Joan Allen, co-star of the "The Upside Of Anger" Movie!
Joan was mostly unnoticed before her performance in the 1995 Oscar-nominated movie "Nixon." Joan Allen has had a distinguished career encompassing the stage, screen, and television. A native of Rochelle, Illinois, where she was born August 20, 1956, the blond, swanlike actress developed an interest in acting while in high school. Voted Most Likely to Succeed by her senior class, Allen went on to study theatre at Eastern Illinois University. She then moved to Chicago, where she became one of the founding members of the vaunted Steppenwolf Theatre Company, along with such respected talents as Gary Sinise and John Malkovich. Allen made her screen debut with a small role in the 1985 film Compromising Positions and a year later played two wildly different characters in Manhunter and Peggy Sue Got Married. Her portrayals of a tragically confused young woman who attempts to seduce a serial killer in the former film and a brainy high school student in the latter impressed a number of critics, but it was on the stage that Allen was most appreciated. In 1988, she won a Tony award for her Broadway debut performance in Burn This, and a year later she earned her second Tony nomination for her role in Wendy Wasserstein's highly acclaimed The Heidi Chronicles.
Following increasingly substantial roles in such films as In Country (1989), Ethan Frome (1992), and Searching for Bobby Fischer (1993), Allen won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for her stunning portrayal of First Lady Pat Nixon in Oliver Stone's Nixon. The acclaim surrounding her performance in the 1995 film finally gave Allen the Hollywood recognition she deserved; the following year this recognition was further enhanced with her Oscar-nominated turn as the long-suffering Elizabeth Proctor in Nicholas Hytner's adaptation of The Crucible. More praise came Allen's way in 1997, when she headlined a stellar ensemble cast in Ang Lee's lauded adaptation of Rick Moody's The Ice Storm. Starring as a troubled upper middle-class Connecticut housewife alongside the likes of Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Christina Ricci, and Tobey Maguire, Allen gave repression a stirring, beautifully nuanced name. That same year she went in a completely different direction, starring as the wife of an FBI agent (John Travolta) in John Woo's popular action thriller Face/Off. Allen returned to the realm of the repressed housewife in 1998, starring (and reuniting with Maguire) in the acclaimed 1950s-set comedy drama Pleasantville. The turn of the century found Allen taking leads in a trio of issue-oriented dramas: In the multi-character handgun treatise All the Rage (released on video in 2000), she played the wife of a short-fused lawyer (reuniting with Pleasantville's Jeff Daniels in the process); in the Irish production When the Sky Falls, she teamed with The Long Good Friday (1980) director John Mackenzie to tell the true, tragic story of a Dublin crime reporter; and in Rod Lurie's The Contender, Allen nabbed her biggest role to date as a would-be U.S. vice president who finds herself at the center of a sex scandal.
Joan Allen discusses The Upside of Anger and her upcoming projects
Joan Allen is one of Hollywood's most respected actresses. She began her career with a kick as the blind woman who courted a serial killer in Michael Mann's Manhunter, and went on to play the mother of a chess prodigy (Searching for Bobby Fischer), the wife of a disgraced president (Nixon), and a homemaker stumbling through a half-hearted affair (The Ice Storm). Unlike many of her contemporaries, however, that abundance of wife and mother roles never seemed to typecast her in the eyes of either filmmakers or audiences. But as the roiling, betrayed matriarch in this month's The Upside of Anger, Allen finally finds a role that cathartically closes the book on playing such women for a long, long time.
In the film, Allen is Terry Wolfmeyer, a upper-class housewife who literally awakens one morning to discover that her husband has flown the coop. As she recently explained to IGN FilmForce, the role put her likeability as an actress to the test.
"I think we wanted to push that a little bit because I think Mike and I would talk about how society isn't very comfortable with women's anger in general," Allen says, far removed from the embittered mother she plays in the film. "It was out there a little bit to show a ticked-off woman who's really in a bad situation and not handling it well." Part of the appeal, Allen says, was playing the character's complexities against one another, and more importantly, against the audience's expectations. "[There is a] certain amount of self-awareness she has at times, where she goes, 'Gee, I really hate the way I came off to my girls – I can't help it. Why do it do it?' She does sort of come around at the end, even though it takes her time.
"We were balancing that and talking about how drunk is she – is she loaded, is she toasted, is she sauced, is she hung over – so that element as an actor was so much fun to actually do."
Allen confesses she is a moderate drinker, but became a teetotaler during the production of the film. "Funnily enough, because it was so demanding, I did not drink at all during the entire shoot of the movie," she confesses. "Because it was like having to be an athlete to get up and do that. We had long days and so I thought, all I can do is pretend to be drunk and then go home and look at my lines and sleep and work out and go to work the next day." When asked how all of that alcohol her character ingested transformed into an improbably fantastic physique, Allen explained that it was more than the matter of an off-camera Pilates instructor. "She probably wasn't eating very much," she says. "I think she's probably smoking a lot and drinking quite a bit at that particular time, and some people react very differently to stress. I mean, some people are eaters when they stress out, [but] I actually can't eat when I'm upset and so I know there are a lot of people who bounce back and forth between those two [extremes]."
Allen's director on the film was Mike Binder, the polyhyphenate responsible for movies like The Sex Monster and television programs like The Mind of the Married Man. She says that his experienced eye made the development of her character – both prior to shooting and during the production – significantly easier. "Mike would tweak things a little bit," she says. "Mike likes to edit and then look at the stuff, and he's a great one [because] he can re-shoot something if he thinks it doesn't work. For instance, one thing that we did re-shoot was when I find him in bed with Erica. He had it scripted where I was like talking a lot and really blowing up at that moment. And putting it together, he was like, 'Well, when the head explodes, if she releases too much in the bedroom, the head exploding doesn't pay off.'"
Exploding heads hardly seem the province of a searing character study like The Upside of Anger, so rest assured that they do require a suitable set-up to effectively work. Allen says that the scene in question ultimately required a demonstration of containment, not release. "So we re-shot, [and] he said, 'Now, I want you to just come in and just [implode] and not know what to say,' and so we re-shot just that tiny little bit." Allen says she seldom enjoys such specific encouragement from a writer or director once production is in full swing. "He likes to be able to kind of look at things, edit as he goes along, string them together and go, 'I thought that worked, but now let's try this.' He really likes to kinda look at the whole thing as it's going on.
"I really trusted Mike to really be able to say 'that's too much' or 'that's not enough,'" she continues. "I really let him micromanage the performance and not try to be so self-conscious and try to go, 'Well, this take may be really bad, but we might find something.'"
The actress is no stranger to eclectic, challenging roles, but this marks one of her first in which comedy was the fulcrum for everything – including the drama. But she says that it was nothing but fun. "Oh, it was brilliant," she says. "I really, really loved it. I mean, I was a bit nervous in the beginning because I hadn't really done it on film, you know, to that degree. That was why the relationship with Mike was really important; I had known him from The Contender and so that helped a lot. I really respected his work and his taste." Not the least of which because Binder developed the project with her specifically in mind: "Mike wrote it for me, so I was glad I opened my big mouth when he and I worked together.
"I said, 'I know you direct these comedies – would you think about me sometime?' And he was like, 'I'll remember that,' and he wrote it really for me. That was really, really fortunate."
Allen has several other pictures releasing in upcoming months, including the independent drama Off the Map, directed by Campbell Scott, and Sally Potter's response to the 9/11 tragedy, Yes. She says that she enjoys working on so many different projects because it allows her to explore different facets of the same core identity. "It's a variety," she says. "It's the quality of the script, but if you take Off the Map and Upside of Anger and Yes in terms of how I look at those, in Off the Map I get to play somebody who wears cutoffs and carries a bicycle on her shoulder and is really grounded and earthy. Upside of Anger is more about 'How do I play drunk every day?' It's funny and it's a comedy. And then Yes was to me the most sensual thing I've ever done; it's a very sensual story, and the way Sally shot it, it looks very sensual. So those are coming from three very different areas."
Creating compelling performances, however, requires stamina, dedication, and enthusiasm, even if they don't always get noticed by audiences or even critics. Allen tries not to look beyond the personal value of her experience on the film, even when asked whether she's anticipating likely future nominations for her performance in The Upside of Anger. "You just sort of go, 'Well, the bottom line [is] I had a great working experience,'" she says. "I think people will really like the movie. I think word of mouth is gonna be great and I think people will see it.
"It's such a great feeling to make people laugh. I know I've made people cry or want to slit their wrists, but to make people laugh is a very intoxicating, wonderful thing."
'Upside of Anger' wisely centers on Joan Allen
The primary upside to The Upside of Anger is the presence of Joan Allen in the lead role.
Allen is one of the most reliable American actresses, and her intelligence and wit raise the quality of a movie that often feels as if it belongs on the Lifetime cable net- work. She transcends the soap-opera nature of the story and lends the film emotional heft.
Allen plays the prickly and sharp-tongued Terry, a suburban mother of four daughters whose husband suddenly leaves her. She grows embittered seemingly overnight, relying on booze and sarcasm for solace. Her daughters experience their own psychological and physical traumas to add to her mounting unease.
Kevin Costner does a fine job as Terry's laid-back drinking buddy/neighbor who is surprisingly comfortable hanging out in a household of five women. Terry's daughters — played by some of the best young actresses around, including Erika Christensen and Evan Rachel Wood — work well despite limited material.
A major drawback is director/screenwriter Mike Binder's unfortunate decision to cast himself in a key role as a radio station manager who seduces Christensen. She comes looking for a job at the station where Costner, a former baseball star, has a talk show. She gets an entry-level spot and a slimy skirt-chaser in her bed to boot. Not really an actor and not much of a comedian, Binder could have spent his time more wisely focusing his energies on polishing the script. Many of the comic moments in the film are in the broad and silly vein of a second-rate sitcom, with gags centering largely on drunkenness that wear thin pretty fast.
The Upside of Anger does have its entertaining moments, usually centered on Allen, whose edgy comic ability is well established with this role. She also adds nuance and shading to her anger and sense of betrayal, sometimes coming off bull-headed, self-absorbed or sheepish but always authentic.
It's baffling that Binder could write such a complex character and so wisely cast Allen in the part, then allow his own role to be such a cliché. Nonetheless, after his last project, HBO's boorish and bawdy The Mind of the Married Man, his decision to explore the many colors of rage from both comic and dramatic angles is an intriguing choice.
Joan Allen stars in ''The Upside of Anger''
Not an easy thing, finding mirth in rage and drunkenness. Yet writer-director Mike Binder's examination of the ups and downs -- mostly downs -- of a wife and mother abandoned by her husband locates genuine humor in her pain.
If Binder had chosen an actress other than Joan Allen to play the angry woman, who knows how "The Upside of Anger" would have turned out. Even Allen must wrestle with this devil of a role -- a woman who is constantly mad or drunk and usually both. But Allen turns the character into a tour de force that unleashes an unexpected comedy about compassion and self-loathing.
The film beautifully pairs Allen and Kevin Costner as two people who find momentarily solace in the bottle and each other. It then surrounds them with the aura of intoxicating femininity in Allen's four beautiful teenage daughters played by Erika Christensen, Keri Russell, Alicia Witt and Evan Rachel Wood. When released in March, the New Line comedy could cross over from adult venues into the mainstream to earn solid boxoffice coin.
The story spans three years and is set almost exclusively in the woodsy suburbs of Detroit. Things begin on a note of high drama -- dad's gone and mom's drunk -- and the movie never really climbs down from those stress levels. You must take it on faith that, as youngest daughter Popeye (Wood) says in a voice-over narration, her mom, Terry Wolfmeyer (Allen), was the sweetest, nicest person ever.
When her husband, who has been fooling around with his Swedish secretary and has lost his job, disappears at the same time as the secretary, a dark malignancy of unholy wrath settles in her bowels. The eldest daughter, Hadley (Witt), who blames her mother as much as her dad, can escape the suddenly poisonous household for college. Meanwhile, Andy (Christensen), who wants to be a journalist, and Emily (Russell), who wants to be a dancer so she doesn't see much point in eating, take over the kitchen while mom hits the sauce. In her upstairs room, Popeye puts together a video on her laptop that explores the nature of anger and violence.
Surprisingly, there is one person in whose company Terry regains her equilibrium and sense of normalcy. This is their neighbor, Denny Davies (Costner), an ex-baseball star who is nearly as big a drunk as Terry. Denny makes his living as a radio talk-show deejay along with making paid personal appearances and autographing baseballs.
That Denny insinuates himself so easily into the family and into mom's bedroom is a bit of a stretch. Yet over time the daughters accept his presence. He even gets Andy a job at the station, where his producer (played by Binder himself), a smarmy fellow with a thing for girls half his age, all too willingly takes her under his wing.
Binder ably juggles the twists and turns of the tumultuous relationship between Terry and Denny with plot lines involving all the daughters. Terry is a loose cannon from the opening scene, so the threat of an emotional outburst hovers over most of the film. The movie never lets on whether this is the real Terry -- the one suppressed during her marriage by all that false niceness and sweetness -- or something that happened to her after her husband's betrayal. Nor does Binder see any need to explain Denny's drinking. You feel that if something better came along he might tone it down, and then you realize that Terry might just be that "something better."
The film has a bit of a trick ending that underscores Binder's point about the futility of endless rage yet adds an unfortunate fictional feel to a film that wants you to relate to the commonality of divorce and broken homes.
The actors tune in to their individual characters perfectly, but this is Allen's show. Her raging, desperate housewife is a tigress trapped in a suburban hell, who takes refuge in her primal instincts and lacerating wit.
Tech credits are excellent, especially Richard Greatrex's cinematography, which features moodier lighting than one expects from a comedy. But then "The Upside of Anger" is not quite a comedy.
First Look: 'Yes' Featuring Joan Allen and Sam Neill
We have added details and stills from "Yes," a forthcoming romance from Sony Picture Classics which stars Simon Abkarian, Joan Allen and Sam Neill.
"Yes" is the story of a passionate love affair between an American woman (Joan Allen) and a Middle-Eastern man (Simon Abkarian) in which they confront some of the greatest conflicts of our generation – religious, political and sexual.
Sam Neill plays the betrayed and betraying politician husband and Shirley Henderson a philosophical cleaner who witnesses the trail of dirt and heartbreak the lovers leave behind them, as they embark on a journey that takes them from London and Belfast to Beirut and Havana.
Joan Allen and Kevin Costner's new movie '' The Upside of Anger''
A couple of notable differences characterize Kevin Costner's latest role as a big-screen ballplayer in the comic drama "The Upside of Anger," which premiered last weekend at the Sundance Film Festival.
Not only does Costner, known for his roles in sober dramas, play a goofball (a big-hearted meat head with a dopey laugh and chronic marijuana buzz), he's also a supporting performer this time, to the film's central character, played by Joan Allen.
Star of previous baseball flicks "Bull Durham," "Field of Dreams" and "For Love of the Game," Costner did hesitate before accepting writer-director Mike Binder's part.
"But I did this because he was an interesting character," Costner said.
Opening in March, "The Upside of Anger" stars Allen as a woman with four daughters (Erika Christensen, Evan Rachel Wood, Keri Russell and Alicia Witt) who turns boozy and bitter after her husband disappears.
Costner plays Allen's laid-back neighbor, a former baseball star who becomes her drinking buddy and, eventually, her lover.
Allen said it was refreshing to see Costner in a jollier role.
"We referred to him as a big teddy bear all the time," Allen said. "He was just really lovable and sweet and kind of goofy among all these women."
Costner's star power secured financing for the film, but Binder said he never tried to muscle in on the production. "He was always one of the ensemble, one of the players."
Binder co-stars as a lecherous pal who produces a radio talk show hosted by Costner's character.
Binder also wrote and starred in the HBO series "The Mind of the Married Man."
One of Hollywood's biggest box-office draws in the late 1980s and early '90s, Costner has had fitful results over the last 12 years.
Last summer's western "Open Range," which Costner directed and starred in, and the golf romance "Tin Cup" were modest successes. But his acclaimed political drama "Thirteen Days" failed to find an audience, and the supernatural thriller "Dragonfly" and heist flick "3000 Miles to Graceland" flopped.
Costner, who turned 50 this month, said studio pressures to boost the films' commercial prospects undermined some of his big-budget movies.
"When they're not done for a lot of money, sometimes you get a clearer voice, one single voice, about what the movie's to be about," he said.
Costner feels no career pressure to deliver another hit, saying his films have been profitable enough between theatrical and home-video revenues.
"I know what my movies do economically," he said. "I'm really comfortable with what happens to them when they go out there, and so are the studios."
Joan Allen: The Contender
How have audiences reacted to your character?
When I talked to women about it who came up to me in the street, their response was that the film filled them with a lot of hope. There is an idealism, to a degree, in the film of that kind of behaviour, wishing that our politicians could be that honourable! There is a natural yearning for that type of principle, and it struck a chord with a lot of people.
Why do you think Laine resists the sex-scandal accusations made against her by denying them?
She just believes so much that that type of questioning, or that type of drawing attention to those issues, had nothing to do with those issues. It had nothing to do with the political process. It's not like she committed a crime. She just takes a stand. She behaves the only way that she can.
Was it very empowering to play a figure like Laine?
It was. It really was. It was great to be the politician, not be married to the politician, for once. That's so rare.
It's a very ambiguous work, isn't it?
That's what I love about the movie. There's an ambiguity between how much is a rivalry between Jeff's character, the president, and Gary's, Shelly Runyon. Shelly simply believes Laine is not right for the office. And Laine herself is not perfect either - she's stolen her best friend's husband away. There are elements that show people aren't too perfect.