By Nigel M Smith | Indiewire September 17, 2012 at 11:33AM
I wanted to talk about you and independent film. Lately, you've really become a regular on the indie festival circuit.
It’s interesting to me that no one ever noticed before, because I’ve always done so many indie films. Even “Dead Man Walking” was an indie film. I mean, sometimes they get picked up, like “Bernard and Doris” which we made for $500,000 dollars and HBO bought, but I’ve always had trouble navigating the two.
Yeah, the problem is that studio films, when they come up through the studio, very often there's no point of view beacause there are so many cooks in the kitchen. They're trying to please every demographic. They suffer – maybe not the big action films – maybe that’s what studios do best, I don’t know, but the ones that appeal to me are the ones I haven’t seen before and I think there’s a fabulous amount of really interesting films that can’t get distribution necessarily. Living in New York, you’re lucky because you see so many of them between IFC or the different independent houses. You know, there used to be many more independent houses that showed a lot of really interesting films.
And the festivals, now that my kids are almost out of the house, I’m taking up all these invitations to go to festivals that I didn’t when I was really busy. I’m more available now, and they’re so important because then it convinces a studio that there is an audience, and that they can invest in them.
But studios – I hope I don’t end my career with this remark – for the most part, it’s really rare to find someone in the studio system that’s going to go out on a limb to champion a movie that’s an odd little movie because if it doesn’t work, that’s the end of them. It’s hard for them to nurture something outside of the system and take a chance on it. And so I turn to independent films and young directors – directors who care still, haven’t been beaten down by disappointment. You can imagine spending two years of your life as a director and then the marketing department, which only has three different ways to market a film, tells you what you have, and they give it a wide opening for a weekend and if it doesn’t perform as big as a big crash movie, that’s the end of it. Even the Wachowskis, after “Speed Racer,” took them a while to regroup to go on to “Cloud Atlas.”
About "Cloud Atlas" -- you've played so many mothers over the years that you no doubt must have leapt at this opportunity to play the myriad of people you play in the film.
Honestly, I’m so shocked that they asked me. There are a lot of little parts, nothing like what Halle [Berry] and Tom [Hanks] are doing through the whole thing, but I just love them so much, even in non-work situations, and I was kind of scared. When I got there, it was the bravest kind of cirque de soleil atmosphere -- people were just jumping from one trapeze to the next -- and I thought, yeah, this is what filmmaking should be like: a rollicking good time, everybody way beyond their comfort zone. So I was really happy to be part of it.
Have you read the book?
It’s a hard book to read, but the ideas are really good. And funny. And scary. And romantic...Jim Sturgess was just at the club, my club, playing ping-pong every day.
I'm curious -- did Michael Tully approach you to be in his ping-pong movie because of your venture, or was that just happenstance?
The Duplass brothers recommended him, because they play ping-pong and obviously they knew I played ping-pong - so it was actually them that made it happen, and so I met with Michael, and he gave me his film. I liked his film, and so we started to talk about it and kind of -- it’s just a miracle to pull together at the last minute. It takes place in the 80s, it’s kind of “The Karate Kid” with ping-pong and I’m Mr. Miyagi.
So you’re quite the master.
You won’t see me doing amazing ping-pong playing, but I am kind of like his life coach.
Are you good?
No, not really. Not compared to people who are really good. I represent the people who just want to have fun. And now we’re already in Milwaukee and Toronto and New York, obviously, and André Balazs is opening one downtown, SPiN L.A. And then hopefully, if that goes well, Miami. And we have another contract in Boston - and we’re talking to Chicago and other places, but what I’m mostly proud of is that we’ve managed to place instructors and ping-pong tables in forty schools in New York, underserved schools that don’t have really good Physical Education programs, or space, or anything because, of course, the tables can be closed up so you don’t have to have proper, huge facilities. And if that works, I was talking to somebody recently who wants to do a Detroit club, which would be perfect for that, too. And the other thing that we’re really trying to solidify is a program with returning veterans, especially those who have lost limbs. I’ve seen my partners get beaten by people in wheelchairs. It’s a very good therapy for relieving tension and there are tables in all the VA hospitals and whatever, so we’re trying to make that connection now to really find a way to open spin up in all the different cities to handicapped veterans. So I’m really happy about those two programs.
If somebody came up to you twenty years ago and told you that you'd be doing this, would you have laughed in their face?
If anyone came up to me and told me I would be an entrepreneur in any area, I would have laughed in their face. I’m the least likely person, let alone ping-pong, and I think one of the things that has really made it happen so quickly is just -- seeing my name and ‘ping-pong’ in the same sentence -- it was so odd, and people were so tired of talking about other things, that when I had all these films -- it was when I was doing “Exit the King”, and at the end of all the interviews, they’d say: “What’s on the agenda next?” And I’d say, “Well, actually, we’re opening this… ping-pong club.” And then it just took off from there, because it was such a strange thing. The fact that my name would become synonymous with ‘ping-pong’ is just yet another ironic, funny joke, as far as I’m concerned.