Saturday, May 16, 2009

Robert Siegel, writer/director


This interview with Robert began on a Thursday evening at a Chelsea diner. And we concluded the interview the following day, on a muggy Friday Manhattan night in the same diner. So, this was my first two-part interview. I was excited and happy.

Robert was editor-in-chief of "The Onion" from 1996 to 2003... when it was in it's original phase as a Madison, Wisconsin publication. The editor of "The Onion" when Robert arrrived was Ben Karlin, who later left to join "The Daily Show" as executive producer. He was followed by David Javerbaum, who is still the executive producer of "The Onion" and he wrote the music for the Broadway show, "Crybaby."

In 2001, "The Onion" moved to new headquarters in New York City. And shortly thereafter Robert began writing "The Wrestler." Robert explained that the process of creating a film is a long one. It can sometimes take five years from "script to screen." But Robert knew from the beginning that Mickey Rourke was "ideal" for this film and he wrote "The Wrestler" with Mickey Rourke in mind. Robert knew he would be just perfect for this part. Robert wanted to create a compelling character and story. Yet, he realizes the story is both sad and emotional. And throughout, there are many scenes in the film that show the character's great and extreme loneliness with moments of so much sweetness.

The audience knows at the end of the film that "The Ram" will not last long after he makes a decision to go back into the ring. He has made a decision to die. It was the director's decision to end the film with a freeze frame... to perhaps leave the final moments without a closure.

I think there are huge emotional moments in "The Wrestler" and it was Robert Siegel from whose fingers this heartbreaking film began and... he indeed created the film which gave Mickey Rourke his "comeback." Robert was nominated for a WGA award in the category of "original screenplay" for the film.

We moved on to a discussion of "Big Fan," the film which Robert wrote and directed and which will premiere at BAM on June 19th as part of the Next Wave Festival. In the film, Patton Oswalt plays Paul Aufiero, a loner who is obsessed with the Giants and he spends much of his time calling in to a sports radio show. For this role, Patton Oswalt won the award for "Best Actor" at the Method Festival. Robert describes Paul as a "Marty" or "Rupert Pupkin"... and perhaps "Big Fan" is the "King of Comedy" of sports movies. I asked Robert if he personally knows any of these "obsessive nerds" and he said he based the character on his imagination. But we have all had experiences which make us lonely and we all share basic human emotions and it is those feelings which Robert hopes to bring to film. "Big Fan" will open on August 28th.

Well, another interview had ended. As darkness was falling, the sidewalks were still packed with people and the streets were crowded with busy traffic congestion. I started thinking as I began the walk home. People weave in and out of our lives.... but I have known Robert for several years, and tonight I continued to be impressed by Robert's sincerity, integrity, openness, and warmth.

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