Posts Tagged ‘interviews’
I’m the guest on this week’s episode of Chase Thomas’s Cut to the Chase podcast on writers and critics! Chase and I discuss my origin story as a writer, Game of Thrones, Lost, The Affair, Empire, True Detective, Gotham, Daredevil, cartoons, comics, and much more. I hope you enjoy!
Fitting for a show about those occupying society’s technological substrata,Mr. Robot’s characters are often placed at the very bottom of the frame. This leaves massive amounts of headroom that suggests a great weight hanging over their heads, and echoes their isolation: When they’re talking right to each other, they seem alone. In more conventional filmmaking, conversations are cut with the characters looking at each other from opposite ends of the frame, leaving what’s known as “leading room” between their faces that helps convey the physical space they occupy. Mr. Robot inverses the norm by “shortsighting” the characters, positioning their faces at the edge of the frame closest toward the person to whom they’re speaking.
“Shortsighting is unnerving,” Campbell explains. “It further accentuates how fucked-up Elliot’s world is. The idea was to convey the loneliness. That’s the internal dialogue I had with myself: How do we tell that story? How do you get Elliot across?”
The effect goes a long way in selling audiences on the mounting paranoia and dissociation of the show’s main character, hacker Elliot Alderson (Malek). Without the usual pattern to help us intuit spatial relationships, these scenes create the sense that the characters don’t know where they stand in relation to one another. They also remind us of the picture-in-picture, face-against-flat-surface nature of video chatting, which can’t be overlooked on a show this attuned to the alienating effects of technology.
I spoke with Mr. Robot’s director of photography, Tod Campbell, about the show’s gorgeous shot compositions for Vulture. It felt great to write an article about television that focused on pure form. Woo!
It was funny: I haven’t talked to the real person that [Monroe] was based on in a long, long time, but then I saw he was on Facebook. I wrote to him and I asked him if he’d read the book, and he hadn’t, so I sent him a copy. He said he read five pages and couldn’t read any more because it was “too intense.” Then he kept saying he’s going to read it, but he can’t. But when he found out there was a movie, I sent him the trailer, and he was really excited. He showed the trailer to some friend at a bar—I don’t think he’d said that it was supposed to be based on him—and that person said, “Wow, that relationship is really screwed up. Why are you showing me this?” The guy said “What do you mean, ‘screwed up’? That’s a real man!” You know? “He’s a real man! He’s going for it!” You can see that that particular person, that character…I mean, if I treated him correctly, he’s not the type of person who’s able to reflect on any of that. Which contributes to Minnie’s loneliness. It takes her a while to realize that, because she’s thinking she’s in love with him. What do you do when you’re “raped,” in quotes, by someone who’s thoughtless and unaware? There’s no way to have a discussion about that with him because he’s not on the ball enough to even grasp the situation. I don’t know what people think. You could argue rape or not—I mean, I don’t fucking know. It’s a complicated situation.
For my A.V. Club debut, I interviewed Phoebe Gloeckner, my hero, about The Diary Of A Teenage Girl. I first interviewed Phoebe 12 years ago, and she’s been my hero ever since.
The number one question people ask me about the series is whether I think everyone will lose—whether it will end in some horrible apocalypse. I know you can’t speak to that specifically, but as a revisionist of epic fantasy—
I haven’t written the ending yet, so I don’t know, but no. That’s certainly not my intent. I’ve said before that the tone of the ending that I’m going for is bittersweet. I mean, it’s no secret that Tolkien has been a huge influence on me, and I love the way he ended Lord of the Rings. It ends with victory, but it’s a bittersweet victory. Frodo is never whole again, and he goes away to the Undying Lands, and the other people live their lives. And the scouring of the Shire—brilliant piece of work, which I didn’t understand when I was 13 years old: “Why is this here? The story’s over?” But every time I read it I understand the brilliance of that segment more and more. All I can say is that’s the kind of tone I will be aiming for. Whether I achieve it or not, that will be up to people like you and my readers to judge.
At first glance, Review appears to be comedy in which someone makes a major production of doing basic things in a very stiff, social-anthropology, insider-playing-at-outsider way — Sasha Baron Cohen in khakis. This is indeed the basic approach. But the show’s genius is that instead of treating each review as a separate, self-contained event, mined for jokes then never referred to again, there’s continuity between all of them. The magical comedy reset button you’d expect them to hit after Forrest, say, gets addicted to cocaine, overdoses, and goes to rehab, never gets hit. The experiences build one on top of another.
That’s the angle that stands out to actor James Urbaniak, who plays Forrest’s amoral producer/enabler Grant. “There’s an element of it being a satire of reality TV,” he says. “In reality TV, you make decisions that have an emotional effect on people but are restricted by the parameters of the game or the competition. Review “is breaking down those parameters, so he’s making very big decisions, like getting divorced, that affect his whole life.”
“Affect” is an understatement. Even though the only time he acknowledges it before the first season finale is in one brief fit of self-pity while eating an enormous stack of pancakes (don’t ask), Review shows Forrest slowly but surely destroying his life and the lives of everyone around him. His marriage ends. Multiple people get killed. All under the rubric of this preposterous high-concept mockumentary show.
In other words, Review is a satire not just of reality shows, but of New Golden Age of Television antihero dramas, hiding in plain sight. It takes the basic “man ruins all he cares about in the name of something that makes him nominally freer and more powerful” structure of the genre and plays it for deliberate laughs. Instead of a meth empire or a mafia family or a double life, he commits his bad acts in the name of the television show that chronicles them. He’s Walter White, but without the sense that there’s anything tragic about him — he’s just an oblivious faux-smart buffoon. It’s a satire of the middle-class middle-aged white-male entitlement and privilege that all the big dramas treat as the stuff of life.
“He is like Walter White,” Urbaniak says. “I never really thought about it that way, but I like it, and I’m buying it. He’s a guy who’s made, at a certain age, decisions that simultaneously give him some power but also upend his reality and the reality of those around him. Andy, in his comedy before the show, has always explored the disturbing depths within unassuming guys. He’s from New Jersey, but he has a quintessentially midwestern quality. He just seems like a quintessential nice, pleasant-looking, affable American guy; then it’s all about the depths that this guy’s capable of getting himself into, very much on his own. That sort of is like Don Draper and Walter White and those other guys. I dunno—maybe there’s some zeitgeisty thing going on about middle-aged white guys.”
That camaraderie came through on the screen. You can understand why these characters are drawn to working together, even when they’re not getting along. They seem to respect each other.
That’s really great. One of the big differences between season one and season two is that the working relationships in season one were incredibly contentious. The characters would manipulate and lie, and they were really out for themselves. In season two, the working relationship really changed. While it remained contentious, there was a sense that these two women [Donna and Cameron] in particular very deeply respect and value each other, and they’re really trying hard to make it work.
And in many of their disputes, both of the positions on where to take the company are equally reasonable. It’s much more exciting to watch a drama when you genuinely can’t decide what “should” happen.
I love that. That’s what good writing does, to me. All the characters have good reasons to do what they do, so you can understand CameronandDonna, even though they’re making opposite decisions or have opposite priorities. You still feel like they’re both completely justified in the choices they’re making. I concur, I think that’s a really great part of this show.
That carries over to the characters’ personal lives too. The show didn’t pump-fake in the direction of Donna’s abortion — she actually went through with it, and her reasons were presented as sound and strong and nothing to be ashamed of.
That was a fascinating story line, and it was interesting how it all played out. The writers were really intent on making it a confident decision that Donna made. They didn’t want her to be wishy-washy, they didn’t want it to be a thing that [dramatic voice] destroyed her, you know? They did a great job of giving her that backbone. But at the same time, in a bigger-picture way, I didn’t want it to feel like, you know, working women who have a career have to sacrifice, or that given the opportunity women will choose their career over their family. It felt like threading a needle to me. It ended up being a pretty good balance between what the writers needed it to be and what I needed it to do to feel okay about what we were putting out in the world.
Have you ever thought about collecting all the Boy’s Club comics in a single book?
I’ve thought about it. I dunno. The problem with books is I usually end up getting not that great of a deal. If the right situation came along I’d do it, but it’s really not even… I mean, I guess it would be worth it, to have it be easier for fans. But I kind of like it not being easy for people to get. I dunno, it’s kind of funny to see it on eBay for $400 or something. My lady thinks that Pepe’s a self-portrait, in a way—she says I have Pepe’s eyes—so it’s kind of neat to see something that’s so personal to me on some level infiltrate this weird nether-region of the internet. I’ve made my mark on the internet, so I can relax. I’m retired now, living off all the shares and likes.
What was it like going from live action—film, TV, live shows—to a book? How did you translate what you do?
Heidecker: It’s sort of this mixed blessing with Adult Swim where whenever we make stuff for them, it’s their property. Whenever we do something outside of that world, we have to start fresh again. You can’t just recycle stuff. A lot of people would put out a guide to Awesome Show Cinco products or something.
Wareheim: Yeah, we could easily have done a chapter on Business Hugs.
Heidecker: So this was a challenge. You have to start clean and make stuff up from scratch, which is ultimately more satisfying. There was a period where we thought it could be a hybrid of a real story about us that then it turns into this thing, but it just felt more fun to keep it wide open. Zone Theory is so general that you can cram any idea in there and make it work.
Wareheim: It was definitely a new learning experience, but at the core of it, it’s a somewhat similar process, creatively. One of the greatest parts of this is Tim and I getting together and having lunch, laughing about how we were gonna structure this thing. It’s sort of like doing a Bedtime Stories or a movie: “Here’s what we have to do to get enlightened, here are all the steps,” and then we’d go off on our own and write a little bit.
Heidecker: It was a blank slate: ”You guys wanna write a book? Let us know what you wanna write about. It could be anything.” It could have been the history of Tim and Eric, or our guide to being a dad. That was the hard part: focusing what we wanted to do, then populating it with enough jokes and ideas that it felt like something you could sit with for more than ten minutes. Making sure it went somewhere, had a point of view, that it was its own universe and not just total nonsense.
Wareheim: We knew we wanted to have a visual style that’s similar to some of the TV or video elements. We knew we wanted to work with the same designer [Duke Aber] who’s done all of our DVDs and posters. His design is like a character in the book. It really stands out.
You can also show a giant two-page spread of a penis in a book, which you can’t do on a TV show. I got to that part and thought “I’m so happy for these guys! They can take it as far as they want!”
Wareheim: [Laughs] Besides the penis thing, it’s not that much further.
The penis kind of stands out.
Wareheim: Absolutely. We were hoping for that. With that particular thing, I talked to our graphic artist about it. We can’t legally take a penis off the internet, and he didn’t want to photograph one, so he molded that penis out of all these other penises so that it can legally exist. Just that we made some poor guy do that is great.
Heidecker: It also was meant for to you open up the book to that page and go “Gahhhh—they did it again, those assholes!”
What is it like for you to walk into that theater? It’s like being in your living room.
It’s overwhelming. I haven’t found a way to express the super bizarre surrealness of seeing my life on the stage and watching it play out multiple times. It’s a very strange ontological position to occupy. It both is and isn’t my life. I don’t really understand my relationship to the play. I’m still trying to figure that out.
The book received a lot of attention and acclaim as well, but with the musical, there are warm bodies on stage and in the audience. Does that make the enthusiastic reception of the show feel different?
That’s definitely part of it. The amazing risk involved in live theater? I could not bear that. You just count on so many people to get things right. You’re working with this giant team, from the prop manager to the actors, and they all go out on that tightrope every night together. That’s a very intense experience for the audience.
But also, a musical is something designed to have broad appeal. There’s a lot of money invested in this thing. It’s very difficult to get a show produced. What’s amazing to me is that this very weird, very particular, very risky story that’s not conventional Broadway fodder by any means has made it on Broadway! I feel like there’s always a trade-off between the size of your message and the size of your audience — they’re in inverse proportion. But in this case, there’s no skimping on the message. It’s not airbrushed in any way. It’s kind of just gritty and real. And it’s reaching these big Broadway audiences.
Did the sheer size of the collaborative effort involved seem a world away from sitting at your drawing table?
I was struck with that all along. Lisa [Kron, the writer/lyricist] and Jeanine [Tesori, the composer] had to be open to so many people’s input. That would have driven me absolutely nuts, but that’s part of what they love about it. Comics is about as far on the other end of the continuum as you can go. I do all my own set design and costumes. I do all the acting. That’s all me, and that’s the way I like it.
5. Sansa Stark
Sansa’s got the potential to be happy. First of all, she’s matured a lot. She actually liked Joffrey at the beginning! And given how terrible it’s been for her, she’s not doing too bad. I think that for her, it’s possible to recover from trauma. They show her to be that type. I mean, she’s pretty tough. She never got to the point where she just gives up. She thought everybody in her family was dead, but when it looked like Theon would light that candle and she would be saved, she really thought she was going to be okay. It didn’t go well, but even now she’s got hope again, now that she’s found out her little brothers weren’t killed. And also, she chewed Theon out, but then when she found out her brothers weren’t killed, she backed off. She’s not so angry and vindictive that it’s destructive. She’s appropriately so.
4. Samwell Tarly
This guy has peace. With his background of being bullied, he’s unusual because he doesn’t seem overly insecure. He’s not trying to prove to people, “I’m not really such a wimp!” He does stuff when he has to, not just to prove things. It’s not the usual outcome of his whole set of features for him to be comfortable with himself, but he is. He loves his girlfriend, he loves the baby she named after him, he has purpose, and he’s very comfortable with that. It’s not the overly driven ones who are happy, it’s the ones who find peace within. It sounds so trite, but it’s true.
I interviewed the great editor and publisher Tom Devlin in this beautiful book about Drawn and Quarterly, one of the best and most important comics publishers of all time. It’s out today, and it’s filled with comics by wonderful cartoonists. Check it out!
You’ve been so unequivocal and public that this book is about the death of Pinhead — full stop, no spoiler warning. Why?
Why not? If I’d been sly about this and not even mentioned the fact that Pinhead — excuse me, the Hell Priest — was going to die, that would have seemed really dumb. It’s actually a really important element of the book, the element of the book which will draw the most attention. He will not be coming back, by the way. That I promise you. There will be no return, no posthumous Frank Sinatra concerts from him.
In reading, I couldn’t help but think about your own life. You’ve been working on this book for years—
Yes, I have been working on this book for years. But I also had a coma, and lost my mother, my father, and the young man who was almost my son, and a lot of other terrible things in the meantime. Even though it might seem that I’ve been diddly-daddling instead of actually writing, a lot of that daddling has been because I was unconscious. I, uh … I take the Fifth. [Laughs.] I’m making a joke of it, but there have been some pretty damn horrible times of late. I’m only just now, after some many years, priming to leave the house. I’ve only been out of the house five times in the last few years. I am now well enough to, actually, finally leave the house. [Sardonically.] Hey, what about that!
In the midst of all this, you revealed that you supported your writing career in the early days by working as a hustler.
Was that really such a revelation? I was surprised. Maybe I hadn’t talked about it in the past, but I didn’t think I’d hidden it too much.
I got the sense that that was a painful time in your life to revisit.
It was, and yet it wasn’t. It was humiliating many times. It was stultifyingly boring much of the time. And it’s bad sex, mainly. [Laughs.] But you can’t have everything. It kept me in bread and cheese through a bad time in my life, fiscally. But do I want to go back to hustling anytime soon? Nope.
For my Grantland debut I spoke with Hellraiser director Clive Barker about his life, his health, and the death of Pinhead. His new book The Scarlet Gospels, which contains exactly that, is in stores today, and it is furious and empathetic and takes no prisoners.
You’re just about to hit the end of the story that George R.R. Martin has published so far. Did you see this coming?
Well, I think, in the first couple of years, it was really just about getting each season right and hoping people would watch. By the time we got to planning out and shooting Seasons Three and Four, David & Dan started really thinking about the overall shape of the series, since we knew we were going to be able to see this thing through. In the end, the show has to go at its own pace and George has to write the books at his own pace. He and D&D are obviously in close communication the whole time about both. But the show is its own thing, as it has to be.
There’s a segment of the fandom that’s freaking out about this, saying that the TV series will “spoil” the remaining two volumes of the book series. Is that a concern the show shares?
I think we just have to make the best Season Five, Season Six, and beyond that we can. Not sure I’m at liberty to comment more specifically than that.
“New” material aside, it also seems from trailers and casting and locations and so forth that this season will change some existing storylines sort of dramatically. When you do stuff that’s not in the books, for whatever reason, what’s the vibe, creatively? Is it a “with great power comes great responsibility” thing, or “woo-hoo, we’re goin’ off-book!”
Well, I think at this point, we do have great responsibility to the viewing audience, whether they’ve read the books or not, to try to produce 10 hours of outstanding television. All sorts of factors go into why a particular subplot, character, story beat, etc. might differ from the books. Again, it’s all tackled and debated on a case-by-case basis. Ultimately, it always has to come down to what David & Dan feel is best for the show.
In tonight’s episode, there’s a moment after Jim brings Kimmy home drunk from a frat party where he tells her, “unlike your friends, you’re very real.” You get the sense that as much as anything else, she’s just desperate for someone to talk to who will listen.
Absolutely. He’s kind of the only one, it seems to her, who’s paying attention. That’s huge, especially for someone who’s 15 years old. They’re not a kid, but they’re not an adult, they’re at a really weird age. She’s like, “he’s giving me what I want, and I’m feeling satisfied. It’s the attention that I want someone to give me.” It’s not even attention, it’s care. It’s being acknowledged. If a person feels like “they’re not acknowledging me” … That’s a very important feeling in life, even if it’s not romantic. She doesn’t get that acknowledgment at home.
The new issue of Rolling Stone, with Stevie Nicks on the cover, features a little piece by me on First Year Healthy, the excellent new graphic novel from Michael DeForge. Pick it up and check it out!
[LEAH WISHNIA:] I honestly don’t really think too much about how my own comic work fits into the over-arching canon of alternative comics and such. I’m just trying to do work that I enjoy and that others might appreciate as well. Although I like to think of my own comics style and vision as being unique, I don’t feel that it’s necessarily at odds with other alternative comics that are being produced and distributed right now—in fact, there’s quite a few contemporary cartoonists whose output of work I totally “get,” work that seems rooted in a similar place as my own.
Indeed, though, many of my comics have featured characters that act and react quite dramatically, a kind of exaggeration of some negative attributes I see in both myself and in others. I think there’s a lot of chaos and pain and greed present in our culture right now that often goes unnoticed or unaddressed, so I like to take those negative things and amplify them until they reach absurd proportions, beating people over the head with it all until someone takes notice.
Nucky started the series as a crooked politician, but as Prohibition continued he became more of the traditional gangster. Was it the law that unleashed the criminal in him?
People were made millionaires overnight by Prohibition. If you were willing to traffic in illegal alcohol and run the risk of getting arrested or hijacked by other gangsters, you had to be prepared to do things you hadn’t done before — like murdering people. That’s what Jimmy was warning Nucky about.
You know, there was no shame about it. People had been drinking beer their whole lives, and suddenly it’s illegal? It was pretty hard to convince anybody other than the temperance movement that alcohol was this bad thing. It was just illegal, not morally wrong. Your average man on the street had no intention of giving up his daily beer or scotch — he just had to figure out how to do it. So these guys weren’t looked down upon. It’s not like they were heroin dealers or murderers. They were providing a service, a commodity, that most people found innocuous.
There was also a collision of historic events that not only made the gangster world possible, but were tailor-made for it. You had a generation of young men coming back from World War I who spent the last two years in trenches killing people for free. Now, suddenly, all you have to do is guard a truck and maybe shoot somebody, and you could make a fortune. Guys lined up all the way around the block to do that, since they’d basically been doing exactly that for nothing. You had all these disenfranchised, disillusioned young men who were perfectly willing and able to get into that business.
There’s a character on the show who says: “The premise of fiction is that people have some sort of connection to each other. But they don’t.” Is that your conclusion as well?
I think it’s a matter of perspective. I’ve always thought that when they say ignorance is bliss, the converse to that is that knowledge is hell. The more you know, the bleaker things can get. Jimmy once said that all you have to worry about is when you’re alone at night. You run out of booze and you run out of company, and [then] you’re really alone with your thoughts.
I interviewed Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter about the upcoming finale, and his next project with Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, and Bobby Cannavale, for Rolling Stone.
I interviewed Boardwalk Empire creator Terence Winter about the end of the series — and the start of his new one with Martin Scorsese, Mick Jagger, and Bobby Cannavale — for the TV Issue of Rolling Stone, on stands now. Says so right there on the cover and everything. I hope you like it!
I’m particularly interested in the idea advanced in Sophia Wiedeman’s piece on you and Katie Skelly for The Rumpus that your work is driven in part by Catholic guilt. Certainly your comics seem to revel in a rejection of Catholic mores, but more than that, they don’t smooth out the rough edges to make the violation more palatable, you know? The sex is, frankly, gross, and so is the food component, once that’s introduced in #foodporn.There’s not an attempt to play respectability politics with it.
Everything I make, every particle of my being, is based on how I grew up. Everything I make will of course be influenced by that. But to be honest, the reason I made #foodporn is because I had a crush on an ugly guy who made pizza at my local pizza joint. He is not attractive. When he was making the pizza I was attracted to him, though? I didn’t understand it and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I thought the concept of him getting hotter and hotter as he made the pizza was just hilarious. Hence the premise of the book.
Oh, just an interesting piece of side trivia – I finally did end up having sex with him, two days after #foodporn was released at MoCCA. I’ve stopped eating pizza since.
Typically when comics creators talk about essentially willing something from one of their comics into existence, it’s, like, Grant Morrison talking about tripping in Nepal or whatever and discovering the true nature of space-time. This is somewhat more relatable. But if it put you off pizza, then I wonder if in retrospect you’d have preferred it to have remained a fantasy.
Very interesting to me that you use the word “fantasy.” In March, I got out of an eight-year relationship. We had broken up and I moved out in 2012, but we ended up getting back together very quickly. But over the last year I had several crushes on people, especially this pizza guy, and I ended up making the comic about him. Things were just not working out with my ex, even though I loved him very much and he was family to me. I spent a lot of time fantasizing about “what life would be like” with certain other people, and this pizza guy was first in line. However, I didn’t make any moves about ending the relationship for almost a year after making the comic about him. My therapist had a real woman-to-woman conversation with me, knocked some sense into me, and suggested to me that my life might actually be greater on the other side of ending things with my ex, so I did it. For some reason at that moment it hit me that my life might be better with my ex not in it, which seemed almost unfathomable to me. She was right. So I guess one could say, therapist Sean, that maybe I avoided one of those painful Irish-Catholic illnesses or avoidance-of-feelings situations here? Perhaps history did not repeat itself, hmmm?
Luckily, things with this pizza guy fell into place — I got drunk at the pizza place and propositioned him — and we saw each other for a little while. It certainly served a purpose and helped me get through my breakup. I suddenly felt sexy again. He knew about my comic about him, and about #foodporn. He was aware I was doing some podcast interviews and being reviewed, and the comic about him was mentioned a few times. One night, in the midst of all this, he told me that he had gone to my website and looked at my comics, and told me, “Wow, I thought you were going to be much more famous than just this.” He also referenced myConancomic, in which there is a long sex scene between me and Conan O’Brien, while we were having sex one night, which I thought was hysterical, and which I am currently making a comic about now.
Anyway, this pizza guy was into Phish, and if anyone knows me they know I’m not into jam bands, so it just wasn’t meant to be — even though I continued to draw him and make comics about him while we were seeing each other. I guess I was just looking for anyone who wasn’t my ex and was fascinated by that. A few months after we started seeing each other, my friend Holly caught him arm in arm with another chick around the corner from my house. She went into the pizza place, which we frequented regularly, the next day and called him out in front of all of his coworkers. Needless to say, we haven’t really been back there since. So my ultimate curse is that I live half a block away from a pizza place that I love and can’t go to. So fantasy, shame on me I guess. All around, it’s been a fascinating chain of events for me to witness go down. And now I’ll have #foodporn to document it for the rest of my life, so “LOL,” I guess.