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LAFF Q&A: 'The Newsroom' Star Alison Pill Talks Woody Allen, Aaron Sorkin and the Thing About Hollywood That She Finds 'Disgusting'

Photo of Jay A. Fernandez By Jay A. Fernandez | Indiewire June 21, 2012 at 12:24PM

This week, the 2012 Los Angeles Film Festival showcases Alison Pill in two of the highest-profile projects in the program: Woody Allen’s opening-night feature “To Rome With Love” and Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series “The Newsroom,” the pilot of which will screen Friday, June 22. The Canadian 26-year-old has long made a point of seeking high-strata work like this in television, theater and film.
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You generally stay to more original storytelling in independent film. Is that by design or just how the puzzle pieces have come together? Is that a strategy?

I don’t believe in strategy. I don’t think you can have strategy in this business, and that anybody who thinks that is a crazy person. But my strategy is basically to work with cool people who I respect and on scripts that I think are interesting. I got burned early on by being in studio pictures that, by the time the studio was done with them, were shells of their former selves in terms of writing. And it’s not just studios, it’s actors who have too much power. It’s why I went and did theater, because I was like, you’re not going to fuck with Shakespeare, you know? [laughs]

Pill in "Goon."
Pill in "Goon."
Although plenty have tried.

I know. People often do. People always will. But I did a John Guare play last year [“The House of Blue Leaves”], and no one in their right mind would mess with a John Guare line. How could you? Why would you? And I think that’s what’s missing from a lot of stuff today is that there’s very little dialogue crafting going on in most films by studios. Too many chefs ruin a lot of things. [laughs] So to be getting notes on what is most acceptable, what’s “real,” what a “real” heroine would act like, whether something can be lovable if it’s flawed... The reason I loved the script when I read “Goon” was because the character legitimately slept with a lot of dudes, drank a lot and was fine with it. Like a lot of my friends in their twenties! It’s not such a shocking thing, and you’re not the devil if you do it! You’re a human being.

Well, Warner Bros. can’t get Coca-Cola as a sponsor if they have a heroine that sleeps with a lot of guys and is fine with it.

Right. Exactly. And so, I just go, what’s the point of that? That’s just feeding into terrible stuff.

That’s something that you and Ellen have in common: You’ve both dipped into the studio world — she did an “X-Men” movie and “Inception” -- but most of the work since has been outside that system.

I’m an actor, but I’m also a feminist, and a lot of times in movies there are things that I cannot imagine happening that are on the screen and totally accepted. And I just go, Whaaat?

Pill in "Milk."
Pill in "Milk."

Would you share an example?

I would. What was that movie with Jason Statham with the adrenaline thing? “Crank.” Listen, I fucking love action movies. I love them. I love shoot-’em-ups, I love kicking movies, I love anything! Like, martial arts, but even if it’s not, even if there’s just kicking, I’m into it. And I’m usually fine with having bullshit ladies on the side. That’s fine. You need some tits in it? I get it. But in this case I was like… No.

At a moment to keep his adrenaline up, his character wants to have sex in a public place with his girlfriend. He pulls her down, she’s saying no-no-no, he rips her shirt off, she’s saying no-no-no, she’s yelling, people are watching, he gets down and he starts fucking her, and she’s still saying no-no-no… until she starts liking it. And I was like, Did nobody at the studio with a daughter go, “Maybe we shouldn’t have a rape scene by our hero in the middle of the movie? Maybe that wouldn’t be a good hero move...?” But nobody ever, I don’t think, brought that up. And that is disgusting to me. So, they can have it.

Meanwhile, you look at the famous case of Kimberly Peirce and “Boys Don’t Cry,” where she had to cut some of Chloe Sevigny’s enjoyment of her orgasm, which was a loving, connected, intimate moment.

Yes. Exactly. No, female orgasms are scary! You can’t show too many of those. You can show them getting raped, but…

Is anything going on with the music biopic “Girls Like Us?” Are you actually attached to play Carole King?

Oh! I auditioned for it, and I don’t know whether that was a press release to see if there was interest. I don’t think there’s an official thing to be connected to, necessarily. If anybody has money and wants me to sing Carole King songs, I’ll do it for 20 bucks and a slice of pizza.

Do you know her work?

[scandalized pause] Yes! And Joni Mitchell is a goddess. If the opportunity were to arise… I would be open to doing that!!

Pill in "The Newsroom."
Pill in "The Newsroom."
Do you have any good Sorkin stories? He has a reputation for giving some pretty specific line readings.

Again, I come from theater — all of our cast, for the most part, like Jeff and I, we did a play together, and Tommy Sadoski and I did a play together, and John Gallagher, too, Mr. Tony. The script to us, for the most part, is the Bible, so we’re perfectly fitted to be given line notes like, “Uh, there was a comma after ‘it’ that you sort of missed.” And it’s not a joke. He has planned it out so that you take a breath there. A comma means a breath. It is music. He has written musical dialogue and you need to get it down. He said to us before we started shooting, “Here’s the thing: You’re going to be a lot happier if you have this memorized so utterly that you know it backwards.”

There’s also the speed with which he wants you to deliver it.

That’s the real thing.  You gotta be gung-ho. You have to take big, deep diaphragm breaths in order to make it to that first comma, because he speaks really quickly. And he... [laughs] I guess when he’s writing, he acts everything out himself, says all the voices and everything. And he jumped somewhere and busted his face on a mirror. It was crazy! We’re like, “Aaron, what happened to you?!” He’s like, “I was acting it out…” He was in his office, reading it… [can’t stop laughing] And so, if he’s that dedicated to his performance alone in his office, you have to be 100 times more dedicated on set.

This article is related to: Los Angeles Film Festival, Alison Pill, The Newsroom, To Rome With Love, Interviews





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