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Other Interviews
  Steve Guttenberg
September 23, 2002

    I had the opportunity to speak with Steve Guttenberg about his upcoming movie P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD.  Which is due out in theatres January 2003.
    I called Steve at his office in Pacific Palisades and found him to be warm and funny and very charming.  This was actually my first celebrity interview (my first interview period, to be more honest) and he instantly put me at ease.  Please excuse my paraphrasing, my tape recorder was experiencing technical difficulties   - sorry about that Steve!


KATHY - Your new film, P.S. YOUR CAT IS DEAD is an adaptation of both the novel and the play by James Kirkwood (A CHORUS LINE).  What in particular was the appeal for YOU to bring this story to the screen?

STEVE - This has been a favorite story of mine for years.  It's about 30 years old, yet it's as timely now as it was when it was first written.  I started working on the story on the 25th anniversary of it's release.
    The play, is primarily about two men and the at times violent relationship between them, but I've always seen it as more of a story about the relationship between two countries and how you need to overcome violence to get along.

That is a very important message for our time, isn't it?

    Absolutely.  And because it was so important for me, I knew it was a story I had to make myself.
    Besides, if it came from a studio, it would have never been offered to me.  It would have been cast with Matt Damon or John Leguizamo or someone like that.

It's a bit edgier than most of the films your fans are used to seeing you in.


What negative impact - if any - do you think the implied homosexual elements in this story, could have on some of your fans?

    The audience is very intelligent.  They will be able to see the story for what it is.  My fans know they can trust me.  They know they won't be disappointed and I try my best to never let them down.  I have the greatest fans.

You've made a few movies during your career that could be considered risky choices.  Is that a conscious decision when you're selecting a script?

    I've never consciously looked for a project because I thought it would be risky.  I look for a project that feels right at the time or something that I can feel very passionate about, like P.S.

Getting back to P.S., you not only star in this film but you also wrote the screenplay.  Had you done much writing before this?

    I've done quite a bit of writing, as most writers do, but most of it is as yet unproduced.  Most of what a writer writes goes unproduced.
    I did have a great deal of help from Christopher Vogler.  A great writer, his book "A Writer's Journey" should be required reading for any screenwriter.  I found him to be an invaluable asset.

And this also marks your directorial debut.  Congratulations, that's no small feat.

    Thank you, you're such a doll.

What was the largest obstacle you encountered as a first time director?

    (laughs)  What wasn't an obstacle?  Everything was new.  The entire process was new for me, from writing to the casting.  Film stocks, lenses, angles.  Editing.  Marketing, releasing and distributing.
    I had seen these things done before on the other films I've worked on and the television I've done, but it's a whole other thing when you're doing it yourself.  Like I said, everything was new.  Everything was an obstacle.

Did you have a mentor to help along the way?

    Lots.  Lots and lots, but I don't want to be a namedropper.

Oh, come on...

    I've worked with a lot of great people through the years and I found them all to be enormously helpful during production.  They were really there for me.

How did you decide on your cast and crew?

    First I happened upon a great Line Producer.  Kyle Clark.  Actually, Kyle was my driver about ten years ago, and since then has worked his way up through the industry.  He's amazing.  Very knowledgeable and very driven.  And most importantly, he's honest and I know he's someone who can be trusted.    The rest of the cast and crew came together pretty easily.  I knew I had to find the most talented people, who were available when we needed them for what we could afford to pay them.

Did Steve Guttenberg, the director, find it difficult to direct Steve Guttenberg, the actor?

    (laughs)  Well, that actor, Steve Guttenberg is a real ugly cuss.  (laughs again)
    Actually, we had about two months of rehearsal time before filming began, so by the time the cameras finally rolled, they got along pretty well.

Did you find yourself becoming a bit schizophrenic during filming of were you able to maintain a level of sanity?

    I was pretty schizophrenic to begin with, so if anything, it probably normalled me out.

So do you consider yourself a bit of a control freak?

    Not freak so much, I prefer "Control Requester".

As writer, producer, director and actor, you've now seen the sights from both sides of the camera.  Which view do your prefer?

    It depends on where you're standing.  If you're an out of work actor or an out of work director, the scenery isn't so great.
    There are elements of all of it that I really enjoy.  It would be too hard for me to chose one over the other.

Do you have any plans to return to the director's chair anytime soon?

    As a matter of fact, I'm already starting work on my next project now.

So, then, when you read a script now, do you read it from an actor's perspective or a director's?

    Neither.  And both.  I just look for whatever I feel is the best material.

Can you tell me a little bit about your next project?  Or is it too soon to share those secrets?

    Lets just say it's a story filled with real good laughs....

  Diane Lake
September 30, 2002     

Diane was one of the screenwriters of FRIDA, a movie about artist Frida Kahlo which is due out in theatres November 2002.  The movie stars Salma Hayek, Alfred Molina, Geoffrey Rush, Ashley Judd, Antonio Banderas and Edward Norton.

KATHY:  Did you know much about Frida Kahlo prior to writing your screenplay?

    DIANE:  You know, I didn't.  I didn't know much about her at all.  I knew she was an artist and she was revered in Mexico.  I knew her style of art wasn't really my cup of tea.  That's as much as I knew about her.  At least I thought her style wasn't my cup of tea, that is until I got to know her.

How much time did you spend in Mexico researching your story?

    Unfortunately, only a week.  I was in Mexico City a week and then one day outside the city to get the feel of what a smaller village might have been like, and I went outside the city to see the pyramids.
    The studio paid for a week so that's as long as I was there.  I would have loved to have been there longer actually.  I fell in love with Mexico City.  It's beautiful there.

In the course of your research, what's the most interesting thing you discovered about Frida?

    Well, golly.  There's so many.  I guess the most interesting thing to me would have ended up being her free spirit.  I've written other screenplays where I seem to be attracted to people who have this free spirit.  Whether it comes to love or friendship or giving to other people or whatever, but there's something about that freedom of giving yourself and living your life in sort of a free way in the world that is appealing to me.  They seem to take courage.
    We all know she had courage in ways, in terms of facing her horrible surgeries she had to endure and all that but the courage she had in just sort of living life with this great joy is really wonderful to discover that spirit.  

It sure is.

    Yes, it's amazing.  This is a wonderful question because you start thinking about all the wonderful things.  I guess then the biggest discovery was how much her art tied in with her life.  You sort of knew that, you knew she had a miscarriage and she did painting there in the hospital.
    Almost every painting you can see some reflection.  Her paintings tell her life story.  Like poets.  Their poetry tells their life story.  Some novelists, you can chronicle their life through the work they produce.  It's really the same with her.  To delve so deeply into her self and be able to put that on canvas.  I mean it completely turned me around from someone who went kind of nah, not really my taste to someone who said Wow, look at that.  Look at what she did.

Have you always wanted to be a screenwriter?

    Well, no.  I sort of didn't know it actually.  I was a college professor for nine years.  Not in screenwriting.  My area of emphasis in my masters degree was Eighteenth Century Rhetorical Theory and my doctorate work was in Oil Interpretation of Literature.  I never aspired to be a writer.  I don't think I ever allowed myself to aspire to be a writer.  I kind of avoided it like the plague.
    After I was teaching for seven years, I realized I had some things I wanted to say.  So I wrote a play thinking Well, I'll try writing a play.  I'll submit it to this little contest.  I don't have to tell anybody.  I did that and just the act of writing a play was just liberating and wonderful and I happened to get a nice letter from the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center.  I didn't win the competition or anything but it was a very encouraging letter asking me to send in my future work and I thought My future work?  Little Diane Lake from Iowa?  You can have future work?
    It got started very slowly for me actually.  I love teaching and in fact probably will do that again at some point, but writing just sort of hit me.  You know, about seven years out of grad school, saying you want to do something here and what is it?
    Once I did the plays and realized no one in this country; nobody makes a living playwriting unless you get extremely lucky and it's very hard to do in New York, to make your living as a playwrite.  And I'd always loved movies to distraction, so I thought that's what I'll do.  I'll try to write movies.
    And that's as much as I knew about it.  I hadn't taken any classes or anything in screenwriting.  I'd always been a decent writer, and knew that, but I kind of ran from that.  I never let myself try, until then and then I tried and I knew it was my niche.
    I spent several years, about five, trying to break in as they say.

What was the first screenplay you ever wrote?

    The first screenplay I ever wrote was, it's called DISTANCE.  It's the life story of Berhe Morisot.  She's a French Inpressionist painter.  One of the six founding inpressionists, right along side Monet and Renoir and Degas and the guys we know.  And she was really one of them.  She was one of the founding inpressionists and she had a fascinating life.  I remember thinking how come I've never heard of her?  The first time I walked into a museum with her work, I looked around and saw an exhibition of her work and I was like, I was in a room of Renoirs, how come I didn't know who this woman was?   And so I wrote this screenplay.
    That's when I had been in Los Angeles maybe a couple of years and I had an agent.  I got an agent after about a year, but everybody was saying You're so funny, you should write sit-coms, so I had been trying to write sit-coms because it kind of seemed like you write for TV and then they let you write for movies.  The sit-coms were making me some fans, but they weren't making me a living.  I wasn't getting real work, so I thought You know, if nobody's going to buy what I write, I might as well write what I want anyway, and then nobody can buy that.  
    I wrote the Distance script.  I love the thing.  It's got a love triangle set against the backdrop of the impressionist era.  
    You know, it's one of those stories.  It's the same for everyone.  No one breaks in in any normal way.  I mean, I had written it and for a couple of years it had sat on a shelf.  An agent took it around and tried to get people to see it, but I don't know.  A year or two later, someone in my writers group got in on a meeting and met a producer.  They didn't get the job they were up for, but they saw an impressionist painting on their wall - a fake or a poster or something.
    Anyway, in no time I was represented by CAA, I had a screenplay at Columbia with a director attached.  An actor came on board and we were in pre-production.  Then she actor stepped out and Distance was shelved.  But that's okay, that script has become my calling card around town.  In 1996 or 1997, I got the job to write FRIDA.

Are you primarily interested in writing historical pieces or biopics?

    I'm interested in lots of things.  Well, maybe not as far as DUMB AND DUMBER, I good at humor, but I'll leave that kind of writing to the people who are really good at it.  Actually, I'm more interested in things that appeal to a more adult audience.  I like real stories about people with interesting lives.
    I am in negotiations right now, however, for a movie in the family film genre.  It's based on a novel about a boy who lives in Utah.  In the middle of the dessert who wants to build a boat.  A schooner.  Too big for a fourteen year old boy to build in the middle of the dessert.  A sort of FIELD OF DREAMS kind of story - if you build it they will come.
    I also have a spec script which should be ready to send out around the end of the year.  I still have a little fine tuning to do.  About Raymond Chandler, well loosely based on him anyway.  It sets him in 1930's Los Angeles working as a detective instead of him writing about detectives.  We'll see if anyone is interested in something like that.
    I also have a couple of projects in development - one with Wendy Finerman and one at Viacom, but I can't talk about either of those right now.  They're afraid of competing projects.

What was the best word of advice you received as an aspiring screenwriter?

    To come to Los Angeles.  Come to Los Angeles and throw yourself in the pool.  I didn't know anyone when I came out here, but in no time you'll have contacts.  You'll run into people who are trying to do the same thing you are - break in.  

  Richard Portnow
November 13, 2002

    Richard Portnow is a familiar face to millions as he's appeared in numerous films (Barton Fink, Se7en) and television shows (Seinfeld, NYPD Blue).  He currently has a recurring role on HBO's The Soprano's as Atty Hal "Mel" Melvoin.
    Besides talking about his dog (an English Cocker Spaniel named Hey Boy) we discussed his career and the other passions that fill his life.

KATHY - What do you find is the biggest difference for an actor appearing on a cable series as opposed to network television?

    RICHARD - You can use filthy language.  (laughs)  You can push the envelope, you know there's really no boundaries when you're doing a cable show, you can embrace subject matter that is taboo on the networks.  You can show it in a much more realistic way.  Much more specific attention to whatever it is you're exposing or illuminating, you know?   You have much more latitude in your acting and in the scripts, the direction.  That's the basic difference between the two.

So would you say it's actually more similar to working in a film?

    I would, yeah.  I would say that working on The Soprano's is more similar to working in a film than working on a one hour network show.

Now what is the general mood behind the scenes on the set?

    The mood is very positive.  Whenever you're involved with a hit show, the mood is positive, and The Soprano's is such a gigantic hit, that the mood is gigantically positive.  It's a pleasure to be on the set.  Everybody's pretty happy.  We all know who we are by now, the show's been on the air for four years.  Everybody's got their characters working for them, and the writers are keyed into the actors, and it's a very positive situation to be a part of.

Are there any pranksters on the set?

    Now and then.  Jimmy (James Gandolfini) likes to kid around.  Joey Pants (Pantoliano) likes to kid around.  Yeah, they like to have a good time.

Now you've played characters on both sides of the law.  Which do you prefer?

    Well, it depends upon the situation that the character is involved with.  When I'm playing a detective, if he's just a straight-on detective, whose purpose is exposition that's no where near as exciting as a villian.  But if the detective, if they've managed in the script to embrace the guy's life and his problems get in the way of the case, then that can be very exciting as well.  It really depends.  Although, when you bring a bad guy, there's usually, you can have more fun.  You can go further out and approach it a little over the top because it's often built into the character.  

What kinds of research do you do for a role beforehand?

    If I'm playing a murderer, I go out and commit murder.  (laughs)  You know, that sort of thing.

Oh, so that was you?


Have you ridden  around with cops in squad cars?

    Actually, I have not done that, but, in the past when I have played characters that are still around that did in fact figure into the story in life I was able to meet them.  When I did Howard Stern's dad in Private Parts I went out to the east coast a week early to meet his father.  Real observation to research the character that way.  I did a movie of the week years ago called The Deadly Silence and the prosecutor that I played in the movie was alive and well living in Long Island and I went to meet him.  That sort of thing appeals to me.  Every part is different and an actor will prepare every role in a different way.  It depends upon the luxury of the budget of whether you can do the kind of research that you hear about.  For instance, you know movies taking place in the South, going down there and living down there for a week before you start the film.  Generally, I don't have enough lead time to do that sort of thing anymore, but when I have ample notice I do like to get real live aspects of the character.

When did you first realize you wanted to be an actor?

    I guess when I got my first laugh - that was back in college.  I was in the Brooklyn College Theater Department and that's about what it amounted to.  It was an accident really.  I was just fooling around, trying to get an A and someone said 'try acting'.

You thought that was going to be an easy class to take?

    Yeah, they told me no books, no papers to write, no tests to take, if you sign up for the course you get an A and there's pretty girls in the class.  I said "Great, that sounds good.  Where do I sign?"  Then I stayed with it and found out I had a calling for it.  It was fun and I was good at it.

What was your first professional acting role?

    That would be a theater piece called Moonchildren written by Michael Weller and we did that in London at the Royal Court Theatre.  A very prestigious theater.

Did you study in London as well?

    No.  I auditioned when I was in New York and I was flown over.  It was a big to-do back then.

It sounds like a big to-do now.

    Yeah, it was exciting.  Very exciting.  That was my first paid gig.

Do you have a "Dream" role you've always wanted to play?

    Oh, good question.  Hmmm.  Wow.  There are a number of dream roles like Charlie, the older brother in On The Waterfront.   I'm thinking in terms of the roles that I am realistically within the age range to play.  There were roles when I was younger that I would have loved to have played but now I can't.  So what else is out there that I would love to do.  I like Rickie Roma in Glengarry Glen Ross.  I'd love to try and play that role.  Those are two of my favorites.

You've worked in various mediums - TV, Film and Stage - do you have a preference?  Or just whichever one's paying at the time?

    (laughs)  Well, often that's the way I make my decisions on what I'm going to accept.  If I had my druthers, I think I would do films and during my down time I would do theater.

Have you done any commercial work?

    Yes as a matter of fact, before I broke through into movies and television I did lots of TV commercials.  Now I keep that kind of activity to a minimum, but I recently did one...

Did you do Principal Financial?

    Yes I did.  That's me.  (laughs)

See?  I did recognize you.

    Good, I'm glad.  And that's me doing all the stunt work.

Well, you're just so good.

    (laughs)  Yeah, they got a guy that looked like me and he did the wire work, then they edited the thing seamlessly so it really looks like I'm doing double somersaults off the top of the filing cabinet.

It's a fun little spot.

    Yeah, I'm happy with it.

Now on your bio it mentions something called The Badlands, where you play Lieutenant Nick Palermo.  Can you tell me about that?

    That title was changed when the show went on the air and it was called Ryan Caulfield.  It was written by James D'Monico and Kevin Fox who wrote The Negotiator, the movie Kevin Spacey was in.  This was a great part.  I wish the show had lasted.  It was on the Fox network.  I played Sgt. Nick Palermo, the toughest cop in America.  He ate razor blades for breakfast.  I loved playing him.  A real tough guy.

Just like you, huh?

    (laughs)  Yeah, I sleep on a pillow covered with sand-pa-puh.  (laughs)

I'd like to switch gears just a little bit if I may.  I've read that you're quite an avid collector of things as diverse as Vintage clothing and Pulp Fiction Art.  And I think I remember seeing you on E! Celebrity Homes.

    That's right, you did.  Boy, you're good Kathy!

Now what drew you to collecting Pulp Fiction Art?

    I think, the way it started was my appreciation of Art Deco style and design.  Back in New York, during the years that I had left acting, I had quit for a number of years, I bought and sold antiques, etc. from the 1920's and 30's - Art Deco - and that kind of opened my eyes to how unique Americana from the past was.  And it lead me to collecting the clothing from the 50's primarily - Ricky Riccardo style, two-tone jackets and gabardine shirts with flap pockets.  Stuff like that.
    That in turn, lead me into the furniture.  Blonde wood from the 40's and 50's - Heywood Wakefield, Russell Wright, Paul Franco - and as I was learning more about the furniture, I would acquire resource books and in those I think I discovered the art form, or the venue rather for this particular type of artwork.  It's American Illustration art, and it's particular to the 1930's, 40's, 50's and 60's.  In the 30's it was called Pulp Art, and then when the pulps were taken off the stands, they were paper back books, the illustration art remained but just in a different format.
    Thematically, I've been collecting film noir types of scenarios.  I have a considerable and important collection.  I love looking at this stuff.

It's a very specialized art form.  Is it something that's easily acquired in the marketplace?

    It's very difficult to find and I'll tell you why.  When this work was commissioned, the artists were unknown, and they were paid $50 to $75 per canvas.  The artwork itself was regarded as virtually throw away art, and it was often thrown away, painted over, or destroyed.  Consequently, there's not a lot of it that remains even though there was an incredible number of pulp magazines.  These paintings were abundant, but they did not survive.  It's difficult to find the stuff.  Generally, you'll find it on the east coast where the publishers were opposed to the west coast.  There are collectors that travel the country scouring the garages and flea markets of America.  I deal with them.

So approximately how many pieces do you own?

    Approximatly forty pieces.

That's quite a collection.  Now, is there one specific piece, A Holy Grail if you will, that you have yet to acquire?

    No.  Often, it's a question of how deep your pockets are.  You know, the more exciting and thrilling Pulp Art paintings that are available will become very, very expensive.  Since I'm not on a series right now, I'm not searching for them.  I'm not entertaining the possibility of trying to bid on them in auction.  There is an auction coming up and some of these incredible 1930's paintings will be available, but they can become very very expensive.  I guess Holy Grail would be those.  The cream of the crop.
I have one final question for you, before I let you go.  What's next on the horizon for you?

    We are hoping to return to The Soprano's when they gear up again in January.  I'll tell you this much, I do not die in the end of the fourth year, so I can be back.  I'm still breathing and walking.
    I'm entertaining projects now.  Looking for the right vehicle to pour myself into.  To dedicate myself to.  I'm sure there's something out there that will be a good match.

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