Danish director Susanne Bier is on a roll. Her 2006 film, “After the Wedding,” was nominated for an Academy Award the next year, and her 2010 movie “In a Better World,” won the best foreign film Oscar and a Golden Globe in 2011.
Her latest film, “Love Is All You Need,” stars Pierce Brosnan as an ex-patriot Brit living in Copenhagen, and Trine Dyrholm as a hairdresser dealing with the ravages of breast cancer and with her husband’s affair with a younger woman. They meet in sunny Sorrento, Italy, where their children are to be married to each other. Despite its dark overtones, the film is full of romance and hope.
“Love Is All You Need” opened in New York and Los Angeles May 3 before spreading across the country. Bier, in the United States to promote the film, spoke to The Arty Semite about the movie, the Oscars and growing up Jewish in Copenhagen. The one thing she didn’t want to talk about is anti-Semitism there today.
Curt Schleier: It is such an unusual story. Where did the idea come from?
Susanne Bier: Both [my writing collaborator Anders Thomas] Jensen and myself have been approached to do something on the topic of cancer.
People asked you to do a cancer movie?
The dictionary definition of a “nance” is an effeminate man. It was also the name given to the campy homosexual character popular in 1930s burlesque, usually played by a straight man.
In Douglas Carter Beane’s outstanding new play, “The Nance,” Chauncey Miles — brilliantly portrayed by Nathan Lane — is a much beloved burlesque headliner, though burdened by the fact that he is gay. Meanwhile, Mayor LaGuardia is shutting down the New York’s burlesque houses, partly in reaction to the nances.
The burlesque’s manager and lead performer is a man named Efram, played by theater veteran Lewis J. Stadlen. Stadlen spoke to The Arty Semite about why he doesn’t like television, working with the highly sensitive Lane, and how understanding Jewish rhythms helped him land roles.
Curt Schleier: Why is your character Jewish?
Lewis J. Stadlen: I have no idea. That’s the role. He says oy vey iz mir and he’s Jewish. The Minsky brothers were Jewish, and so, I would imagine, were a lot of people involved in burlesque theater in New York and around the country.
Did this role resonate with you in a special way?
“The Megile of Itzik Manger” and the National Yiddish Theatre seem like a perfect partnership: love and marriage, horse and carriage, Purim shpiel and the Folksbiene.
Manger is considered one of the most important Yiddish poets and playwrights, and “The Megile” is one of several plays in which he put his own stamp on a biblical story. It was reworked as a musical by, among others, award-winning composer Dov Seltzer, a totem of Israeli creativity.
The play has had several successful productions, including a lengthy run in Israel and a brief one on Broadway. This interpretation, however, could better serve its extremely enthusiastic and talented cast.
In a couple of Russian-style numbers, the dancers wear fur caps, a tip-of-the, well, hat, to the theater’s large émigré audience. But this is hardly true to the show’s Persian locale. And director Motl Didner’s use of a circus theme seems puzzling. Employing a ring master (Shane Baker) as narrator works but, after an opening scene set in a 1937 Polish circus, the theme isn’t carried through in a meaningful way.
Ricky Jay is a polymath of the dark arts. A master of sleight-of-hand and considered by some to be one of the greatest magician living today, he is also a historian of magic, a collector of rare books, a lecturer, a film and television actor, and a co-creator of the firm Deceptive Practices, which supplies “arcane knowledge on a need-to-know basis” to film, TV and theatrical companies by using magic and illusions to solve production challenges.
Finally, he is the subject of a fascinating new documentary, “Deceptive Practice: The Mysteries and Mentors of Ricky Jay,” which opened in New York on April 17.
A combination of extraordinary archival performance footage and a series of lengthy interviews with Jay, it reveals a man who was introduced to magic by his grandfather, then left home at 16 and was taken under the wings of some of the greatest magicians of the time.
Jay spoke to The Arty Semite about discovering magic, his mentors and the Jewish influence on magic and magicians.
Curt Schleier: In the film, you mention that you wanted the magician Al Flosso to perform at your bar mitzvah, and your parents arranged that as a surprise. That seems like a big deal, yet you didn’t seem to get along with your parents. You called it “the only kind thing I remember.”
David Goyer has become a go-to guy for the superhero set. It started with the Blade movies. He wrote all three and directed the last. Then he went on to write the story and/or screenplay for the three Christopher Nolan Batman films. And now there is his script for the upcoming “Man of Steel.”
Ironically, the last is not something he wants to talk about. There is a veil of semi-secrecy around the film, which is a re-boot of the Superman story. Instead, Goyer wants to talk about his new show, “Da Vinci’s Demons,” which airs on Starz. It was renewed for a second season shortly after the interview took place and before the second episode aired.
Goyer chatted to The Arty Semite on the phone from Wales about Leonardo da Vinci as a young crime-fighting, opium-smoking, hedonistic genius searching for humanity’s forgotten knowledge.
Curt Schleier: Your idea for da Vinci struck me as totally different and inventive. How did it come about?
David Goyer: I was approached by BBC Worldwide, which [wanted to get involved in] American productions, and wanted to see if I could do something historically based. So we started bandying about various historical [figures] like Cleopatra and da Vinci. I thought da Vinci was pretty cool, so I went off and wrote up this crazy proposal thinking this would be too crazy for them. But they really liked it.
What struck me is the similarity between your da Vinci and Sherlock Holmes. Was that intentional?
Jessica Hecht is best known for two television roles: the lesbian lover of David Schwimmer’s ex-wife in the long-running comedy “Friends,” and the married friend of the title character in the short running comedy “The Single Guy.”
Hecht spent many of the years since playing those roles in theater, both on and off Broadway. Notably, she earned a Tony nomination for her role as Beatrice in the 2010 revival of Arthur Miller’s “A View From the Bridge.”
The Tonys may come a-courting again for her performance as Julie in Richard Greenberg’s “The Assembled Parties,” opening April 17 at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre in Manhattan. Julie is the matriarchal anchor of the Bascovs, a Jewish family that lives in a 14-room Central Park West apartment.
The action takes place on Christmas Day, 1980, and two decades later. It is Greenberg at his best — thoughtful, funny, emotional and above all intelligent. The play is about love and loss and family and, at a recent preview, the audience was sufficiently moved to give the cast a standing ovation.
Several days later Hecht spoke to The Arty Semite about wanting a bat mitzvah in a secular household, how a Yiddish Shakespearean actor convinced her to walk the boards and what it was like working as a nanny for George Wendt.
Curt Schleier: What was your reaction when you first saw “The Assembled Parties” script?
“No Place on Earth” is an amazing story of survival, a testament to the human spirit and, on Yom Hashoah, another reminder that we must never forget.
In 1993, spelunker Christopher Nicola discovered some man-made artifacts while exploring caves in western Ukraine. Only these weren’t the remains of some ancient civilization, but remnants from five Jewish families who hid underground for 18 months during World War II.
The experiences of those families equal the drama of the most harrowing adventure movies. After they were discovered in their first cave some were killed while others bribed their way to freedom and moved to a second cave. Brave souls from the group had to leave the safety of underground to scrounge for food. A few former neighbors were helpful; others sealed a cave entrance when they discovered it — with 38 people inside.
Conditions were horrible. The caves were dark and bone-chillingly cold, even in summer. Supplies frequently ran low. Food disappeared, and fights broke out. But through it all, thanks to some internal time clock, the group kept the Jewish holidays.
Melissa Rosenberg is sizzling right now. She was the screenwriter of the megahit “Twilight” movies, and a writer and executive producer of Showtime’s “Dexter,” More recently, she helped create the new ABC series “Red Widow,” which is off to a slower start. It airs on Sunday nights at 10 p.m.
The show is about Marta Walraven, a not-so-typical stay-at-home mom in California’s tony Marin County. Her father is an Eastern European mobster. Her husband is an importer — of weed. And when Hubby’s partners steal millions of dollars of cocaine from a powerful international crime boss, all hell breaks loose. Marta’s husband is killed, and she is drawn into a life of crime, stuck between the cops and the crime boss, who seeks restitution.
Rosenberg spoke to the Forward’s Curt Schleier about her career, mistaken identity about her name and her marriage into a family of multigenerational rabbis.
Curt Schleier: Would it be fair to say that “Dexter” was your big break?
Melissa Rosenberg: It depends. I’d been writing in television for 10 to 15 years prior to that. But “Dexter” is where it all kind of came together. I kind of climbed my way up [from writer to executive producer] on a show I loved. “Dexter” is what I was looking for and was a perfect match for my voice and character and edge. We all have a little serial killer in us. I prefer a little black comedy. I explore the darker reaches of the human psyche; that’s where the interesting stuff is. We all have both in us, the dark and the light, and I find it interesting to delve into that.
Jeremy Piven has had a long and successful career. Now he can add “distinguished” to those adjectives.
Piven’s first break came in 1992 when he played Jerry, the head writer on “The Larry Sanders Show.” But his breakthrough role was manipulative agent Ari Gold, based on real-life agent Ari Emanuel, on “Entourage.”
Over the course of the show’s eight seasons, Piven received four Best Supporting Actor Emmy nominations, winning three. That’s long and successful. But distinguished starts at the end of this month, when he invades Helen Mirren territory.
Piven stars in “Mr. Selfridge,” an eight-part Masterpiece Classics mini-series that airs Sundays on PBS starting March 31. It’s about an American who moves to London and founds a successful department store different from anything the British have ever seen.
Piven spoke to The Arty Semite about actor’s insecurity, growing up the son of acting teachers, and the sense of community he found in the synagogue and onstage.
Curt Schleier: You spent eight years on “Entourage” and enjoyed a great deal of success. As it came to an end what went through your mind?
It’s hard to pick up a newspaper or turn on the television lately without running into Clive Davis. He is promoting his memoir, “The Soundtrack of My Life” a book that might just as easily be called “The Soundtrack of Your Life.” Yes, you.
Davis, 80, is a recording industry executive who helped start or enhance the careers of such hallowed artists as Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Whitney Houston, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick and Rod Stewart, among others.
His memoir is fascinating and has a big surprise that comes more than 500 pages in: He is bisexual. Davis quickly follows that with a less surprising reveal: His first long-term gay relationship — it lasted 13 years — was with a doctor.
“I obviously couldn’t escape the profession all Jews put on a pedestal,” he writes. Davis was born in Brooklyn. Both his parents died when he was a teenager, so he lived with his aunt and with his married sister, won full scholarships to New York University and Harvard Law, and then went out to look for work.
Davis spoke to The Arty Semite about his career, luck and growing up Jewish.
Curt Schleier: Despite your Harvard law degree and your work on the law review, you were turned down for a job at a white shoe firm because the interviewer thought you weren’t “right” for the job. So you landed at a smaller, Jewish firm.
The History Channel’s highly-rated “The Bible” mini-series is coming to New York. Or at least, a part of it is.
Rare biblical artifacts including fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls (portions of the books of Daniel, Jonah and Jeremiah), a 14th-century Torah scroll and a 12th-century prayer book from Egypt in the Karaite Jewish tradition will be on exhibit in New York at 450 W. 14th St. from March 20 to 27.
Called “The Bible Experience,” the exhibit it is part of a promotion for the successful series, which continues its run on Sundays through Easter and comes out on DVD April 2.
The collection has been on exhibit in the Vatican, where it will return after finishing in the Big Apple. It is part of a larger collection owned by the Green Family, founders of Hobby Lobby, described as the world’s largest privately owned arts and crafts retailer. The collection will be housed in a permanent museum scheduled to open in Washington, D.C. in 2017.
When Kings Point in Delray Beach, Fla., opened in 1972, it wasn’t the Promised Land, though many thought it was close. For a $1,500 down payment, refugees from New York exchanged cold winters, drugs and crime for a gated community filled with their peers.
First-time director Sari Gilman’s late grandmother was a resident for a while, sparking a five-year long project. The result is “Kings Point,” a documentary short that was nominated for an Oscar and that premieres March 11 on HBO (with subsequent play dates throughout the month).
I should confess that like Sari, I have a familial relationship with the facility. My in-laws moved there in the mid-1970s and lived first in Saxony J (a one bedroom unit) and then Monaco C (two bedrooms). My family spent many overcrowded vacations there.
But the facility was great. There were indoor and outdoor pools, activities, card games and mah-jongg. There weren’t enough hours in the day for residents to do everything. Or so it seemed. But then time happened. Spouses and friends died, and loneliness set in.
“Kings Point” focuses on several seniors who ruminate about aging. They don’t come across as happy or sad, but resigned to their fate in a Peggy Lee “Is This All There Is?” kind of way.
Ask David Brenner what’s funny, and his answer is simple: “If people laugh, it’s funny. That’s the only way you can tell.” Take one of Brenner’s classic jokes. He first told it as he was setting up his microphone at a show one evening. He thought it was weird, not necessarily funny. Yet many people tell me it’s their favorite Brenner line.
“I was on the subway, sitting on a newspaper, and a man came over and asked me if I was reading it. I looked at him. What was I going to say? ‘I’m nearsighted?’ Two weeks later it happened again. Someone came over. Asked if I was reading the paper. I just said yes, got up, turned the page and sat down again.”
Brenner is currently on a national tour, with a March 16 appearance at the Mill Theater, in Millburn, N.J., He spoke to the Forward’s Curt Schleier about the rabbis and crooks in his family tree, his youthful looks and how it’s getting tougher to get laughs.
Curt Schleier: You are 77 years old. What keeps you going?
Evan Handler is best known for his two “lighter” roles: Jewish divorce lawyer Harry Goldenblatt on “Sex and the City,” and Charlie Runkle, agent and friend to novelist Hank Moody (David Duchovny) on “Californication.”
These are highlights of a remarkable career that almost never was. At age 24, Handler was diagnosed with cancer, which he battled for four years. He recounted that period in two books: “Time on Fire: My Comedy of Terrors” and “It’s Only Temporary: The Good News and the Bad News of Being Alive,” both just reissued as e-books.
The Arty Semite caught up with Handler to talk about bargaining with God, fooling the Angel of Death, and what Marilyn Manson said about his genitals.
Curt Schleier: How did illness impact you?
Collbran, Colo., is the kind of all-American town conservatives point to when they talk about how great America is. The town doesn’t even have a policeman, for goodness sakes. It has a marshal. How much more all-American, Wyatt Earp can you get?
But as Bob Wilson, pastor of the local Plateau Valley Assembly of God, notes, his town is “close knit, caring yet almost desperate.” In fact, all of Colorado is desperate; the state is ranked number one in child poverty.
Wilson and several other town residents are at the center of “A Place at the Table,” a searing and sober indictment of a nation that allows its children to go to bed hungry. The documentary opens in major markets and video on demand March 1.
The magnitude of the problem is staggering. Fifty million Americans are food insecure and 17 million of those are children. Of all industrialized countries, the U.S. ranks last in terms of the number of people who are food insecure.
Filmmakers Lori Silverbush and Kristi Jacobson interview the usual suspects, like the heads of various end hunger groups. More effective, though, is the desperation that comes from the single mom in Philadelphia and the fifth grader in Collbran, who struggles “a lot [in school] and most of the time it’s because my stomach is hurting.”
The filmmakers spoke to The Arty Semite about how the film came about, misconceptions about hunger and the role of tikkun olam.
Curt Schleier: How did you become aware of this problem?
Sight unseen, Putzel seems the perfect film to have its New York premiere as part of the Tuesday night screening series at the JCC in Manhattan. Like the JCC, it is set in the borough’s Upper West Side. And like both the neighborhood and the JCC, it is oh so Jewish.
What could go wrong? Sadly, at some point you actually have to watch it.
The central character, Walter Himmelstein, was nicknamed Putzel by his grandfather, Harry. Walter’s sole ambition is to eventually take over the UWS institution Harry founded, Himmelstein’s House of Lox, and run it for 40 years.
Walter, however, isn’t the little putz his grandfather named him; that carries a negative connotation. He’s a hapless shlimazel, played by Jack T. Carpenter, a young actor who has made a career of playing shlemiels and shlimazels (“Lipschitz Saves The World,” “I Love You Beth Cooper”).
How shlemiel-y is Walter? For one thing, he is literally unable to venture beyond the store’s delivery zone — from 59th Street in the south to 116th Street in the north. Why? He has granddaddy issues with the constantly-critical Harry, who raised him after his parents died in an automobile accident when Walter was still an infant. It’s because of Harry that Walter lacks confidence, has lost his wife (he discovered her in bed with another guy) and is geographically limited.
Go to the photo section of director Ruben Fleischer’s website, and the first thing you see is a Dalmatian wearing a yarmulke and a tallit. It is a picture Fleischer took on his pet’s 13th birthday, the day, Fleischer jokes, the pooch became a man.
Photography is just one step in Fleischer’s peripatetic career, which includes stops in website design, commercials, music videos and film (“Zombieland” and “30 Minutes or Less”). And it is likely that his latest project will define his career.
It’s “Gangster Squad,” the big-budget national release starring Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin and Emma Stone, with Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen. The film is about a secret squad of Los Angeles cops formed to break up the mobster’s hold on the city. “Gangster Squad” comes out January 11.
Despite his past success, Fleischer had to audition. He spoke to The Arty Semite about how he got the job, his take on Jewish gangsters and why he believes that not having a master plan in life is a good thing.
Curt Schleier: “Gangster Squad” is different from your first two films. What interested you in the project?
Anyone of a certain age will recognize the premise of “Parental Guidance,” the new Billy Crystal/Bette Midler film about the “other” grandparents. It comes out Christmas Day, just in time for the Jewish movie rush.
Artie (Crystal) and Diane (Midler) Decker are those grandparents, playing second fiddle to their son-in-law’s folks. But the parents are going away, the “real” grandparents are busy and that forces the scrubs into babysitting duty.
Alice (Marisa Tomei) and Phil Simmons (Tom Everett Scott) are very modern parents. They don’t give their children sugar and speak to them in a special way. You never say “no,” Alice instructs Artie and Diane. You say, “consider the consequences.” There’s never a “don’t,” but “maybe you should try this.” Supposedly, “that way the child feels he has value.”
Will Artie and Diane follow the instructions or will they bridge the generation gap by reverting to more traditional parenting means? Hey it’s a comedy. What do you think?
The man in charge of all this is Andy Fickman, named by Variety as a director to watch. He spoke to The Arty Semite about his Texas bar mitzvah, spotting Elijah one Passover, and winning dinners for two as a top tour guide at Universal Studios.
Curt Schleier: Were you thinking of your own grandparents and family as you directed the film?
It’s difficult to decide who to hold responsible for the new Barbra Streisand/Seth Rogan film, “The Guilt Trip.” There is plenty of guilt to go around.
Andy Brewster (Rogan) is a chemist who developed a natural cleaning product from renewable resources. He’s sunk his last pennies into the project and has been making the rounds of large retailers hoping to sell it.
He’s about to go on one last cross country sales trip before throwing in the towel. After flying to New Jersey, Andy is staying at his mother’s home and plans to leave from there on the eight-day journey. At the last minute, he invites his widowed mom, Joyce (Streisand), to accompany him.
And there you have the template for what no doubt was intended to be a heart-warming voyage of discovery, where mother and son find common bond and understanding. But “The Guilt Trip” breaks the mold — and not in a good way.
If it weren’t for Nicholas Ressler, Jennifer Aniston might still be waiting tables. A slight exaggeration, perhaps. But Nick’s mom is the actress Jami Gertz, who was originally offered the role of Rachel Green on “Friends.” Rachel became an iconic character on one of the grandest comedy hits in television history.
“I wanted another child,” Gertz told The Arty Semite, explaining why she turned down the role. “It just wasn’t the right time. I’ve never looked back.”
Nor does she have any reason to. She’s enjoyed a long and successful career that includes film (“Twister,” “Less Than Zero,” “The Lost Boys,” among others) and television (“Square Pegs,” “Still Standing”).
Gertz was still a teenager when she landed Square Pegs; she played Muffy Tepperman, by all accounts the first character to celebrate a bat mitzvah on TV. She currently stars in “The Neighbors” as Debbie Weaver. The Weaver family moves into a gated community, only to discover that all the other residents are aliens of the outer space variety. In an effort to fit in Earth style, they have all taken the names of famous athletes. The group’s leader is Larry Bird, and his wife is Jackie Joyner-Kersee. Gertz says there are apparently no Jews on the planet, but the season is young, and there may be a Sandy Koufax or an Al Rosen in the show’s future.
Curt Schleier: What attracted you to the series?
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