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Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston

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Alan Arkin, John Goodman and Bryan Cranston are three very impressive guys. Between them, they’ve starred in over 300 movies, been nominated for hundreds of awards (with Arkin winning an Oscar for ‘Little Miss Sunshine’) Now, they could be headed for more awards glory, thanks to their roles in ‘Argo’.

At the Toronto Film Festival, amongst a small group of international journalists, I got to talk to the three about their long careers, and working with a fellow actor, turned director.

 

Q. What kind of a director is Ben Affleck?

Goodman: Very tall.

Arkin: He’s absolutely in total command of his craft. He’s got a security that’s way beyond the amount of movies he’s directed. It’s like he’s got an assurance of somebody who has been directing for 20-25 years.

Cranston: Yeah, I felt that too. In the way he commands the set, you know he’s in charge. He didn’t make anyone feel that they’re subordinate to him. It’s a very relaxed comfortable set. That’s the best environment for actors to be feel that they can try some things, that they don’t feel like anything they do is going to be wrong. He’ll just guide you into a little different area or do another take. But basically it’s true. He hires the people he thinks are right for that role and just lets them do it.

 

Q: Did any of you improvise a lot because it sounds so real and so funny…

Arkin: I usually improvise a lot but I don’t think I improvised a word on this. You always hope something sounds real.

Cranston: We started with a script that’s so well written. The hardest work I’ve ever had to do is on scripts that were subpar where the guide posts are vague and flimsy and you have to do a lot of work in creating an honest character. Chris Terrio wrote a beautiful script. To me it was, just follow the signs he has placed and you’ll would be fine.

Arkin: With bad writing, you have to do a lot of pausing to make the transitions work.

Goodman: And in between those pauses you’re going, ‘Oh, why am I here?  Why am I doing this?’ {laughing}

Arkin: And then you start overacting to cover up that…  Have you ever seen a movie called Abandon Ship?

Cranston: No.

Arkin: It’s the only movie that I’ve ever seen where you can the actors are dying and they try to overact for a little while in order to cover up how bad it is and then they just give up. {laughing} After 48 minutes in it, you see the eyes just go dead, and it’s just there.

Cranston:  What an appropriate title.  {laughing}

 

Q. For the three of you, after all these films, is it still hard to watch yourself on screen? Goodman: I personally don’t like watching myself but I was so caught up in the film that I got out of my own way. I didn’t mind it so much. I was watching everybody else.

Cranston: There is a certain part of you that sort of reviews your work and you’re subjected to it. When the story is so well told that it helps you become more injected to it, you do get out of your way. I just took a tact a while ago that it’s like whatever happens I forgive myself. If I see something that I go, ‘Hmmm….’ a moment where I’m pushing or faking… and then you just say, Okay, alright, I forgive myself.’

Arkin: Can you do that in life too?

Cranston: Yeah, I forgive myself.

Arkin: I always think it’s more interesting when I’m doing it than when I watch it. I did a movie with Peter Falk a long, long time ago. He got to see the first cut of it before I did.  I said, ‘How does it look?’ He said, ‘Well, in this scene I was doing this and that scene felt pretty good.’ He goes on for about 25 minutes. I said, ‘What about me? Was I okay?’ He says, ‘You, I didn’t even see you for the first three times I watched the movie.’

Cranston: It’s like when you take a picture with a group of people and you always look at yourself. ‘No, that’s a horrible picture.’ {laughing} I guess that’s human nature.

 

Q. ‘Argo’ seems very authentic. Was the period detail helpful? 

Cranston: There’s a file folder in the CIA bullpen that we worked in where the word intelligence was misspelled. It was not misspelled on purpose, and I thought therein lies the irony. {laughing} But I think the more information that I have, it feeds you.

What I think is so brilliant about Alan and John’s section of the movie – and I would say this without them being here – is that they lighten the movie. They lighten it up. We get to have a laugh. But at the same time, it solidifies the foundation of that part of the story so one wasn’t sacrificed for the other. That’s really brilliant writing.

Arkin: I think it’s a masterpiece of writing. It’s the way movies used to be made all the time in Hollywood. I don’t know what happened but about I guess 20-25 years ago it became, if it’s serious, it’s serious; if it’s a comedy, it’s a comedy. There’s no sense of the contrast that goes on in human life all the time. One of the things that most excites me about it, is Ben’s extraordinary restraint. There is an extraordinary restraint that you almost don’t see in American films anymore. Most American movies now, you’re in close up, and you’re in close up until there is a wide shot. Everything is predictable. And, the most dramatic poignant emotionally exciting moment in the movie is done in almost absolute silence. It’s extraordinary.

Cranston: This is entertainment but it also has a message. Hopefully people will still want to go see this movie. There are no scantily clad women in it. There’s not a lot of young kids in it. I hope that word of mouth will get out there and people will realize that it’s an important too.

 

Q. Do you remember what you were doing in 1979, the year the movie takes place?

Arkin: Me? I barely remember what I was doing yesterday. I think I went to a premiere.

Goodman: Yeah, that’s what you did.

Cranston: 1979 is when I got my SAG card, when I started as a professional actor. I do remember it very well. It was a great exciting time. I was with my practice wife at the time. Everything was new and exciting.

Arkin: Your practice wife?

Cranston: Yeah, I had a practice wife. I had a practice wife before I found the wife I should be with.

Arkin: It’s like they used to say, ‘I would like you to meet my present wife.’

 

Q. How did Ben ask you to do this film? Did he call you? Did you actually meet him?

Cranston: For me, yes, I was asked to look at this role. It wasn’t a straight offer. There is a misnomer as you get to a certain place in Hollywood and they say it’s not audition. You’re just going to meet with them. You laugh because it’s always an audition. You meet with someone and if you want the role, you have to talk about it. I wanted the role. I went in and I pitched him the idea. I just said a few things that I really supported the story and lauded the writing of it. I said I would really love to do it. By the time the meeting was over he said, we love to have you do it. Grant Heslov and Ben were in the meeting. I was thrilled.

Goodman: I had to do a comic monologue from ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ I did a piece from ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ and a Noel Coward song.

Cranston: And still they said, ‘We’ll get back to you.’

Alan:  They didn’t ask to see your makeup skills? My agent told me that Ben was going to call me. He said he wanted to talk to me about a part in the movie. I said it’s fine. I have no memory anymore, so a week went by and I forgot all about it by the time. A guy calls up and says, ‘Alan!’ I said, ‘Yeah.’ He said, ‘Hi, it’s Ben.’ There was this long pause and I said, ‘Forgive me, I know a lot of Bens. You want to give me your last name.’ He said, ‘Affleck.’ I was like, ‘Oh yeah!’ It’s amazing I remember this story.

 

Q. You watched the film with an audience last night. How did you like the reaction?

Arkin: It was great. I listened for coughs. I didn’t hear a cough last night. It’s a huge theater, and I didn’t hear one cough. The lack of coughing was the gauge for me – the fact that everybody was dead silent.

Cranston: There was someone who screamed something out at the end. I don’t know what that was.

Goodman: It was ‘Go Maple Leafs!’ [Toronto’s Ice Hockey Team] He saw the flag. It sounded like an extremist threat or something. There was silence and all of a sudden, a screm. And it turned out the guy said ‘Go Leafs!’

Arkin: Screaming in the theater. The last time I heard real screaming in the theater was when I went to see a movie I did ages ago, a thriller called ‘Wait Until Dark’. My mother was the least emotional person on the planet. I got killed in the movie, she stood up in her seat and screamed,’That’s my son!’ {laughing}

Goodman:  When you jumped out, and I thought you were dead, that got me. You’re so great.

Arkin: You’re pretty goddamn good yourself John.

Goodman: I know.

 

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About Alicia Malone

Alicia Malone is a Film Reporter, TV Host, Producer, Writer, Editor, and all around movie geek. She developed her taste for film at a young age, spending many a heady Friday night pajama-clad at the video store, picking out her 7 films for 7 days for $7. Bargain! While at school she created a Film Club, electing herself President. Eventually the School Principal asked her not to get up in assembly to talk about movies anymore.
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