Jewish Journal

Day Five at Sundance:  Jim Carrey Kisses Ewan McGregor

by Larry Mark

January 20, 2009 | 5:45 pm

Producer Andrew Lazar of "I Love You Phillip Morris"

By Larry Mark

As moths are drawn to the flame, celebrities are drawn to the cameras.  Sundance usually provides the necessary flashbulbs, but this year, the media is in Washington D.C. And so, the word here in Park City is that most celebrities have left Utah and flown East for the inauguration.  Whether it is the festivities there or the economic recession, Park City seems emptier than in years past.  Main Street is not as crowded, and the wait list lines don’t seem as long, and even the Yarrow Hotel has reduced its lofty prices for the second half of the fest.  Parties are fewer, and the availability of swag is geometrically less than last year.

There is also a distinct decrease in “buzz” and deals, and what some say is the peripheral nonsense, or the “childish things” that President Obama mentioned in his inaugural address.

The greatest buzz amid this dearth of buzz is for ”Sin Nombre,” a U.S.A/Mexico production directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and distributed by Focus Features.  Sin Nombre means “nameless” or “without a name.”  The producer is Amy Kaufman, a Massachusetts native who is fluent in Spanish and English and a past associate of Scott Rudin, David Linde, and James Schamus.  She was executive producer of Alfonso Cuaron’s “Y Tu Mamá, También” and led the filmmaking team on Sophia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation.“  For Kaufman, “Sin Nombre” is a Greek tragedy that authentically shows how much is involved among families traveling from Central America to the United States.  The film is a love story and chase film as well as a thriller.  A Mexican Noir film, it is set on the border crossings of Mexico, where gangs thrive and control these small, precarious universes, and young men and women, Mexicans, Hondurans, and others, try to cross to America on freight trains for new, safer, and more prosperous lives.  Sayra is traveling with her family from Honduras atop a freight train, when she meet Casper, a gang member, murderer and thief, whom she thinks she can reform and change.  Both Casper and Sayra are trying to reconstruct their families and create individual connections.  As the train carries them to a new life, it shows that it is also a frightening, lumbering, steel monster.  The train can be an angel to some and a devil to others, and the same can be said about people.

Another much-hyped film is “I Love You, Phillip Morris,” a gay love story starring Jim Carrey and Ewan McGregor (the producer, Andrew Lazar, is Jewish). I saw this gay love story in Utah, in a high school auditorium.  And they say times do not change.

The film is the hard to believe, but somewhat true, story of a high I.Q. (169) con man in Virginia Beach, VA, who commits outlandish scams and is repeatedly incarcerated—all in the name of love.  When the movie opens, Steven Russell (Carrey) is a married, local cop and church leader.  But not long into the film he has an epiphany, pursues the life of a gay playboy, and eventually lands in prison. There he meets the waif-like, Phillip Morris (Ewan McGregor), a fellow inmate, and falls in love. This may be the latest gay love story performed by straight actors, but it was shot at several real prisons, including Angola, where all the extras were actual, life term prisoners.

I had the opportunity to query the film’s producer, Andrew Lazar, at a panel discussion hosted by The Queer Lounge, a program of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD), in Park City.  Lazar, who grew up in Los Angeles and became interested in film at New York University, acquired the rights to Russell’s story after reading a treatment and three chapters of an unfinished novel about the con artist.

“Yes, it’s interesting that Steven Russell is a gay man, but what makes the story universal is that everyone can relate to being obsessed and love sick and wanting to be with that person who’s going to change your life,” Lazar said.

“This movie is not about a straight guy pretending to be gay,” he added.  “Steven Russell was a homosexual and it’s a very provocative script [by the screenwriters of ‘Bad Santa’].  We lucked into being introduced to Luc Besson, who funded the film, early in the process, because sexual relationship stories don’t seem to fluster Europeans as much as they do Americans.”  And the sexual chemistry between the two protagonists is intense.

Asked if there is still a stigma attached to playing gay, Ewan McGregor responded that as an actor, you are always seeking out interesting characters to play, and that he has played gay before without any stigma.  Carrey was passionate about his role, but admitted that “his people” raised many concerns about him taking on the part. Carrey said he created a “smoldering yum yum eat ‘em up vibe” between McGregor and himself in the film.

McGregor said, “I did not want the humor to come out of the story being about two men in love.”  If that were the case, he said, would have declined to participate in the movie. Carrey admitted that “there is a homophobic voice in me,” which he had to overcome to be in the film.  He encouraged viewers to find parts of themselves in other people—gay people—in order to overcome their own homophobia. “The change must occur in each individual; it is an internal job,” he said.

Carrey repeatedly said, “Love is love, and that’s it.” Steven is relentless about love, and creates cons in order to find it as well as acceptance and significance in life.  “Beware the unloved,” Carrey said. “They go to extremes for acceptance.”

For more information, visit the Sundance site.


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