Aug 25

image003“It was like summer camp for actors. We were out playing dress-up in medieval clothes — playing pirates and princess and giants — it was just so much fun.”  So says Cary Elwes, describing the behind-the-scenes atmosphere during the making of Rob Reiner’s classic “The Princess Bride.”

Elwes relates that he and other stars of the beloved fantasy romantic comedy were at New York’s Lincoln Center for a 25th anniversary showing and panel discussion, and he found he didn’t have time to answer fans’ questions adequately. And so he started writing. And writing. And writing — until he and coauthor Joe Layden completed the new “As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride.”

Now the rest of us can be in on what was going on among actors including Robin Wright, Billy Crystal, Wallace Shawn, Christopher Guest and of course, Mandy “My name is Inigo Montoya” Patinkin off-camera back in 1987 when the film was made.

“All the cast got involved, which I’m so grateful for,” says Elwes. “It may say my name and my co-writer, Joe Layden, on the cover, but in fact it’s an effort by the entire cast and the director of the piece.”

Elwes recalls that when he first met Patinkin prior to the start of shooting, “I thought he was really cool. I’d seen him in ‘Ragtime’ and knew of his work and I knew he was a serious, theater trained actor. He’d won a number of awards already. And he’d already spent two months training in sword fighting — which he didn’t tell me. So by the time I started training I was already two months behind.”

Further complicating Elwes’ life was the fact that he broke his toe when Andre the Giant convinced him to take his all-terrain vehicle out for a spin. Now, Elwes attributes that break to helping him focus on getting his arm movements right for his fencing as the swashbuckling Westley.

image002According to Elwes, the “Princess Bride” team has stayed in touch ever since filming. “It’s like a family, really.”  He misses the late Andre the Giant. “We all do. He’s very much in our hearts, so it was wonderful reminiscing about him.  That’s the beautiful part of doing this. The memory is like a playback in your head and you get to relive things — although with less and less clarity as time goes on. Luckily, I had all the call sheets from the movie, and that was really a good memory aid for me to be able to go through all of those.”

The physicality required of him would leave him “bruised and burned and exhausted” after a day’s shooting, he says, laughing. However, the biggest challenge was to refrain from breaking up during shooting when so many funny things were going on. One particularly gaseous shot involving Andre the Giant makes for a standout anecdote in the book.

And then there was Robin Wright. Elwes’ first impression: “Beautiful. Stunning. Like Grace Kelly — and funny!  So funny.”

Oftentimes, exquisitely beautiful women aren’t regarded as able to be funny. Not so with Wright, says her “Bride” leading man. “Oh my God, she’s hysterical! In fact, I might say that was the first thing I noticed. No, both at the same time — she’s that beautiful. She’s that funny,” he says.

Elwes will be traveling to promote the book, which has its official pub date next month. He also has two new movies in the can — the dramas “Sugar Mountain,” and “The Greens Are Gone.”

He doesn’t need to look at statistics to know that “The Princess Bride” has found new audiences with each generation. Despite his substantial body of work, he still gets recognized as Westley. In fact, “at Toys R Us, some days, it is difficult in certain aisles,” he admits. But more seriously, he adds, “It seems to be a film that resonates with people, that they feel connected to.”

Follow Cary…

Twitter: @Cary_Elwes //



Aug 21

Billy CrystalPlan to watch the 66th annual Emmy Awards show Monday (8/25) night?  The Granddaddy of TV Awards shows looks likely to bring us plenty of memorable moments. Here are five reasons to tune in:

1. This is where the TV community will be giving Robin Williams a proper send-off. That’s the word according to Executive Producer Don Mischer, who has Robin’s long-time best pal Billy Crystal giving a tribute to the man. Mischer himself worked with Williams at least 30 times. Planning began as soon as the production team heard of Williams’ death. Don’t be surprised if presenters and winners comment on Williams as well.

2. If Matthew McConaughey wins an Outstanding Lead Actor award for “True Detective” — and many believe his searing portrayal of existentialist detective Rust Cohle will rule the category — it will be the first time since George C. Scott in 1971 that a leading man has won an Oscar and an Emmy in the same year. McConaughey won Best Actor at the Academy Awards for “Dallas Buyers Club.”  (Scott turned down his “Patton” Oscar, but accepted his Hallmark Hall of Fame Emmy because he liked the Emmys Blue Ribbon Panel voting system better.)

3. Host Seth Meyers. Meyers watchers know that behind the seeming calm of the late night host and former “SNL” Weekend Update guy lurks a scathing wit. Recall how he ripped Donald Trump when he hosted the White House Correspondents Dinner in 2011?  “Donald Trump has said he’s running for president as a Republican. Which is surprising because I thought he was running as a joke,” he said. And another, “Donald Trump owns the Miss USA pageant, which is great for Republicans because it will streamline their search for a vice president.”  Who’ll be his target Monday night?  Meyers told the L.A. Times he plans to front load the comedy — his opening monologue and a couple of film pieces are where his funny stuff will be most visible — and then just keep the evening moving along, so be sure to be there for the opening.

4. As more and more A list actors move to TV the wattage of star power at the Emmys just keeps getting higher. You’ve got McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in “True Detective,” Julia Roberts and Mark Ruffalo among the many nominees for “The Normal Heart,” Billy Bob Thornton for “Fargo,” Don Cheadle for “House of Lies,” Jodie Foster for “Orange is the New Black” and more.

5. The big contests. Will “Orange is the New Black” break “Modern Family’s” Best Comedy streak, or will the latter show prevail with a record-breaking fifth win in a row?  Will “True Detective” squeeze in front of “Breaking Bad” for Drama series?  Will Robin Wright “House of Cards” beat Claire Danes, Lizzy Caplan and Kerry Washington as Best Lead Actress in a Drama?  Can Don Cheadle break Jim Parson’s streak as Lead Actor in a Comedy?  We want to know!

natalie burnMOVING UP: Natalie Burn, who plays Mel Gibson’s wife in a short-but-sweet turn in “The Expendables 3,” admits she’d have liked to have been in on the action of that high-octane Sylvester Stallone feature. The Ukranian-born former prima ballerina for the Bolshoi has been sharpening her fighting skills to be ready for…anything. The much-discussed “Expendabelles” perhaps?  “The next push I will try to convince Stallone or whoever I work with that I’m a good fighter — and coming from a ballerina background, I’m still flexible. I did gymnastics so I can do a lot of backflips and wire work and a lot of knife fights. I’m definitely a good asset to an action film,” she says.

Burn likely already impresses Stallone, since she is taking her career into her own hands as the “Rocky” star did, writing and producing her own projects. One of those is her “Awaken” drama about a random group of people who wake up on an island where they start being hunted down. She reports that it is coming out in October. In it, moviegoers will be able to see her doing plenty of action, including fights she calls “raw and natural. That’s what I like.”

“We finished it a couple months ago. I wrote the movie, produced and starred. Daryl Hannah, Edward Furlong, Robert Davi, Michael Pare, David Keith and a few others are in it,” she says. Next, she’s making another of her own movies, called “Devil’s Burn” in Louisiana.

“I would definitely encourage all the young actors to do that,” she says of writing and producing projects for themselves. “We don’t get enough auditions and enough scenes. If you make your own projects and get them seen, it’s a good start.”

Initially the “Expendables” team planned to have an older actress play Gbson’s wife, by the way. But in came Natalie with her youth, beauty and Russian accent — parallelling Gibson’s notorious ex — and those plans changed. According to her, the prickly actor-director couldn’t have been nicer.

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Aug 14

Robin WilliamsAs the outpouring of grief over Robin Williams’ death continues, it becomes more and more apparent that another legacy of the comedic genius will be heightened public awareness of the ravages of depression – and that is a good thing. In fact, Williams at his best would be pleased to play a part in bringing understanding and help to others battling the condition. The superstar who was so quick to lend his name and his energy to dozens of good causes, including the Comic Relief events he toplined with Billy Crystal and Whoopi Goldberg, would surely have stepped up for this one.

Williams, as has been noted by many colleagues, gave his best in interviews. We experienced many of those rollicking sessions, during which he would fly rat-a-tat through free association craziness, character voice upon character voice, then veer into seriousness with insightful remarks. (I often quote his “humor half-life” measure of how funny a comedy bit is: funny if you laugh at the time, very funny if you think of it a day later and laugh again, exceptionally funny if you still laugh after a year or more. Robin scored lots of the latter. Think Mrs. Doubtfire, flaming bust, for instance.)

But the interviews changed in recent years, more and more tinged with the pain he was experiencing inside. He commented that his doctor used to tell him drugs could kill him. Now his doctor told him he needed drugs to stay alive. “So my doctor has become my dealer, and harder to get a hold of.”

He talked candidly about his return to drinking alcohol in 2003 after 20 years of sobriety. Asked by Decca Aitkenhead of the U.K.’s Guardian whether those who attributed his drinking to the loss of his friend, Christopher Reeve, were correct, he answered, “No…It’s more selfish than that. It’s just literally being afraid. And you think oh, this will ease the fear. And it doesn’t.”

What was he afraid of? “Everything. It’s just a general all-round arggghhh. It’s fearfulness and anxiety.”  And loneliness, he said.

Ironically, he was promoting the black comedy film “World’s Greatest Dad” at the time – a film in which his character’s son dies, and he writes a fake suicide note that becomes a sensation. Suicide and death were present in several of his films.

Now, one can’t help wondering how much his fear and anxiety was at work within him, even as he made what was supposed to be, expected to be, a triumphal return to television last year with “The Crazy Ones.” The show had started off with 15.52 million viewers, making it the most highly viewed series premiere that fall – then ratings dropped off. Still, it was considered “on the bubble” until the announcement came that CBS was cancelling it – with an audience of 10.5 million, the highest-rated cancellation of last season. Don’t be surprised if stories emerge that there was more of a problem behind the scenes than a supporting cast that didn’t quite jell.

In fact, there will be, sadly, many more stories emerging of Williams’ decades-long struggle with depression, which fueled his alcohol and substance abuse, and the pain behind his tragic end. He was jarred by his heart surgery – for replacement of an aortic valve – in 2009. He felt open and vulnerable, and very mortal, a feeling he said never left him, which he considered a blessing.

He had reached out for help numerous times, had gone through 12 step program rehabs and sobriety journeys with friends. Tragically, it wasn’t enough.

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Aug 07

octavia spencerOctavia Spencer has an Academy Award and a steady influx of film offers — but she scoffs at the very notion of shying away from television. “That’s not a reality in today’s world. You see Julia Roberts doing television,” notes the “The Help” Oscar winner — who will join the small screen action Sept. 17 with the premiere of Fox’s “Red Band Society.”

She adds, “Some of the most interesting characters out there for character actresses like myself are in television, so I would be shooting my big toe off, and not being able to walk very well, had I done that…I don’t see that there’s a difference, really. I think that stigma is quite gone.

“I’m not a snob, I’m an actor. And I’m a character actor, so I have to be realistic about the parts that are available to me,” she goes on. “So it’s about really and truly being a part of a show with a character I can grow with.”

Spencer plays a nurse with a sarcastic edge in the hospital dramedy centered on teens that forge social bonds while dealing with long-term illness.

Writer/exec producer Margaret Nagle (“Boardwalk Empire”) brings a wealth of personal experience, as she “grew up in a hospital,” as she put it, while her brother was in a coma following an accident. Still physically challenged, he is now an outsider artist, she told press at the recent Television Critics Association conclave. Stories are based on real-life situations, and Spencer and other cast members and writers visited pediatric hospitals around the country to absorb the atmosphere and get to know patients. Steven Spielberg is also an exec producer on the show.

Spencer says her character is “a lot of fun because you do assume she’s That Way — all business — but the children pull on her heartstrings…You see it played out differently. She only shows her true colors to a few people, and usually it’s kids.”

She does make it clear she “absolutely” will continue to make movies — having launched “Get On Up” earlier this summer, and having “Insurgent,” the second installment of “Divergent,” ahead. The studio and network, she says, “have been wonderful” about working with her film calendar. Spencer and the series’ “hot doc” Dave Annable are “interwoven throughout the episodes,” according to her.

As far as her life changing because of her taking home the Best Supporting Actress statuette in 2012, she says, “My life is still very much the same. I like a small manageable life. But my career, obviously, exploded. I have access to a lot of great material. I got offered a lot.”  A series, she believes, is “a marriage, so you want to be married to a project that’s brilliant and you want to be married to people that you respect and whose work you’ve been a fan of, and who’ve influenced you. That’s what i have with Margaret and Steven Spielberg and everybody at Dreamworks and Fox.”

don starkHUSH-HUSH:  The Aug. 11 season ender of VH-1′s “Hit the Floor” is being kept secret — even from the cast. That’s the word from Don Stark, who costars on the steamy VH-1 show about an NBA cheerleader (Taylour Paige) and her world. According to him, show producer James LaRosa “is a master of keeping things close to the vest. The last half page of the script was redacted; none of us knows what’s going on. I don’t even think the NSA could have picked it out.”

Someone on the show will be meeting a bad fate, it seems, and different possibilities were shot. “We have a pool as to who it will be. Every actor thinks, ‘Is it me?  Am I going to be out next year?’” notes Stark with a laugh. He certainly hopes it isn’t him, especially since the one-time “That 70′s Show” actor is having a blast on the show, which was picked up for a third season in May. “It’s a great group of people to work with — amazing dancers, Dean Cain, Kimberly Elise…. The writing is quite good. I hope to be along for the ride next season.”

Either way, Stark certainly has a full plate of activities. He recently joined Sally Field’s big screen comedy, “Hello, My Name is Doris.”  “It’s a coming-of-age story for someone who is already of age,” he says. “She’s a woman in her sixties who lives out on Staten Island and works in the city. She’s a bit of a hoarder. When her mom dies, her life changes.”

And she winds up falling for a younger man — 33-year-old “New Girl” cutie Max Greenfield. Stark plays his uncle, a would-be suitor for Field. He also has the upcoming indie film “Safelight” with Christine Lahti, and returns to his role as Vinny the Scar on the new season of “Castle” this fall.


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Aug 07
sheryl lee ralphGoing from playing a meddling mom on a bouncy Nickelodeon sitcom to portraying the sultry lover of Jon Voight’s unhinged Irish mobster character on Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” is all in a day’s work for Sheryl Lee Ralph. Literally.

The actress-singer is used to starting her work day with Tia Mowry-Hardrict, Michael Boatman and the juvenile actors on “Instant Mom.” Then “I’ll go early evening, late night on ‘Ray Donovan.’ It’s been challenging, but what a challenge!” she says.

Her unlikely pairing with Voight, as Mickey and Claudette, has become a popular component of the Liev Schreiber hit about a tough Hollywood fixer, “Roy Donovan,” to Ralph’s surprise. “I am always trying to figure out what is it that people love about the two of us together, because the’re like lov-ing it,” she declares, chopping apart her syllables staccato style for emphasis. “There are some people who say, ‘I don’t understand it, but there’s something about the two of you.’ He calls it ‘The Magic.’ It’s just got to be the magic. We just get in there and we just do our thing. It just comes out. You can’t make it happen. Either you’ve got it or you don’t have it. That’s it.”

On the set, according to Ralph, Voight “loves to tell me, ‘Do that character from that other show you do. Can you imagine? She does THAT in the morning and then comes and does THIS at night. She’s amazing.’ He said, ‘You’re really an actress, a really great actress.’ That made me feel so good!”

The magic is particularly interesting to those who know that Voight is in the forefront of conservatives in the entertainment industry, while Ralph, who is married to Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes, is a staunch Democrat. Not surprisingly, “We never talk about that.

“He knows I’m married to a senator. I’ve never felt the need to bring it up because everything has always gone so well with our work. All I’ve felt the need to do was do our job,” she says. “It’s only when people bring it up to me that I rememeber, ‘Oh wow. We are very different.’ But guess what, we are very different on camera, we’re very different in real life, and together we are absolute magic.”

The Waterbury, Connecticut-born performer, a former Miss Black Teen-age New York, evinces a naturally authoritative presence that gives one the sense her team would be a good place to be. She became Rutgers University’s youngest graduate at 19, won a Tony nomination for “Dreamgirls” a few years later, and went on to amass a long list of credits in shows ranging from “Moesha” to “Barbershop” (remembered for her transgender character). She is particularly gratified to find herself in such demand at this stage of her career.

And as if two series weren’t enough, she is also busy as a producer.

“We are getting ready, October 18th, for the 24th Annual Divas Simply Singing. We are now the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the country,” she says of the show that’s featured such names as Jennifer Holliday, Jenifer Lewis, Chaka Khan, Patti LaBelle, Oleta Addams, Melissa Manchester, Dianne Reeves, Roberta Flack, Eartha Kitt, Stephanie Mills, Fergie, Raven Symone, Loretta Devine, Nancy Wilson, Bonnie Pointer — and, of course, Sheryl Lee Ralph.

This year, “We’re moving to Hollywood, we’ll be doing it in the Recardo Montalban Theatre, which is so fitting becasue Ricado Montalban left that theater for the community for all people to have an artistic place to represent themselves. What could be a more perfect place to bring this concert for what is probably going to be our last two years?” she asks.

Last two years? “I say to anybody, 25 years of my life is a good amount of time for anything,” she says. Expect big plans for the grand finale next year.
Ralph also has “Mighty Real: A Fabulous Sylvester Musical” opening off-Broadway. Written by and starring Anthony Wayne (“Pippin,” “Priscilla,” etc.), “The musical is going to open for previews Sept. 5th at the Theatre at St. Clements,” she reports.

Ralph knew the real Sylvester, “an amazing man, who chose to be himself before it was politically correct. I always say the first disco queen was a man, and he was wonderful.
“He wouldn’t have said he was brave,” she adds. “He would have said this is just who I am. I think about that, I think about him. This man was born in the 1940s and chose to, at some point, put himself in a dress and say, ‘I’m the best one to play Billie Holliday.’ What guts did that take? And right up to the very end, when he was really dying due to comokciatons of AIDS, he dressed himself up and had someone push him in his wheelchair so he could be part of the AIDS walk — just amazing strength of character and being! That’s really why I found it easy to say yes to this project.”

She would love to take the show onto Broadway, and “I’m very excited about the possibilities of it. Look at the success of ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch.’ The minute you hear our music, you’re ready. It’s 90 minutes of nonstop fabulosity.”

In other words, magic.

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Aug 01

images (2)recent melanie

Singer-songwriter Melanie doesn’t need TV specials or articles about the resurgence of interest in the 1960s to know that a growing number of young people today are finding much to love about those paisley and patchouli infused counterculture days of history.

“Oh, my God — half my audience is kids,” says the artist born Melanie Safka, whose songs include such hits as “Brand New Key” and “What Have They Done to My Song Ma.” “I call them ‘Born-again hippies.’ I’m seeing young people and sometimes really young people — 12 years old — at my concerts. Little kids.”

No doubt many in her audience will be happy to find that a 45th anniversary, four-hour director’s cut of the Oscar-winning film “Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music,” has been released on Blu-ray. It includes heretofore unused footage of acts including Crosby, Stills and Nash, Joan Baez, the Jefferson Airplane, Santana, Sha Na Na — and Melanie. The famous concert, considered one of the pivotal events in music, changed her life in a matter of minutes.

However, she tells us now, she almost cancelled out.

“My husband was my producer and he had an office right in the same building as the people who were putting it on, and we were talking about it, and we all thought it would be a great idea for me to be there — three days of peace, love and music. I’m picturing a pastoral setting with families with picnic blankets and crafts. I thought, ‘I’ll do a little shopping,’ you know?” She laughs. But as the date neared, she was consumed with another commitment — what she thought would be her big break — an assignment to write the score for a British feature film starring Tom Bell and Olivia Hussey, then a very hot name due to the success of Franco Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet.”

“I’m in England and I’m thinking, ‘Maybe I’ll skip this concert.’ We talked about it, and my husband said, ‘I’ll finish up here and you go. Maybe it’s a good idea.’ So I decided I’d go.

“My mother picked me up at the airport, and again, we had no idea, no clue about what was about to happen. We’re heading off to the event, then we hit some traffic. I swear, I thought, ‘There’s an accident somewhere.’ It’s the weekend, you know how things go when you’re heading upstate New York.” Eventually, they made their way to their hotel, where Melanie was stunned to find media trucks outside and Janis Joplin, surrounded by microphones and reporters, swigging Southern Comfort, inside, and Sly Stone walking by.

“I’d never met a famous person before,” says Melanie, whose only recognition at the time came from her song “Beautiful People” being played by one DJ at one underground New York station. She had never performed before more than 500 people. Soon she was frantically directed to “Go to the helicopter!”

“We start running toward the helicopter, me and my mom, and we get to the door and the guy says, ‘Who’s she?’ Oh no, no, no. No moms. Just artists and managers.’ I didn’t even have the sense to say, ‘She’s my manager.’” So, leaving her mother behind, the singer got into the helicopter and off she went. Soon, she says, “I look down and I see these colored things. And I go, ‘What is all that stuff?’ and the pilot says, ‘People.’ And I say, ‘It can’t be people. There’s miles of it.’”

But of course, she was indeed looking down at some 400,000 humans who would hear from some 32 bands before the rain-soaked music festival was through. The acts performed on a massive stage. “I have one guitar and me, and that’s it. Nobody else. I’m totally alone. The terror was unbearable,” she admits. “I got led to this little tent with a dirt floor and a box. And that’s where I stayed. I didn’t have an artist’s backstage pass or anything. If I wandered too far from the area, these Hell’s Angels types would try to throw me out into the crowd.”>/p>

She ended up spending hours in that little tent, developing a cough (Joan Baez sent over tea when she heard Melanie’s hacking — a golden memory for her). Night fell and it began to rain. “Ravi Shankar was on. And then they made some kind of inspirational announcement that Hog Farm was passing out candles and to keep our candles lit — pass out the candles and keep the candles lit against the rain. I was thinking that with the rain, people were going home, and maybe I’d just go back to normal, back to England and finish the film score, and things would be just like they were.>/p>

“And then, right there, someone came in and said, ‘You’re on next.’ Then I went on that stage and I was so absolutely, horribly, terrified — sick scared. I mean, nobody knew who I was. I was like this little girl.”

But she did it. The bubbly 67-year-old songstress from Queens smiles and pauses a moment before picking up her narrative. “It was incredible. I got on that stage just at that those moments when people were lighting the candles and it was raining, and I could see the flickering coming toward me. I was never afraid of large crowds again. I had this incredible, almost religious experience. And I’ve been of course forever linked with the lighting of things at concerts.” She laughs.

Melanie says that before she even left, she had the anthemic part of her “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)” song half-formed in her mind. The tune would go on to become a huge hit for her, embraced as an anti-war anthem.

Just back from a sell-out tour of Australia, Melanie has never stopped performing. “I go to Europe a lot,” she notes, in addition to her domestic concerts.

But she has been going through major changes. In 2010, she lost her manager-producer-guiding light-soul mate and husband (since 1970), Peter Schekeryk. “We were entirely different types of people. He was Eastern European and had a very big personality. He would go into a room — at a party or something — and before he left he’d know everybody. He’d know the names of their children, everything. And me, I would rush to the farthest corner and sit there until someone needed to introduce me,” she recalls.

They had three children, Leilah, Jeordie and Beau-Jarred — all of whom became musicians. Indeed, Beau-Jarred is a guitarist who has “actually played concert guitar solo all over the world. He plays with me and we have been writing songs together. We’re still doing it. I just wrote a song called “I Tried to Die Young,’” she reports.

She also collaborated with Blackfriars Theatre director John Haldoupis on a musical about her and Peter’s love story, “Melanie and the Record Man,” that debuted in Rochester, New York, in 2012. She’d love to mount it again, but “I haven’t the vaguest idea how to do this. I’m looking for maybe more representation, she says. Peter, her late husband, “did everything. He’d just say ‘Go here, Go there,’ and I did. For 40 years.” She is sure he’d want to her to keep on keeping on.

So perhaps now, along with the ’60s resurgence, it is time for a re-appreciation of Melanie. Miley Cyrus is already aboard — she has been performing her own version of “What Have They Done to My Song Ma.” And sadly, the time is ripe again for “Candles In the Rain.”

“I once said in a concert, ‘It’s so nice to do an unnecessary anti-war song.’ I was so wrong,” she notes ruefully. “I really believed we were poised and ready for a new renaissance on earth and that we would see the end of war and cruelty. But you know what? I still have hope.”

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Jul 26

Freya Tingley and Peri Gilpinperi gilpinPeri Gilpin would like to get back to the funny. The actress who rose to fame as lusty radio producer Roz Doyle on “Frasier” — and more recently appeared as the compassionate mother of an Olympics-bound gymnast with medical trouble on ABC Family’s “Make It Or Break It” — says she had a blast playing a hooker on “Modern Family” last season. That’s even though the job necessitated explaining to her 10-year-old twin daughters what a hooker was.

“I’d love to do more comedy again,” declares Gilpin, who does, of course, have a major humorous bent. She admits her former “Make It Or Break It” daughter Ayla Kell would jokingly insist she act more serious on the set. Gilpin is also occasionally seen as the wife of Ted Danson’s “CSI” character, and they joke about being a couple of old sitcom actors.

Her latest made-for-television film definitely takes her into the serious
dramatic realm.

Lifetime’s “The Choking Game” has Gilpin as the mother of a bright high
schooler (Freya Tingley) who begins to slip in her studies and show other
alarming signs of being involved in something sinister. That something turns out to be a “game” of deliberately choking — sometimes self-strangulation, sometimes at the hands of another — in order to get high. These “flights” are stunningly common. Gilpin says she was surprised to learn “teenagers doing this are organized online,” something the movie reveals in detail.

Notes Gilpin, “I loved the script, and the fact that my character was not ‘just the mom.’ This was a mom who really cared about her child, who was racking her brain trying to figure out why all of a sudden she was appearing with red eyes and bruises on her neck.”

She gives kudos to her young costar. “Freya — oh, my God she is just so good technically. She’s Australian, and I never heard her Australian accent until we finished shooting. She’s wonderful. She and Alex (Steele) made it so believable that they passed out. They made it real in a scary way.”

“I’m glad this mother was written in a sympathetic way,” notes Gilpin of the
script drawn from the book “Choke” by Diana Lopez, “even with though she
couldn’t see the pressures on her daughter. Having two 10-year-old daughters myself — having kids — reminds us what it’s like facing these pressures of trying to get along with their peers and gain independence from us.”

Gilpin also sees “The Choking Game” as “a metaphor for so many things kids can get involved with that aren’t good for them. And with all the interaction and information available on the internet, the dangers increase exponentially.”

The other day, in fact, she says she had her girls at her mother-in-law’s house and, looking something up on a laptop, they all “saw something on the laptop we shouldn’t have seen. I was so embarrassed. It’s a whole other realm, and it’s only going to get more complicated.”

She stresses that “there’s no bad guy” in “The Choking Game.”

And, “Like ‘Make It Or Break It,’ this brings up stuff to talk about for
families, which is great. I think the more specific you can get, the more
universal something is.”

Still, after all that, it’s easy to see why a good laugh looks very inviting.

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Jul 22

Elliott GouldA month shy of turning 76, Elliott Gould is quite pleased with himself for having two — count ‘em, two — high-profile television series gigs simultaneously. Showtime’s excellent “Ray Donovan” has been using the one-time counterculture icon to great effect as the aging Hollywood power lawyer who is Ray’s (Liev Schreiber) mentor and boss. And, come October, he’ll be seen as Oscar, the flamboyant, advice-giving neighbor of John Mulaney in that “Saturday Night Live” alumnus’ new Fox sitcom, “Mulaney” — along with Nasim Pedrad, Zack Pearlman, Seaton Smith, and Martin Short.

The two shows have been cooperating on Gould’s schedule “so I get to play different characters in two different series,” explained Gould the other day, following the “Mulaney” panel at the Television Critics’ Association summer press tour.

What accounts for his being so busy at this stage of the game? “My answer to that question is, my mother never gave up, and I have to be the way I am,” replies Gould in one of his trademark convoluted answers.

He adds, “And as far as my own ignorance and lack of perspective and judgment through a good deal of my career, it’s taken me forever to attain this character. And therefore, to have this opportunity to have the nature and the strength and the health to work in these productions.”

That makes sense if you recall Gould’s roller coaster career trajectory. He spent 20 years attaining the status of top in-demand film star with “M*A*S*H” and “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice,” only to become a pariah overnight after the shut-down of his big-budget “Glimpse of Tiger” amid rumors of a breakdown or drug problem. “It had been a week rife with reports that…he was behaving strangely…walking around with a pacifier in his mouth, blowing whistles during camera takes, flying into screaming rages at director Tony Harvey,” wrote Marilyn Beck. He did, of course, eventually work again, logging dozens of film and TV roles, but it was never the same. Decades of forgettable roles and near-misses followed before Steven Soderbergh cast him as one-time casino owner Reuben Tishkoff in his 2001 “Ocean’s Eleven,” and its follow-ups.

Now Gould is enjoying playing two series characters that are nothing alike. According to him, his “Ray Donovan” character will be more prominent in the future. “Ezra is a very serious character, a rather pios character. He’s a highly successful, deeply-connected person. We haven’t seen too much of Ezra, but we will see more of him since his brain tumor is corrected,” he says. As far as “Mulaney,” “With Oscar, you see all of Oscar’s inside. Oscar expresses what he’s feeling. This character is a highly original character for me to do.”

Another difference: “Mulaney” is being shot before an audience with multiple cameras. It’s a challenge. However, says Gould, “I enjoy working and a challenge for me to work with these young people. I enjoy the opportunity and I work at it.”

As for how he maintains his vigor, Gould says, “What do I do – I have a family, I have grown children, and I have a very good relationship with nature. To me, it’s all about the family and mostly about chemistry and being honest and true.”

Of course.

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Jul 21

Do you watch TV on your tablet, use Video On Demand, download shows? The tectonic shifts in viewing habits among U.S. TV audiences are speeding up precipitously, according to Alan Wurtzel, President, Research & Media Development, NBC Universal. For example, as he pointed out during NBC’s TCA day, smartphone viewing is on the rise. “It hardly existed in 2008. Today half of the population has it. And that’s definitely going to grow by the end of the year…. One out of five people watched a TV show or a movie on a smartphone in the past seven days.”

Wurtzel points out, “It’s very interesting, kind of counterintuitive ‑‑ most mobile consumption doesn’t occur outside; it occurs in the home. 61% of consumption is in the home, 39% out of the home. Where is it basically consumed? Half of it’s consumed in the bedroom. By the way, it’s consumed around a little after 10:30. I won’t make any further comments about that.”

And you probably thought you were the only one looking at your phone in bed.

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Jul 19

McCartney and MichalkaLife is a whirlwind for Jesse McCartney, with his new “Expecting Amish” Lifetime movie, his new “In Technicolor” album, and his five-week House of Blues tour about to get underway. The timing of it all sounds like smart strategy, but according to McCartney, “It was a happy coincidence. The album release was set back around the end of January, and the movie came up very last minute.”

In the made-for-television film, McCartney plays an L.A. disc jockey who mixes
it up with an Amish girl (AJ Michalka) who is confronting worldliness for the
first time on a Rumspringa trip.

“It was all very new for me. I knew very little about the Amish culture,” says
McCartney. And while “Breaking Amish” and other reality shows in recent years
have put the spotlight on young members of the religion getting out and mingling
in the 21st-century world, he hadn’t seen the subject in a drama.

“I talked to the director; he really knew what he wanted. I liked the script.
I’d known AJ for years and I knew it would be fun to work with her,” he adds.

When his character meets AJ’s at a party. “He’s struck by her reaction to her
surroundings, and when she says she’s never been to a party before. There’s
something sweet about it. Before he knows it, he’s falling madly in love.”

And more. The drama centers on the choices she’s forced to make when she finds
herself pregnant by an outsider.

Meanwhile, it’s a huge week for McCartney, musically speaking. He released a
teaser EP of “Technicolor” late last year, and says he was happy to find an
appetite for his venture into disco/pop.

“These fans were waiting for it. People seem very excited about it, genuinely
excited about the new sound. Honestly, I thought they would like it. I think
music on pop radio is on its way back,” he says.

He doesn’t mind admitting he was influenced by his parents’ music. He thinks we
all are, “Big time. Whatever your parents listened to is your foundation of
music.” In his case, that meant Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson, the Bee Gees.
“I was singing at an early age,” notes the 27-year-old, who performed in
community theater musicals at 7, joined the boy band Dream Street at 12, and was
a bona fide teen heartthrob with his own solo success, as an actor as well as
singer, by 16. He feels he found his best voice doing blue-eyed soul.

McCartney says he wants to “push the album as long as I can and then get into
the production side of things in television by the end of the year.” He has
several projects on the burner.

And … what of the fourth Alvin and the Chipmunks movie? “There’s talk about
it. I’ve heard rumors but no official word,” says McCartney, who voices Theodore
in the feature series. “I’m sure they’ll make another. We work with the
Bagdasarians and they’ve been great about doing these.” Voice work, he adds,
“really is such an easy job — way less stress than being on camera. I went in
to work on ‘Alvin’ in sweatpants.”

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