(SANTA BARBARA, Calif.) Santa Barbara, often referred to as the “American Riviera,” is hosting its 34th film festival this week, replete with the typical red-carpet events and world premieres of films from around the globe. Yes, Melissa McCarthy, Spike Lee, Claire Foy and other high-wattage stars have been seen here this week, but in addition to appearances by those A-listers, numerous filmmakers and stars on the rise have also been seen around town, trying to make that next great leap.
Despite a weekend-long deluge that closed portions of the 101 freeway, which connects this idyllic oceanfront town with Los Angeles and other points south, the films have still rolled, with documentaries and narratives galore, as well as the aforementioned celebrity events, staged as Q&As in tandem with recognition awards ceremonies.
Actor Viggo Mortensen, nominated for his third Oscar this year for “Green Book,” flew into Santa Barbara via helicopter over the dilapidated freeway at the weekend to accept the American Riviera Award and discuss his career, in a chat at the storied Arlington Theatre.
Mortensen discussed a range of topics, from his struggling journeyman days in New York to his long collaboration with filmmaker David Cronenberg.
And on “The Lord of the Rings” films, the sixty year-old said he prefers the extended cut of “The Fellowship of the Ring” to its theatrical counterpart.
Mortensen also related a humorous anecdote from working with the late stunt coordinator Bob Anderson on the film “Alatriste.”
“He was unwell and that was his last movie,” Mortensen said from the stage of the Arlington, adding that Anderson would only sign on to “Alatriste” if he could “do it the way he wanted to.”
Mortensen said that for the film, shot in Spain, a Spanish champion swordsman was brought in to do a fight with Mortensen’s character, but Anderson was unhappy with how the professional fencer was handling his weapon.
Mortensen related how Anderson told the fencer, “I was watching your swordplay, and I think you should rotate [your sword] clockwise an eighth of an inch, and you’ll have much better results.”
Once Anderson’s instructions were translated into Spanish, the fencer shook his head no. Anderson, by then largely confined to a wheelchair due to his failing health, then stood up, was handed a sword, and proceeded to flick away the professional fencer’s sword with one move.
“I still don’t know how he did it,” Mortensen said, eliciting a raucous ovation from the Arlington crowd for Anderson, who died in 2012 at the age of 89.
SMALLS FILMS, BIG STARS
Actor Josh Lucas may be most known for his work in the Reese Witherspoon comedy “Sweet Home Alabama,” as well as appearing as the younger version of Kevin Costner’s character in the Paramount Network series “Yellowstone.” But he sat down with Screen Comment to discuss appearing in the Danish film “Murderous Trance,” aka “The Guardian Angel,” playing at Santa Barbara International Film Festival this week.
“It was a pretty quick [decision] to jump into the void to go to Croatia for a fairly short period of time and take on a fairly complicated character,” Lucas said prior to a screening of the film.
Directed by Arto Halonen (“Princess”), “Murderous Trance” is loosely based on a real-life case in Danish crime lore wherein a man commits a horrific murder while supposedly under hypnosis.
“I’ve been hypnotizing people, and I’ve been hypnotized,” Halonen said. “That’s why I know there’s evidence. That’s part of what interests me, the mind and the world around it.”
“Immediately when I read this story, I was blown away by it, but also confused and intrigued,” Lucas said, sitting next to his director. “Then I saw a number of Arto’s films and I was impressed to say the least.
“Maybe Arto doesn’t like this analogy, but he’s sort of the Werner Herzog of Finland, a very astute documentary filmmaker who is also making narrative films and bouncing back and forth [with] stories about brilliance and madness,” Lucas said in his comparison to the mercurial German director.
The actor added that the more he researched the historical subject he was portraying, Bjorn Schouw Nielsen, the more he found the murderous man to be both brilliant as well as eccentric with his yoga practice—rather unusual for anyone in the West in the mid-20th century.
“He was a genuine serial killer, but also working within the realm of new age philosophy,” Lucas said. “It’s kind of a play on an actual Hannibal Lecter, not based in someone’s fiction. The more research [I did] the more I understood the sort of renaissance aspect of the character and the mad, utter brilliance of it.”
Lucas shared that on “Yellowstone,” wherein he plays the younger version of John Dutton (Costner), the original notion was to reverse-age Costner for those scenes using CGI, but series creator and director Taylor Sheridan (“Sicario,” “Wind River”) instead called Lucas up to the Utah location to portray the younger version of Dutton in flashback scenes.
“The way we discussed it was like ‘The Godfather,’” Lucas said. “[Robert] De Niro doesn’t try to look like [Marlon] Brando, it was just the trust of the filmmaking.”
STARS ON THE RISE
You likely have not yet heard of Argentinian actress Paula Reca, but in the years ahead, she will almost certainly come to be known to English-speaking audiences in addition to those in her homeland. Reca and her brother, Maximo, chatted with me about their film “Tampoco Tan Grandes” (Not Quite Adults), in which Paula stars in a road picture about a young woman on an unlikely trip with her ex-boyfriend (Andrew Ciavaglia), his sister Rita (Maria Canale) and her late father’s same-sex partner, Natalio (Miguel Angel Sola).
“Buenos Aires has more theaters than New York,” Paula told me at the Hotel Santa Barbara. “When Europeans immigrated to the U.S., [the next-largest] immigration happened to Argentina. The Russians, who are the creators of theater, went to New York and Buenos Aires.”
“About three years ago, we decided we really wanted to do this, and we believe there’s great space in Argentina to start telling these stories to the world,” Maximo said, adding that he and his sister started working on the script for “Tampoco” in a writers lab along with other creatives.
Unlike in America, with its enormous studio companies, government funds are readily available to Argentinian filmmakers. In fact, films can only be made in that country with government support, the siblings behind “Tampoco” said. And even then, it’s still difficult.
“We won [state] funding, but then you also need to get financial support from private financiers,” Paula said. “We were very lucky and got both so we could shoot really, really fast, and within a year, the movie was made.”
“You can do movies in Argentina only with the government funding, but the thing is you’re kind of attached to the timing they give you,” Maximo added. “So our biggest luck [was that] we were able to do the movie we wanted, with the actors we wanted and in the time we wanted. And I think you can see that in the film.”
“Tampoco” plays like a dark comedy, with revelations and coincidences, but the film is not cynical in the way some American comedies can be. Humor typically doesn’t translate across cultures, but the siblings say it is indeed finding its footing with English-speaking audiences—even after several other festivals told them it was too dark.
Paula attended NYU and now bounces back and forth between Buenos Aires and Los Angeles as she works to break into the American acting market.
“My manager is here in L.A., and I’m bringing scripts to producers and directors,” she said. “But I want to be a producer, I want to be in development. And I have the right people. And it’s happening, so I’m super excited.”
With a knowing smile that somehow doesn’t veer into the arrogant, she adds, “I think you’ll be hearing about me.”