Thursday, May 23, 2013

The English Teacher Needs Moore in Life

Playing in Theaters

The English Teacher Needs Moore in Life

The English Teacher, an amiable, lightweight comedy in which Julianne Moore heads an all-star cast, has been on the move this last month.  The debut feature of Craig Zisk (whose impressive TV directorial credits include Weeds, Nurse Jackie, Brooklyn Bridge, The Office, and The Larry Sanders Show) played at the Tribeca Film Festival, soon after was available on VOD, and this Friday opens in theaters.  Moore, who is one of our busiest actresses for the right reason (she’s one of the best), plays Linda Sinclair, an unmarried, small-town high school teacher who finds romance in books, not in life.  She is content to read, share her passion for literature with her students, and help drama teacher Carl Kapanis (Nathan Lane) with his annual plays.  This year they try to stage a controversial, downbeat play by Jason (Michael Angarano), Linda’s talented former student who had no luck selling it in New York.  Linda worries that he might have to give up writing and go to law school as he says his overbearing father, Dr. Tom Sherwood (Greg Kinnear), insists.  She might be attracted to Jason and he might be attracted to her.  Or is he attracted to the play’s female lead Halle (Lilly Collins) and is she becoming attracted to Tom, who isn’t as bad as Jason says?  Will the play go on as planned? Will Linda lose her job?  The only thing certain is that when things go haywire, nothing will ever be the same again.  During the TFF I took part in the following roundtable with Julianne Moore and Michael Angarano.  I note my questions.
Jason (Angarano) and Linda (Moore) at rehearsal

Michael Angarano and Julianne Moore Photo: DP 
Q: How was it for you two working with a Broadway ensemble-- Nathan Lane, Norbert Leo Butz, Jessica Hecht—and veteran movie actors as well?
Julianne Moore:  Great, because they are really great people--Nathan, Jessica, Norbert, Greg Kinnear, Jim Breuer, John Hodgman, and the young actors, too. My son was 15 months old when I did SNL with Jim Breuer, which is crazy. We had an extraordinary cast, so I was pretty lucky.
Michael Angarano: It was amazing, especially for me. I grew up watching them. The Birdcage with Nathan Lane was one of my family’s favorite movies. It was so cool doing that scene with Julianne and Nathan. The scenes with the whole ensemble really felt kind of like a play.  The only real play I did was when I was 7 and played Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol in Radio City. So I didn’t have play experience, and it was really fun.
Danny Peary: One of the interesting things about this movie is that everybody does something they should apologize for. But not everybody apologizes.
JM (laughing): I think one of the nice things about the movie is that people don’t apologize. They all do these cause-and-effect things, and at the end of the day a lot of people are very shamed, but there’s a kind of forgiveness that they all offer one another.  Part of that is looking the other way. Maybe they weren’t all their best selves at the moment they did something that went wrong, but they had the best intentions. There’s a humanity to their recovery that I like. Remember how your mother always told you to just let time go by and things won't seem so bad? It’s true, they all let a little time go by and it all settles down again.
MA: It was interesting, because we did a table read with the script, and when I first read Jason out loud, he came across much angrier than I think he should have.  I realized that there’s this real childishness about him that’s very annoying.  Even in his relationship with Linda. You know what I mean? He thinks he’s this mature guy, and he’s kind of projected himself to be that, but he’s just really a boy.  I don’t think he intentionally tries to hurt anybody, but he’s manipulative, in an annoyingly childish, guy-must-get-what-he-wants kind of way, with no apologies.
Q: Julianne, I found your character to be inherently sweet.
JM: I love her. I was like Linda Sinclair, I was the kid that read all the time and went to the library and won the summer reading contest and ended up in the drama club after school. I wasn’t athletic and I couldn’t do anything else but act--it was sort of an extension of reading. I feel like it could very easily be Linda today if I didn’t have a high-school English teacher who told me I could be an actress. So I found Linda incredibly relatable. She’s sort of innocent, and I think she is really endearing, actually.
Q: In the film, all the characters sort of learn life lessons.  I wonder if you found that relatable.
MA: I think I’m learning something new every day. Going back to the fact of working with these great actors. Not to talk bad about anybody specifically, but there are some actors who act a certain way toward people who don't deserve to be treated that way. From experiences like this, I can say that some of the most talented and successful people in this business are the most humble and hard-working. I definitely saw that with Julie, Nathan, and Greg Kinnear. It was just a really nice thing to be a part of something in which everybody carried this sense of humility. Nathan Lane walks into the makeup trailer and the first thing he says is, "Hello Michael." He knew my name before I introduced myself to him!  Building a sense of camaraderie on the set is a really important lesson to learn, I think.
Carl (Nathan Lane) and Linda (Julianne Moore)
Q: Can you talk about the sex scene your characters have in the classroom? I think it’s so sweet and funny.
JM (joking): I’ve had a lot of experience with sex scenes so... Well, you know, Michael was more like, "I guess we do this then we do this?"
MA: I was like, "Let’s save it, I don’t want to put you through it."
JM: I just kissed him because I wanted him to feel comfortable and feel he didn’t have to be afraid. We were just going to do it! I took my hair down, took my glasses off. All of those really silly things, and it was funny to go from Linda telling Michael, Oh, you poor kid, your dad is so bad to you into a love scene. It was fun!
MA: Yeah, it was definitely fun. Even though it’s an intimate moment, I’d always read it in the script as Linda kind of taking advantage of him, in a weird way.  But while playing it and now watching it, I think it’s actually Michael taking advantage of Linda. I find that to be really interesting.   Because, as I was saying, he's a manipulative guy.
Jason (Angarano) puts his movies on Halle (Lily Collins)
Q: How much Pepto-Bismol did you go through in the movie because of Michael's anxiety?
MA: It was actually yogurt. Apparently the prop guy told Craig Zisk that I wanted to drink the real thing--which was so not the case!  I don’t know where that rumor started!
Craig looked over at me and said, "No, it’s going to be yogurt.  I was like, Yeah!
Q: For Michael's play in the movie, the school administration insisted they change his unhappy ending. Have you experienced anything similar in real life’?
MA: I did this movie called The Forbidden Kingdom, which was directed by Rob Minkoff. The 2nd unit, the action unit, was directed by Woo-ping Yuen. I was doing 2nd unit a lot, and we were shooting 14-hour-days, all action. The whole point of the movie is that my character has to travel to ancient China and kill the bad guy. My character has to do it. But Wu-ping had somebody else kill him! He had a whole fight scene, dedicated to fifteen hours of shooting, in which the other guy kills him. I didn’t know if there was a rewrite but Rob, came to me the next day, saying we have to reshoot that because "You have to kill the monkey king." I thought so!
JM: Most filmmakers won’t do that to you. I’ve had things happen and they have had to fix it later, but it was usually when I was working with filmmakers who were not very assured.
DP: In The English Teacher, Linda's ex-student, Michael, returns as a playwright and tells her that she was his big influence.  Have you ever had an actor tell you that you influenced them years before?
JM: Not yet!  [It was the other way around, actually.] My high school drama teacher, Roble Taylor, was the one who said to me, "You can be an actor."  She was super ambitious in terms of what to put on. The first production I ever did with her was Tartuffe. Nobody does that. I also did Music Man with her, which is a little more traditional, and played Medea. She seemed like a real theater director. So I was in plays, but I’d never met an actor, I’d never seen a real play, I didn’t think you could make a living acting, I didn’t know anything about the theater. And she said, "Here’s a copy of Dramatics Magazine, and here are different schools that you can go to," and I was like, "Oh, okay."  Had I not met her, I don’t think I would have done that. She changed my life, and she knows that because I told her when I met her years later.  It was when I was in L.A. for a while, and she was in Arizona. I told her that she altered the course of my life.
MA: It's not really similar, but I find it weird when people come up to me because they recognize me from a movie I was in when I was eleven. 
Q: Julianne, what would lure you back to Broadway?
JM: Nathan was like, "I have this play." And he sent it to me, it was something he was going to direct, and he said, "If you're not going to be in it, I’m not going to do it!" But plays are really, really hard when you have children. When I did The Vertical Hour years ago, I didn’t think how they wipe out your entire weekends and one day in the middle of the week   It’s just not worth it for my family. It’s actually easier to do films, because you come home at the end of the day and you’re there for dinner, you put your kids to bed, and then you get up and go to work. You’re on their school schedule and you have weekends free. But theater’s tough with kids.
Q: Juggling a career and family life is common issue for women. What do you think about that?
JM: It’s what everybody says: yes, you can have it all, but you just can’t have it all at the same time. You can’t. There’s going to be compromises somewhere. There are some jobs you’re not going to do. I don’t go to Australia and work, I can’t shoot the film in Romania. I can’t do that kind of thing because it’s too far away. So if I shoot a film during the school year, I shoot it here in town.  In the summertime it's easier because they're at camp or they can travel with me. Or we break it up into little pieces.
Q: What are your personal challenges making films and just being an actor?
MA: I think it’s challenging working in general, and keeping very positive. There’s tons of negative energy directed at acting and thespians. You just think positive, keep healthy, move forward, and don't dwell too much on what could have been or should have been. There’s a lot of bitterness and resentfulness in this movie, but Julianne and a lot of other successful, talented, hardworking actors keep that attitude. I think it's important to create a life, maybe having a family, outside of it.
JM: I think he’s right.  Everyone wants, as Freud says, love and work.  That’s what you need. You want to have a relationship and a family and a personal life.  That's a rich life outside of work.  And then you also want to have a rich, creative, interesting work life.  That's the balance that we want to create and it's a day-to-day challenge to get it.
DP: Will Linda Sinclair have that?
JM: I think she will.  That's Linda’s story. She’s someone who’s only lived in the books she's read. She’s only lived inside the narrative and hasn’t stepped out of it. She’s kept her choices very restricted, but she blows it open at the end by making all these mistakes and by being present in the real world.
Linda on a rare date, with Tom (Greg Kinnear)
Q: Do your kids influence your choice of parts?
JM: If there’s something that they wanted me to be in, it would be great to be able to do something like that. But that hasn't happened yet.
Q: Have you shared this movie with them yet?
JM: My husband has seen it but my kids have never seen anything that I’ve done. My work is separate. I’m just their mother.
Julianne Moore  Photo:DP

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