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'Boating': An Awkward Version Of N.Y. Romance

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'Boating': An Awkward Version Of N.Y. Romance

Movie Interviews

'Boating': An Awkward Version Of N.Y. Romance

'Boating': An Awkward Version Of N.Y. Romance

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Guest host Robert Smith speaks with Amy Ryan and Philip Seymour Hoffman about their new movie, Jack Goes Boating. It's about two socially awkward people who fall in love. The film is directed by Hoffman and was adapted from an off-Broadway play.


This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Robert Smith.

There's a certain predictability to romantic comedies set in New York City. The man and the woman meet cute, as they say. You know, they get into a taxi; they bump into each other on the street while they're carrying packages. And they always have these fabulous apartments. They have interesting jobs and hilarious friends. And after a few misunderstandings, a montage or two, a bunch of coincidences, the couple finally kisses at an iconic location. Cue the Empire State Building.

The new film "Jack Goes Boating" is the awkward version of the New York City romance. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays a - I hope you forgive me - a schlubby limo driver growing some of the lamest white-man dreadlocks I've ever seen.

Amy Ryan, probably best known for her role as Holly on "The Office," is a telemarketer for a funeral home. And they meet awkward. Their dates are frustrating and uncomfortable, but somehow they manage to bumble together into a relationship.

(Soundbite of movie, "Jack Goes Boating")

Mr. PHILIP SEYMOUR HOFFMAN (Actor): (as Jack) I like talking to you.

Ms. AMY RYAN (Actor): (as Connie) I should invite you up, but my place is a mess. I'm going to clean it, and I'll invite you up next time.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (as Jack) Mine's worse.

Ms. RYAN: (as Connie) I'm usually neat. Well, not neat but not disgusting.

SMITH: "Jack Goes Boating" is the first film directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. He and his co-star, Amy Ryan, join us from NPR's New York bureau.

Thanks for coming in.

Ms. RYAN: Good morning.

Mr. HOFFMAN: Good morning.

SMITH: Now, this film comes from an off-Broadway play that you starred in, Mr. Hoffman, right?

Mr. HOFFMAN: Mm-hmm.

SMITH: And directed also, the play?

Mr. HOFFMAN: No. No. I just acted in it. Peter Dubois directed it.

SMITH: So why did you choose this as your first film to direct?

Mr. HOFFMAN: Well, it was more of - it just kind of chose us. We originated this play at the LAByrinth Theater Company. John Ortiz and I were co-artistic directors of the company at the time. He plays Clyde.

SMITH: Clyde is your character's friend in the film. And he's the one that sort of helps Jack get confidence, and introduces him to Connie.

Mr. HOFFMAN: Peter Saraf, from Big Beach, and Chris McGurk, from Overture - I believe - came and saw the play. And a bunch of other people, I think. And there was strong interest from these producers, film producers, to make it into a movie based on watching the play - which was great. It wasn't based on reading anything. It was based on actually watching it that they thought, wow, that's a movie.

And John Ortiz basically said, well, why don't you direct the film, you know, because I'd been directing with the theater company for so many years. I was like, well, maybe. And I thought about it, and then I did start to see it as a film.

Ms. RYAN: John's a great instigator.

SMITH: Amy, describe your character in the film.

Ms. RYAN: Connie is - I say she's someone who hasn't had much luck at love. I think when we meet her, she's at that point in her life where she knows that she needs to make a change. She needs to say yes, even if the butterflies in her stomach would rather her stay home and read a book. But she knows it's now or never so she accepts a dinner date, not knowing anything about this man named Jack, that her friend Lucy's going to set her up with.

SMITH: Lucy is Clyde's wife in the film. She also works with Connie in the funeral home. And she's played by Daphne Ruben Vega.

Ms. RYAN: And it goes pretty bad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RYAN: You know, she has a near nervous breakdown in the bathroom, you know, 10 minutes into the dinner. But yet, he's still there.

SMITH: Well, I want to play a clip of that terribly uncomfortable first date that the two of you have in the movie. The character of Connie is talking about her father, who was in a coma and then miraculously...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RYAN: As you would...

SMITH: ...comes out of it.

Ms. RYAN: ...on a first date.

SMITH: First date.

(Soundbite of movie, "Jack Goes Boating")

Ms. RYAN: (as Connie) He talked in a soft voice, you know? And I thought, oh, he's a zombie state, you know, where you stay around because there's some unfinished business you're responsible for, like taking care of my mom.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (as Jack) Yeah, your mom, of course.

Ms. RYAN: (as Connie) He went back to be with her at Village Care Facility.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (as Jack) You know, that's - God, got up from a coma, went home.

Ms. RYAN: (as Connie) And then he fell down and hit his head in the hallway, and then he died.

SMITH: I have to say: When I saw this in the movie theater, I laughed a huge belly laugh out loud, and then looked around to make sure that I was supposed to be laughing.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SMITH: Because at this point in the film, you don't know if it's - is this a comedy, is this serious, am I the only one who thought that this was a hilarious moment? But I have to ask. This is one of those difficulties of the character. You're sad. You're lonely. But you also provide most of the laughs in the film. How did you balance this uncomfortable humor?

Ms. RYAN: Well, I tried to just play the truth of her, really. And I mean, I knew it was funny, reading it as well. Humor comes from tragedy, really.

Mr. HOFFMAN: Yeah.

SMITH: Well, Philip Seymour Hoffman, you're sitting there in the scene. You're in just about every scene in the movie. And you're also directing it. So as you're directing that scene in particular, the first-date scene, are you concentrating on what you're doing and seeing it from outside, from the director's perspective?

Mr. HOFFMAN: That was about halfway into the shoot, three-quarters of the way into the shoot, that scene.

SMITH: So you were getting good at it.

Mr. HOFFMAN: No, no, it wasn't that. No, I struggled throughout with the acting and directing at the same time. But I had to keep an - you know, so I had to kind of figure out how we were going to shoot it. So when the camera wasn't going to be on me, how I could still be off camera and be the other actor for them, but also kind of have a third eye. And that was when I would try to take advantage of that.

Yeah, I'd be off camera, and I'd have to give Amy a note or suggestion - you know what I mean? - about something. In fact, in that scene, I think, there was one part where we kind of did, we did a bunch of times.

Ms. RYAN: Yeah.

Mr. HOFFMAN: Remember? And one of the takes we use, it's really a great take near the end, before you run to the bathroom. It's a take that you stopped. You know, she wanted to do it again, and I was like, actually, that was really good.

Ms. RYAN: I must have been getting to somewhere too personal.

Mr. HOFFMAN: Yeah, it was like...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. RYAN: Screw this.

Mr. HOFFMAN: But that's kind of what happens a lot. That's why you have directors because the actors, the better they get sometimes, yeah - I mean, the more unaware of themselves they are, which is, you know, why you want a third eye there.

Ms. RYAN: The right thing doesn't always feel comfortable.

SMITH: I should say, the title of the film, "Jack Goes Boating," refers to Jack's desire to take Connie on a boating date in Central Park. But first you have to learn how to swim. But that means, Philip, you spent a lot of time in a bathing suit. As a director, were you ever tempted to shoot yourself from a little more flattering angles?

Mr. HOFFMAN: Human beings up close and personal are the way they look up close and personal.

Ms. RYAN: Did you notice his Botox?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HOFFMAN: You know, I feel very strongly about that and I feel - you know, some guy who, you know, who's 43, who doesn't know how to cook, you know, who drives a limo for a living and lives in a basement apartment, is - you know, going to be out of shape, and he's going to be a little bit blotchy and - you know, he's trying to do something with his hair that he thinks will be cool, but it's not working out so well.

And that's the way he looks, do you know what I mean? So it's - it'd be pretty weird to try to, if I started shooting the scene based on how I wanted to look, you know, and how that - and those swimming pool scenes are essential to the relationship between Jack and Clyde. You see these two men be gentle with each other.

(Soundbite of movie, "Jack Goes Boating")

(Soundbite of splashing)

Mr. JOHN ORTIZ (Actor): (as Clyde) That's good but Jack, that's good, but go under. Make the bubbles under the water, then come up, take a breath, then go under, bubbles, come up - and get a rhythm going. We'll do it together. You ready? But it's good. You ready? Breath.

(Soundbite of deep breaths)

Mr. ORTIZ: Under.

(Soundbite of splashing)

SMITH: You speak about your character's relationship with his friend Clyde as if it's the love story at the center of the film.

Mr. HOFFMAN: I think it is, it is. I mean, it's not - I mean, I don't think it's the primary story, but I don't think - I think all three stories, there are three relationships happening - you know, Jack and Connie and then Clyde and Lucy, and Jack and Clyde. All three of them hold the same kind of weight, really, you know, in order for the Jack-Connie to actually pay off - you know because - and you know, ultimately, you feel the evolution of the guys' story just as much as you feel the evolution of any of the other stories. And that was very important to me.

SMITH: Well, Amy, you've seen Philip Seymour Hoffman go from film actor to film director. Does this tempt you to try your hand at directing?

Ms. RYAN: Oh no, no, no, no. I don't have that broader view of the big picture. Yeah, I'm a good champion for a character through that story. I'll defend them. But it's hard for me to see to take responsibility for the whole story. So no, it's a skill I do not possess. But I am absolutely in awe of Phil for doing this, and doing it beautifully.

SMITH: Philip Seymour Hoffman is the director and star of the new film "Jack Goes Boating." He joined us with his costar, Amy Ryan, from NPR's New York bureau. Thank you both so much for coming in. This was great.

Ms. RYAN: Thank you.

Mr. HOFFMAN: Thank you.

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