The Cast of ‘Smokin’ Aces’ Gets Interviewed

     January 22, 2007

Arriving this Friday is a crazy action ride and it’s called Smokin’ Aces. It’s the first film from Joe Carnahan in almost five years and it’s a welcome departure from all the Oscar fare and award bullshit going on right now. Smokin’ Aces is pure and simple a roller coaster of action and entertainment.

The premise is pretty simple. Jeremy Piven plays Buddy ‘Aces’ Israel who is the target of a mob hit. The film is about all the people who have heard of this great payday to whack him and are racing to do it first. At the same time you have the federal government who are desperate to get him into protective custody so he can testify about what he knows. The race is on.

Most of the studios do roundtables, but Universal is famous for their press conferences. What that means is instead of eight or so people asking questions we have twenty or thirty trying to get their voice heard. And each person usually has an agenda. That’s why when you read a transcript of a press conference the questions can be extremely varied. And when you have this many actors from both music and movies, well it can be quite a challenge to talk.

Thankfully each person got to speak a bit and of course Jeremy Piven was asked about Entourage. The greatest quote of the day was Ari Gold will rise like the Phoenix. It made everyone laugh.

If you’re a fan of any of the people who were part of this press conference I think you’ll dig the back and forth banter. And if you have the time I would listen to this one as Jeremy Piven is quite funny. If you want to listen then click here. The file is an MP3 so it will be easy to put on your iPod or portable player.

Also if you missed the interview with Joe Carnahan that I just posted you can read it here. He’s the writer/director of Smokin’ Aces.

And before reading or listening to this interview please know that spoilers are discussed.

Questions: You’ve probably gotten offers in the past to starting a movie career before. What made you brave enough to say that you weren’t going to do the cute little housewife or a cute little love interest role, and go for something as gritty as this kick ass role?

Keys: Or the singer who happens to play the piano. Well, that was obviously one of my most important things. I did not want to play a character that was a reflection of who I am. I also wanted my first film to be something where I was surrounded by an amazing cast. This fit that criteria to the fullest. I wanted to do something that was completely unexpected, totally out of the box, something that would blow people’s minds, that the last thing on the planet earth that they would ever think I would do would be– this met that criteria as well. It was very exciting and it totally took me out of my element and out of my comfort zone completely and it challenged me in a way that was very rewarding for me.

Questions: When you talk about going out of your comfort zone, what did you learn about acting that will inform you now as an artist and vocalist, and the same for you Common?

Common: For me I just learned to be a freer artist. I think that it made me more comfortable with myself, actually acting, because I started getting more in tune with him, by doing roles or even just being in a class and being around people. That gave me a certain confidence and I started digging into parts of myself that I had probably ignored and don’t really get to express because Common is an artist that is conscious and is aware and is trying to put a positive energy to the world. So, me being able to be acting and doing other things has opened me as an artist, and I think even more from a visual standpoint too as far as writing goes.

Keys: I felt that I rediscovered how tremendously close the two worlds are. I grew up in the theater. My mother is an actress. I was always around the world of acting and theater and I was always amazed the way that people would come in looking one way and transform completely to the point where I couldn’t recognize their language and their accent, the way that looked and their hair and their faces even changed in becoming so inside of the character. So, I think that I reconnected to the way that that affects me so much when I see a film that moves me in one way or another, either angers me or makes me feel good or saddens me – whatever – and how that connects so much to what I do as an artist as well. The two are very close together in regards to drawing on your life experience, drawing on something that you understand and transforming it into something that you give to the world or give out in another way. So, for me, it actually confirmed how close they are for me.

Questions: This movie is violent. Was there any apprehension in playing a role where you’d actually have to shoot a gun, and how did you go about actually developing your character?

Keys: Oh, there was much work that went into, tremendous work that went into developing Georgia in regard to the acting and digging into her. I almost called it – when I was with my coach – I almost called it therapy for me because she dug things out of me as a human being where I was like, ‘Wow.’ But I knew that if I didn’t or wasn’t able to address them there in that room with her then I would never be able to address them there on that set. So that was intense work for me to do. I physically worked out tremendously. That was intense work for me to do. Our gun training was extensive to the point that my hands were cut and bleeding and it hurt very badly, but these were all things that were a part of developing Georgia to discussing with Joe [Carnahan] and Taraji [P. Henson] in a private way of what Georgia’s story was, where did she come from, what her life had been like that, why did she feel that this was what she had to do and her only option, what it was that drove her to this, what was it about my relationship with men as Georgia that would make me feel these feelings? So many just deep discoveries and things that went into pulling Georgia out of my understanding of who I wanted her to be.

Questions: Jeremy and Common, Joe talked about how you guys formed a bond off the set. Can you talk about how you started with that bond and how it developed while you were working together? And you guys have stayed friends since because I know Jeremy you’re constantly talking about Common.

Piven: Absolutely, to the point where I think I’m stalking him. It’s actually awkward for him. No. The synchronicity is pretty heavy. I mean, literally the other day I pulled up to a stop light and I looked next to me and there he was and that doesn’t even happen. I can’t find anyone in this town ever. I met him backstage before his show, yet again me stalking him, and he had an energy on stage that was- – He has this kind of poetic energy that’s very soulful and peaceful and yet I saw like this element of danger. He would kind of kick the stool, like he had this moment, and he was so theatrical in his presence and his cadence as a rapper is so similar to human speech when you’re in front of the camera. It was almost there anyway, and then the duality that he has as an artist. I felt something that you couldn’t direct or teach someone to do, and so I knew and thought that he could do it probably before he even had it confirmed himself. I just called Joe immediately and said, ‘This guy is just so perfect.’ He had already auditioned and was the front runner and was killing it and I saw the auditions and it was really clear there anyway. so the synchronicity was kind of amazing and then we had this Gap campaign together and this is one of those things where they didn’t know about our movie, and suddenly we’re on the sides of buildings together which is kind of ridiculous anyway.

Reynolds: They’re actually holding hands under the table.

Piven: Yeah [Laughs]. There is something that we need to tell you all. No.

Common: Easy, easy, easy.

Piven: No, no, no.

Common: I’m a rap artist [Laughs].

Piven: I single handedly kill his career. No one wins. No. We just kind of connected. We’re both from Chicago and are kind of kindred spirits. Immediately I felt very comfortable with him and it was almost as if we went to high school together or something. There was a kind of shorthand that we had. I think that both of them are superstars in this arena and then they come to a new arena and yet they’re kind of students and were very open to the whole process which says a lot about them as human beings and this is a reason why they’re such great artists because it’s a collaborative medium and they kind of get that. It’s so fun to do this process because he’s kind of doing this for the first time and so I kind of get renewed about it as well. This is kind of an exciting time for all of us and the cast is so completely eclectic and everyone is so strong except for Ryan [Reynolds], and God bless him –

Reynolds: Yeah.

Piven: No, you’ll get there, man.

Reynolds: I know. I’m holding her hand.

Piven: No. There’s not a weak link in this thing. I was really, really proud watching this film that’s a true ensemble piece. Everyone is really strong. I didn’t mean to take up all the time.

Questions: Common and Alicia, your onscreen chemistry was really kind of hot.

Common: That’s good.

Questions: Being an artist that puts out that positive vibe, and then doing this, do you have any plans to do anything musically together?

Common: Alicia and I – I’ve been able to perform, been blessed to come and rock some shows with her and I was also featured on her unplugged album. We’re artists and I respect her as a woman and as an artist, as a person, and when the time is right we might connect like that. I feel like if she has a song, I’ll be like, ‘Common, lets get on this.’ I’ll be down for that, or if I have a song. So I feel that would come naturally like everything else in life.

Keys: That’s a beautiful thing because rarely are you able to establish a relationship with a person where you get to know them. You rarely know them. Here though you can call them on the phone and say, ‘Hey, what’s going on with you? Where’s your head and how is it all with you?’ To be able to have that without having to go, ‘By the way, can we get on this music together real quick.’ is amazing. So when we do that it’ll be the friendship. So it’s all good.

Questions: Ryan and Nestor, these characters are a bit different from what you’ve done in the past. Can you talk about what drew you to the project and then a couple of updates about your projects and then if you could tell me what’s going on with ‘The Flash.’

Reynolds: Well, yeah, I’ve certainly never been in a movie that’s had this unique brand of unblinking violence before. So that’s sort of new for me. But it’s like any other role. You tackle it in the same way and you try to find the truth to it and I was really caught with this guy who was trapped in this bureaucratic FBI cluster-fuck, for lack of a better word, and because of that loses someone that is very dear to him. So for me it was just playing the truth of that the whole time and I was sort of alone throughout the movie because my character is sort of a rogue player and he kind of arrives to the party a little late and in doing so I didn’t establish the special friendships that people seem to have made here [Laughs]. But when all is said and done it was great and I’m also just a huge fan of Joe Carnahan. He’s such a charismatic individual and someone that just applies every part of himself to the project that he’s in. So it was great for me.

Questions: And ‘The Flash?’

Reynolds: Oh, and yeah, ‘The Flash.’ It’s a $180 Billion movie if they do it, and so I don’t know how that stuff works and I don’t really get involved with it. I think that if they’re going to do it they’re going to see it through the eyes of Wally West and it’s an inanimate world and I can hear people falling asleep while I’m talking about this. I honestly don’t know that much about it and it’s just a huge undertaking. So I would love to wear a red unitard sometime, but I can do that on my own.

Carbonell: Well, for me, like Ryan said, Joe is such an enormous talent. If you watch ‘Narc,’ it’s amazing to see how incredibly talented he is in that particular genre which was just a drama, and then to come around and do a follow up, second picture that is such a tonally different kind of movie – this being a dark action comedy – and every character, as Jeremy said, has a moment, has a sort of epiphany. Even though it’s incredibly violent there’s a real moment of clarity for characters and as dark and as depraved as some of the characters, which mine certainly is, we all have a sort of moment of lightness. I think that the reason the movie works so well is because the violence is so well balanced with the comedy. On my first day I got to take a blow torch to a man’s genitals which was only funny when I saw it onscreen, but I mean, how often do you get to play something as dark as that and still make it funny. So, for me, it was just a dream to get this job and to be able to work with this phenomenal cast, and Andy Garcia is helping me to develop a script and attach an actor to the script. So we’re in the process of putting that together.

Questions: What does acting give you that your music does not, Alicia and Common? What has to happen for you in the holiday season for it to be complete?

Keys: Well, I personally feel that acting is not so totally different from singing and being a musician. My feeling is that because the way that I write a song it’s a memory. It’s a moment in my life, and three years later when I’m on stage signing that same song I have to recall what it was about that moment in my life that made it real for me and bring that back to the moment on stage to make it real for you. To me that is the same technique that I use in a very basic way for acting as well. So I find that they’re very similar for me which is why it’s not such a stretch, not such a leap. But what acting does bring that music doesn’t bring for me the opportunity, and probably for Common too because he said this, the opportunity to be completely different in every way from who we normally are, the person that you are when you wake up in the morning – that’s the person you are in your life. But to take that and have the opportunity to be the complete opposite of that as Georgia was, as Ivy was, is the excitement of it. I think that personally allowed me to access places in myself that perhaps I had never accessed before because they are not who I am on a daily basis. So, that is the incredible part of it for me and that I love tremendously. For the holiday, what it takes to make it complete, it’s got to be somewhere familiar, somewhere loving, home. For me, I like to be at home. I like to be with those that I love and very easy and casual and in my slippers and I’m chillin’.

Common: I have to agree with Alicia with the acting. For me it’s just another way to express myself as an artist. I had to battle with myself for a minute about wanting to establish myself as an actor, that I don’t want to be seen as this rapper/actor and I realized that if you’re an artist you’re an artist. You can express that through music, through painting, through photography, through acting. This is just another way for me to express myself. Certain things about scheduling and different things that are different from the music industry, that’s one difference that I’ve seen, but overall as far as artistry goes it is a similar expression. Alicia answered it when she said that you do basically discover other things about yourself that you probably wouldn’t have just writing songs sometimes. That’s what it is. Now for Christmas and New Years I always have to go to Chicago because that’s my ground right there. I have to see my mother and my grandmother and my daughter, and just be around my homies talking crazy, drinking beers and just living a real life. I have to go home and God willing I’ll be in church on New Year’s Eve. I need that to start my New Year’s off. That’s what I’ll be doing. Those are the holidays for me. Holiday in your hood, you dig? Peace, love and the Gap.

Piven: Whoa! Wait a minute. Easy. I’m telling you.

Continued on the next page ————————-&gt


Questions: Ryan, your character is one of the only ones sort of emotionally affected by the violence going on. Everyone else seems to be cooler and even happy about it. Were there conversations about that perspective?

Reynolds: No. That was just part of the story. I mean, he was the guy that was deeply affected emotionally by it, deeply and through the ringer by the end of this adventure. So, it was the focal point for me as the character. The climax for the character of Messner was the reason to do this movie, to really get inside of that guy and find out what made him tick. For me I haven’t done a lot of films where I had to jump into something in this way. So, it was the least amount of me that I usually put in and oddly enough the most. It was the most effort and a departure from anything that I’ve been comfortable in, any sort of wheel house that I’ve established.

Questions: What’s the boo-boo on your forehead?

Reynolds: Oh, I took a header on my set in New York on Monday. Yeah, you should see the table. I’m a cliché. I literally went down on the set and have five stitches in there. So, good times.

Questions: In terms of what Jeremy was talking about, not getting the same sort of acclaim that the others did, do you feel ostracized being the only Canadian on the set? Were the only Canadian on set, Ryan?

Piven: Absolutely.

Reynolds: They had something that they called a camp for me that they would put me in. No, I mean, I’m a Canadian. We’re going to make a nice little state someday. No, it’s fine. I think that Los Angeles is the fourth biggest Canadian city, is what I’m told. So they’re around here.

Questions: Jeremy, I was wondering how long it took you to learn all those tricks and if you worked with a magician to learn them? Also, it’s a very emotional film for you, all of your scenes. Can you just go in and out of that easily or do you stay in that mode for the whole day?

Piven: That’s an excellent question. Paul Wilson was the guy that I worked with for the magic and the thing that he said that was the most important was to actually pull a trick off in front of people and he was absolutely right. I went with Common and Joe, Ryan wasn’t invited, but anyway went to the Magic Castle [Laughs] and we got up there and I actually did a trick. It is addicting. It really is. I’ve been on the stage my entire life as an actor and it’s a kind of another level where you pull this thing off and then to look in people’s faces that are completely freaked out by something I could see why you could dedicate your life to that as I did to the stage, and so that was really informative for me. I had never really been around cards. I wasn’t that guy and so I really had to work kind of extra hard and always have them in my hand, and they’re kind of like worry beads for the character that I kind of incorporated. So that was really great, to always have them in my hand. What was the other question?

Questions: The emotion that your scenes had with the drugs and all of it. How did you deal with that?

Piven: Yeah. That’s just what you live for as an actor, to get there. Joe said to me when we met on this role, ‘Do you want to go deep?’ I mean, I’ve waited my entire life for that moment. I had been doing it onstage in Chicago for a couple of hundred people and so I always knew that I have an emotional instrument and I’m accessible in that way and a big cry baby, to be honest with you. So, I knew that I could tap into that. Also, even though a character like that is far from my experience there are a lot of metaphors there when you have a guy like that that’s looking at himself in the mirror and wondering who he is and if he’s a charlatan and what’s happened to his life. I think that any one of us have had moments where we question ourselves. So these things are not too far from something that we can get into touch with and you just have to kind of make it real and go to that place. We had a moment where I had to get really, really emotional and I wasn’t quite clicking in the way that I wanted to do. Joe asked me to put this little kind of twist into it that threw me off balance for a little bit and so I had to call upon some other stuff. It all sounds really cryptic what I’m saying here, but anyway I kind of connected on a very deep level that ends up being in the movie. I knew that it worked because I talked to Common afterwards and he said that he was in the other room and he felt something through the wall.

Common: Yeah, I remember that.

Piven: So it was like, ‘Okay then.’ It was confirmed that I was sort of onto something. So the whole thing was just a complete gift and Joe and I knew that if you didn’t care about this guy, if he had no heart when everyone was trying to kill him and extract his heart or put him on ice for the money, whatever their motivations were – everyone was converging on this hotel room – and if you didn’t care about this character, if he didn’t have some potential as a human being and if it wasn’t a tragedy then all the hard work that everyone puts into it wouldn’t mean as much because you needed to have that central character be tragic. It was just an honor to be able to kind of live fully through that guy.

Questions: What kind of character do you play in ‘The Nanny Diaries?’

Keys: Well, basically her name is Lynette and she is tremendously in every way in every possible crevice different from Georgia which is another reason why I chose to do that film. She is way more bohemian. She is like the earth of the movie and is kind of the one person that has sense. I would even be inclined to say that in regard to the worlds that are described are just chaotic. So it’s a very, very great film. I love it very much. Scarlett [Johansson], again working with Scarlett was fantastic, and being able to, again, take a character that wasn’t precisely like me but still so different from where I just came was a tremendous experience. That’s what I want to continue to do.

Questions: Jeremy, you’ve had a great year. Do you have a goal or a vision for your future, are you on a track of things that you want to achieve?

Piven: I never really got off too far ahead of myself, but there is a lot of stuff out there. For so much of my career I’ve been trying to find little things and make something out of it. This is one of those gems, this role. It’s the best role that I’ve ever had in my life and was just a true gift to be here with this cast and to have Joe be at the helm was magical, no pun intended. As far as the rest of it, I started a company and I’m producing some stuff right now and got the rights to some stuff and I wrote a script and I’ve been whispering in director’s ears for a really long time I’d love to direct. I know that everyone says that, but it’s true for me. I just think that it’s a really collaborative form and I want to continue on with that. I’d love to get the girl in something if that’s possible. How about that?

Questions: Do you have any musical aspirations now since working with Common?

Keys: Yeah, he has an album coming out.

Piven: Easy, easy. I have been drumming my whole life, and so that’s just really, really fun to me. So I would love to get onstage and mix it up someday with these five people live somewhere. You never know. It could happen. Stranger things have happened.

Questions: Do you know anything about season four?

Piven: I know a lot about it just because it’s going to be twenty episodes and we’ve already shot eight of them. To me it’s the best stuff that we’ve done because I get to do so much. See, that doesn’t print right. Let that be a lesson to everyone. Irony doesn’t print and that just makes me look like a bad guy. HBO does something that most networks don’t do which is give a show a chance to find their voice and unfortunately with networks everyone is worried about their jobs and they pull these shows based on ratings and back in the day all of these great shows, ‘Seinfeld,’ and everything they never had ratings out of the gate. They just didn’t and it was impossible to get it. So I think that the show is hitting it’s stride and the best stuff is sort of in the season to come and Ari Gold will rise like the Phoenix. You can’t count him out of it.

Questions: I started watching you on ‘The Larry Sanders Show’ and you were great in that.

Piven: Oh, thanks. Listen, there is a DVD coming out with the whole show, seven or nine seasons. It’s a real comprehensive thing and I did this long interview and in it I said that all the shows that were doing now, ‘Entourage,’ all of this stuff, we’re all chasing the level and the bar that was set on The Larry Sanders Show. That was the best show about the backstage life of the entertainment industry that’s ever been done. I hope that [Garry] Shandling comes back and does more stuff.

Questions: Do you think that the boys were right to fire Ari?

Piven: It’s interesting because one of the great things that you should never do that I learned from John Malkovich is to never judge your characters. So I don’t have any distance to be honest with you because I’m so kind of in that Ari Gold space in terms of trying to flesh him out and give him as much integrity as possible. So I don’t see the totality of it like you do. So, my view of it is totally skewed. I say that they were wrong.

Questions: Bringing on Lloyd has been great for Air’s character.

Piven: Yeah, he is the best. Rex Lee is a sweetheart.

Questions: He loves to party. I see him at every event.

Piven: He’s living the dream.

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