Breaking the Code Behind The Imitation Game

Graham Moore’s screenplay for “The Imitation Game” just won the coveted Writers Guild Award for best adapted screenplay, topping a field of contenders including Jason Hall’s “American Sniper” Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl,” “Guardians of the Galaxy,” written by James Gunn and Nicole Perlman and “Wild,” whose screenplay was written by Nick Hornby.

Based upon the book “Alan Turing: The Enigma” by Andrew Hodges, the Weinstein Company film vividly brings to life a little-known story about the attempts to bring down the Third Reich during World War II – the efforts by a group of English mathematicians working in secret at a compound called Bletchley Park to crack the code of a German encryption machine which would enable them to learn where the Nazis were next planning to attack.

With England’s fate hanging in the balance, and countless lives at stake, the group’s leader is the brilliant yet eccentric Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch, who must hide his homosexuality or risk arrest and persecution by the country he is fighting to save.

With eight Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, and noms for  Cumberbatch and costar Keira Knightley, the film is directed by Oscar contender Morten Tyldum with a screenplay by Moore, who is nominated for adapted screenplay.

Moore and producer Teddy Schwarzman sat down recently to discuss the extraordinary and compelling story behind “The Imitation Game.” Here is an edited version of our conversation:

Hillary Atkin: Congratulations on all the acclaim the film is receiving. How did this project originate?

Teddy Schwarzman: The idea for the project originated in 2009 when Prime Minister Gordon brown issued a public apology to Turing. Historians, gay rights activists and scientists had been lobbying for years to get him his due.  When that apology reached our team it became very clear this story needed to be told, not just to tell the tragedy of his life but his legacy and how he changed our world.

Graham Moore: Everyone on the film knew from the beginning five years ago that it was going to be one of the most important things in our lives. Alan Turing’s story had been told before on the page and stage but never in narrative cinema. If anyone’s story deserved a film, his did, and we wanted to do a film make his legacy proud. There was a tremendous responsibility to tell it well.

HA: What were the biggest challenges in re-creating the character of Alan Turing, who died in 1954 and is considered the father of modern theoretical computer science?

GM:  There was no audio or video of Alan, which means we had to put together the character from his own writing. One of his nieces who was 18 when he passed away was very helpful, along with other people’s accounts. I was able to put together elements of his character from what he wrote.  Alan was also a good prose stylist, his papers translate ideas into layman’s terms. One of my favorite scenes is where Alan explains the big idea of the Imitation Game —a thrilling monologue to write and see Benedict perform. It was almost helpful that there was no audio or video, especially for Benedict. He couldn’t do an impression, he had to find Alan from the inside.  We had some photographs, and Benedict wore prosthetic teeth to make them more like Alan’s. There were enormous mouthfuls of dialogue with that, yet it’s very subtle. Sammy, our costume designer, used mismatched patterns in his shirts and ties. In his wallpaper, there was some binary code.

TS: Our greatest challenge was to capture his spirit and accomplishments and ultimately capture his character without making it feel like a laundry list–without a sense of who he was. Intertwining three different time periods was the best way to do it justice, in our opinion. We went to London for 14 weeks and reached out to Alan Turing’s family and Bletchley Park. His nieces meet with Morten, and Benedict was able to hear firsthand accounts of his cadence, how he was with children, and listened to recordings with colleagues talking about Turing, which we were lucky to have as a resource. Turing’s great nephew is even in the film, dancing in the background.

HA: Along the way, there must have been some surprises you discovered about him in addition to the secret life he led as a gay man.

GM: It was really the sheer breadth of his accomplishments: we knew he cracked the Enigma code, and theorized the computer, but what we didn’t know is that in his off hours he did algorithms on how tigers got their stripes. When do you find time for that? You got the sense his mind was constantly analyzing, breaking codes and patterns in everything. He was a great botanist, and had an amazing garden he tended. He was an Olympic-level marathon runner, who qualified in his 20s. Where do you have time to also run marathons? I just loved idea of his mind working–that he couldn’t stop if he wanted to stop having ideas. That was something, that there was so much constant activity in his head that it was hard for others to get a fraction of his attention, like what he wanted for lunch. There were so many big concepts and brilliant ideas floating around in his head.

HA: Tell us about the casting process for the film.

TS: What we tried to do instead of casting the biggest names was to find people who were incredibly passionate. We had a director who displayed all the tonal balances and he also understood and fell in love with the character, the man and the role. We put pieces in place that felt organic to the story that needed to be told and respected. We just went through a process of getting the best ensemble that creates chemistry. Benedict and Keira give the performances of their careers.

HA: How did you design or obtain the World War II-era and other period elements you needed for the production?

TS: We had a tremendous props department that spent months working. We had the original Enigma, and the listening stations originally used to intercept Morse code. Everything was sourced. We didn’t use replicas. There were memorabilia collectors who donated items for the shoot.  We did have World War II experts, uniforms, weaponry, vehicles, and we met a number of veterans, and people who worked at Bletchley, who are just now figuring out what they did there. It was very compartmentalized.

HA: How do you feel the story of Alan Turing resonates today, especially his persecution by the British after the war?

TS: His treatment by his government was terrible. He was one of 49,000 men who were convicted of gross indecency under British law between 1885 and 1967, people forced into jail time. Turing was given the option of chemical castration injections instead of going to jail. It’s a tragedy we wanted to highlight. We’ve come so far yet there are still religions and countries where being gay is a crime. If his genius contributions can help show that discrimination by sex, gender or race is something of no merit, we would love that message to get out there.

GM: I’m extremely proud as an American what great progress in gay rights we’ve made in the last few years, tremendous advances. I think the film hopefully shows audiences there was a gay man at the very heart of the computer revolution, at the heart of the Second World War. Historically, gay figures have been written out of narratives, so the goal was always to correct that, to say that gay men and women have been at heart of our history for a long time, and hopefully there are more gay figures we can recognize. In technology, it was only a few months ago that Apple’s Tim Cook came out.  Now there are 37 states in the union that have legal same sex marriage. We have made a lot of progress since Alan Turing’s time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Making of ‘American Sniper:’ Screenwriter Jason Hall’s Journey

Writing a screenplay based on an autobiography is challenging enough. But for Jason Hall, the real-life story of “American Sniper” took a tragic and irreversible turn immediately after he finished the script for the Clint Eastwood-directing film, starring Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller.

Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, whom Hall had been collaborating with in bringing his story to the screen, had just been murdered, ostensibly by a fellow Iraq war veteran he had been trying to help. (The man goes on trial soon for allegedly gunning down Kyle and his friend Chad Littlefield at a Texas shooting range in February 2013.)

Soon after Kyle’s murder and then the hero’s funeral he received, Hall’s phone rang. It was Taya Kyle, Chris’ widow, and after their four-hour conversation, thus began a new chapter in both of their lives. They spoke daily for hours, similar to how Taya had conducted her marriage to Chris over a period of 10 years during his tours of duty – on the phone.

For Hall, who is nominated for an Oscar and a Writers Guild Award for his adapted screenplay, their conversations were about peeling away the layers of a complex man in a way that only a wife can reveal.

She told of Kyle’s tenderness and how he had charmed her with his sincerity and conviction.

Hall says it’s an honor to be able to tell their story–and at the same time make it not just about one man and one family but about us as a nation and what is sacrificed in our name.

Shortly after the film opened wide on January 16, breaking box office records, we spoke with Hall about his indelible experience with “American Sniper.”

Hillary Atkin: You first met Chris in 2010 less than a year after he got out of the Navy and before he wrote his best-selling book, American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History.  What were your impressions of him?

Jason Hall: The big challenge was figuring out who Chris Kyle was and what compelled him to become a soldier and what the toll on him was. He was affected by his experiences in Iraq. It was hard to think of what he had been asked to do. After I first met with him, I saw one moment where his face came alive when he embraced one of his kids and I realized there was another guy in there. My struggle over the next years was knowing who he had been, otherwise his sacrifice would not be known. His book is one-dimensional. If that’s all there was, that was a different story. This guy was someone else before he came a warrior. I wanted to look at what happened and what it cost him.

I did it through Chris initially, and through his book which gave a lot of details. It was unapologetic, kind of angry and boisterous. I knew from him there was a humility that wasn’t represented in the book. Two years into the relationship I felt him changing. The laughter came easier.  I knew he was helping disabled veterans with stress disorders. I got to learn more about him, and started to love him. I turned in the script and he was murdered two days later.

Atkin: I can’t even imagine how shocking, devastating and horrifying that must have been. For him to be killed on U.S. soil after surviving so many enemy threats during combat.

Hall:  I just broke down after he was murdered. I have two kids of the same age, and the thought of them growing up without a father was just heartbreaking. To answer that call from his wife, to face a woman whose husband had just been murdered–I realized that I hadn’t pursued her more. But try asking a NAVY Seal for his wife’s number. The process took on more meaning during my conversations with Taya, 4-5 hours every day for two months. It wasn’t just figuring out Chris and who he was, it was more than just writing, it was very clear. To portray their story with a writer’s detail–how did he smell, their first kiss, the first childbirth–she remembered all of it. In many scenes she remembered exact things that were said and if not, I attempted to create the feelings and to recreate the purpose of their life in the story we tell. She started to process the grief and it took on more meaning, and I was introduced to a beautifully tragic love story that was unlike anything I’d ever known.

Atkin: What else did you learn about Chris’ character from your conversations with Taya?

Hall: She explained the caring side of a guy who had pulled her out of a dark time. I was shocked to find the architecture of this guy before the war, that he was tender in a way. It was hard to comprehend. She walked me through how the war had changed him, hardening his character, which affected him in such a profound way. He struggled with drinking, seeking help, and when he came home, he had to find a purpose and a reason to live. The book enabled him to walk into any VA and talk to fellow vets about what they had faced. He afforded them that opportunity and in doing so found a little bit of grace that began to heal him.

But the importance of the story didn’t start and end with Chris Kyle. The narrative purpose was to try to get the story of every soldier through exploring the archetype of this warrior and to offer up to every family who can identify with it the truth in their experience.

Atkin: The film has obviously struck a huge chord with audiences. What reactions have you been receiving?

Hall: The stories started pouring in, stories from soldiers, wives, grandparents, people who came home from Vietnam 40 years ago. I’ve been told stories about how parents have been affected, and now have an understanding of what they have gone through and how important it is to have a greater understanding. These accolades are nice, but I’ve cried over some of these stories–I am so affected to the bone. I’ve heard about some guys who don’t go out of house, going to see the movie, and then have opened up and finally talked about their experiences. It’s so beautiful.

These guys wanted to serve their country, but here’s what comes home, that we’re asking them to live with some stress injury. It’s important for us to understand this. I’m telling the point of view of one warrior, a personal character of one man. Soldiers don’t get to know the enemy, they get orders. They’re told to take out anyone with a gun. That’s the exact experience of a soldier, that’s what he experiences when he’s in combat. To allow that to occur and not politicize it, you try to be as honest as possible because truth resonates. Through human truth we can access the universal. The point of art is to create and inspire emotion and thought and conversation. This film has done that. It’s important for that to happen. It’s time to have the conversation about how we can welcome them home.   We’re doing a shitty job of it, it’s too painful, and we tell them, “Thank you for your service,” and that ends the conversation. They had to make choices they have to live with through the rest of their lives.

They carry an awareness of how this country feels. There’s a defensiveness, like “You don’t know what I went though.” When Chris called the Iraqis savages in his book, he was six months home from the war. You’re hearing the voice of a soldier, of a psyche still at war, and we ask these guys to do something not natural. They take on characters to take on an ugly job. That was the voice of a shadow character, not the entirely of Chris Kyle. Our job was to tell the entirety of the man he was.

Atkin: What was your biggest takeaway when you first saw the finished film?

Hall: The most important thing is the enormity of what Bradley did and how he inhabited the character of Chris. To watch him bring him back to life gave me goose bumps.  Kaya said, “I don’t understand how he brought my husband back to life.” It’s a testament to Bradley, his spirit and soul. It is a remarkable achievement.

 

 

‘Night Will Fall’ Reveals Untold Stories of Liberated WWII Concentration Camps

It was the movie from 1945 that had barely seen the light of day —until last night. Reels upon reels of raw footage recorded by military and newsreel cinematographers after the liberation of Nazi concentration camps by Allied forces are the basis of “Night Will Fall,” a powerful documentary that HBO ran Monday, on the eve of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the most notorious of the death camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau.

The images are hauntingly searing, particularly scenes of well-dressed German citizens walking through concentration camps amid piles of emaciated bodies– some naked, some in inmate uniforms – all frozen in a grisly diorama of hellish death. It was as if the Allies were forcing them to bear witness by saying, “Look at what was done in your name.”

The documentation of mass extermination was the motivation behind recording the horrific discoveries at Bergen-Belsen, Dachau and Auschwitz in the immediate aftermath of the Nazis’ declining power during World War II. The plan, as envisioned by Sidney Bernstein of the British government’s Ministry of Information and aided by supervising director Alfred Hitchcock, was to create a harrowing film titled “German Concentration Camps Factual Survey.”

Reports of the atrocities at the concentration camps had quickly made their way to Great Britain and to the United States. Bernstein had traveled to Bergen-Belsen a week after the camp’s liberation to see the devastation firsthand.

Despite all the best efforts and the artistic pedigree of those involved and the initial support it received, the documentary provides a revealing look at why the film was never widely seen. It was supposed to be screened in Germany after the fall of the Third Reich. But by May 1945, with the war in Europe finally over, priorities from earlier in the year had changed.

“Night Will Fall,” narrated by Helena Bonham Carter, directed by André Singer and produced by Brett Ratner and Sally Angel, features archival interviews with Hitchcock, director Billy Wilder and the Ministry of Information’s Bernstein, who went on to found Granada Television.

It provides insight from concentration camp survivors, several of whom identify younger versions of themselves in the footage. Soldiers who liberated the camps and those who shot the footage are also interviewed, testifying to the horror they experienced.

“This was not only an extraordinarily gripping story but was potentially important in bringing a different perspective to the story of the Holocaust,” Singer said about the documentary. “Once I watched ‘German Concentration Camps Factual Survey,’ I knew we could make something both different and importantly powerful.”

In 1952, London’s Imperial War Museum (IWM) inherited the rough cut of five of the six planned reels of the film, along with 100 compilation reels of unedited footage, a detailed shot list and a voiceover script with the commentary.

A five-reel rough cut had screened at the 1984 Berlin Film Festival and later aired on PBS’ “Frontline,” but four years ago, the IWM began an ambitious project to digitize and restore the footage, including the never-before-seen sixth reel, all of which served to transform the grainy images of the past into the vividness of the present, making its scenes of tragic devastation an unforgettable lesson to all who witness them.

(“Night Will Fall” encores on HBO2 January 27, January 31, February 6 and February 10 and on HBO January 29 and February 7, 12, 15 and 24.)

–Hillary Atkin

CNN’s ‘Voices of Auschwitz’ Bear Witness to Nazi Death Camp Horrors

They were just children. Four of them, three girls and a boy, growing up more than seven decades ago in upper or middle-class families, surrounded by arts and culture, without many cares in the world.

And then, unspeakable horror. Uprooted from their lives and torn from their families, they found themselves at the world’s most notorious death camp, Auschwitz, trapped in the gruesomely efficient Nazi killing apparatus, where 1.1 million people were murdered during World War II.

Each somehow found a way to survive, whether through sheer inner strength or being plucked from certain death in the gas chambers because of their budding talents. One was a musician, another a fashion designer, another a tailor. The other was a twin, whom the infamously sadistic Dr. Josef Mengele experimented upon.

70 years after Auschwitz was liberated by Russian troops, these four incredibly resilient survivors tell their stories to CNN’s Wolf Blitzer in “Voices of Auschwitz,” a one-hour documentary.

Viewers will meet Eva Kor, Martin Greenfield, Renee Firestone and Anita Lasker-Wallfisch and hear their remarkable tales of living through the hell on earth that was Auschwitz.

“I never knew it was a problem to be Jewish,” Kor tells Blitzer, as they stand near the tracks where cattle cars disembarked her, her mother and her sister Miriam and tens of thousands of others into the concentration camp. Amidst confusion and chaos, they entered under the infamous sign that bears the motto “Arbeit Macht Frei,” which translates into “Work Will Set You Free.”

That day on the selection platform was the last time Kor would ever see her mother, who was sent directly to the gas chamber.

For the next nine months, Eva and her sister Miriam were housed in a rat-and lice-infested bunk with 300 other children and subjected to medical experiments daily. They were forced to stand naked for eight hours at a time. She recalls Mengele’s sadistic laugh.

Despite the daily torture, Eva was determined to survive, telling Blitzer, “I was not going to perish here in Auschwitz.” When liberation finally came on January 27, 1945, at 4:30 p.m., Eva and Miriam were at the front of the line as the children were led out of Auschwitz. There’s a photo of them being led to freedom, which she poses with, but says she doesn’t remember being at the front of the parade, just the joy of being liberated.

The three other survivors also tell their stories of torture, loss, hopelessness and, finally, liberation and survival.

Firestone’s skills at drawing evening gown designs and being a seamstress spared her from the gas chamber. Similarly, Greenfield was recruited as a tailor, after his original job laundering Gestapo uniforms. And Lasker-Wallfisch was spared because she could play the cello and was put into a makeshift orchestra.

All went on to use those skills in life-long careers.

“I am not possessed by fear and anger—and that is a victory,” says Lasker-Wallfisch, while Firestone admits, “I’m in shock and awe and amazement that I’m still here. I wake up with it, I go to sleep with it,” she says of her nightmarish imprisonment at Auschwitz.

Preserving the stories of these and other survivors is the mission of the Shoah Foundation, and Blitzer talks to its founder, director Steven Spielberg about the project’s genesis, which was inspired while he was making 1993’s “Schindler’s List.” An extra on the Holocaust film came up to him and asked if he had a tape recorder to record her own personal story of survival.

“This will be the last significant commemoration,” Spielberg says of the 70th anniversary of Auschwitz’s liberation. “But all the survivors will become teachers in perpetuity.”

(“Voices of Auschwitz” premieres on CNN Wednesday, January 28 at 9 p.m. PT/ET.)

–Hillary Atkin

 

All Together Now: It’s a New Family Comedy on HBO

Indie film fans will fondly remember 2011’s “Jeff, Who Lives at Home,” about a 30-year-old slacker played by Jason Segel who lives in his mother’s basement. With millions of people feeling the pinch of a shrunken economy and cutbacks around every corner, the movie resonated on many levels with a core yet small audience.

Now its creators, Mark and Jay Duplass have brought that same sort of schlumpy/normcore sensibility to their first television comedy, “Togetherness,” with eight half-hour episodes set to run on HBO.

Whether they are single or married with children, the Eastside Los Angeles-set “Togetherness” is about what happens to everyday people in their late 30s and early 40s who actually don’t have it together, like the couple at the center of the domestic comedy.

The Jeff-like character is played by Steve Zissis, a boyhood friend of the Duplass brothers with elements based upon his life as a struggling actor in LA. It’s a commonplace story that will likely have a different real-life ending, in this case making the actor a well-known commodity.

As “Togetherness” opens, Zissis’ doughy—and we mean that literally–character is being evicted from his apartment and has decided to go back to his hometown of Detroit before his best friend, played by Mark Duplass, comes to the rescue with an offer to bunk at his family’s home.

At the same time, his wife’s sister, who has the unlikely occupation of leasing kids’ bouncy houses, goes through a painful breakup and needs a place to stay.

With these four characters–Melanie Lynskey playing the wife and Amanda Peet her sister–thrown together under one not very large roof with a couple of kids underfoot, “Togetherness” is about getting to the truths of contemporary relationships without the commercial slickness seen in other family comedies.

The Duplass brothers spoke recently about their process of bringing “Togetherness” together. Here is an edited version of the conversation:

 

Q: Together you have written, directed and produced more than 20 movies. How is working on a series different from working on a film?

Mark Duplass: The main difference is being able to track the very intricate, subtle interactions between the characters. When you’re dealing with the 90-minute format of a movie, you’ve set the whole thing up, then you’ve got a good chunk in the middle where you can dig into things, and then you’ve got to wrap it up. With TV, you put the ball in the air and you have tons of time to mine all of those awkward, funny, sad interpersonal relationship dynamics that really get us excited about storytelling.

Q: Why did you bring “Togetherness” to HBO?

MD: The thing that makes HBO really exciting is that they bet on their filmmakers. They help you when you need it, but they don’t necessarily try to develop you too much or push you too much in one direction. It was really exciting to be able to make a show and be fully supported, but also to do exactly we wanted to do.

Q: With Mark in one of the lead roles, it begs the question: Does any of the show come from personal experience? What other influences went into creating the show?

Jay Duplass: Mark and I spent a ton of time in our 20s trying to be very referential, trying to be the Coen brothers and failing miserably at that. Then we lucked into this experience where we started making fun of ourselves on screen. The first movie we ever made that was really any good was a seven-minute short film about a guy trying to perfect the personal greeting of his answering machine and failing to do so, and having a nervous breakdown, which actually happened to one of us in real life.

This show is an extension of our caveman style of filmmaking. Mark and I did not grow up in Hollywood. We didn’t know anyone in the industry, and we didn’t have any awareness of people who made movies until we went to college in Austin and saw what Richard Linklater was doing. We’ve always made things by hand and represented our own world, and I think “Togetherness” is probably the truest and most accurate thing that we’ve ever done.

The show is about being in your late 30s, living on the East Side of LA, having kids and trying to be a family person, and trying to also make your own dreams come true. That’s really just the stuff of our lives and the conflict of our lives. In terms of drawing inspiration, we just talk about our own lives and the lives of our best friends and our family, and all the material comes from there.

Q: How do you work together?

MD: Every project is a little different in terms of how we approach it, but this is the most intensely collaborative project we’ve done, because it’s bigger in scope. We’re functioning in a lot of roles and we’re preparing a bit more on this show than we normally do. There are just natural lines that get divided, where Jay and I talk about who is going to take the lead at this one given moment. We’ve never had an issue with crazy ego stuff about letting one person take the lead, which is important because you can’t have two people sitting in the driver’s seat at all times trying to push the pedal and fight with each other. It’s a great comfort to know that if I’m feeling grumpy and uninspired, Jay will push a little bit harder and get things done.

JD: One thing that’s nice is when stuff goes down, Mark and I can discuss it between the two of us, and be super honest.

Q: How did you find your collaborative voice for “Togetherness”?

MD: Jay and I discovered our voice through the conversations we’ve had our whole lives, where we’re up an hour or two late and a little bit tired, and either crying or laughing about something that’s going on in our lives. If we feel like we have one major strength, it is to look at the pain and the struggles of intimacy and friendships and your dreams, and take one step back and realize how stupid and funny you look in the middle of all of it.

Q: What is it about minor victories in life that inspire people to keep going?

JD: We’ve realized that the big victories never tend to be exactly what you think they will be, whereas sometimes the minor victories are the ones that really count. For example, everyone tells you how wonderful it is to have children, but in our experience 90% is struggle and 10% is totally, absolutely beautiful and validates the whole experience. Take this morning: Before I took my two-year-old son to school, we were rushing and rushing, and he said, “I want stay with you, Dad.” That made up for the whole last month when he’s had a sinus infection and has been whining nonstop. That kind of little victory, that’s what life is like and that’s what we’re trying to represent.

Q: In the show, Brett’s best friend and Michelle’s sister both move in with the married couple. What is the dynamic of this foursome?

MD: Alex and Brett are soul mates in a way, but the arrival of Tina makes things much more complex. What’s really interesting to us is how group dynamics change, depending on who’s in the group and how many are in the group.

Q: What does music bring to the show?

JD: We spent a lot of time on the music, more than on any other project, because we have four equally strong lead characters. Brett is into Rush, really intense prog-rock. Michelle is into ‘80s New Wave. Tina’s probably into hair bands, so in the pilot, you hear Sebastian Bach. We imagine that Alex grew up in Detroit, so he listens to old-school rap.

Q: What does ““Togetherness”” mean to you?

JD: “Togetherness” is a double-edged sword. At first you think it can be a saccharine feeling, where you want to be with your family and snuggle up together. The other side is that you feel trapped, and the only thing that you want to do is escape.

(“Togetherness” premieres Sunday, January 11 at 9:30 p.m. ET/PT on HBO.)

–Hillary Atkin

 

‘Selma’ Brings MLK and the Civil Rights Movement to Vivid Life

Director Ava DuVernay has said she doesn’t like historical black pictures, and she’s made sure that her “Selma” stands out from the rest in its tone, in its focus and in its style of storytelling. It’s already nabbed four Golden Globe nominations and five Critics’ Choice nods that are a testament to her work.

Unbelievably, although the US civil rights movement has been chronicled extensively, this is the first feature-length film with Martin Luther King Jr.– brilliantly played here by David Oyelowo– as its central character. Even as he contends with FBI surveillance of his home and activities, he is shown dealing with the personal strains of his efforts, which won him the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Selma” focuses on a few critical months in 1965 with Selma, Alabama as the proving grounds for King and his Southern Christian Leadership Conference to fight for blacks being able to register to vote.

Even though they are legally able to, the racist power structure of the newly desegregated South prevents them from actually exercising that right, aided and abetted by Alabama Gov. George Wallace, law enforcement and local politicians and judges.

Tom Wilkinson plays LBJ, who is also resistant to King’s pleas to step in and make things right– until a confluence of events forces him to do so, culminating with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The events of nearly 50 years ago, including the storied march from Selma to Montgomery, are even more resonant in light of current civil rights protests taking place.

“Selma” opened in select cities on Christmas, and goes wide on January 9.

Christian Bale as Moses Powers ‘Exodus: Gods and Kings’

The opulence, sophistication and the sheer spectacle of ancient Egypt as the backdrop for one of the most resonant tales in the Old Testament is brought to vivid, 3-D life by director Ridley Scott in “Exodus: Gods and Kings.”
It’s the story of Moses, played evocatively here by Christian Bale, who was raised into a life of Egyptian privilege and “knighthood” before learning he is actually the son of Hebrew slaves and is exiled to the desert by Ramses, (Joel Edgerton) the Pharoah’s son and a rival for the ruler’s attention and affection.
With a gritty realism and an unexpected depiction of the character of God, Moses takes his place as leader of the Jewish people to deliver them from slavery in Egypt, sacrificing for a time the family life he’s created.
The religious may find the film not faithful enough to scripture. The secular will enjoy the dramatic interpretation of a story for the ages, complete with vivid and haunting imagery of the ten plagues.

This is It–The End of the Road for Sons of Anarchy and Last Chance for Happy Endings

If you’re not among the 6 million people who regularly tune in to “Sons of Anarchy” or its 8.2 million Facebook fans, you may possibly be excused for not knowing that Tuesday night, Dec. 9, 2014, marks the end of its twisting, turning, ultraviolent and dark humor-infused seven-season-long road on FX.

Otherwise, you are probably waiting with bated breath for the finale of creator Kurt Sutter’s motorcycle gang saga that stars Charlie Hunnam alongside an ensemble including Katey Sagal, Theo Rossi, Dayton Callie, Drea de Matteo, Tommy Flanagan, Kim Coates and Jimmy Smits.

Without naming specific names, and there is no delicate way to put this, but last week’s penultimate episode titled “Red Rose” saw not one, not two, but three — three! — major characters summarily offed at the hands of another.

Some of these murders may have been predictable — although not any less painful to watch and absorb — but at least one came as a complete shock.

Among those left standing is Nero Padilla, the powerful character played by Smits. He’s fairly new to the cast, having come in during Season 5, when he quickly integrated himself into the SAMCRO sphere as a force to be reckoned with as a savvy businessman — and as a love interest for Sagal’s Gemma Teller Morrow.

Yet as the violence has escalated in recent episodes, he’s been focused on his exit strategy, which involves taking Gemma and his disabled son away from the fictional town of Charming, California, to a ranch in another part of the state.

With Nero poised to become one of the few “Sons of Anarchy” characters who might yet see a happy ending as the show writes its final chapter with the closing episode “Papa’s Bones,” Smits sat down with television reporters to discuss the unfolding events — on-screen and of f– that have led him to this place. Here is an edited transcript of the conversation:

Q: Looking back now, what would you say not only as an actor you took away or learned from doing “Sons of Anarchy,” but as a person, as a man, being a part of the “SOA” family?

Jimmy Smits: The whole thing about the strength of family through thick and thin, and even though the whole thing about family is questionable with this particular family, how the family kind of like sticks together. That was just like a running theme and to see that group from being a fan and watching them on television to partaking with them on the performance level, I think that that bond was really, really strong, so that’s something that I’ll always remember about that particular group and about what they conveyed not only in the writing, but on a performance level as well.

Q: And as an actor, did you take anything away from playing Nero, did he teach you anything new?

Jimmy Smits: It just kind of reinforced for me what we need to do as performing—this might be boring for the audience, but just as performers how you really need to stay focused on any given day, so that when it’s your turn to be up at bat, you try your best to bring your A game. And when I get stuck in terms of how to play something or how to approach it or I start thinking too much, I always just go back to the basics of what does my guy want in this particular scene and what is his major objective in terms of life, that would be in his case the exit strategy, what are the people saying about him and just trying to keep that as fluid as possible while I’m putting my tattoos on, so that when it’s my turn that I make the most of those two or three scenes every episode that I get to do.

Q: I just loved the “Red Rose” episode and I feel like with Nero, there’s such an intrinsic strength, power and gravitas to him that he acts as somewhat of a balancer and grounding force to the Tellers, particularly to Gemma, but also somewhat to Jax. What are your thoughts on the context of the role that Nero plays in the family?

Jimmy Smits: I think that when you start thinking about the fluidity of a television series and how it evolves and changes and grows and is kind of like symbiotic with not only what the writers’ vision is, but what the interaction is between the actors, the ensemble, the crew, all of those things, how the writers respond to when they see their particular scene that they’ve written in the writers’ room come to life on the stage and then in film, I think about that character. And of course going in, it was supposed to be ten episodes and out, and all of those things that you alluded to, thank you very much, are nice, and I think that it’s evolved into that.

I remember having a conversation with Kurt at the end of the second season that I was on, which was Season 6, and he expressed interest in me thinking about the way he framed it, the Nero character becoming part of the mythology of the show. And that’s the way it was framed, so I think that all of those qualities that you cited are probably are things that I have developed. So for the character besides that ongoing super objective that he came in with and was what his major character tag or pillar was that he wanted this kind of exit strategy, it’s something that permeated not only his character, but I think it influenced actions of the other characters.

The character served this purpose of confidante, foil, love interest, all of those little spokes in the wheel that fleshes out the show in general. The whole fluidity again of television and the character and the performer because it’s not just an open and close, it’s not like a film or a play in the sense that everything is spelled out and has a fluidity to it; I’m just happy that I had the respect of that group when I came in and they were very kind of like warm and open. And they are a very close knit group and that kind of respect and had to do probably with the prior work, the fact that I had worked with Paris [Barclay] before, all of that and I think that bleeds over into the character as well.

Q: Another element that comes out is the humor displayed with Wendy and particularly some of the lines in the latest episode, like, “Hey, Junkie, I’ll put you in the trunk.” Talk a little bit about that aspect of the character and also his relationship with Wendy.

Jimmy Smits: It’s one of Kurt’s strong suits I think if you look at the whole gamut of the seven seasons of the show when he has characters that one would conceive or consider to be dark or askew, you can see it in Tig, you can see it in all of the characters actually that Kurt operates best when he does this kind of one-two punch to the audience and can present kind of like a lighter shade, humorous side and then socks you with something that can be very emotionally impacting.

I think that engages the audience in a lot of ways. It makes them root for these people who are on the “wrong side of the tracks,” so I like the fact that that he operates as a writer from that kind of level. And with regards to Nero and Wendy, they both have the similarities that they have is that their sobriety is something that they have in common, so I think that that’s the strong bond that they share or will continue to share. Whatever happens that’s an element of it. I think it takes kind of the stink off the possibility that there’s a romantic thing. It’s a more paternal, brother/sister kind. You get that vibe from the back and forth that they have, so it functions on a lot of different levels because of that.

Q: What was your feeling when you read that final script?

immy Smits: I’ve been continually shocked with the past maybe five scripts in terms of like we’re really blowing sh** up here. He’s going for broke, so it was always with a little bit of trepidation on everybody’s part when that new script would come in in your email or whether you would get it in page form to make that turn of the first couple of pages to see what was next or who was going to go down next.

I don’t think audiences are going to be disappointed at all. I think they’re going to be very satisfied and it’s touching in a lot of ways. It’s sad, but it’s also it’s grim, too.

Q: You’ve played some roles in your career that were beyond memorable, like your performance in “Dexter.” Here you take this role of Nero Padilla and every time he’s on screen he just seems larger than life. He just sort of commands attention, and he’s become this character that everybody wants to see and admires in a lot of ways. Will this be one of your personal most memorable roles that you’ve played?

Jimmy Smits: I hope there’ll be other memorable roles down the line, but I know I’m going to have fond memories of the group and this guy. When I first was jotting down little things in my little composition high school composition notebook, which I always buy for each of the characters that I have, I wrote down Jimmy S. and a slash and Jimmy “Mi Familia”/Nero Padilla. That character that I played in “Mi Familia” was kind of like a little sprouting seed of maybe where this guy wound up being. It was just a stream of consciousness kind of thing of what kind of attributes you want to give to a character. It’s like putting little strokes onto a canvas like if you were painting something.

I wanted to try to do something a little bit different and I’m glad that Kurt really gave me that kind of opportunity to do something that was kind of like more guy/guy thing. You realize where a character falls in terms of the different, if you think of a series as a wheel and there are different spokes in the wheel that support it and keep it going. You have different characters that have different functions, so I knew what was needed. That was expressed to me and you’re going to be this for Jax and that for Gemma and that’s where he’s going to. It was important for me to try to keep a couple of balls in the air when I was juggling all of that.

I wanted to make sure because it’s a show about outlaws and people on the wrong side of the tracks that you kept that vibrant as well, so it wasn’t just a guy coming to have somebody cry on his shoulder and giving coffee out. There are a lot of characters to serve and you have to find ways—if we keep that other element going, it makes everything else more believable, so I’m just glad that there was a kind of real back and forth, respect and trust that we had with each other.

And our conversations like in Season 5 actually started getting less, not more. You would think that it would be as the character flourishes, you would have much more, but they were less, less frequent, but when they happened, they were more intense. But there’s a realization on my part that he’s spinning a lot of plates, so you have to be very succinct in terms of getting what points you need or what you think needed to be looked at in a particular scene, because you want to try to do that before you get on set.

Q: He’s a bad guy in one respect. He’s a father. He’s a father figure, but he also can be very tender and understanding and the voice of reason. How much do you personally relate to Nero Padilla?

Jimmy Smits: The whole thing with him about how religion is part of his life or some kind of spirituality was just like a simple little kind of brush stroke on the writers’ part I think and that became very important to me. I don’t want to say I embellished it, but I gave it a lot more weight and I think because of that they wrote then subsequently they added more and that’s satisfying to me because I like the fact that this guy that seemingly has a spiritual side to him, too, that’s intense. And it made sense to me because of the fact that he’s sober and higher power and all that stuff, so Jimmy relates to that, so that was a nice little flare that the character had that I like and can relate to.

Q: The end of “Red Rose,” when he’s on the bed, he figured out that Gemma presumably and Unser are gone, what was going through your mind at that moment, like what could Nero possibly could do next?

Jimmy I think there’s pain. There’s guilt. There’s remorse. Did you do the right thing? And I’m sure that the scenes afterwards that are not written or maybe you won’t get to see in between the episodes are full of maybe anger and trying to grapple with what’s the next move. You got to remember with all of these people that there’s this bubbling kind of how do they deal with the feeling of betrayal and how they try to go about exacting one might term it vengeance or making things right for them or their point of view. Hopefully all of that is full for this final chapter.

Q: One of the most heart-wrenching and beautiful scenes took place about two episodes ago between Nero and Jax when they’re just sitting together in the chairs. Can you talk about that connection a little bit?

Jimmy Smits: I think it was the culmination of what the relationship has been between these two characters over three seasons and certainly the weight of what the Jax character has been carrying or feeling for the past seven seasons. Because of that relationship between Jax and Nero, there was the availability of a kind of vulnerability, those words that Kurt wrote that came out of Jax’s mouth there about the bottom line no matter what’s happened, she’s my mom, have to really resonate in a huge way.

I’m kind of happy that the way that turned out and just like on a performance level that we were able to have enough trust between us as actors; and that Peter Weller who directed that particular episode that you’re talking about just said minimal stuff and just let it happen, but was very supportive, so I think it resonates and has the power that Kurt intended when he wrote it.

Q: One of the best moments that really pulled at the heart strings the most was the scene with you and Gemma where you’re on a cell phone with Jax and we know that Jax is explaining to Nero what he has learned. Can you talk about how you decided to play that scene, since the audience didn’t get Jax’s side of the conversation and that you had to convey everything just through facial expressions and emotions.

Jimmy Smits: We knew that it was just from a dramaturgical look at it when we had the read-through for it, that the scene was going to have impact, but that it was going to be demanding because of the fact that it’s not a back and forth. But in the scope of that particular episode, you do have the fact that the act is repeated a number of times and most notably in the scene between Jax and Juice in the jail cell where they were in vivid detail Juice has recounted what happened with Tara and Gemma’s involvement in it. And you see that registering on both of them, so I think it was a great writer stroke that Kurt decided that the subsequent retelling of it would play in a different kind of way. I think because the audience now is engaged and they know and it becomes more about how each of the subsequent characters are going to start relating to the news. So when I look at it in total I think it really points to Kurt’s strength as a writer.

Now the execution of it was a little bit scary and what I alluded before about learning, somebody asked me about what I took away from the show about trying to stay focused as a performer in the environment of television, which can be very quick. That particular day was a little scary because we were like at the end of the day. We were losing light. It had to be outside and Paul Maibaum who’s been the DP for the show since its beginning is just wonderful and kept on telling me don’t worry about it. We can make this work.

My thing is I kept on saying we’re going to have to come back and do this and I don’t know how I’m going to be able to get back to where I was, but it all become a trust, a day of trust on that level. And on recounting not having the phone call actually in my ear and just knowing that I could be emotionally full with all of the information that I’ve had about these particular characters and knowing that when I looked in Katey’s eyes and she looked at my eyes that it would resonate emotionally. So we had that one aspect going for us and I think it played out. I think it has a kind of power to it and I’m happy with most of it. There’s a lot that I still kick myself about, but that’s just me. I’m never totally happy, but thanks for the good words about it.

Q: You’ve been a part of some pretty iconic roles in “NYPD Blue” and “The West Wing.” But when you look at the final episode and your final arc as Nero, would you say that you think this is a satisfying ending both for the show and for you personally?

Jimmy Smits: As far as the last season is concerned, I think that Kurt ended it really beautifully and it has all of those elements that the show has been the signature of the show throughout the seven seasons. I was a little surprised specifically about the way Nero ends up, but I totally get it. I totally get it.

Q: One of the most memorable lines is from “Red Rose” was when Nero tells Unser that this is not about saving Gemma, it’s about saving Jax. What do you think has changed in Nero that he seemed more concerned with saving Jax than Gemma?

Jimmy Smits: I think that that particular line I tried to give it a little bit of weight, so that it really means both because we all know that in the episode prior to that when Nero starts talking about you know what you’re thinking about doing is one of the biggest sins that you could impose upon yourself and the weight that that’s going to put on you. So knowing that that was a possibility, that was part of where that line was coming from and I tried to imbue it with all of that, but I don’t think that he meant discard Gemma or there wasn’t that thing going on; and I hope that didn’t read like that because the love that he has—you did see him in the next subsequent scenes in the bedroom. And I think that reinforced that even though the events that have transpired, that he still has a profound kind of love and emotional connection with the Gemma character. So it’s like everything that Kurt writes, it’s not just one thing. It’s layered in many, many, many different ways.

Q: Do you have a favorite scene or maybe a scene that was harder for you to film during the series?

Jimmy Smits: The two scenes in Episode 10 and 11 of this season were both very difficult because it had to do with focus, I alluded to that and just the head space of where I am in my life, so those were kind of difficult. But you got to know that in Season 5 when my partner in life was playing a character and that character had to go down, that was a very tough day because you’re looking at a character who is supposed to be your sister, but in real life it’s the person that you live with and love with. That was a difficult; memorable, difficult day as performer and character as well.

Q: If Nero had gone to find Gemma instead of Unser, do you think he would have chosen her over Jax? They had gotten close over these past few episodes, but would his love for Gemma have overpowered that bond, and would he have gone after Jax if he tried to hurt Gemma?

Jimmy Smits: If Nero had gone, there would have been probably three dead bodies there. All of them would have gone down in some way. I think that was his big fear that he didn’t want to try to have to make that particular choice, but I don’t think that the Nero character understood how profound and deep the relationship that Unser has with them also. I guess he thinks that because of the police element or line in Unser’s character thread was there that he would be able to exact some kind of calm out of the situation.

Q: Why do you think a show like this, dark as it is, about a motorcycle gang, why does it resonate with viewers so much?

Jimmy Smits: Since we’re in this time in television where we have all of these channels and niches and I think the great thing about it is this kind of golden age of TV, because the canvas is much broader, and you can go into much more specifics. I think that audiences want to relate or want to know about different worlds that they might not get on a network TV; your typical doctor, lawyer, police type show. So it affords the opportunity to get a professor who’s dying who runs a meth lab, or how it was in New York and New Jersey in the ‘20s; those types of things and really become engaged with those characters, and in this case with a world that you think you might know something about, but don’t really know about.

And then layer that or texturize it with all of those things in that world and what they learn about that world and the things that every particular family has; the family dynamics, the codes that a family has, the hierarchy and that’s what engages it. I think Kurt was really successful with the writers in terms of like presenting this kind of like Shakespearian story in a lot of ways that has a lot of emotionality and humor and tragedy and all of that violence, but at the same time has this thread of family and brotherhood, so those are the things that I think really engage audiences with the show specifically.

Q: What was it like working with FX on the show?

Jimmy So it’s my first time working on the network, but not my first time dealing specifically with John Landgraf and that crew there, who I have a lot of respect for. In my years of having deals with different networks and having to interface and pitch to different studio people, I’ve not met a group that is more supportive to the creative side keeping the business thing in perspective, but really supportive of the creative side. I say this not from the actor perspective, but I saw from the outside how supportive John Landgraf and that team the creative executives are with Kurt and how they allowed him I think to really blossom into not just a television writer, but a creator of a series and somebody who has weight and a voice. I think that they were intricate in that dynamic of having Kurt develop into that.

They just get it. They’re just very supportive and my interactions with them have been very not the norm, unusual. I always come away even if the pitch didn’t go or I didn’t get a particular job, that’s happened with them, but my interfacing with them has always been very positive and I come away like changed in a lot of ways about my respect of what TV can be. They’re really into literature and they just get it. I can’t say enough good things about those guys and I hope we get to work down the line.

Q: What can you say about the fallout from all of the devastating deaths that just happened in the last episode?

Jimmy Smits: I can say that the audience is going to be satisfied with the way the show ends up and that it continues to deliver its one-two punch that I talked about before. And as much as it is exciting and sad and funny, it’s got that grim quality to it as well.

Q: How was it to like physically film that very last episode?

Jimmy Smits: Your investment has not only been with the characters and the story, but the crew that you spent, in Katey’s case seven years with, that crew has been very cohesive. There haven’t been a lot of changes and the crew really loves the show. There are a lot of tattoos on that crew, let me just say that, so I guess in that way there were a lot of tears.

There’s a sadness in that the family unit that you develop because you do work for so many hours is going to disperse and we kept on reaffirming that we know we have great memories and that we’ll see each other again hopefully down the line, because this business is all kind of circled, but it was sad. I finished up I think it was halfway into the shoot, so there was that particular eight days. And I came back for a couple of hours every day until we wrapped because I wanted to be there for Charlie’s last scene or the last scene of particular characters and a lot of people did that, so it was very emotional.

Q: Do you plan on keeping in touch with the other cast members?

Jimmy Smits: I will and we all say that, but we probably won’t. That’s what happens in our business, and I think that makes it sad, too, because that’s the gypsy aspect of the business that we all kind of acknowledge that you’re going into something and it has to be a certain level of trust, particularly with the performers and you get to share parts of your life to gain that kind of trust that the characters are going to have. And then the reality is you move on to the next thing, but when we see each other again, the true mark of it is like it’s like you never skipped a day.

Q: Since Nero never rode motorcycle, have the guys finally gotten you on a motorcycle?

Jimmy Smits: Yes, I’ve been on motorcycles. When I first knew that I was going to be working with the show, Kurt and I were just having meetings and I didn’t know where it was going to go, so the first thing I did besides watching, rewatching all the at that point it was five seasons over a weekend I went out there and I got my motorcycle license. And there’s this great group of people in southern California and a lot of them are women that have this motorcycle training facility; and I got my license and did a crash course and I was pretty happy.

And then I found out that it wasn’t going to happen and then I toyed and we keep in contact and also my stand-in, we’ve been together for like 20 years now, he’s a motorcycle rider, so we rode a lot together. I would always through the past three seasons, I always keep myself in tune hoping that one day I’m going to open up the script and it’s going to say, “and then Nero jumps on Jax’s motorcycle and goes away.”

Q: There’s always the finale. You never know.

Jimmy Smits: That would be a spoiler, let’s put that one out there, “Nero jumps on the motorcycle and rides off—”

Q: Someone mentioned that it’s still in the boiler that there might be a “West Wing” sequel that your character might come back. Have you heard anything about that?

Jimmy Smits: I was working on something else when they did the “LA Law” reunion that they had. Sometimes it’s better to just leave things alone. It depends, but with the right people writing certainly with “The West Wing,”, there could be a lot of resonance to having that group to see where that group has all landed up, because you knew it was, and I’m not just talking about the presidency, but there were staffers, so to see where those particular staffers are now in their careers, I would be very interested in that.

Q: You talk about keeping notebooks for each of your characters, will you ever publish them one day?

Jimmy Smits: I don’t think so. There’s a storage room I have that has back to my days at Cornell in summer stock and all that stuff, so there are lot of composition books out there. Don’t even put that in my head. They’re just ramblings.

Q: I can only imagine what you would subtitle the final one on “Sons of Anarchy.” It’d be an incredible little volume to read.

Jimmy Smits: Yes, yes. There’s a lot of cursing in there.

(The “Sons of Anarchy” series finale airs on FX Tuesday, Dec. 9, at 10 p.m. ET/PT followed by “Anarchy Afterword” with Kurt Sutter and Charlie Hunnam.)

An All-Star Rousing Tribute to Bruce Springsteen Rocks PBS

Bruce Springsteen fans will devour every second of the two hour and 12 minute tribute to him recorded at the 2013 MusiCares person of the year benefit and airing as part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival.

From the opening introduction by fellow New Jersey native Jon Stewart to Neil Young’s punk rock version of “Born in the USA” to Elton John’s heartfelt “Streets of Philadelphia” to the climactic performance by the Boss himself leading the E Street Band in blazing renditions of his iconic ”Thunder Road” and “Born to Run” and then into an epic finale with all the evening’s performers, the program is a tribute as well to the power of music.

As Springsteen and his wife Patti Scialfa look on proudly from their table–and often rock out and sing along–an array of noted musicians across multiple genres perform his songs before a crowd of 3,000 people, many of whom are shown in cutaways having the time of their lives.

Spotted in the crowd: Sean Penn, Les Moonves and Julie Chen, Rita Wilson, Conan O’Brien and Judd Apatow. Springsteen’s daughter and mother were also in attendance.

Nearly every number is a huge highlight, from John Legend performing a piano-driven arrangement of “Dancing in the Dark” to Tom Morello and Jim James shredding their guitars on an electrified version of “The Ghost of Tom Joad” to Patti Smith playing her smash hit co-written with Springsteen, “Because the Night.”

Recording Academy president Neil Portnow gave Springsteen a crystal trophy and lauded his humanitarian work in addition to an illustrious career that began with his 1973 Columbia Records release “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.”

Since then, Springsteen has released a total of 18 studio albums, taken home 20 Grammy Awards and won an Oscar for best original song from 1993’s “Philadelphia.” And of course he’s in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor.

But the ever modest legend gave a low-key yet powerful speech lauding the magic of music after thanking John Legend for making him sound like Gershwin and Neil Young for making him sound like The Sex Pistols.

“I’ve seen it before, and been part of the magic of music, he said. “Music is life. The earth and stars rolling through the heavens, the winds whistling and the birds singing. Musicians are a brotherhood and a sisterhood. We’re the wrong people, but sometimes we hit it right.”

Here’s the set list from the evening:

  1. “Adam Raised a Cain” (performed by Alabama Shakes)
  2. Because the Night” (performed by Patti Smith)
  3. Atlantic City (performed by Natalie Maines, Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite)
  4. “American Land” (performed by Ken Casey of the Dropkick Murphys)
  5. My City of Ruins” (performed by Mavis Staples and Zac Brown)
  6. I’m on Fire” (performed by Mumford and Sons)
  7. American Skin (41 Shots)” (performed by Jackson Browne and Tom Morello)
  8. My Hometown” (performed by Emmylou Harris)
  9. One Step Up” (performed by Kenny Chesney)
  10. Streets of Philadelphia” (performed by Elton John)
  11. Hungry Heart” (performed by Juanes)
  12. Tougher Than the Rest” (performed by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill)
  13. The Ghost of Tom Joad” (performed by Jim James and Tom Morello)
  14. Dancing in the Dark” (performed by John Legend)
  15. Lonesome Day” (performed by Sting)
  16. Born in the U.S.A.” (performed by Neil Young and Crazy Horse)
  17. We Take Care of Our Own” (performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band)
  18. Death to My Hometown” (performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band)
  19. Thunder Road” (performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band)
  20. Born to Run” (performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band)
  21. Glory Days” (performed by Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band and full ensemble)

Oh, what a night.

(A Tribute to Bruce Springsteen premieres as part of PBS Arts Fall Festival on Friday, December 5 at 9 p.m. ET/PT)

–Hillary Atkin

 

Getting the Goods on ‘Girfriends’ Guide,’ Bravo’s First Original Scripted Series

In the past decade or so on cable television, Bravo has launched many popular shows that have become part of the pop-culture zeitgeist, from “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” to the “Real Housewives” franchise to “Inside the Actors’ Studio,” “Top Chef” and “Watch What Happens Live!”

Yet one thing it has never done is aired its own original scripted series, until now, with tonight’s premiere of “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce.”

The new program gained notoriety recently when its slightly risque ad campaign was pulled from city buses and subways in New York and Los Angeles for being “inappropriate.” It showed series star Lisa Edelstein displaying her wedding ring finger, sans ring, with the slogan, “Go find yourself.” The campaign ended up running on tour buses and in phone kiosks.

Edelstein plays Abby McCarthy, a self-help author whose career crumbles as she navigates a separation from her husband. Seeking advice from others who have gone through similar situations, she confronts unexpected and life-changing experiences.

Created by Marti Noxon, whose credit list includes “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Angel,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Mad Men” and “Glee,“ the series was inspired by Vicki Iovine’s “Girlfriends’ Guide” books.

Noxon and Edelstein dove into the show’s elements in a recent phone call with television reporters. Here is an edited version of their conversation:

Q: Is it meaningful to you both that this is Bravo’s introduction to scripted television as an original scripted television show?

Lisa Edelstein: They picked a great project and that was the first sign that it was a great network to be on. And because they’re so excited about it, they have really put everything into it. They’ve given us a lot of love and a lot of freedom and I feel really very trusted by the network and the studio, which is an unusual place to be. So we’re very fortunate. Very, very fortunate.

Marti Noxon: Yes. I agree. We’ve had an incredible amount of support from Bravo and it’s exciting, I mean obviously if we fall flat on our faces, that will be a bummer, but if the show works then we’ll feel like it’s a fit with the network. It feels exciting to be able to set the tone and start a conversation that I think a lot of viewers will be interested in.

Q: Lisa, what was it about the premise of this show in general and about your character in particular that made you want to do this?

Lisa Edelstein: During “House,” that was seven years of playing a very balanced woman. I mean from clothing to her ability to respond to things. So it was really exciting when Marti sent me the script because, here was the woman who seemingly had it all together and was actually falling apart. All the scenes were opening and I really looked forward to being able to explore that and I love that it’s funny and dramatic at the same time. It’s so smart and Marti is an amazing boss, so that was also a plus.

I love that Abby is so vulnerable. That’s she’s very smart and very successful but also a little bit like a little girl. She’s a little lost. I love her struggle and I love her sense of humor. I mean — she’s a great, really, really, great, well-rounded character.

Q: Do you guys think that Abby will be considered the next Samantha?

Marti Noxon: No. I think there’s an obvious comparison to “Sex and the City” and I’m flattered by those because that show obviously was a phenomenon, but I think that if we had a hope in terms of comparison, Abby is the new Carrie because it’s not about age anymore, it’s about the quest.

Lisa Edelstein: Right. Yes. Our show isn’t so much about the romping – the romps, the sexual romps. It’s a little bit more of a raw exploration of what it means to find yourself in the world again.

Martin Noxon: Right, Abby’s not a cougar. And she’s not all that sex in the way that Samantha was, but I think that sex is part of her discovery and figuring out what feels right and what doesn’t.

Lisa Edelstein: She’s not searching for her boys again. I mean, she’s searching for everything. Every way that she’s defined herself up to the point of the pilot is now taken away.

Q: Marti, where did you get the inspiration for some of the supporting cast as well as for Abby?

Marti Noxon: One of the things that I found really fun and unexpected about going through a divorce was that you end up being friends with other people going through the same thing. And that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re people you would have been friends with, so I ended up in one instant hanging out with a much younger woman who I always thought was sort of a trophy wife. I judged her because she was so beautiful.

And we do that sometimes. We just think well, she’s been taken care of and so I can’t relate to her and of course because you’re both going through a similar thing when someone introduced us, I realized, no, she’s a person just like me and in a way, knowing helped me get rid of my assumption about what it is to be an extraordinary beautiful woman. I learned a lot more about the pitfalls and my assumptions were blown away and that was really the inspiration for Phoebe. Let’s take a look deeper into what we think about these women and men, what is the reality. They have all kinds of issues of their own.

And the Lyla character was based on a friend of mine who’s just going through a really, really ugly divorce and I always feel like she’s my rage.

She’s the voice of vengeance. But also the vulnerability underneath that. Because underneath that anger you’re still a little bit, you’re still a lot attached. A lot of characters came from those kinds of people and feelings inside of me. And then of course Abby is the person I wish I’ve been. She’s braver and more open to having more feelings than I did. And she also gets to say the things I wish I’ve said in a moment but only later that I regretted.

Q: Some viewers maybe expected a comedy in the vein of “The Starter Wife” and may be surprised at how serious the show is.

Marti Noxon: I think there’s a lot of lighter moments in the show but it was never intended to be a comedy first. I wish that we could be in the same world as some of the Richard Curtis Working Title romantic comedies that have a lot of funny people in them but they’re not — but I would say that they also feel relatively grounded and you kind of want to be with those people and they’re not afraid to dip into the much more serious side. I would think about that scene in “Love, Actually” where Emma Thompson has to excuse herself from opening presents and she goes into her bedroom and just weeps. Because she knows the truth about what’s going on with her and her husband and that’s just a funny, delightful movie in so many ways, but there’s a woman who realizes her husband is cheating on her. We wanted to have that time where we can shift tones readily and some of the episodes are much more romp-like.

Q: Tell us about Paul Adelstein’s role on and off camera.

Marti Noxon: He wrote episode four and he’s a consultant. He and I have been friends ever since we did “Private Practice” together and I always thought since that I wanted to work with him again. He’s such as a deep and talented actor and I wanted Jake not to be just an obvious person you could write off as the bad guy. And I think as the show progresses, you’ll really feel the complexity of two people who’ve grown up together, trying to figure out if they really do want to do this or if they don’t want to do this and in a way rediscovering each other through the process.

Marti Noxon: And a lot of where the story went was unexpected for all of us I think because once we saw how Paul and Lisa worked together, it encouraged me to push the story more into the direction of both Jake and Abby’s journey. So it’s not really just a chick show. A lot of men have come up to me and said, “I would watch the show.” It was full of surprise, you’re actually giving the guy a voice and he’s not just an asshole. I find that very gratifying.

Q: How did you collaborate with Vicki Iovine, and tell us about that part of the creative process going back to her books.

Lisa Edelstein: Well, there’s no real book “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce,” to be clear. I think Vicki was more of a leaping off point. The idea of a person who writes — because she did write a “Girlfriends’ Guide” series and she did have a really public messy divorce.

Marti Noxon: Meryl Poster, who’s the sort of instigator, she’s a producer on the show — we had lunch and she said, “I wish you would write about divorce, so many of my friends are going through it.” In this day and age, it’s so different than it used to be for a lot of us where women might be the bread winner or it’s not uncommon for women now to pay alimony and for the men to have raised the children and all that. This was so compelling, but I said I thought divorce as a concept sounds like it’s such a bummer, then she thought for a second and she said, “Well, did you ever read the Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy?”

And I was like, “Of course, it’s one of the books you get when you’re pregnant.” I mean you get, “What to Expect” which I always say is sort of how to kill your baby, terrifying. It’s just a book of all the things we might do wrong, and then there’s “Girlfriends’ Guide” which is chatty and forgiving and genuine and very honest and it kind of relaxes you and makes you feel like you’re not alone. So she said Vicki had just gone through this divorce while she was writing “Girlfriends’ Guide to Getting Your Groove Back,” she found out that her husband — and this is not the scenario on the pilot — but her husband was cheating on her and her marriage fell apart. She still had to go on a book tour, for “Getting Your Groove Back.” And I was like, “Well that is a show.”

And she literally texted her that moment and said, “What do you think about doing a show “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce”? And immediately, Vicki texted back, “Yes. ” And that was the beginning. But the show is not Vicki’s life, Vicki is already remarried.

Lisa Edelstein: Right, I’m not playing Vicki or trying to portray Vicki in any way.

Marti Noxon: Yes. She’s remarried. Her ex-husband is Jimmy Iovine.

Lisa Edelstein: And she’s got a lot of enthusiasm and a great sense of humor. She loved the full process.

Marti Noxon: You know she’ll tell the truth, even when you don’t want to hear it. But I would also say it’s just a very unusual thing we’re doing, which is we’re creating a fiction from a life that is well known in public. Like it’s true up to this moment and now we’re creating a fiction around the book that’s from an existing series of books and in real life, and everything from that point on is made up. So, I don’t know that that happens very often but Vicki is working on a “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” and I think she’s getting it right out there.

(“Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” premieres Tuesday, Dec. 2, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Bravo.)

–Hillary Atkin