Edgar Ramirez plays a man made entirely out of snakes in Jungle Cruise. Literally. Other than a thin layer of flesh for his face, his toro and limbs are comprised of coiling, hissing snakes, the result of a disturbing jungle curse that has left him immortal and…forever made of snakes.
But Ramirez, whose other credits include Carlos, American Crime Story, and The Undoing, is a pro. If he’s going to play a man made entirely out of snakes, he’s going to give him some soul. The villainous Aguirre isn’t just a man made entirely out of snakes – he’s a man made entirely out of snakes with a tragic backstory and motivation that makes sense.
I spoke with Ramirez via Zoom ahead of the release of Jungle Cruise, and we chatted about the film’s sense of romantic adventure, director Jaume Collett-Serra, and yes, how you prepare to play a man made entirely out of snakes.
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Posted on Wednesday, July 28th, 2021 by Jacob Hall
Disney’s Jungle Cruise feels less like the classic theme park ride it’s based on, and more like a specific kind of adventure movie. You probably know the type. 1999’s The Mummy. 2003’s Pirates of the Caribbean. Spirited, funny, silly, romantic, charming adventures that blend action and banter in equal measure. And these kinds of movies demand a comic relief character, the goofball who says everything the audience is thinking in the back of their brain. Enter Jack Whitehall.
Sure, Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt are the romantic action leads of Jungle Cruise. But as MacGregor, the fussy but loyal brother to Blunt’s character, Whitehall gets to experience the terrors of hostile jungle adventure like we would. It’s a funny performance, a key counterbalance to the swagger of the leads.
And in one scene, MacGregor comes out as gay to Johnson’s character, a scene that isn’t vital to the plot of the film, but acts as a key driving force in his backstory. It’s far from perfect, but after Disney’s long history of queerbaiting, it’s a step forward.
Over Zoom, I spoke with Whitehall about that scene, but also what it’s like to act alongside a CGI jaguar (portrayed on set by a man in a leotard) and how he’s the real lead of the movie.
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When you speak with Michael Emerson, you spend the the first few minutes of your conversation marveling at how…normal he sounds. If you’ve seen him as Leland Townsend in Evil on Paramount+ or as Benjamin Linus in the medium-shaking masterpiece Lost, you’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop. For him to talk you into a sinister plan. To construct a terrifying scheme before your very eyes.
But Emerson laughs more than the people he plays on TV. He’s thoughtful, clearly thinking through each answer before he gives it, measuring every word. And he’s more than happy to keep playing weirdos and creeps, telling me during our interview that he doesn’t even know how to play a “soft-hearted” character.
On Evil (whose second season is currently streaming on Paramount+) Emerson plays Leland Townsend, one of the most chilling villains on television at the moment. Is he a literal vessel of Satanic power or just one of the most organized psychopaths in TV history? The show hasn’t made that clear yet. And Emerson himself doesn’t know. But he stands as an ongoing obstacle to the show’s leads, a trio of investigators working for the Catholic Church to prove and/or debunk supernatural mysteries. He’s one of the few actors who can make hulking co-star Mike Colter look positively small in a scene, using his voice and his voice alone.
I recently spoke with Emerson about his work on Evil, how not knowing his character’s truth helps his performance, what it’s like to act alongside a giant demonic goat, and yes, that famous “You guys got any milk?” scene from Lost.
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Change is hard. Change is exciting. Change is an opportunity for us to break out any number of cliches to talk about change, because it can be ecstatic and painful and bittersweet and thrilling. This is especially true when it comes to the places you love – including the movie websites you visit on a regular basis.
/Film is in the midst of its biggest change since it was founded back in 2005. And we get it. Change is weird. But it’s also exciting. Lots of things are changing for this website right now, both behind the scenes and on the front page, but this is our promise to you: /Film will always be /Film, your smart, honest, enthusiastic, occasionally a bit snarky (but never cruel) source for all things movie, television, and pop culture. We’re not going anywhere, even as we welcome a brand new look and a bunch of new faces, and as we say goodbye to one of our oldest friends.
Here’s what lies ahead for /Film in the weeks and months ahead.
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The Tomorrow War is a big action movie full of time travel, monsters, special effects, and everything else you’d expect from a popcorn-powered summer release. But the core of the film is about what one generation owes the next, and the personal responsibility parents have to ensure a safer existence for their children. And it’s also about Chris Pratt shooting aliens, but who says you can’t have both?
Screenwriter Zach Dean agrees with that much. Speaking with him on Zoom ahead of the film’s release on Amazon Prime Video next month, we talked about what it’s like to write terrifying alien monsters and action scenes, but also the serious questions and big ideas that drew him to write this story in the first place. And while the script was written before the COVID-19 pandemic, Dean notes that the film’s central threat can’t help but feel like a reflection of the horror of the past year, an element that makes a film with a modern message feel all the more timely.
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At some point, you started recognizing J.K. Simmons. Maybe you started recognizing him after his scene-stealing role as J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies. Maybe you started recognizing him after he won an Oscar for his terrifying work in Whiplash. Hell, maybe you’ve been recognizing him for years — few actors are as busy, and fewer are so consistently reliable.
Simmons has a supporting role in the new science fiction film The Tomorrow War, the kind of small-but-important role he has been elevating for decades. But unlike 20 years ago, you know his character is important the moment he shows up just because he’s played by an actor every movie fan has grown to adore. J.K. Simmons has become Hollywood’s least-hidden chameleon.
Speaking over Zoom ahead of the July release of The Tomorrow War, I asked Simmons about his rise through the ranks of Hollywood “that guys,” the impressive beard he sports throughout the new film, a key moment in Whiplash that has never left my mind, and whether he’s down to return for a Spider-Man movie again.
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There’s an elephant in the room when you talk to Betty Gilpin about her role in The Tomorrow War. Even though the star of GLOW and The Hunt brings humor and charm to her role as the wife of Chris Pratt’s former solider who is recruited to travel through time to fight aliens in an apocalyptic future, she’s still playing…you know, the wife who stays home and doesn’t get to fight the aliens.
But do you know who doesn’t care about that? Betty Gilpin. “I was very happy to be eating bagels in baggy sweaters, waving at everyone as they went off to gun training and stunt training and were icing their knees and stuff,” she told me over Zoom. “My knees feel great.”
The Tomorrow War allows Gilpin to be funny, which is a good thing, because she’s a very funny performer. She’s even funny during exhausting press days, when she answered my questions about the possibility of GLOW ever coming back and why she’s no longer playing Ann Coulter in the upcoming season of American Crime Story. There’s a honesty in her humor as well – not many interviews end with an actor excited about what happens “when the wrinkles show up on [their] face.”
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The Tomorrow War may be a 2021 release, but it feels like a throwback. It would’ve been right at home in the ’90s, and director Chris McKay is a-okay with that.
It’s a premise that could be preposterous: visitors from the future arrive in the modern day to recruit soldiers for a war against an alien race that hasn’t even started yet. But the film takes any potential silliness in stride, taking the premise seriously even while the characters themselves trade enough jokes to keep the mood light. It’s a balance McKay mastered in the realm of animation. Who knew The LEGO Batman Movie would be the perfect training ground for a summer blockbuster crafted out of Roland Emmerich’s personal mold?
I spoke with McKay over Zoom about the film’s (very scary) aliens, adding humor to a very script, and how being compared to ’90s action movies is a compliment.
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Long before Quiara Alegría Hudes wrote the screenplay for the new movie musical In the Heights, she wrote the book for…well, the stage musical In the Heights, sharing duties with songwriter Lin-Manuel Miranda. But a lot happened between those projects. She’s kept busy. She’s written more plays, more musicals. She wrote a children’s book. She won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Drama for her play Water by the Spoonful. Not asking her back to shepherd her Tony Award-winning Broadway musical about life and love in Washington Heights would’ve been a crime.
Ahead of the theatrical and streaming release of In the Heights this Friday, I spoke with Hudes over Zoom. We chatted about seeing the movie with an audience, what you can do on film that you can’t on stage (food close-ups!), and how her additional role as a producer allowed her to ensure the film remained authentic and true to the neighborhood in which it is set.
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The only thing more energetic than the new musical In the Heights is the man who directed it. Jon M. Chu has made a career out of creating high energy movies like Step Up 2: The Streets, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, and Crazy Rich Asians, but his particular skill set feels so perfectly in line with this latest project. His film adaptation of the Tony Award-winning musical about the hopes and dreams of the denizens of Washington Heights in New York City is a big movie: big on romance, big on drama, big on comedy, and even big on running time. But if the film is inexhaustible, that’s because Chu himself is just that.
I spoke with Chu ahead of In the Heights‘ theatrical and streaming debut this week, and he showcased a unique ability to cram 20 minutes of information into a 10-minute interview. We talked about his advice for making a great musical, the big sequence he fought to protect, the agonizing process of killing your darlings, and why you should absolutely see the film in theaters.
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