Tuesday, April 16, 2024

“The Holdovers” Reunites Star Paul Giamatti with “Sideways” Director Alexander Payne, Who Played the Greek Card to Get a Cat Stevens Song at a Discount


Alexander Payne was at the Crosby Hotel last week to talk about his new film, “The Holdovers,” which reunites him with his “Sideways” (2004) star Paul Giamatti –opens October 27th.

“The Holdovers,” set in 1970, opens with a beautiful postcard perfect shot of the grounds of Barton Academy, where the less than idyllic action takes place. The gorgeous cinematography is by Eigil Bryld. (To find out more about the  Danish cinematographer here’s an interview I did with him: https://www.moviemaker.com/oceans-8-eigil-bryld/)

 “The Holdovers” is a three-hander that stars Giamatti as Paul Hunham, a curmudgeonly and unlikable teacher — who has no life outside his classes — tasked with supervising students with nowhere to go during Christmas break. He’s left dealing with Angus (Dominic Sessa making a brilliant film debut), a troubled student who’s already been thrown out of three other schools and whose mother has dumped him for the holidays so she can honeymoon with her new husband. Da’Vine Joy Randolph rounds out the trio and breaks your heart as Mary, the school head cook, who is grieving her son’s recent death in Vietnam; he attended Barton gratis because of her employment, but she couldn’t afford to send him to college where he would have been deferred. The comedy-drama features three very different people thrown together during difficult times who somehow connect and influence and even change the direction of each other’s lives.

Payne’s movies (“Election,” “Sideways” “Nebraska) are set in the 70s. “I’ve been in a way trying to continue to make seventies movies my whole career,” the director explained during the post-screening Q&A.

“By that I mean character oriented, whatever you want to say, character driven, human stories, human comedies. I was a teenager in the seventies. I graduated from high school in 79, Those are the movies that really resonated with me and that taught me what an American commercial narrative film is. Now with all the crap they’re making, those are considered art films. Oh, the seventies, those art films! Well, fuck that man! Those are all good movies, human movies where the protagonists and the situations are measured and the value of them is measured by their proximity to real life, not their distance from real life. And the quality of actors utilized and lionized then. So I’ve been continuing to try to make those movies.”

Asked about assembling the soundtrack that features songs from the period:
“The music editor (Mark Orton) and I are very proud of the music in the film because it took a long time to have to assemble and find what we could afford. It’s just a lot of trial and error. And then after you have what works perfectly for the film and you can’t clear something or you can’t afford something and what’s a decent alternative.

The most expensive one was Cat Stevens. Originally they wanted $400,000 and I wrote them a letter,” said Payne, whose original first name is Constantine. “Cat Stevens’s father was Cypriot and I happened to be Greek American, so I played the, ‘I’m a Greek, you’re kind of a Greek,’ (card)… Can’t you give a fellow Greek a break?’ He says, ‘for you, 25% off.’ So he came down a hundred grand. So it’s like that.” 

As for “Time Has Come Today,” a song written and performed by The Chambers Brothers (aka Willie and Joseph Chamber) it was supposed to play during the credits when Angus is packing his bags Payne said. 

“But if we had had credits over those scenes, then the Chambers brothers music would’ve been $30,000 more. I go, ‘All right, we don’t have to have credit,’ so we wait for Mary’s (big) scene. It’s a lot of practical stuff like that.”

About Payne’s special relationship with Giamatti, the director said he looked for a long time for material that would bring them together again. He even named the character Giamatti plays Paul. 

“Paul and I just have a very good basic understanding of things. We have similar taste in things. And he’s just a super smart guy.”

Payne added, “He’s the most well-read individual I know. He really doesn’t want to do anything, not even acting. He’d rather just sit home and read. Oh, he has so many books in his Brooklyn Heights apartment that he had to hire a librarian to come in to organize them…. The bedroom, the bathroom, everything is covered with bookshelves. All he does is read.”

The moderator brought up the pace of the film, which she had complimented, adding, “It unfolds in such a…”  before Payne gently cut her off.

“It’s a little slow,” the director lamented.


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