Press Conference: “What Just Happened”

Closing up this 61st Festival de Cannes is Barry Levinson’s What Just Happened, screening Out of Competition tonight. For the morning press conference, the director was on hand with actor/producer Robert De Niro, writer/producer Art Linson and producer Todd Wagner. Excerpts below.

Art Linson on mocking Hollywood:

This is a comedy about desperation, a comedy about treachery… So is it a f…-you movie to people in Hollywood? No. Frankly, I’ve acted dumber than most of the people I’ve said are dumb. What the intention was, from a more serious point of view, is to let people on the outside see how silly and ridiculous it is on the inside, and to take them on a little bit of a journey of what’s it like to be in that room…”

Barry Levinson on not showing the typical landmarks of LA:
The concept and way Hollywood studios function today is different, because so many things are not shot on the lot; you’re constantly wandering back and forth, in and across town, back and forth on freeways, so it’s a different way of approaching what was once a studio-designed city to the world of LA today… Just showing the change within the business.”

Barry Levinson on convincing the actors to mock themselves:
They were very eager. In the case of Bruce [Willis], he was more than eager to step up and make fun of his own image and show that particular character… We sent him the script, what it was about, that Bob was going to do it, that it was based on Art Linton’s book and, literally, he called the next morning and said, ‘I think it’s great, love to do it; I’m in.’ He didn’t even bother to call his agent and go through that whole thing. He was more than willing to jump in and rather brave to take on the performance… Sean [Penn] was eager to jump in as well.”

Barry Levinson on what Cannes means to the industry:
It’s viewed as a key festival in launching a movie. In the context of the film, the Cannes Festival represents an important launching point for this film, for the studio, for the director, so we used that as the jumping off point to say, ‘This is the place it has to get to and we have to do the work in order to arrive at it. Cannes has a great visibility in America, certainly, and I think that’s why Art used it that way…”
“Movies are now international, and you cannot survive in the US alone anymore. Your movies have to communicate all over the world now. So Cannes’s really important, in setting the tone for the international marketplace. But from our human point of view, it’s a high platform to be tossed off on. So it’s really important for us to be appreciated in Cannes. It means a lot.”

Robert De Niro on method acting:
It has so much of the built-in experience in relation to the part. One of the things I was concerned about was the rhythm in which Art had written the script, because he has a great sense of timing and sense of comedy. I was concerned that I could honor that rhythm. I liken it to David Mamet who has a certain way of writing, and you have to know what you’re doing, you have to have the lines down, and that was the same thing I felt with this one. We improvised a little here and there, but at the same, there were times you had to be precise.”

Art Linson on working with De Niro:
It’s really kind of privilege to write a scene, and watch him do it, because it changes. It becomes more complicated, and it surprises you, and then suddenly you realize, ‘Oh, man, was it that desperate? Was it that horrible?’ He takes it to a place that’s so surprising.”