By Ali and Amir Moosavi.
One of the issues for young directors is that everything is computer based and [they] are brilliant in creating a short film and doing the CG and the graphics and the editing themselves…like an all-hands-on-deck kind of filmmaker. But what is lost is clarity in how to speak to actors.”–Joel David Moore
Hide and Seek is the tale of two brothers: Noah (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) has inherited his father’s real estate company which owns several valuable buildings in New York City. Noah’s brother has rebelled against the idea of gentrification as a business modus operandi and has disappeared. One of the buildings owned by Noah’s company has been home for a number of homeless people, among them a Korean immigrant (Sue Jean Kim) and her son. She will do everything in her power to avoid eviction. Noah’s character is at a morality crossroads of running the business in his father’s way or making sure that the homeless are not thrown in the streets. First, he sets out to find his brother. Hide and Seek is a remake of a Korean movie with the same title. I spoke to its stars Jonathan Rhys Meyers, Sue Jean Kim and its writer-director Joel David Moore.
An Interview with Jonathan Rhys Meyers*
You’ve got six movies coming out this year. 2021 could be the year of Jonathan Rhys Meyers.
I don’t know, but I hope not. I hope I have better ones than this one. It just so happens that because of the pandemic all the films got released within the same year. We made Hide and Seek in 2018 and we made Edge of the World and Yakuza Princess in 2019.
It’s a strange time for the industry because the pandemic put boot into the cinema itself. So it’s complicated from that point of view. I don’t particularly like having that many films coming out in the same year.
Hide and Seek and a lot of the other movies that you’ve recently made are all quite dark and revolve around crime.
I don’t pursue themes or anything like that. I live in a world where I’m a working actor so I do the jobs that I get offered and I was lucky enough to get this one so there is an element of that as well. For the last few films like Yakuza Princess and Edge of the World I particularly went out of my way for to make the characters as rough as possible and to conscientiously get away from prettifying of the actor in it. I decided for those films to make my eyes darker, to not wear makeup that is aesthetically pleasing, and to bring the elements of the character more into the piece.
Do you ever get the yearning for a Rom-Com or a comedy?
Sure but you do what you get offered. Nobody thinks about Rom-Com and thinks Jonathan Rhys Myers! I’m not the first person that comes to their minds.
I’ve got a feeling you’ll make a great comedy and Rom-Com too.
Maybe I’ve been ignoring it and my future is really in Rom-Com but I just don’t get offered them. That doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t do them. I’ve never done a straight up comedy and it would be fun to do. I’ll probably fall flat on my face if I do one but I’d be willing to try it.
Even the only Woody Allen movie you did (Match Point) was a serious crime movie.
Yes, when Woody was trying to get all serious. That’s partially why I enjoyed doing Match Point because I knew that I would be one of the few actors that have done a Woody Allen film and tried not to be Woody Allen in it!
Hide and Seek is difficult to categorize because it’s not an all-out horror movie. It seems to have a social message about homeless people especially immigrants and framed it within a traditional horror movie.
Yes, it’s a reflection of New York in the late 1970s and early 80s, the gentrification of East New York. The amount of guilt that Noah feels being the blessed heir shows how difficult it is to step into the shoes of a parent, especially one who is very successful in that world that carry a certain amount of histrionics with them. I think Noah was one of those kids who did everything right whereas the other brother rebelled against the stifling of that type of parentage where the father wants to bring up his son and heir into the same business that he was in. One of them takes to it and one of them doesn’t but the one that does and gets all the benefits will carry a certain amount of guilt that the other brother was abandoned and left out of this wealth. Noah, in addition to inheriting the business and the wealth, also inherits the social psychological problems of running the business and then of course his father’s dirty secrets come into light.
An Interview with Sue Jean Kim
You gain a lot of sympathy from the audience in your role as a homeless immigrant mother, but later events wipe away much of our sympathies. How did you approach this dual personality role?
She is a mom who is just trying to do the best she can for her kid and her big drive and motivation is to how do I make a better life for my child. She doesn’t have a lot of skill set and is an immigrant without a support system in this country and a child who has an injury to her eye. My character obviously believes that if she puts all the pieces together then the eye will magically heal itself.
It’s not a genre I’ve ever done before and not a part I’ve ever played before. But I found a lot to empathize with in her. I saw the original after I got the part but before we started shooting. As it’s set in Korea where it’s very homogeneous population race wise, it was a different creature from our remake. It felt like comparing apples and oranges. I think when you take that character and you put her in a different context it feels different. The environment was different and I think that is a big deal. The lead is a privileged white man in New York City which is a very different city in a lot of ways from Seoul and racially it is a lot more heterogeneous in New York.
It is an immigrant story but it’s also about someone who’s not mentally well and who goes too far and it made me think about the genesis of a lot of horror movies. In addition to her circumstances, it’s also what happens in her brain and I think it’s interesting to think of it in light of so many horrific mass shootings in this country where it’s not just the circumstances of the killers, but also what is happening inside their brain.
Do you think now there is less typecasting than before (she bursts into an ironic laughter) with all the color-blind, gender-blind, age-blind castings going on? Like Denzel Washington playing Macbeth, 82 year old Ian McKellen playing hamlet, Dev Patel playing David Copperfield, etc.?
I am really excited about those developments. Hearing you talk about it makes me think of my grad school experience where we had a pretty diverse population and had a lot of productions where you’re not only playing against your age group but across races and even across gender types. I remember seeing one production by another class of Arthur Miller’s All My Sons and it was really wonderful but something about it felt so alien to me and it wasn’t until after I left the show and really thought about it that I realized it was because the cast happened to be all white and I really thrilled in that moment that seeing an all-white cast felt more subversive than seeing one that broke those traditional boundaries. So, I’m really excited that it’s happening and once you become used to it, the other feels strange in a lot of ways and I’m really happy for that.
An Interview with Joel David Moore
I take it that you must have been involved in with this movie from an early stage since you wrote the script.
Yes, I met with the CJ team behind this movie, who also did Parasite and wanted to sit down and talk to me. We were talking about what they had available that could be told as an American story. I watched a bunch of the stuff that they sent over and Hide and Seek just popped up. It’s such a traditional tale and is Shakespearean in its premise. Two brothers, one given the keys to the Kingdom and one utterly discarded. In adapting it, rather than making it tradition or culture based I related it to a high wealth individual from a real estate family out of New York City that has generational wealth. A sort of keys to the Kingdom is given to Noah Blackwell (Jonathan Rhys Meyers). Because of that he has a moral duty to figure out what to do because his family had gentrified a lot of areas and made a ton of money off relocating communities. One of the first things that Noah does is when he finds out his brother is missing, puts business aside and tries to find him. We’re saying this is a guy who’s going to change the ethics of this company, this is the new guard coming in and not taking advantage of the lower income communities. So there’s this care and concern inside of him that I think really endears an audience to the Jonathan Rhys Meyers character.
I really enjoyed writing this because I lived in New York for many years and I knew about the gentrification issue coming from high wealth businesses going into the boroughs like Brooklyn. I have lived in Dumbo, Williamsburg and Greenpoint and seen the changes, some of which is really good but some of it disassociated lower income communities and I felt this is a great backdrop for a moral story that I wanted to tell.
In your adaptation, you have made the homeless mother an immigrant which adds another dimension.
That was important to the story. She finds that some big rich guy is going to come and sweep up the home that she’s been living in for a long time. That’s the premise and the point that I was trying to build here, that it’s more than just a building, more than just street and pavements, it’s lives of people who sought freedom and came to this country to try to get away from the constraints of their societies and to create a robust life. How do you do that when you live in a community fearing that suddenly somebody is just going to come and dig up your home and build commercial properties. That is the morality tale behind all of this and why I was intrigued by telling the American version of this wonderful Korean story.
You’ve resisted making this a House of horrors movie where in this building weird things happen.
I did that on purpose because I wanted to show that while there is this horror with this derelict building and while it may not be the prettiest of buildings, there is a such a charm to it. There are families that live inside it and there is a light that exists there. Also, part of the reason why I shy away from doing an all-out horror film is that I wanted to pay homage to the original which was a Korean noir or K-Noir. This genre of films, even if they are not supernatural, feel like having a supernatural quality and in my interpretation of Hide and Seek, even though there is nothing supernatural about it, it does feel as though there is a supernatural quality about it.
You are better known as an actor, have you always wanted to direct?
Hide and Seek was my fourth feature as a director. I’ve always wanted to be behind the camera and have always seen my career heading towards writing, producing and directing more than acting. I’m still working in front of the camera but if I just directed over the next many years of my career I’d be equally happy. Directing enables me to tell the full story rather than just show up until it gets to my little part of somebody else’s story.
There is a history of actors becoming successful directors: Robert Redford, Warren Beatty, Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, to name a few. What do you think is about acting that makes actors good directors?
The most important thing is I know how to speak to actors. I think one of the issues for young directors wherever they’re coming out of these days is that everything is computer based and a lot of these younger guys are brilliant in creating a short film and doing the CG and the graphics and the editing themselves and kind of being like an all-hands-on-deck kind of filmmaker. But what is lost is clarity in how to speak to actors. If you don’t know, how can you come to the set and an inform the actor of your vision and help guide the character that we’re both building together? You are going to end up with a very two-dimensional character.
Have you picked up any directing tips from the directors you have work with such as Jim Cameron?
Yes, spending 12 to 13 years with the entire Avatar cast and crew is like being part of one big family. Jim took me under his wing and it’s been a master class working with him, especially as a burgeoning director at the time. When I started in Avatar 13 years ago, I was finishing Spiral, the first film that I directed, so a lot of our conversation was around directing and I was just listening and sucking up everything that makes him the most successful director of all time. Jim can go into any genre: action, drama, and be the best director in that genre. This is due to his visionary and storytelling skills, tenacity and his dedication to perfection. He makes sure that he has looked at every single angle. He’s the first guy on the set and the last guy to leave.
An Interview with Joe Pantoliano, conducted by Amir Moosavi
Y’know, they tried to explain the concept of The Matrix to me and I’m still trying to figure that one out!…. I’ve lived a very blissfully ignorant life creatively, where I’ve been in these movies and video games that have turned out to be amazingly successful, and it’s just dumb luck on my part to have been in ‘em.”–Joe Pantoliano
From early roles in M*A*S*H and The Goonies, to an Emmy Award-winning performance in The Sopranos, Joe Pantoliano, AKA “Joey Pants”, has had an enviable career. Perhaps best known for his role as Cypher in The Matrix, performances in The Wachowskis’ Bound and Nolan’s Memento stand out as highlights from a varied filmography. We discussed his latest film, Joel David Moore’s Hide and Seek (a remake of a 2013 Korean horror film of the same name), as well as other roles and his work with his mental health charity “No Kidding Me Too!”.
I was struck by your character’s choice of hat and glasses [in Hide and Seek]. Did you have any part in picking the wardrobe?
Yeah, that was actually my wardrobe. Joel [David Moore, the director] saw this guy in a hat, as a throwback to film noir. I’m a big collector of hats, as you can see <gestures to hats all around the room>. I’ve got cowboy hats, I’ve got hats coming out of my… Anyway, the hat that I wear in this film, I was doing Monsignor, a Frank Perry movie with Christopher Reeve in Rome, my son had just turned a year old. I went down the Via del Corso and I went to a Borsalino hat store and bought my second ever Borsalino. The first ever Borsalino I bought was from a thrift store on MacDougal Street in Manhattan for seventy-five cents.
I’d also noticed in a clip from your documentary on mental health, No Kidding Me 2, that you wore a beret for your wedding. Where was that from?
I had that made for the wedding to match the tuxedo I was wearing. It might have been my wife [who made it], she’s an amazing craftswoman. She just finished a couch yesterday! She gets these antique couches and reupholsters them.
From berets to couches, that’s quite a range!
It’s a lot easier to do berets!
Talking about Joel, he’s also an actor. Is there any difference when your director is also an actor? Do you speak a common language as opposed to a director who hasn’t been in front of a camera before?
I think most directors are frustrated actors. They’re voyeurs… All storytelling, we’re all giving up pieces of our life. Joel didn’t lead with any kind of acting stuff. When you hire good actors… one of the biggest mistakes people make, and hopefully they’re not the filmmaker, is that you hire an actor to do a job, and then you feel you have to get a [certain] performance out of them. You already did the heavy lifting by hiring them, so you just put it in their hands and you guide them along. These days it’s all digital, but when I started out forty years ago it was all on film, and you could only do so many takes before you got yourself in trouble. Now you can do all these variations so you have all these options in the editing room. But some filmmakers don’t like that as it gives the producers more latitude, some filmmakers love it. We didn’t have that many discussions. Usually a good director is just gonna say “do it again”; an actor-director knows that you know when you’re off the mark. Sometimes it’s just a nudge here or there.
So you feel like ninety per cent of directing is casting?
Yeah, well, that’s what they say! A lot of times you don’t get your first choice [of actor], and you get your second choice, or your third choice and you lucked out…The other thing I’ve learned is that movies have their own point of view, and you have to stay out of the way with your predetermined ideas; sometimes the movie wants to tell its own story.
Speaking of directors, one of your most famous roles is in Christopher Nolan’s Memento. Did you have any idea when you were working with him that he would go on to big box office blockbusters, or did you think he would remain an indie auteur?
I just enjoyed working with him and Emma (Thomas, Nolan’s wife and producer-collaborator). We rehearsed at weekends at my house in Santa Monica; we’d go through all of the week’s work due to the time limitations. We’d discuss [the script], Emma would be typing and rewriting it… It felt like Chris really knew what he wanted, he was like an explorer.. I really got a kick out of working him, I always wanna work with him. He’s doing his new movie [Oppenheimer], and it’s like the line got so much bigger! Nobody wanted to be in his first movie! I got to be in that movie before those kinds of independent films became popular. The only reason I got that job is because Carrie-Ann Moss recommended me for it. She said “Hey, I just got this movie up in Toronto, you should go up for it!” And I did, and I owe a lot to her.
Speaking of The Matrix, I was wondering what were your memories of Sydney? Did you have time to explore the city in between shooting?
I explored the whole country! I kid around that I wrote a travel book because I was there for six months, and I probably worked about thirty days, and that I called the travel book “Seeing Australia on $2500 Per Week Diem”. I got Patty Certified (?) At the Great Barrier Reef, when it was still reef! I went diving with my family just a couple of years ago after we shot Bad Boys For Life and it was really depressing because all the reef is dying, the colours are gone…
I’d read that you kept contact with the Wachowskis and were trying to get them to get Cypher back for the sequels.
Yeah, I had a whole campaign! We made business cards, had petitions, to save Cypher!
You still have any of those business cards?|
Y’know, they’re around somewhere, I’m sure I can find them after I die and they go through all of the family junk…
Another one of your famous roles is in Baby’s Day Out. Are you aware of the popularity of the film in India? It’s had three remakes made there in different Indian languages, and I was wondering if you had ever had anyone from India recognise you from that film?
No, I didn’t know that…
It’s bigger than Star Wars over there.
Baby’s Day Out?! I wanna work with Indian filmmakers, I love a lot of Indian films. I watched the Criterion Channel and I’ve gotten into Satyajit Ray. Oh boy, he’s something!
You’ve also done some voice acting for video games; one game that’s always interested me is Majestic from 2001, which was one of the first Alternate Reality Games, where the game would phone, text, and fax you in real life. How did they explain that concept to you? Because even now with the popularity of video games it’s still hard to describe.
Y’know, they tried to explain the concept of The Matrix to me and I’m still trying to figure that one out! There’s that line the Wachowskis gave me, “Ignorance is bliss”; I’ve lived a very blissfully ignorant life creatively, where I’ve been in these movies and video games that have turned out to be amazingly successful, and it’s just dumb luck on my part to have been in ‘em.
Do you ever get recognised by younger people from your roles in video games like Grand Theft Auto 3?
Yeah, sometimes! And from that zombie one [Call of Duty: Black Ops II].
What about your own kids, have they played these games?
No, they’ve barely even seen any of my movies! They’ve seen The Goonies and the kids films like Baby’s Day Out.
Regarding your mental health charity No Kidding Me Too, when your documentary [No Kidding Me 2] came out in 2009, even though it wasn’t that long ago, mental health was not as “hot” a topic as it is today. How has your work changed at the charity, is it any easier these days?
Well that was the idea of the organisation, to make [the topic] more palatable, we wanted to make the conversation trendy! My middle daughter Daniela and I have a podcast now called No Kidding Me Too, where we talk with popular personalities from show business and other walks of life, talking about the management and regulation of emotional disease, and brain styles, and how you regulate and rehabilitate certain past traumas.
In my documentary [No Kidding Me 2] I introduced the idea of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or brain injury being something that nobody ever even talked about, and understanding that past traumas are not necessarily a disorder, but are a fact of life. Truth be told, it’s been designed that people think that trauma is [a result of] a military action, from the horrors of war, where in fact anything traumatic is the inability to keep those thoughts out of your mind, even when you want to. So it could be seeing a car accident, or seeing your pet run over, or having your boyfriend or girlfriend break up with you; a lot of it is about loss. The idea of having celebrities be intimate and vulnerable about seeking treatment and relief is [our goal with the podcast].
One last question… there’s a famous photo from Bound with you and Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly in–
–in the hot tub?
…in the hot tub!
That was an accident! We were doing press at the Sundance Film Festival; Andrew Lazar was the producer, and they rented this big house that had a hot tub. We were doing a photoshoot, and I guess the photographer asked if I wanted to get in the hot tub, and I was smoking a cigar, and it just happened! It’s a great photo; I’d like to get an original of that….
*The interviews with Rhys Meyers, Jean Kim, and Moore were conducted by Ali Moosavi.
Ali Moosavi has worked in documentary television and has written for Film Magazine (Iran), Cine-Eye (London), and Film International (Sweden). He contributed to the second volume of The Directory of World Cinema: Iran (Intellect, 2015).
Amir Moosavi is an IT consultant and cinéaste. He studied History & French at University of St. Andrews.