Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Caroline Aaron On
Acting, Directors And
Life On "Jump Street"

Caroline Aaron. 
From Caroline Aaron


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Wednesday, March 14
, 2012

CAROLINE AARON has nothing but praise for Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, the directors of "21 Jump Street", but you can tell that this isn't the standard kiss-kiss line actors salute their directors with at press junkets.  Ms. Aaron, a premiere stage, screen and television actress, a staple of several Woody Allen films, and now part of the new "21 Jump Street", which opens on Friday, is sincere.  You hear it in her voice over the telephone all the way from Los Angeles, where she lives with her husband.

"They were both so hospitable, and so hospitable to creativity," Ms. Aaron said of Mr. Lord and Mr. Miller.  "They were fantastic.  And you don't always get that.  I don't know where this rumor came from that actors should be partitioned off from the creative process."

The Virginia-born actress said she enjoyed the creative freedom on "21 Jump Street" that she hadn't in some of her other big screen experiences, and her month in New Orleans last summer on the set of the Columbia Pictures comedy was a blast.  "There was a lot of process and creativity.  As I would film a scene with Jonah with the camera over his shoulder, he'd be feeding me things to say.  He and Channing would have new ideas all the time, so there were changes all the time, a lot of changes and evolution. 

Ms. Aaron plays Annie Schmidt in the action-comedy that stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum.  She's the mother of Mr. Hill's character, Officer Schmidt.  Annie takes in Officers Schmidt and Jenko as part of the duo's undercover cop assignment.  As of this conversation Ms. Aaron hadn't seen the film (she saw it last night at the film's world premiere.  In an e-mail message today she said she "loved" it as well as the script.  Narrative, she noted, "is always my favorite way to laugh.") 

Based on Ms. Aaron's reading of the script by Michael Bacall, "21 Jump Street" is a film primed to become a franchise.  "The potential is definitely there for a sequel, though I'm not sure how you could really do anything more with undercover cops in a high school."  Asked if she could expect to be back for any subsequent "Jump Street" adventures, she said she would gladly do it again.  "Whatever role they'd have for me -- I don't know where -- but wherever they see me fitting in to another one, I'd work with them again." 

Ask any actor: working with a director can present its challenges, and directors would say the very same about working with actors.  "Every film is a battle.  Some you win, some you don't," Ms. Aaron acknowledged. 

If there are challenges working with directors ("some just dictate to you, and you are totally sidelined by them with no room to do anything,") then what was it like for the seasoned actress to work with two directors? 

"They are one heartbeat.  It wasn't an issue.  One would stay at the monitor, and one would come over to you and talk about the scenes," Ms. Aaron said.  "With [Phil Lord and Christopher Miller] there's no ego at work nor is there any self-promotion.  You know, some directors are all about, 'I'm the boss here', and the ego.  That's not what they're about.  These guys are great.  And being on this film was a great experience, one of the best I've had."

Caroline Aaron studied theater and drama in New York City, where she lived for several years before living in Los Angeles became a necessity.  She has had distinct roles in Mr. Allen's "Crimes And Misdemeanors", "Shadows And Fog", "Husbands And Wives" and "Deconstructing Harry", and small but key roles in many other films including Jennifer Lynch's 2009 drama "Surveillance".  Ms. Aaron has also appeared in a litany of television series including "Girlfriends", "Grey's Anatomy", "Shark", "Private Practice", "Malcolm In The Middle", "The Young And The Restless", "Entourage", "Wings" and "Boston Legal".  Ms. Aaron also has a career on the Broadway stage, and if you haven't seen her on stage but have listened to her, you can tell that her voice -- deep, warm and conversational -- presumably works well on it.  (She will talk about one of her stage adventures later.)

The comfort that lots of money invested brings both pressure and a relaxed atmosphere to a film set.  A film like "21 Jump Street", budgeted at $50 million, meant a variety of scenarios could be put to use on a film which shot for a couple of months in Louisiana.  Ms. Aaron never felt pressure during her time on the film and the atmosphere, she said, was very good.  "I knew everybody would have a great time (on "21 Jump Street").  And we did."

She shares this revelation about a director.  "A prominent director, a good friend of mine, once told me he usually does 80 takes a setup.  Eighty.  I've done 60 or 70 movies.  The most takes I've ever done for one scene is eight.  Eight takes.  I've never even got to double-digits.  I've worked with top-of-the-line directors and they know what they want, and they didn't have to go burning film to find it." 

Once again Ms. Aaron returns to Mr. Lord and Mr. Miller: "When you have directors that are hospitable and open to suggestion, everything is easier, and you have time to explore, but within reason and limits."

Ever one for a laugh and a joke as well as cutting honesty and directness, Caroline Aaron has worked in mainstream and independent films, the latter of which she agreed can breed limitations for actor idea implementation.  "As an actor on an indie film you have to cut your losses.  You just have to get on with it and hope for the best.  If you're on a 15-day shoot, the goal is to finish, get it done and in the can.  There's no time or money to experiment with."

Directors Phil Lord (center) and Christopher Miller, with actress Brie Larson on the
set of their new film "21 Jump Street".  Caroline Aaron called them "one heartbeat". 

Sony Pictures

Although "21 Jump Street", which has been getting positive reviews ahead of its release, is destined to be a $100 million-plus box office hit in the U.S. and Canada, Ms. Aaron admits she has "called it wrong so times" when it comes to predicting which films would be hits. 

"Last year 'King's Speech' and 'The Social Network' were niche films but they were big hits, which were surprises.  No one predicted those films as big hits.  This film absolutely fits within a success formula," Ms. Aaron said of "21 Jump Street", which also stars Ice Cube, Dave Franco, Rob Riggle, DeRay Davis and Ellie Kemper, she of the smash-hit 2011 film "Bridesmaids"

"If anybody could figure out which films would be hits they'd be a very rich person in Hollywood."

In a studio system that now grooms flavor-of-the-month stardom (Zac Efron has  been somewhat eclipsed by Robert Pattinson, who has been surpassed by Justin Bieber, and so on), Ms. Aaron knows who the big hit is these days.  "Every little girl I saw when I was filming came up to me asking, 'could you get me a picture of Channing Tatum?'  He's such a kind soul.  He's handsome, good-looking, smart, talented, and he's got no ego in him.  He's very humble."

Ms. Aaron has just returned to Los Angeles from a seven-month stint in New York City on Broadway in the John Turturro-directed play "Relatively Speaking", which consists of three stories: one written by the Coen Brothers, one by Elaine May, and the third by Woody Allen.  Mr. Allen's story is about a man who steals his stepson's bride from the altar.  "A little art-imitates-life story there," Ms. Aaron wryly notes.  "It's very Marx Brothers.  And it all takes place in a hotel room.  You have all these people in one room.  And I play the wife [of the man who steals the bride]." 

"It was so good to be working with Woody again," says Ms. Aaron with relish.  "I loved it, and of the six Broadway shows I've done this was the best experience I've ever had.  It was great, a great thrill.  I tell you, I felt I was a rock star for seven months with that audience roaring and cheering you every night."

Caroline Aaron recalls one of the funniest lines Mr. Allen wrote for the story, something her character's husband in the play says to Ms. Aaron's character during a therapy session, along the lines of, "did you tell the doctor that I got a gift for you that was inscribed, 'do not resuscitate'?" 

"It's all very vintage Woody, from his 'Bananas' days.  Woody is really hands-on.  He was writing lines and looking over the script every single night, going over things.  The thing about Woody is, when he directs (a film) he never gives you direction unless you're doing it wrong," Ms. Aaron said.

Ms. Aaron revealed that she will be on television in the future at some point, but that there's nothing immediate on the horizon either on the small or big screen.  Her work has run the gamut, from comedy to drama and back, and all genres in between. 

If there was a medium that you would guess that Caroline Aaron leaned toward, you'd guess that the stage would be it.  She talks again about her magical months in the Big Apple as if she is reliving those live moments of the theater all over again.  "I just loved that play.  I love Woody's creativity, and his writing brought the story great style and rhythm.  Comedy is a team sport, and that's as it should be."

The actress quotes a line about a comedy principle from a famous funny man she has never worked with nor met, though would like to.

"Jerry Seinfeld once said that 'in comedy you can't have people on the screen who think they're good looking.  Vanity and comedy don't often mix very well.'  You have to leave it up to the audience to conclude that the person they're watching is good-looking."

"21 Jump Street" opens on Friday in the U.S. and Canada.

Full disclosure: The writer of this feature is a friend and former law student of Ms. Aaron's brother.

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