Gavin O’Connor is a native New Yorker who began writing while studying at the University of Pennsylvania. After graduation, he returned to New York, where he began his career writing short films and plays. He made his scriptwriting debut with the award-winning short film The Bet which also marked Ted Demme’s film directorial debut.
Gavin first garnered widespread attention when he directed the independent feature Tumbleweeds starring Janet McTeer and Kimberly Brown. He also co-wrote the screenplay with Angela Shelton, based on Shelton’s childhood diaries. The mother-daughter road drama brought him the Filmmaker’s Award at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, and landed McTeer a Best Actress Oscar nomination for her performance.
Gavin’s next directorial effort was the well-received, 2004 hit Miracle. The film, starring Kurt Russell, told the inspiring story of the U.S. Hockey Team’s Gold Medal triumph at the 1980 Winter Olympics, including a stunning victory over the seemingly invincible Russian team.
Next, Gavin co-wrote and directed the 2008 drama Pride And Glory, starring Edward Norton, Colin Farrell and Jon Voight. The film follows a multi-generational police family whose moral code is tested when one son investigates an incendiary case of corruption and murder that involves his brother and brother-in-law, forcing the family to choose between their loyalties to one another and their loyalties to the department.
In 2010, Gavin co-wrote, produced and directed the critically-acclaimed sports drama Warrior, starring Joel Edgerton, Tom Hardy and Nick Nolte. The story of two estranged brothers whose pasts collide in an elite mixed martial arts tournament earned Nick Nolte an Academy Award nomination for his performance.
Here, he talks about his latest offering, The Accountant, a clever cat-and-mouse caper starring Ben Affleck as a CPA-turned-cutthroat assassin.
Hi Gavin, thanks for the interview. I really loved this film. I just hope it isn’t forgotten by the time Oscar season rolls around.
Well, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens. I hope it stays in theaters for a while.
What interested you in The Accountant? Was it screenwriter Bill DuBuque’s success with The Judge?
No, it had nothing to do with The Judge. I was sent the script by (producer) Lynette Howell, and I was just captured by its originality. It was wildly original, and the conception of it was just unlike anything I’d ever read before. I’d never seen anyone like this particular character, Christian Wolff, before. And I thought, “Wow, if I can bring him to life in a cinematic way, it would make a really interesting movie and a story that I really want to tell.”
Did you have any reservations having an autistic hero with Aspberger’s Syndrome in this hypersensitive age of political correctness?
Honestly, I never did, because we did so much homework first. I read everything you could read, watched documentaries, listened to podcasts, and met with specialists and teachers. And then Ben (Affleck) and I were afforded access to about 30 men between 18 and 30 years old who were on the spectrum. We had really great times with them in a classroom environment. They knew what we were doing, and they opened up their hearts in speaking to us about their lives, behaviors and proclivities. I think it’s a good time to be different, and my intention was always to celebrate being different. Plus, you can’t tell stories worrying about how people are going to react. I just can’t think that way, although I’m sure they’ll be somebody out there who will have an issue with it.
How did you manage to attach so many big names to the project? Ben, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, John Lithgow, Jeffrey Tambor and so forth?
Ben was the first person I approached. And after we discussed it, and decided to partner on it and go on this journey together, we started to think about who was right for the other parts. I happened to see Whiplash on the opening night, I was so blown away by J.K. Simmons’ performance that as soon as I left the theater I called my producer and asked her to get the script to him for the part of Ray King. I met with him a week later and brought him aboard.
As far as the part of Dana that Anna Kendrick’s playing, it was very important to me to fill the role with someone who could not only make the movie fun but who could make you believe she appreciated Chris’ amazingness. Anna kinda marches to a different drummer, and Chris kinda marches to a different orchestra. But I thought that she would “get” him, and that some fun could be had with the two of them, and that she would kinda strike a fire in his heart, because she’s different from him in a nuanced way. So, I offered Anna the part, she said, “Yes,” and I just continued down the line like that, thinking about who was right for each role. And everyone I approached said, “Yes.” That was wonderful!
What is it about your directorial style that enables you to get so much out of your actors?
I don’t know, really. But I truly believe that you make the movie before you make the movie. So, I’m really big into working out back stories and doing biographies of characters, and then dissecting the scenes in a way that we really understand the DNA and complexity of each scene, what the subtext is, and what the intention of each character is. I just try to go as deep as I can with a character before we even shoot. Filming, I kinda try to sit back and let them do their thing. You can make some tweaks here or there, but I generally just enjoy watching them be great at what they do.
Why did you settle on the slightly deceptive title The Accountant? It reminds me of movies like The Transporter and The Mechanic where there was much more to the protagonist than suggested by the job in the title.
I always loved the title. We all thought it was funny because most people think of an accountant as a dry, mundane, numbers-crunching job. That’s the wink of the movie. It’s like, maybe your accountant has a secret life.
And how come Gavin O’Connor regular Noah Emmerich isn’t in this movie? He’d been every one of your films except your first, Comfortably Numb.
(Laughs heartily) That is so funny! You know what, Kam? You’re the first person to ask me that question. I called up Noah and said, “Dude, I just don’t have a part for you in this.” I was a little saddened because, as you know, I try to put him in every movie. But he was also shooting the TV series The Americans at the time. So, it wasn’t going to work out anyway.
What did you major in at the University of Pennsylvania?
So, when did you develop an interest in movies?
I always knew I wanted to make movies from when I was a little boy. Penn didn’t have a film program, so from the time I came in as a freshman, I started preparing myself. My VHS player was on fire from all the movies I was watching. And I was already trying to write screenplays.
Is there any question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone would?
(Laughs) That’s a great question in itself. No one’s ever asked me that. No, it feels like I’ve been asked everything that needed to be asked, except the one you just asked about Noah.
Harriet asks: With so many classic films being redone, is there a remake you’d like to star in?
No, I would never remake a classic. How do you top a classic? I don’t know if I’d even call it a remake, because Seth Rogen did a comedy version of it, but I got the rights to The Green Hornet, and I’m going to be doing that. He was always the one comic book character I loved.
Kevin Hart: What Now?
Rated R for pervasive profanity, the N-word, and some sexual references.
Kevin Hart Wows Hometown Crowd Of 50,000 At Lincoln Financial Field
Step aside Chris Rock, Eddie Murphy and Martin Lawrence, the undisputed reigning “King of Comedy,” pound-for-pound, is clearly now Kevin Hart. That’s after his “What Now?” world tour during which the diminutive comedian staged 168 shows across the United States and Canada, as well as ports-of-call in Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa.
The pinnacle of the 16-month standup series was an outdoor event at Lincoln Financial Field, where the Philly native son performed in front of a very appreciative crowd of 50,000 hometown fans. And the record-making turnout marked the only occasion on which a comic has ever sold out a mammoth football stadium.
The highlights from that venue’s production were cobbled together to create Kevin Hart: What Now?, the 5’4″ funnyman’s fifth foray into the concert flick genre, and his first since Let Me Explain (2013). While most of the movie is ostensibly composed of the best of Kevin’s latest standup act, it opens with another one of his trademark set pieces, in this case a spoof of a famous James Bond scene from Casino Royale.
Directed by Tim Story, the skit features Kevin as a suave card shark and co-stars Halle Berry as his love interest Miss Money Berry, Don Cheadle as his straight man, David Meunier as a ruthless Russian mobster, and Ed Helms as an affable bartender. The basic idea behind the bit is to have Hart amass millions in winnings at the poker table before mounting a daring escape with Halle in tow and arriving just in time in Philly to launch the proceedings.
Let’s face it, comedy has become more of a challenge in this politically-correct era when formerly-favored, bottom feeding fare focusing on misogyny, homophobia and race have understandably become controversial, hot-button topics. However, Kevin has never had any trouble working with such constraints, as his observational brand of humor is mostly of an introspective nature.
Instead, he continues to mostly exploit himself, milking mirth from jokes revolving around his size, his fear of being photographed while sitting on a public toilet seat, his dislike of his wife’s endless hypothetical questions, and his newfound fear of wild animals like snakes, coyotes and mountain lions which has surfaced now that he resides outside of L.A.
As Kevin himself suggests just as the closing credits start to roll, his hilarious act’s universal acceptance by the diverse audience made up of members of every ethnicity and orientation effectively delivers a timely message that if we can all laugh together, then we can all live together, too!
Very Good (3 stars)
Running time: 96 minutes
OPENING THIS WEEK
For movies opening October 21, 2016
Boo! A Madea Halloween (PG-13 for drug use, suggestive content, profanity, scary images and mature themes) Tyler Perry is back in drag for a madcap adventure which finds the sassy, pistol-packing granny protecting her great-niece (Diamond White) and friends from a combination of paranormal poltergeists, ghosts, ghouls and killer zombies. Ensemble includes Cassi Davis, Patrice Lovely, Yousef Arakat and Andre Hall.
Jack Reacher: Never Go Back (PG-13 for violence, bloody images, profanity and mature themes) Tom Cruise reprises the title role in this action-oriented sequel which finds the peripatetic soldier of fortune on the run while trying to clear his name of murder. With Cobie Smulders,Robert Knepper, Danika Yarosh and Aldis Hodge. .
Keeping Up With The Joneses (PG-13 for sexuality, violence and brief profanity) Action comedy revolving around a suburban couple (Zach Galifianakis and Isla Fisher) which becomes embroiled in an international espionage plot after unwittingly befriending their seemingly-innocuous, new neighbors (Gal Gadot and Jon Hamm) who happen to be government spies. Featuring Maribeth Monroe, Patton Oswalt, Matt Walsh and Michael Liu.
Ouija: Origin Of Evil (PG-13 for terror, mature themes and disturbing images) Spooky prequel, set in L.A. in 1967, in which a family which comes to regret staging a séance to contact its dearly-departed patriarch when one of his daughter’s (Lulu Wilson) becomes possessed by a demonic spirit. Cast includes Lin Shaye, Elizabeth Reaser and Annalise Basso.
American Pastoral (R for profanity, graphic sexuality and brief violent images) Crime drama, set in 1968, about a successful, suburban couple (Jennifer Connelly and Ewan McGregor) whose idyllic life comes apart at the seams when their radicalized daughter (Dakota Fanning) commits a deadly act of terrorism in protest of the Vietnam War. With David Strathairn, Uzo Aduba, Molly Parker and Valorie Curry.
Before The Flood (Unrated) Eco-documentary examining how climate change is affecting the environment and at what can be done to reverse atmospheric warming trends. Featuring commentary by Elon Musk, Pope Francis, Leonardo DiCaprio.
It Had To Be You (R for profanity and sexuality) Romantic comedy revolving around a neurotic jingle writer (Cristin Miloti) torn between accepting her boyfriend’s (Dan Soder) surprise marriage proposal and pursuing her fantasies. With Halley Feiffer, Kate Simses and Erica Sweany.
Moonlight (R for sexuality, drug use, pervasive profanity and brief violence) Coming-of-age tale, set in Miami, chronicling a young, gay black man’s (Ashton Sanders) struggle with his sexuality while growing up in a tough, inner-city ‘hood. With Mahershala Ali, Andre Holland, Naomie Harris, Janelle Monae, Shariff Earp and Duan Sanderson.
A Stray (Unrated) American Dream saga, set in Minneapolis, about a struggling Somali refugee (Barkhad Now!” Abdirahman) whose life takes a turn for the worse when he befriends a dog he almost runs over on the street. Supporting cast includes Fathia Absle, Christina Baldwin and Faysal Ahmed.
We Are X (R for profanity) Rock & Roll retrospective revisiting the rise and tragic fall of the melodic, Japanese, heavy metal band X. (In English and Japanese with subtitles)
The Whole Truth (R for profanity, rape and violence) Courtroom drama starring Keanu Reeves as a defense attorney hired by a widowed friend (Renee Zellweger) to represent her son (Gabriel Basso) who has already confessed to patricide. With Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Jim Belushi and Lucky Johnson.
Zombies (Unrated) Post-apocalyptic horror flick about a rag-tag band of survivors’ attempt to save the planet in the wake of a zombie outbreak. Co-starring Steven Luke, Tony Todd and Raina Hein.