MoviesOnline sat down with Bridges and Forster at a roundtable interview to talk about their roles and what it was like working with director Alexander Payne. They told us what they enjoyed most about the directing process, how they were happy to be offered small but complex parts that were essential to the storyline, and why they considered Payne an impressive filmmaker and a strong storyteller. Bridges also discussed his new indie film, “Eden,” and his upcoming return to Broadway in “How to Succeed.” Forster revealed he has a new television show, “Alcatraz,” that begins on the Fox network in January.
Q: You both have these very brief scenes which function as short, sharp shocks to drive the narrative. Is it nice to be the straw that stirs the drink, to read the script and go in and know “I’m not doing much, but what I’m doing is choice”?
RF: Sure. Why go in there and spend a long time doing dopey stuff? Why not go in there and shoot something really good and know it’s good and know the guy who’s putting it together is good, and look what’s happened here. This is the kind of movie where you don’t have to go out and lie to people. You can just say nice stuff that’s true and people like this movie. So how could it be better than this?
BB: I think all the characters in all of Alexander’s stories that he’s told on film are pretty multi-faceted, even the ones like Bob and my characters where we only have a couple of scenes each. We have an evolution there where you watch this person and you think you got it figured out, and then poof, they change. Something happens. I think Alexander seems to be fascinated with the complexity of us humans. I think that’s one of the strengths of his storytelling.
Q: Robert, that scene where we’re watching you through the door and all your pretense and tough guy stuff drops away and you’re just caressing your daughter’s head, it’s so heartbreaking. How do you approach a scene like that?
RF: You know, you internalize who the character is. You internalize what the character knows. There are things that I did not know about my daughter. I’m going on whatever assumptions I might have had and find her blameless. I have daughters. You internalize the character and make sure you understand what the scene is about and then there’s the process that’s not real difficult but it’s what you do. You go in there and you become that for that little moment and some things just occur.
Q: Beau, why did you want to do the picture? You wanted to do it because Clooney was in it and what else?
BB: Well I’d worked with George before on “The Good German” so I knew him. I knew that would be a real plus. He’s a great guy and a wonderful actor. But I really reacted to the story. I wanted to be in this wonderful story. I live in Kauai a lot of the time. I have a home there. I went to the University of Hawaii. I’m aware of the whole issue of indigenous land rights. I liked being a part of telling that part of the story. And then, Alexander Payne, I mean this incredible filmmaker. The guy is golden. Everything he puts out is good. So yeah, I wanted to be a part of it.
Q: There’s a classic idea in dramatic structure that a hero is only as intriguing as his opposition and you both provide the opposition in different ways. Is it nice to know you’re going to be the thing that the hero or protagonist has to overcome?
RF: Yeah, he gives you a big stick to hit with. Again, as you say, these characters are part of the conflict for the central character, and when the scenes are written as well as they are, wow, you get something good to play and that’s on the page. It’s all the more reason for being delighted to get in here and do this movie. You play good scenes and then you go home and let everybody else do what they’re going to do. It’s great to have well written material.
BB: I heard George talk about his character before as a coming of age story for a 50-year-old man and I can see why he says that. And I think, because I was just in there for a couple of scenes, there was a lot about my relationship with George that wasn’t there. So, with Alexander’s blessing, George and I just sat and talked a lot about our background and how we knew each other. I related a lot of it to my nephews who are now in their late 30s and I still think of them as little kids. So I chose to think of George that way. We talked about that. I think that’s part of the illusion for my character is in the end, when George does what I do not want him to do, which is to keep the land and not sell it to make money, to create a park or let it return to the people, I see him for the first time as a man, and I say whoa. You don’t get to see what happens after that but I think it’s an important evolution in the story, for my character, for George. He thinks with his own mind and heart now and I respect him for it and I appreciate him for it.
Q: There are those great moments where the camera pans through the community house and you see all of the ancestors. Did the film make you think about your own mortality which seems to be a very big thread in the film?
RF: Well sure, I’m an old guy getting ready to say goodbye to everybody and maybe I won’t be the last one either because there’s my wife and my daughter. These are things that you face in your own life, of course. I’m actually not really worried about those things. Here I figure I’ve got another couple of innings. This guy gave me a couple of innings in my career. (to Beau) You too. But I was hoping that I would find a little more distance and here it comes. So you never know what’s going to happen. And in my own life as an actor, this thing is a big thing. This guy that I was playing, of course, had a lot less to look forward to.
Q: Alexander said he likes actors who seem like full and complete human beings. There is a lot of typecasting and actors these days that we think of as a specific type. Why is that? Is it the writing that has changed or is it the approach to acting?
BB: I noticed some actors, and especially the younger actors, they come into the job with a lot of attention on how they behave and everything when they’re not working, their kind of attitude and stuff. I think sometimes that can be unfortunate because the work call is pretty intense and the preparation for it. And I think if your focus is there, then the actual doing of the job will be fun and enjoyable. But if you’re so involved in trying to be interesting and a character and everything when you’re not working, it can get in the way and people get goofed up.
RF: Typecasting is one of those things which at the beginning of your career at least they know how to hire you. The bigger you get though, the more types they’ll let you play. So typecasting is not a terrible thing, especially in the beginning, when you do something and they say “Well, we know how to hire that guy. Let’s give him another one of those roles.” If you get big enough, you can break through that. It’s not a bad thing.
Q: We always hear about Clooney and all the jokes he plays on the set. Did he play any jokes on either one of you?
RF: No, but there was a lot of fun on the set when I got there. I only stayed a few days on the set, but there is an active crew that shoots the whole picture and they had fun things going on, but none of those practical jokes that I’ve heard about. Alexander ran a wonderful set.
Q: Robert, when you go back to the beginning of your film career, John Huston was your first director and then Haskell Wexler a couple of films after that. Was it just a matter of “I got the job” or was it “Look who I’m getting a chance to work with”?
RF: You get one job after another and the days fly by and you bang out your stuff as quick as you can figure out how to do it. It’s not a job of shooting a whole movie. It’s a job of shooting a few movie shots in a day. Each one is an opportunity for good timing, for understanding what you need to deliver. Each one of those strokes when you get to it in a movie, you want it to have details, so you try to show up understanding where you’re going with this thing, and then you learn things all along that affect and help to define the shots that you hope will help make the movie. At least for me, I didn’t know who John Huston was. I had no idea what a big guy he was. I had no idea what I was doing. I just said to myself “Gee, kids can do it, how hard could it be?” You know, I was going to be a lawyer for no good reason, and then I chased a girl into the auditorium and they were doing a play. I got in the play in order to meet the girl. Later, I married the girl. We had three daughters. I started out without a clue and tried to catch up. It’s all been an extraordinary ride, but when you get to this point in the game and you know that you’re going to work with a really, really good director, it’s a big deal and this makes it even bigger, the fact that it’s well received and it’s what everyone hoped.
Q: What did you enjoy the most about the directing process with Alexander Payne?
BB: Well I think his economy was really to the forefront. Some directors talk too much. When he speaks, he speaks with a lot of knowledge behind it and a lot of vision behind it. He knows what he wants. And also, I loved his joyous disposition. He’s a hard worker but he comes with joy and it was good.
RF: First thing he said to me was “Do you want to shoot your stuff early or late?” You shoot several hours and that’s helpful because some actors do their best stuff right off the bat sometimes, and I like to warm my stuff up. So I told him, if you start on somebody else, start shooting in some other direction, when I’ve warmed it up enough and you hear what you want to hear, turn around and shoot it on me. These are really just practical things that he brought to the set immediately.
Q: Can you talk about what you have coming up next?
RF: I’ve got a job. I’m working on a television show called “Alcatraz” that will come on the Fox Network in January. I’ve actually got something to do.
Q: What kind of role do you play?
RF: I have a small enough role so that I only go up there and shoot a little bit and come home. I run a bar so I’m pretty isolated in that bar set and they didn’t build it right away, so after they had shot several episodes, I went up there to Vancouver and I shot all the bar stuff and came home. What a good gig.
Q: What about you, Beau? What’s coming up next?
BB: I did an independent movie called “Eden” which was about child trafficking, child prostitution based on a true story out of Las Vegas. I played a real SOB. This guy was a county sheriff who ran the biggest child porn prostitution ring in the world sending them all over the place.
RF: Bad guy.
BB: Yeah, real bad guy. The bad guys are fun to play. And then, I’m leaving in a few weeks. I’m stepping in on “How to Succeed” on Broadway for six months.
Q: Have you been on Broadway before?
BB: I was years ago as a young guy. I did a couple of Broadway stints. But I’ve been on the stage since then. But, a musical, I’ve had one brief encounter with “Guys and Dolls” at the Hollywood Bowl. That was frightening. Now I’m scared to get in this one because this is a big call. Abe Burrows, who wrote “Guys and Dolls” and he also wrote “How to Succeed,” he’s a classical author and it’s really a blessing to get to speak those words. It’s the same thing with a guy like Alexander Payne. I mean, every one of his films are little jewels and to be able to be in one of those and to know that it will have a long life – you’re talking about mortality – I’ve always seen making movies as a bunch of little births and deaths. We come in. We don’t know anybody or very few people that we work with, but the nature of the job pulls us into a sort of an intimate kind of relationship and communication and then they’re gone and it’s kind of melancholy. You miss that guy but then suddenly you’re working with him again maybe somewhere.
“The Descendants” opens in theaters on November 18, 2011.