When it comes to this column, I don’t tend to do a lot of cross-promotional tie-in pieces, but I’m going to make an exception this time because it’s for a show that I have vowed to do as much to promote and to help raise its profile as I possibly can: ABC’s “The Middle.”
Given that the sitcom was just renewed for its fifth season, it’s hard to call it anything other than a success, and yet I’m still reminded of something Mark Harmon said about “NCIS” back in 2011: “If it’s possible for a No. 1 show to be still be under the radar, then we’re still under the radar.” That’s kind of where “The Middle” stands, if you ask me…or if you ask just about anyone who who’s involved with the show, for that matter: they know they’re doing good work, the viewers know they’re doing good work, the critics definitely know they’re doing good work, and yet as of this writing “The Middle” has only received one Emmy nod to date (for makeup, of all things). That’s just ridiculous…and that’s why, over at the Onion AV Club, I pulled together a TV Club 10 list of the 10 episodes of “The Middle” which best represent the series and reveal what makes it such a pleasure to watch week after week.
Then, in conjunction with that piece, I thought it might also be interesting to reach out to the cast of the series and see which 10 episodes were their favorites. Not everyone was readily available to contribute, unfortunately, but three out of five ain’t bad, so don’t be afraid to express your gratitude to Patricia Heaton (Frankie Heck), Neil Flynn (Mike Heck), and Eden Sher (Sue Heck) in the comments for offering up their picks.
In closing, I’d just like to say – and I think you’ll probably agree – that there is something so incredibly right about the fact that Eden Sher described the opportunity to select her top-10 episodes as “way too much fun” and then proved it by writing a full paragraph about each one. No actor wants to be told that they’re “just like their character,” but there’s just enough Sue Heck in Eden Sher to make her one of the sweetest and most contagiously enthusiastic young actresses on network TV…but, then, if you read my interview with her a few months ago, then you already know that.
Kevin McDonald may not maintain as high a profile as some of his fellow Kids in the Hall, like Scott Thompson, who’s on NBC’s “Hannibal,” or Dave Foley, who’s on everything, but that’s because he spends at least as much time as a writer or in a recording booth for some cartoon or other as he does in front of the camera. Tonight, however, McDonald steps back in front of the camera as a guest prankster on TBS’s “Who Gets the Last Laugh?”, and he spoke to Bullz-Eye about his experience on the show while also discussing guest-writing for “Saturday Night Live,” playing Pastor Dave on “That ’70s Show,” and ongoing attempts to get the Kids back together again.
Bullz-Eye: So how did you find yourself involved in TBS’s “Who Gets the Last Laugh?” Did they reach out to you?
Kevin McDonald: They reached out to me! Yes! I was in my nice blue house in Winnipeg, and I got the email from them, saying, “Would you like to do this?” And I thought at first that I’d be too Canadian to do this. Like, too polite. I thought I’d be too nice to pull pranks on people. That’s what I thought in my blue house in Winnipeg. But as it turned out, I could do it!
BE: Did you have to fight your every Canadian instinct to do it?
KM: Yes. [Laughs.] At first I did. Because we’re too polite and too nice, and we feel guilty. But then you get into it, and…it’s not even like the cruel part of me kicked in or anything…until it did. But it wasn’t even that. It was just, y’know, “It’s a job.” And once I started getting into it, it sort of became like a sketch, only with one of the people not knowing what the script was. And that was sort of the challenge, but I got really into it. I really enjoyed it.
“Black Rock” hits theaters this week, starring Kate Bosworth, Lake Bell and director Katie Aselton. The latter two sat down to talk to us regarding the making of the thriller, set on a deserted island where three friends have to fight for their survival. Bell and Aselton forged a quick friendship, with Bell taking on a character far different from the one she plays on Cartoon Network’s “Children’s Hospital,” while actor/director Aselton faced off against the elements and sometimes husband/screenwriter Mark Duplass in her creation of a true labor of love.
BULLZ-EYE: Katie, could you tell me the genesis of the story?
KATIE ASELTON: It’s the story of three childhood friends who have grown apart, and in an effort to reconnect, revisit an island that they used to frequent as kids. The movie really starts off as a chick flick/romantic dramedy and takes a severe turn when they learn that they are not the only ones on the island. There are three men out there hunting. After a series of unfortunate events, they find themselves in a fight for survival in an effort to get off the island alive. My first film, “The Freebie,” was a very quiet, intimate, emotional, talky-talky movie that was all inside a very small, Spanish bungalow. I felt the need after that to get outside, move my body and maybe kill someone. It’s just something I had to do. I don’t know why.
LAKE BELL: You had to express yourself.
KATIE ASELTON: Honestly, I’m new at this whole filmmaking thing and I’m trying some different things out and experimenting with different genres and seeing what I like. This type of thriller, this approach to a thriller that is very reality based, very truthful and simple in story and concept is something that excited me. It’s the kind of movie that I love to watch. I love “Deliverance.” I love “Misery,” even “The River Wild.” I used those as my points of reference. I also loved the idea of working with women. The TV show that I am on, I am the only girl with five guys. So, it was really exciting to get the chance to sit with two girls and kick some guys’ asses. That was fun, too.
LAKE BELL: Including the crew.
KATIE ASELTON: Including the crew. I kicked their asses too. And I had female crew members as well. It was a movie about strong women made by strong women and female producers. I had a female DP. I, myself, am female.
LAKE BELL: She is female.
KATIE ASELTON: And I had Lake and Kate [Bosworth], who are super rad ladies. It was a really, really fun experience and something that I had never done before and something that I’m very glad I did.
BE: With this being your second feature, what advice did Mark give you?
KATIE ASELTON: Well, we came up together. We made all of the movies together. He is wonderful about letting me have my own independent voice that is not his movie. What’s special about our collaboration professionally is that he really lets me do my thing and tell the story I want to tell the way I want to tell it. He got to write a script that’s very different than what he’s ever written before. He’s just really supportive. I will definitely run things past him. There were certain things he was very supportive of and certain things he was very critical of and I will take it or leave it. (laughs)
Theresa Russell has spent far more of her career on the silver screen than the small screen, so when she takes on a TV role, it’s a pretty big deal. Of course, “Liz & Dick” was already destined to be a big deal whether Russell had been cast as Elizabeth Taylor’s mother or not, simply by virtue of Lindsay Lohan playing Liz, but that doesn’t make it any less lovely to see Russell turn up.
With “Liz & Dick” now available on DVD, Russell kindly set about doing a bit of press for the production, and in chatting with Bullz-Eye, she discussed how working alongside Lohan caused her maternal instincts to kick in, revealed how serious funnyman Bill Murray can be, and detailed the good and the bad about her short-lived stint as a series regular on The WB’s “Glory Days.”
Bullz-Eye: I feel like I’m the only TV critic who didn’t get a chance to watch “Liz & Dick” when it originally aired, so I’m glad they sent me a copy of the DVD release in time to watch it before you and I talked.
Theresa Russell: And…? [Laughs.] What did you think?
BE: I enjoyed it well enough.
TR: It’s entertaining, I think.
BE: Well, I tend to enjoy bio-pics in general, if only just to see how a cast and crew decide to tackle the challenge of bringing someone’s life story to the screen.
TR: Yeah. I think Lindsay did a good job. And I didn’t realize that (Elizabeth Taylor’s) mom was so involved her life, either, until doing that, so I thought it was interesting. I actually met Liz. My former husband, Nicolas Roeg, did…I think it was for CBS, but it was Tennessee Williams’ “Sweet Bird of Youth” with her. She was just a wonderful woman. I even tried on that damned diamond. [Laughs.] She goes, “Here, try it on!” I was, like, “Oh, my God…” We were standing around her pool. I put it on, and the thing was…I’m not a big jewelry person, so I thought it would look like a hunk of glass, but it didn’t. It was beautiful. I mean, looking into it was like looking into infinity. It was unbelievably beautiful. She was a trip, though. She was an amazing woman. She really was special. A special creature.
Even though he just recently finished his sophomore season at the University of Wisconsin, Traevon Jackson comes across just like his game- confident, smooth and mature.
For being just 20 years old, he’s so calm and composed, you can’t help but think about where you were in life at 20….and then sheepishly quit punishing yourself.
Some of that confidence undoubtedly comes from his famous genetics and being the son of NBA star player Jim Jackson, but the greater part of it comes from his faith and approach to life, off the court.
After getting limited minutes in the beginning of the year, Jackson became a starter and was a key contributor during the Badgers’ NCAA Tournament run, being named to the Big Ten All-Tournament team and hitting multiple game winning shots. Jackson was 15th in the Big Ten in assists as a true sophomore, also leading the team in both steals and finishing second in free throw shooting.
You get the feeling that it isn’t about what Jackson has accomplished thus far, but what he is going to accomplish. And that gets Badger fans excited.
Bullz-Eye- What was your experience like playing in the NCAA Tournament?
Traevon Jackson- “Obviously, it didn’t end the way we wanted it to. Just the fact of me playing in the tournament was great because it’s the attitude of “loser goes home” and unfortunately we had to go home. But it really puts into perspective what you need to do to prepare for it going forward. And learning from that this year helps us next year.”
You just finished your sophomore year you were a big part of the rotation. What helped your development the most between freshman and sophomore year?
“Mainly going home and working with Anthony Rhodman (Who also trained National Player of the Year Trey Burke). This was my first full summer going back home and doing all the skill work that I needed to work on. Coming back in this year I was way more confident and better overall. It took a little while, had to go thru adversity. I didn’t achieve all the goals I wanted to, but the little bit of success I had is like a glimpse of the future.”
What is one area you’ve improved the most on the court and the most off of it?
“It goes for both- just my faith on and off the court. I’ve always been somewhat of a faithful guy but Ant really opened my heart to the lord and it really took hold of everything I do in life, I do it for the Lord. It’s a bigger purpose now. It really took hold for me on and off the court, doing it for the right reasons, bringing glory to god’s name, when it used to be “I want be the best just for me.” But now it’s not just for me but it’s for, Him, the Lord as well.”
What’s the experience been like at Wisconsin since you committed, versus what you thought it would be?
“Coming out of high school, just like any other freshman I’m sure, I thought I’d come in, play major minutes and be the man. And that wasn’t the case at all. Rarely played in my freshman year, and coming into my sophomore year I wasn’t expected to play either. But some injuries happened and I still didn’t start in the beginning of the year, but as season went on I became starter. That’s the biggest thing I’ve learned in my two years- overcoming adversity. And if you just stay in the fight because anything can happen if you put in the work.”
What’s the most annoying or creative heckling you have heard in any Big Ten arena?
“A lot of stuff about my dad, but I’ve heard that forever so it’s rare I hear anything new. Honestly, I don’t know. There was this one lady at Indiana after we beat them. It was after the game and I was walking off the court and she was just sitting there on the sidelines. I was walking off the court and apparently I was smiling and she said, “There’s nothing to be smiling at!” It caught me off guard and I thought, “Why are you so mad?” That’s one thing that comes to mind. Fans always say “Jimmy’s better!’ (laughing) but I’m so focused on the game I don’t even pay attention except at maybe at a dead ball.”
Is there added pressure based on who your dad is to succeed? What’s the dynamic of that like?
“Growing up, I felt it more than I do now, but now I don’t even think about it at all, actually. The pressure that I feel now the most is pleasing the Lord. That may sound cliché, but that’s an everyday type of task and the biggest thing for me. As long as I continue to grow in that aspect, there is no other question.”
Who would win a game of one on one right now?
“Oh, me of course (laughing). Easily. He can beat me in golf and all the other, cards, all that stuff, but he’s not beating me on the court.”
How did him moving, playing for 12 different NBA teams, impact you as you were growing up?
“It was great. I got to go to a lot of different cities and see a lot of places I wouldn’t have probably otherwise seen. But, just from watching him, I got to really go thru and experience his career. He started out as a top guy in the league and eventually became a productive role player. Just seeing how he handled it was awesome. It taught me no matter what, and I think about it now when I go through adversity, I never saw him put his head down, he always found a way, just like my mom- keep working hard and good things will come.”
Some know Robert Picardo for the time he spent playing the Emergency Medical Hologram on “Star Trek: Voyager,” while others remember him more fondly for his work as Coach Cutlip on “The Wonder Years,” but at the moment, the TV show on his resume that more people are talking about than any other is “China Beach,” which is – after way, way too long a wait – finally on DVD. Picardo took a few minutes to chat with Bullz-Eye about the release of “China Beach: The Complete Series,” his reminiscences of working on the series, and if viewers are wrong to see a touch of his Dr. Dick Richard turning up in the aforementioned EMH.
Bullz-Eye: From what I understand, it sounds like we’re both on the same page as far as being unable to refresh our memories on “China Beach”: they tell me my copy of the complete-series set is due to arrive tomorrow.
Robert Picardo: Oh, good for you! But I did already get mine. [Laughs.] They got it to me yesterday, and I devoted some time to it. I watched a couple of the bonus features. There are 10 hours of bonus features, and I guess I watched about two hours of them, or thereabouts. And then, even though I had to get up very early this morning to do these interviews, I thought, “Well, I’ll pop in the pilot and just watch the first five minutes to see the quality of the transfer.” And, of course, I watched the entire pilot. I couldn’t turn it off! So that was a good thing. The fact that I was so captivated was a good sign.
I’m really happy to see that the show, which was a period piece to begin with…I mean, we made it in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, but it was set from ’68 to ’71, principally, and then the last season we kind of skipped into the future as late as 1987. But basically it was a period piece to begin with, so in that respect it hasn’t aged. It’s still a great time capsule and doesn’t feel dated, and I’m so proud of the work in it. Dana is extraordinary, Marg Helgenberger is extraordinary, but the whole ensemble is just great. You know, it was a very special time in my career, and I know and I’ve heard Dana and Marg and pretty much all of the actors say the same, so to have it reach a new audience is really very gratifying and exciting.
BE: What do you remember about your first read of the pilot script?
RP: I remember reading it and thinking it was great. And important. It felt like an honor to be part of something like that, which was really about something, I mean, obviously, you’d…I guess you’d say the success of the movie “Platoon” led to the possibility of major television networks doing Vietnam dramas. And, of course, “Tour of Duty,” our sister show… [Laughs.] Well, that was really more about “Platoon” and about the soldiers fighting. What was unique and special about “China Beach” was that the point-of-view character was a woman, an Army nurse who served there. So it gave the show a special perspective. It wasn’t about combat, it was about saving lives. It was about supporting and helping soldiers. The war was like an offstage character.
We were the support group there—the nurses, the doctors, the USO people—to sort of support and patch the guys up and either send them back or, if they were too injured, send them home. And more often than not, if they were dead, you’d offer the last gesture of respect to them. That’s what Michael Boatman’s character did, the guy who ran the grave registration. What a terrific role, and an extraordinary performance for a 24-year-old guy. I mean, to have so much…what’s the word? He created such a character who had seen everything, and he was totally believable as a guy who…that was his life, just all of that death and loss. And what that had turned him into was sort of a 24-year-old old man. Anyway, it’s just great writing. William Broyles, who served in Vietnam and who co-created the series, said that he feels it’s the best war drama that’s ever been on television. And, well, yeah, you could say that he’s a little partial, since he co-created it. [Laughs.] But you know what? I agree with him.
After a season on “Lateline,” five seasons on “Grounded for Life,” and seven seasons – so far – of “Rules of Engagement,” Megyn Price ought to know the process of putting together a sitcom inside and out by now, so it’s not entirely surprising to find that she’s decided to step behind the camera and direct an episode of her CBS series. Price chatted with Bullz-Eye about what it took to transition into directing and how her castmates helped her efforts (there’s a bit of a spoiler in the mix, so be wary) while also reflecting on some of her favorite and not-so-favorite aspects of the show’s seven seasons to date. Before getting down to business, however, I’d promised to pass on a message…
Bullz-Eye: First of all, I’m supposed to tell you that Donal Logue says, “Hello.”
Megyn Price: Awwwwwww… I love him! We’ve been going back and forth on Twitter. My former TV husband…
MP: Oh, you did? Oh, great! That’s fun. He’s such a great guy, isn’t he? Did you have a 400-hour interview with him? ‘Cause he can not stop talking. [Laughs.]
BE: Well, actually, it started out a phoner, and then we ended up doing a bit more by email. It was for a feature called Random Roles, and I wanted to try to cover as many of his roles as possible. Lord knows he’s got enough of ‘em…
MP: Oh, God, I bet he loved that! He has the best stories. He used to tell a story about being on “The Patriot” anytime wardrobe would come up to us on “Grounded for Life,” about how there was this stampede, where everyone was getting run over by horses, and he said that wardrobe would come up to him and fix his collar. He’s, like, “Okay, you don’t need to fix my collar. I’m about to get run over by a horse!” [Laughs.]
BE: Okay, on to the topic at hand: your directorial debut. What took you so long to get behind the camera?
MP: It’s hard to get the shot, y’know? There are no small directing jobs. There are small acting jobs, but no small directing jobs. Somebody’s really got to be generous and kind, like our producers were on this show, and give you a shot. And, y’know, I think I had to earn it a little bit. A) I had to have the experience, but B) I had to do a lot of research and a lot of studying with other directors and prove that I was serious about it all.
Olga Kurylenko has starred alongside “Seven Psychopaths” and nearly taken out superspy James Bond in “Quantum of Solace.” It seems only obvious that her latest role would be fighting side-by-side with Tom Cruise in the new sci-fi film “Oblivion.” As Julia, she helps Cruise determine his role as he fights to save the Earth. The beautiful Ukrainian actress recently sat down with us to discuss her latest role, as well as how being a Bond girl prepared her for it.
Bullz-Eye: Did the director give you a lot of leeway in expanding your character?
Olga Kurylenko: It’s always teamwork. I spoke with him a lot. He, Tom and I would have meetings and discuss our characters, the backstory and we rehearsed. I watched videos of astronaut trainings. I watched some old romantic movies as preparation and inspiration. It’s a working process and you grow together.
BE: Was it hard to play a character that’s so mysterious early on?
Olga Kurylenko: That’s what I found initially very interesting. There’s this mystery to Julia and that I couldn’t reveal everything right away with the first appearance of her. The fact that she had to unravel and uncover her story during the whole film, she’s a completely different thing in the end from what we see in the beginning. All that mystery was interesting to work on.
BE: You’ve recently worked with two of the biggest stars in Hollywood. How is it different working with Tom Cruise and Daniel Craig?
Olga Kurylenko: A couple of things that they both have in common is that they’re both action heroes. I think another similar thing is that they both do their stunts by themselves. They train a lot and physically work a lot. They’re very hard-working. Tom is fascinating. I don’t know what that man doesn’t know how to do. He flies a plane, a helicopter, everything. It’s very inspiring to work with them, but don’t try to outshine them in action scenes. It’s just incredible. I think a stunt guy tried to compete in running with Tom Cruise and Tom ran faster. And stunt guys are tough. They’re the strongest, the fastest, and Tom Cruise is still stronger and faster. He’s one of a kind.
BE: Creatively, what was it like working with Tom?
Olga Kurylenko: Very interesting, creatively. It was unexpected to see how much he gives. He’s a big star and a wonderful actor, but only his partners and other actors know how much he gives to the other. He gives so much. He’s such a generous partner and that’s not always the case. I’ve never seen him sit in his trailer. Even if he’s far away or in my eyeline, he would prefer to be there. He would never leave the set, even if I told him, “Seriously, I don’t need you.” (laughs) He would still be there. He is involved a hundred percent and that’s a wonderful thing. He is very supportive, of course. He’s done all these stunts. When I came on set and there was this gimbal that was spinning, he talked me through it. He knows how it works. It’s very reassuring and it’s very reassuring to have a partner like that. He’s not just an actor who is there who has no idea. He actually, technically, knows how things work. You feel safe with him.
Fans might think it would be a burden to not only be one of the most respected actors in film, but to have a voice that is universally recognized. From science documentaries to films involving a certain caped crusader, Morgan Freeman has seemingly done it all and shows no signs of slowing down. He sat down recently to talk about his relationship with fans and working with a screen idol of his, Tom Cruise, in the new sci-fi flick “Oblivion.”
Bullz-Eye: This is the first time you’ve worked with Tom. Do you have differing ways of how you approach a role?
Morgan Freeman: I don’t know. Everybody works the same. Preparation, very often, may be different, but you can’t work differently. You have to say the words that were written on the page. You have to make your marks. That’s the work.
BE: This film has many aspects that sci-fi purists enjoy. What do you think sets it apart?
Morgan Freeman: One of the things that stands out in this film is the love story. It’s not like one we’ve seen before. Then, there’s the awesome technology. The bubble ship can be remotely controlled. I agree that this is unlike many we’ve seen, or any we’ve seen prior. It’s very intelligent and extremely creative. Joseph designed these doggone toys. Awesome. Those drones are things you can’t believe, but there they are… believable.
BE: What aspect of the script most appealed to you?
Morgan Freeman: When I first read it, it talked about the mysteriousness of this group. At the outset, you don’t see them. They’re there, but you don’t see them. Then, when they are finally revealed, they’re the good guys and I’m the leader.
BE: In “Olympus Has Fallen,” you play your usual authoritative figure, but in this movie, you got to use some heavy machinery. Was that a choice on your part?
Morgan Freeman: No, I don’t make choices like that. (laughs) That’s written in that he goes up there and mans the machine gun. How these things work out is strictly the writer’s thing. It’s not the director. It’s not the actor. It’s strictly the writer.
BE: Was it fun?
Morgan Freeman: It was fun. That was dual 50-calibers on that tractor. I’d never fired a 50-caliber machine gun before.
Famke Janssen made both her film and television debuts in 1992, but it wasn’t until a few years later, when she became a Bond girl by the unforgettable name of Xenia Onatopp in “GoldenEye,” that everything started to come up roses for her. In the intervening years, Janssen has made multiple films, most notably starring as Jean Gray in the “X-Men” franchise, but 2013 marks her inaugural foray into a full-time TV series gig…and by “TV series,” what I really mean is a Netflix series. “Hemlock Grove,” produced by Eli Roth, kicks off its first season on Friday, April 19, but Bullz-Eye was fortunate enough to chat with Janssen way back in January, at the Television Critics Association press tour, about her new series as well as a few of her past films.
Bullz-Eye: “Hemlock Grove” marks the first time you’ve ever taken on a series-regular role for television. Did you have any trepidation about taking that kind of a plunge for a show that’s being delivered to viewers in a non-traditional manner, or was that part of what drew you to it?
Famke Janssen: Trepidation about that element? No. Doing a series, period? Yes. [Laughs.] But to me, I think the fact that it was for Netflix and not your traditional network or cable show was one of the deciding factors—or certainly an added bonus, anyway—because it felt like we were kind of in the wild west, with new territory to explore. It wasn’t this whole weight of a specific way of working that we had to carry through in some way. So with that, I was hoping that there would be less control coming from above, and not so much like a big studio standing there with a whip, making you feel like you’re more of a puppet than anything else. Also, the whole 13-episode part was attractive as well, because I’m designed my life in such a way now that I’m trying to go back and forth between writing and directing and acting, and signing up for something that would’ve taken an entire year, as a network show would’ve…I hadn’t considered that at all, just because I don’t have the time for it. I don’t want to tie myself down. So in that regard, it was a perfect set-up, because I can make money and then I can pursue my passion of writing and directing in my free time.
BE: So what can you tell us about Olivia Godfrey without divulging anything too spoiler-y?
FJ: Olivia’s still mysterious even to me, and I’ve lived with her now for 13 hours onscreen, not to mention many more hours shooting the series, of course. She’s married into this Godfrey family, a family with a lot of money, but she comes from a lot of money as well…or she seems to, anyway. But whether she does come from a lot of money or where she really comes from or what her deal really is, nobody really knows, and maybe nobody will ever find out. [Laughs.] She’s highly manipulative. She loves her children, but she’s also somebody who just has an agenda most of the time. And she’s in love with her husband’s brother, and…there are all sorts of integral relationships with bizarre things going on within this small town as well as with these family members. [Shrugs.] It feels like “Twin Peaks” to me. That’s what it felt like. That’s the reason why I really liked it: because it is, in a good way, nonsensical. It’s not linear. You’re not gonna…not everything is going to be explained. There are going to be a lot of mysteries surrounding it all. Nothing is going to be wrapped up with a neat bow.