Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Chat With Dan (Angels & Demons) Brown

Okay, so I spent Tuesday and Wednesday in New Hampshire, interviewing Dan Brown for the extras on the eventual Angels & Demons DVD.

Did you know New Hampshire has the shortest coastline of any US state? Thirty-six hours ago I didn't either, and a couple of hours after that I was the proud owner of a pair of skeletal lawn flamingos — or should that be flamingones (above) — and having lunch on a scrap of that coast at a Portsmouth restaurant recommended by none other than Brown for the excellence of its New England clam chowder. (I'll refrain from trying to reproduce the sounds of disdain my companions made when I asked the difference between the Manhattan and New England varieties). Brown even made a call to make sure the place was open and determine whether we should/could make reservations.

Since I'm allergic to shellfish — anaphylactic shock allergic; I nearly died as a teenager from eating rice that had touched mussels — I couldn't put the chowder to the test. But the connoisseurs in our group pronounced it excellent.

Back to Dan Brown: I'm sure you have ideas about the bestselling author, but in person he was warm, generous with his time and full of enthusiasm about the way historical novels can spur readers to explore the real thing; the genius of typographical artist John Langdon (yes, that's where Brown's swashbuckling symbologist got his surname); and the many virtues of Ron Howard, about whom I have yet to interview anyone who has a bad thing to say.

Granted, an interview is an inherently artificial situation and any sensible celebrity masters the rules of engagement early on.

But trust me, many don't: They answer questions grudgingly, pick their cuticles, roll their eyes, claim that no one who actually makes movies thinks about things like that and generally give the impression that they'd rather be having their fingernails torn out with rusty pliers than be talking to you. Which is why I have fond memories of Jean Claude Van Damme, Sandra Bullock, Keanu Reeves and Hugh Jackman.

I interviewed Van Damme in his trailer when he was shooting John Woo's first US film, Hard Target, in New Orleans. As I walked through the door, Van Damme jumped up to get me a bottled water from his mini-refrigerator, introduced me to his aging, non-English speaking parents (who looked like the Belgian equivalent of the couple Grant Woods immortalized in his painting American Gothic) and declared his love for Tin Tin, offering his Herge engagement diary as proof; he then settled in for a lengthy interview. Not at all what Van Damme's dismal reputation led me to expect.

I interviewed Bullock and Reeves at press junkets. Bullock, who was pushing 30 and had been kicking around movies and TV for six years without landing that elusive career-making role, was promoting Speed. The buzz — which is wrong as often as it's right — was that she was going to be a star.

Just a few years earlier, my sister had been her manager at an Upper West Side burger joint and vividly remembered Bullock as a sweet-natured, hard-working employee who consistantly managed to be nice to the surliest, most unreasonably demanding customers. The worst thing she ever heard Bullock's coworkers — the usual spiteful, backbiting Manhattan restaurant crew of aspiring/failed actors, singers and dancers — say was that Sandy was too damned cheerful while marrying ketchups at 4AM.

"If you can," my sister said, "say hi to Sandy for me." Truth be told, I wasn't planning to — it seemed sort of unprofessional — but Bullock was so open and approachable that at the end of the interview I did. "Oh my God," she squealed. "Amy is your sister? She's so cool — promise you'll tell her hi right back for me!" Who wouldn't be charmed?

Reeves was fresh off Speed and promoting Johnny Mnemonic, painter Robert Longo's indie version of William Gibson's cyberpunk story. Reeves stood up (he's tall!) when I came into the room, shook my hand and politely introduced himself (as if I didn't know exactly who he was), then waited until I was seated before sitting down himself. His mother would (and should) have been proud.

And that brings us to Jackman: I interviewed him on Friday of Memorial Day weekend 2006 for the extras that would appear on the DVD of Woody Allen's as-yet unreleased Scoop; he was on the last day of a PR blitz for X-Men: The Last Stand and had done every meet-and-greet and photo op you can imagine, up to and including hokey Fleet Week events.

Jackman had to have been dead tired, but you'd never have known it: He was easygoing, gracious, forthcoming and articulate from start to finish. By the time we were done everyone in the room — from the make-up woman to the gruff, no-bull sound guy — adored him.

And the moral of this tale? I haven't quite figured that out yet, but I think it's something along the lines of "manners grease the wheels of society."



Trav28 said...

"Manners grease the wheels of society".

I agree with this. Being of English upbringing I recall my first words being "please" and "thank you". Not a bad thing, methinks.

miss flickchick said...

My sisters and I also had English upbringings, though in the US: Our mom moved here to marry our dad.

Between them, my three sisters have seven children, four girls and three boys ranging in age from seven to 22. They're all pretty ordinary kids, interested in sports and music and video games and Disney princesses and hanging out.

They also all write thank-you notes -- the teenaged boys included -- without being prompted. I give my sibs major props for raising children who don't think basic courtesy makes you weird or stuck up.