Feature: HollywoodChicago.com’s 15 Best Interviews of 2012

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CHICAGO – The significant HollywoodChicago.com show business interviews of 2012 – eclectic, independent and varied – flowed throughout the year from the perspectives of Matt Fagerholm, Brian Tallerico and Patrick McDonald. All three contribute to this year-end survey of the 15 Best Interviews of 2012.

With so many promotional tours, conventions and shows coming through Chicago, the opportunity to get a wide range of celebrities, filmmakers and up-and-comers is one of the privileges of covering TV and film here. The following interviews – often enhanced with the photography of Joe Arce – were memorable for the timing or circumstance, and the shared give-and-take between HollywoodChicago.com and the representatives of the entertainment world.

StarEmily Hagins

Emily Hagins (center) directs the cast and crew of her third feature, My Sucky Teen Romance.
Emily Hagins (center) directs the cast and crew of her third feature, My Sucky Teen Romance.
Photo credit: Cheesy Nuggets Productions

Interviewer: Matt Fagerholm

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: Some 18-year-olds only dream of becoming a filmmaker. By that age, Austin wunderkind Emily Hagins had already landed a distribution deal for her third feature, “My Sucky Teen Romance,” which screened in Chicago before receiving an A-grade Blu-ray/DVD release. What made “Romance” particularly fascinating was how it skewered the “Twilight” craze from the perspective of an actual teenager. Early in her career, Hagins was the subject of a documentary, “Zombie Girl: The Movie,” which accurately captured her infectiously exuberant spirit that has undoubtedly fueled her prolific output (she just wrapped production on her next picture, “Grow up, Tony Phillips”). 

Memorable Quote:I didn’t actually finish the ‘Twilight’ books. I got halfway through the last book and was getting distracted by how inconsequential the decisions were. It was like, ‘Okay, I’ll be a vampire now. I’ll just leave my parents and go away forever. No problem.’ Of course, it’s not that simple. I was like, ‘Man, this is such a huge life decision and it’s not being taken into account at all.’ One of the biggest lessons about growing up is that you have to deal with the consequences of your actions, as well as the actions of other people that you care about. You’re all learning how to be adults, and in this case, we just used vampires as a catalyst for that.” 

StarTracy Letts

Killer Joe
Killer Joe
Photo credit: LD Entertainment

Interviewer: Brian Tallerico

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: We’ve been lucky enough to interview multiple Oscar, Emmy, and Tony winners at HollywoodChicago.com but Pulitzer Prize winners are a rare breed and a naturally exciting opportunity. Tracy Letts isn’t just a fantastic playwright, he’s a Chicago theatre icon and the William Friedkin adaptation of his excellent “Killer Joe” caused quite a stir this year with its NC-17 take on film noir. As one would expect, Letts is a thoughtful, interesting man who seems to slowly mull over every question and speaks carefully and intellectually. Exactly what you’d expect from a Pulitzer winner.

Memorable Quote:They used to release X-rated movies for adults and everybody understood it was for adults. When we first put the play up, I put an X rating on it. I said no one under 18 admitted. I didn’t want…I wasn’t trying to fool anybody. I didn’t want people to come in and get hit over the head with a chair. I wanted people to know, “You’re in for a very adult, intense experience. It’s not for kids. You can choose to see it or not see it.

StarWim Wenders

Director Wim Wenders in Chicago
Director Wim Wenders in Chicago
Photo credit: Patrick McDonald for HollywoodChicago.com

Interviewer: Patrick McDonald

Opening Notes: I find it virtually impossible to winnow down the many 2012 interview opportunities to just five. So before this begins, I have to mention some more memorable Q&As – look for them through the HC search engine. Young film actor Ezra Miller (“Perks of a Wallflower”), veteran character actor James Cromwell (“The Artist”), rock legends Al Jardine (The Beach Boys) and Dee Snider (Twisted Sister), TV’s Joel Murray (“Mad Men”) and Brenda Strong (“Desperate Housewives”), Ben Lewin and John Hawkes (Director and Lead Actor of “The Sessions”) and the “Sexiest Man Alive,” Channing Tatum. Back to Mr. Wenders.

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: The imposing and iconic director Wim Wenders was at the 2011 Chicago International Film Festival to promote his 2012 documentary, “Pina.” His amazing filmography includes “The American Friend,” “Paris, Texas,” “Wings of Desire,” “Faraway, So Close” and “The Buena Vista Social Club.” As testament to his lofty cinema status, the interview was set in an ornate meeting room at a local hotel, where he regaled me with the intricacies of his new film – about famous German choreographer Pina Bausch – and his own storied career. He delighted in bringing back details of his most famous films, including “Wings of Desire,” describing in the quote how he considered choosing actor Peter Falk to portray an angel.

Memorable Quote:We thought of politicians, sports figures, but then thought the only people that everyone around the world knew were actors. We had to find an actor that was well known. But who was that actor, and would he come and join us? And I said, ‘Columbo.’ There is a man who everybody knows, and everybody likes. I’d never met anybody who didn’t like Columbo. We both laughed, and thought it was impossible. I didn’t know Peter Falk.

StarBenh Zeitlin

Director Benh Zeitlin and actress Quvenzhané Wallis on the set of Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Director Benh Zeitlin and actress Quvenzhané Wallis on the set of Beasts of the Southern Wild.
Photo credit: Jess Pinkham

Interviewer: Matt Fagerholm

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: This year’s winner of the Chicago Film Critics Association’s coveted accolade for Most Promising Filmmaker, Benh Zeitlin has been garnering an overwhelming amount of praise for his directorial debut feature, “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” He coaxed a spellbinding performance from pint-sized newcomer Quvenzhané Wallis, who played the lead role of Hushpuppy, a six-year-old girl in a tight-knit southern village bracing itself for the apocalypse. Dubbed “The Bathtub,” this fictional town is a triumph of production design on an independent budget. Zeitlin even co-wrote the film’s score, which includes the year’s most memorable main theme.

Memorable Quote:It was never about scoring what was going on in the scene—if the scene was tense or sad. It was always about [Hushpuppy’s] sense of what was happening right now, which was different from what was happening objectively. In the film’s opening moments, it’s just a kid running around with sparklers, but for her, it’s a moment of cultural iconography that defines the spirit of her town and the place. We knew that we needed a song that resonated back to that moment. This was an utopian place that was going to die very quickly in the film, and we needed something that constantly brought you back to her sense of what the Bathtub means. So we tried to create a folk song, an iconic song like ‘Auld Lang Syne’ or ‘America the Beautiful.’ It needed the sort of simple melody capable of having lyrics that every person in the Bathtub would have [memorized]. We think of it as the national anthem.. ” 

StarRobert Zemeckis

Robert Zemeckis
Robert Zemeckis
Photo credit: Joe Arce/Starstruck Foto

Interviewer: Brian Tallerico

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: “Back to the Future,” “Forrest Gump,” “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” — Robert Zemeckis isn’t just a living directorial legend, he’s a personal icon. I grew up with a “Roger Rabbit” poster on my wall. (Feel free to make fun of how dorky that is the next time you see me.) And so meeting the Oscar winner created a few more butterflies than most interviews in the past. The butterflies were quick to dissipate as the man is as fascinating and insightful as one would expect.

Memorable Quote:I remember very distinctly seeing ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ for the first time. I was a Freshman in high school. All of my friends were talking about the machine-gunning scene at the end and I went and I remember being emotionally moved when these characters started dying. I remember feeling horrible when Gene Hackman got shot in the head. And I remember thinking, ‘Wow. There’s this thing that I’m feeling and I want to find out what that is.’ I fell in love with the art form and started to learn that movies were more than action and effects. There was a director who did this.

StarEd Asner

Ed Asner as Artie in ‘Let Go’
Ed Asner as Artie in ‘Let Go’
Photo credit: Entertainment One

Interviewer: Patrick McDonald

Background and Behind-the-Scenes: In my childhood in the 1970s, Ed Asner was a major television player, mostly for his role – both in a comedic sitcom and drama series – as Lou Grant. This was a phone interview, which are always odd because his familiar voice is emanating into the home office. I’ve always been a great admirer of Asner, as much for his progressive views as his distinct style of performance. We spoke of the independent film he had just completed, “Let Go,” and his long and distinguished career. “Oh, Mr. Grant!”

Memorable Quote:I am a progressive, and it’s harder and harder to be a progressive these days, as the world keeps being marched towards conservatism, and in some cases fascism. The truth about CBS, the flurry about my political choices were carried to an extreme, and they thought it would reflect back to advertisers. They wanted to get away from the trouble spot, which was me. I think there is fairly good evidence that Bill Paley [Chairman at CBS] did not want the series [“Lou Grant”] around.

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