Goldwyn may be best known as the dastardly villain in 1990's blockbuster weepie,
Ghost, or the voice of Disney's vine-surfing Tarzan in 1999, or
maybe even the self-cloning bad guy in last year's The 6th Day. (You may
not know that he appeared in both Friday the 13th, Part VI: Jason Lives
and Friday the 13th, Part VII: The New Blood -- as different characters!)
He certainly has the movie business in his blood, being the son of actress
Jennifer Howard and producer Samuel Goldwyn Jr., and the grandson of producer
Samuel Goldwyn, one of the founders of MGM. In 1999, the boyishly handsome
forty-one-year-old actor revealed another side, when he released his directorial
debut, A Walk on the Moon, a low-budget, independent film starring Diane
Lane and Liev Schreiber. Now, seated in an armchair and drinking bottled water
at the Beverly Hills Four Seasons, he's talking about his new movie, the
romantic comedy, Someone Like You.
first film, A Walk on the Moon, was so very different from the usual
genre movies that come out of Hollywood. What made you want to do a film that
took you back to a more formulaic project?
wanted to do something different, and what appealed to me about Someone Like
You was similar to the case of Diane Lane [in A Walk on the Moon]. I
knew that Ashley Judd could kill in this part. But I also wanted
to do something that was more formulaic in an interesting, fun, fresh way. It
was a challenge to take something that could be done very superficially, that
you've seen a billion times, and try and bring some substance to it, and
surprises, and have it be an emotionally satisfying and entertaining experience.
A Walk on the Moon was a very simple, personal, intimate story, and I
wanted to do something 180 degrees different than what I had done before.
I know that you reshaped the script -- do you write dialogue?
I don't actually write, no. But I do a lot of acting for the writers. I had a
theory about how to make the script work, because, structurally, it was quite
different at first, and I had certain things that I wanted to bring to it. I
pitched my take to the studio, and then to [screenwriter] Elizabeth Chandler,
and they all said, "That makes a lot of sense." I had a theory and
then we had to see if it would work. In the original, Eddie [Hugh Jackman] and
Jane [Judd] don't get together in the end. Jane just had a realization about
what love meant, and it had nothing to do with Eddie. But I said, this is a
romantic comedy, and wanted them to discover each other. We tightened it up. It
was intensive work with Elizabeth, but the most "writing" that I'd do
is that I'd improvise scenes for her. Only in one case, literally on set, I
rewrote a scene.
When you direct, do you control the set or do you see yourself as flexible?
I view the whole thing as a collaboration. As an actor, I always found that to
be the most freeing thing, when the director would collaborate with you, so that
together you'd come up with something exponentially better. With A Walk on
the Moon, I didn't know what I was doing as a director, but I knew having
worked with a lot of first-time directors that the ones who surrounded
themselves with good people were successful, if they knew what story they wanted
to tell. I knew I had strengths in terms of storytelling and was confident I
could get good performances out of the actors. So it was an effort to empower
every person to do their best work, and them, collate all of it. You end up
making decisions about everything and sometimes manipulating things to get what
you want, but I have all these incredibly gifted people, who sometimes know of a
hell of a lot more than I do, and if not, at least bring a fresh perspective. I
try to milk that perspective. I find that the more open I am, the more decisive
I can be in the end.
It sounds like you are fairly confident. Were you always that way?
No, it's something I've cultivated. It was something I discovered only five or
six years ago, that really improved my work as an actor. I used to agonize over
choices. And literally, a shrink helped me; he said, "As soon as you've
done something, forget it. Move on to the next thing." He told me that in
business there's a statistic, that the people who make the most successful
decisions make the most decisions. The more decisions you make, the better,
statistically, your odds of success are. And what I also learned was, it doesn't
matter: anything can be fixed. When you're directing, you can agonize, but you
can't indulge. Stuff has to happen.
One of these good people with whom you worked on this film is your
cinematographer, Tony Richmond. I know that you wanted a "realistic"
look for the film -- what does that mean for you?
Tony shot A Walk on the Moon, and he and I had such an intimate
relationship [on that film]. And his style is very realistic, very organic, he
moves the camera with the actors. And that's what I wanted to do, with regard to
the formulaic nature of the genre. While being true to the genre, I wanted it to
be real. I wanted it to be in New York, and fought shooting in Canada. I wanted
New York in a real way; I didn't want to do Nora Ephron's or Woody Allen's New
York. If Jane's in the belly of the beast, let's go to the meat-packing
district! Let Hogs 'n' Heifers be the bar they go to. Let's have her live in
Chinatown, and feel that cramped sense. I wanted a more rough-around-the edges
feeling, and not be post-cardy. Ashley is a movie star, and she's beautiful, but
she worked to not glam herself up. It's still Ashley Judd at the end of the day,
but we were trying to bring other feelings to it.
There's another strand in the film, that has to do with this tension between
reality and unreality -- that has to do with the critique of pop media, the talk
shows and Jane's pseudonymous alter-ego, Dr. Marie Charles.
Exactly. It's something where I had to make a choice. In the original script,
the third act of the script was really all about Marie Charles. It was
commentary on the New Cow Theory and how big it had gotten. My feeling was, it
was interesting from a topical point of view, but at the end of the day, it's
really about her discovery that her heart is connected to the last person on
earth she ever thought her heart would be connected to. And only when she can
throw off her preconceptions, can she find something. Put another way, I said,
the Eddie-Jane story has got to be the money here. The other thing has to become
subservient to that.
The TV scam is more interesting, though, than the “New Cow Theory”, which is
obviously a hook. And Jane's emotional journey is certainly more interesting
than the theory.
To me it was. I felt like if we started saying that the Theory Is The Thing,
we'd lose everybody. The book is all about the Theory. It's a funny book, but
it's not something you'd sit for, for ninety minutes in a movie. The book is
acerbic and witty, but I said, "I don't care about this theory." The
theory is only useful as her way of realizing how ridiculous it is. What really
interested me was the phenomenon, of what we do when we get hammered in life,
this obsession with making sense of it or coming up with a policy or a principle
that protects us from it ever happening again. To be guarded against the world
like that is a recipe for disaster and loneliness. That lesson is interesting to
There are so many pieces that give us access to Jane -- the secondary characters
who have their own plots and have to come together. How did you pull all that
The sister was tricky, and Marisa [Tomei] was tricky.
She could so easily have been the Joan Blondell character.
And that's why I chose Marisa, because I thought that exact thing, that she
could fall into being "the kooky best friend." In the book, Liz was a
man-hungry desperado. Marisa said, I'm not interested in playing that character,
and I said, I'm not interested in that character. Liz as to have her own point
of view. And for the sister, she's only in three scenes -- how do you do that
and not make her into a device? It's a matter of making everything relevant. For
instance, I had much more of Ray and Jane's relationship in the beginning of the
movie, to explain why she fell for this guy. And I realized that the audience
was way ahead, and this was eating up too much time. A friend of mine said,
"I loved all that stuff, but when she moved into Eddie's apartment, I
thought, now the movie's really getting started -- this is going to be a long
movie!" So it was imbalanced. It was painful to cut because Greg was so
brilliant, but you gain so much more when you cut. I hope Greg feels that way!
Everything has to pay off in an economic way, as the movie finds its own rhythm.
And then the fantasy elements, we had to cut some of those.
How are you imagining your directing future?
I want to keep doing different things. I'd like to do a more personal, dramatic
movie next, I think. But as long as it's about characters and good writing and
good parts for actors, that's what's important. I don't want to do an action
movie, because I've acted in them, and they're so boring to do, because they're
so technical. The headache of that is daunting. But... if it were an action
movie with really interesting characters, how great would that be?
Click here to read Cynthia Fuchs' review.