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Seein’ Stars

Seein' Stars

Even without attending the Golden Globes, I had stars in my eyes this past week, because so many events piggyback on the Globes’ ability to draw actors and filmmakers from around the world. It started with a luncheon to promote My Week With Marilyn, where I got a chance to talk informally with its stars, Michelle Williams and the redoubtable (but always charming) Kenneth Branagh. I asked Williams if anyone had even mentioned her other notable 2011 film, Meek’s Cutoff, and she said with a rueful smile, “Not a soul.” We then talked about that remarkable pioneer saga, directed by Kelly Reichardt, who also worked with the actress on the critically praised Wendy and Lucy in 2008. Williams and her fellow cast members actually went through a kind of pioneer-life boot camp in which they learned to perform all the chores their characters would have to do onscreen, and tried to accustom themselves to being around oxen, which wasn’t easy. Nevertheless, Williams thinks Reichardt is the most talented filmmaker she’s ever worked with. Williams is as unassuming as she is talented, and I’m delighted with the recognition she’s receiving for My Week With Marilyn.


On Friday, I was privileged to attend the AFI Awards Luncheon, as I am a member of the motion picture jury. There is a similar vote for the most notable TV shows of the year, so the turnout is tantamount to that at the Globes: the best and the brightest from the worlds of film and television, all in one room, from Spielberg and Scorsese to Clooney and Pitt and beyond. I was chatting with Alexander Payne when we realized we were standing right alongside Louis C.K., whose innovative comedy TV show we both admire. That led to a lively three-way conversation. Louis not only writes and directs but edits the show, so I asked if he was self-taught. He told me that he used to work for a local television station and that’s where he first got a chance to edit; clearly, he paid attention. The show is one-of-a-kind.

Martin Scorsese talks to AFI’s official camera crew.

Viola Davis is interviewed by the AFI reporter.

.Friday night marked the annual awards dinner for the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, where we honored a variety of films and filmmakers. It was a treat to meet Jessica Chastain, who had an incredible breakthrough year with The Tree of Life, Take Shelter, The Debt, The Help, and Coriolanus. I mentioned that I’d seen an early screening of Al Pacino’s documentary Wilde Salome and she told me that she considers Pacino to be her acting teacher, since he was the first one to put her on film and explain the nuances of the medium. (The movie, which doesn’t yet have a distributor, chronicles Pacino’s fascination with Oscar Wilde in general, and his play Salome in particular. We see Chastain working with him on stage but also in scenes that the actor staged especially for the camera.) With it all, she doesn’t seem like someone who has had her head turned by success. Isn’t that refreshing?

If there is anyone who had as productive a year as Chastain, it’s Michael Fassbender, whom we honored for his body of work in 2011, namely Jane Eyre, X Men: First Class, A Dangerous Method, and Shame. I was especially impressed with his performance as Carl Jung in the David Cronenberg film, and asked if figuring out his appearance, with neatly-trimmed mustache and pince-nez glasses, helped him define the character. He replied that he started smoking a pipe even as he read the script, and then thought about the character’s accoutrements as he went along, in consultation with his director, making it an organic process of “becoming” Jung. Yet another actor with a sense of humor—and humility—Fassbender confessed, during his acceptance speech, that on his first trip to Hollywood some ten years ago he blew every audition he got, and wound up earning a meager living doing shrink-wrapping!

It’s wonderful to have the chance to meet some of the year’s standout performers, writers, and directors, but this window of opportunity is very limited. Right after the Academy Awards they vanish from sight, like the mythical village of Brigadoon, only to reappear (with a sprinkling of new faces) a year from now. But while they’re here, I’m happy to make their acquaintance.

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