PASADENA, CA–HBO really turned on the star power Friday at press tour. Not only was Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant in the house, but the premium cable network also had panels featuring Julianne Moore, Woody Harrelson and Ed Harris (from the upcoming HBO Sarah Palin movie Game Change), Nicole Kidman and Clive Owen (from Hemingway & Gellhorn, debuting in May) and Julia Louis Dreyfus (the political comedy VEEP, starting April 22).
The biggest draws, however, were Dustin Hoffman and Nick Nolte. The two headline Luck, a nine episode drama about gambling and horse racing set at a racetrack. Director Michael Mann and creator David Milch also sat before critics.
Any one of them would be a pretty good session but all four at once was press tour gold. Nolte hat an Indiana Jones fedora pulled down to his eyes and growls more than talks. He sounds like he gargles with razor blades. He had crusty and surly for breakfast.
Somebody asked Hoffman if he understood all the track lingo in the pilot. Snarled Nolte: “You guys understand everything that’s going on in your life?”
|Milch (left) and Mann. Luck made them smile|
Milch in particular is a critics favourite. He never talks down to us or his audience. But this day belonged to Hoffman and Nolte.
Things got fun when veteran critic Ed Bark started to gently ask Hoffman how this production went given his rep for being, uh, “a guy who likes to make suggestions…”
Don’t be so diplomatic, said Hoffman.
“You’re known as being difficult to work with,” Bark ventured.
“Now you can just say, ‘a prick.'”
“I’m going to get this on the transcript,” said Uncle Barky. “You’re known for being a prick.”
Playful Hoffman still wanted clarification. “In other words, Nick’s not…”
“Well,” says Bark, “Nick is known as a difficult person, too.”
Pipes up Nolte: “Or certainly hard to communicate with when he looks like he does in mug shots.”
Nolte’s 2002 mug shot, in case you haven’t seen it, is epic.
Bark’s prodding, as it usually does, lead to a great story. Hoffman relayed a bit of advice he once got from Anthony Hopkins, who told him exactly what to do if you don’t get along with a director. “Never raise your voice,” Hopkins told him. “Never have a fight. On a sound stage, make sure…you’re shooting on the ground floor. When it gets to that point, you say, ‘Excuse me. I have to go to the bathroom.’ You’ve checked the bathroom out before. It has a window. You go in the bathroom. You lock the door. You climb out the window. You go home. You come back the next day. There’s no argument anymore.”
|Nolte (left) with one of the real stars of Luck|
The story seemed to lurch Nolte back to life. “That is true,” he said, “because I did that a couple of times.”
He then shared a story about the time Debra Winger gave him a hard time on the set of Canary Row. She ratted Nolte out to director David Ward, complaining Nolte wasn’t giving his all. The director took Nolte to dinner and chewed him out for slacking off. “You just don’t give ‑‑ you’re just irresponsible,” Nolte was told. The actor picked up a plate full of spaghetti and smushed it all over his own face. “David didn’t know what to do with that,” he said.
Winger complained again later, this time that Nolte wasn’t throwing himself enough into a dance. Again there was a restaurant meeting, only this time Nolte excused himself, went to the bathroom and slipped out the window.
Back in his live TV days, the great comic was also a famous pain in the ass. “He was getting really nuts,” said Hoffman, “and the producer took him out to lunch. Caesar asked, ‘What am I here for?’ The producer said, ‘Because you’ve been acting crazy.'”
Caesar stood up, grabbed a huge plate of spaghetti, and dumped it on his own head. “He then got up, went to the bar and cleared it of everything that was on it, turning over every fucking thing in the restaurant,” said Hoffman.
Caesar came back, sat down, looked at the menu very quietly and said, “THAT’s crazy.”
These guys had a thousand other stories in them, but HBO suddenly shut the session down, not because they wanted to, but because the geniuses who run the cable portion of the tour had crammed eleventy-billion sessions into the day. Exit Hoffman, Milch, Mann and Nolte, enter two dudes from Discovery who build fish tanks for a living.
The tank dudes got more stage time. Where was that spaghetti waiter when we needed him?
Fortunately, Hoffman was very generous in the after scrum, spinning more stories for a solid 15 minutes. More on that in a later post.