Looking over the past few months, you might think the summer surprise of 2013 was the critical and box office success of “The Conjuring.” Not really. All corners of the industry knew that Warner Bros. release was a hit in the making after early screenings started the buzz in the spring. It wasn’t the word of mouth success for “Fruitvale” either. That award-winning drama had a passionate following out of Sundance in January. And the disappointments of “Lone Ranger,” “White House Down,” “After Earth,””Turbo” or “R.I.P.D.”? Um, yeah. Personally, I’m kicking myself for not going to Vegas to put money down on how those movies would perform months ago. No, the surprise this summer is, hands down, “Blue Jasmine.”
Whether Sony Classics realized it was creating a media and audience bait and switch with its marketing plan is unclear, but a Woody Allen movie with a weak trailer (truth), a release date at the end of July (almost the art house death zone) and no festival premiere after both of Woody’s last two “good” films screened at Cannes? This one smelled very, very bad. Like “Cassandra’s Dream” bad. Shockingly, everything turned out beautifully. “Jasmine” has arguably earned some of the best reviews of the year, is a smash at the box office and people are already lining up to give Cate Blanchett her second Academy Award (of course, no one has told this to the Academy, but I digress…). And while all this goes on, the 77-year-old Allen is in the South of France shooting his next untitled film with Emma Stone, Colin Firth, Marcia Gay Harden and Jacki Weaver, among others. Makes you think they aren’t kidding when they say 75 is the new 55. It’s definitely good to be Woody at the moment.
“Jasmine,” however, isn’t just the Cate and Woody show. It features yet another great ensemble highlighted by the seemingly still underrated Sally Hawkins, a scene-stealing Louis C.K., a purposely understated Alec Baldwin, a nicely low key Peter Sarsgaard, an at the top of his game Bobby Cannavale and, the biggest surprise of all, Andrew Dice Clay who is pretty much the emotional center of the flick. In our business it’s rare we get the chance to share our conversations with the film’s talent after the film’s release (most studios want the coverage beforehand), but “Jasmine’s” late LA press day allowed me to hold them a bit. With the film now in 50 theaters across the country, there’s a good chance you’ve already seen it and you may be enlightened by what two members of the ensemble had to say about the project.*
*Blanchett was not available this go around. Hoping the strategy is to hold her until awards season when she’ll need to be a staple on the LA/NY circuit.
I’d never been a fan of Andrew Dice Clay’s comedy and can barely remember seeing him out of character on the CBS series “Wiseguy” back in the day. But, he’s one of the best parts of “Jasmine” and its clear from our discussion (embedded at the top of this post) he knew how significant this opportunity this was. And, as with most actors in Woody Allen films, the director wasn’t as helpful as you might think providing more details about his character.
“He said things like he’s a wife beater. He’s a drunk. And it actually wound up being none of that,” Dice Clay says laughing. “[His background] wasn’t in the lines. It wasn’t in the actions. But I feel Woody’s casting is how he directs the actor also.”
Sarsgaard, on the other hand, has always been an odd interview. Even for some of his best work such as “An Education” he hasn’t always had that much interesting to say. Perhaps I caught him on a good day, perhaps the critical lauds of “Jasmine” were finally sinking in (like Dice Clay he also only saw his own sides during the production), but he was the most relaxed and upbeat I’ve ever seen him. Sarsgaard took the role because it required little shooting time over a summer his wife, Maggie Gyllenhaal, was due to deliver their second child. Like Clay, he had to piece the movie’s storyline together in his own head.
“I had a feeling after we finished I thought, ‘She seems nuts. She’s having some sort of big crisis in her life.’ People ask how you play the character [and] I saw that I proposed marriage to someone that there isn’t a big love scene,” Sarsgaard says. “This isn’t a true love love story. I see that because I drop her off on the side of the road.”
Sarsgaard adds, “It’s interesting to root for a character for the shallow bullshit back in her life just so she’ll be happy. It’s not like you root for her to be with Andrew Dice Clay, but he’s the most soulful, genuine person in the movie.”
You can find more on Sarsgaard’s thoughts on the picture in the video embedded here.
If you’re a fan of “Blue Jasmine” they are two quick conversations that are incredibly enlightening on how Allen’s magic – sometimes – comes together.
“Blue Jasmine” is now playing in limited release.