Daniel Radcliffe on Life After Hogwarts

Daniel Radcliffe Excels As Allen Ginsberg In Kill Your Darlings

If ever there was an actor who seemed in danger of being trapped by a role, it is Daniel Radcliffe. After playing Harry Potter in eight movies, there cannot be many places on the planet where his name is not associated with the Hogwarts hero. But Radcliffe is refusing to be boxed in, as his new film, Kill Your Darlings, amply demonstrates.

It is all a matter of attitude, he says, when we meet in London. Potter had been “the most incredible opportunity in the world as a start to a career. For me, that’s the only way you can see it,” he explains. “Because otherwise, it becomes whatever everyone else seems to want to see it as, which is a handcuff or a hindrance.”

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James Corden: Comic Timing

James Corden stars as Britain's Got Talent winner Paul Potts in the comedy drama, One Chance

James Corden didn’t do himself any favours when he allowed the awards and plaudits for Gavin & Stacey to go to his head.

He became, in his own words, brattish and behaved in ways that threatened to flush away the love he’d won with his award-winning sitcom.

The savage reviews for his TV sketch show with pal Mathew Horne and their horror spoof, Lesbian Vampire Killers, made 2009 a chequered year. Corden, though, rallied with a brilliant, Tony-winning performance in the Broadway production (following its acclaimed London run) of the stage farce One Man, Two Guvnors.

‘That was such a gift of a role,’ he says, when we meet in London. ‘I used to say to people, when I was doing it, that it’s not that it plays to my strengths, it ignores my weaknesses.’

Without the show, Corden believes he wouldn’t have ‘even had a look-in at doing Into The Woods’ – a movie of the Sondheim musical being filmed at Shepperton Studios – with the likes of Meryl Streep and Johnny Depp.

And nor, probably, would the Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein have tapped him to play Paul Potts in One Chance, a Billy Elliot-like comedy/drama about the diffident, opera-singing Carphone Warehouse salesman who became the first winner of Britain’s Got Talent.

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Revisiting Robert Greenwald & Walmart: "I am very comfortable with David versus Goliath battles."

Robert Greenwald discusses Wal-Mart, consumerism and what you can do to make a difference.
London, 2006

Do you regard the Wal-Mart: High Cost of Low Price as an extension of the work you did in Uncovered and Outfoxed, in the sense that they are all deconstructions of spin, image-making and doublespeak?

“I think it’s certainly that. Also, what I do is I pursue these things instinctively and sometimes later realise the intellectual framework, and I also think, certainly between Outfoxed and this, there is a very strong line about the negative effects of large multinational corporations: Fox News being the poster child in the media world, and Wal-Mart being the poster child for bad behaviour, but they both have a connection to the issue for all of us, all over the world, about how much power we’re going to allow these large corporations to have.”

Are Fox News and Wal-Mart leading what’s been called the ‘race to the bottom’?

“Very much so. And they both have enormous power and money and therefore finding a way to tell a story that can reach people and go against their power and influence is a challenge. But I also am very comfortable with David versus Goliath battles.”

At the start of the new film we see Wal-Mart CEO Lee Scott saying that what is important is to tell people the Wal-Mart story, and then what you do is deconstruct that story, in a sense, point by point.

“Yes, we’re definitely . . . I tried to get an interview with Lee Scott. He wouldn’t agree, and then I ultimately thought we’ll put him in the movie anyway and he’ll become our announcer.”

What was their response to your request for an interview because they’ve actually co-operated on a far rosier version of the Wal-Mart story by the director Ron Galloway?

“Basically they said, ‘No’. I kept saying, ’We’ll post everything he says on our website and what a great opportunity for you to reach your critics who you’re always trying to reach.’ But, ultimately they hired some really very, very expensive spin doctors, who treated it as a political campaign rather than as a retailer whose job it is to sell products. So they treated me like an opposition candidate who they didn’t want to engage with, which was really odd, but that’s their choice.”

There is a campaign attached to the film. Was the film conceived as part of a campaign or was the campaign built around it?

“Well they come together. What I’m learning with each of these films is that because they’re about social change then you need to be married to the groups working social change. It’s the reason I don’t put my primary focus into the movie theatres. As much as I love seeing movies at movie theatres and buying popcorn and stuff, if the goal is social change then you need a sort of varied strategy. So we do movie theatres and we do the internet and we do the media campaign, and we do the social groups, and we put all of this together rather than in the more conventional approach, which would have only been movie theatres.”

And does the different viewing experience of seeing it in a context other than a multiplex inspire a better level of debate, and engagement with the issues?

“Well, I certainly think that when films are by design married to the groups working for change, you get a much more substantive focus on what you’re saying. I mean the first time I went to one of my films and saw it at a house party – we have these house parties where people come together and have discussions, and the same thing in the theatre, actually, where we have discussion afterwards – I was astounded at the different experience, because it wasn’t just a matter of going with your date and walking out quickly afterwards to get a drink, or falling asleep with the remote clicker in your hands; people engaged afterwards about what they wanted to do and how they could do things as a function of having experienced the movie. In terms of satisfaction about doing one’s work and people paying attention to it, it was off the charts.”

In this film and Outfoxed there is an effort made to galvanise people to act. After the elections in 2000 and 2004, and the voting scandals in Florida and Ohio, do some people feel like they don’t have a voice and they can’t change things?

“Well, I think it’s even bigger than that. The people that are voting, the percentage, I don’t know in your country but in the United States it keeps dropping. It’s horrible the way people aren’t even engaging in the political process. So I think that it’s important to let people know that democracy is not a spectator sport, that there are many different ways that we can get involved, and should get involved, and really can make a difference getting involved. So my focus is not even so much on the candidates, because I believe the candidates are a function of the issues. If you look at the United States the big social change has always been driven by social movements, not by individual candidates. Whether it was the labour movement or the women’s movement or the civil rights movement, the movements have spawned the candidates, who then took another step if you will. My belief on these films and the social movement work that I do is to encourage people to get involved on the issues they care about, and from that will come the candidate.”

Do you see Wal-Mart as a symptom of something bigger, as an example of a particular culture writ large, or as the disease itself?

“Yes, they are definitely a symptom of – it’s hard to say larger problem because Wal-Mart is so large [laughs] – but there is no question that citizens of the world must deal with large multi-national corporations which now have more effect on many people’s lives than their own governments do. You know the numbers are just staggering now. I’m going to paraphrase this slightly but like the 30 largest economies in the world, 15 of them are private corporations and only 15 of them are nation states. In the United States, corporations, by legal design, are required only to function on maximising profitability. It’s actually against the law for them to have a larger social vision. So over the long tem, and people of all political persuasions are up in arms about this, over the long term there’s no question we have to do deal with that and deal with the fact that corporations, which are legal entities, have been given the rights of people, which is obscene and absurd.”

Were there things that you didn’t know when you started this project and which particularly shocked you?

“Well I knew very little about Wal-Mart, I was incredibly ignorant, so it was a huge learning experience for me. It’s embarrassing that I didn’t know much but it’s also what made making this film so amazing for me, because I’m coming in, in a sense, with the audience’s eyes. So the amount of influence they have over so many people, in so many different ways, made an accumatively huge impact on me and all my colleagues working on the film, and it really gave us this incredible sense of responsibility in terms of trying to do it and trying to do it well, and trying to reach as many people as we could. Because whether you’re a home owner or a worker who’s being exploited, or someone where the environment’s being affected, or working in a sweatshop overseas, or a family business that’s been driven out, Wal-Mart is an equal-opportunity abuser and its spread is quite amazing.”

Obviously you felt it important to show what the people in China are experiencing in the sweatshops. But did you specifically want to open people’s eyes in America? At the beginning of the film someone complains about all the cheap Chinese imports that are coming into the US through Wal-Mart. However, what you show is that the Chinese labourers who produce them are as much victims of Wal-Mart as the Americans who are put out of business.

“Exactly right. In the United States, unfortunately, there’s been a pretty strong anti-China environment, including other workers who have seen the Chinese workers as the enemy. And without being preachy, I felt very strongly that I wanted to make the point that workers, like workers here, are being exploited, and our job is to deal with the multi-national corporation that is leading the race to the bottom, not try and punish the Chinese worker who is trying to do what we’re doing, which is try and make a living and provide for our family.”

Do you think people are in denial about how the low prices they’re paying are achieved?

“Yeah, I think people definitely are in denial and don’t focus on it. You know, we have that little moment in the movie when the lady says she is shocked about the illegal undocumented workers being locked in, and Jon Stewart says, ‘Lady, you just bought a refrigerator for $5!’ There is definitely denial, or productive ignorance in this case.”

Have we effectively been turned into a society of consumers who instinctively go after low prices without really thinking about the reason why those prices are so low and do we somehow have to be broken out of that mindset?

“Yes, we’ve become consumers over citizens and we have to take the citizenship back for all of us.”

Is the problem with something like Wal-Mart that people only really get excited when it’s in their own back yard, not really realising that wherever stores are built they are affected because of the impact on the economy and the influence Wal-Mart has on bringing standards down across the board?

“Absolutely, and that’s a key reason for making the movie. Exactly that.”

For me, one of the most shocking things in the film is not simply the rapacity of Wal-Mart and the way that it targets businesses like an assassin, but that it is aided and abetted by councils through subsidies, in effect failing the small businessman.

“Yes, I think that’s exactly it. And the fact that it’s so amazingly widespread, too. It’s all over the country, all over the world: so many different home owners, so many different workers, so many different family businesses.”

Someone in the film says that once small town quality of life has gone, there’s no getting it back. Do you believe that to be true?

“Well I think you can’t ever turn back the clock. But because I think it is a human instinct to desire community, I think the species will continue to find other ways to do it. Ultimately, for most large things, there is a time when they fall, and I believe the same will be of Wal-Mart. And I think we will find, it’s a larger issue, but I think we will find ways that don’t go backwards but where people do figure out how they can congregate and connect. Again, maybe it’s my space on the internet, just bought by Rupert Murdoch, by the way [laughs at the irony of the owner of Fox owning his web space], or other ways that we haven’t dreamed about as we’re having this conversation, but somebody else is finding that people can come together. But I don’t think you turn back the clock. I don’t think that’s possible.”

You have said that this film was the most demanding project you have ever worked on. Why?

“Well it was the combination of both the size and scope of it, the political demands of taking on something so large, and the creative demands of trying to find a story in an essentially formless situation.”

How did the subject matter inform the approach?

“Well I decided to go small. I felt that the way to deal with something of this enormity was not to use facts and figures or even talking heads, but to go as deeply into the human psyche as possible.”

How did you find the various people you interview? Did you match them with the issues that you wanted to address or did the issues arise out of the interviews?

“Um, it was a combination. There was some we had before and some we found as we were talking to people that they just raised on their own, and we said, ‘Boy, we got to go down this road.’”

How difficult was it to get people to talk on camera given how powerful Wal-Mart is and the way people’s fear becomes a means of control?

“Um, it just is really, really hard, and lots of labour and lots of phone calls, lots of travel, and ultimately we found these amazing folks that were willing to come forward.”

Were people that were no longer employed by Wal-Mart afraid of speaking out?

“Yes, they were.”

What did they fear happening?

“Because they feared they would hurt them get other jobs, they feared they would spread the word about them, they would be blacklisted in the retail industry, they would cause grief among their friends that still worked at Wal-Mart.”

What about people to whom you went for money? Was there any concern raised about what could happen to people who put money into the project?

“Oh yeah, it was horrible. One of the big financiers pulled out at the last minute and I had to borrow several hundred-thousand dollars, which, fortunately, it looks like we’ll be able to pay back.”

Watching the film, I couldn’t help feeling that Wal-Mart increasingly became like a metaphor for the current administration in terms of the way that it uses fear and articulates values it doesn’t put into practice. Was this intentional or is it just one impression one could have?

“Well, you know, with this film, since there are probably more Republicans in the movie than Democrats, I have made a conscious effort to present the material and let people make their own decisions about that.”

Another feeling that comes through it is that Wal-Mart is in some ways an un-American entity and I wonder whether you can comment on that.

“Yes, I do think the company, in the basic way, is leading an attack on some of the best of American values, which are hard work, independence, kind of go-get-‘em attitude, and they’re pulverising that. I think that’s awful.”

They also wrap themselves in the flag and articulate Christian values which they don’t appear to put into practice.

“Yes, and that, I think, is the ultimate hypocrisy.”

Have any of the current Wal-Mart employees that were interviewed in the film suffered because of their participation in the film? I’m thinking of Josh, for instance, the young chap who tried to unionise the tyre express centre at one Wal-Mart.

“Um, well, um, they did attack them. They did like a 30 or 40-page attack on the film, line by line, and they attacked a bunch of these employees and former employees. But fortunately nobody’s been hit by a car.”

Has anyone lost their job that you know of through appearing in this?

“I don’t know of anybody.”

You’re one of the leading people using the internet and new technology as a tool for activism. How has the new technology changed activism, would you say, or at least the possibilities?

“Well I think it’s giving an amazing tool to our side, to progressives, who want to talk about things of substance, and the primary media becoming a 30-second sound-bite media. So I see it as a big plus, if it’s used properly. It’s a tool. It’s a tool to get people together and it’s a tool to explore deeper issues, and I’m excited to be a part of that, really, in a major way.”

Can a film be effective without the sort of campaign with which you’re backing your documentary?

“Um, well I think it can make an impact in the thinking of maybe people and possibly opinion makers. The next step is to take that change in opinion and galvanise it so that it turns into a movement for social change. So I’ve made a decision to do my work more closely connected to that social movement. But I think everyone does what they are comfortable with and what they know how to do. I think all of it’s positive.”

You can learn more about Robert Greenwald at

Read Wal-Mart's version of the story at

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price is available to buy on DVD.

© Stephen Applebaum, 2006


Hugh Jackman: Darkness Visible

Hugh Jackman goes over to the dark side in the harrowing thriller, Prisoners

Hugh Jackman knows how to please an audience. While facing journalists at a press conference for his new thriller, Prisoners, at the Zurich Film Festival recently, he declared that without Switzerland, "I literally wouldn't be here. My parents met at Interlaken. My father was a ski and dance instructor, and completely swept my mother off her 19-year-old feet."

He wasn't actually conceived there - that happened after his English parents emigrated to Australia as "£10 Poms" - but he still thanked the country for his existence. The next night, the love-in continued when the festival presented him with a lifetime achievement award.

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Lea Seydoux: Frankly French

Lea Seydoux on the trials of making this year's Palme d'Or winner, Blue is the Warmest Colour

The first time I met Léa Seydoux was at last year’s London Film Festival, when the busy French star was nervously ‘looking forward’ to watching her new film, Blue Is The Warmest Colour.

Making the loose adaptation of Julie Maroh’s graphic novel, about a high-school girl’s lesbian love affair with an older, blue-haired art student (Adèle Exarchopoulos and Seydoux respectively), had been ‘extremely difficult’, she said, describing the three-hour, intimately photographed drama’s explicit sex scenes as ‘humiliating’ and ‘gross’ to shoot. ‘You have to be out of your body. It’s too difficult,’ she sighed.

Almost a year to the day, we’re talking on the phone while Seydoux is tied up filming a biopic of Yves Saint Laurent in Paris. It is fair to say a lot has happened in those 12 months.

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Could All is Lost earn JC Chandor another Oscar nomination?

JC Chandor's follow up to Margin Call is an epic battle of man versus nature 

Last year, the writer and director J C Chandor received an Oscar nomination for his screenplay for Margin Call. The low-budget, multi-­character film was, and arguably still remains, the best attempt to dramatise the beginning of the financial crisis that has plunged many ordinary households in the West into ruin.
While his breathtaking follow-up, All Is Lost, couldn’t be more different – it is virtually wordless, and set entirely at sea – there is, perhaps, a connection. Stripped to the bone narratively and cast-wise, the film’s story of a lone sailor (Robert Redford) struggling to survive in a stricken yacht, feels like an allegory about life post-2008.

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Revisiting Robin Williams: His Greatest Comeback

How I got back on the road to recovery
Stephen Applebaum
Thursday 9 September 2010

What a difference a few years can make.

Take the last time I met Robin Williams, for instance. It was 2004, in Berlin, and the Oscar-winning comedy icon was a happily married family man celebrating 21 years of sobriety. If there were any cracks, they weren’t visible. His life seemed enviably blissful.

Like many people, then, I was surprised when Williams checked himself into an alcohol abuse clinic two years later – as, his publicist stated, a “proactive measure” to deal with a drink problem. It was his first time in such a place. When he kicked a cocaine and alcohol habit more than two decades earlier, he did it alone – “easy as that”, he’d said in Berlin. Back then, two factors had compelled his turnaround: the death of his friend John Belushi from an overdose (Williams was one of the last people to see the actor alive; “He was like a bull and the fact that he died scared me,” he said) and the imminent birth of his first son, Zachary.

Fast forward to 2010 and I’m sitting with Williams in a dimly lit room in a London hotel to discuss his new movie, World’s Greatest Dad. Stocky and dressed entirely in black, he looks much as he did in Berlin. His mood, though, is more subdued and reflective. He says he is jet-lagged; I suspect there is more to it than that.

Indeed, the past four or so years must have felt like he was living his own version of the Book of Job. First, there was the drinking. Then, in March 2008, his (second) wife of nearly 19 years, Marsha Garces Williams, filed for divorce on the grounds of irreconcilable differences. And, as if all this wasn’t bad enough, 30 dates into his first stand-up tour in six years – ominously titled Weapons of Self Destruction – he started experiencing breathing difficulties, accompanied by a persistent cough. An angiogram revealed the need for heart surgery. When he hit the road again last September, for a gruelling final 50 dates, it was with a new bovine heart valve, a stack of fresh material – and a heightened appreciation for life and the people around him.

Having worked his problems into his act, up to a point – “It’s an open book with edited areas” – Williams doesn’t flinch when asked how he fell off the wagon. He was working in Alaska, he says, away from his family and friends, and was unable to do the things he enjoys back home, such as taking long bike rides. “All of a sudden I thought, ‘I’ve been 20 years sober, I can drink a little,’” he says.

He gives what is more of a grimace than a smile. “It’s like, ‘I can be somewhat circumcised,’” he says. “It’s that idea that you can have one drink – and no, you can’t. Within a week I was drinking heavily. It was so quick that even I was like, ‘Wow!’”
He found ways of covering it up. “I was at a bar and I bought a drink, and the bartender said, ‘I thought you were sober.’ I went, ‘Yeah, this is for a friend.’ And I went behind a pole and …” He mimes slugging a drink. “So you just go and you go and you go, and you lie and you tell yourself all these things, and you think, ‘I can deal with this.’”

Although he was convinced he could battle the bottle again on his own, it became increasingly apparent to people around him that he was in trouble. His family eventually issued an ultimatum that led to his checking into rehab. “And thank God they did,” he says. Zachary has said he believes his father would be dead if he’d continued drinking.

“I would do this thing of drinking for a week and going, ‘Ah, I can stop,’” Williams explains. “So you stop for a week, and then a week later you drink more.” He now realises that, in quitting on his own in the 1980s, he had not addressed the underlying causes. “Finally you have to literally surrender and go, ‘I can’t do this alone’. And that’s where you have to really admit: ‘I’m an alcoholic. I can’t drink.’”

Williams has been married twice. Speaking on a chat show recently, he said that living with a comedian was like “owning a pet cobra”. What exactly did he mean?
“Basically, there’s a certain amount of novelty, and the novelty is showing the cobra to your friends – but comics can be nasty,” he says. “Along with our desperate insecurity, sometimes we’re equipped to be vicious.”

Unsurprisingly, the events of the past few years have made Williams look at his life and work from a new perspective – and anyway, after rehab there weren’t scripts waiting for him. So he did what all stand-ups do when they need money, and went gigging. Yet Weapons of Self Destruction also turned into a way for him to process “all the s**t that had gone on in my life – and then after the heart surgery it became even more kind of, ‘Yeah, baby! You’re alive! You’re alive!”

If his first movie after rehab, Old Dogs, was panned by the critics, World’s Greatest Dad has seen many searching for superlatives. Made on a shoestring budget, and written and directed by Williams’s friend of 30 years, Bobcat Goldthwait, it tells the story of a teacher with an obnoxious son, who realises his dream of connecting with people through his writing in the wake of a family tragedy. To reveal much more would weaken the film’s impact; suffice it to say that, despite the warm and fuzzy title, World’s Greatest Dad is no queasy schmaltz-fest but rather a pitch-black adult comedy in which Williams does his best work since the acclaimed One Hour Photo in 2002.

Some commentators regard the new film as a risk that paid off. Williams, on the other hand, says he never felt safer making a movie, thanks to Goldthwait, who would not move on until they were satisfied with a scene. “This was perfect timing,” he says with enthusiasm. “I needed to do a film like this. I needed to reaffirm that this is what it’s about.”

In the past, his choices have often seemed erratic and wayward, with films such as Jack threatening to obscure the wonderful work he did early in his career, in movies such as The World According to Garp; Good Morning, Vietnam; Dead Poets Society and Good Will Hunting, for which he won the 1998 Best Supporting Actor Oscar.

With luck, World’s Greatest Dad will mark the beginning of a new phase in his career, while his stint in rehab will hopefully have put him on the road to conquering his addiction once and for all. Like all recovering alcoholics, he knows sobriety is a daily struggle. But he also knows that one need not be ruled by their demons for ever.

Billy Connolly experienced a whole litany of horrors as a child, yet being around him today, Williams laughs, “is the closest thing to walking pot you’ll ever get. If you’re around Billy for more than five minutes you’ll start to feel giddy. He gives me a hope of going, ‘Yeah, there’s a whole other life waiting for you’.”

Originally published in The Herald, 2010