Eliza Dushku & Bryan Greenberg Interview NOBEL SON

     December 4, 2008

Written by Heather Huntington

Indie DIY filmmaker couple Randall Miller and Jody Savin are back again after last summer’s Bottle Shock with some Oscar race counter-programming in the form of Nobel Son, a dark Guy Ritchie-esque comedy thriller about Barkley Michaelson (Bryan Greenberg) a mild-mannered Ph.D. student who is kidnapped in exchange for his father’s (Alan Rickman) Nobel Prize money.

We got to chat with Nobel Son’s two young stars, Greenberg and Eliza Dushku, who plays his rather eccentric love interest, City Hall. Greenberg embodies the unintimidatingly cute everyman he plays in the film, like a TKE brother with artistic leanings. And my fellow Bostonian Dushku has, as Bill Pullman says, some pretty crazy energy.

You can see them together in Nobel Son, which opens in select theaters Friday, December 5.

Question: So how did you find out about this movie?

BRYAN GREENBERG: I met with Randy [Miller] and Jody [Savin] really early on in the process, actually for the role of Thaddeus. I wasn’t sure I was right for that. I could do it but I don’t know if I’d be right for it. Then a couple of months later they were auditioning for the role of Barkley and I went in and I totally sucked, but I knew I sucked because I didn’t have enough time. I was in the middle of something and I never do this but I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been. I convinced them, “You’ve got to let me come back in and I’ll do it right. Give me enough time to prep for it.” Because it was a rushed situation. And then I just loved the script and I really wanted to do something different like this and I got it the second time around so they gave me a second chance.

Did you guys read together?

ELIZA DUSHKU: No, we didn’t. We’ve known each other since I was 14.

GREENBERG: I know her brother. I went to NYU with her brother so she used to come up and visit.

DUSHKU: We used to read scenes in the dorm room – auditions and random stuff.

How did you get involved in this film?

DUSHKU: I auditioned my heart out. I really, really wanted it. I read it and I loved it and I really wanted it. You know, you read a lot of stuff. You go in on some things and go, “Oh, whatever.” But I went in and I brought props. I brought a supermarket paperback and I brought these two different masks that I had. One was this weird tin mask from Venice and then I had strings on them and I put them on. A rope, a knife. I said I’ll do whatever you want me to do. Just tell me. My audition was like an hour long. It was the last one of the day. They said, “Let’s try it like this and then try it like this.” I did just every possible version. One was completely different from the other and we just hit it off and I was psyched.

When you first read the script, what was it about the character that first jumped out at you besides the fact she was named City Hall?

DUSHKU: That was a good one. That would be nice to add onto my little resume: City Hall. I did City Hall. I’d just never read a character like her and from the opening scene, she’s so bizarre and twisted and then as the story unfolds, there was just a lot going on and a lot to work with. It was super intriguing and once I started working with Randy and Jody and realized how open they were filling her up with these little nuances and things, it was awesome.

What was it like working with Alan Rickman? We you in awe at all?

DUSHKU: It was thrilling and humbling and easy and he’s just such a dear, dear man. And then we ended up doing another film together a few months later and now we just meet up in all these random cities to promote the movie and we all stay in the same house and we’re just like a little family. It’s cute.

GREENBERG: Yeah. I tortured him. I got to know him pretty well. [laughs] Tell your friends about me. Read about me. He’s just such a great, committed actor and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been working the last 10 years and you don’t come across actors like that too often who are committed and really stick by their choices, who actually make choices and don’t just rely on charm and charisma and they actually read the script and have passion and care about their craft. I mean, the guy came in with fake teeth. He had teeth made in London. He wanted his teeth to be more shark-like because he thought his character was more like a predator. I was like, wow, I have so much to learn. [laughs]

And he used them through the film?

GREENBERG: Yeah. That’s what I’m talking about – the subtle details. He cares about them. You know what I mean? As a young actor, you can learn so much from guys like that and just the choices that they make and sticking with them. That’s probably what I learned the most from Alan was making strong choices and sticking by them.

DUSHKU: He can do an entire scene with one little raise of the eyebrow. It’s so extraordinary to watch him and to see the final movie. I love it.

Do you have a scene that you really enjoyed doing?

DUSHKU: [laughs] I get to make out with my big brother’s friend. My childhood fantasy. When we actually shot the scene we were covered in fiberglass. We were shooting on a roof in downtown L.A. A fiberglass exposed roof and we were rolling around and he was wearing a sock and I was wearing pasties and there were candles everywhere…

GREENBERG: [joking] …and a sock on my foot. That was awesome.

DUSHKU: On your foot.

GREENBERG: One sock.

DUSHKU: Oh yeah, he was wearing one sock on his foot. And we had fiberglass all over us and they were like don’t take a shower because the shower will embed the glass into you and the way to get it off is to use duct tape.

I don’t understand why there was all this fiberglass.

GREENBERG: It was on a roof. This is what happens when you’re making a film. The sites aren’t always prepped the way [they should be]. Well, you just didn’t think. Nobody thought there’d be fiberglass.

Was it just blowing onto you?

GREENBERG: Yeah. We’re on a roof and it’s like the insulation was exposed everywhere so it was just… There was this mattress on the roof. I never really understood why there was a mattress on the roof, but whatever. We’ll get into that later. [laughs]

DUSHKU: City Hall had a reason. [laughs]

GREENBERG: With City Hall, you can take a lot of liberties. We walk in and there’s all these candles lit and there’s matches there. I love movies! It’s just something probably nobody thought about and why would they [expect] that there’d be fiberglass everywhere. And it’s just one of those things that you realize when you’re rolling around on sheets. That’s not sexy.

What about that scene where your character is being interrogated by Bill Pullman?

DUSHKU: I’ve had a crush on Bill Pullman since I was six. He’s just so cute. I don’t know, there’s just something about him. I told him the first day of shooting. It’s kind of a Kurt Russell thing.

GREENBERG: He’s got that cowboy thing going on.

DUSHKU: He’s sexy and he’s just a love. He’s such a lovely guy. And that scene was so funny. It was very like a scene from a Spanish soap opera. My character is totally crying and going through it. I mean it was a blast. It was weird and bizarre and thrilling and fun like the whole movie.

In a movie like this where there are so many plot twists, is it filmed sequentially for you guys and how do you keep track of what your character knows at that time?

GREENBERG: Wow. That’s a really tough thing to do on a movie like this. I’ve never shot anything that’s sequential. Unfortunately, with indie [films] you just gotta go when you can get these locations and we shot this thing so quick. And this was like one of those scripts where, as an actor, you really need to count on your script supervisor, like where am I, what just happened, because there are so many twists, there are so many turns. Even reading this, it took me like three times to get it. That’s how thick and dense it was. All these characters are very shady and slippery and you’re not sure who’s screwing who over and at what point how much this character knows. The end especially was really hard for me because there’s a twist and my character takes a turn and another character, my mother, is privy to it and I don’t know when she knows and when she doesn’t know and that was a really hard dynamic to play out and to figure out. This was one of the harder ones to keep in your mind. There’s a lot going on.

DUSHKU: And then in addition to a great script supervisor, we have the ultimate advantage that our director was also the writer so they knew exactly what was going on. Randy and Jody are the DIY masters. They wrote, directed. They edited this movie from their house in Pasadena with their two kids running around and all the promotion and every resource and they knew the characters and the script inside out so every day was actually very smooth because they were like, “Oh! This is the scene for this and this just happened.” They’re just so full of enthusiasm and they’re so on it and so creative. So we just showed up and had them and they were steering the ship.

Do you recall any funny moments on the set where things didn’t go quite as planned?

GREENBERG: There was just tons of stuff. I remember shooting that beach scene where Mary (Steenburgen) and I are on the beach and it was like 40 degrees and the sun was setting. That was crazy. I thought Michael Ozier, the DP, did a great job with some of this. (to Eliza) Remember that scene where you come and find me?

DUSHKU: Yeah, where you’re laying on the grass. That was the same day.

GREENBERG: It was like raining.

DUSHKU: It was a hazy, rainy scene and I come lay on top of you.

GREENBERG: I guess that’s not one of those funny things, but it’s amazing when I watch it how it turned out. I can’t believe we got that.

Can you talk a little about what you’re doing now? I know you’re doing Dollhouse with Joss Whedon and that starts next month, doesn’t it?

DUSHKU: We air Friday, the 13th of February. It’s awesome. We’re on episode 7 of 13 and I’ve already played 20 something different characters and underneath these clothes I’ve got bruises galore. I’m so proud of them. I’m riding motorcycles, bow hunting, rock climbing, river rafting, muay thai fighting 6’5” dudes, like just everything.

Did doing Buffy help you with all the martial arts part of that?

DUSHKU: We have the same stunt coordinator, Mike Gunther. He’s awesome and he was also on Angel so I’ve had six-page fight scenes that I did with him years ago. Yeah, it helped, but even on Buffy I was kind of like that crazy 17-year-old kid that showed up on Buffy and I grew up with three older brothers and I showed up from Boston and said I know you have a stunt double here for me but how much can I do? I want to fight. I want to get into it. And they would just teach me the stuff and that, to me, is really fun. It’s really exciting.

So the premise is you’re playing 20 different people?

DUSHKU: It’s about a group of people that can be imprinted with any personality basically for hire.

So your personality totally changes?

DUSHKU: Yeah. We’re human beings that volunteer for five years of our life. As the story unfolds, there are dollhouses all over in cities around the world and there are these underground private organizations that take people, wipe their personalities clean and house them in these beautiful, Japanese, Zen garden, underground dorm lab and then they put us in a chair and literally put a wedge in the chair and can imprint us to be anything that anyone wants – fantasies, bank heists…

It sounds like an actor’s dream come true.

DUSHKU: Yeah. The last episode they surgically implanted cameras into my eyeballs and sent me into a cult compound as a blind woman. It was cool.

Do you have a single injury that’s like your biggest badge of honor at this point?

DUSHKU: Yeah, my neck that I can’t turn. I have a really good bruise right here (shows leg) and a really good one right here (shows arm) that I’ve been showing off a lot.

Bryan, what do you have coming out?

GREENBERG: Yeah, well I’ve been working on my music a lot. I’ve been on tour for that.

DUSHKU: He’s like a rock star. Totally. I’ve seen you. You’re good.

GREENBERG: I’ve got a song in the movie actually which is kind of cool. I’m doing that. I’ve got a movie coming out next month that’s called Bride Wars with Kate Hudson and Anne Hathaway. I just finished a pilot for HBO that Mark Wahlberg and those guys produced. It’s called How to Make It in America and I’m really excited about that. We’re going to find out what the fate of that is. I just finished that a month ago. I’ve got another movie called The Good Guy, an independent film that I did. You know, I’m working on the music and waiting to see what’s going on with this pilot and Bride Wars. That’s pretty much it.

What’s the name of your band?

GREENBERG: Oh, it’s just me. Bryan Greenberg. I’m a songwriter as well. I’m going out right now with a couple other artists, Graham Colton and Michael Tolcher. We’re all songwriters. We’re kind of doing this intimate evening and we’re all telling stories and playing on each other’s sets and we just played Austin two days ago and I’m going to New York and D.C. and Philly this week and North Carolina so it’s been fun. It’s been a lot of fun.

Do you like music better than acting?

GREENBERG: I like them both. That way neither one feels like a job. When I’m working on a movie, I’m in my trailer playing guitar. And then on the road, I read scripts and think of…it just keeps both fires burning. I kind of need both. They help. I become a better actor after I step on a stage in front of like 500 people when it’s just me, a microphone and my guitar. You don’t get as nervous walking into a room in front of 3 or 4 people and to do a scene or to walk on a set. You gain confidence. I don’t know. And it’s great the interaction you can get with an audience, it’s totally separate from the thrill you get from being in a scene. But I love them both. I don’t want to choose.

Did you bring a song to Randy and Jody and they liked it and put it in the film? Or did they ask you to do a song?

GREENBERG: It’s kind of like how it usually goes. People want to know who are you? What are you doing in your trailer making all that noise? I’m like, well I’m a musician. Well, do you have a CD? I give them a CD and then they listen to it and then I guess it doesn’t suck as much as they think it sucks and they’re like oh, we should use this. So I think I get by a lot on just the low expectations of being an actor/musician. [laughs]

Where is your song in the film? Is it during the credits at the end?

GREENBERG: I don’t know. I think it’s in a scene where it’s real low and it’s in the coffee shop scene in the background.

With Twilight being such a big hit, the rumor mill is buzzing about the possibility of a Buffy movie. Is that just fans’ wishful thinking or has there been real talk about it?

DUSHKU: I can give you Joss’ number and you can call him. He’s over on the lot right now. I don’t know.

Would you ever want to go back and play it again?

DUSHKU: You never know. That’s what I’ve learned.

GREENBERG: Keep it open.

DUSHKU: I mean that show is just such an international phenomenon. There are like college courses now that dissect the world of Buffy. It’s just a testament I think to what an extraordinary creative genius Joss is and I just love the guy. He’s a hardcore feminist, he’s funny, he’s dramatic, he’s twisted, and he’s just dear. He’s my friend and my hero and people gag because we get really lovey dovey.

Did you ever do Vengeance or anything like that?

DUSHKU: Yeah, girl. I did. [laughs] And people would show up and be like hey, can we take a picture of our matching face tattoos and I’d be like, uh, that was a decal. And you watch the color drain from people’s faces and they’d be like I got that tattoo so we could be lifelong sisters and I’m like, sorry. They’d show up with vampire teeth and stuff.

After you film the 13th episode of Dollhouse, are you going to be looking at film scripts to try to squeeze in during a potential hiatus?

DUSHKU: I just launched a production company with my brother. It’s called Boston DIY Productions and we have 3 films that we’re about to do, one of which is with Randy and Jody. The first one is going to be a biopic on Robert Mapplethorpe and my brother is going to play Robert and we have an awesome cast and an amazing filmmaker, Ondi Timoner who did a documentary called DiG! It won at Sundance a few years ago. She has another movie that just got accepted at Sundance. She’s just awesome. So we’re going to do Mapplethorpe. Jody is actually going to direct and they’re going to write this movie we’re doing together. Then I have a big budget working class Lara Croft crazy studio thing we’re going to do too.

How are you enjoying being a producer and taking a break from acting?

DUSHKU: Like Bryan said, it’s nice because it gives you something else to do. As an actress, sometimes you go to your trailer and you’re like what do I do? Do I watch Tyra Banks on TV or what? Boredom is just not an option now. I mean it’s really cool. And I’m also a producer on Dollhouse because Joss and I basically put the thing together. I never really wanted to be an actor. I kind of tripped and fell into it and it gives me a chance to feel like I’m doing more than just being…I get to be involved in more of the machine and the operation and yeah, like walking into a room, there’s a different kind of confidence when you feel like you’re actually a part of as opposed to being rated. So that’s cool. I love it.

Bryan, since you write your music, would you like to have a production company of your own?

GREENBERG: I don’t know. I’m working on something with a friend. We’re in the preliminary process of it. I don’t know. There’s just so much I want to do as an actor.

DUSHKU: I’m available in February.

GREENBERG: [laughs] I’m trying to get it done. We’ve got the first act done. I don’t know. I’ve got a lot of artistic energy but there’s only so much of it though. You don’t want to spread yourself thin. But I’m trying it out. We’ll see.

What do you think about the potential actors’ strike?

GREENBERG: I think it’s bullshit. That’s what I think. I think it’s stupid. I don’t support it. That’s me personally. I love SAG, I love my union, but I just don’t think it’s a smart decision. I think what matters most is getting our foot in the door with new media and I think that’s on the table and I personally believe we should take it. I don’t think DVDs are something to fight over. I think DVDs are like rearranging the chairs on the Titanic. That’s my personal opinion. It’s like arguing over laser disc rights. DVDs are not going to last much longer. I think DVDs are going to be around 5 years at the most. It’s already going. You’re going to have a hard drive.

Oh, I see, just download them from the internet.

GREENBERG: Yeah, it’s already happening. Like Netflix, you just stream it and then you’re going to have your… That’s my personal opinion.

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