Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Hollywood has always had its “fixers,” troubleshooters who clandestinely cover up celebrity scandals and screw-ups.
Back in the 1930s, MGM’s Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling helped manipulate events to make it look like Loretta Young’s love child with the married Clark Gable was actually her adopted baby; in the 1950s, detective Fred Otash notoriously spied on and tape-recorded celebrities like Rock Hudson and Marilyn Monroe; and in the 2000s, private-eye-to-the-stars Anthony Pellicano began serving a 15-year sentence on charges including wiretapping.
“These are the guys you call when you can’t call the cops,” said Ann Biderman, whose fascination with these shadowy players inspired her new Showtime hit, “Ray Donovan,” which spotlights a fixer played by Liev Schreiber with Robert Mitchum-style machismo.
Donovan is called upon to make pesky celebrity inconveniences disappear: think blackmail and masturbating stalkers. His clients include a married producer who wants Donovan to spy on his mistress, an action star caught trysting with a transsexual hooker and an athlete who is aghast to discover that the girl with whom he has overindulged in sex and cocaine has expired in his hotel room. Donovan remains cool, even detached, when cleaning up these celebrity messes: “You don’t think you’re the first person I’ve dealt with who woke up in bed with a dead body,” he tells the athlete.
The character is less nonchalant when dealing with the excesses of his rowdy Boston Irish-Catholic family, which has relocated with him to Tinseltown: his oily father, Mickey (played with jocular malevolence by Jon Voight); his brother, Terry, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease courtesy of too many fights in the boxing ring; another brother, Bunchy, who is so traumatized by his years of childhood sexual abuse by a priest that he has spiraled into alcoholism; and his dissatisfied wife, who wants to use Ray’s contacts to get their daughter into the prestigious Harvard-Westlake private school.
As befits a Hollywood saga, there’s also a fair share of Jewish characters, including Donovan’s trusty Israeli enforcer Avi (Steven Bauer) and his Yiddish-speaking mentor Ezra (Elliott Gould), who while sitting shiva hfor his late wife in the pilot is overcome by guilt after so many years of underhanded finagling.
Biderman, 61, who was both direct and breezy during a phone interview from her New York home, said she’d long been pondering how to write another crime series (her first was the acclaimed TV cop drama “Southland”) but didn’t want to do another police show. And so she landed on the idea of a fixer, and the series gelled when she married that concept with themes of a dysfunctional family, brothers and the reverberations of clergy abuse.
Biderman, who is Jewish, isn’t worried about possible flak from the church: “Anything is fair game for a writer,” she said. “I don’t feel that being a Jew I can only write about Jewish themes or Chasidim. I never put those kinds of restrictions on myself.”
Nor does she restrict herself to traditional women’s fare; rather, as the creator of “Southland” and the screenwriter of hard-boiled films including “Primal Fear” and “Public Enemies,” Biderman has built a reputation for exploring the angst beneath the façade of machismo. In fact, when Schreiber, during a meeting at the Chateau Marmont, asked her what qualities she saw in him that could pertain to his character, “I jumped up and very loudly said, ‘I need a man!’ ” she recalled. And not the kind of metrosexual specimen that populates so much of film and TV. “I just don’t find them very interesting,” she said. As to why: “You’d have to ask my shrink.”
But then again, as a kid, Biderman said, she devoured the novels of Raymond Chandler and enthusiastically watched the film “The Detective” while other girls preferred “Gigi.” “I was also obsessed with Meyer Lansky,” she said of the Jewish gangster who walked his dog on Collins Street or lunched at Wolfie’s deli when she was a child in Miami. The Rat Pack was another preoccupation, so much so that Biderman made her father take her to the Cardozo Hotel, where Frank Sinatra filmed his comedy “A Hole in the Head.”
“It was about this divorced father and his kid, and this bohemian woman who was his lover, which really resonated with me,” she said.
Biderman’s own parents divorced when she was 8, and Ann went to live with her mother, Peggy Biderman, who was “wildly bohemian and a free spirit,” the writer said. “She was deeply involved in civil rights, and I marched almost before I could walk on the federal building in downtown Miami. Our home was a kind of open house for freedom riders or people who had been on hunger strikes in prison. They’d come over for dinner, and I’d just watch them eat these astounding amounts of food, because they’d be breaking their [fasts]. The FBI would also pop over from time to time to see what kind of revolution my mother was fomenting in our little apartment.”
Summers were spent at New York’s infamously bohemian Chelsea Hotel (the family moved in full time when Ann was 15); there the Bidermans hung out with icons including Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith, members of the Jefferson Airplane and provocative photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.
“I was dosed with acid a couple of times, no big deal,” she said.
Once, when Biderman brought a friend home to meet her mother, she said, she was “embarrassed” to find a man who had been shot being carried out of the lobby on a stretcher.
“That was the Chelsea, and it was my ‘normal,’ ” she said.
No wonder Biderman wasn’t taken aback when, while riding around with L.A. cops for six months to research “Southland,” a gang unit left her alone with the dead body of a boy who had the words “Maria’s Child” tattooed on his chest. The child became the inspiration for a character on an episode of the series.
To prepare for “Ray Donovan,” Biderman spoke with real fixers (she won’t name names), celebrities, agents and tabloid journalists as well as leaders of SNAP (the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests). “It was really important for me to get that part of the story right,” she said of the clergy abuse.
“I didn’t want to mock these people, and in fact I’m not mocking anyone on the show,” she added of her Hollywood characters. “I’m not biting the hand that feeds me. I’ve been around these kinds of people for years, and I’m very fond of all of them.”
Even the fictional adulterous producer who hires Donovan to check up on his mistress: “He’s just got his own issues,” Biderman said. “His wife won’t f--- him, and he’s [agonizing over] whether he should take human growth hormone. These are the problems of people who have a lot of money and feel entitled, but it’s real for them. It’s their world.”
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July 24, 2013 | 2:17 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
You can hear Jeff Garlin’s signature rumbling laugh way down the hall from inside his publicist’s Hollywood office, and when he ambles into a conference room, he’s all smiles, appearing just as blustery yet affable as his character Jeff Greene, Larry David’s jocular manager, from all eight seasons of HBO’s hit comedy “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” The actor-comic-writer-director, decked out in casual plaid slacks and a “Clockwork Orange” T-shirt, was relaxed and somewhat slimmed down from his new diet eschewing wheat and sugar, which, he said, is all good because, “If I have more energy and feel great, I’m funnier.”
During a conversation to promote his new Little League comic film, “Dealin’ With Idiots,” Garlin was breezily droll (he tends to laugh before he tells a joke, as if he is amusing himself) as well as low-key — which was remarkable given that in a few days he was scheduled to attend a meeting with city officials regarding his much-publicized June 15 arrest in Studio City over alleged vandalism reportedly stemming from an argument over a parking space. No charges were filed against Garlin.
The comedian admitted that the incident sounds like something right out of “Curb,” although he wasn’t able to talk about the details, save to say the events were “entirely boring and nothing like they’ve been portrayed in the media.” Even so, he was “shocked,” he said, when he was actually arrested, and it was distressing to find himself handcuffed in the back of a police car, then jailed for a number of hours. “The police didn’t recognize me — and I didn’t throw out the, ‘Do you know who I am?’ [line] — but the prisoners did. They were like, ‘Wow, what are you doing here?’ ” he recalled.
Still, there’s a bright side, sort of: The whole affair will become great fodder for his stand-up comedy act, once “everything is cleared and I can talk about it,” he said.
“The entire idea of it was idiocy,” he said.
Garlin knows from idiots. His new movie — all improvised, much like “Curb” — was inspired by the absurdly over-involved, narcissistic parents he observed on his older son’s Little League team about eight years ago. Garlin plays a successful comedian, not unlike himself, who is so aghast by the parents’ over-the-top behavior that he decides to interview them as material for a possible movie. “Dealin’ With Idiots” co-stars “Curb” alumnus J.B. Smoove as well as Bob Odenkirk, Fred Willard and Jami Gertz, Garlin’s old pal from Jewish preschool in Chicago. The IFC film is available nationwide on demand.
When this reporter mentioned that her son was about to start playing in the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO), Garlin immediately quipped, “I’m sorry,” then added, “You’re going to see some crazy, crazy, crazy stuff.”
He said his new film was born at one baseball game, when he actually turned to his wife and said, “I’m dealing with idiots here.”
“It’s just the fact that parents would obsess over whether their kids’ team won or not,” he said of his observations. “They can be at times incredibly mean or embarrassing, and just to see the competitiveness in the stands and the snide comments about little kids — it was upsetting.
“Anything that brings me sadness and frustration ultimately leads to comedy, and, therefore, the movie,” he said.
The conversation turned to Garlin’s definition of an idiot: “The word ‘clueless’ comes to mind, and selfish and arrogant. And the worst kind of idiot is someone who doesn’t know they’re an idiot,” he said.
His always-scheming character Jeff Greene falls into that category: “He’s not that intelligent, he has no integrity and he’s kind of arrogant.
“What stops you from being an idiot is being humble,” Garlin added. “Some people can be incredibly stupid, but at least they know it.”
Garlin admitted he himself can succumb to the i-word syndrome. “Oh my God, can I be an idiot,” he said.
When dealing with idiots, the most important thing, he’s learned from the events of June 15, is to act serene. “Next time, I’ll just wave and smile and say, ‘Merry Christmas’ — or ‘Happy Chanukah,’ ” he said, then reconsidered. “But someone might take offense at ‘Happy Chanukah.’ No one takes offense to ‘Merry Christmas,’ even Jews.”
Garlin, who got his start with Chicago’s comedy troupe Second City, may be one of the most versatile performers working today. In recent years, he’s starred in Pixar films (as the voice of Buttercup the Unicorn in “Toy Story 3”), co-starred on series such as “Arrested Development” (not to mention “Curb”) and penned a 2010 memoir about his struggles with weight loss. He’s now conducting a monthly podcast, “By the Way, In Conversation With Jeff Garlin,” recorded live at the Largo theater, in Los Angeles, featuring luminaries such as David, Lena Dunham and Will Ferrell. And this fall he’ll debut as a gruff dad in a loud Jewish family in the new ABC sitcom “The Goldbergs.” As far as a ninth season of “Curb,” he said, he’s been talking to David and “chances are good.”
Then there’s his stand-up work, which he performs almost nightly around town, at venues like The Comedy Store and Largo — though he’s held off lately as he’s itching to talk about his arrest onstage and can’t as of yet. His act is almost all improvised, he said, with just a list of premises committed to memory. But no, he doesn’t tell audiences that he’s virtually flying blind: “That would be bragging,” he said. “It would be not unlike [jazz artist] John Coltrane stopping a show and going, ‘You know, I’m really making a lot of this up.’ ”
Dealing with hecklers — another kind of idiot, he said — “is pretty easy for me. I do it in a very friendly, affable way. The key is to not get angry and make sure the crowd’s on your side, and you can destroy a heckler in seconds.”
Garlin is about to start shooting additional episodes of “The Goldbergs,” which he describes as “like ‘The Wonder Years’ with an edge — and with Jews.” He’s pleased about the tribal title: “The only way it could be better is if it was called, ‘Jew,’ ” he said. “I play an Archie Bunker-like character who is a frustrated curmudgeon and emotionally unable to express himself except through anger.”
Will people assume that Garlin is an angry person because of his arrest?
“I’m crazy laid-back,” he said. “I do Transcendental Meditation, I take Lexapro, and I’m as calm as you can be.
“The truth is that at times we’re all idiots,” he said. “You’ve just got to recognize it, embrace it, forgive yourself and move on.”
July 17, 2013 | 12:35 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
In 2009, Patti Linsky, now cantor emerita of Temple Ahavat Shalom in Northridge, conducted services for the High Holy Days with a low-grade pain in her abdomen that had been throbbing for months. The cause was a small stone in her bile duct that required a simple two-hour laparoscopic procedure. But during the ensuing operation, which took place around the time of Simchat Torah, Linsky’s pancreas was nicked, and she spiraled into a medical nightmare that would end her pulpit career and forever change her life.
“The pain was off the charts,” said Linsky, 57.
She tells this harrowing true story and others in her new cabaret show, “Altar EGO,” which will play to a sold-out house at Upstairs at Vitello’s Jazz and Supper Club on July 25 and reprise on Oct. 23 and 24.
Two days after the damaging medical procedure, a different surgeon told Linsky, “You’re a very ill woman, and without another surgery, I cannot guarantee your life.” A day after that she woke up in the ICU. “They had to rebuild my core stomach muscles, which is not great for a singer,” she said.
After three and a half months of bed rest, Linsky attempted to return to work, but during her first bar mitzvah service she found herself overwhelmed by exhaustion and pain. For the rest of the weekend, she prayed for guidance, and the following week made the difficult decision to retire, leaving her professionally adrift.
“I never thought I would be anything but a cantor; it had been my identity for so long,” she said while sitting at her piano in her Valley Village living room. “But then I realized that being a cantor was just part of what I do; it’s not all of who I am. It became clear that act two of my life was coming, and I needed to trust God that I would be taken care of.”
“Altar EGO” was born when Linsky, who studied jazz vocal performance at the University of Miami, wrote a “bucket list” during a women’s spirituality workshop in 2010 and realized that her new dream was to write and star in a one-woman show.
Created with Bob Garrett, the show’s director, and performed with a backup band consisting of piano, bass and drums, the piece features songs ranging from ballads to bossa novas — some spiritual, some amusing and edgy, and all based on the various chapters of her life. A lyrical ballad titled “I Am Enough” sets up the theme of her show; there’s also a lullaby to her son as well as a number, sung to the tune of “Maria” from “West Side Story,” which describes Linsky’s hypoglycemic yearnings during Yom Kippur services: “Suddenly I hear the growling in my stomach blast, T’Kiyah!/I’d kill for some chips and sangria.”
Hilariously satirical numbers recount the lousy men she dated before meeting her husband of 21 years, psychologist David Rubin, as well as her devastating hospital stay and the time she visited a fat farm and actually gained weight.
When Linsky sings the soulful “My Mother’s Daughter,” written by one of her friends, she draws on her own painful relationship with her late mother, who at 17 was accepted as a soprano with the prestigious La Scala opera house but prevented from going by her parents.
“As a result, my mother vicariously lived through my voice,” Linsky said. “Yet everything was a judgment, and nothing was ever enough. But I understand her now, and I have forgiven her. She was a single parent, and she had a very difficult life.”
Linsky found her own voice as the junior cantor of her childhood Reform congregation in Coral Gables, Fla. After moving to Southern California with her first husband, at the age of 21, she became the cantorial soloist at Temple Beth Torah in Ventura before arriving at Ahavat Shalom in 1986. In 1993, the soprano received her cantorial certification from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. Since becoming cantor emerita at Ahavat Shalom, she continues to teach, to conduct lifecycle events and to substitute for other cantors around town.
Her unabashedly honest show also recounts an especially dark chapter of her life that began after she suffered back and neck injuries during a car crash in 1996, followed by another botched operation, this one for a hernia, in which a doctor accidentally cut a nerve in her leg. Linsky found herself in chronic severe pain: “So I started on Neurontin, Oxycontin and other medicines that made the pain go away — and also made the emotional pain go away,” she said.
What followed was a decade of abusing prescription drugs and, in the later years, a descent into alcoholism. Nevertheless, Linsky, a mother of two, managed to maintain her hectic schedule as the cantor of a thriving congregation, plus duties at home and with the American Conference of Cantors. “I felt this pressure to be Superwoman,” she said. “I did it all until I couldn’t do it anymore.”
Finally, Linsky had what she describes as a nervous breakdown and checked herself into a rehabilitation center in Malibu in 2007. “For the first time, I was experiencing my authentic feelings,” she said. “There was shame and self-judgment: I had been working in this very public arena, and I had been leading a double life. But it was also very liberating.”
Linsky said her relationship with God deepened and she returned to work a month later “a much more deliberate woman with a purposeful intention to really stay on this course. I went into a recovery program, and since that time I have been repaid a million times over with blessings, with love and with God.”
In her show, she recounts her years of drug abuse in an irreverent song, “Addiction!” sung to the tune of “Tradition!” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” that asks, “Who day and night must take an Oxycontin, chase it with Neurontin and a Xanax, too/And who do you know who thinks Vicodin’s a food group/Could it be this Reform Jew?”
How does Linsky — now clean and sober for years — feel about congregants learning about her addictions through “Altar EGO”? “I’m sure the word is going around, but what matters to me is that people leave the show feeling like they are ‘enough,’ and that there’s no shame in being human.
“This piece is teshuvah [repentance] in a lot of ways,” she added. “There are many ways of making amends and forgiving ourselves, and it’s never too late for that.”
For tickets and information about Linsky’s October performances, visit http://www.vitellosjazz.com/event/patti-linsky-altar-ego-4.
July 10, 2013 | 11:57 am
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Actor Rick Moranis has busted ghosts in the “Ghostbusters” flicks, shrunk the kids in that comedy film franchise, tried not to get gobbled by a man-eating plant in “Little Shop of Horrors,” spoofed Darth Vader as Dark Helmet in Mel Brooks’ “Spaceballs” and over-parented in “Parenthood.”
So what’s he doing with his new comedy album, “My Mother’s Brisket & Other Love Songs,” complete with klezmer, rhumba and jazzy ditties including “Pu-Pu-Pu,” “My Wednesday Balabusta” and “I’m Old Enough to Be Your Zaide”?
In a phone conversation from his home on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, the wry, 60-year-old Moranis said he’s been hanging with the Tribe since withdrawing from Hollywood to raise his two kids about 15 years ago. “I noticed that people of my generation were starting to use more [Yiddish] expressions,” he said. “They were in an odd sort of way becoming their parents.
“Twenty years ago, my sister never said, ‘Pu pu pu,’ and now she’s constantly spitting it into the phone. Last Labor Day, I went to a wedding, and I said to a cousin of mine, ‘I saw your grandson’s video on YouTube, he’s so talented — pu pu pu! And I thought, ‘That’s it, I’m writing a song.’ ”
The result is a klezmer-inspired tune that warns, “Before you’re jumping up and down and holding hands and kicking up a hora/ consider possibilities of triggering a juicy kanahara [evil eye].”
Another number, “Live Blogging the Himel Family Bris” describes a nosy online journalist who is fressing (stuffing his face) with one hand so he can type with the other; “Wednesday Balabusta” was inspired by Moranis’ housekeeper; and “The Seven Days of Shiva,” sung to the tune of “The 12 Days of Christmas,” marvels, “On the first day of shiva, the Stulbergs sent in/the biggest potato kugel I’ve ever seen. On the second day of shiva, the Katzmans had delivered/Two tureens of borscht and a bigger potato kugel than the Stulbergs’.”
The album’s title song, of course, pays homage to his mom’s prowess with that signature Jewish dish: “When I was a little kid, it was not uncommon for a cousin or an uncle, before they would even say ‘Hello,’ to gush, ‘You know, your mother’s brisket is just incredible; it’s so good,’ ” Moranis recalled. “That was an inspiration for creating a love song in that well-worn terrain of the relationship between a Jewish boy and his mother.”
The CD’s cover art depicts a “before” photograph of Moranis getting ready to tuck into mom’s victuals and an “after” picture of him asleep, with his belt loosened, zonked out from all that overindulging.
Consider the album a kind of comic revenge: “When I first began writing jokes and sketches with various Jewish partners, it was not uncommon for one of us to stop the proceedings and declare, ‘Too Jewish!’ ” Moranis said. “The songs on this album are all in that category.”
And they’re dedicated to “all of the soon-to-be alter-kackers” [old guys] from his childhood summer camps and “my former fellow inmates of the Associated Hebrew Schools of Toronto.”
While Moranis admitted to having regarded Hebrew school as “cruel and unusual punishment,” he said he grew up in a “joyful” Jewish home in a modest bungalow on a street of all-identical houses in Toronto.
“I was really good at impressions,” he said, which was one reason he eventually got into show business. As a stand-up comic in the late 1970s, Moranis mined laughs by mimicking celebrities like Woody Allen and George Carlin, and later, on the late-night sketch show “Second City Television” (“SCTV”), he was Bob McKenzie, one of the beer-guzzling Canadian McKenzie brothers, an act he re-created as a guest host on “Saturday Night Live.”
Eventually he got into feature films, working with directors such as Frank Oz and Ivan Reitman. But Moranis made the decision to stay closer to home, switching mostly to voiceover and commercial work, after a family tragedy: In 1991, his wife, Anne, died of breast cancer that had metastasized to the liver, leaving the actor alone to care for their two children, then 4
“It just got to the point where I felt like I didn’t want to be talking to my kids from airports and hotels, and so I took a break, and then discovered I didn’t miss it,” he said of the film biz.
Moranis has loved music since he listened to the Beatles as a teenager and put down his hockey stick for an electric guitar; in 2005 he put out a country comedy album, of all things, titled “Agoraphobic Cowboy,” which went on to earn a Grammy Award nomination and made a profit to boot.
One song on that CD, “Mean Old Man,” was inspired by his friends’ Jewish parents, who used to regale an elderly Russian immigrant who whacked them with eucalyptus leaves at the shvitz (steam room). That, in part, whet his appetite to explore more of his Jewish roots with “My Mother’s Brisket.”
The new album features at least a dash of social commentary: The bris song, Moranis said, “was a good place to write what I wanted about blogging, which is how I loathe it and how dangerous I think it is. There’s no filter, no editing, no anything. And I thought a bris would be a perfect place for someone to violate privacy, act immorally and publish.”
While Moranis said he doesn’t much care if the album sells — “I made it for, like, 16 people,” he quipped — he was worried some of the naughtier tunes might alienate segments of the Jewish community.
“There’s a gray area between Conservative and Orthodox people, for whom you don’t screw around with the mezuzah, you don’t mess with the holy melodies,” he said. “Now, I’m glad I had that compass on me, because that kept me from doing other things that are far worse. But the record came out this past month, and I was completely surprised by the reaction: Nobody found anything to be offensive.”
The bonus add-on gift of an inscribed yarmulke with every purchase can’t hurt.
BONUS CLIP: Ludicrous speed ("Spaceballs")
July 5, 2013 | 7:10 am
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
The radio program “The Rise of the Goldbergs” premiered in 1929, introducing America to an unabashedly Jewish immigrant family whose matriarch, Molly (Gertrude Berg) dished out compassion and comedy as rich as her own chicken soup.
Two decades later, a television version of the series – a groundbreaking domestic sitcom years before “I Love Lucy” – aired for seven years on CBS, where Molly reigned in her tenement flat and was serenaded by a neighbor leaning across an air shaft to call out, “Yoo-hoo, Mrs. Goldberg!”
Now a new Goldberg family is coming to prime time, in an ABC sitcom also titled “The Goldbergs,” created by Adam F. Goldberg, 37 ("Breaking In," Fanboys"). But it’s not a sequel or a remake and, in fact, doesn’t draw at all on Berg’s work. Rather, it’s based on Adam Goldberg’s family life growing up in Pennsylvania in the 1980s with a Camcorder glued to his face to capture the antics of his crazy mishpoche, whom, we’re told, had only one means of communication: shouting at the top of their lungs.
A trailer for the show reveals these Goldbergs to be like “The Wonder Years” on high-octane fuel, and perhaps Jewish in name only, even though Tribal archetypes seem to abound. The hilarious Jeff Garlin (Jeff Greene from “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) is the gruff, abrasive patriarch (“I don’t say it a lot but you’re not a total moron all the time” is his means of saying “I love you"). And when his 17-year-old daughter returns home past her curfew: "It's 2 a.m., I thought you were dead. I could kill you!"
Wendy McLendon-Covey (“Bridesmaids”) portrays the overprotective, boundary-challenged mother; in one sequence she barges in on her middle son (played by Troy Gentile) in the shower and asks what he wants for his birthday, prompting him to retort: “Privacy!” In another, she announces, "Fine, I'll eat the way I'll die -- alone!
George Segal (“Don’t Shoot Me”) is the mischievous grandpa, Hayley Orrantia portrays the tart teenaged daughter and Sean Giambrone is Adam, Goldberg’s alter ego, who is extorted by his parents to “Stop with the camera [already]!”
Whether or not we’ll see a bar mitzvah or a Shabbat dinner on “The Goldbergs” remains to be seen when the show premieres this fall; it may be that the series depicts just another American family struggling with typical suburban concerns (middle child Barry, for example, wants the keys to the family car, to his parents’ chagrin) – albeit an octave or two louder than the denizens of “Seinfeld” or “Everybody Loves Raymond.”
June 29, 2013 | 6:18 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Actor Noah Emmerich folded his lanky body into a chair at L’Ermitage Hotel and pretended to clandestinely scan the lobby. “Those guys over there could be suspicious,” he quipped, and then added, “You don’t have a poison pen, do you?”
The affable actor was joking, of course -- riffing on the counterintelligence agent he plays on FX’s acclaimed Reagan-era spy thriller “The Americans,” for which he’s become a strong contender for an Emmy Award nomination (for best supporting role in a dramatic series) when the candidates are announced on July 18.
Emmerich has already earned critical kudos for his understated yet scene-stealing turn as FBI agent Stan Beeman, who in the series’ pilot chances to move across the street from married KBG spooks posing as typical middle class Americans (played by Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell). Unbeknownst to Beeman, they’re actually his arch nemeses.
As Stan, Emmerich exudes an avuncular charm but also a vague sense of underlying menace; we learn that the character has been severely traumatized by his previous three years of undercover work penetrating white supremacist terrorist groups, and the toll on his psyche threatens to compromise not only his marriage but also his moral compass. The details of his dangerous previous assignment are likely to be revealed when the series’ second season premieres this winter.
Emmerich spoke with several former undercover agents to understand his character’s psyche: “You discover the possibility that nothing may be as it seems,” he said of spy work. “Duplicity becomes the norm. “And living undercover can be very disorienting to your own sense of self, to your identity, and to your relationships with your family and friends. It’s a very private experience that you can’t share with anyone, because it could jeopardize his or her safety. So the biggest cost to Stan is his loneliness and his isolation.”
The actor can, in a way, relate to the fictional Stan’s Cold War paranoia; as a teenager, he co-founded a group called Future Generations that fought for nuclear disarmament. “I was really afraid,” he said of the prospect of nuclear war. “I remember going to bed at night and sometimes wondering, ‘Will I wake up? Will the world make it to the morning?’ That was a really visceral feeling that was alive in the 1980s.”
Emmerich’s own family is intimately familiar with the ravages of war. His father, Andre Emmerich, a renowned art dealer, fled Nazi Germany to Amsterdam at 7 with his parents and arrived in New York in 1940. Emmerich’s aunt was a classmate of Anne Frank’s and his grandfather was a prominent attorney who returned to Germany after World War II to advocate for reparations for Holocaust survivors.
The actor grew up immersed in the arts. His mother is a concert pianist who debuted with the New York Philharmonic when she was 16; his father’s artist clients –including David Hockney – frequented the family homes in Manhattan and on an old Quaker farm that the elder Emmerich had transformed into a vast sculpture garden.
As a boy, Noah played the trumpet, attended the Dalton School and later, while attending Yale University, aspired to become a Constitutional attorney. But while he was attending his first year of law school classes, a friend convinced him to take a small role in a college production of Cole Porter’s musical “Anything Goes.” He accepted despite his severe stage fright and an occasional propensity to stammer: “I just sort of faced the fear,” he said – but his turn in the chorus proved to be “a disaster. I had five or six lines, all of which I got wrong, for two nights in a row.”
Even so, “The experience proved so rich that it awakened some desire that I hadn’t even been in touch with,” Emmerich said. “ I didn’t want to stop [acting]. At first people thought I was joking because I had done only one play and I was pretty bad in it. Everyone thought I was sort of having a nervous breakdown.”
After taking a year abroad to see if the acting bug left his system (it didn’t), Emmerich returned to New York and immersed himself in the world of the theater, studying the Meisner technique, among other endeavors.
In 1996, he landed his first silver screen role in Ted Demme’s “Beautiful Girls,” opposite Natalie Portman; the following year, he played Sylvester Stallone’s deputy in James Marigold’s “Cop Land,” and in 1998 he was Jim Carrey’s duplicitous best friend in “The Truman Show.”
Over more than two decades of well-received supporting actor performances, Emmerich has also portrayed his share of police officers – not only in “Cop Land” but also as Edward Norton’s brother in Gavin O’Connor’s “Pride and Glory” (2008) as well as in films such as 2013’s “Blood Ties,” which premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in May.
Which is part of the reason he was initially reluctant to sign on as FBI agent Beeman when “The Americans’” producers came calling a couple of years ago. “I really didn’t want to be another guy who carried and badge and a gun – I’d already done that,” said the actor, adding that he at first assumed “The Americans” was just another procedural cop drama. “The Hollywood system sometimes negates the craft of acting; people see you play a cop and they don’t think ‘What a good actor,’ they think ‘What a good cop -- let’s get him to do another one.’”
It was Emmerich’s friend, filmmaker Gavin O’Connor, who convinced him to read the pilot more carefully, and the actor came to realize that “in fact the show wasn’t really a spy game as much as a human game,” he said. “It’s about how being a spy affects the characters’ lives, how they navigate their relationships and come to a sense of self and identity.”
Emmerich has earned a Critics Choice nomination for his turn as Beeman; and these days his performance plate is full. Just a day after completing “The Americans’" first season this past year, he flew off to Santa Fe, New Mexico to shoot “Jane Got a Gun,” working again with Natalie Portman, this time playing her ex-outlaw husband. “I’m strapping on six-shooters; I’ve got a nice, great hat, I’m busting down doors – it’s the most childlike fun I’ve had as an actor in years,” he said.
And Emmerich looks forward to reprising his complex character of Stan Beeman when “The Americans” commences shooting its second season this fall. “Some people think Stan’s a villain, some think he’s a hero – it’s really a Rashomon in terms of how people perceive him,” he said.
June 26, 2013 | 5:34 pm
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Evan Goldberg is the writer and director — with Seth Rogen, his longtime writing partner — of the new film “This Is the End,” which just could be the first Jewish rapture comedy.
In it, Rogen and his real-life Jewish (and half-Jewish) pals James Franco, Jonah Hill, Jay Baruchel and Danny McBride, as well as Craig Robinson — all playing twisted versions of themselves — are eventually barricaded in Franco’s mansion as the Apocalypse descends, complete with New Testament imagery of seven-headed dragons and sinkholes to hell.
“There is a God? Who f------ saw that coming?” Rogen says at one point in the movie.
Based on a 2007 short film that Goldberg produced called “Jay and Seth vs. the Apocalypse,” the film also gleefully roasts the narcissism of stars “who’ve forgotten they’re vulnerable to the same things as ‘normal’ people,” said Goldberg, 30. With Rogen, he has penned such filthy yet sweet bromances as “Superbad” and “Pineapple Express.”
“All the actors essentially s--- all over their public personae,” Goldberg explained in a telephone conversation from Sydney, Australia, where he was promoting the comedy. Franco, for example, portrays himself as a pretentious artist who is coy about whether he is gay; and Rogen, who is caught between his old Canadian friend Jay and his new Hollywood posse, comes off as a good guy who can also be “a duplicitous taint,” Goldberg said.
Yet the biggest gag in the movie, at least for Members of the Tribe, is the vision of a bunch of Jews who are aghast to discover that the Christians were right after all; the sight of Jay holding up a cross patched together from two spatulas is beyond hilarious.
“Seth and I think it’s hysterical that a lot of Christians think we’re going to burn in hell forever,” Goldberg said. “To us, that’s one of the big jokes of the film.”
Goldberg still remembers his Woody Allen-like response to seeing Christian imagery as a kid: “One day I went to a Vancouver Christian boys’ college and they had, like, massive crucifixes, and it scared the living s--- out of me,” he said. “I also read this book where a woman described having nightmares about her Jewish friends having their skin flayed off in hell, because that’s what they tell you is going to happen to us.”
Then there was the conversation Goldberg and Rogen had with a good Christian friend in high school who essentially said, “I’m super bummed, but you’re going to hell.’
It eventually added up to some of the inspiration for “This Is the End.”
“Dozens of little things like that slowly led to Seth and I going, ‘We could make a joke out of this,’ ” Goldberg said. “And on the flip side, if you’re one of the people who believes this stuff, you can’t really get mad at us because we’re just showing you what you want to see.”
Not exactly, however: [spoiler alert] In the film’s version of the Apocalypse, nice Jewish boys can go to heaven. Is Goldberg, who describes himself as an agnostic, worried about offending believers? “No more than they’re concerned about insulting me by saying I’m going to hell,” he said.
Goldberg and Rogen have been friends since they met in a bar mitzvah “tallis and tefillin” class in Vancouver when they were 12.
“Specifically, we were at Julia Morinis’ bat mitzvah where we tried to dance with some girls and they wouldn’t,” Goldberg recalled. “So when me, Seth and our friend Sammy Fogell realized we weren’t going to get kissed that night, we went off and tried to steal some beers and ended up solidifying our friendship.
“What bonded us,” he added, “is that no girls would get with us.” That’s also what inspired Goldberg and Rogen, at 13, to write their first script, “Superbad,” which was eventually made into a 2007 film starring Hill and Michael Cera as the libidinous young Seth and Evan.
Goldberg, who attended McGill University, got his big break when he became Rogen’s writing partner on Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Da Ali G Show” about a decade ago. The duo went on to become one of the hottest comedy writing and producing teams in Hollywood.
In 2011, however, their ill-received action comedy “The Green Hornet,” starring Rogen, proved a “nightmarish experience” that taught the writers to never again make an expensive film where studios could prevent them from “doing what we do best: funny dirty movies with heart,” Goldberg said.
“This Is the End,” was made with the modest-by-Hollywood-standards budget of just over $30 million.
“The message in our movies is always the same, which is don’t be an ass----, and be good to your friends,” Goldberg said, “because more than anything, that’s the secret to a good world.”
June 26, 2013 | 11:48 am
Posted by Naomi Pfefferman
Gary David Goldberg, the Emmy Award-winning writer-director-producer who created the iconic 1980s sitcom “Family Ties,” which made Michael J. Fox a star, as well as the semi-autobiographical CBS series “Brooklyn Bridge” — one of the most Jewish comedies ever to grace the small screen — died of brain cancer on June 22 at his home in Montecito. He was 68.
Goldberg’s TV successes also included sitcoms such as “Spin City,” starring Fox as the deputy mayor for a bumbling New York City mayor. Among his feature films are 1989’s “Dad,” with Jack Lemmon and Ted Danson as a reconciling father and son; “Bye Bye Love” (1995); and “Must Love Dogs” (2005), a personal-ad dating saga starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. In 2008, Goldberg penned his memoir, “Sit, Ubu, Sit: How I Went From Brooklyn to Hollywood With the Same Woman, the Same Dog and a Lot Less Hair.”
“Brooklyn Bridge,” which was one of the most acclaimed series of the 1990s, paid homage to Goldberg’s years growing up in a working-class Jewish neighborhood in Bensonhurst, along with his Orthodox grandparents and meddling, if well-meaning, neighbors.
“Matchmaking was a lot of fixing up,” he recalled in a 2005 Journal interview about “Must Love Dogs.” “The whole neighborhood was like JDate without a computer, with aunts and uncles and telephones.”
As a young man, Goldberg left the ’hood to attend Brandeis University on a sports scholarship, where he was eventually expelled for ditching classes; around 1970 he set off to hitchhike around the world with his wife-to-be, Diana Meehan, along with their black Labrador, Ubu. When the couple ended up in Israel in the early 1970s, Goldberg attended an audition for an Israeli TV show on a lark and ended up as the title character in a series called “The Adventures of Scooterman.”
But he didn’t try screenwriting until — again on a lark — he chanced to attend a writing class at San Diego State University, where a professor helped him procure his first agent when he was in his early 30s. Stints followed writing for “The Bob Newhart Show” and producing “Lou Grant” before Goldberg founded his own company, Ubu Productions, named after his beloved dog, in 1980.
Two years later, he based “Family Ties” — in which Fox plays an uber-conservative student living with liberal parents — on his own experience as an ex-hippie parent raising kids of a different generation.
Goldberg intended “Brooklyn Bridge,” which aired from 1991 to 1993 and received a Golden Globe award for best comedy, to be unabashedly Jewish; in an interview for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, he said he told his writers, “People will speak Yiddish on this show, and we’re not going to use subtitles. The grandfather will be reading a Yiddish newspaper. This is not the Andersons. This is real ethnic stuff.”
“I didn’t have meanness in [my] comedy,” he said of his work. “The times that I tried to be darker or meaner or hipper didn’t work. It just wasn’t where I came from.”
Goldberg is survived by his wife, Diana; daughters Shana and Cailin; and three grandchildren.