For whatever reason I’ve been saying no to Q&A moderation requests the last year or two. But when I was asked to do one last night for a mixed guild/AMPAS screening of Oren Moverman’s “Rampart,” I jumped at the opportunity. I was anxious to talk with Woody Harrelson again (after first crossing paths with him two years ago in the publicity blitz for “The Messenger”), and I was interested to see how the film played.
And it played really well. Lots of reverence for the actor (who joined me at the WGA with writer/director Oren Moverman and co-star Brie Larson) and, of course, the tour de force performance he delivers in the film.
Much of the discussion centered on Moverman’s process of filming, allowing for no rehearsals and finding things organically. Larson quipped she is “ruined” after this experience, because she doesn’t want to work any other way, while Harrelson admitted he prefers the preparation of rehearsal and it’ll take him a good five or six takes to really get warmed up.
And that’s fine for Moverman. He’s all about finding spontaneous emotions and beats within the scenes, however long it takes to refine them within that process. Larson told a story about a certain scene in the film when she confronts Harrelson (who plays her father) in a hotel room with her little sister. She had an idea of how things would play out, but when she went up to the room and knocked on the door, thrown into the scene, every idea and assumption changed and new, authentic gestures and lines were brought into the fold as a result.
“She explained it perfectly right there,” Moverman said of the story to a member of the audience after the Q&A. “If we had rehearsed, none of that would have happened. They would have done one specific thing.”
For Moverman, a New Yorker of over 20 years, doing a film so specific to Los Angeles was a “lonely experience,” he joked, but he enjoyed being the outsider. He recalled forgetting his sunglasses one day in Los Angeles and really feeling oppressed by the brightness of the sun. That’s something he and cinematographer Bobby Bukowski (who shoots the heck out of this film) wanted to incorporate, as well as the “riot of color” that pops as you drive around the city, particularly downtown.
Harrelson said he went on a ride along with LAPD officers as preparation for the role of “the most corrupt cop you’ve ever seen on screen,” as the tagline on the poster puts it. And being a “happy hippy,” he didn’t think he’d be all that believable as such a corrupt, authority figure persona. When he first tried on the uniform, he said it felt like a Halloween costume.
But regardless of those early doubts, he settled into the role and delivered perhaps his greatest performance to date. It was an emotionally taxing shoot and both Harrelson and Larson admitted that it was difficult to shake their characters at the end of the day, but it was all worth it if the end result is a film as powerful as “Rampart.”
Will Harrelson net some Oscar recognition? One can only hope. Along with Michael Shannon in “Take Shelter” and Michael Fassbender in “Shame,” it’s one of the year’s best portrayals, but one that doesn’t fit the mold of others more firmly in the Best Actor hunt. My collage Greg Ellwood (who saw the film at AFI Fest last night) is certainly down on his chances, and he also notes the same thing I’ve been saying, that holding for a Sundance premiere and milking the film throughout 2012 might have built a better awards case.
But regardless, Millennium Entertainment will give it their best shot. A nice profile of Harrelson in the New York Times sure is a good start.
“Rampart” is an official selection for the on-going AFI Fest this year. It will open for one week in Los Angeles and New York on November 23 to qualify for this year’s Oscars before a wider release on January 27, 2012.
Meanwhile, the poster for the film was released last week, and it maintains the icy chill of the film’s emotional palate. Check it out below.