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The Amateurs (formerly The Moguls), the directorial debut of writer/director Michael Traeger, is an underdog comedy about a group of small-town losers who decide to raise money by making a porno film. It's got a wonderful supporting cast that includes Joe Pantoliano, William Fichtner, Tim Blake Nelson, and Lauren Graham. Cinematical recently attended a press junket with the film's stars -- Jeff Bridges and Ted Danson, who were interviewed separately. Needless to say, meeting The Dude and Sam Malone in the same day was kind of a big deal! First up was Mr. Bridges...
What attracted you to the The Amateurs and the role of Andy?
Jeff Bridges: Like most of the movies I get involved with, I resisted it as long as possible. I always try to figure out why I shouldn't do it, and with this one there were plenty of reasons not to do it. What attracted me to it in the first place is that it was so unusual. It put this porn aspect and this Frank Capra aspect together, and I thought that was really interesting, very ambitious. But I didn't know if this guy who had never directed a film would be able to pull it off. Also, I've done movies in the past that have a lot of characters, and I find them hard to follow and you wind up not caring about any of the people, and I thought that might be the case with this one. But my representatives kept telling me I should do it, so finally I said "Alright. I want you guys to organize a reading, and I want you to see that this thing's not going to work at all." So we had a table read, and it just flew, it was just great. I think it works very well.
When the release started to get delayed, did any of that old skepticism start to come back, like maybe something did go wrong?
JB: No, I didn't really get all the ins and outs of why it didn't get released, it's very convoluted and I haven't heard all the sides and the stories, but it wasn't because of the nature of the film or anything like that. I think it was more business type stuff.
How much did you have to do with the casting? It's such a --
JB: Isn't it a wonderful cast? I spent a lot of time with the casting of the film. It was a very inclusive kind of feeling for the whole project. The coolest surprise, casting-wise, was that Mary Steenburgen came in to read for a part, and she said "It's a wonderful script, and I like the part, but the real reason I'm here is to agent my husband, Ted Danson. He must play Moose." That was out of the blue, we had never considered him. But we brought him in and of course, he knocked it out of the park. We were so fortunate that we got such a great cast, and we all got along so well.
Can you talk about Iron Man and upcoming projects at all?
JB: Okay, well. It's based on a comic book. (Laughter.) What drew me to that was the cast and the director, Jon Favreau. I've admired his acting and his writing and directing for a while. And Robert Downey, Jr. is wonderful to work with, Terrence Howard, Gwyneth Paltrow. And I got to shave my head! I had always wanted to do that, and I looked at the comic book and said "Oooh, this guy's bald!" I'm gonna see the movie in a couple weeks, it's gonna be good. After Iron Man, I did a movie with Simon Pegg called How to Lose Friends and Alienate People. That was a fun one, got to go to England for that. Simon plays the editor of a very cutting edge, small magazine. And I play the editor-in-chief of a magazine like an Esquire or Vanity Fair. I want to bring Simon on board, to make my magazine more cutting edge. Simon is a lovely guy.
Your character has to watch a lot of porn in The Amateurs. Did you do some research for that?
JB: Oh, I had done all my research before I came to the movie!
Ted Danson plays Moose in the film, a closeted small-town gay man. Danson talked his great TV roles -- Curb Your Enthusiasm, Damages, and Cheers (no reunion show until they're in their seventies and desperate), politics (he believes Hilary Clinton should be and will be our next President), and being naked onscreen...
So we hear that your wife was your agent on this? She convinced them to see you for the part?
Ted Danson: Yeah! I want to know why she didn't recommend me for like a Chuck Norris part! She puts me up for the big gay guy, Moose? I know why, though. The hormone count in my family is like a real delicate balance. I can talk fabrics with the best of them. I love Moose, he loves people, he wants to be loved. He just wants to be part of the group, and I think his huge fear late in the film is that (if he comes out) he won't be able to hang with the guys and watch football. I don't think he's ever had sex, I think he want to a Broadway show when he was fifteen, and it changed his life.
What was it like hanging out on set with this cast?
TD: Jeff Bridges is one of my favorite people on the planet. I've known him for a long time because his father took me under his wing and included me in stuff their family was doing periodically. It was very sweet, and I just have this huge fondness for the entire Bridges family. Jeff is one of our best actors, in America. He is an amazing actor, and he has this exuberance like it's his first movie. He rehearses, he gets everyone together, he cares about the project, he had us over to his house for sleepovers to get a buddy thing going. He would ad-lib and improvise before and during the take. He was like this new, young kid actor who couldn't wait to get in front of the camera, and it was so contagious that we all had a great time.
Was this your first onscreen nudity, and did you prepare for that?
TD: Yes, it was my first and it won't be the last! I'm so into taking my clothes off. How did I prepare? Well, clearly, I stopped working out and I ate a lot, because I was really buff right before we started shooting! No. It was such a perfect thing to do for the character, but watching it is one of my least favorite things I've ever had to do. My wife whispered to me as we were watching the film: "Never again." I was standing around in the buff quite a while, to the point where they couldn't get my clothes back on me! But as they do in the film -- I love this group of losers -- they all turned their backs and covered their eyes. Joey Pants was peeking.
Do you consider Moose an adventurous choice for you to play as an actor?
TD: No. I don't have this huge vast bunch of scripts in front of me so that it looks like I'm being clever about my choices. I almost always take what I'm being offered, if it's in the ballpark. When you have a really funny, good script, or like Damages was a great script -- you just know in your heart of hearts you're going to have fun with the character. But that's not a risky choice, it's just being part of a great script with great actors.
Can you talk about your role on Curb Your Enthusiasm, and the jerky direction your character took on the show this season?
TD: I know Larry well. He lived with us this summer. I am so proud to be part of a show that really changed the dynamic of half-hour comedy. He really did lead the way, so that traditional form sitcoms are hard to watch now because of what he did. Working on the show is like going to dinner with him. It's a little scary, because you don't know if he's going to talk in too loud of a voice, or do something bizarre. Like me and a group of friends and Larry went down to Cabo for two nights on New Year's Eve. There was a Mexican band there doing music, and they were playing Frank Sinatra's "My Way." And Larry decided to jump up on stage with them and do the English translation, to the horror of all of us, because it was really inappropriate and no one else in the crowd found it funny. It's dangerous going out with him, and you're always trying to think of something insulting to say to him, to make him laugh. And that's the exact same thing you do when you go to work. Just go play with Larry. I never knew throughout this entire season that I'm the schmuck! I was in the scene where Lucy Lawless is outside the dry cleaners, and I mistimed an entrance once, came in a little early, and heard "Oh God, here comes Danson, what an asshole." And I didn't realize this attitude toward me was going on the entire season! I think if they do another season, Larry should go around and try to mooch off his friends after his divorce and make us miserable -- like he did in real life! He has so much material now, he has to do another season.
The Amateurs opens in limited release tomorrow, December 7th.