Capone With LIONS FOR LAMBS' Michael Pena And Andrew Garfield!!
Published at: Nov. 6, 2007, 8:50 a.m. CST by merrick
Hey folks, Capone in Chicago here.
Robert Redford's latest work LIONS FOR LAMBS is going to bother a lot of people who don't even bother to see it, because they think they know what it's about. As much as the film is about the current war in the Middle East, the object of scorn is not warmongers, big corporations, and politicians on either side of the aisle. No, Redford seem at least as ticked off (maybe more so) by liberals, the media, and young folks, especially college kids who seem totally unmoved to action by what many perceive as a string of blatant injustices carried out on this nation over the last few years. More specifically, he seems perplexed at the lack of outrage and action against a war that people are largely against. It's a bold move that will probably alienate as many of Redford's fans or potential fans as it will draw in; either way, I don't think he cares. His mission with LIONS FOR LAMBS is to get people talking, no matter what the outcome is.
Two of the most vocal citizens in the movie are characters played by Chicago-born Michael Pena (WORLD TRADE CENTER; CRASH; SHOOTER), who plays a student of Redford's professor character who enlists to fight in the war; and British-born relative newcomer Andrew Garfield (a recent addition to the cast of Terry Gilliam's THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS), who plays a current prize student of Redford's who the professor sense is losing his focus in both class and the world. I had a chance to sit down with these two gentleman recently as part of an interesting roundtable, which preceded another roundtable with Redford himself (which I'll have for you shortly).
CAPONE: Michael, the first thing I thought after I saw you in this film was you've certainly cornered the market on played immobile characters [in LIONS FOR LAMBS, he spends much of the film with his leg embedded in the ground after a disastrous parachute landing].
Michael Pena: I haven't played anybody in a wheelchair yet? [laughs]
CAPONE: Seriously though, two roles in just a couple years where you are forced to act with pretty much just your face and voice. What's the key to pulling that off?
MP: To be honest with you, the thing of trying not to be interesting, of not saying, “Oh, I've got to spice it up or I'm not doing enough” is a little bit of a trap. But when you're immobile, there's not much you can do. It is kind of freeing in a way because you have to think of different things. In this case, I was thinking about my left arm and my left leg, and how am I going to do it. So my world becomes smaller but equally big. For me, the analogy is instead of a soccer game, it's more like fixing your VCR; it's very small. But the intention is still the same, to figure it out.
Andrew Garfield: And sometimes that can be releasing, can't it? To not have the ability to move does something to your emotions, and you have to deal with that as well and that makes it more frustrating. If you allow it to affect you, it's like the impulse is you want to move your arm or stand up, and you can't do that, and that adds to the stake of things.
MP: [to Andrew] I've got to tell you, it's easier to build up any kind of emotion with mobility though. Even if it's walking around or when you saw Meryl [Streep, also in the film] go [clenches and shakes his fists]. So many times you want to do that, and you can't. Emotionally, it's a little harder, to come up with whatever you have to come up with.
CAPONE: Andrew, not that you get to move around much in your scenes either, talking to Redford. But at least you get to squirm in your seat a little.
AG: Yeah, and I kept on saying to Bob every day we went into work, “Could we figure out a way for me to stand up and walk around? Maybe looking at the books or something?” And we'd try it and we'd both be like, “That was shit. That does not work at all.” It's like Michael was saying, it's that need to be interesting as opposed to interested in what is going on, and that can be a cul-de-sac.
Question: You talked about Meryl's movements. Is that something you only got to see on screen, or did you guys get to watch Meryl work on the set?
MP: Oh we both went separately. I went under my own motivation; I had a day off and I'm like “Oh, I forgot a pencil…” or something, I'm going to the set. “Hey, anyone got a pencil? Oh hey Meryl and Tom [Cruise] are doing a scene? Cool.” I just showed up one day; I just wanted to see two icons go at it, battle it out, and see if I could learn anything. It's amazing how different they are as actors because Tom brings size to it. He's very focused, and I think he plays it to a T, the senator. I believe that he believes it. He's very simple. And Meryl is a master of little idiosyncrasies and saying stuff under her breath: “I don't know.”
AG: But with her, when I went down to the set, I had hoped to gain some sort of secret key into the genius that is her acting. But after every single take, I came to and I was like, “Dammit, she made me watch and nothing else.” You couldn't analyze it; it was unquantifiable. Every single time it was slightly different, and I finally snapped out of it and realized she can't be analyzed. It's totally in the moment, and you have to go with it. You have no choice but to do with her.
MP: I kind of felt that to. Maybe I stuck around longer, but you kind of see that she has a great ear. It's almost like she knows how it's going to sound and the rhythm and tempo of the other person. I don't know if she gets that from theater or what. It's kind of like the old school of method acting, where behavior is the most important thing with her, as opposed to just how you say it. That's probably why she'd say some things…that's not the conventional choice. Most people want their faces in the camera, and she just is such a person. At least that's what I took away.
Q: Michael, can you explain a little about the transition of your character? The movie has three different stories, all interwoven, but your character is plucked from the college classroom scene to the middle of an intense battle. Tell us about how you decided to play that, and what direction you were given about the character developing.
MP: The only thing we would do is read it slowly, and I pretty much planned it. Bob wouldn't really tell me too much. He just let me ride. And I like to have everything worked out completely before we do rehearsals, you know? I was acting some of that stuff out during the rehearsals, just to have it done. And I was trying not to be interesting or overdo it and try to be as simple as possible and share these ideas with him. I think that the arc is much of a character arc, but it is more of a human arc.
He's a very opinionated guy and very much a leader in his own right, but he keeps his own integrity, and then life changes and life changes again. He's faced with that ultimate decision: should I let them capture me, or should I try to die with honor? Again, he goes with it because life changes, and I kind of like and respect about that person because there are people like that. From the Southside of Chicago, there are a lot of people who went to the war that didn't exactly come back. Some did and would do it again because they firmly believe in fighting for this country and protecting our way of life.
Q: Andrew, this is your first film, and not only is it your first film, but it's basically you in a room with Robert Redford, both as your co-star and as your director. I was curious to know, on the first day on the set, what was that like?
AG: Oh, it was easy. [laughs] Piece of cake. No. Shit. It was, Jesus…he made it so comfortable. I was terrified of course, and I was surprised to be cast because of my heritage, because of my accent and my physicality. I'd hoped that I would be able to be a part of this story but I never thought that he would be brave enough to cast me, because I wouldn't cast me. That's probably a little thing in myself I should sort out, but um…
MP: People like you.
AG: Thanks, man. [laughs] As soon as I got there, he made me feel so at easy. He's the most generous, giving, caring…he just cares about people and he's interested in people. And we were first rehearsing together, he said, “You got the part now, so you don't have to perform for me. I just want us to mess around and mix it up and get this relationship going.”
It was all about the story; it wasn't about him asserting any kind of authority over me. He actually told me to be a bastard to him and really stand up to him in those scenes, because if you can see in my eyes “I'm acting with Robert Redford,” then those scenes are ruined. You guys needed to believe that this was a teacher that I thought had kind of lost it. It was intimidating when I was saying “What about you? What about you? Those who can't do, teach.”
That was difficult for me to say, calling all of his career into question. “It's just about how to win; political science is not how to govern, so why should I do this?” Calling his character's life into question, I kind of was able to substitute him, and go “What's your life actually been about? You made all the political movies, but look at our society. We're fucked.”
So I could use that, and he encouraged me to challenge him to the hilt. It was thanks to him for making me feel comfortable, and all of the crew around. It was like, I woke up that morning and I'm e-mailing all of my friends and going, “Okay, nice speaking to you. I'm just going to go and act with Robert Redford for the day.” It was a dream come true in a lot of way, as clichéd as that sounds. I'm still appreciating it now.
CAPONE: In a film like this with so many political implication and is clearly meant to be discussed after the movie is done, your too characters seem to embody the call to young people to do something, whether it's from the inside or the outside of the war. Did Redford talk to you, not just about the characters, but about the whole issue?
MP: I think the way he went about it, which is why I think it works in the movie, he really provides such an easy-going atmosphere that makes you think you can do no wrong, even when you're not doing so good [laughs]. Which is good because you've got to build out of that hole. But his way of doing things…we screened this at a college yesterday--University of Chicago--and the kids were really into it, and sometimes they were just commenting on it.
And they were like, “I don't have a question,” which is fine because his way of doing things was that he wanted to really talk about the characters and be as truthful and simple about the characters and really be interested in their flight and their story, and to be able to entertain. If you're not going to be able to intrigue or have anyone be compelled or entertain with this movie, nobody is going to be moved. They aren't going to pay attention to anything. So that was his way of doing it. I think it his plan, because he always said little things, mainly about the characters' intentions. And at the end of the day, that's the brilliance of Bob; I didn't really get that when I first read it.
AG: We talked quite a lot about what one can do, and we came to no conclusions apart from pay attention and doing what we do and what he does with his activism. He considers himself an artist and an actor and a director and nothing else. And he said, “This is what I do, and all you can do is what you're good at.” It's about finding that and making sure you using it as positively as it can be used.
But I suppose the beauty of this film is that it doesn't offer up any kind of happy bow-tie, blue-ribbon kind of ending. It's like, no there are no answers here; it's all questions. The point of this is to ask more questions. And like I said, the only conclusions we came to were, for young people like me and like Michael and the students we've been bringing it to, is to pay attention and get as much information as possible, because we're not being given it as much.
We've being given Paris Hilton; we're being given Britney Spears; we're not being given the gore and the horrible time that our soldiers are having, that the Iraqi people are having. We're given flashes, but we're not given the truth.
There's one radio station, NPR, in L.A., which since I've discovered it, is all I listen to now. They seem to tell more truth than any other station. So I think he was saying, it's down to you because there's no draft, so you don't have to stare these issues in the face so much because it doesn't directly affect you.
But I think he was saying, if you want to make a difference and if you want to get information, you've got to go after it. And it's so much harder to access it because there are so many different things distracting you, pushing and pulling you in different way. It's so difficult to get to the root and the truth of something now because there are so many different cover ups or opinions going about or spin being put on it by our leaders.
Question: What are you thinking at the end of the movie when you're watching the film clips?
AG: I could make a joke but I won't. I was thinking…we just talked to a great group of student newspapers, and they asked a similar question. I think what I was thinking was how easy it is to be outraged. I didn't have to work too hard up to that moment.
Just after having the conversation I'd had with my professor, and here it is; we're being dumbed down, we are being distracted, we're being manipulated. And here's my best friend saying, “I'm not going to study; I've got a Madden tournament to do.” I was thinking about the state of the world, and I started questioning. And I've had that moment where I started questioning all of the things that I've been indoctrinated with. I read this book “No Logo” about corporations and how they brainwash you and figure out how to manipulated your mind into believing you need Nike trainers otherwise you're not a good human being.
And after I read that book, another door opened and I shined a huge light on all the lies behind this information I'd been told, and I was disgusted and outraged with myself and them, with people in marketing and people in advertising. So I think a door was opened for this kid in the movie, and it's like “Fuck, I've been living a pretty superficial, disconnected, selfish life.”
Q: Andrew, can you speak about the reaction to the war has been in England? Are things more vocal?
AG: I think it's much easier to be vocal out there because I think we have a slightly more objective viewpoint. Yet, we've been involved through Tony Blair. But I feel we are slightly more objective so it's easier for us to go “Ha, you Americans: you're all idiots. George Bush…” But it seems that the convention is changing out here a hell of a lot, and it feels like the percentages are going slightly away from this war on terror.
It's a shame, because I was born in Los Angeles and I feel American; I have an American passport; my father's American; he has his accent still. So I get a bit prickly when someone goes, “All Americans are loud, brash fucking idiots.” I go, “Come on…” I do. But then I see the state of America and it makes me sad because of other people's perspective on it, the world perspective on America is pretty bad right now, and that makes me sad because we have all the potential. We are the world's leading superpower, and it feels like the handful that have that power to wield are misusing it…not to get political.
Q: Do you think this movie will inspire young people to vote?
AG: I don't know. You've got to hope so.
MP: I don't know either. I think that's a good thing if that's what you think about it. It's more about going for what you really want to go for and following your gut and going with what you think is right. Because it doesn't supply any answers. I went out to Los Angeles when I was 19 to become an actor, and I was scared out of my gourd; I really was. But I said, “Screw it; I'm going to do it anyway.” If I would have stayed back, I don't know if I would have as much pleasure as I am right now having attempted it. It's always true, if I had attempted and failed, at least I attempted it. And I've done some things in the past where I didn't do that, and I was like, “You know what? I'm going to do it this time.” So if it leads to people voting and really getting involved, all the better.
AG: This girl I was talking to after the screening last night, she was a freshman, and I asked her what she was majoring in. And she said, “I don't know yet, but after seeing this film, I'm going to reconsider what I was thinking about.” And that made me my heart sing a little bit. There's one person who has been moved and maybe do something positive. I don't know if it's possible to change a whole society with art, but I think it's possible to change individuals, and inspire individuals and open them.
CAPONE: Michael, you're also in THE LUCKY ONES, the new Neil [THE ILLUSIONIST] Burger film in which you also play a solider in this war. Can you tell me about that?
MP: They just screened it for the first time last week, and it's more of a dark comedy thing. It's interesting; I really like it. It's with Rachel McAdams and Tim Robbins. Somebody asked me if I was scared being stereotyped playing all these soldiers. I don't think so because all my favorite directors right now happen to be doing war movies.
I'm going off with Oliver Stone for PINKVILLE, about the My Lai massacre, with a completely different character. I think you need to jump to the opportunity because I think it's going to last maybe two years, maybe, and then it's going to be a whole other wave of things I'm hear to be a part of. But THE LUCKY ONES is more of a road trip with me, Tim, and Rachel, and I hear it's pretty funny, so I'm glad about that.
Q: You've worked with so many talented directors at such a young age, how is Redford different than any of the other directors you've worked with?
MP: He's different and similar at the same time. He's similar, like with Oliver Stone, we comb through the script; every line means something, and we might take out a word. “No, I don't need this.” We really comb through it, and I'm going to do it again, which is a process that I love. I compare them in a way, I think of Oliver Stone as an opera, and Robert Redford is more like jazz, more like Miles Davis.
The thing that Meryl did about the heat. “It's hot in here.” When we were playing those things, he let us play for a while and we really got into it. There was one time when I went “OH MY GOD!!!” and I don't even remember doing that. But he got me so revved up that he said, “Cut” and we were still playing. And he's the kind of guy who will let those things go and talk about it. We would just talk about it and not perform it, and just see what we were trying to do.
But the one common thing that I think about all great directors is that they understand the material, and they want to make every moment count, because if every moment counts, then it's important to you and that relays to the audience.
AG: That's basic storytelling. Whatever has been written has been written for a reason, and you need to honor that and map it out.
MP: Yeah, there's a reason that all of us got into this. It started with the script and then the producer came along and the director and the other actors. So what's written has to be…assuming it's a good script. I try to much as much as possible.
Q: Did you guys improv dialog?
MP: A little bit; not really too much. There are a couple things, like in the classroom scene when we say to the one student, “Dude, you've been here eight years.” That one we got out of an improv, but the structure for the most part came from the script.
Q: Were you surprised to see what unfolded on screen compared to only seeing what you shot?
MP: I actually really enjoyed…I read the script and thought it was going to be a good movie. I was pleasantly surprised because of the way he was able to balance. You don't want this movie to be just a bunch of talking heads. You actually want to be involved in it. And I know because I'm my own worst critic, if I'm involved in the plot, I'm like, “Good, other people are going to like it as well.” It was cool, at screenings, especially kids, they'll tell you, “I really didn't like this movie, and I'll tell you why.” So thank God that all the kids were really thinking and engaged by it. All the way up to the end, it's me on the screen but it still got me so emotional, which is always a good sign. [laughs]