Kristin Scott Thomas: ‘Words are important’

December 21, 2017 § Leave a comment

“Regal” may be the word to describe Kristin Scott Thomas as she sits in the warmly lighted lobby of New York City’s Lowell Hotel sipping an espresso she ordered in French. Also “cosmopolitan,” “posh,” “chic”: An animal-print coat drapes across her shoulders like an exotic cape.Kristin Scott Thomas

“Words are important to me,” the actress, most famous, perhaps, for her 1996 Oscar-nominated role in “The English Patient,” says, sometimes trying on several before settling on one she likes.

It was the script along with her admiration for the director and the woman she would be portraying that prompted Scott Thomas to overcome her initial reluctance to take the role as Winston Churchill’s wife, Clementine, in Joe Wright’s “Darkest Hour,” alongside a remarkable turn by Gary Oldman as Churchill. The film depicts Churchill’s early weeks as prime minister, his bold decision to stand firm against the Nazis and launch Operation Dynamo, the risky rescue of soldiers from Dunkirk, and points to the role Clementine’s support played at a pivotal moment in history.

Scott Thomas, as Clemmie, isn’t on the screen that much, but she makes the most of every moment, turning in a nuanced, elegant and deeply researched performance (she devoured biographies, consulted historians and spoke with surviving relatives) that adds emotional weight and depth …

‘Darkest Hour’ mirrors modern-day dangerous times, says Kristin Scott Thomas (Los Angeles Times)

The flawed-everyman charm of Paul Giamatti

June 8, 2017 § Leave a comment

Paul Giamatti has spent two decades bringing his flawed-everyman charm to diverse roles: frustrated writer, Founding Father, even God. For two seasons, in Showtime’s “Billions,” he has brought it to Chuck Rhoades, a U.S. attorney locked in an alpha-dog struggle with hedge-fund billionaire Bobby Axelrod (Damian Lewis).

Paul Giamatti.jpgIn Giamatti’s first ongoing TV role (no one had ever offered him one before, he says), Chuck has a complex relationship with power — as well as with his wife, Wendy (Maggie Siff). Serenely sipping water in a quiet Brooklyn bistro, Giamatti says he enjoys exploring Chuck’s “nooks and crannies and layers” and carefully reveals a few of his own …

Paul Giamatti explores male power and the clash of egos in ‘Billions’ (Los Angeles Times)

Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys throw sparks

June 8, 2017 § Leave a comment

One thing that makes FX’s lauded Cold War drama “The Americans” so compelling is the chemistry between Keri Russell, who starred in four seasons of “Felicity” in her early 20s, and Welsh actor Matthew Rhys. As Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, Russian spies living as Americans in 1980s suburbia, they make their kids’ lunches and then slip away to don disguises, seduce sources and break necks for the Motherland.

Russell and RhysBut Russell and Rhys’ electricity on the show, created by former CIA officer Joe Weisberg and just having finished its fifth season before a 10-episode sprint to a series finale, is nothing compared to the sparks they throw off in real life.

Settling into the series’ writers room in gritty Gowanus in New York’s Brooklyn, surrounded by whiteboards with scribbled plot points and grainy show stills, the couple, who have an infant son (Russell also has two children from a previous relationship), are clearly simpatico — finishing each other’s thoughts and cracking each other up …

‘The Americans’ and its stars forge on — who knew Russian spies could be so relevant? (Los Angeles Times)

Jonah Hill is not a bro

November 16, 2016 § Leave a comment

Efraim Diveroli, the character Jonah Hill plays in the summer film “War Dogs,” Todd Phillips’ based-on-a-true-story film about two Yeshiva-educated Miami twentysomethings (Miles Teller plays the other) who rake in millions with a shady business supplying arms to the U.S. military during the war in Afghanistan, is probably not a guy you’d want to meet for lunch. Loud, duplicitous and greedy in the extreme, Efraim is a character who, if initially charming, would almost certainly leave you feeling compromised: You could imagine him ordering heaps of the priciest thing on the menu and then — laughing —  leaving you holding the check.

Jonah HillHill, apart from the charm, is nothing like that. Over lunch on a rainy Thursday in New York City, at his usual table at the rustic-Italian restaurant Il Buco, the 32-year-old actor, who has memorably appeared in such films as “Superbad,” “21 Jump Street,” “The Wolf of Wall Street” and “Moneyball,” earning Oscar nods with those last two, is polite, thoughtful and engaging. He’s the kind of guy who will hold your chair and offer you the first bite of his risotto. (“Want some?” he asks, with apparent sincerity.)

Burned by the press for not being as bro-ish as some of his roles might indicate (“People want me to be a loud comedian and it’s just, unfortunately, not who I am,” he says, ruefully — though he claims partial responsibility for a notoriously bad 2013 Rolling Stone interview he says therapy has helped him push past), Hill, who hails from Los Angeles and lives in New York, comes off as careful, perhaps a bit chastened, yet candid and generous as he entertained questions about, among other topics, a performance critics have hailed as a standout in an otherwise dismissable film …

Taking risks and not playing it safe are what draw Jonah Hill to those non-‘bro’ roles (Los Angeles Times)

An unlikely chat with Judy Blume

July 31, 2015 § Leave a comment

BlumeEventMost of us know Judy Blume as the woman who wrote those books we devoured as we grew up — novels that shaped our development, perhaps more than we even realized. We may have started with Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing and the rest of the Fudge series, then moved on to books like Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself. Blubber, Are You There God? It’s Me, MargaretDeenie and Then Again, Maybe I Won’t and eventually graduated to that dog-eared copy of Forever we giggled over with our friends and hid from our parents.

We’ve passed these much-loved paperbacks along to our children. Perhaps some of us have remained Blume readers even in adulthood — digging into her books for grown-ups, like WifeySmart Women and the 1998 bestseller Summer Sisters. When Blume wrote the latter, she said it would be her last book for an adult audience, and she remained true to her word for years. But then, in 2009, the idea for her new book, In the Unlikely Event, hit her — like “a ton of bricks,” she says — and she knew she had to write it …

Judy Blume: Flight Paths and Trigger Warnings (Barnes & Noble Review)

Omar Sharif: Pure charm

July 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

the_rakes_progressTo meet Omar Sharif was to fall instantly under his spell. At least that’s what happened to me when I interviewed him for Salon in 2003.

Sharif was promoting his role in François Dupeyron’s cinematic confection “Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran,” in which he played an old Muslim shopkeeper in 1960s Paris who dispenses sweet nuggets of wisdom to a young Jewish boy slightly lonelier and much, much sadder than he.

“Smiling is what makes you happy,” Sharif’s M. Ibrahim tells young Momo, tenderly played by Pierre Boulanger, who drinks in his advice like nectar. “Try it, you’ll see.”

Sharif himself took a similar don’t-worry-be-happy view of life. He told me that he had much in common with M. Ibrahim. “We ended up being exactly the same,” he said, which makes it especially poignant, perhaps, to recall his description of the character’s death.

“It is the last lesson that I’m giving to the boy: How to die, that dying is not something terrible. ‘I am not dying,’ he says to Momo, because Momo is crying,” Sharif said. “‘I’m just going to the immensity.’ It’s something to smile about, not to be sad.”

The rake’s progress (Salon)

The best biographies for kids embrace nuance

January 10, 2014 § Leave a comment

Not Just For Kids: Biographies aimed at children include Abraham Lincoln, Malcolm X, Josephine Baker and Thomas JeffersonAs school book fairs and children’s library browsers can attest, there is no shortage of biographies aiming to educate young readers about the lives of historical figures, from George Washington to Jackie Robinson, Annie Oakley to Anne Frank, Helen Keller to Harry Houdini, Eleanor Roosevelt to Elvis Presley.

This month, several new picture books about famous thinkers and doers — bold breakers of boundaries and blazers of trails — will further crowd the shelves. The best of these deal forthrightly with their subjects’ complexities and contradictions, acknowledging that even heroes make mistakes and suffer setbacks and that one can be inspired by someone’s successes while acknowledging their failings …

Biographies of historical figures for children, flaws and all (Los Angeles Times)