Personalities / Insights

The Book of Mormon Shows Heart

Broadway’s newest smash musical offers a surprising dose of sweetness.

March 28, 2011


Andrew Rannells in The Book of Mormon

When The Book of Mormon opened last week on Broadway to rave reviews and cheering audiences, no one seemed surprised. But what is surprising, at least according to one Salt Lake City newspaper as well as the show’s star Andrew Rannells, is the heart behind bad boys Trey Stone and Matt Parker’s latest venture. The day after opening night—Rannells’ first as a lead Broadway actor—he sat down with Gotham to chat about his role, the controversial nature of the show and the benevolent moral behind it all.

What did you think when you first read the script? Were you at all hesitant about the somewhat controversial nature of its content?
ANDREW RANNELLS:
I’m not religious and was not raised overly religious, so reading the script I realized that they were shocking, but I wasn’t overly concerned that it was going to be offensive. It wasn’t until we got into it, and the more I thought about it I thought people might actually take issue with it. We were really pleasantly surprised [in previews] that most people who are coming to see it are seeing it with the right spirit.

What do you think is the most surprising aspect of the show?
AR:
The surprising part for people is that the show is not a Mormon-bashing or religion bashing. It actually ends up being very pro-faith. It’s been a nice surprise for the audience that we’re not just making fun of people. There’s much more heart than people expected.

What would you say is the central message of the show?
AR:
The central message is definitely pro-faith: the idea of having faith and where that comes from. Whether the [religious] stories are made up or if you take them as fact, if it’s comforting, if the comfort you get from the stories is helpful to you, and if the overall message is a positive one of helping people and trying to be a good person, it kind of doesn’t matter where the stories come from as long as the actions that follow are positive.

Sounds really uplifting!
AR:
Yeah, that was [show creators Trey Parker, Matt Stone and Robert Lopez’s] intention. It’s shedding some light on the fact that it’s easy to look at Mormonism and say it seems ridiculous because it’s a new religion—meaning in the last 200 years. But if you look at any religion and you take the fundaments of that religion, it all sounds ludicrous. But the overall shape of it is positive. Does it matter if the stories are true or not? I don’t know. I don’t think so.

Tell me a little bit about your role and character in the show.
AR:
I play Elder Price, the poster boy Mormon missionary, very eager and ready to go out there and spread the word. He gets paired with Elder Cunningham [played by Josh Gad], who is, um, slightly less prepared than my character. Together they get sent to Uganda to try to convert people. That’s where the show takes off.

What’s your favorite part of acting in the show?
AR:
I’ve been really touched by the collaborative nature of the whole process. I was so surprised and pleased and moved by the fact that these guys are very generous. I wasn’t sure how it would all work or how much input we [actors] would have. But they’re so generous, just in terms of what they felt worked best for us and what we felt worked well. They took all of that into account.

So it was fun working with Matt Stone and Trey Parker?
AR:
You don’t have to work very hard with them. They’re hilariously funny, so it’s not like we needed to do much work. They just gave us hilarious material and we are just hoping to do it justice. Even on South Park they always managed to weave in a moral, oftentimes some sort of sweetness when you least expect it. People seem very moved by how much heart this show has. It’s actually really moving.

Well, we can’t wait to see it.
AR:
I’m very proud of it. It’s very funny and it’s very smart and very topical; I think they’ve shaped a really great show. They just wanted to make the best show that they could, and there’s very little ego involved. They set out to make a big Broadway musical, and they succeeded.

The Book of Mormon is playing at the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, 230 W. 49th St., 212-239-6200

—meghan blalock
photograph by joan marcus

 

A Stylish Reporter

CNN's Alina Cho loves fashion as much as she loves breaking a big story.

March 21, 2011

Amid hard-hitting coverage of natural disasters and presidential elections, CNN national correspondent Alina Cho gets to channel her inner sartorialist and talk fashion. “I call it the little gift the network gives me every season,” says Cho, who has attended Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York on behalf of CNN since 2004. This past October, she scored her first trip to Paris Fashion Week, attending shows like Lanvin and Vivienne Westwood as well as the fashion fête of the season—a masked ball celebrating the 90th anniversary of Vogue Paris. But Cho had no time to get carried away by the glitz and glamour. She left for North Korea just three days after returning from Paris. “I’m as passionate about that story as I am about fashion,” she says. “That’s why working at CNN is so great—because I have the opportunity to do both.”

RIGHT: Dress, Lanvin. 815 Madison Ave.; lanvin.com. Brooch, Kentshire. 700 Madison Ave.; kentshire.com. Bracelets, Bulgari. 730 Fifth Ave.; bulgari.com. Shoes, Prada. 841 Madison Ave.; prada.com

PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID LAND.
HAIR BY DANIELLE PFEIFER OF SHARON DORRAM COLOR AT SALLY HERSHBERGER; MAKEUP BY GODDESS OF CNN; STYLING BY FAY RICOTTA

By RACHEL GREENBERG

 

Jessie J Crosses the Pond

London-based belter Jessie J takes over SNL—and America is next.

March 14, 2011



The world better get ready: Jessie J, born Jessica Cornish in the Essex region of England, has the biggest voice in R&B/pop we’ve heard since Whitney Houston’s glory days. And after writing songs for the likes of Miley Cyrus, Justin Timberlake, Chris Brown and Britney Spears, the artist is breaking out on her own. With her debut album Who You Are already out in eight countries, this past weekend she did what no artist has done before: she performed on Saturday Night Live with no album out in the US.

“The people at the show are fans, and you don’t say no to [an opportunity] like this,” she says in a thick British accent a few days before her performance. “Sunday morning’s gonna be a moment. There’s gonna be a few more people recognizing me in New York than they do now.”

Though she may not yet get recognized walking down the streets of Manhattan, she probably won't have that level of anonymity for long. In January she set up shop in the middle of the Times Square subway station to belt out her self-empowerment anthem “Who You Are” with nothing but a boombox for backup. The video now has more than a million views on Vevo.

“It was very to the point: no razzmatazz or backing track, just my voice and my song,” she says about the experiment. “I like being put into situations that aren’t easy. It’s kind of being friends with lions, because people didn’t have to stop and watch. They could have booed and said, ‘I’m going to work, please be quiet.’ Times Square is such a profound place to start. It was nice to have the reaction that I got. I was proper scared.”

Gaining Momentum
The songstress seems anything but scared as she prepares for her world takeover. Her latest music video for “Price Tag” has more than 24 million views on YouTube and features huge rap/pop crossover star B.o.B. But her success wasn’t always guaranteed. At age 11, she was diagnosed with an irregular heartbeat and suffered a minor stroke as an 18-year-old. She was dropped from her British label after it went bankrupt, and says she nearly quit the music industry at her lowest point, before getting signed to Universal Music Group here in New York.

“The journey is more important than where you end up,” the 22-year-old says. “I’m just enjoying every single minute of what’s going on right now. I’m very aware of the fact that I’ve been in this industry a lot longer than most people think. I’m still the same girl that started six years ago; I still sing with as much passion. I feel like I’m queuing up for the rollercoaster. I’m not even buckled up yet.”

Who You Are ranges from anthems about self-empowerment to party songs like her grungy debut single “Do It Like A Dude,” in which she growls “No pretty drinks/I’m a guy out here.” But Jessie J hopes all the songs on the album convey a central message.

“I want people to put it on and whether they listen to a party track or a song like “Who You Are,” it makes them feel ready to take on the world,” she says. “It’s a very emotional album, very much an insight to my journey as a teenager into being a young adult, and the good, bad, ugly and beautiful that you go through. There were some moments I felt like I had given up, and I sang about it, but I always flip it on its head. I don’t like giving up. I believe in ‘I can, I will, I shall.’ Everybody needs a little bit of light in their dark world, and I want to sing about it.”

As far as what she hopes to achieve in her career, Jessie J says she looks up to stars like Alicia Keys and Bono, who pour so much income into humanitarian causes. She says she sees it as her duty to help those who can’t help themselves, both through her music and beyond. And fans might be surprised to learn what else is in store for this superwoman.

“My biggest dream is to have my own theme park,” she says, laughing. “I’m obsessed with theme parks. I want a music-oriented theme park. And I want to learn how to bake. I want to cook great pies.”

—meghan blalock

 

Josh Radnor Directs

We chat with Josh Radnor about his directorial debut in happythankyoumoreplease.

March 09, 2011



How I Met Your Mother’s Josh Radnor has turned himself into a triple threat. He wrote, directed and starred in his new film happythankyoumoreplease, winner of the Audience Award at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. The romantic comedy, centered on a group of twentysomething New Yorkers, features a cast including Malin Akerman, Kate Mara, Pablo Schreiber and Zoe Kazan. We sat down with Radnor and talked about his directorial debut, writing a part for himself and LA vs. NY.

How did you come up with the title of the film?
JOSH RADNOR: One of the speeches that Akerman’s character has, is this notion that the universe is listening to us and responds to what we say to it. It’s not enough to say, “Thank you,” when you’re feeling grateful for something, so you should say, “Thank you, more please,” to encourage more of it. The final song that Kate Mara’s character sings is “Sing Happy,” so I smushed them together into one strange long word and I just decided to go with it.

What was the most challenging for you, writing, directing or acting in the film?
Getting my own performance in the midst of also being the director was difficult, but I think it would have been almost more difficult for me to have given up that role to someone. I wrote it so specifically for myself, I think I would have tortured the poor actor who was playing the role.

How did it feel to watch what you wrote come to life?
It’s pretty amazing. I remember that it started with a blank Word document and suddenly there’s this movie with these actors and people are seeing it.

Two of your characters have a debate over LA vs. NY. What’s your take?
I really like LA. It’s totally a pleasant place to live, except for the traffic. I obviously have a very romantic idea of New York, and I still have great love and nostalgia for the city. I kind of feel like everything that is great about one town is kind of the disadvantage of the other and vice versa, so if they were a little closer together…

You went to grad school at NYU—how does it feel to be back?
It’s particularly thrilling because the film is playing at the Angelika, near where I went to school and where I saw tons of movies. It’s good to find those moments where you can pinch yourself, but it’s been such a whirlwind that I’m trying to remember to do that.

—josephine cusumano
photograph by Getty Images

 

Made for Mad Love

Jason Biggs dishes about CBS’ hilarious new series.

March 07, 2011

No stranger to successful comedies, CBS has teamed with comedic stars Jason Biggs and Sarah Chalke for Mad Love, the story of an in-love New York couple and their two headbutting best friends. Jersey native Biggs proves he’s come a long way from his more scandalous American Pie days.

"I'm not playing the post-high-school character anymore,” says Biggs, now 32. “There are marriage and family questions that I’m dealing with [in real life], and that my character will start to deal with. It’s a very grown-up role for me, and it just feels very natural and organic at this point in my life.”

Biggs’ character, Ben Parr, is a lawyer whose idealistic tendencies lead him to fall for Chalke’s Kate. And while the show, created by Scrubs producer Matt Tarses, is shot in LA, Biggs reassures us that our city plays as big a role as any.

“There’s definitely a young professional New York vibe,” he says. “New York is a very social city—you’re walking around, you’re taking the train to work. There’s more human interaction. In one scene, Kate and I meet on the top of the Empire State Building—very romantique.”

Watch Mad Love on CBS Monday nights at 8:30

By MEGHAN BLALOCK

 

Academy Awards Week in Tinseltown

Jeffrey Slonim spends his Oscar week knee-deep in parties and celebrities.

March 04, 2011

Tuesday: Dispatches encountered Kathy Griffin and Isaiah Mustafa, the hunk from the Old Spice commercial, on a white couch at the Beverly Hilton during the 13th Annual Costume Designers Guild Awards. Griffin handed Dispatches her BlackBerry to take a photo.

During dinner Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore gave Julie Weiss, the costume designer on No Strings Attached, an achievement award. Kutcher told a story about Weiss trying to get “nine bags through customs when only two were allowed. She ended up having dinner with the agent.”

Wednesday: At Siren Studios for The Art of Elysium auction with Vanity Fair, Justin Bartha was freaked out by the bar in the elevator. “What if your drink doesn’t come in time?” he asked. Around the corner at Avalon, on the green carpet at the Global Green fête, Alison Brie caressed a Chevy Volt perched on an environmentally friendly version of AstroTurf.

Thursday: Jennifer Hudson brought her baby to the Black Women in Hollywood lunch. “That’s my little Munchkin,” said Hudson. “He goes everywhere with me.” And that night, at the Mayor’s house, The Hollywood Reporter hosted a party. Kathy Hilton told Dispatches she will invite the cast of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills to the Hamptons this summer.

Later at Sunset Tower for Hollywood Domino’s fundraiser for the Seven Bars Foundation, Paris Hilton told Dispatches that she rides her bike around her “gated community” to keep in shape.

Friday: Static electricity from her car had Amy Adams’ black dress clinging and bunching at a Women in Film event. Melissa Leo, her co-star from The Fighter, said that a stylist had advised her to “lay down in the car to keep from wrinkling.” Craggy trees upstairs at Soho House surrounded a reflecting pool with fragrant flowers.

Saturday: A chill breeze off the ocean shook the tent on Santa Monica beach where the Film Independent Spirit Awards took place. “I love the weather,” said John Waters, who had hosted in previous years. “It’s like an instant face lift.”   

In the LG-On 3 gifting lounge, Rosario Dawson told Dispatches that her initial reaction to her dress was, “Half of it is missing… it’s kind of freezing.” At 3:15 PM, we spotted Natalie Portman on her third run to the Port-a-Loo.

Sunday: Bruce Cohen, a friend who co-produced the Oscars, installed me at the Kodak Center on the red carpet, which covered a block of Hollywood Boulevard. “When I was a starving actor,” Mark Ruffalo told me, “there were a bunch of crack heads laying around on Hollywood Boulevard.” Russell Brand also pointed out the irony. “If I was here tomorrow, I’d get run over,” he said.

Christian Bale, at the bar, accidentally missed Melissa Leo’s acceptance speech. “I was literally banging on the door.”

By 10:30 PM, Sir Elton John and Florence Welch of Florence and the Machine were belting out “Tiny Dancer” for the likes of Jamie Foxx and Heidi Klum and, eventually, Prince at John’s eponymous AIDS Foundation fête.    

Long week. Florence rocks.
  

—Jeffrey Slonim

 

Bowing to Baldwin

The stars came out to honor Alec Baldwin—and to get in a few high-spirited zingers.

March 01, 2011


Alec Baldwin

The jabs flowed freely at The Museum of the Moving Image’s gala Monday night to honor Alec Baldwin’s vast contributions to television. The guffawing audience at the bash at Cipriani 42nd Street—which hosted stars such as Richard Gere and wife Cary Lowell, Amy Ryan and Kristen Wiig—were treated to clips of Baldwin’s funniest moments over the years, each hilariously introduced by one of the actor’s former costars.

Michael Keaton, who was with Baldwin in Beetlejuice, quipped that when the producers called him, “I couldn’t remember who Alec Spaldwick was,” but later admitted that when the duo met, “I couldn’t stop thinking about what an extraordinary head of hair this man possesses.”

Ben Stiller deadpanned, “Alec, peeing next to you in Along Came Polly was the highlight of my career. But I guess that’s my problem.” 

Edie Falco, who played Baldwin’s love interest on 30 Rock, said, “I had no idea how to approach that kind of comedy. You know, the funny kind. But Alec showed me how.” The Sopranos star continued: “I’m here to talk about Alec’s role in The Departed. If you’re not familiar with the film, it’s a stunning look at mobsters; a world filled with murder and deceit. Or, as I call it, home movies.”

Saturday Night Live, 30 Rock and Tina Fey
Jimmy Fallon reminisced touchingly about the first time he and Baldwin met during one of Baldwin’s 10 Saturday Night Live hosting gigs—but the late-night host didn’t stay genuine for long. “Anyway, here are some of my favorite Saturday Night Live clips. It’s the best of Steve Martin,” he said with a smirk.

Lorne Michaels—producer of Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock—had one of the best digs of the night. “Alec is the only Baldwin brother that no one asks, which one is he again?” Michaels then brought out Tina Fey, who currently appears opposite Baldwin each week on 30 Rock.

“The part of Jack Donaghy was written for Alec,” Fey said. “But I never had the courage to tell him that. So I hid and Lorne asked him one night and here we are five years and 100 dollars later,” she said to a loud laugh. “He’s a writer’s dream in that he memorizes lines and speaks quickly. And not since Archie Bunker has there been a TV character that my parents agree with so often.”

Fey even managed to slip in a Charlie Sheen wisecrack. “Alec, I shudder to think what low rent, Two and a Half Men show we’d have without you,” she said. The audience roared.

Lastly, it was Baldwin’s turn at the podium. “I want to thank Michael Keaton for coming up,” he said. “And to let everyone know we were doing a lot of blow back in the 80s and that’s what Beetlejuice was about. It was a big film about coke dealing.”

“I know many of you don't open your own mail and assumed Lorne is the honoree and I was the host,” he continued. “But I’m the honoree. In fact, I got to host Saturday Night Live so many times, Lorne’s kids call me now asking for tickets.”

“However, doing 30 Rock has been the most fun of all,” he concluded sincerely. “This show, this crazy crap we do, we do this for a living! Who knew that playing a self-serving, Machiavellian corporate fuck would be the highlight of my life?”

—sean evans

 

Amy Poehler's Platform

The Parks and Recreation star talks grilled cheese sammies, SNL tickets, and why she won't run for office.

February 24, 2011


Amy Poehler knows her parks. Perhaps it’s knowledge gleaned from playing Leslie Knope, deputy director of Pawnee’s lush pastures and playgrounds, in NBC’s hit show Parks and Recreation. Or perhaps it’s simply because Poehler is a smart woman. Either way, the hilarious comic shared plenty with us, including why she’d never run for office, the best diner food, and the tedious process she uses to secure tickets to Saturday Night Live tapings.

A new Parks and Rec season is finally upon us after a five-month delay. Both the critical and fan reception have been over the top. Were you worried support from either group would wane given the long hiatus?
AMY POEHLER: When we found out we weren’t going to be on for a while, we were in the middle of shooting. I was thrilled about the episodes and really wanted them to be seen, so I certainly wasn’t happy about the delay. In retrospect, when we were off, our fans were quite vocal about wanting us back and I believe it may have helped reach people who’d never heard about us. So maybe the delay got us some new viewers.

After playing a small town municipal employee, does it spark any feelings of ever wanting to run for office in real life?
AP: I have met real public servants and they’re always really inspiring with their hard work. Well, no. Some of them are working hard; some aren’t working at all. [Laughs] I’ve learned government isn’t about the macro level—it’s on the micro level where change happens. And where people complain about how high their curbs are and every other little thing that bothers them. All of which Leslie has to endure. So my long-winded answer is no, I don’t want to run for office, though I have great respect for those who do.

What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned playing this role?
AP: It is cool to know a very tiny bit about the park system. The cool thing is you can tell the health of a city by its parks. If the parks are well tended, busy, free of litter, then the city is doing well. And it’s really true, especially in large cities like New York or Los Angeles.

Leslie likes waffles, claiming to have spent more than $1,000 a year on them last season. What’s your guilty diner pleasure?
AP: Isn’t everything in a diner a guilty pleasure unless it’s a small bowl of cottage cheese? [Laughs] Grilled cheese. Chicken noodle soup and grilled cheese. New York is perfect for that. I like to sneak into a diner and grab a bowl of soup and a sandwich and read the newspaper.

Your co-star Nick Offerman is a real life woodworker, which has shown up occasionally in Parks. Has he ever whittled you a canoe?
AP: Nick’s so talented that I have an appointment this week to go into his workshop in Los Angeles and order a table. He’s made a few things that are on the show, including a canoe. Nick had a dinner party and when I pulled up, he and [co-star] Chris Pratt were lifting a piece of Brazilian cherry into place for our table.

You have to make an appointment to visit his shop? He’s that in demand?
AP: Yes. He refuses to talk to anyone without an appointment. [Laughs]. When I say good morning to him on set, he stops me and reminds me that I’m not to speak to him without having it scheduled on his calendar first.

You’re kind of a private person. You’re not even on Twitter, right?
AP: I don’t have Facebook and I’m not on Twitter. But never say never. In 1994 I swore I’d never get a cell phone, so there’s that. [Laughs] Though with Twitter, I don’t like when people protect their pages. I know I don’t actively participate but I don’t want you to shut me out either!

You popped up on Saturday Night Live from time to time last year. Do you miss the weekly grind of that show?
AP: I don’t miss the grind. I miss the people I used to grind with. And I mean that in the dirty way. I still have a few connections at the show if I want to go. I write a formal letter six months in advance and I seal it with a personal wax stamp and I give it to a man on horseback and six month later I find out if I can come and watch. I’m still waiting to hear back from my last dispatch, though.

Watch Parks and Recreation Thursday nights on NBC at 9:30

—sean evans
photograph courtesy of wireimage.com

 

Herb Ritts: The Golden Hour

Check out a new book on famed photographer Herb Ritts' life.

February 21, 2011


Herb Ritts: The Golden Hour by Charles Churchward ($65) captures the life of the late famed fashion and celebrity photographer. The book offers an account of Ritts’ career through his photographs and interviews with family and friends including Anna Wintour, Madonna, Annie Leibovitz, Cindy Crawford and Elton John. 


 

Humor Us: Joel McHale

Funnyman Joel McHale talks Community, The Soup and the guilty pleasures of Big Brother.

February 14, 2011


It’s kind of hard to find a screen Joel McHale doesn’t dominate. On TV, there’s his highly entertaining role as Jeff Winger on NBC’s Community and his hilariously acerbic delivery as the host of E!’s clip show The Soup. In theaters, he’s got three upcoming films: Spy Kids 4: All the Time in the World opposite Jessica Alba, What’s Your Number? opposite Anna Faris, and The Big Year opposite Steve Martin. Even his two-million-plus Twitter followers laugh daily when his words pop up. The funnyman recently took a few minutes to chat.
 
Let’s talk about Community—what’s coming up for the current season?
Probably nudity at some point. That’s always a good bet. I’m looking forward to one episode where Pierce [Chevy Chase] is in the hospital. [Show creator Dan] Harmon is just as excited. His medical issues don’t end, but then again, the guy did fall off a trampoline.
 
What about guest stars? Is Betty White coming back?
We’d love to have her back, though I can’t say for sure right now. I think it’s an issue of time, now that she has her own show. I do know Professor Professorson [Kevin Corrigan] from the Conspiracy Theory episode last season will be making another appearance. Richard Ayoade [of the British series The IT Crowd] guest-directed Abed’s birthday episode, which I’m really excited about.
 
Do you deliver equally meaningful and resonating monologues à la Jeff Winger in your personal daily life?
I wish I had words that eloquent ready to spew out of my mouth. Usually I mutter something and someone doesn’t hear me correctly and then I have to correct them and then I forget what I was going to say [laughs]. But I love Jeff’s speeches. Like the speech he gave to get Chang [Ken Jeong] in the study group—that was so much fun.
 
You’re a father of two kids, and you have two hit shows. Is that like having four kids?
Community doesn’t have really stinky poops that you have to change in a moment’s notice to make sure diaper rash doesn’t happen [laughs]. Community takes up the most physical hours. [E!’s] The Soup shoots only one night a week. That’s less complicated than a four-camera sitcom. The only problem with doing a show like Community is a matter of timing. I don’t get to be with my family as much as I’d like to. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not complaining in the least. I moved to LA for dream jobs like this. I’m doing the work I want to. I feel blessed. The Soup is a great time. I get to yell back at the television with a suit on and a camera rolling. I’d do that anyway. [laughs]
 
Speaking of The Soup, you’ve mocked every reality show possible. Describe your ideal concept for a new reality show based on what you’ve seen.
I’m not going to pitch it to you, because then I wouldn’t be able to pitch a network [laughs]. I will tell you this: It wouldn’t involve people living in the same house, cussing and whispering in conspiratorial tones to eliminate other contestants.
 
Which reality show do you truly loathe? One you’d admit to watching only under penalty of death?
Big Brother. That’s a show that reminds me of a little slice of hell. You’re forced into a place where you can’t leave. But I’m unembarrassed about anything I watch. I do love The Ultimate Fighter. Which I guess is a little like Big Brother, what with all the sparring.

—sean evans

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