If your favorite scenes from The Last Boy Scout are the ones between Bruce Willis and Halle Berry, and you've been waiting patiently for 16 years for the two of them to be reunited on screen, then your prayers have been answered! Berry and Willis are co-starring in Perfect Stranger, a suspense thriller opening this weekend, and we recently had a chance to sit down with some of the main players from the film during roundtables at the Manhattan press junket. Willis was a no-show, but Berry, director James Foley, and Giovanni Ribisi were on hand to answer questions and talk about the project. You may have noticed that we already ran the news that Ribisi used the junket to announce his upcoming turn as Albert Einstein in a biopic, and a few other bits of news also emerged during the day as well. Here is a sampling of the questions and answers, with Cinematical's questions credited. This piece is relatively spoiler-free, but if you want to go into the movie with a clean slate, you might want to think twice about reading -- otherwise, enjoy!
Cinematical: This is a movie where you're acting and the character you play is sometimes acting -- what's the process for keeping all of that straight? "I think about it all the time. Which is why I was scared of this role, because I saw all of the nuances and all of the layers and I knew that my character was never really herself, ever -- maybe a few moments in the movie do you get to see the real character that's not pretending to be somebody else. The challenge for me was to act as these other people and have the other characters in the movie believe what she was saying, but still not act so well that the audience saw through it. When I wanted the audience to know that I was acting, like with Catherine Pogue, I had to act well enough so that Bruce Willis' character would buy it, but not so well that the audience forgot that she was really Ro acting as Catherine. Those were like ... I remember James Foley would sometimes say 'cut!' and I'd say 'what, wasn't that good?' and he would say 'Ro does not have an Academy award. You have got to do that over.' So that was always my sort of balance that I tried to walk."
Cinematical: There's been talk of a DC Comics Justice League film, with Batman, Superman, all those characters together. Would you reprise Catwoman for a Justice League film? "No, no. You guys didn't like Catwoman the first time, and I'm not a masochist." But you liked the character, right? "I love it, but my ego is in check, and I'm not just gonna do it for the sake of, you know, doing it for myself. I make movies for people, and if people don't really want to see that, then I wouldn't make the same mistake twice, obviously. I wouldn't choose to do that."
Has winning the Oscar made your career more difficult? "It has made it harder, but it's only made it harder because of the pressure that comes along with that award. I had to work really hard in not allowing that pressure to stifle my creativity and stifle my desire to be an individual and do my career my way. So, I worked really hard to not just wait myself out of my career by waiting for another Academy-award winning role. I wouldn't have worked for five years now. I reserve the right to just keep making choices that are new for me, and trying different things, taking risks and chances, trying different genres, I just don't want to do lofty, Oscar-winning type roles. That was never the plan I had for myself."
What did you think when you first read the Perfect Stranger script? "I thought 'wow.' I love this genre, I love a good psychological thriller that takes you on a journey, that bends your mind and forces you to think and look for clues and figure it out, and I love movies with great endings that somehow surprise you and somehow make it worth the journey. Sometimes maybe you have to go back again to say 'wait, wait, does that all add up? Did I see what I thought I saw?' I had to go back and read the script again and say 'wait a minute,' because the script left out a lot of detail because it would have given it away long before if the detail was in there, so I had to go back and say 'now wait a minute, how exactly does this happen?' I loved it and I was challenged by this character."
Did you see yourself in the part immediately? "No, the funny thing was, when I first read it, I thought 'this is gonna be great for somebody. Somebody is gonna have an awesome time.' Then the realization sort of sunk in. My manager said -- I'm so used to fighting for parts -- my manager said 'no, no, no, they want you for this one.' That didn't really dawn on me at first."
The film deals with the issue of privacy on the Internet -- where do you stand on the whole Internet-privacy debate? "I don't think we know yet, what the outcome will be of the Internet. I see the pluses and the minuses very clearly right now -- how it will ultimately evolve? Time will tell. But right now, it's a good thing, because I go to it a lot, and you can have information at your fingertips -- I'm diabetic and I go into diabetic chat rooms and I learn about the disease and about science and things I need to know to help me, which is a good thing. The Internet is also a very negative place, because people can say whatever they want and not have to take responsibility for their comments. I have to always take responsibility. If you're in a public position, you have to take responsibility for things you think, it seems like. You have to take responsibility for things you said ten years ago. You always take responsibility and I think on the Internet you can say whatever you want, so I think its become very negative because there's no ramifications. There's no penalties, there's no price to pay for speaking your mind, telling lies, or being negative or being evil. It's a free for all, and I don't think good will come from that, ultimately. It doesn't seem like it's a recipe for good."
What was it like working with Bruce in the film? "It was good, you know, Bruce was my neighbor. When I got this movie, we talked about who would be the right Harrison Hill, and we talked about who was charismatic and charming, that women love but who men like also. Like, he's gotta be cheating and you've gotta kind of think its okay, and men have to root for him and women have to say 'it's okay that you're that way.' Who is that guy? And almost simultaneously we all said 'Bruce Willis.' And I said 'it's funny, he's my next-door neighbor.' And they said 'really?' And I said 'yeah, like, I could spit on his front door. He's my next-door neighbor. Why don't I just take him the script?' So I did. I just walked over there and said 'read this, if you love it, I'd love you to be in it, if you don't, forget I ever came over here, and I'll never do this again.' And he liked it. Like, in a day he called back and said 'I love it, I really want to do it.'"
You're shaving your head for your upcoming film, Nappily Ever After? "Yes, I'm scared to death of that. I just finally grew my hair out after a decade of short hair. I just finally got it all together and now this opportunity came up to embrace taking a deeper look at how our hair defines us. I'm a victim of my hair totally defining me sometimes. I won't leave the house if the hair's not right, and I have a bad day if my hair's not right, and if I get a bad color job it's just ... I really wanna take a look at that, and I really wanna understand and I wanna break free of this hair bondage. Men too -- men go bald whether they like it or not, and I think it has an adverse effect on the psyche of men too, when they lose their hair. They're attached to their hair too. We all identify ourselves through our hair, and when we lose it, it affects us. I think its a journey worth taking on film, to do a movie that really looks at how we can learn to define ourselves in more profound, more meaningful ways and not the superficial way that we often do. We're all guilty of it."
You said in the press notes that Bruce improvised a lot during his scenes? "He would just always, no matter what the scene was, he would find a way to make it funny, to make it a comedy. He would never stop when it said 'cut' -- when it was his last line, I would know there's gonna be about 15 more things that he's gonna say, he's not gonna end the scene right here, so I always had to be prepared to go wherever he went. Because I knew he never wanted to stop the scenes, he would just go on and on and on and on and on and on. James Foley, who loves actors and loves to watch acting, would let it go, and sometimes I'd be looking at James like .... 'somebody call cut, because this is going on and on!' A lot of that stuff I was hoping they would put it on the DVD and I think they might put a lot of Bruce's stuff on the DVD. I think it would be funny for people to see. It's really funny."
You're doing Class Act, about Tierney Cahill -- how's that coming? "We have a first draft, it's really good, Doug Atchison is set to direct, from Akeelah and the Bee, and so far it's looking really good. I'm excited, because she's not a woman of color, she's just this teacher that ran for public office and that's a step in the right direction for me, because I've been fighting to just be seen as a woman and not always have my color precede me, so when Elaine said 'wouldn't this be a great role for you?' I said 'you should ask her. Maybe she doesn't want her story portrayed by a black woman.' And she loved the idea, so that said to me that things are changing, and she said 'I just want somebody who embodies the spirit of me, I don't care what color they are,' and she thought that she wanted me to do it, so things are changing, and that's good."
Would you like to do more comedy? "Nappily Ever After, this movie where I shave my head, is sort of a dramedy-comedy, but I would love to do ... I did one a long time ago called B.A.P.S. and I took a lot of flak for doing that too. It was, like, physical comedy, and I loved that. People don't know that about me, that I'm sort of a klutz, and sort of goofy and sort of silly."
Your character had a secret room that figures into the plot -- did they consult you about that? "That was part of it, yeah. They consulted me a little bit. They were like 'you're weird,' come here. That's just part of that aspect or that tangent of this subject -- somebody who has a literal den of iniquity. I don't know, there's a way to approach that where it's like 'the big, dark monster hiding in the closet' and to portray the character like that, but I think that ultimately it was important to not apologize for that and not make this guy the evil part of the 'good vs. evil,' you know, the black and white aspect of it -- it was really to make these people human beings. We had long discussions about that, and it was mainly this guy who, when something is sort of left to its own devices, it can grow and has a tendency to sort of like, fester, and I think it was probably just years of working with her and it sort of culminated to that, you know, so I don't know. It's also just for dramatic purposes -- how far can you go within the realm of reality with this thing? Ultimately, my heart goes out to him -- I think Miles is probably a representative of a lot of people in today's time."
Did you enjoy working with Halle? "She's incredible. She's all of what you could imagine and more, and I felt it was definitely a privilege to be working with her, as well as Bruce and James. I think this was really one of those movies that I think we all really, really wanted to make -- to go out and really sort of push the envelope and get into the underbelly of New York. Of course the movie is about secrets, and I'm sure that everybody's been saying that, but there's a darker aspect to it, and she was fearless in that, and James, this is maybe perhaps his forte in a way. I was just a huge fan of his from Glengarry, Glen Ross and At Close Range, but I think that he just really knows how to provoke actors and get what he needs out of them while making it sort of a game, you know."
You play a character who's an IT whiz -- how tech adept are you? "I guess I would say average, I don't know. I went to computer graphics school for a while, after I did Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. I just thought that that was an interesting way -- maybe the future of filmmaking. I think its slowly sort of getting there with films like 300 and all that, but for me, well ... anyways, to answer your question, yeah, for me, the IT thing is just a completely different world from graphics, and it was just about really getting into the dynamics of the characters and the relationships and understanding the complexity of the story. It's a movie with a lot of twists and turns, and with the time constraints that I had it, it was just good to concentrate on that."
There are two thrillers that touch on voyeurism coming out this weekend, this and Disturbia -- do you think that's a trend? "I don't know if Perfect Stranger ... I mean, it does have that aspect of voyeurism, but there's a lot of different themes. Ultimately, I would say that it's really about what's projected and what's packaged as far as an individual and what they project out there and what underlies all of that and what someone's actually intentions are. I guess they both are thrillers and maybe that is thematic, but I think right now we're in the information age and that has a tendency just by virtue of the quantity can get aberrated sometimes. The Internet -- specifically the aspect of the Internet where its online chatting or Myspace or whatever, definitely has that mystery element where it's like 'who am I talking to and what are they doing while I'm talking to them?' and by the same token, there's the anonymity factor, but then there's another side to it where there's possibly a positive aspect where somebody can express themselves easier, and not necessarily feel the obligation of being culpable for the things that they say. It's a whole topi of conversation that I'm trying to make succinct but my mind is not working like that today. So yeah, I guess there is that."
Did you see your character as twisted? "I did not want to look at him as a being a disturbed, twisted individual. Again, I think it was really about him being an individual and being somebody who ultimately, realistically wants to be charming. Initially, the character was written as this introverted, red-herring of a frumpy, geek guy -- like, he's the guy! -- but I thought it was way better to make it more complex and have five different people be supposed. That's part of going to a movie like this. So you can't approach a character like that as being somebody who's like 'this is the evil guy,' I think there's got to be a human aspect."
You've made a career out of supporting roles, as opposed to leading man parts. "I don't look at doing something as far as a hierarchy, or that sort of hierarchy. It's, for me, what's interesting and what's going to fire me as an individual and as hopefully a creative person and it's mainly about that and about the people that I work with. I definitely would love to do leading man roles and all that, and probably more so focused on the way that they were done in the 70s, where that was sort of like the everyman came to the forefront and had its own niche. I think we're sort of shrouded by the age of technology and epic explosions that you can make in your computer and all that, and I think its actually regressing back into a more classic way of making movies -- the predominant films you saw in the 30s and 40s and all that. But yeah, I think that doing ... I guess there's a movie I have coming out, its a smaller movie, but the guy in the movie, he gets the girl, its a romantic comedy, and the whole thing, and that's sort of the opposite. It depends, you know, it really depends on the material that's out there and what you're specifically right for as well. I think the leading man essentially is a character and you can't necessarily cast Laurence Olivier in True Grit. Or maybe you could ... that would be genius! You know what I mean? It just depends on the specifics of it."
What's up next for you? "I don't know if I should say, but I will, finally, talk about it. Einstein. I'm going to be doing Albert Einstein, with Liliana Cavani, who did the Charlotte Rampling film from the 70s, called The Night Porter. It's great and the script is really great, and I'm really excited about it."
Are there roles you want that you cant get? "I feel fortunate in that I don't necessarily get frustrated like that, about a specific thing.I feel like I'm a workaholic to a degree. I like to be on movie sets and I like to be concentrated and challenged and all of that, but it's not about 'oh, damn, I should have...' you know? There's a couple of movies I'm looking at right now, but I sort of learn to get over it and move on, you know what I mean? I think the people who wallow in that are to a degree victimizing themselves. There's definitely things, habits and tendencies, that I would like to get over myself, and I think that's the way to answer the question. I think I'm ultimately responsible for my own condition, and if I'm being cast or being typecast in a certain way, then that's my doing and that's something I need to learn about myself, as far as my own tendencies as an actor. Yeah, so I don't know, I think there's definitely variety, and what I love about what I do is that -- the unique qualities, the different lives of characters, the behavior of them and then being able to be ensconced in a world, a director's imagination. If there's a frustration, it would probably be that, that I'd like to work with specific directors."
When does Einstein start shooting, and where? "In July, I think, and there's another movie called The Stanford Prison Experiment after that. It will be shot in Italy and in Barcelona and at Princeton, of course."
What years does the movie cover? "It's a movie that focuses on his relationship with his first wife, Mileva Maric, and I guess it's from the inception of that relationship to the end of his life."
Are you gonna play him as twisted? "Yeah, he's gonna be a weirdo, dude. Einstein The Weirdo. I suggested that, and they were like, 'no, just Einstein.'"
Talk about working with Giovanni in the film. "I think he is our secret weapon, because people going to the film -- understandably it's been promoted and advertised focusing on Halle and Bruce because they're more famous, and I think Giovanni is going to be like an extra treat to the audience that they're not expecting. He just has created a character who defied convention and being pigeon-holed and he is both a fawning little boy with a crush on Halle and also a devious schemer and has a different kind of life than we might come to expect from a cliche representation of the role he plays. So I think he's able to play around in a very loose way, where you can't pin him down to one kind of person who you can easily predict how he's going to act and how he's going to live and whatever. He just has a very individual mixture of boyishness and masculinity and humor that all get tied together and sometimes mask deeper, darker thoughts while he's smiling and grinning on the outside. That's the kind of stuff I love."
How did you first get involved in this project? "It came to me with Halle already attached, which was a major factor, because I'm always looking for something that has a psychological reality. Psychological realism is in short supply in Hollywood movies and I thought that this was an opportunity to really delve into that and the myriad contradictions and ambiguities and all those things that I love exploring. They were center stage in my perception of the script, so there were some rewriting of some of the action and the drama of it all, but for me it was definitely a chance to subjectively go inside Halle's character's head and see what was rummaging around in there, and it turned out it's quite a lot. More than enough for one movie."
Did Halle surprise you as an actress? "Yes and no. I went in there knowing that she was a good actress, but when she actually did it and you're the director, it's a more satisfying experience. It's a part very different than anything she'd ever played, and the most intriguing thing to me was that Halle Berry plays a character and that character plays a character and that character plays a character, so it was a real challenge to see all that, and if ever there was a movie to be seen twice, it's this. Every director says that -- 'see it twice,' but once you know the ending, to go back and see it a second time, there are many ambiguous moments that become unambiguous once you know what's really going on, and that was the most fun and most intriguing aspect to me in making a film where it's not everything explained and literal and linear and that there is some mystery for the audience to ponder and not for the filmmaker to shove it down their throat."
Is it true that you filmed three endings? "We didn't actually film three endings, we had options of three shots of the revelation of the truth, and it was just that it's such a pivotal moment that we tried three different ways of using three different shots, but we didn't shoot whole new scenes. It was the same scene, just different camera angles. The one that we went with was, it was clear to me that we went with the one that had the best performance from Halle. So, in terms of different endings, it wasn't that we changed the story, we just changed the visual revelation and I'm really, really happy. I can go through my own film and I can write a scathing review of it and re-shoot the whole thing and do it better -- every film I've ever made I feel I could do that, but there's always some moments in my films that I love and I am very confident about, and it's always trying to get the percentage of that up. Someday I'll make a film that's 100 percent entertaining to me, and there's something that George Lucas said, actually, when I was in film school 100 years ago at USC. George Lucas came down to talk because he was about to release this movie called Star Wars and he screened a rough cut of it for the students, to get feedback, and I just ... my head goes in a different direction than the Star Wars movies, so when we came out and us students were talking, I remember there was one student who didn't pursue a film career, but he came out and said 'that movie is going to make a lot of money,' and I said 'really?' So those are my commercial instincts."
Is it getting harder to surprise audiences with thrillers like this? "I never think -- and perhaps to the detriment of my bank account -- I never think that I'm making a film within a genre. I'm always amused when it's reviewed within the context of a genre, which kind of annoys me I guess, because its suggesting that there are genre conventions that you're supposed to follow and if I don't follow them, then somehow it's a failure because it's not fulfilling these expectations. I remember doing After Dark, My Sweet, and all of a sudden it was film noir, and I never thought about that for a second, that it was film noir. That's something that's kind of invented by critics and writers and then catches on and, I think, can lead to a suppression of ideas or a repetition of structure and expectation. I set out ... I knew I was doing a drama and not a comedy, and that's the only distinction I knew. I didn't compare, I didn't look at other films and their revelations or their twists or anything, I just wear, for better or worse, blinders when I'm making the film. Does it make sense to me? I figure I'm not so crazy that there aren't other people out there who will, if I think its enjoyable and makes sense, there will be others who agree and will go see it. But I don't ever think of what I call pandering to the audience, ignoring the logic of the film to artifically entertain the audience with some shock that makes no sense."
What was it like working with Bruce? "I was just, the other day, talking to a journalist about Bruce taking a supporting part, and then I said, 'but it's rather a big supporting part,' and then I started thinking, 'well, you know, depending on how you look at it, how you present it, it could not be a supporting part, it could be the male lead, and there'd be a female lead.' But it was certainly written as a supporting part, and we never in a million years thought about Bruce Willis playing that part. We thought it would be someone much less well-known, but for some reason Bruce just responded to it. He knew very well it was Halle's movie, about Halle, but he liked it and he took it. Now, when I look back, it was the best, serendipitous thing that could have happened to us, because it changed the dynamic so dramatically. Bruce's presence, that he brought with him -- first of all, I think it's a very good performance and very different than people are used to seeing him. He's in a business suit and he's very suave and he's very Manhattan, high-style, and owns an advertising agency. Apart from his womanizing and one burst of violence, his violence is in his soft-spoken words, concentrated and close-up. He's just a good match for Halle and when he's pursuing her and she's not falling for it so easy as many of the other babes that Bruce fools around with behind his wife's back, you know he's kind of met his match. It elevates both of them, I think. When I look at the poster and it says 'Halle Berry and Bruce Willis' it makes them both seem bigger than they are alone. I think it's one of the best combinations of casting, but it wasn't planned, it just sort of came out of left field, because Bruce picked up the script on his agent's desk. His agent wasn't even going to give it to him because it was a supporting part."