Friday, November 2, 2007

Interview: Shea Whigham

"It was special, but you can’t go in thinking that. You can’t act from that place."

Shea Whigham, at this point, is more recognizable for the power of his performances than his face—it’s a bit strange that this isn’t a measure of great success in Hollywood. Nevertheless, Whigam has played a number of powerful performances over the years in award winning films like David Gordon Green’s All the Real Girls and Schumacher’s Tigerland. Now he finds himself in his biggest role yet and, surprisingly, a comedic one, with his portrayal of an eccentric Russian named Eugene in Wristcutters: A Love Story. Shea tells about the transition into comedy, Tom Waits teaching him how to play a singing saw, and how hard it is to leave a good cast in a good film.

In 2003’s masterful All the Real Girls you played a very dramatic, nuanced role as “Tip”, and now 4 years later you are playing a very different character with the charismatic, outlandish Eugene in Wristcutters. My question is: Do you find that your experience in the field of drama has helped you flesh out a comedic performance more and vice-versa?

This is the first time I got a chance at a comedy really. Goran took a shot with me. The way I play comedy is serious and real and I let it land. This film isn’t that “wink-wink and look at me”-comedy. This film is all Goran’s world and us moving through it. It’s a very funny film, but you can find yourself in these situations where it rings true.

According to Wikipedia, you were inspired by Eugene Hütz of the band Gogol Bordello in your performance; is there any truth to this?

Half of it is based on Hütz, who is a good friend of Goran. I approached it with a lot of pressure to be this guy, so I decided not to meet Hutz and make my own Eugene that would stand on his own 2 feet. It’s really an amalgamation of a couple people that Goran knew and Keret [Author of the short story that the film is based on] knew.

In the movie you can tell that Zia and Mikal had a very strong quest, what was Eugene looking for?

With Eugene, I don’t think he is consciously looking for anything and that’s the beauty of it. He’s failed at many things before, the glass is always half empty with him I think. If you don’t push things, they come to you. He is looking for friendship, but he also finds love in the end.

Does this movie have a special place in your heart?

It does have a special place; The world and the friendships we made meant alot. When you come out with an experience--this isn’t a job--you come out and think “Jesus, we went through something together” and that’s what I get out of it. It’s a heavy subject, but not told in a heavy way; it’s gorgeous in its nature.

You spent so much time with Patrick Fugit, who plays Zia, in the film. A great portion of the film is just you and him in the car. How did things work out between you two?

It was very easy to be with him in that car and act with him. Patrick really has heavy lifting to do since he is the straight man in the piece. You don’t try to force a relationship; you have to let it come out. So you hang out and it grows on an organic level; it shows on screen.

Was there a favorite moment in the making of the film?

When we got to work with Tom Waits--that was one of the attractions of doing the film for me. There was a scene where I was going to play guitar at this camp fire, but then they said, “You know, Shea, we are going to let you play singing saw instead of a guitar”. I am trying to play the saw, trying to get a note out, and Waits comes over and laughs at me. He says, “You know some people take 5 to 15 years to play one of those things”. He said he hasn’t played on for 20 years, but he gets these magical notes out of the saw. I start watching him and that was one of those moments where I thought, “This is why I do this!”

You were born in Tallahassee, could you give us a brief history?

I was born there. When I was about 5, I moved out to Central Florida (Orlando area) and finished high school. I found myself in New York, from there I moved into the city and ran a theatre company. I got my Tigerland role and have been fortunate ever since.

Looking through the press notes there have been a lot of awards. Did you have a feeling it would be that special of a film?

It was special, but you can’t go in thinking that. You can’t act from that place. That said, when we went to Sundance we knew we were touching people. I did have a sense after I saw it but not before. Goran, as a first timer, did a tough task and went above and beyond.

What scene did you enjoy the most?

The part where my headlights come on and I just grab Shannyn out of nowhere. I love those moments where moments just happen that weren’t scripted.

The actors can’t laugh or smile during their performance, was that hard?

It was very difficult. Try to go a day without doing it--its difficult! As an actor you are expressing, which is something you do automatically.

What are you’re feelings over the controversial issue of suicide in the film?

I think it does deal with a subject that affects a lot of people: suicide. I think Goran handles this as well as you could possibly handle it, but it’s basically a dramedy…a very funny and beautiful film. It’s not about suicide, at the end of the day. But, yes, I think at times you have to think outside of the box to get people into it.

The movie is titled Wristcutters but it has a strange uplifting sense to it. How is it uplifting even though it deals with suicide?

It is uplifting; I want to let people know it is okay to laugh at this piece. Everyone in the piece ends up finding love. I think what makes it magical for me is that it doesn’t try hard; it’s out there but I truly bought into everything—the black hole, a fish turning from blue to green. All of it!

Wristcutters is now playing in wide release. Shea Whigham will return to the big screen with Edward Norton and Colin Farrell in March 2008 with Pride and Glory

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Midlake Come Home to Roost

This is an article that originally went into the NT Daily, but was butchered in order to fit into the small space it was given. Honestly, the less of it you see the better--yet, here I am posting the full thing for you good people. This was my first interview and I did it without a mic, so it's a bit of a mess. The focus of the interview was "Midlake's Guide to Denton", so there wasn't too much about the music here. I do get into what its like to come back after "getting head, getting paid", but that part is mostly brief. Anyway here is the full interview in text and audio:

Midlake Come Home to Roost(+)

In a town where its most famous musicians (Sly Stone, Don Henley, Norah Jones) were merely passing visitors, Midlake are a band that is here for the long haul. While the 5-piece group’s music belongs to a time long ago, their heart and spirit are connected with Denton’s emerging indie scene.

“If you want to be in a town where music is happening, Denton isn’t a bad place to be”, says Eric Nichelson, Midlake’s guitarist. “There are so many bands, known and unknown, who are amazing here.”

Between local indie-rock band (and Nichelson’s roommate), The Valentines, winning Dallas Oberserver’s Best New Act of 2006 award and Wall of Sound Festival moving from a modest stage at Hailey’s to a baseball stadium, Denton has seen a growing amount of indie acts. While many show promise, Midlake have continued to grow in popularity and talent.

In the same way that Neil Young interpreted Americana into his music, Tim Smith and company interprets Neil Young into their off-kilter brand of fuzzy pop. Forming in 1999, Midlake was the band name settled by five jazz majors of UNT: Tim Smith (vocals), Eric Nichelson (guitar), McKenzie Smith (drums), Paul Alexander (bass), and Eric Pulido (guitar/keyboards). While they got their first taste of success in England, they still find their home and inspiration amongst their fellow musicians in Denton.

“If anything, its cool that anywhere we go we can promote the town of Denton and the music scene we are a part of”, says Piludo.

Between the beginnings of Centro-Matic and up-and-coming artists, like Robert Gomez, Midlake bridged the gap between Denton’s struggling ‘90s scene and the revived ‘00s. While most bands in Denton have failed due to their lack of work ethic and imagination, Midlake were determined to offer something different and not give up until everyone interested has heard what they have to say.

“There’s a whole world trying to fit in, but I think that we’ve had enough of that”, says Smith with his heart on his sleeve.

While most bands carefully calculate their image and sound so much that their debut feels like plastic, Midlake have succeeded on their openness for experimentation and reinvention at an early stage. From embarrassing funk band beginnings to Midlake’s debut, Bamnan and Slivercork, that seemed more content in its miniature pop-symphonies than a etched-in-stone sound, Midlake apply their jazz backgrounds and always observe what works, what doesn’t work, what feels right, and what doesn’t feel right. The confidence in 2006’s The Trials of Van Occupanther is the result of hard work and not arrogance. It’s sure to last for another album or two.

As for the rest of the town that Midlake will be forever tied to, McKenzie offers his final words, “Good luck and if NT could give us honorary degrees, that would be great!”

Midlake will be recording new material in the Spring and will tour in the following Summer/Fall. For a sample of their music and current news on the band, visit

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Film: Wristcutters: A Love Story

Wristcutters: A Love Story
directed by Goran Dukic

Suicide, lost love, miles of wasteland, another depressed white male—uh oh, looks like someone has another introspective take on life, love, and what indie songs to put into their crap indie film. If there is something Wristcutters does right, it’s proving your initial judgement wrong. While the film isn’t as clever as it thinks, it gets enough credibility for sidestepping everything its synopsis would have you imagine it to be. Surprisingly, Wristcutters is one of the funniest, light-hearted, and interesting films that has come out this Fall. But, sadly, it is not one of the best.

By the time Wristcutters ended, I was a bit confused about which film I should write about: the philosophical drama on love and death or the odd dark-comedy with a colorful cast. We’ll start with the good film, as that’s the one you will leave remembering. Zia is a recent suicide victim that finds himself in an afterlife that is pretty much like his previous life except a lot worse. The water is brown, cheap apartments are even grosser, and everyone in the bar sits alone in sorrow. Zia is determined to find his ex-girlfriend who committed suicide not long after him, but he has no clue as to where she could be. Do I smell road trip?

There are plenty of laughs during the first hour of Wristcutters: Austrians complaining about the lack of cottage cheese in the fridge, a black hole under the passenger seat of a beat-up Volvo that sucks endless pairs of Ray Bans into its endless void, and a guest appearance from Will Arnett (of Arrested Development fame/cancellation) all bring genuine laughs. The whole goofy adventure feels very Neil Gaiman, so if you are, indeed, a fan of the famous British novelist then go seek out this film.

While there have been a couple films that have merged dramas that question the metaphysical with gag comedy (I Heart Huckabees comes to mind), Wristcutters isn’t part of the gang. Its characters are all thin as paper feeling like nothing more than conduits of either a funny accent or the next gag. In fact, the scenes that rely solely on emotional connection between the characters are painful with their lack of foundation. Wristcutters’s hit-and-miss cast really doesn’t help the drama, either. While Patrick Fugit and Shannyn Sossamon have each given a powerful performance earlier in the decade, they prove to be nothing but lifeless caricatures throughout these 90 minutes. Everyone else is fantastic, on the other hand, with Shea Whigam, who once gave a strong dramatic performance in 2003’s fantastic All the Real Girls, supplies the film’s biggest laughs and Tom Waits (indie cred +5!) works his magic in a film that is not awful (a.k.a. Domino).

While you expect Wristcutter’s misguided narrative to mar the laughs held within, for better or worse, these two layers feel so disconnected that you can enjoy one without the other. Everything about the film screams “5 p.m. USA/Comedy Central movie that will be played to death”, but you won’t necessarily regret seeing it in theatres now. If Knocked Up and Superbad raised the bar for good comedies in 2007, Wristcutters raises the bar for bad ones.