In the last week, directors John Carney and Michael Bay found themselves under fire for crappy commentary: Carney trashed his “Begin Again” actress Keira Knightley in a recent interview, while Bay’s observations to Kate Beckinsale came while both shooting and promoting their “Pearl Harbor.” In short order, both filmmakers apologized, but only one managed to do it in a respectful, thoughtful way. The other just dug himself a predictably deeper hole.
In an interview with The Independent published May 28, Carney attacked Knightley from all sides, passing her off as a “supermodel” with an “entourage,” who wasn’t a real actor. “It’s not like I hate the Hollywood thing, but I like to work with curious, proper film actors as opposed to movie stars. I don’t want to rubbish Keira, but you know it’s hard being a film actor and it requires a certain level of honesty and self-analysis that I don’t think she’s ready for yet and I certainly don’t think she was ready for on that film.” (Too bad about that not–wanting-to-rubbish-someone thing.)
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Carney’s bus-throwing of Knightley was curious exercise; she’s been working in movies longer than Carney, a musician before he turned to filmmaking, and she’s got two Oscar nominations under her belt. Even stranger: Back when we spoke to Carney at Sundance, he seemed pleased with “Begin Again” and more than a bit confounded by its negative reactions. “I think people reacted well to the film, actually. If you look online, it has 87% or 83% [on Rotten Tomatoes] or something, it’s not bad,” he said. “It’s just that there were people who remember the bad reviews for that movie, because they stand out a little bit.”
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Carney, however, was willing to admit that perhaps the film wasn’t the kind his fans were expecting from him. And it included a little dig at Knightley, which now takes on a different light. “In all honesty, if I went to see ‘Once’ and I really liked the low-budget, tattered quality of it, and then the same guy made a film with Keira Knightley in it pretending to sing, I would probably say, ‘He sucks.’ I’d probably rap him on the knuckles, which is what some reviewers gave me, some audience members gave me that,” Carney said. “I get that, and a film director has to understand that.”
At some point, however, Carney apparently stopped understanding that. Now, with the full weight of the internet is calling him out for being a tactless jerk, the filmmaker appeared to have a massive change of heart. The result is this self-reflective apology.
In it, Carney writes, “I said a number of things about Keira which were petty, mean and hurtful. I’m ashamed of myself that I could say such things and I’ve been trying to account for what they say about me. In trying to pick holes in my own work, I ended up blaming someone else. That’s not only bad directing, that’s shoddy behaviour, that I am not in any way proud of. It’s arrogant and disrespectful,” before going on to compliment Knightley on her talent and professionalism.
Well done, sir. The damage isn’t undone, but his words were succinct and respectful – and, most of all, they put the blame squarely where it belongs: On Carney.
Good manners aside (not to mention his relationship with Knightley), this stance also serves as an olive branch to other actors who might want to work with him. The bond between actor and director is as fragile as it is essential; by making it clear that he’s willing to examine his attitudes, Carney has effectively reasserted that he knows the importance of that bond.
Now we come to How Not To Do It with Michael Bay. His brouhaha kicked up when his “Pearl Harbor” actress Beckinsale appeared on “The Graham Norton Show” on May 27 and got to talking about some of the comments the director made when they were promoting the historical drama. Beckinsale said, “When we were promoting the film. Michael was asked why he had chosen Ben [Affleck] and Josh [Hartnett], and he said, ‘I have worked with Ben before and I love him, and Josh is so manly and a wonderful actor.’ Then when he was asked about me, he’d say, ‘Kate wasn’t so attractive that she would alienate the female audience.'”
Bay responded yesterday and it might have been better if he’d said nothing at all. Not only does his defense make him sound worse, but it also makes the entire situation look even more distasteful. The director wrote, “This so-called ‘problem of us not liking each other’ was reported by a tabloid-esque reporter after Kate appeared on an edgy English talk show, speaking about our meeting 16 years ago while casting ‘Pearl Harbor.’ The reporter made her story into some scandalous confrontation, when it was nothing of the sort.” Not so bad.
But he went on, “Spoke to Kate today and she felt she told a funny story. So I guess I was the ‘bad guy’ 16 years ago for suggesting a trainer because she just had her new beautiful baby girl – and she was about to enter into an intensive action movie.”
Let’s review: This really isn’t a problem, it’s a reporter’s fault, and anyway he was only trying to be helpful. Oh, okay then.
Turns out, even Bay had mentioned this exchange before. Vanity Fair corroborated Beckinsale’s comments and found a Movieline interview with Bay himself from in 2001, in which he said that he “didn’t want someone who was too beautiful” for Beckinsale’s role and that “women feel disturbed when they see someone’s too pretty.”
It’s certainly not the first time that Bay has mouthed off about his actress’ looks. As The Guardian shared back in 2009, his “Transformers” star Megan Fox told the reporter how she landed the part in pretty horrifying terms: “She told me she went to director Michael Bay’s house to audition and he made her wash his Ferrari while he filmed her. She said she didn’t know what had happened to the footage. When I put it to Bay himself, he looked suitably abashed. ‘Er, I don’t know where it is either.'” (Related: New York Magazine wrote an entire explainer about Bay’s sexism.)
Carney’s response suggests someone who has turned inward to address petty, stupid comments and appears to be willing to work on his own issues in service to being a better person and, get this, even a better director. Bay can’t be bothered to show respect to his former leading lady, even under the guise of clearing the air. If nothing else, however, he appears to be the very model of consistency.