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Hey kids, what a thrill to have a lovely chat with legendary director Francis Ford Coppola for the second time.  Mr. Coppola is thriving in what he calls his second career, making personal films that more resemble works of art than Hollywood blockbusters.  Hereís my conversation with Mr. Coppola and Alden Ehrenreich, the young star of his latest film, TETRO.

Dig it!



Director Francis Ford Coppola and actor Alden Ehrenreich


Alden Ehrenreich


The Lady Miz Diva:  Alden, youíre studying drama at New York University.  Iím curious what anybody there could teach you after making your feature film debut with Francis Ford Coppola?

Alden Ehrenreich:  The NYU program that exists for acting is almost completely a theatre program.  Itís a very different outlook on things, itís a very different world, itís a very different discipline to do theatre acting.  The real difference technically is not really emphasised on the college level. There isnít a lot of film acting programs, I mean they have sort of sidebar programs for film acting, but itís so different and I donít think that thatís embraced necessarily because it just takes a different {approach}. I mean if youíre doing a scene and they do the two-shot and the otherís personís close up, and the master shot, and youíre doing youíre close-up two months later; the technical understanding to know what to do in that situation, you canít get that understanding from most acting schools on a college level, cos theyíre working to prepare you for theatre.  So I was able to get that background and that sort of culture for the first year thatís extremely different.  It has certainly sort of the same fundamentals and it comes from the group theatre of the 40ís, but it was a very different kind of thing to learn than what I learned on the film.


LMD:  How did you get the role of Benny and what was your reaction when you found out you got it?

AE:  I have a manager and an agent and they set up a meeting for me with Fred Roos, who is one of the producers and I had a general meeting with him and then he had me come in and met Francis, the I came back again and met Francis and read a monologue from Catcher in the Rye.  I went to Napa to do a screen test and then I did a screen test in Argentina and got back and got the part.

When I found out, I was at high school at the time and it was very surreal, very strange and incredible.


LMD:  There was no screaming?

AE:  {Laughs} No, I didnít even tell anybody at first.  I sort of just walked around with it for a little while, and it was sort of this wonderful dream you wake up from, but I havenít woken up from it, yet.


LMD:  Did you have a love for his movies? Were you a fan at all?

AE:  Yeah, Francis was like the firstÖ When I was twelve or thirteen, I started seeing films more consciously in a more sophisticated way and Francis was sort of the first figure in film that I was very aware of as a director and loved the work of.  I saw and read The Godfather and I was just really taken with a lot of the themes and so much of his work spoke to me, so I was very aware of him and he was someone I felt very strongly about.  I was so blown away that he was even making films, cos I didnít know about Youth Without Youth when I was auditioning, so the last time he had made a film I think I was seven or eight when he made The Rainmaker.  So, to think that this person who I admired so much was making films and making a film where the lead was someone my age was just this incredible thing to find out.


LMD:  One of the things the movie hinges upon is Bennyís relationship with Tetro.  Can you tell me about working with Vincent Gallo?  What did you guys do to make the bond between brothers believable?

AE:  He was a huge voice in the rehearsal process and has a very quiet, very interesting way of working and starting up the character and really feels things out before he does anything.  I learned so much from him from this different point of view and the logic that he works with which is a real logic; he has a very clear personal constitution that is extremely different than the one you run into on a day-to-day level.  His conceptual ideas are so fascinating and so radical in some ways, that it was very interesting to get his perspective from that point of view, which is one I wouldnít have gravitated towards as naturally as the wisdom I got from Francis, which is more sort of the most brilliant level of things that I felt or was interested in.  Vincent was a whole different world to experiment with and play around with and go a little beyond myself and try to think about his concerns or his ideas on things, and that was really an incredibly nourishing, incredibly surprisingly awakening experience.  Him and Francis are sort of from similar worlds, but completely different backgrounds, and it was really fascinating to hear his ideas on film and politics and different things.  To be brothers, that definitely factored into it, that friction of me trying to play around with his ideas and to learn from him really contributed to it a lot.  I would also do different things; like I did impressions of him by myself a lot to sort of pick up his mannerisms, cos his mannerisms are very interesting.  One of the things I got from him was just the capacity for specificity a person can have.  Heís just incredibly pointed and specific about every choice he makes and his mannerisms and gestures are sort of a reflection of that, and so I wanted to pick up some of that vibe or some of that rhythm.  Cos when you meet someone from similar families - even in this case, where theyíve been apart for a long time - thereís certain genetic things that just translate:  Even if youíre around the Coppola family, thereís certain mannerisms or ways of speaking and ways of looking at things that everyone in the family has, so I wanted to get some of that sharedness.


LMD:  Tell me abut Argentina?  How long were you there and how old were you when you filmed this?

AE:  I was eighteen when I was there.  Argentina is amazing!  Itís a really interesting culture there because they used to be one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but they had this Depression, so thereís this sophistication there, yet thereís a lot of struggle and really very relaxed, very interesting youth culture.  Very lively, sophisticated young people who are very unpretentious and yet very passionate about the arts.  It was just beautiful, itís sort of like Europe and Mexico and all these elements of all these other countries in this interesting contradiction sort of as its underlying foundation, thereís a contrast there.


LMD:  In the scenes when youíre on the way to the Patagonia Festival, youíre leaving the city in warm weather, then youíre riding along and suddenly thereís snow everywhere and huge mountains.

AE:  Thatís how it was when we were filming there!  It was a hundred percent humidity and by the time we left it was freezing.  I mean, right now itís freezing there.  Up in the country, we didnít actually go to Patagonia, the second unit did, but they have these beautiful glaciers, itís so snowy, then in the city it can feel tropical.  I was there four months.


LMD:  It looks like everybodyís really having a good time, even in the dramatic scenes.  Everybodyís kind of cool and relaxed.

AE:  Absolutely.  In most of those dramatic scenes with the exception of a couple, even if it was a gritty, fighting scene itís not like in between takes everyone was going off and brooding in a corner; weíre all still sitting around laughing and joking.  It doesnít get anchored in a negative way.  It stays buoyant and it stays energetic.  I think those dramatic scenes have more energy and life and a certain positive energy that accelerated them, as opposed to them becoming everybody getting angry and moody on their own, which mightíve happened. 


LMD:  The film is so gorgeously shot and your first scene is remarkable; you look like a young Montgomery Clift.  Your character has the earnestness of those 1940ís heroes, as well.  I wondered if you referenced any of those actors from the 1940ís or 50ís?

AE:  Thank you.  I wouldnít necessarily call it referencing.  For me, something that intersected with the story is Iíve certainly grown up a lot from the heroes that Iíve had.  And Iíve always loved film so much, when I was little, my parents definitely raised me on those classic films and that was an important part of my upbringing.  Sort of the same way I experimented with Vincentís ideas or moods, similarly when I was younger I would experiment with people that I thought were cool in movies or what not.  So, I think that those figures Ė Monty Clift, Iím a huge Monty Clift fan, A Place in the Sun and Judgment at Nuremburg, too, is one of my favourite performances of his, probably Ė but admiring those people fed into who I was and was important in just the way that I am, so I think that happened before shooting.  I never really thought a whole lot about emulating people within the context of the performance, but I think that was such an important factor in the way that developed myself when I was younger that thereís no way that thatís gonna stop.


LMD:  Did Mr. Coppola ever recommend DVDs for you to watch to either research Benny or what he was going for with the film?

AE:  There was certainly Rocco and his Brothers.  We were definitely working with a shared love of those films and I think that definitely contributed.  There wasnít any time where we set things up directly in that way.  Thereís a lot of plays of the same time period; The Glass Menagerie and Eugene Oí Neill plays, Long Dayís Journey Into Night and different personal family dramas that influenced the moods of the story.  I think we were working in that shared love of that time period and the films of that time period, so that probably in the same way fed into that, but not as consciously.


LMD:  So whatís coming up next for you?  What are you doing over the summer?

AE:  Summer?  I bought a little portable barbecue, so itís barbecues with my friends.  Iím not doing any films for sure, right now; Iím just planning on going back to college in September.



Francis Ford Coppola


The Lady Miz Diva:  I just had the pleasure of meeting Alden.  What an extraordinary young man.

Francis Ford Coppola:  Yeah, he is, isnít he?  Heís very young, heís only 19, but heís very precocious.  Heís an intelligent kid.


LMD:  How did he come to your attention?

FFC:  Well, when youíre looking for a role, in that kind of a part, I really wanted someone who was young because usually you get a bunch of twenty-six year olds who can play eighteen.  James Dean was a high school student in Rebel Without a Cause, but I never thought he looked like a high-school student.  So, I wanted to look at really young people and other than maybe little boy actors when they were seven.  So, we looked at high schools and high school drama programs and eventually he was in a school that had a wonderful theatre department, Crossroads, and so I was interested because that meant that he hadnít made any films.  He hadnít already been part of that.   Then you meet a lot of people and youíre hoping youíre gonna get lucky and in that case when I saw him and what he looked like, basically that he was dark, and yíknow there were some elements of the story Ė I had run away from military school when I was a little kid, so I was looking for someone, he was a much handsomer version of me. {Laughs}


LMD:  In the film, he reminded me a lot of a young Montgomery Clift. 

FFC:  You know, thatís what I think!  Everyone is always saying, ďAhhhÖĒ  People canít accept anything without linking it to something thatís successful, so they say, ďOh, your movie is like this,Ē or, ďAlden is like Leonardo DiCaprio.Ē  People need to piggyback on something thatís been successful and my feeling is, yeah, he reminds me sometimes of Brando because he has a nice smile and a full face, but also Monty Clift.  Also, the fact that we shot it in black and white makes him evocative of some of the older actors.


LMD:  Well, on that point, there's Alden resembling a matinee hero and the early scenes where even the credits look like a 1940ís film noir.  You then have Vincent Galloís scenes, which are very kinetic and naturalistic like 1960ís French new wave.  On top of that, you have these gorgeous bursts of colour in montages that look like Powell/ Pressburger production numbers.  I wondered if part of Tetro wasnít meant to be an homage to the films you loved?

FFC:  You know, of course, my personality is made up by whatever itís made up of and since I feel that I should be able to work in any style that seems best for the story, for example, black and white. You donít see a lot of black and white films.  And thereís a reason you donít; because the television executives have made a rule that theyíll only pay half for black and white films, irrespective of whether theyíre good or bad.  So, if you make the decision to go black and white, youíre making the decision to get half of the money that you had hoped to get from television and from even DVDs.  If you make a decision to have it be in a foreign language and have it subtitled, you canít get it on American television.  That was very rigidly enforced until Crouching Tiger, which demonstrated, and a little later, Panís Labyrinth.  So, you gotta realise that we decisions we make have financial implications.  Itís kind of a cinema gulag, where youíre told by people who are not filmmakers, what the rules are.  So, when I make a decision to film in black and white, Iím doing something thatís less available to audiences, so, of course you look at my movie and youíre gonna think it reminds you of movies from the 40ís because all movies were black and white and probably ninety-five percent of the greatest movies ever made were black and white.  So, itís more the viewer and the critic and the film appreciator who brings the genres to the film than the filmmaker.  The filmmaker is just doing everything that they love to do.  Itís true you see black and white and it feels something old fashioned about it, but the style of shooting it, the style of lighting, black and white requires a certain kind of lighting.  Because if Iím shooting you in colour, a green shirt is gonna stand out against that wall and I donít have to worry about that gray merging into that gray.  Some of these decisions itís necessary to bring techniques that are evocative. 

The Powell/Pressburger reference is a plot reference because the kidís brother brought him to see The Red Shoes and the little seven-year old kid says, ďI thought those were such weird films,Ē Tetro says, ďWhat about Tales of Hoffman?Ē and {Ben} says, ďWhenever I think of Tales of Hoffman, I think of you.Ē  So, when he reads the brotherí writing, he imagines it as a Powell/Pressburger film, which is only more dramatic, that kind of technicolour colour because most of the filmís in black and white.  So, you sort of get into these what could be interpreted as homages and certainly when I was a little seven-year-old kid, my brother took me to see Tales of Hoffman, and I didnít know what the hell.  I wanted to see Abbot and Costello, I didnít know.  So to this day, when I think of my brother, I think of Tales of Hoffman.  He exposed me to things at an early age.  And yeah, I think all artists if theyíre allowed to just follow their heart are there because they admired things and itís good!  My theory is if youíre a young writer, just steal from who you like.  If you wanna write a John Steinbeck book, try to - you canít!  Youíll find that although thatís like a beacon to inspire you, you canít write a John Steinbeck novel, but what you can write will come out as your own, and thatís how you begin to have your own voice.  And even if you have to suffer the thing of being pretentious because you wanted to work with the inspiration of God knows who, Goethe, or Shakespeare, or whoever these great people are, thatís why theyíre there.  They want you to steal from them.  They want you to try to use them; you make them immortal by doing that.  And also, someday someoneís gonna see your work Ė you know Iíve seen filmmakers who remind me of things I did myself, but Iím happy.  Take what you want, itís there for you.


LMD:  You just touched on some of the decisions made by studios that interfere with a directorís vision.  Your career is full of legendary battles with studio heads telling you no.  Is that something you have to deal with now in your second career as you call it?  Is there anything you took away from those battles that is useful to you now?

FFC:  Well, sure, I mean your life is typified, identified with the struggles that you have. But you know this idea that if you donít have the studioís to fight with you donít have obstacles, is crazy because filmmaking is obstacles.  Every day, every morning every morning, every time itís raining and not sunny, every time the restaurant you wanted to shoot in kicks you out.  You deal with a thousand obstacles a day.  The question is do you need also to have the obstacles of a bunch of guys who are putting up the money requiring you to do this or cast that person?  I feel I have a few collaborators, notably Walter Mirisch, who is my collaborator/sounding board that very often he says, ďYou know, Francis, I donít think this scene is any good.Ē  So, Iíd rather Walter tell me that than Joe Blow, whoís really giving me just what his wife thought when she read this book.  So, itís not as though, even though I put up all the money, there are people in my group who have independent ideas from me, and I listen to them. They provide the opposing views.


LMD:  Alden said you were very open to improvisation and contribution from your actors.

FFC:  Well, I like to rehearse and I try for get three weeks, although I donít think Iíve ever gotten it.  I usually get two weeks.  I try for three weeks and settle for two.  My rehearsal is we read the script one day twice, we read in the morning and afternoon and one day we just read it through without any comments, and then we read it the second time where everyone can just say anything they want.  And then, once we do that, we never read the script again, we never really read scenes so much.  In other words, rehearsal is not a matter of trying out the scenes and staging them; rehearsal is more exploratory.  Rehearsal is for the actors to try to understand who they are as best they can and to even do lots of improvisation of scenes that are not gonna be in the story, but mightíve happened; like if itís a husband and wife, you might do an improvisation of how they met or how they decided to get married, or whatever it is, so the actors tend to experience memories just as people have.  And then we do a lot of theatre games and very wacky things, which are somewhere between games and improvisations with costumes.  I like to do improvisations with sensual things like food; like make someone get a lot of cold cuts and have people make their sandwiches {as the character}.  When they improvise, if it has some sensual factor to it, they tend to take it more to heart they remember it more.   By the time youíre done with these two weeks, itís also a time where no one has to be nervous because youíre not shooting, so the actors donít have to be frightened. 

Actors are very frightened people and usually when you have a tough relationship with actors, who are difficult, or they have reputations of being difficult, itís just because theyíre nervous and feel frightened, so it comes out in different ways.  Like an actor like Vincent Gallo, who is very controversial and people called me when I said I wanted to work with him, cos I liked him in his movies that he did and I thought he was good for this part.  ďOh, heís a difficult guy. Youíll pull your hair out.Ē  And the truth is he was the most collaborative, intelligent person of any of them.  Always there, always on time.  I mean, he would say, ďOh, I would never say a line like this,Ē but then I would say to him, ďWell, what would you say?Ē  Thatís how improvisation could change the script.  The actors little by little are the characters and they can give you the best suggestions.  And we all know that actors become the best movie directors; if you compared screenwriters who became directors, or photographers who became directors, or editors who became directors, usually itís actors who have the best track record.


LMD:  When we last spoke during Youth Without Youth, you were so excited to come back and work on Tetro it was hard for you to concentrate on the older film.  What made Tetro such an exciting project for you and was part of that excitement due to filming in Argentina?

FFC:  When I make these films, Iím intrigued with going to a place, working with the local artists and eating the food, and learning a little of the language and getting a sense of the culture, because I know that will be part and parcel of the film. I was very excited about dealing with a film that, for me, had a lot of emotion to it because I hope that it would have a lot of emotion for the audience.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

June 5th, 2009


Special thanks to Kathleen Talbert and her staff for their invaluable help assistance.




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Exclusive photos by LMD

Film stills courtesy of American Zoetrope






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