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The best of what actors and directors said about their films in 2020

Ed Symkus
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Diane Lane in "Let Him Go"

Though, due to the pandemic, I had no in-person interviews with actors or directors in 2020, many still made themselves available to talk about their films via phone calls or Zoom chats. The trick to interviewing was still the same: Get subjects to relax, and open up. These are some of my favorite moments from various conversations throughout the year.

BEN AFFLECK, Jack in “The Way Back,” on the challenge of playing quiet, intimate scenes.

“It’s sort of easier to fake it when you have furniture to chew, stuff to throw around. I’ve become more interested in smaller, more nuanced performances, and the power of silence. If an actor is genuinely experiencing something, it’s just as powerful watching them in silence as it is watching a monologue, and that’s definitely something I aspire to.”

DIANE LANE, Margaret in “Let Him Go,” on getting completely caught up in a part in the time between “action” and “cut.”

“Certain scenes demand a certain freedom. And at the final outcome – meaning you know your lines and where you’re going to stand and you know the framework of the scene with the other actors – then you just throw it up in the air, and you trust. You trust that you’re really in it, and sort of channeling this truth of experience. Sometimes it’s a bit like losing yourself for the greater good.”

CHARLIE KAUFMAN, writer and director of “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” on if directing is what he expected it to be.

“I made movies when I was a teenager, and I went to film school, and directed student films. I also had a background in theater, and I was interested in actors and acting. So, it wasn’t entirely foreign to me. Like anything, it’s as hard as you want it to be. You can always be better, you can always learn something. You can always explore a new idea in filmmaking. There’s no end to how good you can become if you’re serious about it. It’s stressful but also quite enjoyable to work with really talented people who are contributing to the end product, especially if people are happy to be there and happy with the work. It’s exciting!”

DAVID ARQUETTE, subject of the documentary “You Cannot Kill David Arquette,” on learning how to perform as a professional wrestler.

“I didn’t have much training at all; that was the hardest part about the World Championship Wrestling days. It was like, ‘Here, read this [script]!’ For one thing, I had dyslexia, so it was hard for me to memorize something like that. But they said you don’t have to memorize, you just have to get the gist of it. There are all these things you have to learn in the world of wrestling and you can only learn by doing it. Stuff like, ‘How’s that piledriver to take?’ [And they’d say]‘Well, it’s not good.’ What that means in wrestling talk is that it hurts; you probably shouldn’t do it because you’ll be hurting for a week or two ... or more.”

EMILY MORTIMER, Kay in “Relic,” on first wanting to be an actor.

“I was a very shy child, so it seemed like it was something almost impossible to imagine, given that I would blush when a teacher called on me to say something in class. I was very socially anxious as a kid, so the idea of performing in front of people, other than my mum and dad was something I didn’t necessarily envisage, although I had a very active inner life. I watched television all the time. I saw all these Spencer Tracy-Katharine Hepburn movies in black & white. I saw a lot of brilliant films. But I also watched everything, from ‘How to Build a House’ ... in Welsh, to cookery shows. And I would act out what was on. Everything that I saw I would turn into a play and do it for my parents. So, the need to perform was in there, but I couldn’t imagine doing it in a proper way in front of people.”

DAVE FRANCO, director and co-writer of “The Rental,” on how he made the jump from acting to directing.

“I’ve been writing and directing short films and skits for a long time. I’ve wanted to take the next step to directing a feature, but I was nervous to take that leap. The main reason I’m doing any of this is because I love movies. My first job was at a mom-and-pop video store when I was 14. It was illegal for me to be working there at that age, so they paid me by allowing me to take home as many movies as I wanted, and that became my film school. I wanted to find a way into the movie business, and the path I took was through acting. But over time I became curious about every step of the process, and felt like I wanted to do more than just act.”

TOM HANKS, Captain Krause in “Greyhound,” on his thoughts about COVID-19, after he and his wife Rita Wilson contracted it and recovered.

“No one has anything other than a best-educated guess of when the world is going to be through with this – when COVID-19 has been tamed or conquered or banished. All people can really do, in order to get to tomorrow, is three things: Wear a mask, social distance, wash our hands. Those are so simple, so easy, and if anybody cannot find it in themselves to practice those three very basic things, I just think, shame on you. Now, at the end of the day it might just be a drop in the ocean in solving COVID-19. But as is the point of a movie I made called ‘Cloud Atlas,’ what is an ocean but a multitude of drops? If we all do it, we’ll be that much closer to the better day and the end of all of this.”

Ed Symkus can be reached at esymkus@rcn.com.

Ben Affleck in "The Way Back" [Courtesy Photo/Warner Bros.]