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January 26, 2000 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 2000-01-26

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8 - The Michigan Daily - Wednesday, January 26, 2000 - -

'..

Actress Keener
smolders onscreen

Crooner Connick
adds new tech to
old-school sounds

'[he Los Angeles imies
joan Crawford had it in spades. Linda
Fiorentino made it her calling card. And
now Catherine Keener's gift for playing
smart, sexy and delightfully nasty screen
roles is gaining her a reoutation in
ollywood.
tfl the surprise indie hit "Being John
Malkovich," Keener delivers one verbal
blow after another - usually directed at
her pathetic admirer Craig, played by
John Cusack. Her character, Maxine, an
attractive, aloof, neurotic ice queen,
taunts Craig with lines such as, "Even if
you had me, you wouldn't know what to
do with me." Her sexy self-assurance at
once terrifies and attracts the men around
her.
"Malkovich" director Spike Jonze
immediately grasped that quality in
Keener when he picked her to play
Maxine. Ina way, it was counterintuitive
casting: The usually -sexy Cameron Diaz
' lays Craig's dishwater-boring wife,
Lotte, in the movie. After more than a
dozen actresses were auditioned for the
role,'Keener clinched it while reading
one particularly snappy exchange at a bar
between Maxine and Craig.
"She did it so casually and so
unforced," Jonze said. "It was sort of the
quintessential Maxine with a zippy line.

She had the ability to play Maxine in a
way that she would say the harshest
things to somebody, but-you almost did-
n't know you got stung until afterward.
She didn't do it venomously, which is
more interesting than playing those lines
as a villain."
It's a performance that's already win-
ning Keener honors: The New York Film
Critics Circle last month named her best
supporting actress, and she received a
Golden Globe nomination for supporting
actress as well.
To Keener, "Maxine was like an arson-
ist setting fires here and there and leaving
other people to clean them up. That's
probably why I kept trying to (get close
to) Lotte, because I kept thinking, 'This is
not me! It's not me!' ...I'm not the person
that can do all of those things!"
For avid independent moviegoers,
Keener is a familiar sight. She has
appeared in more than a dozen low-bud-
get films, showing a tremendous range.
In "Simpatico," which opened in Los
Angeles for Oscar consideration last
month, she plays a not especially bright
supermarket clerk who gets caught in a
bizarre triangle with Jeff Bridges and
Nick Nolte.
In real life, Keener is nothing like
Maxine. There is nothing manipulative or
4~

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Courtesy of USA Films
Swift, seductive Catherine Keener stars as Maxine in "Being John Malkovich."

hard-edged about her. In fact, at a recent
interview, it was hard to believe that the
nervous, ponytailed young woman wear-
ing an oversize, moth-eaten green
sweater could be the same razor-edged
woman she plays on screen.
But many of Keener's film roles have
not been as biting as Maxine, from Anne
Heche's sweet, lonely, single friend in
1996's "Walking and Talking" to George
Clooney's wacky, chain-smoking ex-girl-
friend two years later in "Out of Sight."
Her roster of performances is what con-
vinced Jonze that she could play the char-
acter.
Keener said she fell into acting quite
by accident. She grew up in Miami, the
eldest of five children. She attended
Wheaton College in Norton, M.A.
Unable to land a spot in a photography
class, her teacher suggested she enroll in
an acting class. She performed in theater
throughout college, with her first perfor-
mance in a production of Wendy
Wasserstein's "Uncommon Women and
Others." But upon graduation, she moved
to New York and worked as an assistant
to a casting director.
She never thought of herself as an
actress - until her boss told her she had
no talent for office work.
"She said to me, 'You're not so good as
a secretary. Is there anything else you
would like to do?' " she recalled.
She moved to Los Angeles and began
taking acting classes. It was here she met
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her husband, actor Dermot Mulroney, the
man she calls her "coach."
She was cast in bit roles until "Johnny
Suede," a 1991 film directed by Tom
DiCillo and starring the then-little-
known Brad Pitt. Her role as the neurotic
New York girlfriend opposite Pitt's flaky
character opened doors for her.
It also marked the beginning of her
collaboration with DiCillo, who went on
to direct her in three more movies,
including 1995's "Living in Oblivion," in
which she starred opposite her husband
and Steve Buscemi.
"Johnny Suede" was "the first time
that made me feel connected to the mate-
rial," Keener said. "Working with Tom
DiCillo feels like one big chunk of my
career"
Though she is very pleased with the
way her career is going and admits that
more scripts are landing on her doorstep,
she is philosophical about success in
Hollywood. In the end, it really is her
family life that keeps her grounded and
gives her perspective, she said.
"Even if you have an innate ability or
talent, you need to learn a bunch of other
things to deal with the business," she
said. "You have to find a balance between
taking yourself seriously enough and not
taking yourself too seriously. When peo-
ple are scrutinizing how you look and
what you sound like or how big or small
you are. you have to know that it's not
personal."

The Hanford Courant
The term "big band" may have a retro
sound to it. But there's a modern compo-
nent to the one led by Harry Connick Jr.
The band's music stands are strictly
high-tech 2000 with laptop computers
replacing the stacks of chart music. On
Connick's current big-band tour,
Connick can call out a title and with a
punch of a keyboard, the band's 16 musi-
cians will each have the right charts up
on their screens.
"They just call it up, and it's right
there," Connick says over the phone from
Ottawa, Canada. "They don't have to
manhandle any music or go searching for
it or anything like that."
When it comes time to turn pages, he
says, "They just hit the space bar and it
scrolls through."
Connick uses softvare called Finale,
which "has been used for writing music
for a long time," he says. "but never for
reading, as far as I know." Connick fre-
quently uses the writing component of
the software. On tour, the pianist, singer
and arranger aims to write arrangements
for a new song every day.
"We don't have to wait for any copy-
ists and things like that," he says. And
instead of waiting for ink to dry, parts are
ready for rehearsal and evening perfor-
mance every day.
It keeps musicians on their toes,
Connick says, "but they're used to it.
They're musicians, and musicians are
supposed to handle musical challenges."
Actually, it might be making the tour
more fun for them, too. "No matter how
much you love peiforming, if you have
the same 10 songs every night, it's going
to drive you crazy after a while," he says.
With the new charts, "We have a pret-
tv vast library of songs to choose from,"
Connick says.
How big? Well, without any repetition,
he says, "We could play for two months.
It's just a lot of tunes." Connick recorded
three successful big-band albums
between 1989 and 1991 . After seven

years, he says, something in his head was
telling him to reconvene the ensemble. "I
was just hearing it, you know?"
He did so in 1998, and the resulting
"Come by Me" has been near the top of
the Billboard Top Jazz Album chart for
32 weeks now. Besides the new songs,
Connick puts a new spin on some old
standards.
He says he hasn't heard any criticism
yet about re-releasing such songs -as
"There's No Business Like Sh
Business."
"I think if anybody cares that much for
the song, they'll be thrilled to hear it per-
formed at all," Connick says. "If you're
talking about die-hard Ethel Merman
fans, you could probably count those on
one hand" although he quickly adds, "I
would be one of the digits on the hand.
"But on a song like that," he goes on,
"to be quite honest, I don't think a lot of
people heard those lyrics. Absolut*
brilliant lyrics. If anybody doesn't think
so, try to write something like that."
Connick has tried to write similar
songs but has endeavored not to let his
influences show.
"Whether or not those songwriting
styles influence me remains to be heard
in the music," Connick says. "But I cer-
tainly don't think about that at all when
I'm writing. Not at this point in my life.
Maybe 10 years ago. As a piano play
and a singer, people had huge influene
on me." Frank Sinatra is the comparison
most people make with Connick's vocal
style.
"There's been a ton of singers I
used to downright imitate and' iano
players that I used to imitate, because
that's what you do," he says. Evenso,
Connick doesn't regret getting into
music so young, at age 19 when
Columbia signed him.
"Oh no, I think it made me betwo
Plus I happen to like that, purely
from an egotistical perspective^ I
happen to like everything that
accompanies the success.

Courtesy of USA Films
Mpxpe seduces the bewildered John Malkovich (Malkovich) In "Being John Malkovich."

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Directors Guild of America
announces nominations '*

Los Angelesi "es
Films that pushed the director's craft
and had moviegoers talking were nomi-
nated Monday for outstanding directori-
al achievement by the Directors Guild of
America. r
Whether it was a chilling ghost story,
a supernatural death row tale or a surre-
al comedy about the quest for 15 min-
utes of fame, the nominated films were
an eclectic mix of the traditional and the
avant-garde.
Grabbing the nominations were the
directors of "The Sixth Sense" (M.
Night Shyamalan); "The Green Mile"
(Frank Darabont); "Being John
Malkovich" (Spike Jonze); "American
Beauty" (Sam Mendes), the Golden
Globe-winning dark satire set in
American suburbia; and "The Insider"

(Michael Mann). a dramatization of the
true story of a tobacco industry whistle-
blower and the ensuing editing of a "60
Minutes" news report. The winner will
be announced March 1 1 during the 52nd
annual DGA Awards dinner.
Not only were some of the selections
virtually ignored by the nation's film
critics in earlier tallies, but the majority
of this year's nominees were also new-
comers to the DGA Awards. Four of the
nominees, in fact, are 40 or vounger. Two
had never directed a feature-length
movie before - Jonze and Mendes.
Freshman filmmaker Mendes was
nominated for "American Beauty." An
acclaimed stage director, Mendes won a
Tony two years ago for "Cabaret." Based
on a screenplay by Alan Ball. "American
Beauty" takes a darkly comedic look at

SUMMER

the American Dream as a man's midlfe
crisis causes him and his world to seIf-
destruct.
Jonze, who cut his teeth on commnr-
cials and music videos, was nomimed
for "Being John Malkovich," a techni-
cally audacious black comedy abot
down-and-out puppeteer who diseodW
a mysterious portal that leads inside The
brain of actor John Malkovich. "I feel
pretty amazed because it is the DGA and
it's voted on by other directors," Jonze
said in a statement Monday, adding,"It
is quite an honor."
Darabont, who directed Tom Hanks'in
the three-hour prison drama "The Green
Mile," was the only previous nominee in
this category. He was nominated five
years ago for "The Shawshank
Redemption," another prison dram,
which, like his current film, was based
on a Stephen King story.
"My head is spinning and I'm walking
on cloud nine," Darabont said after teing
told of his nomination. Darabont
believes audiences have embraced the
film for the same reason he responded to
King's story.
"It's such an emotional journey andas
a story, it is such a full meal,"
explained. "That really is what I thi
audiences are taking away. It's a nice vin-
dication. I think if you tell a good,
involving story, they will come."
Mann, who received the DGA Awatrd
20 years ago for the TV movie "The
Jericho Mile," this year picked up 'his
first feature nomination for "The
Insider" A well-known action director of
such movies as "The Last of the
Mohicans," "Manhunter" and "He'at;"
Mann said "The Insider" pushed hm
a director.W
"The attraction to me, the challenge of
this picture, was the absence of physical
action and to try and make the intense
thriller that we knew occurred inside the
lives of the real people be manifested on
the screen without physical action,"
Mann said. "So for me as a director, I
chose to do this picture almost precisely
because the intensity had to come from
the situational drama and the psychok
and the performance and the language.
At 29, Shyamalan is the youngest
DGA nominee this year. His box-
office blockbuster "The-Sixth
Sense," starring Bruce Willis and I1-
year-old Haley Joel Osment, was one
of the big surprises of 1999. The film

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