It was with the release of “Boogie Nights,” in 1997, that Heather Graham became everybody’s favorite porn star with a heart of old. No, not actually Graham, but her character in that film, Rollergirl.
The blond-haired, blue-eyed actress had been around the Hollywood scene for some time already, with parts in “Drugstore Cowboy” and “Swingers,” as well as an ongoing role on the oddball TV show “Twin Peaks.” But it was “Boogie Nights” that pushed her to the next level, part of which is her current film, “The Hangover Part III.” She returns as Jade, the stripper with the heart of gold who married Ed Helms’ character in “The Hangover.” She spoke about her career last week in Las Vegas.
Is it true that you were called a theater geek in high school?
Oh, for sure. I was in these advance placement classes, so I was kind of nerdy, and I was in theater. And back then theater wasn’t seen as cool. I lived in the suburbs where it was only cool to be a jock or a cheerleader. So at that time I felt shy and awkward, but now I’ve really embraced my nerdiness, and I’m proud of it.
Did you always have dreams of acting?
Oh, yeah. I loved being in the plays at school. I felt that it was what I was good at. I was always playing games of dress-up and pretending to be in different stories with my sister and my friends. So that was a version of acting. But the first time I actually felt like I got some sort of recognition was when I was 9 or 10, and I was cast as Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz.”
How did “Boogie Nights” change your life?
Drastically! I had just done “Swingers,” and I was still auditioning, trying to get work, struggling to get jobs. I’ve always been lucky; I’ve worked as an actress since I started. But “Boogie Nights” made it so much easier. I was suddenly being offered wonderful parts. I suddenly stopped having to audition. That was amazing.
So how did “The Hangover” happen?
It was an audition! (laughs) My manager sent me the script, and it was really good. [Director] Todd Phillips was already well known for directing “Old School,” so it was fun to get to go in on “The Hangover.” I loved the script and the part, so it was really cool that he cast me.
Todd recently said that he liked the way you brought a hippie quality to Jade.
Well, I didn’t want her to be a sleazy stripper that was completely devoid of a soul. I’d taken a lot of female empowerment classes. So I thought of looking at being a stripper from a different point of view. Obviously Jade needs to make the money. She’s supporting her kid, and that’s why she’s doing it. But she’s also a kind of slightly confused person who’s trying to find a way to feel good about herself and her sexuality, and make money. So I was coming at being a stripper from more of a hippie viewpoint than just like a really dark, sad viewpoint.
You weren’t in “The Hangover Part II.” How did “Part III” happen?
It was really cool. Todd emailed me and said they were going to write me into this one. My response was, “Yay, exclamation point, exclamation point.” Of course I wanted to read the script first, and I did. But I was so happy and excited that he wanted to bring Jade back. And I was very grateful to him for giving my character a happy ending. He could have gone dark with it, but instead he gave her this sweet life that she’s always dreamed of.
“The Hangover Part II” opens on May 23.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
Though he stole all audience attention away from every other actor in his brief scene as Dr. Kuni in “Knocked Up,” no one was ready for Ken Jeong’s intro in “The Hangover.” He leaped out of a car trunk, wearing only black socks, and proceeded to beat the tar out of Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis with a tire iron. That’s right, wearing only black socks. His Mr. Chow eventually became an important character in that film and its sequel. In “The Hangover Part III,” Chow, naked again, of course, is quite often the center of attention. The doctor-turned-actor, who is also a regular on the TV show “Community,” chatted recently in Las Vegas.
Why do you like to be naked onscreen so much?
Chow originally had clothes on in the first one. It was my idea to have him be naked. I was really nervous, asking [director] Todd Phillips if it was OK, that it would be funny to do it naked. And Todd said, “You don’t have to tell me twice.” He immediately gave me a nudity waiver to sign because he didn’t want me to change my mind. I just wanted to service that script. I’ve got nothing to brag about. I wasn’t trying to show off. It was a character choice, not a personal choice. I’m a happily married father of twin 5-year-old girls. I don’t even like to take off my shirt at the beach. I’m really shy. I’m not an exhibitionist. I’m very demure about my body. But an actor acts, that’s why I do what I do. You’ve gotta make fearless choices to be an actor. Otherwise everyone would do it.
What did your wife say about it?
I’m no dummy. I cleared it with my wife before I told Todd. My wife and I both love comedy. I said to her, "I think he should be naked - what do you think?" She’s very secure, has the best sense of humor in the world, and she said – this is my wife, my best friend, my partner in life – she said, “I guarantee ‘The Hangover’ will be the feel-good movie of the summer because every guy will go home feeling good about themselves.”
What about your parents?
I told my parents I was going to be naked in “The Hangover.” My dad has a great sense of humor. He saw it and he loved it. But my mother is a little more traditional and conservative, and I didn’t want to offend her sensibilities in any way. So we actually forbade her to see it for two months. She finally did see it, and said, “I loved it! Why do you underestimate me? It’s funny!”
Who was Chow on the page when you first read the script, and how did you change him?
Chow was originally written for a 60-year old man. It was another audition I was going in for, and thinking, “Asian guy, 60 years old; I ain’t gonna get this, yet this is the only audition I’ve got all year.” I only had four lines to read, so I went in, auditioned for Todd, and I had the most inspired audition ever. I was yelling and cursing and improvising for about 10 minutes. And Todd was going, “This guy is insane. I must hire him.” So I got the part.
Did you know that “Part III” was going to be as Chow-centric as it is?
When Chow goes to prison in the second movie, I was thinking to myself – as the insecure actor – “I just hope I have a part in the third one.” And then for me to have the biggest role of my career in this one ... I’m so moved and flattered by it, I still don’t think I fully comprehend how big this is. I made sure I was prepared. I made sure I brought my “A” game to this movie.
Now that the series is over, where do you go from here?
I used to be a doctor. I quit that to become a working actor. I just wanted lines in movies. That’s all I wanted and still all I want; the fame and fortune wasn’t the goal. On “Community” I wanted to see how small I could do it. I know I can do other moves, and that’s all I want to do right now. I may fail, but that’s fine. The ultimate failure is not trying at all, so I just want to keep doing what I do.
Have we seen the last of Mr. Chow?
Out of all the characters I’ve done, I love Chow the most. I quit my day job to pursue imagination, and Mr. Chow represents a wide spectrum of imagination. You can say or do anything with that character. I’d love it if there was a Chow spinoff.
"The Hangover Part III" opens on May 23.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
You can have a great time getting caught up in the outrageous action of the sixth entry in this money-making machine of a series without having seen any of the previous films. But you wouldn’t understand the nuances of the characters and their interrelationships, you wouldn’t get why they all keep talking about the importance of family, and you wouldn’t really know who you’re supposed to be rooting for, or why.
But, again, you can still have a great time. A “Fast & Furious” movie consists of good guys going up against bad guys, and vice versa; gorgeous cars being driven masterfully but recklessly; tight camaraderie among “gang” members; terrifically choreographed fist fights and stunt sequences; stiff acting; and insipid dialogue that’s made up for by all of the above.
“F&F6” opens with a car race along a twisting sea-mountain road in Spain, jumps to Moscow where the FBI is dealing with the case of a stolen satellite component, taken by a driving team who “hit like thunder and disappear like smoke,” shifts to London for some intrigue. The film has gone all Bondian in plotting and locales, even before the story starts.
That story brings back most of career criminal Dom Toretto’s (Vin Diesel) cohorts – an interracial gaggle of car-centric folks in which the women are as tough as the men – as well as the FBI agent (Dwayne Johnson) who was chasing them down in the previous installment but now needs their expertise.
Things get involved pretty quickly. “F&F” aficionados will recall that Dom’s woman Letty (Michelle Rodriguez) was killed a couple of films back. Naw, she was just injured ... and has amnesia ... and is now a member of vicious bad guy – and satellite component stealer – Shaw’s (Luke Evans) team. So it becomes a tale of cops working with criminals to go after villains, with a computer chip and a former flame at the center, and all kinds of crazy vehicles zipping all around them.
Diesel remains wooden and bland in the lead, with series regular Paul Walker, as former cop Brian O’Connor, again following Diesel’s lead by showing no expression on his face. Some sections of the film get a little too talkie, while others feature goofy dialogue that makes you wish the humor was a little more clever, a little less pat.
But suddenly there’s a dizzying nighttime race through the streets of London (during which director Justin Lin inserts a two-second shot of a young Asian kid watching, wide-eyed, from a bus, exactly as he did in “Fast Five”). By the final reel, the film reaches a level of action that hadn’t even been approached before in what’s always been an action-packed series.
If you’re among those viewers that jump up and leave the second the end credits role, you’ll miss the blatant reference to what’s already (at least tentatively) been titled “Fast & Furious 7,” including a line of dialogue from that film’s villain – a bland and balding British action actor who won’t be named here. If you like to plan ahead, get out your calendars. That film opens on July 11, 2014.
Ed Symkus covers movies for More Content Now.
FAST & FURIOUS 6
Directed by Justin Lin
With Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Dwayne Johnson, Michelle Rodriguez
Films like this comedy have a guaranteed opening weekend audience just because a big TV star has the lead role and is all over the poster. That would be “30 Rock’s” Tina Fey. Those folks probably won’t be disappointed in this lightweight film, even though Fey plays it kinda bland, as is called for her character.
There are all sorts of lessons to be learned in this violent, exciting, flag-waving chunk of action cinema.
Though she’s starred in a couple of feature films (“Baby Mama,” Date Night”), and had a prominent role in, as well as wrote, “Mean Girls,” Tina Fey is still best known for her TV work: head writer and performer on “Saturday Night Live,” creator-writer-executive producer-star of “30 Rock.” But with that show now gone, Fey is moving forward with her big-screen career. The former member of the renowned Chicago improv group Second City will be seen next year in “The Muppets ... Again!” and later this week starring opposite Paul Rudd and Lily Tomlin in the college-set comedy “Admission.” Fey, 42, who plays a Princeton admissions officer, recently spoke about the film in New York.
Ed Symkus covers movies for GateHouse Media.
There haven’t been many movies about magic and magicians made over the years, although the idea of seeing spectacular illusions on a big screen sounds like a pretty good one. We’ve had an inaccurate biopic on Houdini in the ’50s, the pretty good “Lord of Illusions” almost two decades ago and, very oddly, 2006 saw two quite good big-budget tales of prestidigitation: “The Illusionist” and “The Prestige.”
Some things go very wrong in this film. For one of the characters, it happens right at the beginning, just after she makes a call to 911 in Los Angeles. Young blond-haired Leah (Evie Thompson) gets through to veteran 911 operator Jordan Turner (Halle Berry) just as someone is smashing his way into the frightened girl’s home. Jordan does almost all of the right things, making only one small error, and Leah is eventually found in a shallow grave.
It’s pronounced boo-semi, not boo-shemi. OK, got that out of the way as the first order of business when sitting down last week with Steve Buscemi, one of the busiest character actors of the past two decades. He was the short-tempered criminal whose fate was sealed in a wood chipper in “Fargo,” the drunk best man in “The Wedding Singer,” the guy who didn’t believe in tipping in “Reservoir Dogs,” the hapless Donny in “The Big Lebowski.” Buscemi has also directed feature films (“Trees Lounge,” “Interview”) and TV shows (“30 Rock,” “Nurse Jackie,” “The Sopranos” – on which he also played Tony Blendetto), and he recently began filming his fourth season as Nucky Thompson on “Boardwalk Empire.” We spoke about his role in the new comedy “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone. Buscemi plays Steve Carell’s long-suffering magician partner Anton Marvelton.
Jim Carrey can play it all: dark and light, down-to-earth and outrageous. He can jump from “The Cable Guy” to “I Love You Phillip Morris,” from “The Truman Show” to “Dumb & Dumber” without missing a beat. In “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone,” in which he plays opposite Steve Carell and Steve Buscemi, his magician character Steve Gray is all kinds of things. He’s a talented performer, a daredevil, a shameless egotist, and a nasty, competitive fellow. Yet somehow, in Carrey’s capable hands, Steve Gray is funny. The rubber-faced, fast-talking actor, who will soon appear in “Kick-Ass 2,” spoke recently in Las Vegas.
A great idea, pulled off to just short of perfection. It’s a prequel, of sorts, to “The Wizard of Oz,” in which we’re introduced to the young Kansas sideshow huckster who ends up in the magic land of Oz, and will someday become that iconic “man behind the curtain” to whom we’re to pay no attention.
The Hollywood-versus-history game gets another go-around in this newest offering that sticklers will no doubt find inauthentic. But “Emperor” is no “Zero Dark Thirty” (Americans portrayed as torturing terror suspects) or “Lincoln” (Honest Abe speaking with black soldiers on the battlefield) or “Argo” (How come no one has mentioned that the whole ending was made up?).
Here we’ve got what seems to be a truthfully told story of what happened in Japan at the end of WWII, when Gen. Douglas MacArthur was ordered to rebuild the place, but also find out if Emperor Hirohito was guilty of war crimes.
But he doesn’t have much time to think about her, because he’s summoned to the office of “the old man” – MacArthur (Tommy Lee Jones) – who orders him round up associates of the emperor, interview them, and find out if Hirohito should be returned to a leadership position or hanged. Oh, yeah, and you have 10 days to accomplish this.
But while the story spins forward rapidly, making sure to point out how difficult it was to get the proud Japanese military men to say anything against their leader, it also shoots out in a wholly different direction, taking far too much time to deal with Gen. Fellers’ emotional distress.
These were the story’s happier days, and the world is a brighter, more colorful place in the flashbacks. But there are so many of them, and they turn out to be so distracting from the more interesting story of MacArthur’s bullying demands on Fellers, they actually ruin the flow of the film.
Fellers is thoughtful and intelligent, and he knows a lot about Japan. But the film also could have used more about the culture clash he falls victim to, despite all of that. At its most basic level, this is about how war tears people apart. It’s a pity that the film leans so much on one man’s emotional turmoil rather than the bigger and far more interesting picture of history in the making.
Ed Symkus covers movies for GateHouse Media.