Monday, November 29, 2010

Henry Jaglom's QUEEN OF THE LOT debuts; Q&A with its striking star, Tanna Frederick


If you're a Henry Jaglom fan (TrustMovies sure is) you won't want to miss his latest attempt to turn today's Hollywood into the glitter capital of yore -- even if QUEEN OF THE LOT is not up to the level of Hollywood Dreams (to which it is somewhat of a sequel) or to last year's lovely Irene in Time (which also starred Jaglom's latest leading lady, the unconven-tional but gifted (she grows on you!) Tanna Frederick. Queen is still entertaining enough and has its fine, funny and tender mo-ments, attenuated as some of these -- & the film itself -- often are.

Seems to me that Jaglom (shown above) would like to create some of that old-fashioned glamor that Hollywood used to hand us by the mile -- the mansions, the swimming pools, the egos, the drama -- but he wants to manage this sweetly and affectionately. The filmmaker doesn't really do satire; he's generally too kind for that. A scene will seem to be making fun of the people on view -- and then, boom, the filmmaker starts identifying with them and becoming one with their foibles and needs.

You don't get real satire or wit from this sort of thing, but you do get something else. And it can be awfully appealing and dear. Which pretty much also describes the effect that Ms Frederick, left, has on me. She's beautiful, but in an offbeat way, and she doesn't seem to mind at all not consistently looking her best (something more Hollywood actresses might take into consideration). And she's vulnerable. My goodness, is she vulnerable! But here, for the first time, we start to see some other sides to her. In Queen she plays Maggie Chase, an up-and-coming starlet with her own TV show and a drinking problem. When a DUI gets her under house arrest (complete with ankle bracelet), the plot, such as it is, sets in motion.

This involves Maggie's current boyfriend (a nice job by Christopher Rydell, above, right) and his family: brother (Noah Wyle, above, left) the pater familias (a very good Jack Heller, whose early scenes are enough to have you quaking in your sneakers), mother (Kathryn Grant), daughter (Mary Crosby), and various underlings and hangers-on (Peter Bogdonovich (below, right), Paul Sand and Dennis Christopher, among them.

Add to this the Jaglom stable of oft-used, awfully-good actors like Zak Norman (below, left) and David Proval (below, right) as a gay couple (Proval has the most surprising scene in the film) and you've got quite a cast.  Now, where is the movie that ought to surround it?

OK: it's here -- in fits and starts. Because some of those starts lead to consistent scenes and a weird kind of arc, you'll probably stick around and feel more kindly than angry toward Queen. But you may wonder why a scene of singing Christmas carols goes on quite so long, or the back and forth banter between Frederick and Mr. Wyle (who makes a lovely leading man, by the way: very smart, quick and 1930s, as I suspect Jaglom wanted) also goes on and on. (For the reason, see the interview with Ms Frederick that follows.)

Those 30s and 40s comedies had damn good dialog, and this is one of Henry's weaker points -- particularly when he appears to be trying to recreate something that approaches those films.  His banter is just OK, and sometimes not quite that. He's better with the quiet, more indirect conversations that tease out their meaning in bits and pieces.

So this is what you'd call a mixed review, yes. But would I have missed the movie? No. Queen of the Lot is already playing on our west coast (Henry's home base) and opens here in New York this Friday, Dec. 3, at the Quad Cinema, after a premier Wednesday evening, Dec. 1, at FIAF's Florence Gould Hall. You can find all the currently-scheduled playdates at this link. Click, go to the right side of the screen and then click on Showtimes.

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We talked with Tanna Frederick a couple of weeks ago via phone, and the actress could not have been more gracious, charming and clear-headed (What? Were we expecting oodles of vulvernability? That's why they're called "actresses," TM!) In the following Q&A, TrustMovies' questions appear in boldface and Ms Frederick's answers in standard type.

There’s a scene in Queen in which Noah says that your character seems needy and sweet etc., but that you are really very competent, strong and clear-headed (something like that). 

Yep: that's pretty much what he says.

And then, in the faux-dead body scene, we see this exhibited in spades. It reminded me somewhat of how Naomi Watts handled that wonderful scene in Mulholland Drive. It’s a side of you we haven’t seen before (I haven’t anyway). How was that scene to play for you?

Wow—Naomi Watts and Mulholland Drive: Thank you!

Well, I know, Queen of the Lot and that scene are not up to David Lynch-level, but there is a resemblance -- and a good one.

I thought this scene was really great, and I wanted the color of that particular kind of strength represented in this film. And so did Henry. In my earlier two films with him -- this is true of a lot of his leading ladies – we are very vulnerable. But I think we all really have that inner strength. We have a solid inner core. I have tried to play them that way but never really got a chance to show this. I wanted a switch in this movie. So you must use the ferocity – not in a threatening way. Any woman in this industry is ferocious at her core. We must use this for self –preservation. It's the only thing that can really get you through. You have to use that to stay afloat. I liked being able to reveal that side of her. The audience needs to see this and know, ”Oh, she is strong. She can become grounded when she needs to be.”

You know, growing up in Iowa, I did a lot of drama. I didn’t do much comedy. I didn’t discover I was funny until Henry.  I was used to playing in things like Jean Genet’s The Maids -- and the like.

You grew up in Iowa? Is that why there was a film festival there at which Queen of the Lot was recently shown?

They started a film festival my home towm, so we brought people like Karen Black, David Proval and Zak Norman to the festival. We also went to the Wild Rose Film Festival in Des Moines. I had nothing to do with this fest, so it was particularly nice to win awards there. You know, it's funny because, in the film we make some good fun of Iowa, but the audience didn't seem to mind at all. They were all very jovial about the film, and we ended up getting the audience award.

That's great! Will there be more of these characters in yet another Jaglom movie – because the characters all seem to be quite similar from Hollywood Dreams to Queen of the Lot.

Yes. Henry calls Queen a kind of sequel to Hollywood Dreams. We are getting ready now to start on the third part of this trilogy.

We shot another film called Just 45 Minutes from Broadway- based on Henry’s play that ran out here for one year. You New Yorkers are used to long runs of plays, but not here in L.A. This was so unusual, to run this long. And, you might know that Henry does not allow understudies. He says if any of the actor can’t be in the show, we close it down. If someone gets sick, we don’t do that performance. But we all just stuck it out and performed through sickness and crises, and we kept getting full houses and standing ovations. The title is from the George C. Cohan song. We did a nine-day shoot for the movie, and Judd Nelson replaced one of the actors. Otherwise, the whole original cast is in it.

It took only nine days in total to film?

Yes, and Henry is very intense on set. He gets his reputation as tough on the set from this. But who isn’t – particularly when you have a low budget and must work fast. We all loved this shoot and the play. In fact, we took the play up north to Cambira for a fund-rasier project. We raised money and got the theater in Cambria a sprinkler system. They were suspended from doing any shows because of no sprinklers. So we made this road trip up there, and put it on and raised the money. We did four performances with a big waiting list for every one!

Can we talk about another project of yours, Katie Q?


Yes, that is a film that Ron Vignone has directed. We filmed with Paul Sand Karen Black, David Proval and Zak Norman. We got a great ensemble. It’s a very twisted black comedy. We have a bit left to shoot, and that is our 2011 goal -- to get this out in film festivals and maybe theatrically in 2011. It’s a dark comedic mystery which should be a lot of fun.

I am thinking there will be certian similarities to Henry’s work, since Ron has worked a lot with Henry.

Yes, his and Henry aesthetics are very similar. Henry has edited every one of his films for 17 movies. But Ron edited Queen of the Lot. He’s an amazing editor. You know, it’s more fun, especially in moviemaking, when you have wonderful collaborators. We’re kind of like the 3 Musketeers, working on various project in various stages of development.

Is Tanna Frederick your real name?

Yep – it’s my real Iowa name. I’m Czech and Irish and Danish, and it is thanks to my great, great aunt in Iowa that I have it. She was an au pair, who saved two children of a local dentist from a fire when she was 16. Unfortunately, in the process of saving them, she died in the fire, but she did save the children. When my mother was pregnant, my great grandfatehr asked my mom before she even knew if she was having a girl, to please name her after this great aunt.

Your career and image at this point are rather joined in most of us fans’ minds to Henry’s. Will Katie Q maybe change that a bit (though Ron is also joined with Henry, and the cast looks pretty similar)?

I think Katie Q will maybe be a little like Henry’s films.

Anything new in the offing that does not include Henry/Ron?

I would like to work with other directors, and Henry wants me to work with other directors, as much as I want to, too. Henry has been basically my Selznick, fostering and creating my career. It’s just the matter of the right property coming along at the right time. I’ve been offered some other films with other directors, but at this point I have not felt the need to do other work that I am not really passionate about. There are a lot of things that I am looking at and that are in devlopement with other directors..When I feel the time is right, I will make a film with someone else. I’m sure that time will come very soon. Henry’s movies are becoming more mainstream, and I think we are both getting noticed more. I am asked this question a lot: Do you work exclusively with Henry? And no. But it is what I want to do now. Go after the quality versus the quantity.

There have been little parts in large budget films that I’ve been offered. But I also have promised myself, that if I am going after this dream, something I’ve always wanted, that I will not compromise. I am a stubborn girl, and when my heart isn’t completely into something, I don’t want to do it. And I am certainly not hurting for work, not right now. So I am sort of putzting along at my own pace and enjoying every minute of it.

What was it like working in India (on Rising Shores)?

(She laughs and laughs and laughs at this question.) I had this friend who was a DP on that movie, and he called me up to say "I have five lines for you, if you can play a real estate agent."  This was actually the first movie I really had a part in. But I never met any of the other actors, I don’t even think I met the director. I get credited for this movie and it’s kind of funny. I guess this was like doing a Bollywood movie, but my part was all filmed in Santa Monica back in... 2001 or 2002. The 2nd unit director shot it, I think, and I don’t remember much about it at all.

Any thoughts about your first films: Inescapable or First Impressions?

First Impressions I loved making. That was actually part of the material from which Henry cast me for Hollywood Dreams. That was part of the film that got me that role. This wonderful Jewish kid, Barton Caplan, filmed it, and he was so sweet. It’s a sweet male dating story, abou this young man who goes through a series of dates that don’t work out. Then he meets the women of his dreams – who then suddenly lets out a big fart. I know it sounds awful, but it is kind of charming. I was also appearing in the legitimate theater version of A Safe Place, the play made from Henry's movie, and Henry came to see me in that --- and together with the footage from First Impressions he wanted to cast me in Hollywood Dreams.

Inescapable was my first big role in a movie. But it was not a great film or a great representation of my work. It was one of those films I was really excited about because it was the first film I got paid for. I made $2,000 making that movie, and it was most I had ever been offered. But it did not turn out to be a great film.

While I have you, Tanna, is there anything else you’d like to say: something that you’ve always wanted to talk about but journalists never seem to ask?

Wow—that’s a really sweet question. Let me think. Well, I feel really lucky -- being the sort of being a golden-age-of-Hollywood-phile that I am, being able to work with Henry and with Noah Wylie on Queen of the Lot. There is nothing better than this kind of funny, wonderful romantic comedy from the 40s. Like Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, or anything with Jimmy Stewart or Cary Grant with all that very jaunty, back-and-forth, witty banter. And I feel that with Queen of the Lot is like this – and, oh -- to work with Noah, who is an exceptionally gallant and accommodating actor and partner to work with. I think this will be fun for audiences, too, becasue he and I found a really special connection – with our 40s-type banter and relationship. That is something that I think is hard to find nowawadys in most films. In the 40s they captured this a lot -- in dialog and relationship. But not so much now. Henry was really smart in the casting of this because Noah is amazing. He is an incredibly intelligent guy -- with such a sharp wit!

(All the photos above are from the film itself, except that of Mr. Jaglom, toward the top, which is cribbed from the film's website.)

6 comments:

Larry said...

Queen of the Lot is my favorite Henry Jaglom film. Tanna Frederick has outdone Her Hollywood Dreams performance, which was great. Adding that level of competency, that ability to jump in and take chargw effectiveky in a crisis gives her character a whole new depth. Noah Wyle is the perfect leading man. I loved this film and I'll see it again.

Lenay said...

If you haven't seen Queen of the Lot, Run, don't walk to wherever it's playing and see it. It's great! The classic Hollywood romance is alive and well with the chemistry between Tanna Frederick and Noah Wyle and the supporting cast is wonderful.

Sally Brooks said...

Wow! Henry Jaglom has outdone himself. What a blast with Tanna Frederick and Noah Wyle's beautiful onscreen chemistry.  There's humor, drama, romance and a few OHMYGAWD! moments. It tops Hollywood Dreams, in my opinion - and I loved Hollywood Dreams. There are whole new levels of comedy and drama, and I love that step back into the snappy 40s Hollywood movie dialog.

Mary Iselin said...

Great interview. You brought up a lot of interesting questions. I love Henry Jaglom's movies and it's intriguing that he's getting a little more mainstream, though I'm not entirely sure what that means - certainly not car chases and blaring soundtracks that would wake up the dead. What I love about Queen of the Lot is the resurrection of the old silver screen type romance and dialog - and Jaglom does it wonderfully with Tanna Frederick and Noah Wyle. I can't wait to see the movie of Just 45 Minutes From Broadway, which is one of the best plays i've seen.

Mary Iselin said...

I think Queen of the Lot is a wonderful film. Henry Jaglom really captures old Hollywood and nestles it into today's world of Google points and off-the-wall therapies. Tanna Frederick and Noah Wyle splash the screen with a Tracy/Hepburn style romance. I'm going to see it again. And I hope to see a lot more of Tanna Frederick. She's simply amazing.

James van Maanen, said...

Wow-- five comments in a single day: I think that's a record number for TrustMovies. While I don't share Larry's and Sally's opinion of the film as Jaglom's best or that the director has outdone himself, I still found it good fun, and agree with Lenay about that chemistry between Frederick and Wyle. And, like Mary, I am eagerly looking forward to the film version of JUST 45 MINUTES FROM BROADWAY.