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A 'Hall Pass' To Cheat Keeps Marital Despair At Bay

The Farrelly brothers' latest comedy stars Owen Wilson and Jason Sudeikis as sexually frustrated men given a week off from marriage by their spouses. Movie critic David Edelstein says the movie's premise — while creepy — leaves viewers "with a sad and wise view of adulthood."

06:12

Other segments from the episode on February 25, 2011

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, February 25, 2011: Interview with Melissa Leo; Interview with David Michod and Jacki Weaver; Interview with Natalie Portman; Review of the film "Hall pass."

Transcript

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Melissa Leo: Playing Alice Ward In 'The Fighter'

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm David Bianculli of tvworthwatching.com, sitting
in for Terry Gross.

On today's show, we're going to feature interviews with three actresses
who are up for Academy Awards Sunday, all for playing women who, to one
degree or another, are very intense. Later in the show, we'll listen
back to interviews with Natalie Portman, who is up for Best Actress for
"Black Swan," and Jacki Weaver, who is up for Best Supporting Actress
for "Animal Kingdom."

But first, let's listen to Terry's interview from earlier this year with
another Best Supporting Actress nominee, Melissa Leo, for her work in
the film "The Fighter." Melissa Leo previously received an Oscar
nomination for her starring role in the 2008 film "Frozen River." On
television, she's been featured in two excellent ensemble drama series:
NBC's "Homicide: Life on the Street" in the '90s and "Treme," now
filming its second season for HBO.

In "The Fighter," a true story based on two brothers who are boxers,
Melissa Leo plays their mother and manager. She's tough, crass and
small-time, but she has big ambitions for her sons. When the older son
becomes a crack addict, she focuses on getting fights for her younger
son, played by Mark Wahlberg, but sometimes they're the wrong fights,
ones he can't win.

Wahlberg's girlfriend, played by Amy Adams, thinks he shouldn't let his
mother manage him anymore. In this scene, after Wahlberg took a beating
in the ring, Melissa Leo and her seven mean-looking daughters pay an
unexpected visit to Wahlberg and his girlfriend.

(Soundbite of film, "The Fighter")

Ms. AMY ADAMS (Actor): (As Charlene Fleming) Hi.

Ms. MELISSA LEO (Actor): (As Alice Ward) Well, well, well, look at this.

Ms. ADAMS: (As Charlene) Look at what?

Ms. LEO: (As Alice) Are you hiding from us, Mickey?

Ms. ADAMS: (As Charlene) He's not hiding.

Ms. LEO: (As Alice) I wasn't talking to you. I was talking to my son.
What are you doing, Mickster, huh?

Mr. MARK WAHLBERG: (As Mickey Ward) I'm right here. I ain't hiding from
nobody, Alice.

Ms. LEO: (As Alice) What are you gonna do, turn your back on Dicky next,
huh? All we ever wanted for you was to be world champion.

Ms. ADAMS: (As Charlene) Mickey's a grown man. He can think for himself.

Ms. LEO: (As Alice) Shut your mouth, skank.

Ms. ADAMS: (As Charlene) Don't call me skank. I'll rip that nasty hair
right out of your head.

Ms. LEO: (As Alice) I'm his mother and his manager.

Mr. WAHLBERG: (As Mickey) You're not my manager anymore, and I'm not
waiting for Dicky, okay? I'm not getting any younger.

Ms. LEO: (As Alice) Who's gonna look after you, sweetheart? I mean, come
on. I know you don't understand it, but I had nine kids, and I love
every one of you the same.

Ms. ADAMS: (As Charlene) You've got a funny way of showing it, letting
him get beat up, letting him get his hand broken.

Ms. LEO: (As Alice) You're crazy.

(Soundbite of cross-talk)

TERRY GROSS, host:

I love that scene. Melissa Leo, welcome to FRESH AIR, and
congratulations on your nomination for a Golden Globe for Best
Supporting Actress and on winning the New York Film Critics Circle Best
Supporting Actress Award. Good for you.

Ms. LEO: Oh, thank you so much. And now I get to be here talking to you,
so...

GROSS: Would you describe how you look in this film?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. LEO: Well, I'm not very recognizable. I show up at lots of parties
after the film has been screened, and nobody has any idea who I am in
the room. She does not look like me.

She looks like Alice Ward. She has a very stylish hairdo, very short,
very white-blonde, very teased and hair-sprayed, and some fabulous
costumes provided by Mark Bridges(ph), who actually had the family
albums, as did the whole production company, to make reference for Alice
and the family during the years that our film takes place.

GROSS: And you look so tough and hardened. Even the way you smoke your
cigarettes, it's like you are puffing on them so hard. You are attacking
those cigarettes. Everything in you is just, like, it's so aggressive.
Even, like, there's something aggressive about your hair even. I mean, I
can't explain it, but...

Ms. LEO: Yes, I see what you're saying, and I really think that, you
know, having walked in Alice's shoes, she's actually a very gentle and
loving lady, do you know?

But she saw an opportunity for her boys and rose above whatever she felt
she might be inside of herself and made careers for the two of them.
Now, the fight game is a ugly game, and I don't mean what happens in the
ring.

The management, the horror stories of fighters being duped by their own
management, stolen from, put in life-threatening situations by their own
people, it's just an extraordinarily nasty game. And I think if Alice
has a little rough about her and a little aggressive about her, I think
that it's something she had to learn, or how she could have gotten Dick
in the ring with Sugar Ray? How could she have begun Mickey's career?

GROSS: How did you get the part of the mother in "The Fighter"?

Ms. LEO: Well, ordinarily I'll get a script first and sort of begin my
decision-making, you know, off the page. For "The Fighter," I had been
told that David O. Russell wanted to see me. I found out later that Mark
Wahlberg was very interested in me playing Alice Ward.

And so David and I met, and I have to say within about five minutes of
meeting David, it was as if the part was mine already. He believed I was
his Alice, believed in me so greatly that I found myself believing that
with him and forgetting my very desperate and important question about:
Aren't I too young to play Mark and Christian's mother?

And on we went, and off to the costume shop and the hair department and
all the rest of it.

GROSS: Too young, I hadn't thought of that. How old are they compared to
you?

Ms. LEO: I don't know. There's not 10 years between us, I'll tell you
that.

GROSS: Wow. So what did you do to compensate for that?

Ms. LEO: Honestly, I just - I remember it being an enormous hesitation
on my part to begin with. And I remembered that at some point I saw that
that question had sort of vanished and just plowed on ahead, I guess,
and believed myself to be their parent and the parent of the seven other
girls as well.

And that's probably the biggest secret of acting. If the actor believes
it themselves, I can make you believe it.

GROSS: There's a scene in "The Fighter," after you've caught your son,
who's played by Christian Bale, you've caught him at the crack house.
You're trying to drag him back to your home. So you're driving him back.
You're really angry with him and basically not talking with him.

And then to try to win you over, he starts singing the Bee Gees song "I
Started a Joke." And you eventually just kind of like warm up, and you
start singing along with him.

Now, I have no idea whether that's a story that you or the screenwriter
was actually told by a member of the family or whether that song was
arbitrarily chosen. So I'm wondering if there's any back-story for that
scene.

Ms. LEO: Yeah, it's a scene that's very dear and precious to me. We
almost didn't shoot it. And we shot it with very little light left in
the day, and it's an exterior scene in the car there. You have to have
God's light. God's light goes down at a certain time, whether we want it
to or not.

And it was really looking like it was getting (unintelligible) out, and
the producers were kind of relieved because David really wanted that
particular song, which might turn out to be rather expensive, and if
they didn't shoot it, they wouldn't have to worry about it.

And I said, you can't not shoot this. I've been sitting here for five
hours waiting to shoot this, what I think is a very important scene.
It's important because it says so much about the relationship between
Dick and Alice, which is an important element in the story, where you're
dealing with not only this exciting boxing triumph in the end, but
you're also dealing with a very complicated family that both, as much as
they might be detrimental to each other along the way, really can't live
without one another.

And I love that you bought that scene in the film. I love that it ends
up being in the film. And I, not being a singer, loved having a duet
with Christian Bale.

GROSS: So how did David O. Russell choose that song? Why that one?

Ms. LEO: That is something you would have to ask Mr. O. Russell. All I
knew was that it was ideal, perfect. Like, why wonder? It was just so
perfect. How could you have thought of anything else? What a perfect
song to sing right then, right there, and tell a story of many, many
years of history and many times the song might have been sung before in
jollier moments. There's just so much there and such irony in the lyric
of that song.

GROSS: Yeah, and you know it means that they have their duets, and they
have their in-jokes, and he's just trying to kind of get back on that
track with her.

Ms. LEO: And that she still sees, crack addict or not, she knows who
that boy is, and she loves him. She's really mad that he lied to her,
but she's not making judgment about him.

GROSS: You have great scenes with Christian Bale and great scenes with
Mark Wahlberg. Do they both approach acting differently and get into
character differently?

Ms. LEO: Well, I think that it's fairly obvious that Christian goes in a
very deep, method-type way into his character. I met him the day he was
meeting Dick Eklund for the first time, and I actually watched this
process of Christian morphing into this other man that he plays in the
film.

Mark comes with four years of training and getting his body in the right
shape and his boxing abilities in the right shape, to be able to really
sell the fighting in the movie the way that he does, but it doesn't come
with a set of ideas of how the scene might play.

Because I am this person, this is how I might do this is the sort of
question Christian might ask himself going into it. Now, that's an
assumption on my part. I don't know the inner workings of Christian.
It's just...

Then Mark shows up and, on a dime, can offer you the same moment in the
film with laughter, with fear, with hatred, with regret, with anything
that David Russell asks in a single take, and Mark delivers. It's an
extraordinary thing to watch.

When you have an actor like Christian, and you want to adjust the
performance, you've got to work a little harder because he's already
done all this other work that you have to re-work to get the - right?
It's two very, very different ways of acting that really suited the
characters that they were playing and my relationship to them then.

BIANCULLI: Melissa Leo, speaking to Terry Gross earlier this year. More
after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

BIANCULLI: Let's get back to Terry's interview from earlier this year
with Melissa Leo, who is up for an Academy Award Sunday as Best
Supporting Actress for her role as the mother of two brothers who are
boxers in "The Fighter."

GROSS: Two years ago, you were nominated for an Oscar for your
performance, your leading performance, in the independent film "Frozen
River," in which you played a woman trying to raise a couple of kids on
her salary from a part-time job at a dollar store.

Your husband is a gambling man who's run off with the money that you'd
save for a new double-wide trailer home. The home that you and your
family do have is falling apart. So to get some income, you team up with
a Native American woman who had stolen your car, and together you
smuggle immigrants across the Canadian border to the U.S. And that
requires driving over the frozen river that the movie is named after.

Let me play a scene here. In this scene, you're confronting your son
about damage he's done to the house while trying to repair frozen pipes
with his father's blowtorch. You'd warned him against using that
blowtorch, and he's damaged what's left of the home. So here's the
scene.

(Soundbite of film, "Frozen River")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) What do you want? Did
something happen to dad?

Ms. LEO: (As Ray Eddy) No.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Then what do you want?

Ms. LEO: (As Ray) Did you have a fire here last night?

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) The pipes froze. So I fixed them.

Ms. LEO: (As Ray) You fixed them?

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Yeah.

Ms. LEO: (As Ray) Did you use a blowtorch?

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) Dad did it before.

Ms. LEO: (As Ray) So you used the blowtorch. Look at this. We can't live
here anymore.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) So what, it's just (Unintelligible).

Ms. LEO: (As Ray) No, this was our house.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) So we're getting a new one, right?

Ms. LEO: (As Ray) That's it. Damn it, son of a bitch. Don't touch it.

GROSS: Melissa Leo in a scene from "Frozen River." I think it's great
that you started really getting the accolades you deserve in I guess
your late 40s, at a time when a lot of actresses are considered to have
already reached their expiration date, which is so unfair.

Ms. LEO: Exactly right, exactly, totally right. And it is with great
pleasure that I share this recognition, that I share the recognition
about "Frozen River" with all of those women. I know many of them. I
know many of them, and they are fine, fine actresses that maybe they
weren't even ousted out of the business, but their hearts and bodies,
souls couldn't take it anymore. They're kind of like oh, yeah, no, sort
of, you won't - you know, it's just such a judgment place.

You know, it makes me then think of the relationships I had with both of
my parents' mothers. And it was their age and their wisdom and what they
had seen in life and what they had been through and things you couldn't
do in a couple of years, you could only do in 60, 70, 80, 90 years. It's
a very important part of living, getting older. Anti-aging, (makes
noise).

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: One of the things I really appreciate about your acting is that
you're not vain about looking older. As far as I can tell, you haven't
done Botox or plastic surgery. And I think a lot of actresses, once they
turn 40 or even younger, are starting to get work done.

So this is one of the reasons why I love watching you because I feel
like I'm watching a real face that shows signs of some age, like a real
face. Are there pressures in the industry to get work done when you're
an actress?

Ms. LEO: I have not encountered that. I was blessed with a mother who
refused to raise a vain daughter, and it's really assisted me in my
acting career. I don't really think so much about how pretty or how sexy
the character is unless it's applicable to what she's got going on in
her life.

GROSS: Now, you're very good at playing tough women, whether, you know,
it's like the mother in "Frozen River," who is taking a lot of risks and
being really tough in order to raise money for her family and for a home
or, you know, in the tough mother in "The Fighter" or going back to
"Homicide," where most people first became, a lot of people first became
aware of you, where you played a detective, like the only...

Ms. LEO: She was a whole other kind of tough mother.

GROSS: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Okay, very good.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Did you ever play the ingenue? Were you even in a teen comedy or
anything like that?

Ms. LEO: No, I was not in a teen comedy. I don't know that I have a rom-
com to my credit.

GROSS: Which means a romantic comedy, for anybody who doesn't know the
contraction.

Ms. LEO: I was nominated for a Daytime Emmy in the ingenue category in
1980-something-or-other.

GROSS: Is this for "All My Children"?

Ms. LEO: For "All My Children."

GROSS: My guest is Melissa Leo, and she stars in the new film "The
Fighter," for which she was nominated for an Oscar.

Now, you're in the series "Treme," as we speak, you've been in the
middle of the series set in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina,
following characters dealing with going on with life after the floods.
And you're shooting the second season, which will be shown in the
spring. In the show, you play a civil liberties lawyer, and you're
dealing with several people who have lost things or have been lost...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...or missing because of the flood, and you're dealing with
police issues and stuff. And your husband, who is played by John
Goodman, is a professor who has gotten very caught up in the idea that
the disaster part of the hurricane was really caused by man-made
problems, by bad levees, by a bad response to the flood.

And he's become absolutely obsessive about this and very - it's led him
to become paranoid, and he's kind of not in a good place. At the end of
the season, he kills himself. At what point did you know that that was
going to happen?

Ms. LEO: I actually was lucky enough to know all along we would just
have John for a year. The more I worked with him, the sadder that made
me feel. He is a joy to work with, and I am grateful, too, that it
wasn't shocking to me, like most of Toni Bernett's life.

I have episode four, season two right here in my bag with me. I'm
anxiously - when I finish talking with you, I'm going to crack it open
and read it and find out what's happening next with her and what she's
thinking and what's she doing because by and large, we really truly
don't know.

That particular thing I did know, and I have to say in retrospect, I'm
very glad I did know because it was devastating to me. And I spent the
whole summer, like, I think much of the country that watch "Treme,"
thinking well, maybe he'll come back, though. But maybe he could come
back. Maybe it wasn't - he wasn't really dead, and he'll be there.

And I found myself sort of in that position. But there we are down there
shooting again, and Mr. Goodman is not with us, I'm sorry to say. He
lives down there and stops by the set from time to time, which is great.

GROSS: So after you left "Homicide," which is the first series that you
did with David Simon, the creator of "Treme," what kind of work did you
get afterwards?

Ms. LEO: Well, here's the ugly truth about that. I was fired from
"Homicide." I really needed the job. I had a small son and a fair amount
of rather public strife going on at that time. I really needed the job,
and they let me go - whether it was because I was having such a hard
time personally or whatever, I shall never actually know.

But it was a hard job to lose, and it was even harder once I got home,
and I could not get hired to save my life. I had been working by then
for more than 10 years, closer to 15, and I wasn't even getting
auditions. And the scuttlebutt I began to hear - of course, nobody ever
says it to your face - had to do with, well, we don't want that.

And I had gone for the last three years of "Homicide" without any makeup
on. It seemed to me a reasonable thing to do. I was working with male
actors who weren't using any makeup. We were all playing police
detectives. Why did I have to put makeup on? Aren't there women in the
world like myself that don't wear makeup when they go out every day? Can
we show that on national television?

That might have had to do with why I was eventually fired from the job.
But as I say, I'll never know - and very, very hard. There was something
about the way Kay Howard landed with people that there was a truth in
her that made producers and so on feel that was me. And, you know, they
didn't want to see that again, or something like that. Eventually -
well, it's really not until "21 Grams" came around that there seemed to
be an actual career afoot again.

GROSS: Well, the fact that you had such a hard time after "Homicide"
makes it all the more sweeter, is that you're getting such recognition
now. Congratulations on all the recognition that you're getting now.
It's really been a pleasure to talk with you.

Ms. LEO: Thank you. Thank you so much. A joy to talk to you.

BIANCULLI: Melissa Leo, speaking with Terry Gross late last year.
Melissa Leo is up for an Academy Award Sunday for her role as the mother
of two boxing brothers in the film "The Fighter." I'm David Bianculli,
and this is FRESH AIR.
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Weaver And Michod Go Inside 'Animal Kingdom'

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I’m David Bianculli in for Terry Gross.

Today we're featuring actresses who are up for Academy Awards Sunday.

Our next guest is Jacki Weaver, nominated for her role in the Australian
crime drama “Animal Kingdom,” directed by David Michod. FRESH AIR
contributor Dave Davies spoke to both Jackie Weaver and David Michod
this year.

"Animal Kingdom" follows a Melbourne family of bank robbers and drug
dealers as the police close in on them. Weaver plays Janine Cody, the
mom of the crime family. "Animal Kingdom" is the first feature film
David Michod has directed.

In this scene, Weaver's character is concerned that a young member of
the family may flip and testify against them, and she's leaning on a
corrupt cop, played by Justin Rosniak, to have the boy killed in police
custody.

(Soundbite of movie, "Animal Kingdom")

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. JACKI WEAVER (Actor): (as Janine Cody) Hi Randall, before you go on,
this boy is currently being looked after. Tell me if you agree with
this. This boy has been looked after. He knows who you are and you know
how these things go. They're going to ask him all sorts of questions
about everything he's ever seen or done, everyone he's ever met,
(unintelligible). And you've done some bad things, sweetie. Haven't you?

DAVIES: Well, David Michod, Jacki Weaver, welcome to FRESH AIR.

This character, Jacki's character, Janine Cody - or she's called Grandma
Smurf at times, right - is such a sweetheart; and there's this amazing
touch that we see early on, Jacki, where when you greet your sons and
grandsons, all of them criminals, and there are many of them, you give
them these nice slow little kiss on the lips. Tell us about that
gesture.

Ms. WEAVER: That gesture, though it's a small one, I think speaks
volumes about the relationship she has with the boys. Because, while
it's not indecent obscene, it is an inappropriate gesture to kiss your
adult son lingeringly on the mouth. I have a son in real life, who is in
his 30s, and I can honestly -and I love him very much and we're very
close, I can honestly say I haven't kissed him on the mouth since he was
two and a half years old.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WEAVER: But that was something I wish I could say that was my
choice, my acting choice, but it was a little gesture of David's idea.
And I think it just said so much, in such a small gesture, about the
strange bond that exists in that criminal family; the power the mother
has over them; that she has had these sons with different fathers. They
were obviously unsatisfactory, probably violent relationships with
criminals. And there's also a kind of substitute with her sons, I think,
perhaps. This is all surmise on my part. David, who wrote the film,
might say I'm talking rubbish.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Yeah, David, so yeah, so you've got the grandmother here
planting these little kisses on her sons throughout the film. What
inspired that?

Mr. DAVID MICHOD (Writer and director, "Animal Kingdom"): I wanted just
a kind of a small, but powerful, gesture that represented the almost
proprietorial(ph) nature of the relationship that this woman has with
her sons. You know, that in a way she appears very loving, but actually,
her relationship with her children is very self-serving. You know, that
what she really loves the idea of being at the center of a pack of quite
young and powerful and dangerous men, being her sons. And that's the
level in which her love seems to operate. And so I kind of just liked
that small and proprietary gesture.

I mean it's funny people talk about the kissing on the lips quite a lot
and I actually know, I know mothers who kiss their sons on the lips, and
so I've been quite surprised at how effective that gesture has been. I
mean there's another scene in the movie. I don't know if you remember
it, but when Ben Mendelsohn's character first appears in the movie - Ben
playing Jacki's eldest son - Jacki does that entire scene sitting on
Ben's lap, which I actually think is a stranger gesture than the kissing
on the lips.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MICHOD: I don't know mothers who sit on their sons' laps.

DAVIES: You know, this is a film about kind of the daily life of
criminals, David Michod, and it's a pretty on glamorized view of their
lives. Were there any, kind of, crime movies stereotypes you wanted to
avoid?

Mr. MICHOD: I wanted, I was very clear when I started, that if I was
going to make a crime film that I was treading a well-trodden path. And
that if I was going to bother doing this at all, there needed to be
something about it that was unusual. So it was kind of clear to me that
I needed to work out how "Animal Kingdom" might be different from other
crime films. And not because -they're a number of crime films that I
love to pieces - and I had a clear sense from very early on, based on
that first response I had to reading about the central events of "Animal
Kingdom," the kind of brutal revenge killing of those two young cops,
that what I wanted to do was make a kind of sprawling, Melbourne crime
story that was very menacing; that had, running through it, bubbling
under the surface, a kind of a sense of fear and threat and impending
violence.

And then that kind of, in some ways, determined the tone of the film and
the way the film should be made, you know, which is that it needed to be
a crime film that took itself very seriously. You know, that couldn't
exist in a kind of a heightened or, you know, a light universe. And in
some ways that then determined also, you know, the nature of every
decision that kind of stems from that, you know, in discussions that you
have with actors and crew about playing things with truth.

DAVIES: Right. Well, you don't see criminals living extravagant
lifestyles and spending a lot of money. You don't see them snapping off
very funny lines, you know, like you would, say, in "Goodfellas," for
example. I mean these are people who are living under an awful lot of
stress.

Mr. MICHOD: Yeah. I mean and they also, I mean because in a way that
what you're looking at the film "Animal Kingdom" is a film about a
particular crime family in decline. It's, in some ways, you know, it's
like the third act of "Goodfellas" in a way as an entire film. You know,
it's all of the crime, in a way, that you see in the film is defensive,
backed into a corner, retaliatory crime. It's a film about a gang of
armed robbers in which you don't see them committing armed robbery. What
you see is them backed into a corner and committing the crime of
paranoid retaliation.

DAVIES: Jacki Weaver, you know, you were in the Peter Weir film "Picnic
at Hanging Rock" and American audiences will remember that. And you've
basically for a long, long time been doing a lot of film, a lot of TV
and a lot of theater especially in Australia. Was it ever your ambition
to come to Hollywood and make a career here?

Ms. WEAVER: I've always had fantastic work offered to me at home. I've
had a great career. I've done about a hundred plays and I've only done
about 15 films, so I've been very lucky. I've played some leading roles
in a lot of American plays in Australia that were very successful, so
there hasn't really -I didn't really feel coming to America and not
getting those leading roles was better than - you know what I'm trying
to say?

DAVIES: Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

DAVIES: Well, you know, Jacki, I have to ask you, is it true that you
were fired from a Heinz 57 commercial set for laughing too hard on the
shoot?

Ms. WEAVER: Well, I was playing an asparagus, Dave.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WEAVER: And if you could see me, I'm a very tiny person. I'm under 5
feet tall.

DAVIES: Yes.

Ms. WEAVER: It was classic miscasting. I mean if anything I should have
been a squash.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. WEAVER: And I just found the whole thing so wonderfully amusing in a
Monty Python way that I got slightly hysterical. Not in a loud way. I'm
not a loud person. But I did find it impossible not to laugh all the
time. And finally the producer and the director were furious and they
sent me home. They sacked me and they rang my agent and said it was the
most unprofessional behavior they'd ever seen in an asparagus.

(Soundbite of laughter)

BIANCULLI: Jacki Weaver and David Michod, the co-star and director of
“Animal Kingdom,” speaking to FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies year.
She's up for Best Supporting Actress at Sunday’s Oscars.

Coming up, Terry speaks with Natalie Portman, star of “Black Swan.”

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Natalie Portman: Going Dark For Thriller 'Black Swan'

(Soundbite of music)

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

Completing our visit with some of the actresses up for Academy Awards
this weekend, we present Terry Gross's interview with Natalie Portman,
who is nominated for Best Actress as the star of the dark and twisted
ballet drama “Black Swan.”

(Soundbite of film, "Black Swan")

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. NATALIE PORTMAN (Actor): (as Nina Sayers) I had the craziest dream
last night, about a girl who was turned into a swan, but her prince
falls for the wrong girl, and she kills herself.

BIANCULLI: That's Natalie Portman in "Black Swan", playing a ballerina
in a New York City ballet company that is about to do its annual
performance of "Swan Lake." She gets the lead, playing the dual role of
the innocent white swan and the seductive and evil black swan.

In the process of preparing for the role, she goes deep into her dark
side and confuses both herself and the film's audience about where
reality ends and paranoid fantasy begins. The film was directed by
Darren Aronofsky, who also directed "The Wrestler."

Natalie Portman made her film debut at the age of 12 in the 1994 film
"The Professional." Her other movies include "Garden State," "The Other
Boleyn Girl," and the three "Star Wars" prequels.

Terry Gross spoke with Natalie Portman in 2010.

Natalie Portman, welcome to FRESH AIR.

Ms. PORTMAN: Thank you so much for having me on.

GROSS: So what was the preparation like for you to try to develop a
ballerina's body and movement?

Ms. PORTMAN: I started training a year ahead of time with a great
teacher, Mary Helen Bowers, who was in the New York City Ballet for 10
years. She started very basic with me, really focusing on strengthening
my toes. We would do 15 minutes of just toe exercises a day to get ready
for going en pointe, plus obviously ballet. And then we upped it to, you
know, we added more time as we went along, more hours a day of ballet,
and we added swimming.

We swam a mile a day. We toned. I watched the Frederick Wiseman
documentaries on ABT and Paris Opera Ballet, which were really helpful,
and read a lot of autobiographies of dancers.

I tried to do mainly New York City Ballet dancers because I thought it
was important to locate it in a particular culture, to have a sort of
specific world, because every company is very different. So it was sort
of Balanchine-era New York City Ballet that gave me the background.

GROSS: Are there things you have to do in ballet that you had to learn
how to do that a human body would otherwise never do?

Ms. PORTMAN: Absolutely. The turnout is extreme and, you know, something
that is not natural for a lot of bodies. I think because I had the dance
training when I was little, it wasn't impossible for me to have turnout
starting at 27.

GROSS: Describe what turnout is.

Ms. PORTMAN: Turnout is having your sort of - from your hips to your
toes pointing outwards instead of being parallel to each other. And, you
know, everything is supposed to be turned out, every move, every, you
know, tendu or grand battement, you need to be turned out.

You have to sort of tuck your butt underneath and, like, pull in your
stomach towards your back so that your back becomes flat and doesn't
have an arch, which is not very natural for the spine.

And, of course, going en pointe is also very unusual. It's not a natural
way for your body to hold itself.

GROSS: So what happened to your feet in the process?

Ms. PORTMAN: They get disgusting. Toenails fall off. You know, they get
blistered and calloused, and you don't want anyone to look at them and
certainly not touch them.

GROSS: What about the rest of your body? I read you, what, you
dislocated a rib? Do I have that right?

Ms. PORTMAN: Yeah, that was the sort of worst injury I had, was a
dislocated rib, which basically we just dealt with by not - I didn't...

GROSS: By not breathing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PORTMAN: Yeah, exactly. No deep breaths for six weeks, and I didn't
get lifted from my ribcage anymore. I got lifted under my armpits,
because that's sort of what does it. Yeah, but it wasn't the end of the
world. You know, real dancers dance with such incredible injuries that
you wouldn't even believe. You know, it's such a nightmare for them to
be replaced.

You know, once they've made it to the top and they get these great
roles, they will dance on a sprained ankle or torn plantar fascia or
twisted necks, you know, just to make sure that they can keep their
moment.

GROSS: There are some very gruesome, disturbing body images in the film.
Maybe gruesome isn't exactly the right word, almost surreal. Like
there's an image where your toes are completely stuck together. It's
almost as if they'd grown into each other. And you're like trying to
like pry them apart.

And then there's an image of you peeling skin off your hand, you know,
as if it's dry skin and you're peeling it off and, like, a whole bunch
of skin comes off.

And then you have this rash on your back, we're never really sure what
caused that or what it is, and it keeps getting bigger and uglier. You
crack your feet and you crack your toes.

Like some of this reminded me of the kind of, like, body imagery you're
likely to get in a surreal dream.

Ms. PORTMAN: Right, absolutely. Darren Aronofsky, our director, who's
clearly unbelievable, he is so good at physicalizing anxiety and terror
and obsession. And that's so much of it for dancers. I mean it's all
about the way your body looks and the way your body move.

And when your worst anxiety and your worst terror is that you're going
to be prevented from moving or, you know, that your toes would stick
together or that, you know, that your skin wouldn't be pale enough, or
your body wouldn't be thin enough, I mean these are real ideals that
people talk about. And obviously any blemishes would be the worst
nightmare to cover.

GROSS: When you accepted the part in "Black Swan," and you were working
with, you know, professional ballet choreographers and trainers, were
people sizing you up and thinking, like, oh, this is going to be tough -
you know, she doesn't really have a ballet dancer's body and we're going
to have to...

Ms. PORTMAN: Oh yeah...

GROSS: ...like stretch this and change that and move this and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. PORTMAN: Oh yeah.

GROSS: Is that a weird process, having people assess you and finding
you, like, wanting and then figuring out how to fix you?

Ms. PORTMAN: It was, and, you know, it's also you have physical
limitations. You know, I have - I'm short and I have short limbs. And,
you know, the Balanchine sort of City Ballet ideal is to be very long.
And they had me working with a physical therapist, Sash Jairotani's(ph)
teacher, Michelle Rodriguez(ph), who's fantastic, who works with all the
dancers in New York, to lengthen me.

And she was literally just pulling my arms and opening my back and, you
know, having me over a ball. I would be lying on this sort of small ball
and she would just open my shoulders and open my back and do arm
exercises to try and slim my arms and lengthen them.

I was given instructions to lose as much weight as I could without
getting sick and, you know, was told every day sort of by the coaches
and stuff that I wasn't looking like a ballerina yet.

And all of a sudden, when I really started dieting and lost a serious
amount of weight, all of a sudden I started getting compliments from
everyone. But it was very much like what that world is.

GROSS: Now, Mila Kunis co-stars, and she plays a new dancer in the
company, and the ballet master thinks that she's very good. And, in
fact, she becomes your understudy. And it's always hard to tell whether
she's trying to be your best friend or trying to totally undermine you
so that she can take over as the lead. And this is where the thriller
aspect...

Ms. PORTMAN: Right.

GROSS: ... of the movie comes in. Now, I read, and tell me if this is
true, that the director of the film, Darren Aronofsky, actually created
a backstage competition between the two of you, that he would tell you
that she was doing better than you were in terms of really getting the
ballet moves down. And then he'd tell her that you were doing better
than she was.

Ms. PORTMAN: Exactly.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: So did he actually do that?

Ms. PORTMAN: Yeah, it was really funny because Mila and I have been
friends for years. And when we were - you know, Darren and I have been
talking about the film for 10 years, and finally when it started
rolling, a year ahead of time, he said, you know, do you have any ideas
for who could play Lily?

And I was at the flea market with Mila, and I was telling her that I was
doing the ballet training. And she's, like, oh, be careful. I broke all
of my toes doing ballet.

And so I called up Darren, and I was like: Mila dances. Mila dances. So
then, you know, he met her and cast her, which was really exciting, to
work with a friend.

But then I was, like, why can't we train together? You know, we're doing
the same thing. Can't we take class? He kept us completely separate. He
tried to make us, like, not see each other. And then he would tell me
things like: Mila's looking really good. And then he would tell her,
like: Oh, Natalie's so much better than you.

And we would talk. So we knew that he was totally just messing with us.
And we would just laugh because, you know, we'd go out for our salad or
whatever we were eating at the time and, you know, dish on what he was,
what kind of feedback he was giving each of us. So we didn't really let
him manipulate us as he, as he desired.

BIANCULLI: Natalie Portman, speaking to Terry Gross in 2010. Natalie
Portman, Jacki Weaver and Melissa Leo will all learn whether they've won
Oscars on Sunday night when ABC televises the 83rd annual Academy
Awards.

Coming up, David Edelstein reviews the new Farrelly brothers' comedy
"Hall Pass."

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A 'Hall Pass' To Cheat Keeps Marital Despair At Bay

DAVID BIANCULLI, host:

The Rhode Island brothers Bobby and Peter Farrelly made their names with
outrageous, R-rated comedies such as "Dumb and Dumber" and "There's
Something About Mary." After a few less-successful PG-13 pictures,
they're back to their filthy ways for their 10th film, "Hall Pass." Owen
Wilson stars, along with Jason Sudeikis from "Saturday Night Live,"
Jenna Fischer from "The Office" and Christina Applegate.

David Edelstein has a review.

DAVID EDELSTEIN: The Farrelly brothers are sometimes thought of as the
dumb adolescent's version of the Coen brothers - which is, on one level,
true, and on another, slanderous, because even with their characters'
unruly bodily functions and hormones, the Farrellys' movies have a
spirit that's remarkably gentle and humanistic.

Their comedy "Hall Pass" is a mixed bag. Often, it's desperate. Often
it's droopy. But they've made one of the few recent movies about the
perpetual immaturity of the American male with a mature perspective.

I did groan when I heard the premise of "Hall Pass", which made me think
the Farrellys were regressing. But it's actually the male characters
that are regressing - or, rather, that long to regress. They're married
buddies, on the verge of 40. Rick, played by Owen Wilson, and Fred,
played by Jason Sudeikis from "Saturday Night Live," are sexually
frustrated: Their wives are rarely, for one reason or another, available
to them, and their own bodies are beginning to lose their elasticity.
They live in a fantasy world, prone to checking out young women who pass
while laughably denying or trying to hide their interest. But their
spouses, Maggie and Grace - played by Jenna Fischer and Christina
Applegate - miss nothing. A psychologist friend of theirs, played by Joy
Behar, tells them to give the boys a week off from marriage. She calls
this a hall pass.

The hall pass idea is, frankly, creepy. It suggests that middle-aged men
sentenced to monogamy can go back to high school - which, of course,
they can't, even if they have, quote, "permission." When Maggie and
Grace head off on vacation to Cape Cod, Rick and Fred hit the local
Applebee's with three of their pals, played by Stephen Merchant, Larry
Joe Campbell, and J.B. Smoove, who are along to experience their
conquests vicariously.

(Soundbite of movie, "Hall Pass")

Mr. JASON SUDEIKIS (Actor): (as Fred) This place is dead.

Mr. OWEN WILSON (Actor): (as Rick) Okay, well, the guy at Comfy Night
Inn says it doesn't really kick in until about 9:30, so...

Mr. SUDEIKIS: (as Fred) All right.

Mr. J.B. SMOOVE (Actor): (as Flats) Why you guys staying in a hotel if
your wives are out of town?

Mr. SUDEIKIS: (as Fred): Oh, come on, Flats. I can't very well bring a
bunch of models back to my place. What if they end up stalking me? And
Rick's house has got a bunch of family photos and kids' drawings on the
fridge.

Mr. WILSON: (as Rick) Yeah.

Mr. SMOOVE: (as Flats) Are you guys sure Applebee's is the best place to
meet hot and horny women at?

Mr. WILSON: (as Rick) What are you thinking, Olive Garden?

EDELSTEIN: Providence, Rhode Island, where "Hall Pass" is set, has quite
a few excellent watering holes for singles, which makes going to
Applebee's especially far-fetched. But the gag does resonate. These guys
want to stay in their safety zone.

One actor not in his safety zone is Owen Wilson, for years dubbed in
racy tabloids the butterscotch stallion and a symbol of stoner cool.
Here, he's a fellow with thinning hair and slack muscles and the start
of a paunch. His trademark spacey demeanor is now tinged with regret.
It's a terrific performance - and terrifying, because if Owen Wilson can
age, well, what chance do I have?

Jason Sudeikis' character is more extreme, more infantile, but I love
how he goes for broke. And when "Hall Pass" needs another shot of
energy, Richard Jenkins arrives and brings down the house as a self-
professed love doctor named Coakley, a worldly hipster who analyzes the
availability of women in clubs with the keen eye of Sherlock Holmes.

But for all the raunch and nudity and juvenile gross-out gags that go
along with the men's desperate exploits, it's the women who become the
film's emotional center. There they are on Cape Cod, and they're
suddenly being hit on by guys, middle-aged and even in college, and they
like the attention. They like being pursued again. They realize that
they wanted a hall pass, too. But along with that comes a grimmer
realization: that once more, they're objects in the psyches of
unreliable males.

There's an idea in "Hall Pass" that the Farrellys don't point up, but I
think it's in the movie in spades, that people often depend on what
Eugene O'Neill called the life lie: a false vision of themselves to keep
despair at bay. In the Farrellys' culture, men in committed
relationships need to believe it's only their spouses who prevent them
from scoring all the time, and without that fantasy, something inside
them would die. "Hall Pass" leaves you with that sad and wise view of
adulthood, even if you'd never dream of putting the words the Farrellys
and Eugene O'Neill in the same sentence.

BIANCULLI: David Edelstein is film critic for New York magazine.
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