Sam Jones is a Los Angeles-based photographer and director whose portraits of U.S. President Barack Obama, Sandra Bullock, George Clooney, Bob Dylan, Kristen Stewart, Robert Downey Jr., Amy Adams, and Jack Nicholson have appeared on the covers of Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, Esquire, GQ, Time, Entertainment Weekly and Men's Journal.
As a high school sophomore, Jason Sudeikis switched schools in pursuit of serious basketball dreams and, of course, a girl. Instead, he discovered classes in radio and TV and debate – and a new career option. Soon after swapping Final Four tickets for a video camera, he gave up on college hoops and eventually college itself to go pro in the improv leagues. He honed his chops at ComedySportz, the Annoyance and ImprovOlympic before getting drafted by Second City and eventually Saturday Night Live, where some of his most memorable work occurred behind the scenes writing skits for Justin Timberlake, Amy Poehler and buddy Will Forte. Along the way he happily stole (a term he prefers to “borrow”) from lifelong mentors to develop his own comedic DNA (watch him in the We’re The Millers and guess who he’s channeling). In this issue, Sudeikis discusses his improv roots, his development as an actor and writer, his early love-hate relationship with SNL, the art of guest host management, and of course, hoops. To this day he’s a flashy, joke-cracking point guard who never lets you see how hard he’s working.
When a 16-year old Ron Howard was hanging out on set with Henry Fonda (as one does), Fonda gave the young actor a bit of advice: If he loved acting, he should focus on theater, but, "If you love movies, become a director.” Ron Howard loved movies. The Oklahoma-born son of two actors, his earliest memories are of memorizing dialog from his dad’s summer stock plays as a 3-year old. Walking unaware into an MGM kids’ casting call in 1959, Howard senior mentioned he had a son who was a fine actor. They called young Ronny in, had him do a scene, and asked his dad if he could do anything else. "I really don’t know if he can." Ron Howard entered our living rooms a year later as Opie in The Andy Griffith Show, and didn’t leave for the next 25 years when Happy Days ended in 1984. That’s when we really saw what else he could do. He started directing in 1977 by convincing producer Roger Corman to let him helm Grand Theft Auto (Howard agreed to act in Corman’s Eat My Dust! in exchange). Next came Night Shift, and then, at a point where most directors are still paying off film school debt, he delivered Splash, Cocoon and Parenthood. They were all charming, funny, well reviewed and commercially successful; and yet we still hadn’t seen the extent of what he could do as a director. What Howard excels at is telling stories that tell us something about ourselves; real tales of real people – albeit writ large – whose lives and worlds double as themes he wants to explore: family, teamwork, hubris and adversity, to name a few. Another particular genius is his ability to translate those worlds visually, forging a direct connection from our eyeballs to our gut or heart, as the story demands. Consider a tale that takes place largely inside the head of a brilliant but unstable mathematician. In its review of A Beautiful Mind, The New York Times called his technique “as simple as it is inspired,” adding, “Mr. Howard has found an accessible cinematic way to present this insight: Schizophrenia does not announce itself as such to those it afflicts. Mr. Howard leads us into its infernal reality without posting a sign on the door.” The film, an unexpected success, earned him an Academy Award for Best Director. When he took us into Formula One racing with Rush, a lot of people went along reluctantly, only to be surprised at how one tight shot of a violently vibrating tire could make their heart race as fast as the motor shaking it. That shot signaled danger more effectively than any deadly crash. Variety thought so, too. “To witness this level of storytelling skill (applied to a subject only a fraction of the public inherently finds interesting) is to marvel at not only what cinema can do when image, sound and score are so artfully combined to suggest vicarious experience, but also to realize how far Howard has come since his directorial debut.” He was able to make equally dramatic cinema from two men sitting across from each other, talking. “You expect something dry, historical and probably contrived. But you get a delicious contest of wits, brilliant acting and a surprisingly gripping narrative,” said the Washington Post about Frost/Nixon. “Howard's cinematic treatment deftly exploits very conventional narrative techniques without one ever being quite aware of them.” But of course the film that feels closest to his core as a filmmaker is Apollo 13. It has it all: exploration, heroism, history and the compelling factor of being true. Noting that the subject matter demanded Howard’s reverential treatment, the Los Angeles Times called it his most impressive film to date in a 1995 review. “Howard's willingness to be straight ahead with his directing, the film's derring-do aspects have the advantage of showing the men simply being heroic as opposed to acting like heroes.” If some critics have made cynical dismissals of a perceived gee-whiz, all-American, hero-worshipping aesthetic, Howard makes no apologies. “I’m drawn toward celebratory stories. I feel that they are every bit as valid and useful as the darker, cautionary tales. And my favorite thing is when the celebration is not up front and in your face, but something that evolves. It’s something you can understand, that flawed characters can be a part of moments that are worthy of celebration and respect.” That’s sounding pretty good to us these days. Howard’s work continues to follow his fascinations, from the depths (In the Heart of the Sea) to music (Made in America, The Beatles: Eight Days a week) to boxing (Cinderella Man). We explore along with him again in National Geographic’s first-ever scripted series Genius. His new anthology drama chronicles the world’s most brilliant innovators, kicking off with the famous physicist Albert Einstein. In it, and all of his work, Howard approaches his subjects with eye of a historian, a fan, a geek, and a loving adherent to detail. So, how to summarize the life's work of someone whose 63-year career spans two Golden Ages of Television and some of the most acclaimed and successful movies of every genre? Fortunately we don’t have to; it’s still very much in progress.
Acclaimed Spanish actor Javier Bardem comes from a long line of artists and filmmakers, but his love of cinema officially took shape when his mother, a working actress herself, snuck him into a movie theater to see Bob Fosse’s All that Jazz when he was 6 years old. It wasn’t exactly a Disney movie, but that didn’t matter—Javier was in awe. He wondered, “What is this mechanism of people, feelings, dance, music, colors, drama, and comedy? I want to be a part of that.” His passion and dedication to the craft are evident in his work—take his award-winning performances in the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men and Iñárritu’s Biutiful, to name a few. In his newest film Loving Pablo, Javier takes on the legend and mythology of Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar and takes on an intensity and physicality that was even intimidating to his costar and wife Penélope Cruz. But Javier and Penélope know the difference between fiction and reality. As Javier says, “At the end of the day, I give her flowers and chocolates and say, ‘That was a lie.’ Even though it’s a part of my truth as a human being.’” Honesty is everything for Javier, even though it’s hard to attain on a daily basis. “We tell so many lies during the day because we need to protect who we are for others. When you play a character, you have to give up on that and be naked. And that’s why actors love acting—it may be the only time in the day where we are honest.” Javier joins Off Camera to talk about how being the target of senseless violence led him to discover his worth as an artist, why his marriage to Penélope Cruz works, and why therapy is the perfect tool for an actor.
You keep up on things. You know what’s going on in arts and culture. Then inevitably, it happens. Someone who wasn’t even on your radar is suddenly everywhere, making you question not where they’ve been, but where you’ve been. Meet Riz Ahmed. By now, you probably recognize him from HBO’s The Night Of, but for years, Ahmed’s been busy making wide-ranging, significant, and accomplished work. In person, he’s not some frenetic perpetual motion machine, but he does seem to function at a brisk and constant clip, creating, provoking and questioning. He approached Naz Khan, the role that’s brought him to recent wide attention, with a simple theory: “If you see the world in a certain way, the behavior follows.” Applied to Ahmed himself, it seems an apt description of how he creates art, and with it, change. Born in London to Pakistani immigrant parents, he won a scholarship to north London’s Merchant Taylors’ school, where he found himself and most Asian kids a subclass in a sea of diplomats’ kids in full prep regalia. He decided to do something about it, specifically, rigging a vote to force the school into electing its first Asian head boy. When other frustrations were expressed more overtly – he threw a chair intended for another student through a window – one teacher had a suggestion: “If you can muck about on stage, you get applause for it, not a suspension.” Good idea. At Oxford University, he studied philosophy, politics and economics, and also put on the only play with two non-white leads staged during his time there. When he decided to put on a drum and bass night but didn’t have immediate takers, he printed up flyers minus the venue and kept at it until he found a club willing to fill in the blank. College confirmed something he’d sensed all along: You can make yourself an insider, but the world will send you occasional reminders that status is temporary. It’s a perspective that’s informed his work across genres, including film, TV, stage and music. He did manage to work in some drama studies, and made his film debut at 23 playing a member of the real-life Tipton Three in Michael Winterbottom’s The Road to Guantánamo. He also made a three-hour debut at the Luton Airport, where he and another actor from the film were detained under the Terrorism Act by Special Branch upon returning from the Berlin Film Festival. We’re sure the Branch boys were just exercising caution; we’re also pretty sure that wouldn’t have happened to Matt and Ben. Ahmed was nominated for his first British Independent Film Award for Shifty, and highly praised for his effortless, persuasive chemistry with other actors. His second came for Four Lions, Chris Morris’ hilarious satire on terrorism. Mira Nair, who directed him in The Reluctant Fundamentalist, recognized his unique ability to play characters that shift between worlds. "It's the most demanding, complicated role for a young person to carry a film on his shoulders, and to be somebody at once absolutely authentic to the Lahori universe, yet absolutely comfortable, elegant and savvy in the Wall Street universe; to spout the poetry of Faiz at one moment and ruthlessly cut out a factory in Manila the next." Eventually American filmmakers saw his work (or at least got hold of reviews routinely peppered with words like “charismatic” “brilliant” and “natural”) and wanted in. His performance opposite Jake Gyllenhal in Nightcrawler was outstanding, and in its review of Jason Bourne, wrote, “Only Riz Ahmed makes any impact on a performance level, doing a lot with very little – watch the way he subtly plays a successful businessman who knows the skeletons are about to fall out of his closet. There's a much better version of Jason Bourne that focuses on him…” This year’s been a big one for him. He’s in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and puts a new spin on the gumshoe genre in City of Tiny Lights. He’s also working on a multi-generational Pakistani-British family story he aims to make for U.K. television. If the industry (ironically) helped Ahmed’s early career with its tendency to see in stereotypes, it’s also allowed us glimpses of a depth we’d otherwise miss by occasionally looking past them. Needless to say, that goes for society as a whole, and Ahmed is not shy about voicing that opinion. But he knows that if you’re going to be an unapologetic button-pusher, you best avoid righteous self-aggrandizement and do it with some humor. And some serious rap. Under the handle Riz MC, he’s put out three albums of songs that have been critically acclaimed (and in one instance, banned) for their biting – and bitingly funny – take on immigration, race and other issues. Ahmed specializes in playing, and being, an insider-outsider. If you’ve never felt like an outsider, don’t count yourself lucky; it’s a perspective that benefits us. Which is why we need this guy to keep acting, rapping, writing, and if necessary, throwing the occasional chair.
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2 weeks, 2 hours