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INTERVIEW WITH GREGORY HINES, VINCE DE'ONOFRIO AND MAX GAIL
There was a sneak preview of the film at the Olympic Village in Atlanta, during the Paralympic Games. The film was sponsored by AT&T, Kodak and the Atlanta Governors Council. They paid for an outdoor screen and a DTS audio system because there are no theaters which house more than two or three wheelchairs at a time. Over 1,000 athletes, judges and staff members saw the film. Later they said "it was one of the most important films Hollywood has produced about people with disabilities because it is the first time they are portrayed not as victims, but in a truly positive and uplifting light."
The NFL also sponsored the film. The Seattle Seahawks thought it had a great message and wanted to be a part of the project. Joe Theisman, the sports announcer opposite James Earl Jones wanted to be a part of the film because he too experienced a career ending knee injury during a Monday Night Football game. He knew all to well how the character of Ole felt. Good Luck was shot entirely on location in Seattle and Oregon over a ten week period. In order to film the white water rafting race, the production was scheduled to shoot on the Rogue River in Gold City, Oregon. An unexpected drought, however, forced them to move to Northern California. The race was ultimately shot on the American River outside of Sacramento. Controlled by an elaborate series of dams, the producers knew they could re-create a class 5 river, the most dangerous level, on the American River, and get the shot. The flood gates were opened and the water rushed in at even higher levels than expected.
Although stunt doubles were used for some of the more dangerous white water sequences, Hines and DOnofrio did most of their own rafting and swimming.
CC: How did you become involved with the movie, Good Luck?
GH: They sent my manager the script, they said it was a low budget feature, buddy film. Vincent DOnofrio was going to play Ole and Im a big fan of Mr. DOnofrio. When I saw that I said, I sure hope its good, but I figured it would because Ive seen Vinces work. All that hes done has been very powerful stuff and sure enough it was a really good script and I wanted in.
CC: Did you find it interesting that in most of your work you are a dancer, and here your character uses a wheelchair?
GH: A first I thought it was challenging, I felt it was going to be tough! It turned out to be exactly that, but more challenging emotionally. I looked at it in a more physical way, having to act in a chair and move around. But it really was more emotionally challenging.
CC: Emotionally? In what respect?
GH: My character had been in the chair for seven years. He had gone through his anger, depression, drug and alcohol abuse. He had gone through everything, now he was up, he was happy, he was filled with his dream. He was the perfect man to help Ole deal with what he knew he had to go through. Ole was the perfect person for him to achieve his dream. You know the first time I sat in the chair I felt anything but up, it was very emotional for me. I had a chair in my hotel room, a chair at rehearsal, and I was trying to spend as much time as I could in the chair. When I started moving around in my hotel I realized that my room and the hotel was not set up for people in wheelchairs, that actually angered me after a little while. I couldnt get in and out of my room. I had one of those doors with that thing on it so it wouldnt slam, it was heavy, it was very hard! The maids and everyone knew I was working to get into this part, but every now and then theyd say, "Oh, let me help you Mr. Hines". I can remember feeling very angry, and saying no! I can do it myself! From that point of view it was very emotional for me to get myself to the point to sit in the chair and be "up". I spent some time with the wheelchair rugby team in Long Beach, California, they went easy on me I might add. That was a very enlightening experience.
CC: Was that the quadriplegics team?
GH: They were quadriplegics, paraplegics and guys with all types of disabilities. They were very generous with me. Everybody was willing to talk about their particular accident, what they had to deal with and how they got back in touch with their competitors spirit. How they got started in wheelchair rugby, swimming, mixed tennis, and basketball. For some of these guys this is their life, competing on all different levels and enjoying themselves. Listen man, I was gone! They passed me the ball. I thought this is something I can crow about, I was going to score! From out of nowhere a little Hispanic guy comes over, he came at me at top speed and then he stopped on a dime and winked at me. He was letting me know what could have happened, because they bang into each other. They have done serious damage to each other that they can not feel. They play all night and this is just practice, had this been a game he would have up ended me. I could tell the guy had the spirit and the heart of a true athlete and it had always been there. Even with that, it was difficult for me because I was with them practicing, talking and hanging around. I felt all kinds of things.
CC: Did you look anywhere else to gain insight and feeling for your character?
GH: I looked at Coming Home, a John Voit film and The Men with Marlon Brando. In both of those cases they werent "up", although their performances were great. It helped me as I needed to get comfortable in the chair, that was the toughest, I dont think I ever got comfortable.
CC: You couldnt tell, you seemed very natural in your part. Bob Comfort spoke of how quickly one forgot that these two characters had disabilities.
GH: Well, you know Id sit in the chair all day long and Vincent, once he would get that far off gaze going, even I would forget. I remember after shooting a couple of times I had something and I actually almost reached over for Vincents hand so he could touch it so he could see what it was. It really was a great experience.
CC: We are working on a national program with Ability Awareness, facilitated through community centers, churches, and schools. The program will provide the experience of different types of disabilities, for a day or a week, people will choose from a hat a disability and put themselves in a chair or experience being deaf or blind, so that people may gain an understanding.
GH: I think that would be a great thing. It would be like the films Ive seen where wardens would decide to be in a jail cell for a week, to get a sense of what it would be like to be a prisoner. I know every hotel owner and manager should sit in a wheelchair for a whole day and move around the hotel and see how difficult it is. It is very frustrating to come to an area thats just a staircase! I didnt want to wait until someone got me a ramp. I didnt want to call all kinds of attention to myself, I wanted to be able to move around myself. I have met a couple of men who were in wheelchairs in various hotels after that and I had very deep conversations with them. They told me that the hotels had maybe two rooms set up for people with disabilities, but if they got there too late, and didnt get one of these rooms, they couldnt take a shower. The room wasnt hooked up for them, or maybe the sink was too high. I could see where that would be a great idea.
CC : We need to establish a greater awareness in the society so that unnecessary obstacles are removed. Including obstacles that are both physical and attitudinal. Overcoming societies misconceptions can be one of your biggest hurdles. How is society going to view you with a disability. It is our message at ABILITY and the movie says it as well; lets focus on peoples ability.
GH: Right, thats what these guys want to do, they just want to live. From the script it was obvious that people feel that once somebody is disabled then they lose the ability to do certain things. Then people start thinking that they have to live a certain kind of life as opposed to just participating in everything life has to offer. That was the thing about my favorite scene in the movie is when Vincent comes back into the room after talking to Max in the bathtub and he says thanks for getting me out there where people are living, where theres fun to be had. I loved that scene.
CC: How do you prepare yourself to play the role of a person that is blind?
VD: First you need to find out how the character you are playing became blind. Was he born blind or was it an accident of some kind? Because their physical behavior and their physiological behavior is different if they were born without sight than if they have lost their sight in an accident. I read a bit about blindness and I went to visit the Braille Institute. I spoke with some people there and I watched a few educational tapes. These tapes were designed to help family members learn how to understand the psychological impact of being blind. Those were helpful. Once I thought what the psychological behavior was going to be like I knew how I would play the role. My character was depressed for a long time. He had lost his career and his wife had left him. The character of the story is not a heavy drama, so there is only so much you can put into it without making the movie too heavy because you want to keep it in the comedic genre. So you cant go too heavy with it for this particular film. You need to figure out what you can use. Then the actual technique of it as an actor to perform it as if you were sight impaired or without sight. My character had no sight at all. To do this you need a concentration technique called the Stanislavsky system of acting which turned into the Straussberg Studio of method acting. I dont follow it all but it was a part of my schooling at the American Stanislavsky Theatre. You formulate your own technique through a blend of all the others you learn. The technique I would use to portray a sight impaired person, your eyes still have to move. The muscles around the eyes, unless you have been injured, still work. So there is eye movement, you blink. So the way to do that is you sit in a dark room with a straight backed chair and you create an object that is familiar to you. Something that is easy to create. Something that you can put right in front of your minds eye, floating right in front of you. Less than two feet in front of you. Then you create this. In my case I used an eight ball. It was easy for me to create. So I pictured it and became comfortable viewing the eight ball with my eyes closed. Then you open your eyes and move your head around and move your eyes around but you are never seeing anything but what you are concentrating on, in my case the eight ball. This is how I play blind in plays and theatre.
CC: Has anyone discussed the concept of having a blind person play the part of the blind character, instead of a sighted actor portraying a blind person?
VD: There have been people who have mentioned this but not actually discussed it with me. There have been blind people in the audience who have listened to it and have loved the film. But nobody has ever brought it up. I am conscious of it though, that these problems exist for actors with a disability. They dont get to play disabled roles very often. My opinion is that the producers are having to take into consideration that if they are going to hire someone to do the things Greg and I were doing, white water rafting, wheelchair antics, and things that could be dangerous, the financiers, the bond companies and the banks would not like the fact that their money would be at risk. The insurance companies would never go for it. I do think that in a story with less antics in it would be fine to use a person with a disability. I cant understand why they dont use them every time. If they can act. They should not use somebody just because they are disabled, the person with a disability has to be able to act as well. Like any actor, they should be used if they are right for the part.
CC: What movie are you producing?
VD: A movie called the Velocity of Gary. It is about the New York street. It is a three character piece and its about their relationships as they live on the street. I produced a film about a year and a half ago with Director, Dan Ireland, called The Whole Wide World. He and I will do another one in September.
CC: You also played the villain in the movie Men in Black.
VD: Yes that was a great part. Barry gave me the control of my character and he let me do some things that werent in the script. This is why I have stayed a character actor all these years. Unless you look like Brad Pitt, its really hard to have full control of your character. When you are a character actor they trust you will go in and give them a full character and leave. I prefer that. They are much more fun.
CC: Hi Max.
MG: Hi Chet.
CC: Max, how did you find out about the movie?
MG: Well, I got a call that they were sending out a script and if I wanted to do it Id have to let them know right away because they had already started shooting and I would have to fly the next day. I thought it was a great story and the next thing I knew I was doing it.
CC: What did you think about the two leading characters having disabilities?
MG: I thought it was very welcome, it was out of the normal grove. I knew Gregorys work, I didnt really know a lot of Vinces work, but I knew some people that said, "Oh, his work is terrific". So I had a feeling it was going to be just thatits as much about how people are approaching what there is as whats there. I mean when youre thinking about whether you want to be involved with something it as much about the kind of approach people are going to take to it as it is the kind of work they do. Id say its about whats actually on the page, because sometimes you can see something thats a terrific story and the people are just not trying to do anything with it. Other times you get people making the kind of effort to find something in the material that makes it much better. So with this one I just knew it was a neat story with people I was happy to be working with.
CC: What were your thoughts about a movie involving characters with disabilities and the two actors portraying these characters do not have disabilities?
MG: Well, they were not thoughts that gave me pause to do the movie or not. Now theres a certain thing from an acting standpoint that we think we can play anything. I suppose if it had been a story involving Indians and the same issue had been there, I would have given it a lot more thought. Because Im a lot closer to that issue, but my own feeling about it is that it is still situational. Its like the story about the actor who shot himself when he heard Barbara Streisand got the lead in Funny Girl. (laughs) It didnt happen, as far as I know. It is just a joke how actors think they can play anything. Even though you and I have been good friends for years. I never gave it much thought. The first time it came out was when you asked. Again, using the Indian analogy, theres the other side of it. It would be great if more people could be cast not just in the Indian part or the disabled part. I would be more of a champion, of the idea of an actor in a wheelchair playing a part that said nothing about being in a wheelchair. It didnt have to be the key part of the story line, that the person is in the wheelchair. When you think of what acting is and what different people could bring to it, I dont think its absolutely necessary, even in an artistic level. I think people should look around. There are times when non-Indian actors were cast in the lead role for a film when there were Indian people that could have played the part. At the very least they should have been brought in to read and at least explore it and see what they were capable of doing. The same is true for people with disabilities that are totally capable of carrying a movie under the right circumstances, and may never get into read for the movie. But there are other realities too. Where do you get the money for a movie? Does anybody feel theres a chance of a film ever reaching an audience if there isnt someone in it that is known. People putting the money up want to know the movie will reach an audience.
CC: Are you working on any other movies at this time? You just recently did a movie called "Not in My Town".
MG: Yes, which has aired already, so I guess youd say this is one of those times where theres nothing, although I got a call the other day from some people here in Malibu and they have a kid oriented movie being shot here, supposedly with William Baldwin. I havent read the script, but there are a number of people who live here that want to shoot it in Malibu.
CC: So, most of your time is spent working on "Laps"?
MG: Most of the time it is my main focus. I need to reorient some of that. I would probably work more as an actor if I devoted more time to it. By the way, Howard Reingold, a writer that was with the Well for a long time and wrote a book called "Virtual Community", started an electric mind community. He gave me a book called, "New Communities Network Wired for Change", published in 1996. This guy is doing this from the Seattle community network. It is really interesting because its just like reading and its of history of the "Lap" idea, because early in the book he starts talking about the great good place, he goes through the different books, like "Info Zone" and the different things going on. It is really very thorough, probably too thorough to be a popular book. I mean by that the type of books that would be in the airport and people would pick it up and read it on an airplane. "Laps" has grabbed me in a way which is so much more meaningful to be working on.
CC: How would you describe "Laps"?
MG: "Laps" involves a multi media community communication centers and all that they can bring further into the community towards democracy, culture and with a high quality of life. It also involves how people will participate in the network and the Internet merge.
CC: At that point will you be producing Internet programs?
MG: Id like to be exploring the program where you are producing something that is created by or at least participated by the audience. So that it is a less passive type of program. You know it really bugs me when you are on a plane and people say, "Oh, your somebody arent you? You know people might recognize me, but not place me. Everyone is somebody. I think what we need is something people can participate in so that they experience themselves on a creative level and have better dialogue about the issues we need to deal with if we are going to pass on a better world to our kids. The Internet has that tremendous appeal, it matters, and its totally on the learning curve. I am learning something everyday. Even the songs I write end up with a chorus in which people can sing along. There is a part of me that is drawn to that kind of participation.
I think what Vince and Gregory did was very special. All the people that supported the making of the movie from the writer, Bob Comfort, all attempted to tell a great story. I am honored to be part of this movie. They did not shy away from the characters disabilities and not make a pity movie, they really approached it to make a human story.
The other thing Id like to say was regarding the organization "Soar". This was Gregorys inspiration and in a certain way a great unifying idea, it gave a great thrust to the movie, and seems a worthy effort to support and keep going. So, things are happening, including you doing this article, the company is releasing the movie. Everybody thats been involved has joined in to support recreating "Soar", in a way that utilizes the Web that connects people that care about that.
CONTINUED IN ABILITY MAGAZINE...... subscribe
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