The talented and beautiful Jo Newman makes her feature film debut in one of the year’s best movies, “Love and Other Drugs.” She was kind enough to take time to answer my questions.
Tell me about the audition process for this film. What were you asked to do and how did you prepare?
The initial audition was awkward to say the least! It was a scene that I did not end up doing for the film and it was, um, intimate. There is a tendency to go overboard when you are doing work that requires you to be uncomfortable. If you feel like you are “acting” it separates you from the moment, limiting how affected you can be by the work.
Although this distancing can comfort your ego, it is bad acting and a casting director can feel that a mile away. For the first audition, I really felt like I parked my inhibitions at the door and went for it.
When they called me back and I had to do the scene in front of Ed Zwick, the director, I clammed up and hammed it up. He told me to relax, to respond, to exist solely in the moment. To allow yourself that kind of vulnerability, especially when you are asked to switch it on immediately, can be terrifying but in this business, there is no room for fear. It is in those moments, where you completely forget yourself, where you are wholly absorbed in character, that define us as actors; those moments that push us to wake up every day and put our hearts and egos out there because the ability to see the world through someone else’s eyes is the most profoundly freeing experience I have ever had.
What was was the most unexpected aspect of working on your first major studio film?
I was genuinely surprised by how friendly everyone was. I was only on set for a week and felt like I made some real friends by the time it was over. You are spending a hugely concentrated amount of time with the cast and crew and everyone showed me that to have a positive and creative environment, you have to do your part. No one likes getting up at 5am in the rain, but if you bring the makeup artist some coffee, that crack of dawn call-time becomes a lot nicer for everyone involved. There are so many people involved in a major film and if people don’t work together, it negatively affects everyone involved.
What was the most important thing you learned?
I learned how to be more present on set, to ask more questions and talk to people about their lives and experiences. I used to get nervous to engage a well-known actor on set but truthfully, there is no one who will better understand your struggle as an artist than someone who has been in your shoes. And this movie has some great comedic moments– these actors are truly funny people! I learned to laugh and engage while standing around in underwear that would make my mother blush (correction, that will make my mother blush!)
What advice did Ed Zwick give you about playing the role?
He told me to breathe, to be in the moment, and to have the confidence that I was the one that he picked to play the part for a reason. He is a man who chooses his words carefully and that meant a lot to me.
How did you work with the costume designer to develop the look of the character?
The character doesn’t wear very much! I worked with wardrobe to find a costume that I was comfortable in but also served the story. I practice yoga everyday and did some pretty funny poses for the wardrobe women to make sure that everything stayed in place!
What did you learn about the era and industry depicted in the film?
“Love and Other Drugs” is based on the memoir by Jamie Reidy who worked for Pfizer in the 1990’s when Viagra was introduced to the market. The film address some tough and very relevant issues concerning healthcare and the pharmaceutical industry. Hank Azaria plays a doctor in a seriously conflicted situation and has a scene that will make any audience stop and seriously think about the direction that our health care system is going. It is such a complex issue with so many involved and affected and I believe that this film offers an interesting vision on the whole situations.
What do you think is the most important contribution your character makes to the story?
My character illustrates how Jake Gyllenhaal’s character is a person who embodies both power and a lack of control.
What do you hope to do next?
I am working on a pilot that I wrote and am presently producing entitled “(Greetings From) Sunny Beaches.” It is the behind-the-scenes look at a Reality Show and its hilarious, if I may say so! We are dying to get Joan Rivers to play the mother, an iconic actress who she sends her two outrageous daughters to Los Angeles to star in their own show.
When did you know you wanted to act?
As cliched as it sounds, I have always known that this is what I wanted to do with my life. I certainly didn’t have any grasp of the business or industry but I have always known that I am on this earth to perform. And maybe to cook, I’ve been cooking a lot lately….
Photo Credit: John Hildebrand Photography
Hair By: Erica Birdoes
Styling By: Cece Abel
The director of “When Harry Met Sally….” has given us a middle-school variation, an on and off love story that begins in second grade when Bryce Loski (Callan McAuliffe) and his family move in across the street from Juli Baker (an exquisite performance by Madeline Carroll). In Rob Reiner‘s film, based on a popular book for middle schoolers, Juli immediately falls for Bryce, which of course immediately makes him feel creeped out. Five years later, in middle school, he is still doing everything he can to avoid her. And she is still doing everything she can to be near him. And then, things change. She does not like him any more. And he realizes that she is a very special girl, and that he will do anything to re-earn her affection.
It isn’t just the emotions of the characters that are flipping here; it is also the point of view. We get to see the same situations from both sides, and we get to hear how the two characters’ perspectives do and do not overlap.
Reiner sets the story in the early 1960’s, and the movie has a flawless attention to period detail — the long hair parted in the middle, “Bonanza” on the television. But the essence of the story is eternal, with its impeccable evocation of that moment when we first begin to look at our families’ limits and imperfections and first begin to create the people we will grow up to be.
And not just our families. Juli does not question her love for Bryce for years. And then she becomes older and wiser and realizes that beautiful eyes do not always mean a beautiful spirit and that she really does not know him very well. Bryce may have lovely eyes, but it is not until he sees her through someone else’s eyes that he begins to appreciate her. Bryce’s grandfather (John Mahoney of “Frasier”) realizes Juli’s value first. “Some of us get dipped in flat, some in satin, some in gloss,” he tells Bryce. “But every once in a while you find someone who’s iridescent, and when you do, nothing will ever compare.”
Co-screenwriter/director Reiner lets us share the growing understanding of Juli and Bryce as they begin to see themselves, each other, and their families differently. And with great sensitivity and insight, he evokes the agonizing sweetness of first love and the way that it stays alive in us forever, making possible all of the loves that are to come.
Those of you who are interested in my other job might enjoy checking out our YouTube channel to see my interview with Warren Buffett. In nine short chapters, he and I talk about everything from his current project with Bill Gates to get billionaires to donate half their money to his Secret Millionaire’s Club website for kids, what he looks for in an investment (and what he ignores), what’s wrong with CEO pay, and what he thinks should happen to the Wall Street guys who created the subprime mess.
Edward Zwick can create grand spectacle (“The Last Samurai,” “Glory,” “Defiance”) but he is unsurpassed in creating honest moments of intimacy in couple relationships, from “thirtysomething” to “Once and Again” with his frequent partner, Marshall Herzkovitz. Zwick is co-writer and director of “Love and Other Drugs,” a very sexy romance set in the 1990’s world of pharmaceutical sales and health care challenges. Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal, who played an unhappily married couple in “Brokeback Mountain” reunite in this film as a pair who are less naked with each other in the literal sense as they become more open to each other emotionally. I last spoke to Zwick about “Defiance” and was thrilled to have a chance to meet with him again to discuss one of my favorite films of the year.
Where did the movie come from?
Jamie Reidy wrote this book, Hard Sell, which doesn’t have a lot to do with the movie, but it is about his experiences as a pharmaceutical rep at the time of the introduction of Viagra. And a very talented guy named Charles Randolph wrote a draft of the script and it talked a lot about the Viagra experiences but it didn’t talk about the relationship that much. And then Marshall [Herskovitz] and I took that, keeping a lot of stuff that was Charles’ that was really good but also trying to add stuff we felt it needed.
It was a very interesting moment in American cultural history. Suddenly the FDA said they were relaxing the rules on advertising drugs to consumers. And consumers were going to their doctors and saying, “I want this.” Ad sales skyrocketed and drug sales skyrocketed. It was a go-go time in the 90’s. Everything was about making money and the character seemed to embody that to me.
We finished the script and then said, “Who is out there right now that really enchants us as actors?” I’d known Jake a little bit. His parents are in the business. I’d seen his work grow and grow and grow and I felt there were parts of him I knew that I hadn’t seen, that I felt I could show people and surprise them with. And Annie’s work was already great, and I saw her in “Rachel Getting Married” and especially Shakespeare in the Park and I said, “This girl is really great. She wants to take risks.” I said, “That’s who I want to do this movie.” I thought, “That’s a very sparkly, very sexy combo, and I went after them.”
They each had very interesting things to say about the script. They’re both very smart, intellectually smart and actor smart. We got to know each other very well. You have to gain a real level of trust to make a movie like this. Can we be both truthful and funny about squirmy personal things? Can we find moments that are relatable beyond just these two? It evoked all sorts of things in my own life and for other people, I hope. It’s contemporary not just about the relationship but about somebody not being able to get their meds.
I was glad to see one of my favorite actors, Hank Azaria, in the film and I thought he was superb as the doctor. He has a difficult part because he has to create a very full character while delivering a lot of information about the medical profession.
He can do anything and do it so effortlessly you don’t see him working. Doctors are kind of this shibboleth in our society. We know what they do and we depend on them but we don’t know a lot about what it feels like from their side. The fact that this guy’s life could be morally ambiguous in certain degrees or that he would have complaints or frustrations or a cynical view of certain things was an opportunity within his character to reveal certain things. It was intrinsic to who his character was as opposed to being a mouthpiece for a movie. The key to write him was to understand what his circumstance was. And Hank is so good he rounds that out and makes it organic.
And what a surprise to see Jill Clayburgh and George Segal, a blast from them 70’s past.
Just to sit on the set with George and Jill was like bathing in the 1970’s movie culture. It was so important to me. They had each done Paul Mazursky movies, “Blume in Love” and “An Unmarried Woman,” those were touchstones to my childhood. And they were generous and fun and we hung together.
One of my favorite scenes in the movie is the Parkinson’s patient group meeting. Those were actors, weren’t they?
No, those were real Parkinson’s patients. I’ve known Michael J. Fox for a long time and I talked to him a lot about this. He said to me, “You have to understand. You can’t make it funny enough.” I said, “I got it.” We got a lot of patients and I gave them a lot of things to say, and then I asked them to tell me about their experience. These are good-hearted funny people reflecting on their experience. Yes, illness is serious, but the indignities are also funny. And that defines my world view. There is nothing that is so serious that you can’t also see its comic side. Comedy is a way of talking about the most serious things. I’m interested in the word “and,” not the word “but.”
How do you market a movie like this?
By showing the movie, by word of mouth. It’s about letting the movie sell itself, by showing the film to people and letting them talk about it. It’ll be interesting because it’s not one thing. It’s not a sequel or a remake or a superhero. It’s not a conventional rom-com. I’m going to a bunch of cities to get the word out. It’s a harder time to make original, less conventional movies. But God, we need them!