John Travolta: Scientology has better tools than Catholicism

In spite of his glorious success in Hollywood, John Travolta has faced tough challenges and endured tragic losses since the onset of his career. In 1977, breast cancer robbed him of his then- girlfriend, actress Diana Hyland, in 2009 his autistic son died following a seizure, in 2012 he was accused of sexually molesting a male MASSEUR, and  more sexual allegations have been pelted at him since the 80’s, yet every time I encounter him, he is invariably beaming with smiles and projecting the image of a joyous man.

In a TV interview I conducted with the Hollywood star for my BBC’s Alternative Cinema show, he unlocks the mystery of his carefree demeanour, revealing that it was thanks to his religion, Scientology, which has equipped him with the required tools to deal with life’s challenges and overcome their detrimental impact on him, personally and professionally.

“I think it’s probably my nature to begin with,” the 60-year-old actor says. “I’ve always seen the glass as half full innately. I think that’s a fact. and of course since I have the pressures of fame, my religion has helped me keep positive because it helped combat the pressure of being famous.”

Travolta entered the public eye in his early twenties, after starring in two of the most commercially successful movies of the seventies: “Saturday Night Fever (1977)” and “Grease (1978)”. Barely 24 years old, he was nominated for an Oscar for inhabiting the role of Tony Manero in “Saturday Night Fever,” rendering him the youngest nominee ever until then. And in 1980, his performance in “Urban Cowboy” inspired a nationwide country music craze. By that time, he was considered Hollywood’s most famous star. But this fame was not without a price.

“I was a believer in Scientology before I became famous,” Travolta says. “But I didn’t realise how much it was going to help me. You live a very isolated life so there is a price you pay for isolation, and then when you go out to live a social life, you also have the stress of everyone knowing who you are, and then you have the media as well, which is something you learn early on to put in perspective and keep it at a distance because there is no way of controlling that, but the media has a variation of interpretation of what your movie is and your personal life is, so to try to control that is like a test in futility.”

Indeed, Travolta’s relationship with the media has been tumultuous. Ironically though, the media’s hostility towards him has been precipitated by his adherence to Scientology, which has been excoriated for its alleged shady activities and charged with using threats and extortion to subjugate its members to its will. Even Travolta himself has been subjected to threats, according to a 1991 Time Magazine article, in which the former executive manager of the church, William Frank, purported that the superstar was wary of leaving the faith, lest his sexual relationships with other men be exposed by the church’s leaders. Frank reiterated his claim in the recent Sundance documentary “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and Prison of Faith,” which urged Travolta to leave his church and expose the illicit activities of its leaders.

It seems that Travolta’s religion is the problem, not the solution when it comes to dealing with the media, for it attracts undue attention to his private life. Nonetheless, he insists that Scientology is the source of happiness and that he can’t live without it.

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Is Julianne Moore the next Oscar winner? – TV Interview

Having won the best actress award in Cannes this year for her performance in David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars” and dazzled the audiences at the recent Toronto International Film Festival with her portrayal of an Alzheimers-stricken professor in “Still Alice”, Julianne Moore has become Oscar prognosticators’ favourite to win the golden trophy in the best Actress category next February.

Known for fearlessly portraying emotionally troubled women, Moore began her career in the late 1980’s in TV, which she followed with supporting roles in movies such as Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993) and Steven Spielberg’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” But she received her wide recognition in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, earning 4 Oscar nominations for her roles in “Boogie Nights (1997),” “The End of the Affair (1999),”  “Far from Heaven (2002), and “The Hours (2002)”. In 2012, she gained an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Awards for portraying Sarah Palin in the television movie “Game Change.”

In this TV interview, which I conducted with her at Cannes Film Festival for BBC’s Alternative Cinema show, Moore expounded on her methods of inhabiting her complex roles.  “I always start with the script, and then I get an interior feeling of who they should be and how should they accomplish it. And there would be things I have seen in my life that influence me, maybe even unconsciously that I ended up incorporating.”

In the Hollywood dark satire, Maps to the Stars, the the 53-year-old actress portrays an aging actress, who is sinking into depression and madness for missing parts that she feels are hers, but are given to younger actresses.  Moore confirms that there are elements of reality to this sad existence in Hollywood.

Conversely, Moore’s age has been a blessing. Her career continues to flourish, reaching new heights every year. In “Still Alice”, which screened in Toronto International Film Festival last week, she hits emotional notes effortlessly and captures the feeling of a person losing her faculties without any of the broad or easy signposts of such on-screen declines.

Will she clutch the Oscar that had eluded her 4 times this time? Moore’s competition could come from Reese Witherspoon (Wild), Meryl Streep (Into the Woods) and Felicity Jones (The Theory of Everything). So with the dearth of outstanding female performances this year, Moore’s chances are quite good, albeit politics could change everything in the next few months.

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Robert Pattinson loves watching Hollywood Movies, but doesn’t like making them – TV interview

 

 

The Twilight franchise assured his fortune, made him a teen hearthrob and brought him worldwide fame, yet Robert Pattinson seems indifferent. With such superstardom, international appeal and good looks, he could be making Hollywood blockbusters and amassing more wealth and fame, but instead he has been chasing roles in small and often obscure art-house movies, such as Bel Ami, Little Ashes or Cosmopolis, whose box office gross could never get remotely near the Twilight’s $3.3 billion.

Money and fame, however, is the last thing on the 28-year-old actor’s mind, he tells me when I interview him for my BBC arabic Alternative Cinema show at the Cannes Film Festival, where two of his art films were premiered: David Cronenberg’s Maps To the Stars (in the main competition) and David Michod’s The Rover (in Un Certain Regard). Most likely, the screaming fans, who came from distant lands to catch a glimpse of him marching up the red carpet, won’t be making any such efforts to watch these films that he is so proud of.

“I hope they will do and enjoy them,” he grins. “I just try and do things which are challenging and hopefully people appreciate it. I make these films for myself, because if you’re trying to please anybody, you can’t predict  what an audience wants or what the critics say or anything about what a movie is going to do. I think what made me happiest is working with directors who for one thing I love their movies, their previous movies and it feels like a special experience working with them.”

Those directors are auteurs, usually on the fringe of mainstream cinema, which Pattinson grew up watching from a very young age. The list includes Werner Herzog, David Cronenberg and Olivier Assayas. So when he received the offers from Cronenberg to star his movies, Cosmopolis (2012) and Maps to the Stars (2014), he leapt to these opportunities without even reading the scripts. And he spent two anxious months preparing for the audition for the part of a simpleton in Australian director David Michod’s dystopian crime drama, The Rover. He had liked the director’s previous movie “Animal Kingdom,” and was eager to work with him. The audition lasted 4 grueling hours. Amazingly, the entire film budget was less than $12 million, a far cry from Pattinson’s $20 million wage on the last installment of Twilight.

“I’ve just done a lot of parts where I was very, very still, and I am quite a sort of physically awkward person; I feel more comfortable being awkward, so it was easy. I don’t feel contained especially with this kind of character where you are kind of free to do pretty much anything. So it was very freeing just being a bit of mal-coordinate person,” he laughs.

Shooting the film in the Australian desert was also a welcome escape for the young star, who is invariably mobbed by paparazzis whenever he steps out of his house. “I just love it,” he exclaims. “Not only there’s no people trying to find you, there’s no-one at all and so it was much easier for concentration, and you are not worrying about someone trying to sneak up on you, so I found it incredibly peaceful and relaxing.”

Evidently, this freedom, peace and relaxation has paid off.  In spite of the film’s lukewarm reception, Pattinson’s performance was unanimously praised by the critics, setting him on his coveted path of a grown-up artist.

Ironically though, in spite of his appreciation, love and passion for independent art-house movies, The English actor confesses that he watches mainly Hollywood movies for enjoyment, attributing this behavioural incongruity to his “weird” energy.  “I don’t really gravitate towards working on them mainly because they just don’t come in to my orbit really. I don’t really see myself in a lot of parts that are kind of mainstream,” he explains, albeit adding that he wouldn’t mind playing a vampire again.

Pattinson is not the only one of Twilight’s alumni who is endeavouring to recreate his image as a serious artist. His colleagues, Taylor Lautner and Kristen Stewart, have also distance d themselves from mainstream roles and dived into the world of independent cinema, as if they were trying to distinguish themselves from others who attained an undeserving fame, and join the ranks of those who are famous for their contribution to art, society and humanity.

Speaking to Pattinson on several occasions over the last six years, I got the impression that his fame is akin to a prison that deprived him of the freedom that he used to have, but he acquiesced to it because he considered it part of the job. “You can’t really do a lot of the stuff you used to be able to do and that’s a little bit of a struggle but once you get through that thing, which I got out of 2 years ago, you just had to accept that your life is something else, and now I can’t really remember what my life was like before, and so it’s much easier to deal with,” he smiles.

Of course, fame has also endowed him with the freedom of picking up his desired roles and work with his idols, for which he is grateful. “I consider myself extremely lucky, which always makes me a little bit nervous,” he laughs.

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Jeffrey Katzenberg: We used mind-blowing technology in How To Train Your Dragon 2.

 

 

One of the most powerful figures in Hollywood, Jeffrey Katzenberg, was in his 20s when he joined Paramount studios and revived the the defunct Star Trek TV show,  turning it into a major theatrical film, “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” (1979).

By the time he was 33 years old, Katzenberg was hired by ailing Disney studio in 1984 to become the chairman of its motion picture division.  During his 10 year tenure there, he reversed the venerable animation studio’s declining fortunes and shepherded some of the biggest hits in its history, including “The Little Mermaid” (1999) and “The Lion King” (1994).

Following his departure from Disney, Katzenberg founded Dreamworks SKG with Steven Spielberg and David Geffen in 1994. Under his watch, Dreamworks and Dreamworks Animation released some of the most successful films of the 1990’s and 2000’s, including “American Beauty”, “Gladiator” and “Beautiful Mind.” Gradually, he shifted his focus back to animation, taking charge of Dreamworks Animation and turning it into one of the most successful studios in Hollywood, where he oversaw major hits such as “Ants,” “Prince of Egypt,” “Shrek” and “How to Train Your Dragon.”

In an interview I have conducted with him for my BBC show Alternative Cinema, Katzenberg said that unlike Disney, Dreamworks doesn’t limit its animation to children. “Dreamworks is more of an adult brand than Disney. We have been PG, not G, since the beginning. It’s a balance,” he says.

One of Dreamworks most successful movies, the Oscar-winning “How To Train Your Dragon” was followed by a sequel this year, which will premiere at Cannes Film Festival next month. Katzenberg promises that the sequel is even bigger than the original, which he attributes to  the new technology that was used to tell the story.

“We have the newest, most state of the art and mind-blowingly incredible technology that we put in the hands of our animators, and they were able to do in this movie what they were never able to do before. The audience will be able to see a whole new level and quality of acting and emotions on our characters and their faces and their expressions,” he enthuses.

Sequels, however, have been the source of discontent for many of Hollywood’s critics, who regard them as an instrument to ensure commercial profitability at the cost of artistic originality. Katzenberg, on the other hand, insists that making sequels at Dreamworks Animation is driven by creative integrity rather than financial necessity. “Our sequels existed because every one of these movies had multiple chapters that the filmmakers wanted to do from the day they started on the film. When they came with How to Train Your Dragon, Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders said that there were 3 or even 4 chapters for this story, so we always looked at this as a story that was going to be told over many chapters, over many years.”

Katzenberg admits though that making originals is financially riskier than making sequels, citing  his company’s box office failures “Turbo” and “The Guardians.” But that has not inhibited him from taking risks. In fact, this year, Dreamworks Animation is releasing two originals: “Mr. Peabody and Sherman” and “Home.”

Releasing 3 animated movies in one year is not an easy task. It takes 4-5 years to make one of these movies. In fact, Dreamworks Animation’s main competitor, Pixar, has failed to release even one movie this year. Unsurprisingly, Katzenberg is all smiles.

David O. Russell reveals the secret of his movies success – TV interview

 

 

It took David O. Russell 6 years to find the voice of cinema that he wanted to make, and since he did in The Fighter (2010), his movies have collected a whopping 25 Oscar nominations and scored 3 wins. 10 of these nominations were bestowed on his recent crime caper American Hustle.

But in a TV interview I conducted with him for BBC Arabic’s Alternative Cinema, on the eve of the Academy Awards ceremony, Russell insists that awards don’t feature in his mind when he makes his movies. “My movies come from the heart, from my passion and personal feelings,” he says. “Everything is personal in my films. I feel every character personally. I want their predicament to be human and deep. I love the music of language and feelings.”

That music of language and feelings is truly what distinguishes the Oscar-nominated director’s movies. His actors work like an orchestra, bouncing witty lines and revealing deep emotions, convivially and lightheartedly. Even the most tragic moments are colored with humour, yet without comprising its emotional substance and depth. “The humour for me comes from the same place tragedy comes from,” he says. “It’s just a real human commitment. So the actors are passionately and emotionally committed to whatever they are in, and that sometimes it’s funny and sometimes it’s heartbreaking.”

Russell is one the Hollywood’s rebels, who has shunned the studio system and sought out finance and support from independent backers.  His movies are made cheaply by Hollywood standards, but they have been very rewarding in the box office. “We have created commercial cinema,” he enthuses. “They are about people, romance, rebirth and passion. This is not what the studios are built for, but we did it.”

For the third time, an Oscar win alluded the 56-year-old auteur last week. In fact, American Hustle didn’t take any golden trophies home. It did however collect  3 Golden Globes in January.

Tom Hanks: I am not a political guy – TV interview

 

 

In an exclusive interview for my BBC show Alternative Cinema, Tom Hanks, who openly supported Barack Obama in the 2008 US elections and made donations to many Democratic politicians, denies being a political guy. He is only interested in examining the process. “I admit it!  I voted for the president of the United States, that’s my right as an American citizen, but I am not a guy every time you stick a microphone in his face, I am gonna try to wax eloquent what my political statement is. I don’t think that I have anything to add to the public discourse.”

The highest all-time box office star reveals that he trusts his instincts when he chooses a role. “There is an initial rush, and then I go and meet the filmmaker and if they are going for the same territories as I see it, then saying Yes is pretty easy,” he says.

Having recently played the eponymous Captain Phillips and Walt Disney in Saving Mr. Banks, Hank says that bad guys in Hollywood movies  are more complex these days. “Part of it is the consciousness of filmmakers who are not interested in doing a two-dimensional good guys vs bad guys protagonists, and another part is the taste of the audiences who are not satisfied with a world on the screen that doesn’t reflect the world they live in. And it also makes good business because the majority of the world probably have a brown hair and brown eyes.”

Hanks’ riveting performances in Captain Phillips and Saving Mr Banks have rendered him a forerunner in this year’s awards race. He admits that it was easier to inhabit Captain Phillips character than Walt Disney’s, because the former was around to spend time with, while he had not met the latter. Hence, he had to go through every piece of film and video of Disney that he could lay his hands on. “But that’s only an external version of the man that you had to start with, because I don’t know the anecdotal information from the man himself,” he explains.” With Rich (Captain Phillips) I was able to talk with one on one about anything under the sun.” So Hanks had to listen to stories from Disney’s collaborators, who fed him with anecdotes that availed him in adding behavioral nuances to the character.

Hanks has won two Academy Awards for Best Actor for his roles in Philadelphia and Forrest Gump. Will he gain another one? We will know in February.

Robert Redford: Hollywood is just a business – TV interview


In an interview I’ve conducted with Robert Redford for my BBC show, Alternative Cinema, the Hollywood superstar explains why he founded the Sundance institute in 1980. “I sensed that the movie market was becoming centralized on the youth market, where they felt the money was, because Hollywood is just a business, nothing more.” Feeling that the stories about human interest and the soul of a struggling person were not being told anymore, he embarked on starting Sundance, that would enable independent filmmakers to develop their projects in order to keep independent cinema alive. He followed that with creating the Sundance Film Festival in 1985, a platform for those filmmakers to show their work.

In spite of his disenchantment with Hollywood, the godfather of independent Cinema still believes that the primary goal of making movies is to entertain. But “I just believe that you could entertain and also inform,” he says. He continues to explain that a movie has to have 3 steps: a story, character and emotion. The problem with many movies, he says, that they have dazzling effects, but no story.

 The Oscar-winning actor/director can currently be seen battling the elements in the independent movie All Is Lost, in which he utters no more than a couple for words for the entire movie, yet delivers one of his best performance of his career.