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Off Camera with Sam Jones

Author: Sam Jones

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Off Camera is a podcast hosted by photographer/director Sam Jones, who created the show out of his passion for the long form conversational interview, and as a way to share his conversations with a myriad of artists, actors, musicians, directors, skateboarders, photographers, and writers that pique his interest. Because the best conversations happen Off Camera.
272 Episodes
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Ep 52.5.  Sam Jones 1

Ep 52.5. Sam Jones 1

2020-12-3101:03:07

Producer Chris Moore puts Sam Jones in the hot seat!
Ep 5.  Robert Downey Jr - 1

Ep 5. Robert Downey Jr - 1

2020-12-2401:14:38

“Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on ‘I am not too sure.’” -H.L. Mencken Henry Louis Mencken and Robert Downey Jr. did not cross paths in life (though it’s fun to imagine that conversation), but the essayist’s quote is an apt description of the actor’s approach to life. Downey’s restless intelligence is reflected in his ability to express several contradictory points of view simultaneously, making sense all the while. He can be direct one moment and elusive the next, often spinning off on seemingly unrelated tangents. But like watching a juggler on a wire, being in Downey’s presence is a riveting experience. For someone who almost from the outset was deemed “the greatest actor of his generation”, the majority of Robert Downey, Jr.’s career has been filled with big commercial flops, “critically acclaimed” flops, very public struggles with drugs and more than a little jail time – all of which have landed him squarely in some of the biggest blockbuster films in recent history. It’s an unlikely hero story, but then Robert Downey Jr. is an unlikely hero. With the release of the final film in the Iron Man trilogy, it’s ironic to contemplate that the studios also didn’t see him as a hero, least of all an action hero. Downey disagreed. At once supremely convinced of his own talent and extremely humble, he fought hard for the role of Tony Stark when the studio flatly refused to even let him audition. He prepped intensely, though for other roles he admits he’s just as likely to wing it. Downey is an enviably comfortable resident of the gray area we all inhabit. He is (somewhat) remorseful about his jail time but without resentment towards the upbringing that arguably introduced him to the lifestyle that led him there (“I choose to see it in a positive light.”) His years in the industry have left him clear-eyed and cynical about the business; yet he remains full of enthusiasm and curiosity about his art, and he’s deadly serious about bringing the best of himself to the set every day. He’s an obsessive analytic who’s inclined to let his gut make most of his decisions. On any multiple-choice personality test, Robert Downey Jr. is ‘all of the above.’ Maybe that’s what keeps us watching.
Ep 133.  Danai Gurira

Ep 133. Danai Gurira

2020-12-1701:05:27

The talented and worldly Danai Gurira has been bridging the gap between disparate worlds ever since her family moved from Grinnell, IA to Africa when she was a toddler. In school, the self-described Zimerican (Zimbabwean-American) was the “African kid with a twangy American accent” who got along with everybody regardless of race and class. That ability to cross borders both artistic and geographic has defined Danai’s career. On the blockbuster side, Danai inhabits the character of Okoye in the highly anticipated Marvel film Black Panther and the character of Michonne, the butt-kicking zombie killer in AMC’s hit series The Walking Dead. On the literary side, she’s a playwright with Broadway success who mingles with the high-brow theatre crowd. But don’t get caught up in Western delineations between actor and writer because at her core, Danai is a storyteller—a woman who uses her unique perspective and artistic talent to reveal the shared humanity between seemingly different worlds of Africa and America. Danai points out that talent must be nurtured and distractions must be set aside because “the whole goal of storytelling is to became a worthy enough vessel for the story to come through you.” Danai joins Sam Jones to discuss the nuanced world of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, auditioning for The Walking Dead, overcoming grad school breakdowns, and discovering her artistic mandate.
Ep 7.  Dave Grohl

Ep 7. Dave Grohl

2020-12-1001:01:211

Being a bona fide badass is the price of entry for a career in rock and roll; and if you ask Dave Grohl, it’s the key ingredient for just about anything worth doing. His approach to life has fueled the Foo Fighters’ 20 year,11 album career and garnered him a following of very stoked rock fans, many of who gathered at this year’s SXSW music conference to hear Grohl’s keynote address. The hipsters, rockers, start-uppers and next-big-thing developers packing the room were no doubt curious to hear how one goes about dropping out of high school, rising to fame as the drummer in Nirvana (a small Northwest act you may have heard of), and then go on to lead one today’s few remaining true rock bands? For Grohl, the answer’s pretty simple: figure out who you are and what inspires you and don’t look back – develop that individuality by working as hard as you can at what you love. That clarity of approach drove not only his Nirvana/Foo Fighters trajectory, but numerous musical side projects like Queens of the Stone Age, and Them Crooked Vultures. And most recently, a new artistic title: documentarian. He didn’t know anything about the film making process except what he needed to know most: Passion for your subject is sine qua non; and not one to do anything without it, Grohl didn’t question himself. Nor apparently did Rick Springfield, Neil Young, Stevie Nicks, Paul McCartney, and Tom Petty, all subjects of Sound City, his fascinating documentary about the people behind the studio that launched an amazing roster of legendary music acts. For a guy who admits to still feeling like a 13 year old and dressing like a 17 year old, Grohl has something to teach all of us…and shares it with Off Camera in one of our most inspiring interviews to date.
Ep 156.  Awkwafina

Ep 156. Awkwafina

2020-12-0301:03:251

Awkwafina (also known as Nora Lum) is having quite a moment. She’s a part of the impressive cast of female icons (Sandra Bullock, Rihanna, Cate Blanchett, and more) in Ocean’s 8, and she’s so hilarious in Crazy Rich Asians that you’ll barely hear her next line over the sound of your own laughter. What does this moment in the spotlight feel like? Awkwafina likens it to this: “I compare it to a wall opening up and transporting you to an alternate dimension where there is no gravity, and everything is weird.” Her initial shock isn’t so strange when you consider the fact that she never allowed herself to dream of a career in the arts, and there weren’t exactly any female Asian-American actress/rapper hybrids to pave the road to possibility. Awkwafina tried to follow the path that her friends took after college, but living the buttoned-up office life of a publicity assistant in Manhattan wasn’t really her thing. When her boss made her choose between her music and her unfulfilling job, it wasn’t much of a contest—not only because she got fired, but especially because her identity was at stake. As she explains, “If I didn’t have my music, then I didn’t have an identity.” With nothing to lose, she decided to post her “My Vag” music video on Youtube, in which she hilariously raps about the superiority of her genitalia. After the push of a “Publish” button, Awkwafina became a viral success—and the rest is herstory. As the first Asian-American actress/rapper of any consequence, Awkwafina acknowledges, “Being the first sucks, but I found what I love. I found what I always dreamt of as a kid that would connect with adulthood. It’s so powerful for me. I finally feel like I can walk and know what I’m doing. I know why I’m there.” Awkwafina joins Off Camera to talk about embracing the responsibility that comes with being an Asian-American actor in Hollywood, discovering her comedic talents post personal tragedy, and why Margaret Cho is her spirit animal.
Ep 140.  John Goodman

Ep 140. John Goodman

2020-11-2601:00:37

John Goodman wasn’t always the imposing presence he is today, but he’s always had his charisma. As an eighth grader in Missouri, John charmed the “hard guys” in school with a spot-on Gomer Pyle impression so they would protect him. As he explains, “I was a little fat kid. I had the glasses with the tape in the middle. I was nerdy, man.” Heavily influenced by Marlon Brando and captivated by the language of Shakespeare, John discovered his dream to become an actor and left the Midwest to make it happen. After a stint as Thomas Jefferson in a dinner theater rendition of 1776, John found commercial success in New York City, but his career really took off when Roseanne came along in the late ‘80s. He’s also been a fixture in Coen brothers’ movies (Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, and more), bringing his characteristic physicality to roles that simmer with an explosive energy. Exhibit A—screaming obscenities and beating the bejesus out of a Corvette with a crow bar in The Big Lebowski. That on-screen volatility was also present in John’s off-screen life. Decades of heavy drinking forced John to confront his demons, and as a self-described “egomaniac with an inferiority complex,” he has come out the other side with humility, grace, and an endearingly self-deprecating sense of humor. His perspective on his life and career is downright fascinating. John brings candor and wit to our Off Camera conversation. We discuss why “everything is on the page” with the Coen brothers, how Roseanne came back after a 21-year hiatus, why John looked for trouble in Central Park, and how the movie Animal House was a terrible influence on him.
Ep 50.  Aubrey Plaza

Ep 50. Aubrey Plaza

2020-11-1901:04:51

When the notoriously poker-faced Aubrey Plaza says that she’s wanted to be an actor since she was 13 and thus isn’t surprised it’s happening, or that perhaps the universe responded to her acting daydreams, you have to wonder, does she really mean that? Understandably, Aubrey Plaza used to hate the word “deadpan,” as associated as it’s become with the detached, almost unreadable delivery she’s cultivated as characters like Julie Powers in Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, Darius in Safety Not Guaranteed and perhaps most famously, Parks and Recreation’s wryly impassive April Ludgate. Then her Ned Rifle director Hal Hartley cast the term in a different light: maybe it occasionally serves a character to drop lines with a certain lack of personal involvement. Though no one expects much from a zombie in the way of emoting, The Guardian said of Life After Beth, “…Plaza steals the show with one foot in the grave, her rotting heroine ricocheting between adolescent snarkiness and cadaverous rage…” When you think about it, it takes a certain amount of equanimity to put a line out there and let it sit without telegraphing what we’re supposed to think about it or how we’re supposed to react. If that means viewers remain a bit off balance, all the better to hold our attention while we supply our own context. But back to those comments. She was (we’re pretty sure) quite sincere, though Plaza herself likely had more to do with moving her career along than the universe. Philosophically, she seems to fall somewhere between fatalism and determinism. When her mom introduced her to Saturday Night Live, young Aubrey decided it was her dream job. When she looked up cast member bios and saw standup comedy as the common thread among her idols, she went promptly into improv, and later actually interned at SNL. Shortly after, she started growing the career she’s still building today with drolly arresting roles in films like Funny People and About Alex and The To Do List, often playing younger, still-at-that-awkward-stage characters. Perceptive viewers of her arc on the recently-ended Parks and Recreation might have noticed Plaza’s very intentional efforts to add layers and different choices to April Ludgate, without any overreaching departures from the essence of her character. Now able to poke her head up take a look around after six seasons on Parks, Plaza plans to continue her attempt “…to be considered a well-rounded actor, not a weirdo.” That starts next year with Dirty Grandpa and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. Given her peppy, workmanlike embrace of masturbation (The To Do List), doll parts (Playing It Cool), and, um, quirky guest appearances (any number of talk shows), she’s demonstrated she’s unafraid to attempt almost anything, including being herself – no small feat in her line of work. If part of the outrageousness allows her to remain a bit of an enigma, we can live with that. What we most want to see is what Plaza does next, because if there’s one thing that’s obvious, the woman’s capable of almost anything.
Ep 134.  Common

Ep 134. Common

2020-11-1259:39

Common is a man who is anything but, and he’s been evolving as an artist since the start of his three-decade-and-counting career when he was a young musician rapping about his love for hip-hop. These days, in addition to being a Grammy-winning artist, Common is an established actor, known for his work on AMC’s Hell on Wheels and films like American Gangster, Selma, and Just Wright. Common is what you’d call a conscious artist—someone who uses his platform to encourage social and political change. He believes it’s the responsibility of an artist to say, “I see what you’re going through, and I’m going to stand up and use my voice, my talents, and my energy towards making your world better.” In his song “Black America Again,” he uses the power of music to show us the problems that arise from systemic racism and what we can do to resolve them. Despite his success, he’s not living a life disassociated from the, er, common people. You might even catch him writing a new song in his car if you find yourself in traffic on the 405. Ultimately, Common is an artist who cherishes the opportunity to grow and evolve, so if he has it his way, he’ll be freestyling into his seventies. Common joins Off Camera to discuss the responsibility of an artist, the socio-economic underpinnings of hip-hop braggadocio, and why he loves to feel nervous when he’s starting a new project.
Ep 25.  Jessica Chastain

Ep 25. Jessica Chastain

2020-11-0501:01:14

What does it take to feel confident that you’ve made it in Hollywood? “Coming from nowhere with no connections” and going almost overnight to A-list status with leads in a string of the most highly acclaimed films in recent history would do the trick. So would a modest but steely belief that acting is what you’re meant to do, and always will do. Jessica Chastain wasn’t always certain of her path, but she never questioned her destination. That helps when you find yourself going to audition after audition with zero film work to show casting directors. Though daunting, it allowed her the rare opportunity to enter wide public and industry consciousness with a series of performances as revelatory as they were different in Jolene, Tree of Life, The Help and Zero Dark Thirty. While deeply appreciative of the experiences those films earned her to work with some of the most innovative and talented directors and cinematographers in the business, Chastain says she still feels the need to eventually take her roles away from the writers and directors with whom she collaborates. Call it an overdeveloped sense of ownership; but it’s the kind of ownership that creates characters whose inner life is so transparent that we’re along for the ride from first frame. But perhaps the most admirable and inspiring aspect of her position in Hollywood is how she’s using it to advocate for a much-needed increase in female presence, perspective and opportunities in the industry she loves. She knows bringing Off Camera votes Jessica Chastain for Best Actress…and maybe for President.
Ep 46.  Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Ep 46. Joseph Gordon-Levitt

2020-10-2901:01:22

One of best ways to enter and appreciate the original, prolific brain of Joseph Gordon-Levitt is through the lens of hitRECord, the open, collaborative production company he founded in 2005, and one of the most creative and inspiring uses of the Internet ever. Its nearly 100,000 members submit projects – films, stories, songs, drawings, you name it – for other members to edit, build on and evolve. Gordon-Levitt credits directing short films on hitRECord with teaching him what he needed to know to make Don Jon, his first feature film as a writer, director and star. It was a darkly comic but ultimately hopeful tale about what happens when we become too connected to our devices, consuming people as things and communicating at versus with each other. His effort was rewarded with critical acclaim rare for actors who have the audacity to become auteurs; more importantly, audiences dug it. A lot of artists might find hitting it out of the park on their first time at bat daunting, but it just made him want to do more, and on a more collaborative level. That’s because Gordon-Levitt has never been fond of one-way streets – not for communication, not for critiques, not for creating, and especially not for careers. He could’ve ambled down his own pretty easy and lucrative path after early childhood success in commercials, films and most famously, NBC’s hit sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun. Instead, he went to Columbia University, largely out of a desire to reclaim the feeling of “not knowing what I was going to be” – an open question for many college freshmen, but few actors who’ve worked steadily from the age of four. When he found himself roaming the streets of New York with a video camera, he knew a return to acting was inevitable, but he knew it would have to be in unexpected roles – not to make an artistic statement, but to prove to the business (and himself) that he didn’t have to be just one thing. When such roles weren’t immediately forthcoming, his restless creativity found an outlet in hitRECord. The roles he was seeking eventually surfaced in films like 500 Days of Summer, Brick, Inception and Mysterious Skin; and hitRECord projects began to take on momentum. Good times for someone who “gets off on the stuff I never anticipated would happen.” He believes we should welcome versus dread the unexpected, that change is the most natural state, that good becomes great when we all participate and, as poignantly demonstrated by his late brother Dan, that “people can be whatever the hell they want to be.” All of which posits that the best artists are collaborators, and the best collaborators tend to have a stubborn optimistic streak. Maybe it’s that enthusiasm (and a certain degree of DIY showmanship) that invests his performance as funambulist Philippe Petit in Robert Zemekis’ The Walk with such verve and authenticity. That, and his superior make-believe skills – a blank green screen is no match for a fertile imagination. In this issue, we talk to him about that film, the role of technology in modern life, what he’s learned from being on both sides of the camera, and his hopes for future of hitRECord. For those still unclear on that concept, tune in to our broadcast episode for Gordon-Levitt’s demonstration – and the musical results. Thanks, well,…everyone.
Ep 72.  Mindy Kaling

Ep 72. Mindy Kaling

2020-10-2259:011

Much has been made–justifiably so–about the anemic diversity represented in film and television, most problematically when roles originally written for people of color are rewritten for white actors. So consider if you will the concept of a 5’ 4” woman of Indian descent writing and playing the part of a famously strapping white male actor – in 2002, no less. The off-Broadway play (that would be Matt & Ben, in case you were wondering) hardly seems like the breakout opportunity of a lifetime for anyone. But Vera Mindy Chokalingam, 23 years old and barely out of college at the time, is about as un-anyone as they come. Matt & Ben was named one of Time magazine’s “Top Ten Theatrical Events of the Year,” and its co-writer/co-star (better known these days as Mindy Kaling) praised by The New York Times for her fine, deadpan sense of the absurd and the vicious. As fateful showbiz stories often go, in the audience one night was producer Greg Daniels, who was working on an American adaptation of The Office. He hired Kaling as a writer-performer on the show. Make that the only female writer on a staff of eight, and soon its most prolific. “Your average writer, when they get really good, I know how they got it,” Daniels told The New York Times. “I can see the steps. But I love how with Mindy, I don’t see how she does it.” We have a speculation or two. Kaling grew up on Fawlty Towers and Saturday Night Live, and says she realized pretty early on that the only thing she really liked doing was writing dialogue. Listening to the characters on her shows, you get the feeling that there’s so much rapid-fire conversation looping in her head that it’s all she can do to keep up; no wonder Kelly Kapoor, Mindy Lahiri and their co-workers seem to spring fully formed like mini-Athenas from the crowded forehead of a comic Zeus. It also spills over into books (Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? And Other Concerns and Why Not Me?) and a Twitter feed as random and entertaining as it is followed – by more than 7.5 million fans. Kaling’s on-screen alter egos are at once reflections and antipodes of Kaling herself. They love and feed on the pop-culture they send up. They’re unapologetically self-involved and superficial, proof that Kaling has no problem being the target of her own gimlet-eyed humor. In its review of The Mindy Project’s first episode, The A.V. Club wrote, “What’s most intriguing about this project is just how harsh it is about its lead character, who is certainly not without flaws…Kaling has her eye on doing something more ambitious than the standard TV claptrap.” Say what you want about her characters, they are not clichés. Ambitious, demanding, egocentric, romantically messed up, yes, but not anything you’d find among the seven standard Hollywood-issue female roles she barbecued in a 2011 New Yorker piece. Which gives us high expectations for what she’ll do with her role in Sandra Bullock’s all-female remake of Ocean’s Eleven. High hopes, too, given how sorely comedy needs what she does. It is funny how the honesty we love in bold female characters can still unsettle us in the women who play them. And maybe that’s why there remain many who are reluctant to make waves. Kaling is not among them. Talking to her, you sense an entitlement, but it’s one of privilege earned – through talent, risk, constantly proving one’s place at the table, and mostly, very hard work. “I feel I can go head-to-head with the best white, male comedy writers out there,” Kaling has said. (And if you can convince an audience you’re Ben Affleck, why wouldn’t you?) Though she’s more than proven her point, let’s hope she’ll never stop making it.
Ep 96.  Courteney Cox

Ep 96. Courteney Cox

2020-10-1558:02

So no one told her life was going to be this way. Except Friends director Jimmy Burrows, who took Courteney Cox and her fellow cast members to dinner in Vegas, telling them to enjoy the last time they'd ever be able to go out together in public without causing total pandemonium. For Cox, who never had a master plan, it was the start of what was arguably the most successful 18-year run on series television, after which some actors might welcome a break and a margarita or two. Others might freak out just a bit. You probably know what camp she falls in. We talk to Cox about her meteoric acting career, what it's like to simultaneously finance and direct an independent film, learning her craft on the fly, and how none of it would have ever happened if Brian De Palma had actually listened to her back in 1984.
Ep 168.  Matt Damon 2

Ep 168. Matt Damon 2

2020-10-0801:05:542

For those of you watching this week’s Off Camera episode, do not adjust your sets…that is me sitting across from Matt, humiliatingly dressed head to toe in a Red Sox uniform, having lost a bet to Matt when my beloved Dodgers lost in the world series for the second year in a row. And for those of you listening or reading, well, just imagine my shame. For as long as Matt Damon can remember, he wanted to be an actor. So much so that he started his college essay with those very words. But before all the accolades and success, Matt was just a kid from Cambridge, MA who loved playing sports and watching movies. His chances of becoming a pro athlete came up short (both literally and figuratively), but he was determined to make a career out of acting after the seed was planted by an influential theater teacher and nurtured by his best friend and fellow cinephile Ben Affleck. They had no road map for success, but Matt and Ben had an advantage over their teenage peers—they just wanted it more. They took the train from Boston to New York regularly for auditions, using money drawn from their communal acting bank account to cover expenses. Eventually, one of those auditions turned into a small part in the 1988 Julia Roberts feature Mystic Pizza, but Matt’s “big break” proved to be elusive. He auditioned for the eventual Academy Award winner Dead Poets Society but was rejected in favor of Ethan Hawke, and the cruel reality of the industry smacked him in the face when he was working at the local movie theater the following summer: “I went from the possibility of being in this great film to the guy tearing the movie ticket and watching people come out crying because they’re so moved. That’s the range in this business.” So Matt and Ben decided to take fate into their own hands and write a great film that they could both star in. That was how Good Will Hunting and the acclaimed acting careers of Matt and Ben came into being. It’s been 20 years, and Matt’s career is still going strong. As our first two-time guest, Matt joins Off Camera to talk about his acting mid-life crisis, the gamble that almost cost Matt and Ben Good Will Hunting, the invaluable wisdom he’s gained from directors, and why the Boston Red Sox and specifically Fenway Park carry so much significance for him.
Mary Elizabeth Winstead’s first true love was the ballet, but her body had other plans, and she grew a bit too tall for the grande jeté. Luckily, her favorite parts about ballet—performing, telling a story, playing different characters—are all essential tenets of acting, and Mary found herself in love anew. Her early experiences acting reinforced her love of the craft, but as she got older, she struggled to find her artistic place in an industry where women are often saddled with objectification and unwanted sexual attention. But it was when Mary faced the prospect of quitting that she found her voice, and became willing to say no. She also started choosing roles that weren’t based on her beauty or desirability. “I’d always prefer to take a great role in a weird horror film over playing somebody’s girlfriend in another actor’s big vanity piece.” Her dedication is evident in her work. She’s turned in incredible performances in films like Smashed, Alex of Venice, and in Noah Hawley’s hit television series Fargo. That trend continues in her newest film All About Nina in which she plays a standup comedian who is struggling to grapple with her own emotional turmoil. Mary joins Off Camera to talk about the challenges she’s faced as a woman in Hollywood, why making a performance human and believable is so essential to storytelling, and why she’ll never step foot in a casting office bathroom.
Ep 89.  David Oyelowo

Ep 89. David Oyelowo

2020-09-2401:21:06

David Oyelowo has a favorite phrase from St. Francis of Assisi. “Preach the gospel, and every now and again use words.” You could see why. One of the most remarkably talented film and stage actors working today, he employs words to stunning effect, but it’s between syllables that one sees his real power. There’s something in his being that telegraphs a certain dignity, a deep human awareness and an underlying joy that he seems incapable of turning off, on screen or in person. “He’s kind of an amazing balance of import and also a kind of levity and light,” said J. J. Abrams, producer of Oyelowo’s upcoming film The God Particle. He’s best known for his acclaimed portrayal of Martin Luther King Jr. in Selma, in which his embodiment of a man raised to sainthood status as one also troubled by fear and doubt was praised most widely for its authenticity. That lack of hagiography may be partly due to an outsider’s perspective. Race played a significant, but different role in his life. He was born in London to Nigerian parents who moved the family to Lagos when he was six, and back when he was 14. Comparatively privileged in Nigeria where classmates called him coconut (white inside) and in more humble circumstances in the UK, he never completely fit. He took nothing for granted other than his own self-worth, and the importance of bettering himself. Despite being a hard worker and ambitious, he admits to enrolling in a youth theater program only because a girl he liked invited him. Oyelowo didn’t share his decision to pursue acting with his father (who was thinking along more lawyerly lines) until he’d secured a scholarship to London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art. He was offered a season with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and in a major landmark for color-blind casting, became the first black actor to play an English king in a major production of Shakespeare. He was soon getting parts in a number of British films and TV series, most famously, officer Danny Hunter in the British TV drama series Spooks (MI-5 to North American audiences). Problem was, given British producers’ fondness for period pieces, he found the choice of interesting roles for black actors if not insulting, at least limiting. When he looked at the careers of his acting heroes – Will Smith, Sidney Poitier and Denzel Washington – he realized they were made in Hollywood. So that’s where he went. Catching the eye of major directors like Ava DuVernay and Lee Daniels opened opportunities for more nuanced characters, and recognition. His work in The Butler, Red Tails, Intersteller, and Disney’s Queen of Katwe garnered a wider audience, but his 83-minute masterwork may just be HBO’s Nightingale. Writing about the 2014 film, which essentially starred Oyelowo and a room, The New York Times called his performance nothing less than amazing. “Mr. Oyelowo gives a riveting, disorienting and suspenseful tour of an unraveling mind. The music and cinematography are artful, but the props are mundane: a coffee maker, a mirror, a laptop. Everything is in Mr. Oyelowo’s voice, face and body.” He found time for an all-too-brief return to the stage last year in an “electrifying” Othello opposite Daniel Craig, something we’ll be kicking ourselves for a long time for missing. “Mr. Oyelowo is Olympian in his anguish,” read the review in the Times’ Critics’ Picks. “His Othello is the real thing — a bona fide tragic hero, whose capacity for emotion is way beyond our everyday depths.” Early on in his career, Oyelowo told his agent to put him up only for non-race-specific parts, an edict he worried was naïve when offers were initially slow in coming. But holding steadfast has given him a chance to prove his range. And while he remains adamant about not playing one type of character, he is interested in a recurring character trait. He believes virtue is “something to be celebrated — entertaining, compelling, dramatic.” It’s not something you hear from many actors, and maybe that’s for the best. In the hands of an artist of lesser skill and subtlety, the intent might be noble, but the result one-note or worse, pandering and corny. In Oyelowo’s work, we’re able to look past even the most cynical parts of ourselves, and see something to hope for. In him, we have actor we not only can’t look away from, but simply don’t want to. HOME
Ep 138.  Bill Hader

Ep 138. Bill Hader

2020-09-1759:501

As a high school kid growing up in Oklahoma, Bill Hader received a progress report from his French teacher that had remarkable foresight: “Bill is very funny in class. He’ll probably be on Saturday Night Live one day. He has a 37% in class though. He will not be speaking French.” Bill had a natural gift for doing voices and impressions, and years later, he would indeed join SNL. For eight years, he brought memorable characters to life, including fan-favorites like his exasperated Vincent Price, the lecherous Italian Vinny Veducci, and Weekend Update correspondent Stefon. As one of the most talented cast members on the show, it’s hard to believe Bill when he tells me that it was never his dream to be on Saturday Night Live. After his eight-year stint on SNL and roles in a number of films (The Skeleton Twins, Trainwreck, Inside Out), Bill’s finally realizing his dream with Barry, his upcoming HBO show about a hitman who really wants to be an actor. Bill directs, writes, and stars in the show, and because he favors truthfulness over funny gags, it’s one of the most unique shows on television: “In comedy, it’s so easy to come up with gags and little bits. It’s a lot harder to make a person’s emotional journey make sense.” Bill Hader joins Off Camera to discuss storytelling in Barry, struggling with anxiety on SNL, why he waited so long to pursue his dream to become a filmmaker, and why everyone in town thought he was on drugs in high school.
Ep 160.  Elizabeth Olsen

Ep 160. Elizabeth Olsen

2020-09-1001:01:57

It’s safe to say that Elizabeth Olsen didn’t have a normal childhood. As the other sister to the Olsen twins, Elizabeth Olsen had a front row seat to her sisters’ experience in the spotlight, media circus included, and she also witnessed what it was like to be a working actor—something she wanted to be but was embarrassed to admit. “I had this fear that people would think I didn’t earn or deserve the things I worked for because of who I was naturally associated with.” The nepotism critique motivated her to prove her worth, but that turned out to be the easy part. Elizabeth’s a hard worker by nature. After all, you don’t get dubbed NYU’s notorious “Rehearsal Nazi” for nothing. And very soon, people started taking notice, and Elizabeth started getting roles, including the one that led to her breakout performance in Martha Marcy May Marlene. Since then, Elizabeth has conquered the world of independent film (Wind River, Kodachrome, Ingrid Goes West) and the blockbuster world of Marvel’s Avengers franchise as superhero Scarlet Witch. Elizabeth is the kind of actor who loves the work and the craft, and she’s also the kind of artist who wants to take risks. In her newest project, Sorry for Your Loss, a Facebook Watch series that explores grief, she plays a widow trying to piece her life back together—not easy subject matter, but as you’ll see, Elizabeth will rise to any challenge thrown her way. Elizabeth joins Off Camera to talk about the biggest lesson she’s learned from her family, why she may be one of the few actors who likes to audition, and why she’s the most Zen type A person you’ll ever meet.
Ep 76.  Mark Duplass

Ep 76. Mark Duplass

2020-09-0301:01:49

Our talk with Mark Duplass will take you about an hour to absorb, and we sincerely hope you will. But say you only have about seven minutes, 13 seconds, and access to YouTube. Watch his 2003 short This Is John and you’ll have the CliffsNotes on who he is as a filmmaker: A genius at distilling our most towering personal fears, frustrations and joys into one seemingly inconsequential or silly event. The simple task of recording an outgoing phone message becomes a study of existential loneliness and self-doubt. The cold fingers-on-your-neck sensation comes when you realize you know exactly how he’s feeling. Another early Duplass trademark? The entire cost of the wholly improvised film was about three bucks. Duplass, along with his brother and producing partner Jay, became known for making studies of the human condition that masquerade as movies; and for making movies that fit whatever budget, props and actors were available. Two years later, Mark wrote, produced and acted in his debut feature, The Puffy Chair, which The New York Times called “a scruffy little miracle of truthfulness.” It was a true Duplass production – highly personal, built around a couple of props they already owned, and featuring mostly their friends, who mostly improvised the dialogue. Though it was seen by just 25,000 people in theaters after screening at Sundance, Mark and Jay suddenly found themselves fielding calls from well-established actors who wanted to be in their next indie. Stars like Ed Helms, Jonah Hill and John C. Reilly were fine swapping trailers for couch surfing in exchange for a collaborative, improvisational experience that used their talents beyond saying a line and hitting a mark. Major studios got interested, too. As the movies and the budgets got bigger, Mark and his brother sometimes struggled to walk the line between commercial filmmaking and the subdued, human and outright weird aesthetic that set their work apart in the first place. It’s a creative POV that feels as much a part of who he is as what he does, and therefore to be valued above any potential box office take. And they largely succeeded in maintaining that sensibility. “What’s intriguing about Cyrus,” wrote Roger Ebert of Duplass’ 2010 feature about an overgrown kid with creepy mommy issues, “is the way it sort of sits back and observes an emotional train wreck as it develops. The movie doesn’t eagerly jump from one payoff to another, but attunes itself to nuance, body language and the habitual politeness with which we try to overlook social embarrassment.” Jeff, Who Lives at Home, The Do-Deca-Pentathlon and Creep followed in quick succession, all bigger, all largely well reviewed. And all great for a Duplass, a guy who wants beyond little else just to make films that people see. Even so, he realized his and Jay’s approach is not the stuff of which blockbusters are made. Enter the golden age of TV, embodied in this instance by Netflix. It’s a platform made for an artist seeking creative freedom in getting niche projects to a significant number of people who are actually looking for something different, and Duplass has taken full advantage of it. The guys at Netflix are no dummies, either. “[Mark and Jay] are singularly the most informed and instinctive filmmakers and businessmen in the industry,” says Ted Sarandos, Netflix’s chief content officer. “They know how to get a film made, and they know how to get it seen.” Probably why they now have a four film production deal with the company, and why Mark has become somewhat of a fairy godmother to countless up-and-comers he now helps. Consequence of Sound wrote in 2015, “The simple fact that with all of his success, [Mark] still pushes tiny projects… is proof that he may be independent film’s most valuable asset.” Amid all this, it’s easy to forget that on top of all the writing, producing, directing and mentoring, Duplass is a fine actor, earning praise for his performances in many of his own films, as well as others’, including Safety Not Guaranteed, Zero Dark Thirty, The Lazarus Effect, and TV series like The League and The Mindy Project. Not bad for a guy who early on almost quit in despair of ever becoming a filmmaker. Yet he’s said his questions about happiness and why it can be so hard to achieve is a theme he continues to explore in his work. Just our two cents, but maybe it’s as simple as doing what you love. And proving time and again that whether they cost three bucks or $10 million, great stories are always worth telling.
Ep 127.  Octavia Spencer

Ep 127. Octavia Spencer

2020-08-2701:03:15

You can almost time it. When a hometown kid arrives, the “we knew her when” pieces aren’t far behind. Shortly after The Help made Octavia Spencer famous, The Birmingham News interviewed Jefferson Davis High School guidance counselor Mrs. Evelyn Moore. “Whatever she did, she did it well and she was never shy. You knew she just had it…there was something about Octavia that stood out and everyone knew she would be something.” Evelyn Moore knew it. The Help writer/director Tate Taylor knew it. What took the rest of us so long? Octavia Spencer graduated ol’ Jefferson Davis in 1988. She was one of seven kids raised by her mom Dellsena Spencer, who worked as a maid and died when Spencer was a teenager. She went on to Auburn University, where you might be surprised to learn she did not study to become an RN, considering it’s a job she’s done between 30 and 40 times on screen, along with an almost equal number of largely nameless cashiers and security guards. Spencer actually majored in English with a double minor in journalism and theater, and the role she originally planned for herself was behind the camera. She worked in casting on a number of local Alabama productions and finally asked to audition for the role of a political agitator in Joel Schumacher’s A Time to Kill. “Joel said, ‘No honey, your face is too sweet. You can be Sandy [Bullock]’s nurse,’” Spencer recalls. Well, there you have it. Her friend and fellow Southerner Tate Taylor encouraged her to move to L.A. in 1997 to pursue acting, and she quickly dotted scores of movies and TV shows, most often in the aforementioned capacities. As briefly or namelessly as she might have appeared, she grabbed us every time. Her face is sweet, but we learned it could morph in a moment to comic wide-eyed disbelief, steely don’t-screw-with-me resolve, wry skepticism, or genuine warmth – making her one of the best reactors in the business. Her roles in Big Momma's House, Miss Congeniality 2, Beauty Shop, Moesha, Chicago Hope, and Ugly Betty, (to name 6 out of nearly 100), were often cited as one of their bright spots, and Entertainment Weekly named her one of Hollywood’s 25 funniest women. Yet after 15 years, most of us still knew her as, “Oh yeah, that funny, sassy black lady.” Then came her appearance as the funny, sassy maid Minny Jackson in The Help, a role that was hers before the screenplay was ever written. When the author of the novel it was based on was having difficulty finding the character’s voice, she called her friend Octavia for help. When Spencer finally embodied Minny on the screen, The Hollywood Reporter wrote, “Spencer’s scrappy Minny Jackson provides not only comic relief but a feistiness that shows that some maids found the gumption and means to get back at overbearing employers. Hers is a great character, the antithesis of Gone With the Wind’s Mammy, and she nearly upends this movie with her righteous sass.” You know the story from there. More raves, wide recognition and an Oscar ensued, and voilà! – no more nurse roles. No, now she was being offered maids. And the offers were substantial, but Spencer knew she had to start saying no to stereotypes to continue growing as an artist, and that she’d need to step outside the studios to show what she could do. She appeared in “Smashed,” James Ponsoldt’s 2012 rumination on alcoholism, and NPR called out her bitingly emotional performance as the mother of Oscar Grant, the young black man shot by a white Oakland transit officer in Fruitvale Station. Then came the dystopian sci-fi Snowpiercer and 2015’s Black or White, in which Spencer starred opposite Kevin Costner, playing Rowna Jeffers, the protective grandmother of a biracial girl. “Ms. Spencer turns the strict, truth-telling Rowena into a mighty force,” said The New York Times. “Her wide-eyed stare gives her the gravity of an all-seeing sage who doesn’t miss a trick and is not afraid to speak her mind. Rowena may be a clichéd Earth Mother, but Ms. Spencer imbues her with a fierce severity.” She stepped back into studio films in a big, Oscar-nominated way with Hidden Figures, playing mathematician Dorothy Vaughan. Despite her reluctance to do period films (no “period” to date having been particularly uplifting to the African- American experience), her anger made her unable to resist. She thought a story about black women working for NASA in the ’60s had to be fiction. No – it was just one of many real stories that never get told. Despite the range of roles she’s being offered now, Spencer’s joked that she’s yet to play anyone remotely like herself, a single, rom-com lovin’ kinda lady. But she sees one that very much fits the bill. At this year’s Makers conference she told Gloria Steinem “The role I'm destined to play is to be one of the greatest producers in Hollywood. It's a huge undertaking, but I want to be a conduit for storytellers." She’s already put her money where her mouth is. She became a producer on Fruitvale Station to help with its financing, and continues to support minority directors and young actors. She’s currently producing a biopic series of Madame C.J. Walker, the first self-made African American female millionaire. Where she is not putting her money is homogeneity. “If I look down a list of characters on a film, and it doesn’t have gay, African-American or Latino characters, I’m probably not going to spend my money on the ticket,” she told Deadline. “When we stop supporting things with our dollars that don’t represent all of us, then you’ll see an explosion of diversity. Art is about reaching people that you wouldn’t normally reach. It’s about bringing us together.” Spencer determined long ago that BMWs and five-closet wardrobes weren’t going to determine when she arrived. It would be when she was steering the ship. But maybe the best measure of success is what you do with your ship when it comes in. “After Hidden Figures, I don’t have a problem saying to a room of male executives: ‘I need a female writer or a female director,’ or ‘I need a black voice or a Latin voice. I don’t feel bad about that.” To some, that might sound like sass. To us, it sounds like a boss.
Ep 167.  Rosamund Pike

Ep 167. Rosamund Pike

2020-08-1355:081

Early on, the stage was set for Rosamund Pike to pursue a career in the performing arts. Born to two opera singers, Rosamund had a front row seat to familial emoting. She tried her hand at both music and acting, but a bout of stage fright while playing the cello forced Rosamund to recognize that she really didn’t want to play herself on stage—she was much more interested in playing other people, where her imagination was free to roam and explore. “Acting was like diving into a place where you actually felt alive, where things felt real.” Soon after finishing college, Rosamund got her first break as a Bond girl opposite Pierce Brosnan in 2002’s Die Another Day. But playing Miranda Frost—the “epitome of icy English blondness”—in your breakout role has its drawbacks. For years, Rosamund was cast in similarly cold and confident roles, and she longed for the opportunity to do more. Enter director David Fincher, who saw something unique in Rosamund. He offered her the role of Amy Dunne in Gone Girl, and her breathtaking performance earned her a slew of awards and new opportunities to evolve as an artist in films like A United Kingdom, Hostiles, and now her latest film playing slain journalist Marie Colvin in A Private War. Her deep dive into the Marie’s life led to an intensity that was as fulfilling as it was terrifying. "You are trying to trick your brain into getting to a place where you are out of control, and that is a scary place.” But as Rosamund explains, she’s waited her entire life for the opportunity to disappear into somebody else, and in A Private War, she does just that. Rosamund joins Off Camera to talk about her fascination with human emotion, the elaborate plan she concocted to meet with David Fincher for Gone Girl, and her intimate knowledge of bone saws.
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Comments (12)

Nicolai Haugsted

This is just a re-upload. What's the point, other than getting more listens? -, -

Sep 10th
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Niloo

OMG his voice is just like jason sudeikis

Nov 28th
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Shruthi Baskar

Love constance

Sep 12th
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santram meena

Off camera!!! something that we don’t really get see through movies or acting. Its amazing how the real person behind the scenes unfold. Love that they are able to relate and share their experiences so closely and dearly. Grown up & mature.

Jul 21st
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Niloo

so honest 💞 Loved it

Jul 16th
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Chaboosh

Highly underrated podcast!! Great interviews, amazing guests and a thoughtful host. A must for any fans of long format interviews

Jul 5th
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Joel Derman

Off Camera is one of the most undiscovered gems in podcasts. Sam Jones is a brilliant interviewer and it's a great listen. Highly recommend!

Feb 5th
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iTunes User

I love the format in black and white. Refreshing interviews and insights without pushing an agenda for publicity.

Aug 30th
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iTunes User

Loved the interview. Had no idea she was a painter!

Aug 30th
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iTunes User

I like to say the podcast with Robert Downey Jr was really insightful and makes me respect him more as artist and a person. This was an really nice and honest interview.

Aug 30th
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