Tag Archives: Q & A

Nerd Chat with FACES OF THE GONE Author Brad Parks

If you’re a regular reader here, you know I don’t do interviews with stuffy people. If I’m gonna sit down to a lunch interview, have a phone conversation and exchange a bunch of e-mails with someone, that person had better be interesting, funny, smart and look good in a Speedo. Brad Parks is three out of four so I heartily welcome him to Pop Culture Nerd.

Brad "I'm too sexy for furniture" Parks

Brad is the debut author of Faces of the Gone, a mystery about Newark newspaper reporter Carter Ross investigating the case of four dead bodies found in an empty lot with execution-style bullet holes in their heads. The novel provides an unflinching look at life on inner-city streets and in the newsroom, leavened by a healthy dose of humor.

For intimate details about Brad and to see him in a turtleneck, visit his website. But first, read on for our nerd chat.

Pop Culture Nerd: You’ve been all over the blogosphere promoting your book and given shout-outs by everyone from the New York Times to the Sun-Sentinel. Since this is our first time together, I gotta ask: Have you been tested?

Brad Parks: You know what they say—when you blog, you’re not only blogging the blogger, you’re blogging every person they’ve ever blogged. So I might be a bit dodgy, yes. I mean, just blogging at Jen’s Book Thoughts alone probably made me filthy. That skanky ho Jen Forbus gets around.

The infamous Jen Forbus with her niece

PCN: Hose yourself down with Lysol, man! She’s been with everyone in the crime fic community, male and female. But I’ve got my hazmat suit on so we can continue. What was the biggest thrill for you on pub day? Did you go to stores, point to your book and yell at strangers, “That’s me!”?

BP: Honestly? While my pub month was a string of incredible, wonderful, I’ll-never-forget-them happenings, my actual pub day was a bit crushing. In my mind, December 8, 2009 was something I had been building up for years—behind perhaps only my wedding and my kids being born (but ahead of, say, college graduation) in terms of significant days in my life. But to everyone else it was just a Tuesday.

Nevertheless, I got dressed up in my best author outfit, stuffed a Sharpie in my pocket and charged out the door to meet my public. I first went to my local independent bookstore, where the owner (who is a friend) had been so busy with the holiday rush, she hadn’t had time to put my book on the shelves yet. Next, I started in on the chain stores.

Now, mind you, I wasn’t expecting to be anywhere near the front of these stores—that’s something you’ve got to earn. I wasn’t expecting to be face out on the New Mystery shelf, because that’s valuable real estate, too. But I’m with St. Martin’s Press, a reputable publisher, so I was thinking each store would have at least one copy. Even if it was stuffed in a musty corner somewhere, I would proudly sign each one, whereupon Cherubim and Seraphim would strike a heavenly chord, even if I was the only one who could hear them.

Instead, I got this succession of blank stares from store managers, and it quickly became clear to me that until I darkened their doorstep, they had no plans on stocking my book. After the fourth no-show, I gave up and bought myself a cheeseburger, which I ate alone. It tasted a lot like humble pie.

PCN: But then all the rave reviews and best-of year-end mentions started pouring in. Has your head blown up to melon size? How has your life changed since you became a published author?

BP: You may ask Brad Parks this question, which Brad Parks will be glad to answer, since you clearly acknowledge that He is a Better Person than you. No, seriously, the reviews have been lovely. And there have been some Sally Field you-like-me-you-really-like-me moments, when I’ve felt the warm glow of knowing my words were appreciated somewhere. Other than that, I don’t feel all that different. I mean, don’t get me wrong, my wife complains I talk about myself too much, but she did that before I was published, too.

PCN: Any interesting tour anecdotes you can share?

BP: Well, I wrote about this one for Shelf Awareness. To give you the Cliffs Notes version, it basically involves me white-knuckle-driving my way through an ice storm to a bookstore, where I figured I’d end up sitting in front of a large pile of my books in an empty store. But then…aw, heck, I won’t ruin it. Just click on the link if you’re curious. And promise you’ll come back to PCN when you’re done!

PCN: Thanks for sending both my readers over there. Now I’ll have to pay two other people to read this. You’ve said Carter is a lot like you, but if you could be like any character in crime fiction, who would it be?

BP: This answer probably changes on a daily basis. But today I feel like being Jack Reacher, who has spent all summer digging ditches and has puffed up to 250 heavily muscled pounds. And then I’d go play pick-up basketball. Having otherwise gone through life as a scrawny white guy, I’d like to be able to set a pick that means something for once.

PCN: Did you tell Lee Child about your Reacher daydreams when you fetched him a Coke at last year’s Bouchercon?

BP: I did tell Lee I daydream about being Reacher. Then he replied, “That’s funny, I dream of being Carter Ross.” Then we bro-hugged. Then I woke up.

PCN: What other authors turn you into a gushing fanboy?

BP: I would say Harlan Coben. I’ll know I’ve really arrived when I can spend time with Harlan and not have this little voice in my head—it sounds like an 11-year-old girl—constantly going, Omagod, omagod, I’m hanging out with HARLAN COBEN, omagod! Hasn’t happened yet.

PCN: I like how you equated the process of writing to open-water distance swimming in one of your guest blogs. What do you do if you get a cramp? Or jump in then realize you’re not a distance swimmer? And are Speedos or trunks better for that kind of swimming?

BP: I’ll take the last part of this question first, because it’s important to state—before any bad images get planted in anyone’s head—that I am a trunks-only man. No one needs to see my upper thighs.

As to the rest of the question: Obviously, you ought to have some minimum level of swimming competency, built in the safety of shallow backyard pools and municipal swimming holes. (Or, to extend the metaphor back to writing, stories in school literary magazines, articles in local newspapers or entries in personal journals).

But once you have that, I believe you need to throw yourself in over your head and make yourself swim for your life, cramps and all. That’s the whole point of open water distance swimming. You can’t just stop and walk. You have no choice but to keep going. And I think writers with unfinished manuscripts—know anyone like that?— would be well-served to think of their work that way.

PCN: One of your characters, Tee, has a booming business making R.I.P. T-shirts for gangbangers who get gunned down. The idea is both horrible and savvy. Is it based on something you encountered for real?

BP: Yep, that one is, as they say on Law & Order, ripped from the headlines. As a journalist working in a depressed inner-city, I was constantly fascinated (and saddened and appalled) by the culture of death that surrounds young people in areas with high murder rates. One day, I saw a set of R.I.P T-shirts wrapped to a telephone pole at a housing project in Newark—three kids, all killed before their 21st birthdays. I started poking around and learned there was a whole cottage industry of creating and displaying these shirts. Kids would actually wear them on the anniversaries of the days their friends got killed. So I wrote a story about it.

PCN: And then you wrote two more, books 2 and 3 in the Carter Ross series. The second one is called Eyes of the Innocent. Are you branding this as the body parts series, a la Sue Grafton’s alphabet books? What happens when you travel south of the beltline?

BP: Yeah, the body parts thing is going to be my schtick. And as I’ve told my agent, when we reach Thumbs Up My Ass we’ll know it’s time to quit.

PCN: Okay, so let’s just stay north of the nipples for now. You mentioned in another interview, #817, that you might write a non-fiction book one day. Would it be true crime or something else?

BP: That was actually interview No. 788. Please try to keep count. And, sure, I might write non-fiction someday. Maybe true crime. Maybe ghost-writing for some famous person. Maybe history. Maybe something else entirely. My curiosity is fairly boundless, and I started writing for newspapers when I was 14, so non-fiction is still pretty comfortable for me. More than anything—having gone back and forth between fiction and non—I find they’re a lot more similar than most folks realize.

At the end of the day, it’s all about telling a story. The only difference is whether you have to find the pertinent facts or make them up. Which, I would argue, are roughly equal in difficulty.

PCN: Lying, er, making up stuff is so NOT difficult for me. If you had to choose between writing books that sell 50 million copies each but are critically lambasted (I’m not mentioning names), or those that win busloads of awards but have only modest sales numbers, which would you prefer?

BP: Oh, this one’s easy: Give me the 50 million copies. And then give me 50 million more. Go ahead and shake your head and say, “Brad! How whorish!” And I am. But as commercial as that sounds, there are real, artistic reasons behind it.

See, I’ve never really written for myself. For me, the joy in the creative process has always been in the sharing, and in the reaction it provokes. I write with the hope my words have an impact on people, whether it’s to inform, to entertain, or just to make them shake their heads at something. I want that impact to be as broad as possible.

And it’s not about money. I get just as much of a charge from the fan letter that starts “I bought your book at the store and…” as I do from one that begins, “I got your book at the library…” Do I want critics to like my books and to win awards? Of course. But ultimately it’s because I know those things will increase the size of my audience. And for me, that’s what it’s all about.

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Interview: Nerdy Questions for Author Steve Amick–Part Two

This is the conclusion of an interview with Steve Amick (click here for part one), who wrote the 1940s love story, Nothing But a Smile.

PCN: If a movie of your book had been made in the ’40s, who would have played Wink, Sal and Reenie?

jstewartSA: In the ’40s, Wink might have been Jimmy Stewart or Joseph Cotton—whichever one would be willing to play the masturbation scenes. They’d probably have to do a screen test for that. At one point, Sal compares [her husband] Chesty to Jimmy Stewart, but we also hear that Wink and Chesty were similar in build, so the casting could be sort of interchangeable…I know [Stewart] spent the war flying bombers over Germany and left with a very high rank, so I’m not sure how long his hiatus from movies lasted.

PCN: According to IMDb, he had no movies released between 1941 and 1946 so I’d say the break was about five years.

jimmystewartairmedalSA: He was very quietly piloting a bomber over Europe. And when he returned, he didn’t want the studios making something out of it, so it really was played down…Another guy that comes to mind is William Holden. A relative unknown at the time, he made training films for the Air Force for much of the war years, but he would have been great, too.

j-wymanSal might be Jane Wyman, if Ronald Reagan would have allowed her to do topless. Virginia Mayo would be good. Again, I believe, Ronald Reagan might have had a say. Other possibles: Lana Turner, Betty Grable, Olivia De Havilland, Rita Hayworth, as long as she didn’t bring her meddling husband, Orson Welles, in tow. Or possibly Lauren Bacall, for some of the tougher side and because she might have brought Bogie in tow. Reenie could be part Jane Russell—not the obvious parts—and part Jennifer Jones.

PCN: Who’d play them now?

scarlett-johansson-loreal-2008-adSA: These days I could see Scarlett Johansson or Ginnifer Goodwin, when she dyed her hair on Big Love, as Sal. Anyone from the Anne Hathaway School for Young Brunettes with Talent would be great as Reenie and maybe Lee Pace from the short-lived Pushing Daisies as Wink. He’s tall and a little Sad Sack and droopy-eyed and can do shy well.

lee-pace-21PCN: Lee Pace would make an excellent Wink, especially if you’ve seen Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.

SA: I haven’t, but if he’s reading this, I have. Many, many, times…My wife thinks Bobby Cannavale [could play] Keeney, and he’s great, but I kind of imagine the wounded vet as more like Vince Vaughn attempting to play it straight, hoping for more dramatic parts in the future. And with an arm missing—possibly by CGI, unless Vince Vaughn really, really wanted the part and wanted this to be his Raging Bull. Though I do think buzz about him having his arm removed just for the movie might be seen as a bummer and put a crimp in the movie sales.

PCN: But that would make him a shoo-in for an Oscar. The Academy loves it when actors go to extremes like that.

SA: True, so Vince Vaughn might want to play Sal. But actually, the first thing that really comes to mind when you start imagining casting a story like this isn’t something like “how nude would they get?” but more the issue of age. With a more contemporary, more realistic approach, the trick would be getting actors young enough—we forget how young these people really were during the war years. They were just kids, most of them, but they went through so much and so they came out of it knowing how to behave like grownups. You sort of forget that these characters were really in their early twenties.

Given the time it takes for a movie to get to the start of principal photography, perhaps the dream cast is a group of relative unknowns currently starring in some cable Disney show. Possibly I’ve never heard of them and they’re all playing vampires or dancing around a high school hallway this year.

PCN: Sal encountered judgment for what she did when she tried to buy a house in a family-oriented neighborhood. How would you feel if a Playmate moved next door to you?

SA: Depending on which neighbor would have to move out to accommodate her, I might feel a slight bit of brief sadness. But I would bring them cardboard boxes and I would help them pack up their stuff and order a pizza while we loaded up the moving van. I would get them a going-away card and maybe a bottle of wine or something. And I’d probably wash our windows and trim the hedges back, maybe install a plate glass window.

I’ve had two short stories in Playboy, so I wouldn’t be one to throw stones. Though I did remain clothed while I wrote them.

PCN: That’s good, as well as sanitary. So not only do you read Playboy for the articles, you write them.

SA: Wrote them—there’s a new regime there. And it was only short stories—I didn’t advise anyone on the latest stereo equipment or new ways to tie a cravat.

The cool thing was, one of my main mentors who encouraged me early on to write fiction was a locally-celebrated high school teacher who used to supplement the reading with short stories he’d Xeroxed out of back issues of Playboys, back when they published some of the greatest American writers out there. He pretty much flipped when he heard they took my first story and that I got the guided tour of the Chicago offices. I saw hand-corrected galleys by Vonnegut and Kerouac and one of the original prints of pre-blonde Marilyn sprawled on red velvet, back when she was an unknown girl next door, posing for pinups and trying to get by.

PCN: Wink only turned to photography when he realized he’d never be able to draw again. What would you do if you couldn’t write?

SA: If I could sing better, I’d do that. Every contemporary writer would. I’ve always dabbled to one degree or another with bands and songwriting. I’ve still got a fun little CD of original songs I recorded out there somewhere.

rube-goldbergAnd I’ve always been involved in art. Like Wink, I wanted to be a cartoonist when I was quite young. Big fan of Rube Goldberg as an eight-year-old. I actually took a lot of painting and drawing classes and flirted with a second major and a graduate degree in art—graphic design…Maybe I’d get into fireworks or the long con, preferably one involving a lot of disguises. Con men have to know how to build a narrative. Of course, in either job I’d be dead inside a month.

I did seriously consider, when I turned forty, going to a hypnotherapist and getting hypnotized not to write every day. To abandon that routine, because I didn’t feel it was serving as a career. I’d only had short stories published, and some small plays produced. My wife, who’d only been married to me for two months at that point, told me to hold off on the hypnotherapy just a little longer—she’s a librarian and liked that she’d married a writer—and then a month or so later, I sold my first novel in a nice little bidding war and I was finally on my way.

PCN: At a certain point in the story, Wink and Sal had to pare down their lives. If you had to pare down your writing space, what would you keep and what would get tossed? Would a chick incubator make the cut?

SA: The chick incubator would have to go, as birds sort of skeeve me out. I grew up in a house with a lot of plate glass and surrounded by trees; you do the math. I would probably toss the mounds of earlier drafts of things that cascade and wobble high above the square foot of space on my desk that now accommodates my laptop.

kelly-ripaI would get rid of the mice that have appeared; possibly the hidden mold that I may or may not be inhaling. I would keep the framed Clash poster, signed by the band backstage when I was a young punk. Ditto the old map of North American native tribes and my library poster of Kelly Ripa telling kids to read books.

I would also toss the several how-tos friends and relatives have given me on the topic of organizing and clutter control. I would keep the photo of my toddler taking a bath because it reminds me why I have to stay in the basement and cannot spread out the way I once did when this was my bachelor pad.

PCN: Is your next book really about Danish living room furniture? It sounds juicy.

SA: It is juicy. In fact, let me make a note to myself, in the next pass, to add more scenes in which characters imbibe juice because if nothing else, I want my characters to be well-hydrated…But seriously, it’s not about Danish Modern living room furniture so much as it would not exist in the same way without the presence of Danish Modern furniture. It is not a novel about Charles and Ray Eames, though that might be a good idea, too…let me make another note…It does not take place in an Ikea.

What else can I tell you? Here’s a fun fact: Unlike the stories for Playboy, you might call it “unsanitary” since I did write the majority of this other one in the bathtub.

PCN: That’s a good one. Next time I hog the bathroom, I’ll tell my spouse I’m writing a novel, too.

SA: I’m not kidding. And so we go full circle back to “nothing but a smile”? I do wonder if it brings something raw and exposed to the book, but it wasn’t really premeditated. I just wound up writing most of it in the bathtub, that’s all.

And I should also say that it won’t necessarily be my next novel, in terms of publication. I hope it is my next published novel. We’ll have to see just how brave or crazy the powers that be are upstairs at Random House.

If it isn’t next, I will sell this one door-to-door, I swear. It means something goofily serious to me, about nostalgia and a longing for a feeling of safety. I can’t say more because it is so damned high concept, but it will baffle and stun those who think I only write about pinup girls and pie.

PCN: You can ring my doorbell if you do end up selling it door-to-door. And if you bring pie on top of that, I’d say a sale is almost certain.

SA: Great. It’s a big book, but I’ll bring a wagon.

Interview: Misty Upham — Frozen River Less Scary Than Hollywood

Sometimes when I talk to someone who doesn’t work in the entertainment industry, I find they have this notion that being an actor is all glamorous and exciting, that actors make tons of money, live in mansions and have lackeys on call 24/7 to fetch nonfat, decaf, sugar-free iced mochas and book massages. Well, maybe if you’re Jennifer Aniston.

But for most, it’s a much more difficult road. Misty Upham starred with Melissa Leo in one of last year’s best films, Frozen River, and was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award as best supporting actress. But in this e-mail interview I did with her, it’s obvious her life isn’t all about the limelight and limos. She remains grounded and is delightfully candid about her experience thus far in Hollywood. After reading this, I challenge anyone to still think an actor’s existence is always easy or pampered. It takes guts to pursue this life and I think Upham’s got it in spades.

frozen-river08-12-01-mePCN: What was scarier–going across that icy river in the movie or coming to L.A. on your own?

MU: Definitely moving to L.A. on my own. I had to do a lot of things for the first time. I have a lot of quirks, fear of walking across crosswalks, for instance. My family nicknamed me Monk. The river is a piece of cake. I trust nature.

PCN: I read that you rent a room in Melissa Leo’s house. How has she helped you navigate Hollywood?

MU: I did rent a room, but I’ve recently moved in with my boyfriend. She did help me a bit, but Melissa’s very much about people taking care of themselves and finding their own way. She did as much as anyone would but it ultimately was up to me.

PCN: Most actors, when they get a big break, they immediately quit their day job. Why have you kept yours at the diner/laundromat?

MU: Because the money from Frozen River was just enough to pay my car payment and my phone and have some left over for groceries. That was over two years ago. I have recently moved on from that job as well, though. Lots of changes. But I kept it for so long because my boss supported my career and worked with my schedule. She bent over backwards for my comfort. But recently it’s finally come to that point of being in a place where I have to ask myself, “Am I really going to go for this? Or is it going to continue being a dream?” I’ve decided to make this dream come true. And this year has been life-changing to say the least. The opportunities I’ve been offered have given me the confidence to leap without looking.


PCN: Do patrons ever recognize you? How do they feel having an Indie Spirit Award nominee handling their underwear?

MU: Patrons did recognize me, but mostly from [KABC’s] George [Pennachio]’s news piece. Folks couldn’t care less that I was nominated against Penelope Cruz at the Indies, or that I went to the Oscars. They just wanted to know if George Pennachio was as nice in person! Towards the end I was getting a lot more looks and whispers and had a few people recognize me from screenings. It was getting a bit weird. And any fluff and fold worker will tell you that people don’t give a shit about bringing in their dirty undies. I’ve seen it all. Yuck!

PCN: You have two kinds of jobs–one sometimes includes scrubbing toilets and the other is making movies. Any similarities between the two?

MU: Yes. Both include lots of shit and tears! Just kidding. Both require you to humiliate yourself in a way. I think the best actors are the ones that have no shame. The ones that forget about their cellulite and just give a good nude scene. Picking my customer’s pubes off the toilet seat was very humilating, but not as humiliating as being yelled and snapped at by my co-stars in front of the entire crew. I’d wear those rubba gloves any day!

mistyPCN: I read an early draft of the Frozen River script and Lila was described as having long hair, which is the stereotypical image for Native American women. Whose idea was it for you to have short hair in the movie?

MU: I kind of shaved my head, then told [writer/director] Courtney [Hunt]. And it just worked. A bit of scare there, but she stuck by me. Glad to get rid of the stereotype long hair. Sick of it in actuality.

PCN: What Native stereotypes in movies annoy you so much you just want to pull your hair out?

MU: The broken English. I studied Oxford English books for fun when I was sixteen, so it annoys me beyond belief to see every script with ghetto talk. Yeah, some people talk like that but a lot of people don’t. I’m sick of saying things like “usedta-could.” Then there’s the “rez uniform.” Ripped, ’80s mom jeans, flannel shirt…need I say more?

And the number one most annoying is the non-Native Native factor. We saw it in Dances With Wolves, Last of the Mohicans, Last Of The Dogmen, etc. Non-Native person finds the Indians, gets adopted, becomes the best hunter/warrior, learns the language fluently (meanwhile the Indians are still struggling with “hello” and “buffalo”) and then there just so happens to be another non-Native person there, which makes it perfect that they hook up and live happily ever after. It’s still taboo to fall in love with an Indian.

PCN: What would be your dream part and which actor(s) would it be opposite?

MU: I would love to play lovesick loser or a sexy bitch. And I would give my right boob to work with Tilda Swinton, Adrien Brody, Helen Mirren, Seth Rogen, Emily Watson, Woody Allen and James McAvoy. And just for kicks and giggles: Matisyahu. He’s Kosher-sexy!

PCN: You recently went to the Oscars. What was your favorite experience there? Favorite person you met?

MU: Probably laughing with Mickey Rooney about how he and his wife fell into the paparazzi hedge by the E! camera. Or chatting with Josh “W.” Brolin before getting champagne fuzzies. But as usual Anne Hathaway was a class act. So nice and so down to earth despite the fact that the entire room wants to ravage her. She always takes the time to say hi and she remembers my name. And my mom’s. She’s the best.

PCN: The question covers anything that happened at after-parties.

MU: Well, I can’t tell you any of that good stuff or I’d never be invited back again! But I can tell you that I was drunk and stumbling down the stairs when John Singleton chased me down to tell me how much he loved our movie and seeing that we were both nerds who didn’t carry cards or pen and paper, made me promise to Facebook him. That was awesome, what I can remember of it anyway…

PCN: Did your manager at the diner/laundromat really write you up for not working Oscars weekend?

MU: They threatened to, but only so the other workers would stop complaining about covering me.

PCN: When you were growing up on the reservation, if someone had said you’d grow up to be a Spirit Award-nominated, red-carpet-walking, Europe-traveling, Alps-skiing girl with Tarantino as a fan, how would you have responded?

MU: And at what age did I sell my soul to the devil?

PCN: What’s next for you?

MU: The L.A. audition trail. Talk about crazy and dangerous. I’m ready for the ego-beating, snuffy attitudes and toffee-nosed receptionists. Let’s be insecure together! 🙂

Conversation with Cast and Director of DEFIANCE


I saw Defiance (opening wide January 16) about two months ago and attended a Q & A with stars Daniel Craig (hottie alert—I could see his intense blue eyes from twenty rows back), Liev Schreiber, Jamie Bell, Alexa Davalos and director Ed Zwick. It was a really interesting session, with anecdotes about the family depicted in the film, so I thought I’d post some of the highlights here.

2008_defiance_018First, let me say I liked the movie. It’s based on a non-fiction book by Nechama Tec called Defiance: The Bielski Partisans, about Jews hiding and fighting Nazis in the Belarusian woods, led by the two oldest Bielski brothers, Tuvia (Craig) and Zus (Schreiber). The movie practically gave me post-traumatic stress disorder because the atmosphere Zwick created was so tense. He never relented in keeping the threat of danger clear and present. Even when people were just sitting around eating soup, I was sure Nazis were going to burst through the trees shooting any minute.

When the attacks do come, they’re spectacularly staged, with in-your-face camera work that puts you right in the action (hence, the PTSD). The story is eye-opening and the cast is solid but what keeps me from deeming this movie great is the sense I’ve seen some of it before. A scene of violence intercut with a wedding was reminiscent of a scene in The Godfather where a massacre and baptism took place simultaneously. Some of the fighting sequences, including one in which the sound shuts down because one of the characters goes temporarily deaf after a loud explosion, reminded me of Saving Private Ryan and Zwick’s own Glory. There’s a savage beating with rocks by natives gone mad that made me think of Lord of the Flies.

So, it’s not a perfect film but still very good and worth seeing, if for no other reason than to educate yourself a little about the Bielski brothers, who apparently never sought recognition for what they did. Here’s what Zwick and the cast had to say about it all at the Q & A, moderated by veteran movie reviewer Pete Hammond (this isn’t verbatim—just the highlights):

Hammond asked Zwick about the project’s origins. Zwick said, “Twelve years ago, we optioned the book. It led us to the family and they gave us tapes of their fathers recorded before they died…There’s a whole world that’s unexplored. You hear about the idea of passivity” of the Jews but not about them fighting back.

Hammond asked Craig what he thought when he was offered a character that’s “not likable.”

Defiance_KB_102307_11485.CR2“I was surprised. I’d never heard the story,” Craig said. He explained how he and Zwick had been talking about working together for five or six years and once he explored the Bielskis’ story, he felt this was the right project.

Hammond asked if he met the family.

“[The grandchilren] came to the set, very much alive and brash…”

“What did you learn from them?” Hammond asked.

“They liked to drink vodka,” Craig said.

“I found them very intimidating. They were big,” Schreiber chimed in.

“Your character was more prone to violence,” Hammond said to Schreiber. “How did you develop the character?”

“[Zwick] wanted us to speak Russian in the film. He hired a Russian linguist. It was learning Russian that got me into character. Something about saying, ‘Twice I hit you and you shit’ in Russian summed it up for me. There’s something about the language that’s very dominant, a…history of suffering built into it.”

Hammond then asked Davalos, who played Lilka, Tuvia’s love interest, if she talked with Craig to develop their relationship.


“As soon as I met him,” Davalos said, then addressed Craig, “you put me at ease and I was very grateful.” She turned back to Hammond, “This is a story about living; love is a big part of it. Love takes you out of reality for the moment.”

“The first scene, we had to kiss,” Craig said. “I agree with Alexa that without love…these people had to fall in love [or else] there’s no existence.”

“Eighteen surviving members [of the group who hid in the woods] went to the premiere,” Zwick said. “There were 800 children, grandchildren and family members in the theater. They never thought their story would be told.”

2008_defiance_006Hammond addressed Bell, who played another brother, Asael. “How did you bond with the guys?”

“They were a pain in the arse, both of them,” Bell said, to audience laughter. “I came from a family of women so having two elderly brothers…”

Craig interrupted. “Elderly?!” The audience laughed harder.

“Of age,” Bell continued. “Daniel threw me into a car once. I think that was a bonding moment. This was a story of a boy coming of age. I had a fantastic time with these elderly guys.”

Hammond asked about the rehearsal process.

2008_defiance_011“Going to the pub was a big part of rehearsal,” Zwick joked. “They’re very sophisticated actors, they knew where they wanted to get to. That rivalry—they started playing with it in the best way. Liev signed his emails as BB, for Bigger Bielski.”

Hammond said, “The actual place [where the film’s events occurred] is now a dictatorship and you couldn’t film there. What was it like to shoot in Lithuania?”

“We shot for twelve weeks but at night, we went home to bed and had coffee,” Craig said. “It was cold and hard. God knows what it was like for those people to live—not just live but survive.”

“When your fingers are freezing, you don’t have to talk a lot about Stanislavski,” Zwick added.

“One of the biggest apples of the story is bad things happen,” Craig said. “That moral complex makes it interesting. Tuvia doesn’t want to lead, he wants to grab his family and run.” But, Craig explained further, Tuvia had to lead and within that leadership he had to do some morally questionable things.

“There’s a balance between saving your people and fighting the enemy. Tuvia found that balance,” Davalos said.

At this point, Hammond started taking questions from the audience. Someone asked, “What was cut out [of the film]?”

Schreiber made a comical pouty face. “A lot of scenes of me beating the crap out of people, which I was very fond of.”

Zwick said, “Tuvia being a cab driver in New York City as a wraparound device…”

Craig interjected, “Sixteen hours in makeup.”

Zwick decided to scrap the framing device because “I didn’t want to jerk the audience out of the forest.” [I think this was a very wise move. I seriously dislike framing devices.]

Hammond asked if there was a lot of improvisation or if the actors stuck to the script.

“Some actors’ ideas are all bad,” Zwick said. “These actors—every idea [they had] made the film better.” He also mentioned that Asael’s real-life daughter visited the set on the very day they were shooting the wedding of her parents.

An audience member asked, “What happened to Aaron [the youngest Bielski]?”

“He’s eighty-three, with his forty-year-old trophy wife,” Zwick answered. “He was arrested for extorting an old neighbor lady.”

Someone asked about the violence the Bielskis had to commit in order to survive.

2008_defiance_0121“The American G.I.s had a term—Bielski Enema, [which is] shoving a potato masher grenade into a German’s rectum,” Schreiber said. “I don’t think Tuvia wanted anyone to know that story. To continue to live and raise his children in a peaceful way is remarkable because being exposed to violence is scarring…The conflict was remarkable to me. In the forest, people were free. In the ghetto, they were being killed.”

Craig added, “Without each other, they’re not strong. Tuvia needs Zus as a soldier and brother. The movie’s about keeping your family together, keeping it strong.”

Another audience member asked, “Was the final battle condensed?”

Defiance_KB_101807_10228.CR2“It was condensed,” Zwick said. “The Germans brought twenty thousand troops into the forest.” He explained that the Russians came in to liberate the group of resistance fighters. “These 1200 people came out of the forest and the villagers who thought they were dead thought they were seeing ghosts.”

On that note, Hammond wrapped things up and ended the Q & A.

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