The man behind “American Dreamz”
Paul Weitz talks to Moviehole about his fabbo new film, “American Dreamz”, which is released on DVD this week through Universal.
Q: What was it in Willem that made you want him to play the Chief of Staff?
A: Oddly, I think he has become one of our best comic actors because I usually think of him in dramas, but I thought he was really hilarious in Life Aquatic and in Auto Focus. I actually didn’t think of him at all and then my casting director brought him up, and I thought, “He looks nothing like any of these people who I’m discussing”. Then I read through with his voice in my head and it seemed like a lot better writing to me. I made a computer morph of his face with the top of Dick Cheney’s head and sent it to him saying, “Would you be up for doing this?” I mean, really the character is more a cross between Karl Rowe and Cheney but once I thought of him I knew I was hopefully going to make a better movie.
Q: Are you hooked on reality TV shows yourself?
A: I’m kind of hooked but I don’t own Ti-Vo, the digital rewind thing, so that helps me a lot when I have to watch the commercials. It’s like heroin addicts use methadone. I got hooked last year. There’s a guy named Constantine…
Q: Are your comedic sensibilities very much like Hugh’s?
A: Yeah, definitely. Actually when I wrote the first draft of the script I hadn’t seen American Idol so I wasn’t thinking about Simon or Ryan or any of that stuff, I was really thinking about Hugh. There’s a scene in there where the character is going, “Don’t make me do it, please god, don’t make me do it”, (laughs) and I knew that would be his reaction when I sent him the script and ask him to act in the movie. I think that the thing Hugh shares with my brother and me is that we all have a really juvenile sense of humor. He is also such a prepared actor that a lot of what I do on set is just crack jokes with him and try to keep him loose. It’s really nice, I feel flattered that he did the movie, that’s for sure.
Q: He actually said that you are pretty much the only person in Hollywood that he can have a beer with. Do you hang out a lot?
A: That’s really cute (laughs). Yeah, we hang out, he and Chris and I hang out.
Q: What about that “scene” between Mandy and Hugh that doesn’t exist, is it going to be on the DVD?
A: No – we shot the whole thing with body doubles (laughs) I was never going to show that scene. I thought it would be too gross (laughs).
Q: Mandy’s transformation from this sweet girl to a ruthless, low class player is really remarkable, what are your thoughts on her?
A: I think the thing about Mandy, which is actually terrific, is that her character is kind of depressed in the movie. There’s a shot early in the movie where she is slack-jawed staring at herself in the mirror and looks totally blank. And that’s not particularly a flattering way to look but it means more to her to do a good performance than to flatter herself all the time. I think that’s going to help make her a really terrific actress for years to come.
Q: There is a great line in the movie where her character says to Tweed, “I’m not attracted to other people sexually but you can have me if you want” when she realizes that they are very similar when it comes to fame. Can you talk about that line, and do you see that kind of behavior a lot in the business?
A: To be honest…I like to get information, gossip about people and whether they are nice people on set, and usually I try not to work with people I hear are really, really crazy. I tend not to have too much interaction with people who are that desperate (laughs), but the line implies that the only person she is ever sexually excited by is herself. It’s a little bit like ‘All About Eve’ actually. Somebody brought this up before, like where there’s an older actress – Hugh Grant is kind of playing the Bette Davis role on this. He’s been doing it so long that it’s worn on him, his addiction to his fame, and she’s the up and coming person and she’s perfectly built to be famous. If you look back at ‘All About Eve’ it’s nothing particular new. A lot of people are driven toward success by their own depression.
Q: Do you think you are going to get into trouble because of the ending of the movie?
A: Yes I will (laughs). Here I will. It’s taking a secret icon and doing something unspeakable with it. It’s the equivalent of the guys screwing the pie in American Pie, honestly, because the apple pie is the symbol of Americana and this one is even more loaded. But really to me, it’s like what you said, it’s about two people who are obsessed with a dream, and Chris Klein’s character is obsessed with this image that he is going to end up with Mandy Moore. If he can’t he’d rather not live. Then Hugh’s character is addicted to his fame.
Q: The most disturbing thing for Americans is probably that Chris Klein’s character is dressed in his army uniform at the end?
A: Yes. In fact, someone after a screening came up to one of the producers and said, “I was with this movie all the way, I loved it but that would never happen”. So yeah…but I kind of thought that the plot demanded it. That what everyone is thinking is going to happen, at least in America, is that someone’s going to rush on and save the day, and that’s why I had that speech of the president and I put this heroic music under it as if that’s going to save the day. But I felt like it would be copping out if I didn’t have that happen.
Q: How do you think American Idol is going to react, are they going to advertise the movie?
A: They told me they would, so I hope they are true to their word. It’s going to be weird.
Q: How do you think Simon and Randy are going to take it?
A: I don’t know. I hope that they’d be flattered, it’s Hugh Grant playing the part. Bob Hoskins is a great actor but if it was him, maybe their egos might not have accepted that. They should be flattered because it’s saying that American Idol is as important to this country as the presidency is. It’s kind of like in the film when Hugh and Dennis Quaid meet; it’s like these two heads of state meeting on equal terms.
Q: Although many more people seem to be voting for American Idol than in the presidential elections?
A: Exactly. It’s a very weird juxtaposition as in how many votes are counted for American Idol as opposed to presidency. And also, that no one ever questions the American Idol elections but with every presidential election now we seem to have some scandal about whether it’s stolen or not.
Q: Do you have a new project coming up?
A: There’s a memoir called ‘Another Bullshit Night in a Suck City’ that I’m adapting, which is by a poet named Nick Flynn who during his 20s, worked in a homeless shelter in Boston. His father was an alcoholic and ended up homeless living in the shelter while Nick was working there. So it’s kind of a poignant, strange father-son story.
Q: Do you already know who is going to star in it?
A: I’m sorry, I’m still writing it, so I don’t know who is going to do it yet.
Q: What is your writing technique like?
A: I try to keep banker’s hours because, basically, if I leave it until evening I get stressed out all day and I can’t take it. I usually just do it for few hours every day, trying to get something done in the morning so I don’t feel guilty for the rest of the day.
Q: Just a couple of hours?
A: It’s more like 4-5 hours. Anyone’s who is writing for 8 hours, I don’t know what on earth they are coming up with.
Q: Do you ever get a writer’s block?
A: Sadly no, because I’m willing to put up with bad writing. I comfort myself with the idea that I’m going to re-write it 20 times so even if it’s crap I’ll come up with something better hopefully.
Q: So you think it’s important just to keep writing?
A: I think it’s important to not be self-critical. I think the main thing that paralyzes people is their sense of perfectionism.
Q: Did you write the president’s role with Dennis in mind?
A: Well, I wrote it and then I realized that Dennis had never played the president before, and most actors of certain age have played the president and it was just a bonus that he is from Texas (laughs). I was doing publicity with him in Spain for In Good Company and I brought it up to him and I think he was drunk and he said, “Sure, I’ll do it”. (laughs) So I was glad that he didn’t cop out.
Q: What directors do you admire the most?
A: The directors I admire the most are probably the European directors who came to Hollywood in the 30s and 40s; Wilder, Lubitsch. Sturges was an American but he mostly grew up in Europe, and weirdly those are the people who helped define what America is, you know Capra. But I really love Ernst Lubitsch and how he handled cultural issues. In terms of contemporary directors I just like anybody who is expressing themselves whether their films are good or bad.
Q: Do you think that in ten years you’ll look back and see the period as Paul Weitz decade?
A: I hope so, yeah. The first movie I did when I was 33, and I felt lucky that I didn’t get to do it before that because I was confident enough to be able to say when I didn’t know something. I want to make hay while the sun shines, and I seem to be able to get the studios to make movie that are outside the box for them, so I try to continue to exploit that opportunity.
Q: Are some studios still trying to get you make American Pie like movies?
A: Yeah, I get sent those things and in a way it’s kind of nice but it’s not particularly tempting.
Q: Is this going to be the funniest DVD ever, at least that’s what the movie promises?
A: I think it’s going to cause a form of hysteria which will cause people to lose their sanity because the DVD is going to be so funny.
Q: What do you think about DVD commentaries?
A: I think the unfortunate thing you learn while watching the commentary on a DVD, is how flawed the director is, because when you see the movie it is kind of seamless if it’s a good movie and you don’t think too much about how it was made. When you watch a DVD you realize all the faults, all the wrong decisions that were made. So I think if anything it should give people confidence if they want to become filmmakers.
Q: What’s in your DVD player right now?
A: Oh, I’ll resist the temptation to make a raunchy joke, and I will tell you that it is sadly, Tarkovsky’s Solaris which I can’t understand at all.
AMERICAN DREAMZ is on DVD from Universal