felix Artifex in the comedy Mistakes Were Made, a role he’s reprised several times to wildly enthusiastic crowds and ticket sales. The New York Times theater critic Charles Isherwood said Shannon shouldered the part “with a full arsenal of gifts: a subdued but strong natural presence, a voice rich in grit and capable of imbuing Felix’s wheedling and needling with a variety of emotional colors, a keen understanding of how pathos can feed comedy and vice versa.” Roger Ebert put it more succinctly: “His performance in Mistakes Were Made was one of the most amazing I have ever seen.” Given that it’s a one-man play, it may also be the only performance in which Shannon risked being upstaged.

For all the taut wiring that sparks below his surface, Shannon says he’s learned to relax a bit more these days, and that approach has made him a better actor. Besides begging the question whether it’s possible for him to be any better, it also demonstrates a broad interpretation of the word “relax”. He already has eight projects in the works for next year, including Horse Soldiers, a Special Forces drama with Chris Hemsworth, and Signature Move, which he’s executive producing. He admits he may have a small problem turning down a great script. All the better for us. Maybe Shannon wasn’t looking to become an actor, but sometimes fate just gets things right.

Apr 16 2020

1hr 11mins

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Ep 108. Kumail Nanjiani

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In 2009 The New York Times ran a story about the New York Comedy Festival and the independent standup community that had become a hunting ground for late night shows looking for the next round of potential talent, citing Jenny Slate, Donald Glover, Aziz Ansari and Zach Galifianakis as formerly unknown comics lifted from the cramped rooms of obscure bars in hidden basements to a larger stage. The article’s new reference was a guy named Kumail Nanjiani, who “could be poised to follow… Or not.”

On circumstance alone, “or not,” seemed more likely. Nanjiani grew up in Karachi, Pakistan (“not necessarily a very funny place”), raised Shia Muslim in a predominately Sunni nation. But a lot depends on how you see things. His dad was a psychiatrist (a fact he found inherently funny) with an inexplicable love of designer jeans (just blatantly funny). He got a taste of American comedy through movies his dad occasionally brought from the video store, and TV shows like Beavis and Butt-Head and Picket Fences. When he moved to the U.S. for college – and his own safety – he was most excited about being able to see movies and TV shows right when they came out. One of the first happened to be a Jerry Seinfeld comedy special on HBO. Nanjiani was 18 and had never seen standup before. A shy Computer Science/Philosophy double major, he finally worked up the courage to do a 30-minute set in his senior year. He walked on stage so nervous he could barely move, and walked off feeling ready for Letterman.

Or at least Chicago. He got a day job and started doing standup at night, developing his first one-man show, Unpronounceable, which The Comic’s Comic called “a very personal and quite poignant work, punctuated by powerful punch lines.” It got him an agent and brought him to New York and the attention of the Times. Nanjiani never considered that comedy might not work out. He wrote standup material in the mornings, potential TV material in the afternoons and did open mics every night, twice a night if he could. Steadfastly refusing to look at the big picture, he focused only on each step. “What’s next? Now what’s next?” His wife has said she sometimes worried about paying rent, but never about his work ethic.

The “nexts” started piling up quickly in the form of TV appearances on The Colbert Report, Saturday Night Live, Portlandia, Franklin & Bash, Veep and too many others to mention. Small movie roles (Collider called his scene in 2013’s The Kings of Summer the funniest part of the movie) started as a trickle and became a steady downpour – sixteen from 2013-2016 alone. In the biggest bit of karmic fortune, Mike Judge, whom Nanjiani had idolized since his Beavis and Butt-Head fandom, cast him as one of the stars of his hit series Silicon Valley. “When I was casting, I was looking for actors you could believe were really intelligent programmers but were also able to play the comedy of it all,” Judge told The Washington Post. “I thought he was fantastic.” As Dinesh Chugtai he veers between sarcasm and charm, and a blend of ambition and insecurity you might expect in a Pakistani immigrant programmer trying to be cool – and maybe a Pakistani immigrant comic who actually wasn’t very good at his five-year tech day job. We’re guessing Nanjiani sees the humor in that one, too.

That kind of exposure can be heady stuff, but Nanjiani never let writing and standup take a back seat to his increasingly packed schedule (or his proudly geeky video game and X-Files podcast passion projects). In 2014 he co-founded The Meltdown, a Comedy Central standup series filmed in the back of a comic book store, featuring his loose, unrehearsed banter with co-host Jonah Ray, and guests like Nick Offerman, Marc Maron, Rachel Bloom, Fred Armisen and Reggie Watts. His second special, Beta Male, premiered on Comedy Central in 2013 to raves. From A.V. Club: “Kumail Nanjiani could easily be ‘that guy.’ He could be the Pakistani guy, joking about his otherness in America, his life growing up as a Muslim in Karachi. He could be the videogame guy, playing off his excellent podcast, The Indoor Kids, which caters to the thriving crossover crowd of gaming and alt-comedy nerds. But he’s not. He can weave those themes into his act without it feeling shticky.” Or too narrow.

That praise grazes what he’s called the elephant in the room. His Muslim upbringing does play a role in his work, perhaps more unavoidably now than ever. But as his career progressed, Nanjiani determined not to ignore it, but also not to commoditize it or take roles that exaggerated it. His comedy became wider and his talent more apparent. He is relaxed and observational on any number of topics, and a master of setup, his build to a joke often funnier than the punch line itself. He has a comic’s timing and a storyteller’s ear.

That sense for story finally made him turn to the biggest one in his own life. He penned an account of how his real-life girlfriend's serious illness jolted him into maturity and coming to terms with his conservative parents. His (now) wife Emily V. Gordon co-wrote the script, Judd Apatow produced, Michael Showalter directed, and Nanjiani went to acting class in order to play a fictionalized version of himself. The Big Sick sent studios scrambling at Sundance this year (Amazon won for $12 million); Variety wrote that he and Gordon “…mine their personal history for laughs, heartache, and hard-earned insight in a film that’s by turns romantic, rueful, and hilarious. It’s a no-brainer to connect with art-house crowds who like their comedies smart and funny, but this one deserves a shot at the multiplex, too. Where most movies might be content to follow the culture-clash comedy through its typical ups and downs, The Big Sick proves to be a far messier affair, and all the more rewarding for it.”

Nanjiani recalls the first joke he ever wrote: “I wrote about how I always wanted to have a unit of measurement named after myself, because all the cool scientists had one. Then I’d do an act-out of a submarine commander telling his crew to turn the torpedoes up to 5 Nanjianis.” If you’re measuring in laughs, better turn it up to 11 Nanjianis.

Apr 09 2020

58mins

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Ep 170. Carey Mulligan

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When Carey Mulligan first stepped foot on set of 2005’s Pride & Prejudice, she was convinced she won the lottery. It was her first professional job and her first time acting in front of a camera, but there she was, acting alongside Judi Dench, Keira Knightly, and Jena Malone. “The entire experience was like summer camp; it didn’t feel like work at all.” Carey was living her dream, but she was still convinced it was all a fluke. “I remember thinking, ‘After this, I’ll reapply to drama school.’” In reality, her acting career had just begun—with the best yet to come.

Her first lead role came in 2009 with the coming-of-age film An Education. Her compelling performance led to an Oscar “Best Actress” nomination and widespread critical acclaim, even though Carey was originally devastated when she first watched her performance: “It was like listening to your voice on the answering machine and wincing because of how awful you sound—but multiply that by 500.” She had gotten so used to flying under the radar in supporting roles that she was unaccustomed to the pressure and spotlight of the lead. Carey was convinced her first shot would be her last—“Sundance is going to be a disaster. They’re going to send me home.” Of course, the opposite happened.

Since then, she’s amassed a stunning body of work onscreen and onstage (Shame, Far From the Madding Crowd, Mudbound, Girls & Boys, and many more), and her incredible performance in Wildlife, Paul Dano’s directorial debut, is the newest addition. She plays a unique female character, struggling to find her identity underneath the crippling expectations that come with her role as a wife and mother in the 1960s. As a complicated and volatile woman, her character is not without controversy for those used to more idealistic portrayals of women—“It’s amazing that we still live in a world where a real, complex woman, expressing herself in a multitude of ways, is dismissed as unrealistic because she’s not what we want to see.” But she cherishes the opportunity to change hearts and minds through her work.

Carey joins Off Camera to talk about battling stage fright, learning how to put her insecurities in perspective, and why sometimes the key to unlocking a character is to…take off your shoes.

Apr 02 2020

1hr 8mins

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Ep 42. Jack Black

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Thanks to movie posters and pull-quote “reviews”, we’ve heard “electric” used to describe a performance so often that it barely registers as an adjective. But think back for a moment to the first time you saw High Fidelity. Now, think about the first moment Jack Black appeared on screen and jolted that film alive. It’s a great movie with a great cast, but let’s face it – his very presence flipped the switch. And that movie flipped the switch on Black’s film career, though it was a part he came within inches of turning down. But as the Guitar Pick of Fate would have it, he said yes, ending a 10-year struggle as a glorified extra that followed his first film role as a rabid political acolyte in Bob Roberts, where his real-life nerves turned out to be all the prep he needed to turn in another performance you must to go back and see. The good news about that flame-out decade is that he met a certain KG, and you know what rose from those ashes.

But let’s flash-Black for a moment to our guest as a teenager who began auditioning for commercials because he so desperately wanted his friends to see him on TV, and even more desperately the acceptance and attention he figured would follow. A stint in Tim Robbins’ The Actors Gang followed, as did high school plays and musicals; and though he lost the girl (and wrote the requisite power ballad) he quite literally found his voice. Through music, The D, the hilarious Mr. Show and eventually film, he got the totally merited attention he wanted, if not the confidence he probably thought would come with it: “Man, I spend my life just trying to relax.” But he achieved at least some degree of artistic peace in figuring out that his way in to any role – or any song, for that matter – was with a chaser of comedy. If that covers up some vulnerability, well, as he puts it, “You can’t hurt the clown.”

So back to the present, where under all the over-the-top antics and outrageousness it’s not hard to scent the sensitivity and empathy that no amount of good-humored depravity can disguise. It takes one very human clown to connect us immediately with otherwise improbable characters and films (for more must-see proof, we offer School of Rock and the truly excellent Bernie). As an artist Black says he doesn’t seek out challenges as much as he does resonance.

In this high-minded and philosophical discussion, we will hit you with lessons on artistic angst and toehold moments, as well as true tales of Cannes-crashing, the fearsome warlock powers of Stephen Frears, and a fever-dream nightmare of an Elliott Smith tribute gone horribly wrong…then right. That, and a scholarly debate on the merits of Gene Krupa vs. Buddy Rich vs. Peter Criss – Sam and Jack hologram it out.

By now, Jack Black knows who he is, and what he’s here for. So watch his work for the subtle or the shenanigans, but watch you will, because it’s impossible not to. He’s proof you can’t underestimate the power of a raised eyebrow, wait-for-it timing or an unexpected turn of phrase. In that regard, he ranks up there with Jack Benny and other masters of comedy who simply knew how to deliver a line. Ladies and gents, we give you the Bard of Off Camera.

Mar 26 2020

1hr 2mins

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Ep 13. Michael B. Jordan

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Drug dealer, football player, alcoholic, shooting victim. In his first decade of acting, Michael B. Jordan has found ways to humanize characters that, on the page, may seem stereotypically what he dubs “the black guy.” In The Wire, a young and very sheltered Jordan asked fellow actors to help him understand how to simulate a cocaine high onscreen, and through that surreal experience discovered his unfettered love of acting.  In Friday Night Lights, Jordan started journaling as an acting exercise, and amassed a detailed back story for quarterback Vince Howard that made the character seem shockingly real.

      With Fruitvale Station, Jordan dug even deeper. Playing a real person for the first time, he inserted himself deep into the family of the slain Oscar Grant, who was killed by a police officer on a train platform in Oakland in 2009. Jordan spent time with Oscar’s former girlfriend, mother, daughter, and all of his friends. The result was an intensely real portrayal of an innocent young man in a film that exposes our ongoing race problem in this country, and Jordan’s performance was nuanced, understated, and masterful. 

     Perhaps his ability to play characters with the odds stacked against him comes from his own desire not to fall into that lifestyle. Jordan started working very young, doing modeling and acting in commercials, and saw an acting career as a way out of the tough urban environment of Newark, New Jersey. In his words, he saw “plenty of Wallaces, Bodies, and Avon Barksdales,” and was determined to make a better life for himself.

     Not only does Jordan not want to just “play the black guy,” he also doesn’t want to compare himself too closely to actors that came before.  He says he doesn’t want to be the next Will Smith, or the next Tom Cruise--he just wants to be himself. When you are around Jordan, his optimism and ambition are infectious and endearing. He doesn’t just want to star in films – he wants to produce them.  He doesn’t want to just be on television, he wants his own channel. And he doesn’t just want to be the face of a studio, he wants to run a studio. At Off Camera, we wouldn’t bet against him doing anything he sets his mind to.

Mar 19 2020

1hr 7mins

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Ep 2. John Krasinski

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As Jim Halpert, John Krasinski embodies The Office’s most beloved Everyguy, but his middle-achiever alter ego belies the actor’s impressive and accomplished resume. At just 33, he has written, directed and produced both television and feature films with some of the industry’s most talented heavy-hitters.

Krasinski shares his own version of the waiter-to A-list story and talks about staying true to his artistic path despite periods of self-doubt. An avid and humble student of experience, he discusses what he’s learned from his work with industry veterans such as Sam Mendes, Gus Van Sant and George Clooney. Krasinski talks to Off Camera about wrapping the final season of The Office, the value of supportive parents, and about his newest film, Promised Land, which he co-wrote, and co-stars with Matt Damon.

At one of the most interesting junctions in his career, an actor who’s arguably done it all looks ahead to what he hopes will be next.

Mar 12 2020

1hr 42mins

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Ep 102. Elisabeth Moss

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Watching Elisabeth Moss as Mad Men’s sec-turned-exec Peggy Olson (as millions did for 88 addictive episodes) and in recent projects like Top of the Lake, High Rise and Queen of Earth, you’d be forgiven for assuming she’s a capital-S Serious or capital-M Method artist. Even director Jane Campion might’ve drawn the same conclusion from Moss’ Top of Lake audition tape. “It was remarkable…I just found myself really interested in watching this gentle, quiet, obviously interior performance. At the end of about six hours, I was still really interested. She’s a little bit like a Mona Lisa. There’s a lot that she’s not showing you.”

It’s an impression Moss sometimes wishes were true, but acknowledges that capital-C Class Clown is more apt. (That was, in fact, the title unanimously bestowed by her Mad Men cast mates). So much for our illusions. As she told The Guardian in 2016, “I wish I was super-serious, anguished. I see those actors and think, God, they are so cool and seem so interesting. I don’t take acting that seriously.” But she does it seriously. Tales from several sets support her seeming ability to perform the acting equivalent of doing zero to 60 for a scene without ever appearing to bear down on the gas. “I was shocked at how quickly she metabolized the material,” Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner once marveled. “She is that kind of actress where we don’t ever intellectually delve into what is going on with her character. It’s almost like it doesn’t pass through Elisabeth’s brain. It’s completely instinctive. She works hard, but I think she also works hard to hide it. Either that, or she’s an alien.” Weiner may deal in alternative facts, but we’re going with the former, which begs the unanswerable question, what is instinct anyway?

That’s probably not something an eight-year-old thinks much about. Moss just liked playing the TV roles she started getting at that age. But she also liked dancing, studying ballet seriously while being homeschooled as she pursued both. She earned her GED at 16 and decided acting offered the more physically enduring career option. She worked steadily in supporting film and TV parts like Girl, Interrupted and Picket Fences before being cast as first daughter Zoey Bartlet on West Wing. That led to Weiner’s casting her in Mad Men, which subsequently led to six Emmy nods and fame as an unintentional feminist icon.

As Peggy Olson grew in confidence and complexity, her character’s storyline grew more compelling, rivaling Don Draper’s for our interest. If making us believe and champion Peggy’s huge personal and professional transformation is an accomplishment, an even bigger one is emerging from a seven-season national TV phenomenon without being forever identified with or pigeonholed by it. But even before the show ended, Moss told The Telegraph UK, “I think it’s up to you as an actor to make choices that are different, to stretch your ability, to not get too comfortable doing something you know you can do. Of course, if you play one character for five years, people are going to think of you as that character. But you can break out of that.”

Can, and did. If viewers weren’t quite ready to move on, Moss was. She’s since chosen a string of largely independent projects that allow her to tell stories as diverse and interesting as the women in them. You’ll find virtually enslaved housewives (High Rise) single-minded detectives (Top Of Lake) and mourning, possibly unhinged vacationers (Queen Of Earth). Harder to find is a bad review. Just one of way too many to list is The New York Times’ take on the latter. “It is Ms. Moss, with her intimate expressivity, who annihilates you from first tear to last crushing laugh.” In addition to landing an emotional punch, she has a talent for landing herself in stories that regardless of time period or milieu are strikingly relevant to current times. None more so, unfortunately, than The Handmaid’s Tail, Hulu’s excellent and much buzzed-about adaptation of the Margaret Atwood novel.

On the off chance you’re not convinced of her versatility – or guts – know that when Moss decided to try the stage for the first time in 18 years of acting, she did it on Broadway, in Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow, no less. And there was The Heidi Chronicles. While you could argue there’s no one better suited to play its evolving, wisecracking proto-feminist lead, taking on an iconic 1989 role and making it resonate in 2015 is a gamble. It paid off with a Tony nod and raves from noted theater critic Charles Isherwood, who called Moss “a superb actor who possesses the unusual ability to project innocence and smarts at the same time.”

High praise, but as far as Moss is concerned, Get Him to the Greek is as valid a choice as the largely improvised indie The One I Love, if it makes her a better actor. Whether that’s possible is debatable, but what’s not is this: More than ever, we need stories about heroic, flawed and completely believable women, and few actors play them better.

Mar 06 2020

1hr 3mins

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Ep 37. Jake Gyllenhaal

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Jake Gyllenhaal has become somewhat synonymous with beyond-brutal physical transformations for movies like Nightcrawler, and more recently (and even more brutally), for the role of boxer Billy Hope. But after crying three times over a first-draft script for Southpaw, he knew it was worth taking some punches for. He’s no masochist, but calls any work needed to tell the story of characters that fascinate him a joy. Gyllenhaal is the kind of actor who knows not only that his character bears a certain scar or walks a certain way, but why. He’s become known for going deep, and seems embarrassed and proud in equal parts about how seriously he takes his work; the same guy who’ll spend five months in a boxing ring or memorize an entire script just to sound as robotic as Louis Bloom will also tell you the best analogy for acting is Super Mario Brothers. Level One, to be specific.

Though much has been made of his on screen metamorphoses, his most profound change in recent years is one we didn’t realize we were seeing. After coming to wide attention and critical acclaim in films like Donnie Darko and Brokeback Mountain, he found himself in the enviable position of being very young and very successful in Hollywood. That’s when everyone in the business will tell you exactly which projects and path will guarantee you a lucrative career. And that’s when Gyllenhaal stepped back and decided it was time to listen to his own voice about what he wanted to do and what his work would say about him. The results are sometimes perplexing (Enemy), or darkly comic (Nightcrawler), but always worth watching. And for Gyllenhaal, richly rewarding – the spoils being the experience, worldview and friendships he takes with him from every role.

From Southpaw, he learned that a mere five pounds of pressure is all it takes to knock a guy’s brain against the side of his skull and put him down, if you know just where to land it. It’s the kind of instinct that told him just how to play one of the most touching and terrifying scenes in that film, and the same instinct that now guides the career he’s designing for himself. In this issue, Gyllenhaal discusses his work ethic, how he chooses and prepares for roles, and why he’d like to see someone else take a shot at playing them – really. It’s an esoteric conversation, but don’t worry; you’ll love it even if you’re not into Talking Heads, Bruce Springsteen or Wild Geese.

Feb 26 2020

59mins

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Ep 26. Will Ferrell

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Just mention Will Ferrell’s name or glance at a picture of him and chances are you’re already smiling (or smirking or laughing out loud). But the really funny thing is that it’s not necessarily because his best-known characters are so gosh-darn loveable. See, Ferrell never bought the conventional movie truism that comedic leads have to be likeable, and went on to prove it, perhaps most pointedly with the iconic Ron Burgundy. In fact, he doesn’t even think comedy has to be particularly funny to be hysterical.

While working a number of “regular” jobs, (he actually almost became an anchorman), Ferrell did stand up in small clubs, clinging to his father’s surprisingly helpful advice that his ever making it would be a long shot. It was just that take-it-or-leave it approach that allowed him to pursue his unique comedic style free from the angst that might have otherwise crushed it. It might also explain a small sadistic streak that underlies his performances – if you don’t like what he’s doing, sit back and enjoy it anyway…or else.

In this issue, he describes his stomach-churning, knee-buckling Saturday Night Live audition and the even more daunting experience of joining the legendary show at one of its lowest points. He also shares his writing process, stories behind some of his best loved impersonations and his long and sometimes perplexing feature film cv. His success and work in projects as diverse as Elf and Stranger Than Fiction illustrate the rare genius of someone who can make the ridiculously absurd not only believable, but sympathetic. Chalk it up to talent or unquestioning commitment to any role he takes on, but not to hard work. Ferrell’s a firm believer in not overthinking the work or worrying too much about whether his projects succeed, as long as he’s having fun along the way. He may not be cerebral, but trust us, he’s brilliant.

Feb 19 2020

1hr 22mins

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Ep 56. Don Cheadle

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We expect actors to dramatize a range of emotions as the characters they play; even, to some extent, when they’re playing a version of themselves on The Tonight Show or E! News. That’s what actors do, after all; they “act”—tearing up, raging, clowning, and otherwise emoting. So what secret magnetic field does Don Cheadle tap that allows him to convey all that with no detectable effort and a virtually unreadable face? He sits back, unruffled and self-possessed, while we do the work of reading into his performance whatever it is he needs us to know. This is not charisma of the “Let’s put on a show!” variety; it’s the kind that makes an actor impossible to look away from.

The Hollywood Reporter noted in its review of his current series, House of Lies, “There’s an exceptional cast…, but everything revolves around the fact that Cheadle is riveting and impressively deft at being funny one moment, serious the next… He’s the giant magnet at the center of the show.” But a number of critics (and casting directors) looked under the radar long before a lot of us in the mass movie-going public, noting his uncannily facile power in films like Rebound: The Legend of Earl “The Goat” Manigault, Talk to Me, Devil in a Blue Dress, and Traffic. Most of us, though, wised up a few years later with the release of Hotel Rwanda, The Atlantic along with us: “[Producer and director] Terry George has, in Don Cheadle, perhaps the most underrated performer working in motion pictures. A character actor of uncommon range and charisma, Cheadle has over the last decade shown himself to be exceptional at playing characters both ineffectual and ferocious. Cheadle delivers a performance without seams, one in which the character’s later heroism is merely another facet of his earlier pragmatism. His genius makes Hotel Rwanda not only an important work of politics, but an important work of art.”

It was a role George was honest in telling Cheadle he’d have to give to an actor with a bigger name, if he could get one. Cheadle’s reaction says a lot about him and how he sees his career. He told George he’d support the film in any way necessary regardless of whether he got the part, because it was a story that needed to be told. Cheadle honestly doesn’t care a whole lot about Oscars and fame and the like; he’s interested in longevity and the ability to make work that he believes has value—whether it puts him in front of or behind the camera. These days, he’s finding himself in both places, often simultaneously. He writes, directs, and stars in the upcoming film Miles Ahead, a take on musician Miles Davis so fiercely imaginative it demands its own genre. He’s also established his own production company, through which he’s now producing a new comedy for NBC—all while continuing to lead House Of Lies, which just became the first U.S. scripted series to shoot in Cuba.

All to say, he’s going to need his preternatural calm more than ever. But it should be noted that in Cheadle’s case, “calm” does not mean “reserved.” He continues to be an outspoken advocate for issues like humanitarian aid to Darfur and climate change awareness through fundraising, and by making films and co-authoring books on the subjects.

You get the feeling the man contains multitudes we’re only starting to see. Fittingly, we’ll let Miles summarize: “When you’re creating your own shit, even the sky ain’t the limit.”

Feb 13 2020

1hr 7mins

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Best interviewer

By C Casey - May 25 2020
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I just listened to the Ron Howard interview and finally nailed down why I like this podcast so much. It’s the refreshing experience of listening to an interviewer who is not a syncophant (sp?) and who listens intently, shown by follow-up questions on target -“hey, that’s what I wanted to know” on target- rather than moving to a planned question. Best of all- the guest is not interrupted by the host’s need to tell his own story.

A space for Artists

By Tamisha Francois - Nov 07 2019
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Much needed space for expression and insight.