A roundtable chat with Minnie Driver and Scott Speedman of “Barney’s Version”

A Brit who’s been successfully playing Americans for decades and a charmingly laid back Canadian with a definite air of California dude-ism about him, actors Minnie Driver and Scott Speedman might seem like a somewhat random pairing. Even in the new film version of the late novelist Mordecai Richler’s tragicomic swan song, “Barney’s Version,” their characters make for some pretty strange bedfellows. On the other hand “Driver and Speedman” does sound like the title of a late seventies cop show.

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Ms. Driver portrays the second Mrs. Panofsky, an otherwise unnamed Jewish Canadian princess who marries the very flawed Montreal TV producer Barney Panofsky (Paul Giamatti, who picked up a Golden Globe for the part Sunday night), only to find her new husband oddly distant, starting on the very day of their wedding. That’s because that’s also the day Barney meets – and goes completely nutso over – the woman who will eventually become Mrs. Panofsky #3 (Rosamund Pike). In Mrs. Panofsky’s corner: her outspoken ex-crooked policeman father-in-law (Dustin Hoffman), who speaks approvingly of her “nice rack.”

Speedman, for his part, is Barney’s multiple drug using novelist pal, Boogie. Best known for handsome-guy roles in the “Underworld” films opposite Kate Beckinsale and as the male lead in “Felicity” opposite Keri Russell, Speedman’s Bernard “Boogie” Moscovitch is a frequently charming rascal/jerkwad who both fails and assists his best friend in rather spectacular fashion, eventually starting a chain of events that may or may not lead to his murder by Barney.

Speedman entered the room first in typically low-key fashion, acting every bit the likable thirty-something surfer dude or ski-bum he could easily be cast as. Ms. Driver followed along, making a flirtatious joke about Speedman’s good looks and generally providing jovial company for a room full of entertainment writers one Beverly Hills winter’s day.

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Fox: What’s New for Fall 2010

MONDAY

Lone Star (Mon., Sept. 20 @ 9:00 PM, Fox)

* The competition: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), “Two and a Half Men” and “Mike & Molly” (CBS), “The Event” (NBC), “Gossip Girl” (The CW)

Starring: James Wolk, Adrianne Palicki, Eloise Mumford, Bryce Johnson, Mark Deklin, Jon Voight, David Keith

Producers: Christopher Keyser (“Party of Five”), Amy Lippman (“In Treatment”), Kerry Kohansky and Paul Weitz (“American Dreamz,” “Nick & Nora’s Infinite Playlist”)

Network’s Description: a sophisticated and provocative drama set against the sprawling backdrop of big Texas oil, about a charismatic and brilliant schemer who has entangled himself in a deep, complex web from which he can’t break free. He’s caught between two very different lives and two very different women.

The Buzz: Critically, I feel like it’s tracking higher than anything else out there, but it’s a thinking man’s show and it’s on Fox. This is traditionally not a combination that equals ratings success…or a second season.

Pilot Highlight: Ostensibly, the money shot is supposed to be when we realize that Bob has two families, but since there’s no way Fox won’t give away the premise of the show in the commercials, then it’s his reaction during a backyard barbeque when he has an abrupt attack of guilt over the hurt his actions are going to cause.

Bottom Line: It’s an intriguing premise for a drama that takes a lot of interesting turns in its first hour, which is probably why it feels way more like an FX series than a Fox series. As such, it hhasn’t much hope to make it to the end of the season, let alone beyond…and that’s a real shame, because – drum roll, please – “Lone Star” is the best drama of the season.

TUESDAY

Raising Hope (Tues., Sept. 21 @ 9:00 PM, Fox)

* The competition: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), “NCIS: Los Angeles” (CBS), “The Biggest Loser” (NBC), “Life Unexpected” (The CW)

Starring: Lucas Neff, Martha Plimpton, Garret Dillahunt, Cloris Leachman. Shannon Woodward, Skyler Stone

Producers: Greg Garcia (“My Name Is Earl”), Kim Hamberg (“The Middle”

Network’s Description: a sweet, offbeat comedy which follows Jimmy Chance, a well-meaning screw-up trying his best to raise his infant daughter with the help of the eccentric family who did a less-than-stellar job of raising him.

The Buzz: Not that the competition is all that strong, but most critics have pegged this as the best comedy of the season. Plus, while having Cloris Leachman in the cast isn’t quite as impressive as, say, Betty White, it ain’t half bad, either.

Pilot Highlight: The moment when Jimmy learns a very valuable lesson about his daughter’s car seat. Hand on heart, it has probably been two years since I laughed so hard at a moment in a sitcom.

Bottom Line: The ghost of “My Name Is Earl” seriously haunts the show, but the pilot has several laugh-out-loud moments, and a baby allows for a new spin on the sweet-natured white-trash comedy in which Garcia specializes.

Running Wilde (Tues., Sept. 21 @ 9:30 PM, Fox)

* The competition: “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), “NCIS: Los Angeles” (CBS), “The Biggest Loser” (NBC), “Life Unexpected” (The CW)

Starring: Will Arnett, Keri Russell, Stefania Owen, Peter Serafinowicz, Robert Michael Morris, Mel Rodriguez, David Cross

Producers: Mitch Hurwitz and Jim Vallely, (“Arrested Development”), Eric Tannenbaum and Kim Tannenbaum (“Two and a Half Men”), Peter Principato and Paul Young (“Reno 911”), Will Arnett

Network’s Description: a romantic comedy series in which a spoiled filthy rich playboy desperately tries to win the heart of his humanitarian childhood sweetheart by helping raise her 12-year-old daughter.

The Buzz: Pretty crappy the first time around, actually, and it didn’t take long for word to get back to the show’s producers. As I recall, there was some serious squirming going on when Arnett turned up to welcome critics to the Fox day of the TCA tour and asked us what we thought of it. For my part, I didn’t have to fake appreciation, as I kind of liked it…but, then, I even laughed at Arnett in “Let’s Go to Prison,” so take that opinion with a grain of salt. Still, they’ve switched things up a bit since then, adding David Cross to the mix as a recurring character, which certainly increases the show’s value for “Arrested Development” fans.

Pilot Highlight: Peter Serafinowicz successfully steals every scene he’s in (though we should probably give his horse part of the credit of that), but the moment when Arnett’s and Russell’s characters are reunited – pay attention to the music playing behind them, as it’s a payoff to an earlier joke – is both sweet and silly at the same time.

Bottom Line: Don’t get too excited about Cross’s contribution to the pilot (it plays exactly like the last-second addition that it was), but casting Arnett as a spoiled man-child of a character certainly finds him playing to his comedic strengths. “Running Wilde” isn’t going to a rash of “The ‘Arrested Development’ magic is back!” headlines, but if Hurwitz and Vallely can quickly find the balance between the sweet / silly vibe that pops up in the scenes when the Arnett / Russell relationship is the focus and the poor-little-rich-boy aspect of Arnett’s character, things could start looking up.

  

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TCA Press Tour, Summer 2010: Day 7

Day 7 of the TCA Press Tour technically began on Day 6: just as the ABC all-star party wrapped up, Fox hosted a cocktail party which doubled as an early check-in for their day of the tour…and, better yet, it was hosted by Will Arnett and Keri Russell, the stars of one of Fox’s upcoming new sitcoms, “Running Wilde.”

You’ll get more details about the show in due time, since there was a “Running Wilde” panel as well, but for now, I’ll just mention that two other individuals affiliated with the show made unexpected appearances at the early check-in: executive producer / co-creator Jim Vallely and co-star Peter Serafinowicz.

I didn’t really get a chance to chat with Russell (she was pretty well surrounded from the moment she arrived), but I did talk to Arnett for a few minutes. Thanks to my wife, though, I ended up having a relatively lengthy conversation with Serafinowicz and Vallely. I knew I’d recognized Serafinowicz, and he quickly reminded me why: he had his own series in the UK, one which many YouTube clips reveal to be extremely hilarious. Indeed, he’s the one who told me I should check them out, particularly his Beatles-related parodies, of which he’s quite proud. No wonder he was cast to play Paul in Robert Zemeckis’s “Yellow Submarine” remake.

In a strange “small world” moment, I also learned that Jim Vallely is the father of Tannis Vallely, the actress who played Janice, the glasses-wearing, cello-playing prodigy on “Head of the Class.” She’s now on the casting side of the business, having worked on such films as “X-Men Origins: Wolverine,” “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” “Oceans’ Thirteen,” and “It’s Complicated.” Eventually, my wife and I grew tired and retreated for the evening, but it would only be a few hours until we were back in the thick of it again, this time for the real beginning of Day 7.

Breakfast was brought to us by the casts of “Human Target” and “The Good Guys,” shows which, back in the days when the networks weren’t too cheap to spread their series across a two-day period, would’ve earned their own panels. Instead, we had to settle for chatting with them over bacon and eggs, bagels or donuts, and that sort of thing. In truth, the only person I really had the chance to speak with was Jackie Earle Haley on “Human Target,” and that was mostly because I feel like I kinda sorta know him (he’s friends with Bullz-Eye’s own Ross Ruediger and, as a result, has come to recognize me on sight as “Ross’s friend”), but as you can see, everyone was in the house from both series.

Soon enough, the actors headed out to start their own days, and having finished our breakfast, we took our seats and prepared for the first panel of the morning to begin.

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Another Easter weekend trailer: “Leaves of Grass”

We live in a climate where even a fairly action-packed stoner black comedy featuring an apparent comedic powerhouse performance by an A-lister can still be released almost as if it were a 4-hour meditation on the futility of existence from the Ukraine. Fortunately for said A-lister, Edward Norton, and actor-writer-director Tim Blake Nelson, “Leaves of Grass” — which has not much to do with Walt Whitman but utterly wowed Roger Ebert — apparently made audiences squeal with delight at SXSW, reportedly setting up a chain of events which saved that film from what Anne Thompson reported on Thursday would have been a mere $250,000 ad budget.

The movie, which really seems to have dramatically divided critics so far (occasionally a sign of a truly interesting film), continues a venerable tradition of great actors interacting with themselves as identical twins and more fanciful doppelgangers. Below, Norton swims quite nicely in the same waters that worked so well for Jeremy Irons (“Dead Ringers”), Nicolas Cage (“Adaptation”), and, more recently, Sam Rockwell (“Moon“).  All I can say is that with a supporting cast that features a menorah-wielding Richard Dreyfuss, Keri Russell, Susan Sarandon, and filmmaker Nelson, a strong comic actor whose previous indie films have all been on deadly serious topics,  this one may not turn out to be the masterpiece Ebert finds it to be, but it sure looks to me like way too much fun to be left just to us art-house denizens.

  

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