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Hollywood & Vine
Hosted by Sharon Waxman
Post Style Correspondent

Tuesday, March 5, 2002; 2 p.m. EST

Washington Post Style correspondent Sharon Waxman brings Hollywood & Vine Live Online for a discussion about the inner workings of the movie industry.

There is a whole political universe behind how the movies happen, the tug and pull of egos, financial imperatives, a pecking order for privileges as well as genuine creative impulses.

Waxman will be online Tuesday, March 5, at 2 p.m. EST, to answer your questions and field your comments on the industry personalities she has met; the movies that are causing a stir and why; and trends in the industry and the culture of moviemaking in general.

Below is a transcript.

Editor's Note: moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

Sharon Waxman's show will be delayed until 2:30 p.m. Please stand by.

Sharon Waxman: Hey everyone, I'm sorry this is late, but I was busy talking to Guy Pearce, who is a hear throb, and a wonderful actor, but over on the other side of town. Rest assured, I conveyed all of our regrets and anger over his not being nominated for an Oscar for "Memento." Meanwhile, he's in a big-budget film for DreamWorks coming out this weekend, "The Time Machine," unfortunately a bad version of a B film. Amazingly, Guy didn't seem to disagree. He spent a good deal of time lamenting the sorry state of the film, his performance, his dealings with the director Simon West, who was removed for exhaustion about three months in.

Very interesting. I've more to tell you generally, but let's get going.

Casting by...: I was watching a video recently and noticed the name Ellen Chenoweth. I realized that I see her name in a lot of movie credits. What does she do? Does she recommend actors to the directors or producers? Or does she get the actors the directors want for a movie? Is she THE casting person in Hollywood?

Sharon Waxman: I've seen her name too, and noticed it because of the actress Helen (?) Chenoweth. My guess is she's one of the top casting directors around.

Richland, Wash.:

Just curious ... do you have any idea when the Spider-Man flick is set to open now?

Sharon Waxman: I believe it's this summer. Looks to be great.

Washington, D.C.: Hello Sharon --

One of my favorite actresses is Jessica Lange. Do you know what has happened to her? I was hoping she would survive the "over 40+" curse of Hollywood.

Sharon Waxman: Not a chance. I really don't know what she's been doing. ANybody out there?

NYC: Sharon, why aren't people like Christopher Nolan members of the Writers Guild? What's up with that? Surely, his screenplay would compare favorably to Goldman's and Fellowes'.

Sharon Waxman: Well, I thought both A Beautiful Mind and Gosford Park had extremely strong screenplays, so I wouldn't want to dis them. I was under the impression that Memento was Chris Nolan's first feature film, so he'll probably now become a member of the guild if he wants to be. But Guy told me that Nolan had made another hour-long film, which he called 'f-in brilliant', in London, docu-style.

Washington, D.C.: Guy Pearce? You’re so lucky!! Although I’ve noticed that he looks extremely gaunt, almost unhealthy. Does he look as skeletal in person?

Sharon Waxman: The guy is indeed very skinny, but you notice the gauntness more on him because the bone structure in his face is so (beautifully) pronounced. When he's skinny, it makes those cheekbones even more pronounced. I did urge him to eat, however, and he finally did scarf a danish. Just doing my part.

Re: Guy Pearce: I love him since The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but regarding his ability to promote a new movie, he seems to suck, huh? Is he going to go on Leno and the rest dissing The Time Machine?

Sharon Waxman: I don't think it was his intention to dis the movie at all, I just think it came out of him kind of sideways, since it appeared to be a traumatic experience of sorts. (And about the third such traumatic experience he's had running making studio films.) So he was philosophical about it, and only mentioned that he thought his own performance was bad as a kind of afterthought, as I was just leaving the room. DreamWorks told him that he wasn't the star of the film, that the machine was the star of the film; when you treat a serious actor like Guy Pearce that way, you can't expect it not to seep out in some form, even if he's the most diplomatic kind of guy. I really liked the guy, by the way.

New York, N.Y.: I looked up Ellen Chenoweth on and she does indeed seem to be a top casting director. Looks like she got her start with Barry Levinson and does all of his movies, as well as working with the Coen Brothers, Robert Redford, and many other big-name directors.

So this begs the question, how much pull do casting directors have in selecting actors, compared with directors and producers?

Sharon Waxman: Casting directors are key, maybe the most key people in the creative process of filmmaking. Unfortunately, I"ve never succeeded in getting very close to that fascinating process, or in getting to know the top talents in that field. The casting directors have to find the people, and the directors and producers make the final decision, and ultimately it's a very collaborative thing; but once you find a great actor the decision becomes easier. The hard part is finding him/her.

Fairfax, Va.: Did you see the article in Vogue about Gwyneth Paltrow and her wardrobe? Just amazing to me how much thought has to go into what she wears and how closely scrutinized it all is. Even the clothes she wears to go to the store are analyzed. That would drive me insane! Clearly folks out in Hollywood don't have enough to do if they can pay that much attention to one person's choice of clothing.

Sharon Waxman: I didn't see the piece, but it sounds juicy. Please, give details.

Washington, D.C.: Hi Sharon,

What'd you think of the "Six Feet Under" premiere?

Sharon Waxman: I missed it, goldarn it. Pray tell what happened. I was (happily) in Prague this weekend, speaking at a conference on Middle East peace. (My split identity would spin the heads of many, including my own....)
While in Prague I couldn't help but notice that the entire city, and it's exquisite, is jam packed with American and British Hollywood types, busy at the business of making movies. Every bar is packed with gaffers, director assistants, set builders, set painters, stunt men etc. It's unbelievable. They've been on pre-production and about to start shooting a Jackie Chan film, "Shanghai Nights" (with Owen Wilson) and are also currently making "Triple X," with VIN DIESEL (Fast and Furious) in a period piece. Now what would the world be without a Vin Diesel period film?

Wiredog: Interesting piece on the Muslim extremists in the UK. You also did one on the ones in Egypt, right? So, your beat's now Hollywood Fluff counterbalanced with Scary Extremists? How did you end up with both those assignments.

Does Guy Pearce know that you also interview Muslim extremists?

Sharon Waxman: Crazy, ain't it. Yes, I told Guy that I was off grappling with the heavy issue of Mideast peace and only came back for my interview with him (which is true, I"d have happily stayed an extra day). So we talked about Prague a bit, where he made yet another horror-of-an-experience Hollywood film, called "Ravenous," a cannibal film with Robert Carlyle in which the director was fired midway through. (Do we sense a pattern?) Then they brought in the guy who had directed, what was it?, oh yes - Home Alone 3. "He wanted another version of Scream," said Guy, who didn't.

Washington, D.C.: "Now what would the world be without a Vin Diesel period film?"

A safer place for children and other living things.

Sharon Waxman: Thank you.

Dupont Circle: Hi Sharon,
You seem to get all the good interviews, when can we look for this piece on Guy to run? And have you ever interviewed Val Kilmer. I watched the Doors and Tombstone the other day, and say what you will about the 'planet Val thing', he is an incredible actor. I for one can't wait to see The Salton Sea.

Sharon Waxman: Don't hold your breath on the Salton Sea. The man who made The Doors has been awol for some time, apparently too busy gazing at his own image to consider acting as an artistic endeavor. (Don't worry, narcissism is an affliction that strikes many around here... the question is how do you use it?)
As for getting good interviews, actually I"ve not done that many this past year; I think I've become a little toxic for a lot of the studios. Among those who've cancelled: Nicole Kidman, Halle Berry, Josh Hartman. I don't take it personally, though. Especially when Billy Bob Thornton is the consolation prize...

Herndon, Va.: Ms. H&V: Please relate Vin Diesel's movie career to the peace process in the Middle East, with a particular emphasis as to how his style of acting has affected Saddam Hussein's public speeches. Thanks

Sharon Waxman: See the Outlook section this weekend. I'm working on it.

Rumor de jour: Is it true that CBS is courting you to be Letterman's successor?

Sharon Waxman: I can't confirm or deny any such rumors.

Re: Gwyneth's wardrobe: I read the story, too. Bottom line: Gwyneth is one of -if not -the-- Hollywood's top fashion icons and she's gotten to that position all by herself (gifts from designers can't hurt, I guess), without a stylist or whatever you call them. It is indeed exhausting, it seems, but she loves clothes so much that it doesn't matter all that much.

Opposite situation, I'm guessing, is that of Julia Roberts, who must have some kind of clothes coach lately, because she used to stink.

And I believe it's not only Hollywood that's obsessed with star's clothing. "InStyle" sells a lot, and not just in LA.

Sharon Waxman: Thank you. I'll certainly give Gwyneth that: she has an inborn sense of elegance and fashion that can't be faked. They showed "Shakespeare in Love" on the plane, by the way; God, I love that movie. Where is Joe Fiennes????

McLean, Va.: Ooh, Guy Pearce. Did you happen to ask him about his experience on "L.A. Confidential"? One of my all-time favorite films. But I had heard there was a lot of producer input on the actors and day-to-day the Australians involved might or might not have their hotel bills, etc., paid for. And that Curtis Hansen was so wonderful in making sure none of that anxiety reached the final product.

Sharon Waxman: Well, yes. LA Confidential was pretty much Guy's only positive experience making a Hollywood film, and that was because Curtis Hanson had a strong vision for what he was trying to accomplish and kept the meddling producers at bay. It's got to be murder for an actor to sort out what he's supposed to be doing when you've got 10 people deciding what the film ought to be.

Farmington Hills, Mich.: Who is Josh Hartman? Do you mean Hartnett?

Sharon Waxman: Oh yeah, Hartnett. Do you think that's why they cancelled the interview?

EraserheadGuy, D.C.: Hi, Sharon. Liked your piece on the radical Muslim literature. Just goes to show what happens to cultures without access to "Eraserhead," and other objets d'freedom.

A question per your lead: does the Arabic Salam Aleikum (peace be with you) mean the same thing as the Hebrew Shalom Aleichem?

Sharon Waxman: Thanks, and yes, it means precisely that.

Here's the bizarre thing, though: I learned through Fawaz Gerges, the Mideast expert at Sarah Lawrence, that this phrase has been appropriated by extremists as a way they greet one another. Apparently this is because it harks back to how Mohammed's disciples used to say hello. ("You had me at Salama Aleikum...") This made sense, since I was bewildered when the wife of our Cairo corresopndent, whose Arabic teacher is a very religious Muslim, cautioned her that non-Muslims are not meant to use the phrase. I'd never heard that before, nor had my Egyptian friends, but inside the fundamentalist community apparently that's the case. Ironic.

University Heights, Ohio: Hi Sharon,

Is it true that Sean Astin, Samwise in LOTR, is Patty Duke's son??

And when are you coming home for a visit??

Sharon Waxman: Thanks for joining us and say hi to Mom, whoever you are. I've no idea what Sean Astin's origins might be, but I'll always answer messages from the home base....

Boonies, Va.: Prague is breathtaking. FYI though, the US Embassy in Prague as depicted in Mission Impossible is hilariously inaccurate. Hollywood seems to think that US Embassies are palatial.

Sharon Waxman: Maybe so, but I met the guys who staged the stunt in MI with the plate glass breaking in a Prague restaurant. They did do it there.

Re: Sean Astin: Yup. He's Patty Duke's son- along with Mackenzie Astin of "Facts of Life" fame. John Astin adopted him but I forget who his birth father is.

Sharon Waxman: Interesting, thanks.

Rockville: Please allow me some polite clarifications: Janet Hirschenson and her crew are considered to be THE top casting teams in Hollywood, or anywhere, hands down. Spiderman, which already has trailers in the theaters, is tentatively slated for a mid-May or late-May release, according to some reports. Jessica Lange has done some cable work recently and is supposedly slated to be in a theatrical film later this year, I heard through the grapevine. And the director of "The Time Machine" is Simon Wells, the great-grandson or grandson of H. G. Wells, the man who wrote the original book. And the advance buzz on "Time Machine" is overwhelmingly positive. And many would dispute previous versions as being "B" films, thank you.

Sharon Waxman: Why so polite? And FYI May is the new summer in Hollywood, where ya been?
And yes, Simon Wells is the great-grandon of the great HG Wells. And I'm sorry for those who find the pre-Machine buzz positive, because they're out for a disappointment. Wells does not really know how to direct, and the Morlocks (the evil mutant species of year 802,701) are a cross between the Ooks of LOTR and the monkey in Planet of the Apes.

Six Feet Under Synopsis: Mother has florist guy over for dinner to meet the family. Nate's got a headache, takes the "aspirin" from the bottle where David stashed the ecstasy, so he's totally high all through dinner. Claire's worried about Gabe the boyfriend. Brenda's depressed. Nate has a dream about his father playing Chinese Checkers with life and death, who end up having sex. Nate still hasn't told Brenda or the family about his illness. And he passes the funeral director's test. David calls Keith.

Think I got it all. Was SO GOOD I could fall over.

Sharon Waxman: Wait! What's Nate sick with???

Arlington, Va.: Premiere of Six Feet Under was just okay -- I love love love that show, but was a bit disappointed in the season opener. Too many McBeal-ish daydream/fantasy sequences which the show does not need. Some funny stuff with the mom and David though. Mom tells David to invite any special friend of his, trying to embrace being the mom of a gay man, he replies..."why are my friends 'Special' friends"?

Sharon Waxman: Good.

Laurie: Sharon,

You want to weigh in on the whole ABC/Letterman/Koppel mess??

Sharon Waxman: I think it speaks for itself in terms of the unabashed abandonment of priorities at that place. Ted Koppel is one of the best journalists of our time. I don't care that he's not hosting every night or that he's over 60. Can't we make room for one of the best journalistic enterprises anywhere on US television?

Arlington, Va.: Josh Hartnett's a babe. Can't say I've actually seen anything with him in it from beginning to end, but I think the kid's got a lot of charisma. Am I just a dirty old girl?

Sharon Waxman: Um, just normal, I'd say. He's got charisma to spare, plenty of acting talent (the times when he was on screen in Pearl Harbor I actually believed the movie, fleetingly), but he's got the nastiest publicist this side of Texas.

Arlington, Va.: Hey Sharon,

Got a new not-so-guilty pleasure that draws me away from HBO late on Sunday nights: The Chris Isaak show on Showtime. It's weird and quirky and all about how he can't find love (yeah, right). Have you seen it? Any buzz?

Sharon Waxman: The LA Times's tv critic has been championing the show for some time, so I started watching it and got hooked. Guys, check it out, it's very funny. Plus Bridget Fonda's on occasionally.

Fairfax, Va. Losers = Mel K. & Les M -- they are going to be ponying up some major $$$$ and groveling naked center stage at the Sullivan Theatre every Thursday for Stupid Human Tricks; Iger & Eisner -- Major credibility issues. Actually this entire situation is a big fat stupid human trick.

Sharon Waxman: Thanks for that.

Peace in the Middle East: You should have the Israelis and Arabs sit down to a David Lynch film festival. They will be so absorbed trying to understand the movies that they will forget to fight each other. What a synthesis of your journalistic beats!

No disrespect intended towards Eraserhead poster.

How come you can speak Arabic? Family or school?

Sharon Waxman: School. And covering the first intifada.

6' Under.....: Nate's got a brain tumor of some sort.

Anyone -- did Billy sexually assault Brenda?

Sharon Waxman: Tx.
Re Billy: as far as I know he just cut out his tattoo, and tried to cut out hers. Did I miss something?

Joseph Fiennes!: Find him! Bring him back! Much, much sexier than his iceberg of a big brother--and he can act, too.
This is your mission. Use the Force.

Sharon Waxman: I promise to try.

New York: I must be out of the mainstream because I think Gwyneth Paltrow always looks awful, and she shouldn't. Her makeup, her clothes, may both be hip fashion, but if they don't look good on her, would they look good on anyone else? Her eye makeup has been especially horrid of late. Also, I'll never forget the pink silk dress THAT DID NOT FIT she wore to the Oscars. Oh my.

Just a little catty I am this afternoon.

Sharon Waxman: The Oscar dress was a rare fashion faux pas, and it STILL got copied from coast to coast. And her eye make up is onlyl overdone when she does those dramatic photo shoots/covers, etc. I've never seen her out with those raccoon eyes.

Sharon Waxman: PS Do you guys think that all this nice stuff I'm saying about Gwyneth will get me back in good graces with her devil of a publicist, Stephen Huvane?

Re: Guy Pearce again: Interesting what you mention about the machine being the star, not him. At what point in a movie does something like that happen? An actor agrees to do it based on... what? The salary, the director, the script...? A pick or combination of several factors, but how can something like this happen once they're already in the works? Does Pearce appear one day for shooting and the director says "y'know, it's the machine that I'm interested in" and it's the first time an actor might learn of the director's vision for a movie? Curious.

Sharon Waxman: I don't know how it happens, of course it's different in any case. Guy told me he was sent the script while on the set of Count of Monte Cristo, and decided it would be different to do something that reminded him of his childhood (meaning the old Time Machine). I think it was only once he committed and got ankle deep into it that he found out what was what.

Washington, D.C.: I'm frustrated with the whole furor over Nightline. Why won't anyone point out that the show's ratings are down and that Koppel only anchors three nights a week? Or that a move to ABC would be bad for Dave because CBS sure isn't going to let that nice new Ed Sullivan theater go unused, so there would be 3, not 2, 11:30 shows competing for the same pool of viewers, guests, and advertisers? Why is this story in the newspapers?

Sharon Waxman: Are you saying that the deal will never happen, so it's wasted space? Clarify, please.

Re: Nate: Nate's got AVM, which is some sort of malformation of blood vessels in his brain. Makes him at much greater risk for stroke.

Sharon Waxman: Ah.

WHY OH WHY, SHARON?!: Why are you out of favor with these publicists! We must know! Please?

Sharon Waxman: Because I write what I see, not what they want me to write.

Col. Pk.: All those good things you've been saying would have worked, until that last little jab.

Sharon Waxman: That guy will carry a grudge till kingdom come. I already tried to be nice. Nice doesn't work in Hollywood, I've learned with hard knocks of experience.

Washington, D.C.: Hey, is Hollywood still in love with Aaron Sorkin over the "West Wing," or are they as sick of the bad taste and preachiness as I am?

Sharon Waxman: I think he's had his little honeymoon run. His inner demons have outed him, so I'd say there's respect, but a lot less dazzle in his direction.

Sharon Waxman: Ok guys, I have to go, my phone won't stop ringing. Thanks so much for joining us. We'll be back in a week or maybe two, and take up some of these dangling matters. Also, we must talk about the Oscar campaigns, which are out of control in a big way. That's it, see you then...

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