Interview: Actor Turned Director Erik MacArthur Talks ‘Salute Your Shorts’ Past

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Most may know Erik MacArthur as an actor, but for years he’s been sitting in the producer and director’s chair. We all know him from esteemed works like PleasantvilleWe Were Soldiers and the cult following Salute Your Shorts, but now it’s time to see the other side. I caught up with MacArthur to discuss his impressive background in film and television and to see what projects he’s currently working on.

Like catching up with an old friend, Erik talked about his newest film Pono that will begin filming in Hawaii in the upcoming months. He also explains the transition he made to behind the camera, with previous projects like the short Life Makes Sense When You’re Famous and his first feature film Bottoms Up.

It’s so nice to talk to you today. What projects are you currently working on?

Erik MacArthur: I have a movie right now. We’re in the pre-production and we’re also casting right now. We’re looking to shoot in March in Hawaii.

You were born there right?

Yeah. It’s a story that takes place in my hometown that I wrote. I was living in L.A. for years and then I went home and made the central base while I worked out of there and traveled back and forth between L.A. and Hawaii. I got an idea for a story out there and then it took two years to write it to get it where I wanted it to be. It all takes place in a small town on the Big Island of Hawaii.

Could you go into more detail about the plot?

It’s kind of an actors driven piece. It’s not a fight movie but it’s in the world of mixed martial arts. It’s about some guys that I grew up with–some of the rough neck guys I grew up with out there–and it’s the world of martial arts in Hawaii. It’s like the flip side of paradise…It’s the authenticity of the people, kind of the grit. I really liked what Crazy Heart was, the authenticity of the country music world. Tone wise that inspired me to dig in to a story…it’s just so popular out there. My family has been in Hawaii since the 1920’s so we have a lot of history out there. I really wanted to dig in and do a story loosely around that and a central character. There’s a love story.

Do you spend a lot of time going back and forth?

I was but now I’m in L.A. so much because I’ve been working to put this thing together. It’s just taking all my time. I have a couple of other projects that we’re putting together that I’m hoping to do after this. So yeah, L.A. has been pretty much taking up all my time. I’d like to spend more time [in Hawaii] but I know I’m going back there to make the movie.

You’ve acted a lot in the past. What was that one moment when you realized you really wanted to direct?

I was actually really lucky to work on Pleasantville for a long time. I guess I was just so blown away with what Gary Ross was creating from a script. When I first read it I thought it was somewhat of a B movie but when I got there I saw what he was doing. The guy was just so full of imagination and created a world interior wise and exterior wise. He built up a whole town in like Malibu Canyon and that to me was just mind blowing.

I absolutely love that film. It’s definitely something to be inspired by.

Yeah. To be honest with you I really got lost in the world when we were making that movie and I think we all did. We were all a bunch of kids. It was really cool. It was the most movie world I felt I could get into. Which was part of the story too so its kind of ironic I guess. I saw what he was doing and I was so blown away by the workload. Even as a little kid–starting off when we were doing the Salute Your Shorts TV show–when I first started acting in front of the camera I was always so interested in the job and what it was and what they were doing. But when we did [Pleasantville] that really inspired me. What he was doing and just watching what he was able to create.

Fortunately two years later I got a job working on We Were Soldiers, that Mel Gibson movie. I got to watch Randall Wallace do the exact same thing but in Vietnam. They were these really cool larger than life movies that I was able to spend three months on, or two and a half months on, whatever it was on each of them. It was on each of them, that really made me go, ‘Wow these guys are really doing it. They’re getting out there and they’re going to war to make this film.’ And I was like ‘I just have to direct.’

So how was directing your 2006 Bottom’s Up with Kevin Smith, Jason Mewes and Paris Hilton?

With Paris, she was just at the peak of her popularity. It was brand new…We got Paris and producers came on and started pushing the movie and doing the whole nine. After Jason Mewes, because we thought it would be kind of cool and off casting, through Jason we brought Kevin Smith on. Kevin worked two days, two nights on it.

Would you say you’re more in control now that you can choose what you want to do?

Yeah, yeah. There are huge commitments taking on a film project. Especially working on the level of films I am. I mean the smaller Indie-ish kind of films and what not. It’s just a huge commitment. It took me two years to get my script the way I felt it needed it to be and you end up spending a couple years on a project no matter what. But I love it. I mean it’s a battle. You know it’s going into battle and having a knock out list to do every day…It’s just a list you have to accomplish. I love it, yes. It’s a fun thing for me.

When it comes to working with friends, in Pleasantville you acted alongside Paul Walker and in Life Makes More Sense If Your Famous, with Scott Caan. Would you consider working with them again in the future?

Yeah, I don’t know, maybe. They’re old, old time friends. Paul and Scott and those guys, when we were doing that short when I was younger, it was great they would be able to show up and help me out with that. They were just really supportive with putting that together. Yeah, they’re old friends so if there was something that’s right, I would love to. Scott’s a really talented guy and so is Paul. Scott’s showing himself a lot as an actor these days, which is great. Paul is an action guy. The Fast and the Furious franchise has just been amazing. Its gone as far as its gone and it’s still going.

Now, we have to get to Salute Your Shorts and your Michael Stein character. Do you still get recognized for it?

Not so much anymore. I did for years! I did for a really, really long time. It’s been years for me and I don’t get recognized a whole bunch because I was the straight man in it. Danny Cooksey was Budnick the redhead kid. He probably still gets recognized for it like crazy. Him and Michael Bower, the Donkey Lips character. They were pretty much the iconic characters from the show so when people think of the cast they think of them.

It does have such a fan following, but does it haunt you in a way? 

Does it haunt me? No, not at all! When I was younger, I think it probably did. When I was in my 20’s I was really serious about acting and I really wanted to prove to myself. So I think it kind of haunted me then, but no, not at all. I think it’s really cool. There were so few episodes and it’s turned into something like a little bit of a cult thing for us.

Do you have any memories from the show?

Yeah, I wasn’t four! [Laughs] I was I think 14 or 15. Yeah, probably around then like 15. I had a great time. Danny Cooksey and I had a great time. We were hellion kids. Cooksey was already the most famous guy I’d ever met. He was like a superstar around that time as far as I was concerned. We had a great time. It was a young crew of people in their late 20’s. It was a lot of laughs and a lot of good times.

For me I didn’t stick around for the second season, because I had a manager who had gotten me close on getting some pretty decent parts in films. They wanted to get me off that show to try to push on that. I got close on some stuff, but then it was a thing where I was going to prep school in Hawaii. I was being taken out of school and the school was getting angry because I wasn’t there enough and with the show I was getting pulled back and forth. I spent time in Hawaii and I had the same friends since I was five years old, and there was a really good school I was going to up there. So it was just kind of like, I wanted to go home and finish up high school, so that’s what I did. I was fortunate to work my senior year in high school on Byrds of Paradise for a few episodes with Seth Green and Jennifer Love Hewitt. It was really short lived…but I was able to work in Hawaii, which was great.

So is acting behind you? Is it just directing from now on?

I wouldn’t say that. I don’t know. I don’t audition anymore. I haven’t auditioned in years. I don’t want to say I quit but I stopped acting and going out trying to find work. When I started to go out with Bottoms Up, I made a short film right after We Were Soldiers and that was it. That was about almost ten years ago. But yeah, given the opportunity I would definitely do something if it were cool.

What kind of role would have to come around for you to consider auditioning?

I’m not really what I was as a kid. I guess you can say I’m a little on the edgier sides of things. So I like things that are really honest, which is what I’m trying to do with this movie. I really like honest performances. Honest characters. I saw The Town and I was blown away by what The Town was. It’s just the honesty of it and the authenticity of that. So when you are able to do subtle film acting that’s not over exaggerated and if there’s a certain amount of realism that comes through, I’m attracted to that.

Well, a little off topic here. But do you have a guilty pleasure song on your iPod?

Guilty pleasure? No, but I do listen to “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangster” a lot. That’s the closing song from Office Space. Wait, I got to pull it up. Yea, it’s by Geto Boys, that’s who it is. It’s like a 90s rap song.

That’s an awesome movie.

Oh yeah. Its great, its perfect. I saw it again I think about maybe a year ago and that song was in the closing and I was like, ‘Oh that’s like an anthem.’ [Laughs] You know? I was like ‘That’s like an anthem right there.’

That’s going to be in all your credits.

[Laughs] Yeah, I’m just going to role that no matter what the tone of the movie is. I’m going to come out with some “Damn It Feels Good to Be a Gangster.”

And what are your three Ologies?

OceanOlogy, the ocean. I’m a Hawaii guy. ServiceOlogy, helping others. And FamilyOlogy.

It probably sounds like you’re doing an interview with a guy from 1955. [Laughs] I’m a dying breed I guess.

Erik is not quite the dying breed when it comes to the film industry. He currently lives in L.A. and is set to go into production of Pono in March 2012.

Photo Credit: Gregory Bojorquez


Gail Simmons Talks Emmys At Fashion Week

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With the return of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, American Express Cardmembers had the opportunity to mingle and take in the Tadashi show with Top Chef’s Gail Simmons. Gail was a special guest speaker after the show to a circle of cocktail drinking ladies in a chic dark lit lounge. The Sept. 9 Skybox event at Lincoln Center gave everyone the chance not only to hear about the food critic’s Top Chef  show but also her Emmy excitement and what she’ll be wearing.

Skybox host Lauren Goodman interviewed the Food & Wine Special Projects Manager.

On the Emmys:

“It’s really exciting. It never gets old. This will be Top Chef’s fifth year being nominated for Outstanding Reality Competition Series…Its really exciting because we are a, well we always think of ourselves and compared to a lot of the other shows nominated against, we’re really a small cable show that when we started nine seasons ago in 2006, had no idea of so many things about how the show would progress. But certainly in my wildest dreams I never imagined we’d be at the Emmys, and so this is our fifth year going and last year we actually won! I mean, we won an

Emmy against American Idol and Dancing with the Stars and Survivor. These huge network shows. They’re just not as good as ours.”

The host of her own show, Top Chef: Just Desserts laughed off her comment, but really she was extremely inviting and enticing to watch. Her friend next door attitude didn’t make anyone think she was doing anything but making a joke and that was as refreshing as all the champagnes the bartender was handing out. She continued, “So we never in a million years thought we’d win and The Amazing Race won for seven years in the category before this and we were the ones to break that spell. So this year who knows what will happen but it kind of feels just that more exciting to be going to the Emmys…And to kind of walk that red carpet knowing that now people might even care that our little cooking show has a place on television.”

Now to the good ‘what are you wearing’ question.

“This year at the Emmys I’m wearing J. Mendel. Just amazing. I’ve never worn a gown by J. Mendel before. The process of finding an Emmy dress for me is always really intimidating. I’m not a tiny sample size and I am not—I don’t work in fashion every day. I’ve started obviously because I’m on television a lot. I spend a lot of time getting dressed and having to think a lot more about what I wear on television but finding an Emmy dress is a whole other ball game. I wear a long gown once a year so it’s also exciting to play princess. It’s a beautiful dress from the fall collection. It’s a plum color with a little black lace right where you want it.”

The one shoulder gown is said to be flattering with a long slit on the side. Fashion Director of Travel + Leisure and stylist Mimi Lombardo is helping with making sure all the pieces are aligned for the night. As shoes being the most important part to her, Gail is still deciding between a Jimmy Choo and Giuseppe Zanotti. The dress has to make its way back from the tailor before matching either a gold/silver to the attire or a black heel. The dress, the shoes and still deciding on a bag; Gail is ready for the weekend’s party event and we’ll just have to see if she takes home an award.


Interview: Gail Simmons Reveals Her Three Passions Besides ‘Top Chef’

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Gail Simmons was a special guest at the Tadashi Show Sept. 9 at Lincoln Center’s Skybox Lounge. There she talked to American Express Cardmembers about her new ventures, the Emmys and what she’ll be wearing for the big night. All of that can be caught up here.

When the talk was over and the lights remained unlit, Ology got the chance to talk with the Food & Wine and Just Desserts food critic. As in, was able to squeeze in some questions before the bar became overloaded with untouched champagne.

You talked about the Emmys, is there any celebrity that you really want to see on the carpet?

Gail Simmons: Oh my God, every year at the Emmys it’s amazing to see people on the carpet. I mean, who has great style? I’m always excited to see what January Jones wears. Christina Hendricks because she’s got a body I can understand. I always get excited to see the funny ladies–Amy Poehler, Tina Fey. They always look elegant and beautiful, and it’s always fun to see them.

You mentioned about needing your clutch on the red carpet. What’s the number one thing in your makeup bag you can’t live without?

Oh my God, I would say two things:  La Prairie concealer stick, it’s awesome. It’s kind of a pencil. In a pinch, you have a little dark under your eyes, a little spot— it’s always in my bag. What else. I have to have a little lip gloss. Goes a long way. Stila or Chanel.

You’ve worked with so many people on Top Chef and your Dessert show. Is there anyone you really want to work with that you haven’t yet? 

…There are so many people I want to have on the show! I would love to have Amy Sedaris on our show. She’s just one of the funniest ladies I’ve ever seen. You know, her comedy, her books, and she loves food! And she has a whole cookbook! So we’ve been trying to get her on the show for ages.

So what are your three Ologies?

I mean, definitely FoodOlogyMixOlogy-the art of mixing a great cocktail.

What’s your favorite cocktail?

Oh God, I don’t know it changes with the season. I would say right now– I had the most amazing Fig Vodka the other day, actually that was really great. In a Mojito and it gave it a different flavor and it was really delicious. I think it was called Figenza. What other cocktails do I love? I love cocktails that aren’t too sweet, even that have some saltiness. Some savoriness.

And your third Ology?

ShoeOlogy!

What shoes are your favorites? What designers?

Oh my God there are so many great designers who I love. I’m trying to think of someone who’s not just the same five people that everyone talks about. [pauses] I love Giuseppe Zanotti. Loeffler Randall makes great shoes, and they are actually beautiful flats and heels. Love them. And lately I’ve been buying a lot of Miu Miu. Miu Miu makes great shoes. I get so much use out of my Mui Mui shoes.

 

‘The Space Between’ Interview: Phillip Rhys On What To Take Away From 9/11 Based TV Film

Rhys.

Phillip Rhys is a British actor that has done extensive work in film, television and on stage. He continues to flourish in the states and is most recognizable for his roles in television’s Nip/Tuck24 and playing Proto Zoa in Disney’s Zenon series. The critically acclaimed Rhys can now be seen in The Space Between, a commemoration of the 10th anniversary of September 11 playing Pakistani ex-patriot Maliq Hassan, a father trying to pursue the American Dream. Ology got the chance to speak to the incredibly passionate actor about the TV movie and what future projects we can expect from him.

OLOGY: So tell us about this role.

PHILLIP RHYS: It is marking the 9/11 anniversary but it’s not necessarily a 9/11 movie. I’d say it’s more of a backdrop. It’s more of a setting to tell a story about three people who are coming to terms with loss and grief. You have the Melissa Leo character who’s an air stewardess. And what’s later revealed is that she lost her husband from the bombing…And myself, playing a single parent, a single father trying to make ends meet with two jobs. Moving to America as an immigrant because I too, it’s kind of dealt with in the very beginning of the movie, I’ve lost my wife. I want to set up new opportunities and give the best abilities to my kids. So I come to America.

So you’ve got three people trying to make the best out of the situation. Three people dealing with grief and loss and how the choices that you have or can make, move on. Which is sort of the best of human spirit. Regardless of how bad things are, we did move on. The default setting I think is that you move on and you don’t give up.

Is that something you wanted audiences to take away from this film?

Oh, for sure! Because you know, the opening of the movie, one’s initial impression of the movie and when you read the script, it can be, “Oh, this is a 9/11 movie. Oh, this is about this and that and different cultures…” But you know what? It’s a universal theme of a father who loves his son, and the son who loses the father, and a wife who lost her husband. So it is that–it’s that we’re all connected. We’re all the same. We all laugh pretty much the same. We grieve the same as human beings regardless of where we’re from.

And the first images of Melissa’s character are of her walking. She’s an air stewardess walking through the airport boarding the plane to go to work. And you have that image and then all of a sudden you hear Islamic prayers and then you cut to myself. You cut to a man and boy praying. I guess you can’t help after the events, after a small select group of a**holes with what they did, that you have extremists in every society…every culture, religion. After that you see essentially what people see and then again, it’s dealt with later. With the kid he’s praying on the bus so they’ll go, “Ah, I know this. We’ve just seen an airport, we’ve seen an airplane, and we see these two Islamic people praying. Oh, this movie’s aboutthat.” Meaning, you know. And in fact it’s not. You’ve got a father and a son praying. Billions of people around the world pray every morning, so one’s preconceived judgments and what they might come into in this movie–it’s turned on its head.

How was working with Melissa Leo on set?

Well you know what? It was just phenomenal. She had just shot The Fighter. I was a fan of her work from Frozen River and over the year’sHomicide and all that stuff. She’s just a thoroughbred. There’s no other way about it. She’s a blast and I have a scene with her–my son at the airport–when I give over my son to her.

Did you have to gain any kind of weight for the role?

I did, a little, a little but not drastic amounts. Nothing like (laughs) what De Niro did on Raging Bull but a little bit here and there. And that was just logistics, timing, because I’ve just come off this show in the UK called Survivors. I came back in mid-September and we were shooting in early October.

What kind of roles do you look for?

Different roles. Challenging roles. I was speaking to a journalists yesterday (and) he’s like, “I’m so glad we’re doing this interview because I had no idea that was you! I would have not known it was you.” A lot of my work is more of a leading man kind of thing, but I haven’t done the accent before or the beard. I got the the role and we shot in a very short period of time. I would’ve liked to put a lot more weight on and stuff like that. So it was kind of challenging.

What’s next for you? You’ve worked on two projects with Pacino and Spielberg.

Yeah. They’re coming out at the end of the year so that’s very exciting. Then I’m going off to London in October or November to shoot this movie called Magnificent Eleven, which is basically a take on Magnificent Eleven, the western. But the cowboys in this movie are a group of soccer players. Like a rag-tag team of soccer players and the bandits are the ones that are trying to sabotage them and destroy them. And the local Indian restaurants, they will sponsor the Cowboys, and then the Cowboys have to work at the Indian restaurants. It’s a big ole’ comedy. Its like Bad News Bears meets Monty [Python]. Fingers crossed. It’s very funny, something different that I’ve never done before.