Sunday 29 December 2013

11am Friday Morning, Los Angeles

I didn't even tell Matt that I was coming to LA. I got in touch with Tina, his wife, and told her to keep it a surprise.

Tina and Matt headed to Hollywood and Highland for 11am on the Friday morning, meeting point: Johnny Rockets diner.

I crept up behind them and, over-egging my English accent, said, "excuse me, could you tell me where Buckingham Palace is, I'm looking for the Queen."

Matt's what-the-fuck look quickly turned into an oh-my-god-it's-really-you look. We hugged it out -- and then I hugged Tina, the both of us happy and a bit surprised that we'd manager to pull off a cross-ocean-surprise. 

We jumped into their car and Tina sat in the back, insisting "you two need to sit in the front and catch up". But catching up was never our style, instead we just burned on forward. We created new in-jokes, new observations about life and new experiences right there in the heart of Hollywood.

The years had passed but somehow our friendship hadn't. And this time Tina was really a part of it too -- we were three people digging each other's company and all the crazy stories that went with it.

Weird what you remember and what you forget when the years pass without seeing a friend. We'd kept in touch but never in a sane way. We'd written each other constant letters over the years but they were all in character. I wrote to him saying I was the MI5 looking to recruit him for service, and also wrote him many letters in character as Alfred .M Peffle, a shy dyslexic who was afraid of letter writing, and I sent him music compilations that consisted of one Tom Petty song on repeat, backwards. He emailed me every few months with a diary of updates, but they were mostly fictional, and written in the style of a deranged, psychopathic eater of small to medium sized bagels. 

We chatted about gluten, not really quite knowing what it was, so we went to a gluten-free store and asked them, but they didn't know about gluten, only about things they were free of gluten. Then we went to Rocket Fizz in Burbank and stocked up on sugary goodness. The time whizzed by and Friday soon disappeared into a distant day, the greatest of days, the day when I got to see Matt and Tina again.

Cut to a few days later and we were screaming across town, laughing hysterically at our comedy sketch ideas, knowing we'd never make them because they were more powerful when only for us. We ate in vegan restaurants, and they were GOOD, who'd have figured!? We went for a coffee but guess what, a film crew had taken up the best seats. We were grumpy about it, about the inconsiderate nature of film crews -- knowing that it's more our style, if needing a shot in a coffee house, to sneak in with a camera and sound gear and get it in five minutes while no-ones looking.

It was while showing Matt and Tina my recent work on my battered old laptop that I realised just how in-sync we were, creatively. I'd literally watch and read ANYTHING they produce, they're humans who inspire, excite and challenge me, and THAT is what art is. We have have this great bond as friends, and it's based on WHO WE ARE, WHAT WE FEEL and even more so, WHAT ART WE MAKE. 

We chatted about the distances that we felt had grown between us and the Hollywood system, with all of us now content and happy to work on our own projects in our own time to our own audiences, regardless of how big or small they are.

Another night we met up for pizza. I waited around for about thirty minutes by the North Hollywood Subway Station. I don't think I was waiting because they were late, I think I was just crazy early. I listened to Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova's cover of 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere' on repeat about eight times because it totally and completely captured the energy of the night.

They arrived and we went for pizza. We decided to sit outside, but then a band started playing and wow-- they were bad. Luckily it started raining so we had the excuse to disappear. We returned inside and chatted more about life.

It was that night or some other night when we went back to their place to listen to OLD RECORDS. Everyone knows that vinyl sounds better, they just down realise that it makes life A MILLION TIMES SWEETER, too. We drank tea and chatted about Billy Wilder and Stephen King and Neil Young and reptiles and then we played a game that I didn't know the name of so we called it 'Fat Erica' and laughed ourselves deep into the Hollywood night.

LA has a way of being chilled and casual yet at the same time, a million things happen all at once. A thousand things happened in LA and only a few of them were in the company of Matt and Tina, it's just that they happened to be the most memorable.

Care to share?

Saturday 28 December 2013

The Word 'No' Makes You An Artist

No, I will not dumb this down.

No, I will not wear that.

No, I don't believe in sharing that message.

That's powerful. Are you all about taking the pay check, or do you stand for something?

In the long term, the artist's dream is to tell the stories they want to tell with the resources and expertise they need to do it properly.

While you're building towards that level, your decisions and actions, every day, shape the artist you're becoming.

Don't let success, or lack thereof, dictate whether you'll do something in this industry. Who you are and what you decide speaks volumes, and defines who you are as an artist.

Care to share?

Where are the artists?

I think it's important to make art. It's important to write when you have something to say, to paint when there's a feeling you want to express. Art is an exploration, sometimes it's great, sometimes, not so much. 

But that's art. You don't get it right every time. Nor should you. It wouldn't be art if you got it right every time. 

That's the problem with Hollywood, they are so scared of getting it wrong that they spend as much money as they can, making sure they have enough big name actors and enough explosions. They cram the films full of everything that has worked in the past, in the hopes it will work again.

And y'know what, it usually does work again. At least, in a business sense. People like those explosions and they like the predictability. 

That's been the Catch 22 that I've been trying to figure out for quite a few years now -- figuring out where I see myself in an industry that champions uninspired bullshit. 

Not that 'indepedent' or 'art' necessarily means the films will be any better. Bullshit is created in every area of the industry. 

What I realise for me is that 'the industry' is not what I'm interested in, it has never been what I'm interested in. I'm just interested in telling stories, and in seeing other people tell great stories. And if someone can do that in a great movie, I'd love to see it. But equally, if they can achieve that in a two minute YouTube video, then I'm happy watching that too. 

Historically speaking, I would say that I love the cinema. I love what cinema has given us. It gave us Chaplin's tramp, it gave us 'Jaws' and it gave us Forrest Gump. But in recent years, there's been nothing of the kind.

I have been gradually falling out of love with the movies, it's been a slow progression which probably began around the time this blog started, but has really picked up pace in the past year or so and largely accounts for why I've been so quiet here. I've not felt like a 'kid in the front row', I've felt like the cynical guy sitting by the isle, wanting to get up and leave. 

But what I really want, is to stick around. Because my point of view is a valid one. And my point of view is that nothing beats a great piece of cinema, the problem is that it's just SO RARE. What gets a film made is not a great script, or an inspired artist. What gets a film made is marketability, safety, derivative stories. 

It's hard to make art. Even when you're starting out, people say 'how will you market it?', 'how will you make money?', 'how will you attract a star?'. 

Those questions have nothing to do with art. 

Film has always had to strike a balance between art and business, but I don't think there's a balance anymore. Most young filmmakers don't want to be artists. Most actors aren't thinking about what kind of work they're going to put into the world, they just want a job, a role. 

And I get it, we all need to work. But where are the people who have higher goals? The people who are in the industry because they have something to say, and see cinema as the way of saying it? 

And by 'something to say', I don't mean necessarily mean some political statement or life-changing point of view. A romantic comedy can have something to say. The great films say something about us, as humans, about who we are and what we're going through. 

My friend Darren sent me an article from the BBC a few days ago, it's the same one that gets written every year, about how the Hollywood system is in trouble, how the blockbuster paradigm may be dead.  Am I the only one who thinks: GREAT!!!?

Don't get me wrong, I'd hate to see people out of work. All those names you see in the credits of those blockbusters, they're hard-working, unsung heroes, and they deserve to be employed and deserved to get paid what they do, if not more. 

But in terms of the ART. If the blockbusters were no more, I'd be extremely happy. They don't mean ANYTHING. A sea of vapid bullshit that dulls the mind. 

And I know I know I know, there are zillions of people who love this stuff. 

I'm not one of them. 

Films are mostly bad, these days. I know that's what people say with every passing generation, but this time I feel it may actually be true. The great writers have flocked to TV and created their own shows - and future innovators will turn to the web, because that's where they get to make ART. 

Cinema, as an art form, is in trouble. But I have to say; I'm happy about that. This trouble is what might, eventually, save it. 

Care to share?

Sunday 27 October 2013

STEPHEN MERCHANT - Writer/Director/Actor Interview

His new show is the HBO comedy 'HELLO LADIES'. His old shows include titles you may recognise, like 'THE OFFICE' and 'EXTRAS'. Along with Ricky Gervais he also created one of my favourite films, the subtle and brilliant 'CEMETERY JUNCTION'. 

Not only is STEPHEN MERCHANT one of my favourite comedy writer/directors, we also like a lot of the same stuff , which is precisely why I began this interview with Bruce Springsteen and Billy Wilder. 

We are both huge Bruce Springsteen fans. The great thing about his music is that he has a song for every mood, for every thing you could be going through. Which song of his are you relating to most at the moment?

I don’t know that I’m relating to it directly but I’ve been enjoying a fairly minor Bruce song called ‘I Wish I Were Blind’. Bruce is a very filmic songwriter, he creates vivid scenes that feel cinematic, particularly on albums like Born To Run. On ‘I Wish I Were Blind’ the lyrics - “I wish I were blind when I see you with your man” - immediately create an image of a lonely man forlornly watching the woman he still loves with her new guy. It’s such economical and evocative writing. It’s very inspiring when you’re writing scripts, which also have to be tight and to-the-point.

I think 'The Apartment' is the greatest film ever - I watch it regularly and have blogged about it here extensively and I know it's one of your favourites -- how do you manage to be influenced by someone like Billy Wilder without outright stealing? 

I’m influenced by everything in one way or another. Picasso supposedly said “steal from the best.” I think that’s good advice.  Woody Allen freely admits that he has stolen from Bergman, Chaplin, Keaton. There are only a limited number of story telling techniques, everything is a variation on what has gone before. All you can bring are the specifics of your experience and worldview and bolt them on to the formulas. Is 'The Apartment' the first romantic comedy to have one of the protagonists running through the streets on New Year’s Eve to be with the person they’ve just realized they’re in love with? I don’t know… but they did the exact same ending twenty-five years later in When Harry Met Sally and it’s just as effective, because the rest of the film is so good and you’re invested in the characters and their lives.

A recent theme on the blog has been longevity, about how long it takes to become successful. Could you share a little bit about your own journey, the failures, the near misses? 

I was lucky. I knew what I wanted to do from a young age. A lot of people drift through the education system, thinking that real life will start when they’ve finished their studies but I figured out early on that I would never have more free time and opportunity than when my parents were still paying the bills. So while at school I was in plays, I worked at a local radio station, I was writing stories and scripts, trying to teach myself how to do it. Then at university I was involved in student radio, I made short films, I took a comedy sketch show to the Edinburgh festival. 

After uni, I did more radio, started doing stand-up, wrote for a local magazine. I was very hard working and tenacious and always looking to get experience, learn from people, try a bit of everything. Basically to put myself in a position where an opportunity might arise. And when the opportunities did arise, I was ready. There are no ads in the job centre for writers or comedians or actors, so you have to muscle your way in and prove yourself to people.

How does it feel now looking back at 'The Office'? The UK has a proud tradition of incredible comedies, like 'Only Fools and Horses' and 'Fawlty Towers' - you are now a part of that. How does it feel to know you created something which means so much to people? 

Like I say, that was my ambition from a young age, so it’s very satisfying. I’m not doing something for the benefit of mankind like a doctor or a scientist but I still think there’s some small value in comedy. It forces us to laugh at ourselves and that’s a good thing. 

I feel like your show, 'Hello Ladies', and Ricky Gervais' 'Derek' -- they're not always judged on their own merits, but rather, how they compare to the greatest hits. Do you find that difficult? 

I’m reminded of a quote by the novelist Joseph Heller : “When I read something saying I've not done anything as good as Catch-22 I'm tempted to reply, "Who has?"”
The Office took on a life of it’s own that was beyond our control. It was influential and it reached a lot of people but I can’t set out to repeat that success because I don’t really know how it happened the first time. I try and make things that appeal to me, just like I did with The Office. I hope lots of people enjoy them but I don’t chase that.

'Hello Ladies' is hilarious, but depressing to me. I have always expected my failure with women to end suddenly when I'm a successful, LA-based writer/director. Is that not going to be the case? 

It shouldn’t depress you because 1. the season isn’t over yet, so you don’t how Stuart’s fortunes might change. And 2. I’m not playing myself in the show. Believe me, life as a successful writer/director is just fine.

Even though I absolutely loved 'The Office' and 'Extras' - the moment I realised you are truly among my favourite writer/directors was when I saw 'Cemetery Junction'. It's one of those rare movies that I can watch again and again and again. Did your prior success mean that it was easier to make a movie that you wanted to make, or was it difficult to get it funded and distributed? 

It was relatively easy to get it made, yes, but I realized afterwards that the problem with Cemetery Junction was that it wasn’t an easy sell to audiences. With movies, you need a clean, simple idea to market to people : for instance The Hangover. “Some men get drunk in Vegas and lose their friend.” Simple, funny idea. Whereas Cemetery Junction was kind of vague. You have to watch the film to understand what it’s about. 

I would even enjoy 'Cemetery Junction' as just an audio file through my headphones, the soundtrack is that good. My favourite song in the film is 'The Rain Song' by Led Zeppelin -- did you always know you were going to use it in that way? It's really beautifully done --- I often get out the DVD just to watch that scene -- it's wonderfully edited --- reminds me of 'Tiny Dancer' in Cameron Crowe's 'Almost Famous', it took a track I already loved and made me appreciate it on a whole new level. 

The hope when you’re using music in a film or TV is that you can invest it with new meaning and let it work in tandem with the images. We had Led Zep in Cemetery Junction from an early cut and were very lucky to get permission from them to use it. If we’d had to replace it with score it wouldn’t have worked as well. I’m very pleased with the music in Hello Ladies too, which is a lot of soft rock from the 70s and 80s. We imagined this was the sort of music that Stuart associated with adulthood and glamour when he heard his parent’s playing it while growing up.

You've mentioned in many interviews your love for Woody Allen's work. Have you met him? 

I have met him only briefly to shake his hand. There was no real conversation. It was way more significant for me than it was for him.

How do you like to write? Where are you? What are you listening to? How do you get 'into the zone'? 

I normally write with other people, either Ricky or in the case of Hello Ladies, two US writers, Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky. So we sit in an office and just slowly hammer it out. There’s no time to sit around and get in the zone or wait for inspiration. You just have to meet and work everyday until it’s finished. Half way through every project Ricky inevitably says : “Is it always this hard?” And I say “Yes, it always is.”

HBO is seen as the perfect place to have your own show - their record in recent years for great TV is astounding. What is it that is so great about them, and how do they help you achieve your creative vision? 

They hire you because they trust that you know what you’re doing. Unlike a lot of people in the entertainment industry, they don’t assume that they know better. So they discuss things with you and they have ideas but they don’t dictate. They let you take the project where you want it to go.

You have made bold decisions in the past in terms of the life-span of your TV shows -- keeping them to only a couple of seasons -- do you expect the same with 'Hello Ladies', or could you see it lasting for much longer?

It’s up to HBO but there are lots of places to explore because it’s about relationships. So in theory you could have Stuart get into a relationship, move in with someone, get married, have a kid. It could run and run.

By doing more stand-up and acting in recent years, you have become a lot more recognisable. What is the most difficult thing about fame? 

When we first started writing The Office we could sit in cafes and pubs and listen in on conversations or watch people for inspiration. It’s harder to do that now and that’s a shame.

When you're not being creative - what are you up to? how do you relax? 

I’m lucky that I turned my hobby into a career. So when I’m not working I like being out in the real world, with friends, living a real life instead of making up fictional ones.

What's next? 

At the moment I’m just waiting to find out if HBO want to do another season of Hello Ladies. If so, I’d start work on that very soon. 

Care to share?

Sunday 20 October 2013

David Jason's Autobiography - A Lesson in Longevity

For those of you in the USA, you might not know who he is. But here in the U.K., he's television royalty.

We love him for many reasons, but mostly for 'Del Boy' in "Only Fools and Horses". I feel happy just thinking about that show. Makes me feel all warm and English and proud.

And I've not even got to the part in the book where he talks about the show. I'm still reading about his humble upbringing, the embarrassing auditions, his struggles with women and his insecurities about never having gone to drama school.

Did you know he was offered a role in "Dad's Army" which was then retracted only hours later? Did you know he was in a TV show with three Pythons in the 1960's? The show was called "Do Not Adjust Your Set".

Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones were all on the show, but they got frustrated by the limits of children's TV; creatively stifled by the producers and the censors, so they left after two seasons.

And David Jason was left bitter, jealous and unemployed. Everyone was off making "Monty Python" and "Dad's Army", and he was NOWHERE.

But isn't it funny when you have hindsight. When you realise that David Jason on "Monty Python" would have meant no "Open All Hours" for him, and no Derek Trotter.

The year the Python's ditched him was 1969. Seven years before "Open All Hours", twelve years before "Only Fools and Horses". Makes you realise how long a career takes.

I wonder if it's a modern problem for people to want success so immediately. Everyone seems so depressed that they don't have their own "Only Fools and Horses", yet they don't seem willing to pay their dues to get there. How many years of failures have you had? How many times have you nearly got an opportunity only to see it swept away from underneath you?

And paying your dues isn't about doing enough for other people, it's not about doing what you've got to do to deserve something, it's about what needs to happen for you to be GOOD ENOUGH.

I was reading some comments on Twitter earlier, where a heap of people were ripping a famous actor to pieces -- full of criticism, judgement and hate. Some of them were actually actors themselves. They just don't GET IT, they don't realise that what they're saying comes from a place of jealousy. The person they're bullying is in that position because of years of industrious hard work. 

Paying your dues means staying up late; it means reading, it means extra rehearsals, it means missing the party, it means twenty years. You can be that actress who bitches about how crap Keira Knightley is, or you can realise she had ten years of credits even before "Bend It Like Beckham", and you can be aware enough to know she's a better actor than you are. 

"Only Fools and Horses", "A Touch Of Frost", the OBE, they weren't accidents. They're the result of dedication, of longevity, of a man who worked tirelessly at his craft. Who failed more times than most of us have dared to try. David Jason, you're my hero and I'm not even halfway through your book yet. 

Lovely Jubbly. 

Care to share?

Saturday 7 September 2013

The Longevity Factor: Your Acting Career Is Not What You Think It Is

Recently I watched a film from the 80's, 'Turf Turf' starring James Spader and Robert Downey Jr. Spader was the lead. Later on Downey would get the Oscars and the franchises, but for a time, James Spader was the man. 

And I watched 'Say Anything' and 'Singles', where we see tiny parts for Jeremy Piven. He was fun, he was engaging on screen. But he wasn't Ari from 'Entourage.' It just wasn't his time yet -- twenty years would have to pass. 

If we're gonna stick with the Cameron Crowe theme, I also re-watched 'Fast Times At Ridgemont High'. So many of those actors, you say; 'where the hell are they now?' But Nicholas Cage is one of the biggest movie stars in the world. 

But wait, Nicholas Cage was in 'Fast Times..'? Yes, as an extra, just like how Paul Giamatti had one line in 'Singles'. 

Some actors peak early. Ione Skye was perfect as Diane Court. But who would have thought 'Say Anything' would be the pinnacle for her? Who knew John Cusack would go on to have such a great career? 

It's like when I'm making a film, some actors that know me get offended that I only had a role for them with two lines, whereas someone else got the lead. 

But two lines is two lines and twenty five years from now might be your time, when you wouldn't even do my movie because you're too big for me; you're an Oscar winner who commands twenty million a flick. 

But in the immediacy of right now, everyone is racing to reach the top - the top seemingly being the most lines, the biggest amount of pay. 

Paul Giamatti is a bigger actor than Campbell Scott now. But in 1992, when 'Singles' came out - Scott was the right person for the role, and Giamatti was light years from 'Sideways'.

Just like Forest Whitaker in 'Fast Times..' He was hardly memorable, but he did a good job. Thing is, you just wouldn't have given him a leading role then because he wasn't the Forest Whitaker we grew to know and love -- he was just a fairly anonymous actor learning his trade, struggling for roles. 

Actors size themselves up against each other. They get jealous that Marie is a regular on a sitcom, and that Fred got cast in new Ricky Gervais film. But when you look at the bigger picture, there's no need to get jealous in the short term - because someone else's career has nothing to do with your own.

Right now you might think you know what Felicity Jones' career is about, or Jennifer Lawrence, but they rarely work out how you think they will. There was a time when Kyra Sedgwick was in absolutely everything - but now the 90's are gone and times move on. 

And Jeremy Piven did enough tiny roles that eventually, he broke through. I mean, there are different levels of breaking through. But for years he had only two lines in movies. Then he played the best friend sidekick in movies like 'The Family Man' and 'Serendipity'.

That is already great success. 

But then 'Entourage' happened. And you think you know what his career is about and then he gets 'Mr. Selfridge.' Wow. 

What a great career! 

And what looked like struggling in the eighties wasn't struggling, it was the path. The struggling WAS the path. Struggling IS the path. 

You don't just walk into a great role. And sometimes you do, like Patrick Fugit in 'Almost Famous', but where's he now? He just has Cameos in Cameron Crowe movies. 

Right now someone is a superstar, and somebody else is nobody. But that has absolutely no bearing on where they'll be twenty years from now. 

It's a roller-coaster. Maybe it's your time right now, maybe it isn't. At the time of 'Jerry Maguire' it looked like Jay Mohr would be a major actor - but eventually the roles dried up and he stayed with stand-up comedy and, eventually, podcasting. 

The point I am making is that a career is long. James Spader has a fantastic career, filled with truly memorable roles. But it panned out differently to how it might have looked when they shot 'Turf Turf' back in 1985. 

And Robert Downey Jr had talent in that film. But did he stand out above Spader? Well no, not really. You wouldn't have known that seven years after that he'd get an Academy Award. Or that twenty-three years later he'd be Iron Man!

You don't need to guess at your career. You don't need to have it all figured out and you don't need to win an Oscar tomorrow. You just need to get better at your craft. If you're eighteen or twenty six or thirty-two, you might feel like now is the time. But maybe you're not Felicity Jones, you're not Ryan Gosling. Maybe you're Tom Wilkinson. You're Eddie Marsan. Maybe your career is landing in a different way, in a different time. 

It's a craft. And sure, there's luck involved. But if the history of film teaches us anything- it's that it takes time. 

You career is not what you think it is. The way it is now is just the way it is now, tomorrow is a whole different ballgame. 

Care to share?

Tuesday 3 September 2013


"Now I have already mentioned that there was a disturbance in my heart, a voice that spoke there and said, I want, I want, I want! It happened every afternoon, and when I tried to suppress it got even stronger. It said only one thing, I want, I want! And I would ask, 'What do you want?' But this is all it would ever tell me." 
-Henderson The Rain King

So, I really want to watch an episode of 'Seinfeld'. Specifically, I want to watch episode 22 from season 5, 'The Opposite', because it's such a classic and I'm just in the mood for it. 

And I'm also working my way through 'Frasier' again, so there's that too. 

But my brain is giving me such a hard time. On the one hand, I think watching these masterpieces of comedy is good for me as a writer, but on the other hand, my brain is telling me to branch out and watch some sci-fi or something. 

But on the other hand (this is now my third hand, which either means I am an alien or that you think I'm referring to rude body parts) who gives a shit what is good for me as a 'writer', how about just chilling out for an evening and watching what the fuck I want to watch?

But my brain doesn't work like that, not anymore. In fact, in many ways I doubt it works at all. It's just a big jumble. I want to watch a film but I want to write a film but I want to watch a sitcom but I want to go and have a great random day out in the sunshine but 3 ]pokwegop]jrw pi4q[rnwp]w4 (that is my brain spazzing out).

I don't even know what I want anymore. 

I want to write the best script I've ever written.

But how? Should I first get a killer idea? 

Or should I just write and write because many writers just write and write? 

Or should I watch a sitcom. 

Or should I watch a crime thriller.

Or should I go surfing. 

I don't know anymore. I have no clue where I am or what I'm meant to be doing. 

And you'll give me advice. Like, 'go write,' or 'go take a girl out' or 'go surfing' and I'll be all adamant that you're WRONG because it's up to ME and not YOU. So fuck you. 

But I need you. 

I need you to tell me what to do without me knowing you're telling me what to do because right now I am sinking in my own lost confusion. 

'I want I want I want' just like Henderson The Rain King. My heart screams for so many things all at once in so many corners of life, the world, my mind. I want everything all at once and I am utterly, utterly paralysed. 

Care to share?

Sunday 18 August 2013

A 'LIFE' Sentence

I re-watched the film 'LIFE' (1999, Dir. Ted Demme). And it's a film I've always loved. When you have great comedic talents like Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, all you need is a good concept for them to wrap their brains around and a director to give them a playground to work their magic in -- and that's exactly what 'Life' was.

That's what I love about Eddie Murphy, just seeing him go, seeing him riff on ideas. The guy is hilarious. And I know he's seen as one of the comedy greats, but still I think people don't realise just how exceptional he is.

And sure, people talk about how Murphy's career has nosedived, but to me, his career is HUGELY impressive. How many actors can sustain such a high level for thirty years?

Give Murphy a decent box of toys (a script, a good director and a talented cast) and he'll still produce the goods. Same for Martin Lawrence.

It just so happened that we were a little more lighthearted in the 90's. No-one would claim they're classics, but 'Life', 'Bowfinger', Nothing To Lose', these movies are endlessly re-watchable, full of hilarious moments.

But what gets me about 'Life', is that I've known this film for 14 years. In the movie, Murphy and Lawrence are serving life sentences for a crime they didn't commit. Just as we get comfortable, there's a flash-forward to '12 Years Later'. When that happens in a movie, it just seems like a cheap device, but then you realise, your life works in exactly the same way.

Your life flashes forward twelve years in a heartbeat. The characters in the movie age and so do you.

And it flashes forward again, and we see shots of characters evaporating, indicating that they've passed on. And one of those was a character called Jangle Leg, played by Bernie Mac. And it makes you realise how much you miss Bernie Mac, another unique talent who died way too young.

You look at Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence and Bernie Mac, and you see a bunch of guys having a great time, making a great movie, and they're in the prime of their lives. And I bet they didn't even know it. Most obviously, of course, they didn't know Bernie's time here with us would evaporate so soon.

Life flashes by 12 years at a time. And just as soon as you've gotten used to that fact it flashes forward another 24 years. You may think  the age you are now is the age you are now, but a blink of an eye and the decades just fall away.

In 'Life', they're imprisoned, but you and me, we're free. At least that's the idea, but how much have you changed or grown in the last 12 years? It's shocking to me how, in so many ways, I am exactly the same, making the same mistakes; holding myself back in exactly the same way as I did in 1999. We don't need big metal bars, we all have our own prisons-- our own limitations, be they psychological, environmental, financial. I look at the same dumb errors I make in relationships, in my career, the same fears and roadblocks in my life that are put up by nobody but me.

You can want any life you want but if you don't change your habits, if you don't work on your limitations, you're nowhere, stuck in a life sentence. 

And it's all over in a second. 

Care to share?

Sunday 21 July 2013

Experience is crucial

When you're younger, it's easy just to think of it as a concept, a series of ticked boxes. But experience is the most important thing you have, and you steadily build it over an extended period of time.

I have a level of confidence now in regard to writing and directing that I didn't have before -- it's the result of being on a long journey.

I always knew I was in it for the long haul, and now I'm really beginning to see its advantages.

Many of my friends are in a similar position, reaching heights professionally, creatively, financially, that are the result of building their talent and knowledge over a long period of time.

Some people go stale, some get beaten down by the toughness of the industry. But if you survive, you get to flourish, because no-one has the experience you have.

Care to share?

Thursday 11 July 2013


"The main thing I tell young musicians is, don't lie to yourself, don't ever lie to yourself -- you know when you're not practicing, you know when you're not doing what it is you need to do. All of that stuff shows up in your playing. 

I tell my students all the time, it's okay if you don't practice, you don't have to practice, but rest assured that there's somebody your age somewhere around the planet, practicing. And if you're lucky you're going to run into them. And when you run into them, don't be angry, don't be jealous. 

All you have to do is just stay on your game, it's a daily thing, we're not asking you to try accomplish it all in one day or one week or one month, it's a lifelong process. 

The main thing is: don't lie to yourself, work hard every day, and make sure that you're always trying to just chip away at something that you're trying to develop, and keep your mind open and clear -- open to new things. Don't become set in your ways, there's no one way to do this."

Film Composer Credits Include: 'MALCOLM X', '25TH HOUR', 'WHEN THE LEVEES BROKE' and 'RED TAILS'. He has also been nominated for 12 Grammy Awards, winning 5 times. 

Care to share?

Friday 5 July 2013

Interview With Actor TARA SUMMERS

I think TARA SUMMERS is an extremely talented actress. Perhaps best known for her role as Katie Lloyd in 'BOSTON LEGAL', she has also starred in numerous episodes of 'DAMAGES' and 'RINGER'. More recently, she appeared in the movie 'HITCHCOCK' and delivered a heartbreaking, scene-stealing performance in the pilot episode of 'MONDAY MORNINGS'. 

This isn't an interview so much as it is an in depth conversation about the harsh realities and exciting highs of being a working actor in LA. Tara is currently performing in the play 'Yes, Prime Minister' and  will shortly be appearing on your screens in the pilot 'Rake', alongside Greg Kinnear. She also makes her tea strong, and then adds in a lot more milk after. 

Where in LA can you get a really good cup of English tea, is there anywhere? 

My house. 

Your house -- Is that the only place? 

I would say, yeah. I’ve yet to find good tea here. There’s a plethora of coffee shops but yeah, no tea.

How long have you been there now? 

About eight years. 

Do you have English brands around, like PG tips or – 

Oh yeah—yeah.  And PG Decaf I found the other day which is really exciting. 

I have some of the decaf stuff just because I don’t sleep very much, so I try to do the decaf thing. 

I’m doing this play at the moment so my sleep schedule is a bit fucked, so it’s better to not have too much caffeine. 

Let’s talk about the play! This is ‘Yes, Prime Minister’, right? 


How’s it going? 

It’s going well, it’s really fun, really challenging. Doing a play versus doing TV and film is a whole other ball game. But we’ve had a virtually full house every night. And it’s a two a half hour play so it’s quite physically and mentally exhausting. Jonathan Lynn is a genius, and the writing is so good, my part is so fun – so it’s a joy.

What is the hardest part about being on stage – is it just that you’ve gotten used to being on the screen? 

Yeah, it’s that. It’s the fact that you’ve got live bodies in front of you, and you get that feedback instantly of the impression you’re making. In a sense you have far more control than when you’re in films or on TV cause you do your bit then you may end up on the cutting room floor,  and with this you know the trajectory of your part and you know it’s going to be there, so you have that freedom – but it’s so exposing.

Tara with the cast of 'Yes, Prime Minister'

How does it feel when you mess up,  or when it doesn’t work or when you don’t get a laugh—

--Well initially,  the first week, our dress rehearsal was amazing—it was an invited dress, and all these veterans came to see it and they loved it and were applauding it after certain bits,  and we thought, oh my god, we’re crushing it, we’re so good – and then the night before opening it was one of the worst performances and no-one laughed, which was so demoralising.

But then you realise, we’re actually doing the same thing every night, so it’s really to do with like, what day of the week it is,  if people are a bit pissed before they come in, y’know – so it’s just interesting to see the differences in audiences and not take it too personally. And sometimes you’re funny and sometimes you’re just not funny. 

And also you get that thing where you’ll think the audience didn’t enjoy it but then afterwards everyone is telling you how incredible you were –


Let’s talk about Boston Legal, I loved the show – 

James Spader came last night to see the play. 

Have you seen much of him since the end of the show? 

We used to a lot, but schedules and he’s been in New York while I’ve been here and stuff, so I don’t see him nearly as much as I’d like to – and he’s got a new pilot that’s just got picked up, he was my buddy on the show. 

Tell me what it’s like to work with the material of David Kelley. I know it’s  such a typical question but, tell me a bit about it—

At the time I knew he was a genius, but with hindsight you can see his genius even more. And doing another one of his shows, ‘Monday Mornings’ he’s so--- how to phrase this the right way------ I think he’s one of the best writers in the world.

His gift for dialogue and characters is extraordinary., but then what was so amazing about ‘Boston Legal’ was that every week  it was so current and so topical and so poignant and so relevant. 

He’s not a particularly social person, David, he likes to keep himself to himself, he lives up in Palo Alto. I’ve only met him a few times but I like him so much, I actually think he’s a genius, I’m a huge fan. 

Tara and her co-stars on 'Boston Legal'

Was he not heavily involved on the set? 

No, never. Bill D’Elia was.

I interviewed Bill, and I was interested in how their relationship worked, but as you say, Bill is the guy on the set and David is not so involved at that point.

No, he’s behind the scenes. He’ll send the script and then Bill sort of takes over. 

How was it being on ‘Monday Mornings’ , because it’s a different kind of show, right?

It was fascinating actually, and really fun to go back and see all the crew, as David always hires the same people., crew-wise.  There was a whole new cast – and I was thinking, who are all these people? Like, where’s John Larroquette and Candice Bergen?  This doesn’t make any sense! 

But I thought that show was very good., but it struggled on that network. Did you read the book by any chance? 

No,  I didn’t, no.

Great book.

It’s such a shame because, ‘Monday Mornings’ and his other show, ‘Harry’s Law’—


They don’t last at the moment,  do they – but it’s some of the best stuff on TV, which is really such a frustrating thing. 

It’s all about numbers and ratings, and they don’t give them much time to breath and find their feet. They’re ruthless out here, they really are, ruthless. 

One thing I was curious about, on ‘Boston Legal’, for example, there was such a huge turnaround of cast members – like at the start of a new season there would be all these new people and then, after six episodes or—sometimes even less than that you would not see people again – did you ever fear that, and think, ‘Oh God I may only be here for three episodes’ or did you feel confident you’d be around as long as you were?  

I was never confident of anything. There was always the knowledge that when David doesn’t have anything left for you to do, he fires you, which keeps you on tenterhooks. But I think I was always so excited to be there and so grateful that I would take whatever I could get. 

I remember when I first got on the show, I had a hair and make-up meeting – and they said, how do you want your hair? And I said “Oh I don’t mind, anything, just don’t make it curly,” and they went, “okay, we’re going to make it curly then,” and I went, “okay great thank you so much!” I was so excited to have a job – like so honoured to be there, and I ended up looking like whatever I looked like in the first few episodes, with that stupid curly hair. 

It was an hour and a half commute to get there every morning, but I was so excited. So I don’t think I ever thought about getting fired I was just –

So excited – 

Yeah, exactly. 

You’ve done quite a lot of short films – there’s a few on YouTube, the Ukrainian thing, and ‘Pillow Talk’, I saw that – and ‘Stephany & Me’ which I’ve only just seen – how do you get involved in those kinds of things and what makes you want to do them?

Shorts are great, because they take a small amount of time and commitment – in terms of for the actors. The Ukraine one, he makes them for twenty dollars I think,  so that was just super fun to be a part of. ‘Pillow Talk’, was for a friend from University, and ‘Stephany & Me’ is a mate from drama school.  So whenever we’re sort of bored around here we always come up with ideas for shorts – 

‘Stephany & Me’ did rather well. It won Palm Springs short film festival – and that was actually a true story, I don’t know if you watched it..?


Oh, well yeah—he was having a terrible time dating, and then he actually fell in love with a Japanese masseuse who didn’t speak any English. 

Wow. I loved the film because in your scenes, it was so natural and awkward. 

It was all improvised. 

Ah that’s why. 


So did you shoot it with a few cameras or –

Yeah, we shot it in two directions at the same time. 

It was painfully natural, I’ve had so many of them conversations – 

[laughs] Any blind date situation – it is just painfully awkward at times, because you feel the need to fill silences, well I do. 

Full short film: 'Stephany & Me' 

The actors that I know who are coming up who are perhaps not having the success they want – they have so much rejection, and I think people don’t realise that, at any level in your career there is still rejection --  I was wondering if you could share a little bit about how you still face those kind of things now in your career? I would imagine you do. 

What do you mean, still? Every day, all the time!  

I know! 

Yes, no—uh--- it doesn’t get any— I wonder if it gets any easier.  It’s such a weird career because it’s not linear. Well it is sort of linear.  But people can just shoot to stardom overnight, and it’s not always about talent. 

And the nature of having to reapply for your own job, which you’re more than qualified to do, every week or so, unless you’re in a series, is um--- I think the more I get to do short films or I get behind the scenes and do producing stuff, and I’m involved in the casting process, the more I see it’s not that personal. 

It has little to do with you not being good enough, but you not being the right shape, size, match to somebody else – so that’s made me less disheartened by the whole thing, because you realise they have a very specific thing they’re looking for and very often producers and directors have little imagination, and if you’re not what they’re looking for specifically, then you don’t even stand a chance, no matter how great you are. 

I think you have to have a thick skin. If you don’t, you’re in the wrong industry because it’s soul destroying half the time. And then when it’s great it’s so great, and the pay-off is, y’know, worth it. 

I wouldn’t advise anyone to want to be an actor really. If I had kids and they wanted to be an actor, I’d say please find anything else to do,  anything else. 

No but then you’d be one of those parents, the non-supportive – I think everyone needs that support. 

That’s true. 

So where did you get your support as an actor? I think everyone needs that someone in their lives, whether it’s parents or an aunt or someone in the industry. What has been your sort of support system?

Well my parents have always been very supportive of that, and I’ve always wanted to be an actress my whole life.  My Dad always said you can you can you can but you need to get an education first.  And I’m really happy that he drummed that in me because I went to university and studied history – it gives me more perspective I think, having a really well rounded education really is valuable anyway. 

And I sort of grew up in the movie industry because my Mum’s boyfriend, most of my life, is a director. 


I used to come to LA as a kid and my Mum was friends with lots of actors  and things, so I’ve been very exposed to the film world and nurtured in that way – her friends were super supportive of me. 

I think that helps, because half the battle is, I think, demystifying what it is. Like if someone is going to go to LA for the first time, it’s like; what is it? What do I do? 


Having that upbringing and being around it would help you a lot I imagine. 

Yeah, and having my Mum here and she’s always been here off and on. I came to visit her and I indirectly ended up getting a job and staying, but I didn’t think ‘oh I’m now going to pack it all up and move to LA’, it just kind of happened by default. 

Do you feel as creative when you’re in the UK?

Oh, do I feel as creative? 

I find it can be a drain here, but when I’m in America I feel there are a lot more people like me.  I was wondering if you have the same experience.

I feel that, I don’t know if this still applies but one of the reasons why I was excited to go and study in America for University is that I always had the sense that in England you can say to someone, “where are you from?” and depending on the answer you’ve automatically pigeonholed them, their socioeconomic status, where they grew up, what school they went to---- in America the question is not normally where are you from, it’s like, what do you want to do? Where are you going? It literally is the cliché of the land of opportunity --- it’s possible here.

I think creativity gets nurtured more here than perhaps it does there. Certainly with like the schooling I had, the drama teachers I had in America versus the ones I had in England were far more supportive. But England is hard. But I love it! It’s my favourite. 

It’s the only place to get a good cup of tea so---

Yeaaah! I mean I’m English so, my parents are English, I’m English through and through, so I’ll fight for England till the death but it’s perhaps a little easier to work over here than there.

What’s your tea-making technique? How do you do it?

I make it really strong and then with lots of milk.

I get that, so it’s well-brewed basically,  and then you add the milk that you want-- 

And then I add milk at the end.  And I normally have it with toast and Marmite. Or HobNobs. 

Is HobNobs an American thing?  Or is it an English thing?

They’re English and they’re a bit stale by time they get here.  But I just found a shop that sells Curly Wurlys as well. 

Do you want to do more movies? 



Yeah I seem to have a lot of luck in television, and the series’ take up most of the year so it provides little time to do films. There’ve been a bunch of projects that I’d have loved to have done but it conflicted with the TV stuff. It’s a question of when, hopefully. 

Would you like to do exclusively movies, or—

I’d actually like to do a lot more theatre. 

You’ve written and directed for the stage as well---

Yeah. And I really—I don’t prefer it, I just love the whole process of it. I’m happy working in---- I’m happy working, whatever medium it is. If I could be so lucky as to do more plays, more films and then have a great television series ---- the one I’m about to do with Greg Kinnear I think is gonna be—

--Oh I saw that! It looks great, what’s that about?

It’s created by Peter Duncan who created an Australian series called ‘Rake.’ I don’t know if it’s on in England – it’s in its third series and it’s really good. He’s adapted it for American television but it’s essentially the same thing, about a rake, about a degenerate, alcoholic, fucked up lawyer— a brilliant lawyer, played by Greg Kinnear. He takes on cases that no-one would dare touch – and I play his—he doesn’t have an office, he squats in other people’s offices and stuff – and I’m his paralegal who’s in America illegally who overstayed her visa to be with her boyfriend. He’s the only person who would pay me, under the table – so I’m his Nanny stroke assistant stroke… mastermind. 

Have you filmed the pilot?

We did the pilot yeah, and Sam Raimi directed it. 

How is it working with these big actors, people who when you were younger you may have looked up to, like William Shatner, being on set with someone like that – is it daunting in any way?

Yeah. It always is. When I went to audition for ‘Rake’ I got sent to the wrong place by accident, I was on the other side of the city and I had fifteen minutes to get somewhere that was half an hour away  -- I was virtually hysterical by the time I arrived, and it was for a chemistry read with Greg Kinnear. And so I had cried all my make-up off, my nose was bright red – I walked in and he was so nice, he found me outside and bought me a coffee. 

Then we went in and did the chemistry read, I thought I’d fucked up the whole thing and I was never going to get the job. I called my agent and was like, “but Greg Kinnear bought me a coffee!” – And then I got the job, it’s really exciting – Greg Kinnear bought me a coffee and now I get to act with Greg Kinnear. 

Minnie Driver saw the play the other day. I worshipped her when I was at school, ‘Circle Of Friends’ was one of my favourites -- I used to watch over and over again, and to think Minnie Driver is watching me, do you know what I mean?

Absolutely. I don’t think you ever get over that, y’know.


What steps do you take day by day, or month by month, to improve yourself as an actor?

Day by day, make it through the day! Month by month, well, when I’m not working I do classes still. I went back to doing scene study classes with an amazing teacher – and y’know, to do other stuff when you’re not working, revving the motors, oiling the parts, like, musicians have to practice. 

I think I was being a little bit arrogant resting on my oh I’ve been to drama school, I don’t need to keep up the maintenance of it – but it really does help. And just to be working with other actors keeps the juices flowing, do you know what I mean? 


Do you know what I mean?

I totally know what you mean. Do you think you are a better actor than you were five years ago? 

I would hope so.

Yeah, it’s interesting isn’t it.

I think you become more – well the more self-aware you are, the more work you do on yourself the more you know your capabilities – the more you can put that into acting.

Who would you like to work with, who’s on your dream list? 

Meryl Streep.

Meryl Streep.

Meryl Streep. Denzel Washington. Meryl Streep.

…What about Meryl Streep?

And also Meryl Streep.

An obvious question; but why?

Why? She’s the best living actor.

Have you met her?

I have yeah. I auditioned to play her daughter once. I’ve met her a few times. I basically accost her any time I see her out and about.

I think you’ll work with Meryl Streep. What’s she got coming up, what’s happening?

It’s not clear, but I shall investigate.

What about writers – are there any particular writers you’d love to work with?

Writers? I’d love to work with Aaron Sorkin

Who wouldn’t right? I just re-watched ‘The Newsroom’. I was going to watch one episode and then watched the whole thing in three days. 

Woody Allen, obviously. David Mamet, who was in the theatre the other day, that was a joy – to meet him. And then there’s a plethora of directors. But yeah in television --- I think ‘The Newsroom’ is genius. 

It’s starting up again soon isn’t it. 

Yeah I’m very excited. 

So what do you do when you’re not acting? What’s your life like, where do you go what do you do? 




I thought you said trifle. 

I eat a lot of trifle and travel – whilst eating trifle.  My parents are big travellers, big adventurers – so I get a bit of cabin fever so when I’m not working I try and bust a route out of LA and go somewhere new – and every time I come back from going away I get a job – I think you come back with a breath of fresh air y’know. 


I read a lot. 

What are you reading right now? 

‘The Bluecross Conspiracy’, which is about the drug traffickers in the 80’s in Kentucky. It’s random, but interesting. And what else do I like to do? I like to cook, and hang with my friends, y’know, normal stuff. 

Care to share?