BWW EXCLUSIVE: Tony Goldwyn Talks CONVICTION, PROMISES & More
Moving freely from film to television to theatre and back again, and from leading man to supporting character actor to taking the director's chair and penning the scripts himself, it is a pleasure to illustrate the illustrious film, television and - now, with PROMISES, PROMISES co-starring Kristin Chenoweth, Sean Hayes & Molly Shannon - stage career of famous GHOST villain and feature film CONVICTION director Tony Goldwyn! In this extensive interview we discuss writing and directing CONVICTION which opens in theaters tomorrow, as well as working with lead actors Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell, as well as developing the project from inception until now. Additionally, we take a glance back at his many film appearances in everything from GHOST to NIXON to RECKLESS to LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, plus directing episodes of Showtime's hit serial killer drama series DEXTER. If all that wasn't enough, there's also his thoughtful and insightful comments on his many leading ladies ranging from Hilary Swank on CONVICTION and Kristin Chenoweth and Molly Shannon on PROMISES, PROMISES on Broadway all the way to Scarlett Johansson, Faye Dunaway, Mia Farrow, Mary Louise Parker and many more starry co-stars from films passed! Be sure to catch CONVICTION in theaters nationwide starting this Friday and stay tuned to BWW for all PROMISES, PROMISES related news (including previous InDepth InterView with leading lady Kristin Chenoweth). Here are some convincing - if not convicting - confessions courtesy of Mr. Goldwyn.
Actorly Commitment & Conviction
PC: Tell me about working with Kristin Chenoweth every night onstage in PROMISES, PROMISES. I just interviewed her a few weeks ago for this column and she's so wonderful.
TG: Oh, did she really do this, too? Great! (Pause.) First of all, I'm totally in love with her.
PC: Right? She's fabulous.
TG: What can I say about Kristin Chenoweth? Besides from being such an extraordinary talent, she is the most kind hearted and generous person you will ever work with - to every single person who crosses her path she is like that with - she's just a real force of nature. Even though she's just four eleven, she seems about ten feet tall when she opens her mouth.
PC: Titanic talent!
TG: I just love her. We've become very close friends. And, this being my first musical, she's been an incredible helper and advisor and partner in it. She's just the best.
PC: Have you worked with Molly Shannon yet?
TG: No! Actually, last night was our premiere for CONVICTION and I'm off today, so I will.... The first time I will do the show with Molly is tomorrow.
PC: Have you met her yet? Did you rehearse together?
TG: Oh yes, yes, of course I've met her. You know, we don't have any scenes together, but she's great in the company. I was so bummed not to be at her first performance last night.
PC: I love John Torturro's movie musical ROMANCE & CIGARETTES, even though you only have a cameo in it.
TG: Oh, you love that, do you? I was barely in it, but I was happy to be a part of it. (Pause.) That was so funny, that film. What an interesting, odd, wonderful movie.
PC: Another movie with your co-star Mary Louise Parker is RECKLESS, which was based on a fun stage play.
TG: RECKLESS was great! I love that little film.
PC: Based on a great play.
TG: Yeah, I love Craig Lucas's writing. It was such a privilege to work with Norman Rene. He was such a talented man, it was a great loss [when he passed away]. I played Mia Farrow's husband who tries to take a contract out on her life - we have this great comic scene - it's such a wacky, fun movie, that one. Great cast, with Mary Louise and Scott Glenn and Giancarlo Esposito.
PC: What about working with Scarlett Johansson on AMERICAN RHAPSODY?
TG: Yes, I played her father. (Pause.) You know, I met Scarlett a couple of years before that when she did MANNY & LOWE, her first film.
PC: Yes. Of course.
TG: I was just knocked out. Like, "Who is that kid?"
PC: She is incredible.
TG: I was putting a movie together that I was directing that ended up not coming together, but I was looking for someone for the role of a sixteen year old girl and Scarlett was who I wanted very badly. So, we met and she hadn't sort of broken out yet. She had just done THE HORSE WHISPERER, but it hadn't come out yet.
PC: Oh, really? So young, then!
TG: Yeah! We met at Joe Allen's and she ordered - I'll never forget - she was fourteen and ordered a hot fudge sundae and French fries. And, she ate the entire thing at the meeting!
PC: No way!
TG: She was so smart about the role and everything, discussing every detail with me.
PC: I bet!
TG: But, eventually the studio just wouldn't approve her because she was just too young. So, then the movie didn't come together!
PC: What a shame! At least you found each other eventually.
TG: Right. We got to work together a year or two later, so it worked out. It was wonderful, I just love her. And, now, she has a Tony Award, too!
PC: Tell me about this new film, CONVICTION, and your transition in moving from actor to director with these four films. I know this one is especially important to you.
TG: Yes, this is my fourth film, so... in my first film, the most difficult thing was auditioning actors. It was excruciatingly painful because I so empathize with actors, myself, that when actors would come in I would actually feel physical pain. I would do stupid things and say, "Where do you want to sit? What would be more comfortable? What would make you happy" And, soon enough, one would say, "You know what? You're the director! This is stressful enough! Just tell me where to sit and we'll be all right." So, I would spend forty-five minutes feeling out an audition knowing they weren't right but just fulfilling the obligation. So, it was about being more grown-up about it. I had to take off my actor hat and become... dad.
PC: A film is a family, after all. Right?
TG: I wasn't a kid anymore... I was a dad.
PC: On the subject of directing, tell me about directing DEXTER and working with Michael C. Hall. He's a great theatre and film actor. It's such a great show.
TG: Oh, isn't just great? It's so wonderful and dark.
PC: I love that show. Do you have a disposition to working with and casting stage actors?
TG: Yes, I do have a pre-disposition to stage actors. Not just because they come from theatre, but because they are part of a work ethic that people who come up in the theatre tend to have. It involves discipline and humility and a workmanlike approach to what they are doing that I am excited by and want to work with. This, as opposed to people who are just celebrities or people whose priorities are to just being stars.
PC: Sam Rockwell, too, has that theatre training.
TG: Sam Rockwell, too, of course - the star of this new film.
TG: Through every actor I've learned - I sort of knew it as an actor and now I really know it as a director - everyone works in a different way. Everyone has a different process. Everyone needs different things to unlock their inner... genius.
PC: Or magic.
TG: As a director, I found that it helps if you have great empathy. So, I try to dial in to what they need. Who they are. What they are about. What makes them tick. So I can help them.
PC: Also, to guide, not gild.
TG: Right. So, for example, Sam and Hilary is a very interesting example because they are both the hardest working actors I've ever worked with. They prepare exhaustively and they are obsessive in their attention to detail. And, yet... on set, they have quite a different approach.
PC: How so?
TG: Like, Hilary is incredibly precise when she approaches a scene. She has already made all of her choices. She knows exactly the action she's playing. She's very precise. That doesn't mean she isn't changeable, it just means that she brings it and she's made her decisions but she's completely open to change anything.
PC: What about Sam?
TG: Sam is a little different. He comes and he wants to surprise himself. So, he comes and he will always do the unexpected thing and explore some new dark corner that he hadn't - even though he, too, prepared extensively and worked on his character and we've talked a lot - explored before. So, even though they have completely different styles in front of the camera, they meshed perfectly. They're thoroughbreds.
PC: What chemistry!
TG: They weren't thrown by each other's approach. They just kind of went with each other and, yeah, had amazing chemistry.
PC: What was it like on set with all of you together?
TG: It was very interesting as a director because I would have different ways in to each of them.
PC: Such as?
TG: Well, with Sam I was sort of channeling what he was doing and reminding him of what we were focusing on. Or, what I loved and moving him in that direction.
PC: And Hilary?
TG: With Hilary, it was often taking something she was doing and saying, "That was really wonderful but let's make a slight adjustment in another direction?"
PC: Total opposites.
TG: Yeah. So, I was approaching them from opposite sides of the spectrum but they adored working with each other and had great chemistry together.
PC: Tell me about writing CONVICTION and developing the story.
TG: I developed the script from scratch. It was a true story, obviously. It was from a story on 60 MINUTES that my wife first old me about. That brother-sister relationship; I was fascinated with it. I really wanted to tell that story.
PC: It's quite a compelling story!
TG: I was fascinated with a woman who has spent eighteen and a half years of her life on a bet, on an act of faith, in her brother, and she felt that she knew him - I mean, what if he had been wrong? I thought, "What if he'd been guilty of this crime?" Would that have invalidated this act of faith? The answer, for me, was no.
PC: Why is that?
TG: That faith in another human being is what the film is about, the faith and love and human and connection and, so, that's what the story is all about, for me. It's all housed in the story of what this woman accomplished. So, I went to find out about Betty Anne, this woman, and what she was all about. So, we developed the story from there. From scratch.
PC: Who's your biggest directorial influence in shaping this film?
TG: I have to say Mike Nichols is my directing hero of all time.
PC: WHO'S AFRAID OF Virginia Woolf? Is one of my favorite films ever.
TG: Yeah! He's also someone who's so great in terms of being such a great theatre director, as well. But, his films...
PC: Of course.
TG: VIRGNIA WOOLF, THE GRADUATE...
PC: CARNAL KNOWLEDGE.
TG: Right. And, he keeps re-inventing himself - not re-inventing, but, I mean, ANGELS IN AMERICA and W;T are just so incredible in their attention to detail. It's just so inspiring to me, his career.
PC: I can see the SILKWOOD influence on CONVICTION - and even your past films - now that you mention it!
TG: Oh, yeah! I studied SILKWOOD for this film! (Laughs.) He has such attention to nuances and detail and every film that he does has a different relation to the style he films it in and the details. No one film is like the other. That's so inspiring to me as a director.
TG: Oh, my God! What closet did you pull that one out of? I've never seen it! Ha ha! (Laughs.)
PC: I did! It was fun!
TG: Yeah, it was a fun and dirty little movie. I only wanted to do the movie because I wanted to work with Faye. I expected this grand diva but she was so hungry to do the work. So committed. She was wonderful, though. She just wanted to dig in. She was just so humble and interested.
PC: Sean Young?
TG: Sean was great, too.
PC: I love the LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT remake you just did, too. I usually hate horror remakes, so it's high praise!
TG: Thank you! I liked it a lot, I was pleased with it.
PC: The Blu-Ray is sick! It's even better because it's the Director's Cut!
TG: Oh, I have to see that! The director is great, I really want to see his cut now.
PC: Define collaboration.
TG: What a great question! (Pause.) Collaboration is everything in our process. It's the knowledge that whatever ideas one has are made exponentially better by the input of others; in conjunction with others.
PC: What's next?
TG: I just finished filming an episode of PRIVELEGED on FX coming up soon.
PC: OK, we'll be on the watch for it!
TG: It should be good. I loved working on it.
PC: Thanks so much! This was so great! Good luck this weekend with CONVICTION and in PROMISES onstage every night!
TG: Take care! Thanks! Have a great night!
CONVICTION starring Hilary Swank and Sam Rockwell, directed by Tony Goldwyn, opens this Friday in theaters nationwide and PROMISES, PROMISES is currently playing eight shows a week at the Broadway Theater on Broadway.