TCFF 2018 Interviews: Steve Zahn


Not everyday I got the opportunity one of my favorite actors… so imagine my excitement that I got a one-on-one interview with Steve Zahn! I’ve mentioned a bit about Mr. Zahn in my TCFF gala recap last week. A Minnesota native who’ve carved out a fantastic career in Hollywood, Steve is as humble and funny as you’d imagine, no movie star pretense whatsoever and he still looks incredibly young for being 50 years old (in fact he certainly could pass for 35!). Before the interview started, he remarked to me and a rep from Showplace ICON Theatres that it’s ‘f***ing’ bizarre’ to be doing the red carpet, press, etc. as he usually does the glitz and glamor stuff in L.A. and he comes home to Minnesota to be away from all that. He actually stays with his parents while he’s in town, in the same house he grew up in in New Hope (Minneapolis suburbs) instead of at a swanky hotel.

Steve Zahn with his TCFF Lifetime Achievement Award

Once we sat down, I asked him when was the last time he was in MN and he replied ‘A month ago for my 80th birthday.’ Apparently he’s also home every Christmas, splitting his time between his family ranch in Kentucky where he lives with his wife and two teenage kids. I congratulated him on the Lifetime Achievement Award he’s about to receive from TCFF. It’s hard to believe he’s got over 70 projects under his belt listed on IMDb, spanning over two decades since he got his big break in Reality Bites in 1994. One of Hollywood’s best and most versatile actor, he’s a self-described character actor who can easily transition into leading roles. He’s one of those talents who’s great in everything he does. He always stands out and you’d remember him matter how small the role is.

Below is a photo of Steve receiving the award from TCFF’s executive director Jatin Setia last Thursday, Sept.6:

Thanks TCFF photographer Dallas Smith for this awesome photo!

When I mentioned the Lifetime Achievement Award, Steve had this to say… ”As an actor you do one gig and it’s over and you do another. It doesn’t connect, it’s not like it’s a continuous thing. I just got a text from my cousin. She drives snow plows in West Central Minnesota, she’s worked for the state for 30 years and she got a watch. I mean it doesn’t happen in my business. So it’s weird to look back at things you did that you think they don’t connect but they do connect in a weird way.”

 You got started doing theatre work here in Minnesota and New York City. Do you miss doing theatre work?

Oh yeah, absolutely. For me, it’s weird because of where I live, the commitment to theatre would take me away from my family too long. Film commitments are shorter. I can work for three months, and you can come home during that time and then I’m done. As opposed to theatre commitments which is like 8 shows a week and one day off. For me it’s more logistics and family [that prevents him from doing more theatre work].

Steve with Ethan Hawke in the 1993 play ‘Sophistry’ – Photo courtesy of Playwrights Horizon

You have been doing a lot of TV work recently (he’s currently filming Valley of the Boom, a docudrama that’ll air on National Geographic focusing on the 1990s tech boom and bust in Silicon Valley). Are you enjoying that?

Well yes, both TV and film. It’s the trend of the business, the TV medium has expanded beyond belief. Writers have gone from film to tv to tell these intricate, character-driven stories. It used to be the opposite when films are the ones doing that, so it’s interesting to see the change. There was a time when talents sort of get labeled as a ‘TV actor’ so if you want to be a film actor you don’t do TV. It’s totally different now, that stigma is gone completely. For me, I just want to do good stuff, tell good stories with compelling characters. That’s what I look for, I don’t care what the medium is, whether it’s for the small screen or big screen, no matter what the budget is.

You’ve done SO many projects but we don’t have time to go over all of those. I have my favorites you’ve done such as You’ve Got Mail, That Thing You Do!, Shattered Glass… but one I’m curious about is Rescue Dawn. It must be super challenging. How was it working with Werner Herzog?

Oh amazing. He’s an unusual guy but that whole project one of the highlights of my career. Having to physically change and to dive into a character that rigorously. To work with someone that eclectic, y’know, he’s really an interesting guy. Really simple, he was phenomenal. Every day was completely different. The fact that there was no trailers for actors, he doesn’t really like comfort… he loves chaos, he thrives off it, that’s when he’s most creative, not when things are comfortable.

I heard you lost 40 pounds for the role? And this wasn’t a big studio project right, so you must have to have done it on your own?

Oh yeah, Christian [Bale] and I did it for Werner, and because the story was amazing.

Another film I want to ask you about is War For the Planet of the Apes because I love motion-capture (mo-cap). How did you get involved in that project?

I was doing a TV show down in Puerto Rico and [director] Matt Reeves was interested in me playing the part so we have a conversation via Skype for over an hour about Westerns and stuff and he asked me if I would be willing to read for it. So he gave me three days, and I read for him over Skype and he loved it and wanted me to do it. I just said I needed a week at home in between jobs and then I was off in Vancouver running around for a couple of weeks playing an ape. That’s the closest thing that I’ve done to theatre on film, despite the huge budget [$150mil]. It was phenomenal. It was so physical and so difficult and challenging. Mo-cap captures your performance. It doesn’t make you an ape, it makes you look like an ape. So if you don’t move like one, you’re not going to look like one.

Down to the tiniest movement, you’d have to analyze how an ape behaves. We [humans] have a lot of pretense, we hold ourselves a certain way. But apes don’t do that. When we look at something, we do it in such a way, but apes do it totally differently. So you have to embody that, then forget about it so you have to be able to play a character with emotions.

Did you work with the ‘King of Mo-Cap’ Andy Serkis who played Caesar in the ‘Apes’ franchise?

Oh yeah he’s amazing. I really think Andy should’ve been nominated for an Oscar. I mean I voted for him when it was award season, it’s really difficult work. It’s harder than playing a regular cop, ‘cause now you have to play a cop that’s an ape, for example. If it weren’t for my theatre background, I really don’t think I would’ve been able to do that job.

In your illustrious career, you’ve worked with SO many people. Which of your co-stars you’d love to work with again?

Oh man, there’s so many. Ethan Hawke is a good friend of mine, all he has to do is call. Richard Linklater. Sam Rockwell, oh too many to mention.

Speaking of Ethan Hawke who’s gone into directing more and more. Is that something you would like to tackle in the future?

I don’t know. I’m not as bold… he’s an amazing artist. I mean, if there’s something I’m really passionate about, yeah maybe.

Last question. You mentioned that you lived in Kentucky, which is far from Hollywood. Is that a deliberate choice that you want to have a work and life balance?

No. It’s just another passion in life [to live as a rancher]. Even when I was doing theatre in New York I was living in a cabin in Pennsylvania. I always enjoy living outside, outdoors, I just enjoy that. I hunt, fish, farm, that’s who I am. Yet indirectly, as I get older, I think it’s nice to be able to go from one extreme to the other, that is the contrast of working in Hollywood and living in a ranch. I think it helps me as an artist. It may not be the best for someone else but for me it’s perfect. It keeps me ‘naïve’ and every time I go to every job it feels fresh, like the first time. I’m always on location in a way, I never work at home.


Soon after our interview, Steve was whisked away to the Rooftop Bar at AC Marriott Hotel. But thanks to TCFF Managing Director Bill Cooper who took the time to snap this photo of us before he left.

Thank you Steve Zahn for taking the time to chat with me… and Jatin Setia & Bill Cooper for the opportunity!


So what’s YOUR favorite Steve Zahn role(s)?

,,,

FlixChatter’s TOP 10 Films of 2017

Ok let me preface this with a confession that there are still a ton of critical darlings I haven’t seen yet… Get Out, Lady Bird, Mudbound, Call Me By Your Name, The Florida Project, etc. 2017 proved to be one of the busiest, craziest year ever for me. In fact it’s been a pretty crazy whirlwind ride for me. So being a first-time filmmaker meant your priority had to shift a bit (or a lot) and for the past year, my life as a blogger kind of took a backseat.

In any case, everyone’s list is going to be different anyway, even if we all saw the same movies in a given year. As customary, this list is a cross between a ‘best of and favorite’, so sometimes I feel like a film deserves to be on my list because it was masterfully-crafted, whether or not I connected with the story. But generally, my criteria is that a film makes a lasting impression on me, combining the virtue of being entertaining, deeply-moving, thought-provoking, and indelible. Replay-ability is a factor I take into consideration as well, though I don’t necessarily want to rewatch every single film on my list.

So without further ado, I present to you my TOP 10 list (in reverse order):

10. Lost City of Z (full review)

Charlie Hunnam & Tom Holland as father and son

This film opened the Minneapolis St Paul Film Festival and I’m glad I got to see it on the big screen. I think it’s a massively-underrated adventure drama about a British explorer who disappeared while searching for a mysterious city in the Amazon in the 1920s. I also think Charlie Hunnam is a terrific actor and here he truly shows his dramatic chops. I like that the focus is on his psychology as he grew more obsessed with finding Z, taking a toll on his family despite the support of his loyal wife (Sienna Miller). Director James Gray‘s biopic feels authentic and involving, and the jungle visuals are appropriately lush and gritty, both stunning and dangerous. I also enjoyed Tom Holland‘s performance, memorable despite his brief screen time.

9. Thor: Ragnarok (full review)

This isn’t the first time I have a movie from the Marvel Cinematic Universe on my top 10 list. I think the fact that Taika Waititi took on the third installment of a so-so franchise in the behemoth MCU and pushed it to forefront in terms of critical + audience reception AND box office take is something to be admired. I’ve been a huge fan of Taika’s work since What We Do in the Shadows and Hunt for the Wilderpeople and he brought his zany sense of humor to Thor as well. The brilliant cast are all fun to watch and they looked like they had such a fun time doing it that’s contagious. Cate Blanchett relished in her naughty, playful side, as did Chris Hemsworth who showed off his comedic chops. But it’s Taika’s witty humor that made the film, even his own character Korg deserves its own spin-off. There’s so much to love about this movie, including the rousing 80s music and the hilarious cameos!

8. Their Finest

Interesting how the Brits suddenly keen on telling the Dunkirk story all within a single year. We’ve got Dunkirk of course, then The Darkest Hour specifically from Churchill’s perspective. But one that’s the least flashy of them all is a pretty brilliant film with a charming cast led by Gemma Arterton. She played Catrin, a newly appointed as a scriptwriter for propaganda films during the London Blitz of WWII. I always enjoy stories involving a film within a film and this one has both joy and pathos mixed together given the wartime setting. The sexism Catrin faced in the misogynistic workplace and how she stood up for herself feel quite timely. There’s also a sweet-but-not-saccharine romance in the air that’s well-handled, and fun humor courtesy of Bill Nighy as a famous actor whose fame is eluding him. It’s perhaps my favorite film from Lone Scherfig to date, beating even the terrific An Education.

7. Wonder Woman (full review)

Another female-directed movie of 2017 that left a lasting impression on me. Even in a year with a plethora of superhero films, Patty Jenkins‘ movie stands out because it’s fun & entertaining as well as heartfelt and inspiring. It’s also visually striking, especially the scenery in sunny Themyscira before Diana sets foot in a gritty urban setting in WWI London. And that fight scene of the Amazonians vs German forces took my breath away every time!! Gal Gadot absolutely rocks as the mighty heroine, balancing her earnest, valiant, yet compassionate side. I also love Chris Pine‘s casting as Diana’s sympathetic comrade/love interest, and their scenes together could make the best superhero rom-com. This movie couldn’t have come a better time too given the surging women empowerment in Hollywood fighting for gender equality.

6. War for the Planet of the Apes

Who knew that the ‘Apes’ movie trilogy ended up being one of the strongest trilogies out of Hollywood. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes was on my Top 10 list of 2014, which was also directed by Matt Reeves. Glad he’s back to helm this one again, what a terrific conclusion to the Apes’ charismatic leader Caesar (Andy Serkis in another phenomenal mo-cap performance). His struggles to avenge his kind while being torn to his loyalty to humans is heart-wrenching. This time we’ve got a genuinely hilarious addition to the Apes’ cast with Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), plus a tragic villain The Colonel (Woody Harrelson). I look forward to rewatching the entire trilogy once again, but the last two sequels under Reeves are definitely the most brilliant.

5. Phantom Thread (full review)

I’ve just reviewed this one and it’s also the last film I saw that ended up on this list. Though it’s an emotionally cold film, I still think it’s masterfully-crafted and brilliantly-acted. One thing I should mention about this film is its intimate feel, it’s as if you’re getting a sneak peek into the life of an artistic genius. It’s a gloomy and twisted affair, but also tantalizingly honest. Daniel Day Lewis is superb as always, but it’s Vicky Krieps who’s quite a revelation as his unlikely equal. With Lesley Manville as her headstrong loyal sister, the three actors makes quite a fantastic trio. I mentioned that I didn’t quite fall in love with this film, but undoubtedly I admire it greatly.

4. Blade Runner 2049

It’s a bummer this film didn’t do well at the box office, and puzzling too given the buzz surrounding it. It may not be as iconic as the original by Ridley Scott, but it’s still one heck of an epic film. Denis Villeneuve is becoming one of my favorite filmmakers since Sicario. Though his films are always so beautifully-shot, it’s never style over substance. I’m glad I saw this on IMAX, man I hope Roger Deakins gets his overdue Oscar this year! As the quintessential sci-fi that ponders what it really means to be human, the story lingers for days after you watched it. Ryan Gosling delivered a quiet, soulful performance, while Harrison Ford reprised his role memorably with endearing curmudgeon-ness he’s famous for.

3. Dunkirk

Christopher Nolan is one of the rare filmmakers whose complete work I have seen and this is perhaps one of his ambitious one yet. He set out to create an experience rather than simply showing what happened on the beaches of Dunkirk, France. Instead of just telling the narratives in a linear way, Nolan told the story from three different perspectives: land, air and sea. There’s no huge movie stars in this film, the most famous one is Tom Hardy in a practically wordless but charismatic performance as a pilot. Fresh out of an Oscar-winning performance in Bridge of Spies, Mark Rylance once again did an outstanding job as a common sailor who became one of many unlikely heroes. An immersive experience that truly made us feel the horror of war, as intense and thrilling as a war film could be, without resorting to blood and gore. This memorably tense film is not your average blockbuster.

2. Logan

My hubby and I just rewatched LOGAN this weekend since we’ve bought the Bluray a while ago. This time we opted to watch the b/w noir version. WOW we’re blown away once again, this film is actually better on second viewing! James Mangold redeemed himself after his oh-so-promising-but-turns-out-meh The Wolverine as writer/director. He and his co-writers Scott Frank and Michael Green scored a groundbreaking Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar nomination, a unique landmark for superhero stories, as it became the first film based on superhero comic books to be nominated in that category! Well it’s so well-deserved as the writing is truly amazing and it doesn’t feel much like a superhero film at all. It’s a character-driven piece that relies heavily on the relationship between three key characters: Logan, the now ailing Professor X (the venerable Patrick Stewart) and a new young mutant girl Laura (Dafne Keen, sensational in her debut role).

It’s also a very emotional film albeit perhaps too violent at times. The fight scenes definitely made you wince, not only because of how brutal they were, but because what each of the beating meant for the once-invincible hero. Hugh Jackman‘s portrayed the tortured soul for seventeen years, but you’ve never seen him like this before. Every line on his face, every bloody wound, brings Logan closer to what only mere mortals get to experience. That last dialog between him and Laura is one of the most heart-wrenching scenes I’ve seen this year. This is not a happy and fun superhero movie, but not somber & dour for no reason (*cough* Justice League *cough*), but it’s one I know I’ll remember for ages. What a spectacular farewell from Jackman to a role that made him famous, he’ll be sorely missed.

1. Shape of Water (full review)

Once in a while came a film that tickled your fancy and ended up sweeping you off your feet. This year that film is The Shape of Water. Yes it’s perhaps it’s the romantic in me, stories of star-crossed lovers always gets me and it doesn’t get more unlikely-matched than a human + sea creature. But Guillermo del Toro could inject so much humanity into his monsters. In fact, the real ‘monster’ in the film is the human who wants to keep the two lovers apart for his own gain.

A dark fairy tale of a beautiful love story and friendship that’s gorgeous to look at. Led by an empathetic performance by Sally Hawkins as well as a slew of terrific supporting cast, The Shape of Water is emotional, thrilling, funny, suspenseful… everything one would want in a period romance, and then some. On my review I also mentioned how there’s such a dreamy quality to the whole production, yet something I can connect with it emotionally. All in all a superb film I’m glad I got to see just before 2017 was done!


HONORABLE MENTIONS:

I always make room for those that didn’t quite make it to my Top 10 but still made a lasting impression on me. Some of these actually came very close to being on my top 10. Thanks to Twin Cities Film Fest for screening some of the films that ended up being some of my faves of the year, Darkest Hour (w/ phenomenal Gary Oldman as Churchill), Breathe (wonderful directorial debut of Andy Serkis featuring sublime performances from Andrew Garfield & Claire Foy), Last Flag Flying (what a cast!), Walking Out (Matt Bommer is more than a pretty face), and The Bachelors (Josh Wiggins is a fantastic young actor, the world shall know who he is soon!).

  1. Darkest Hour
  2. Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  3. A United Kingdom
  4. Last Flag Flying
  5. Let Me Go
  6. Baby Driver
  7. John Wick 2
  8. Colossal
  9. Loving Vincent
  10. Breathe
  11. Walking Out
  12. The Bachelors
  13. Logan Lucky
  14. Pilgrimage
  15. What Happened To Monday

So what do you think of my Top 10? Which of these are YOUR faves of the year?

HEARTS WANT in the press – only hours left on Kickstarter

Ok here’s the last Kickstarter post you’ll see here… Y’know what, whatever happens I’ll be so relieved when it’s done. If you think it’s tough making a film, well, try launching a Kickstarter campaign 😉


We’re still only 75% funded with mere hours left as I’m done posting this. I’m a glass half-full kind of person so I’m extremely grateful for our backers! Of course I’m not gonna lie I’m nervous we won’t meet our goal… and if you’re not familiar with Kickstarter, it’s an all-or-nothing campaign which means if we don’t meet our goal we’ll get nothing. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

But hey I’m optimistic 😬 … [well what choice do I have]… and I’m super grateful for my friends who have been so supportive, both financially and also in spreading the word about my Kickstarter campaign!

THANK YOU again Paula, Shivani, MarkNostra, and Dan for your tremendous support on various social media channels!

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I was invited to be a guest on The Film Pasture podcast [thanks Vern!] Link below:


I’m also honored to be featured on Top 10 Films site run by my pal Dan Stephens [thank you Dan!]. Read on if you’re curious about my filmmaking journey…

It’s fun being on the other end of an interview once in a while 🙂


If you listen to InSession Film podcast later this week you might hear about Hearts Want there too (thanks JD Duran!)

 


Just a quick note on what I’ve been watching…

Well I managed to see War For The Planet of the Apes and I LOVED it! The three ‘Apes’ films now stands one of my favorite cinematic trilogies ever. It’s such a compelling journey of this genius ape, living in two worlds whilst trying to save its kind from extinction… it’s such a heart-wrenching, poignant story that’s strangely relatable. Definitely one of my faves of the year.

I haven’t got around to seeing DUNKIRK just yet, for sure we will next weekend. The press screening happened to hit on the day I’m meeting with my composer for the film, so obviously that takes priority.


Ok folks, I’ll be sure to post a review sometime this week (from our awesome contributor Richard of Cinemuse Films). I also have a couple of interviews with a MN-based director and a female filmmaker whose film just screened at Edinburgh Film Festival. So stay tuned!