David Harbour’s Christmas movie, Violent Night, came out last Friday. I’m not sure if I’ll see it. I think it’s probably a helluva romp, it’s just not the sort of thing I usually watch. But I’ve seen so many people saying good things about it, it might change my mind. Either way, it has David out doing press and I always enjoy that. Reading his Role Recall, I realized there’s so much of his career I missed. I had no idea David was in Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom. And I don’t remember him from Brokeback Mountain or Revolutionary Road. Plus, David was cut out of Spielberg’s War of the World, in which he had a scene opposite Tom Cruise. Speaking of Revolutionary Road, David apparently didn’t understand the significance of the film when he was making it. He knew it would be a good film, but he didn’t quite grasp the whole Leo DiCaprio/Kate Winslet post-Titanic reunion thing. That reunion eclipsing the film itself changed how David viewed movie hype going forward.
Why I might see Violent Night: It has all the action set pieces and it has this kind of Die Hard train to it, but underneath it all, it has this little girl believing in Santa Claus. There’s something about that that’s so funny and disarming and charming to have this bloody old Santa just being like, ‘Thank you for believing in me.’ There’s just a lot of deeply funny stuff in it… I’ve never seen a movie like this and I’ve never seen a movie that attempts to do what we attempt to do in this movie, which is to make a Christmas movie a kick-ass action John Wick movie. It’s insane. So I like that swing.
Ang Lee’s odd direction on Brokeback Mountain: You could just feel that we were making something really creative and really beautiful. And then I remember Ang would just say some weird stuff occasionally. Like he gave me a note as he came in for a real tight closeup at one point and I did a couple takes of it. He wasn’t quite happy… And then finally he came over to me, came up right close to me and went ‘More, uh, more handsome.’ And then he ran away and I was like, ‘Bro, I think that’s a note for your casting director.’ But I took it as best I could and tried to square my jaw off. And he liked it [laughs].
He missed the hype around Revolutionary Road: It was sort of a weird thing because it was the first time in my career where I wasn’t smart enough to understand the hype machine as it is. So I believed it. It was kind of this moment where everyone was like, ‘Oh oh oh, you’re making a piece of history right now and people are going to know your name.’ And we were all patting each other on the back like it was a big deal. And then the movie came out and… you know, the movie’s all right. And I was all right, but nobody really cared all that much. So I was like, ‘Wait a minute.’ So it sort of allowed me, in terms of this business, to understand that whatever people say, whatever the hype is, whatever the thing is, this thing has an independent life of its own.
“And you should never believe what people think or say… It’s like [famed producer] Robert Evans said, ‘Nobody knows anything in this business.’ I mean, really, nobody knows anything. And I think that was my real first tangible example of that. I thought that this was a big shiny thing and it just didn’t quite happen in that particular way. And so it’s been a really refreshing way to allow your expectations to be what they are and allow things to sort of breathe as opposed to get so attached to having something be more than what it is.
This is actually a good argument for Green Hornet: Green Hornet was really cool. I mean, it was such a mess in a certain way… It wasn’t a mess because of the inadequacy of its parts. It was almost the too muchness of its parts. It had Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg who were writing it, and Seth is the lead, right? Terrific comedy writers, really strong take on an anti-superhero movie. Then you have Neal Moritz producing it, from Fast and Furious, and just like a huge Hollywood blow-up producer. And then you have Michel Gondry, like this weird independent filmmaker making it. And something about the Bermuda Triangle of those three just made it this weird unwieldy thing where each of them are so talented in their own particular directions, but it just pulled in so many weird ways that, in the end, it doesn’t quite coalesce in the right way.
You don’t mess with Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue: Normally in movies you could play around with dialogue and you can play around with stuff. It’s like we have this term where, ‘It’s not Shakespeare.’ You tend to interpret your character in that way. And here, you had the script supervisor running over to you if you’re in the middle of a big speech… She’d be like, ‘David, it’s somebody, not someone.’ So yeah, it was a very meticulous process.
On the failure of Hellboy: I learned not to f*** with established IP, that’s for sure. A beloved and established IP. I mean, I guess that’s the biggest lesson learned. I feel like whatever failures or successes that movie was, of which there are many, the movie itself had such a thing going into it that it was like almost impossible. Whereas something like Stranger Things or even Violent Night, it’s an original idea. And so people can judge it for whatever it is when it comes out or when they see it, but they don’t have going into it so much stuff. And I feel like that to me is what’s so difficult about existing IP. It’s difficult about Star Wars, it’s difficult about these things that are beloved.
Black Widow helped him lick his wounds from Hellboy: Black Widow was something that was a different beast. [Red Guardian] is a character not really well known in the comics. You’re allowed to mess with him. And [Marvel] really is the Cadillac of all brands in terms of that particular genre… And then they really allow you creative freedom to play. And I’ve never seen anything like that sort of confidence with their brand and with what they’re doing. So yeah, making that movie was an extraordinarily wonderful experience for me.
On the one hand, I agree with David that you probably should never believe what people say in Hollywood. On the other hand, how could anyone who wasn’t living under a rock post-Titanic not know that Revolutionary Road was going to be hyped on Leo and Kate’s reunion? I agree with David too, the movie was just “all right,” so the hype was kind of necessary.
Again, I’m impressed by David’s reel. He only hit my radar with Stranger Things, although I’ve obviously seen him in other things since I’ve watched many of those mentioned. I think maybe David was in too many successful projects early on, if that’s a thing. Because he can’t process when they fall flat, it seems. That’s especially true for Hellboy which he is taking very hard. I get how fronting his first huge action film and it tanking would be tough. But even though I didn’t see it, I’m sure it wasn’t all David’s fault. As to his comment about not messing with beloved IP, you don’t get it both ways though. The reason filmmakers keep churning out those projects is because they rely on the “beloved IP” to bring people into the theater. So there needs to be some concession to give them what they want once they get them there.
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