Celebrity Interview: Marc Webb Talks on The Only Living Boy in New York, Casting, Icons, and His Bucket List

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The Only Living Boy in New York, an intimate relationship drama starring Jeff Bridges, Pierce Brosnan, Kate Beckinsale, Cynthia Nixon and Thomas Callum is about to premiere and the film's director Marc Webb has agreed to an interview.  

Having arrived at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills two hours early to work out my introduction, the PR team rescheduled a slot and before I had a chance to transfer my notes, I was sitting in front of Marc explaining that my bullet points for our interview are written on the back of a calendar knowing he would understand ideas come when and where they do and pen and paper catch them. We chatted a bit about backgrounds, having both lived in New York City and attended NYU, we had some common ground.

Once the interview got rolling we spent the next fifteen minutes talking about The Only Living Boy in New York, his process, working with the cast and his bucket list. He was through, generous and genuinely interesting. Below is the interview.

Securing The Job 15 Years Later

Janet Walker: Congratulations on the film. I thought it was a unique film and being from New York recognized many of the New York landmarks. First, the film was full of surprises for me. I thought I had figured it out from the beginning: a powerful husband, disillusioned wife, rebellious son and requisite mistress but it is just full of surprises all the way around. So how did this project come to you?

Marc Webb: The script of it which was sort of beloved had been around for years in that Allen [Loeb], that wrote it 15 years ago and spent his 20's in Hollywood having a terrible time, his car broke down and he couldn't get home and he decided to sell it for whatever it was worth and move to New York and write one last script.

It was like, "If it doesn't work I am out." I'm going to work in the private sector of whatever. He went to New York, moved to Tribeca and in three or four months wrote the draft for The Only Living Boy in New York. Came back to Hollywood and they jumped on it.

By the skin of his teeth he made but then it sat. Then he made wrote another one called Things We Lost in The Fire which became a Hollywood writer and the movie, The Only Living Boy In New York, for a variety of reasons never got made and I had read the scripts and I was very compelled by the relationship between W.F. and Thomas and so that was something that sort of stayed with me. I had actually interviewed for the job and they very quickly rejected me and said you don't have the experience or just didn't like my take on it.


The Only Living Boy In New York Review – Unexpected, Surprising, A Solid Bet


I eventually made features and made Spiderman and thought about it the script and went back and called my agent and asked "Whatever happened to The Only Living Boy In New York script" and he said, "Oh I'll send you the latest draft." And it had be titled, The Only Living Boy, no longer New York, and been set in Chicago, and there was an Adverting executive, and I was like, "What is this?"

And it felt, it just didn't feel, I just didn't understand it. And what happened. So I went back and found the old draft in my email files and I said, if you want to start over and go back to this draft, I said to the producers Albert and Ron, then let's give it a whirl. And they said yes. The I started working with Al, and then I did another Spiderman movie and did Gifted, which came around a little more quickly. So we completed a draft and sent it out and I wanted Jeff to play that role. And like I didn't know if I could make the movie if I didn't have Jeff and amazingly he said "yes" and that was the beginning. The was the first domino that really got the movie rolling.

JW: You mentioned a few thing in there about sitting on the scripts for some time, they loved it, it sat, someone rewrote it, so it didn't have the same feel and then you talked about  what you  were doing so what were some of the when you so how did you come back to the audition how did you convince them?

MW: I think by the time I made 500 and Spiderman I had convinced them – for whatever reason maybe after 500 they were thinking maybe he can do something. I was more viable and I wasn't as big of a risk. So that's how it came to be really.

His Big Break

JW: So what do you consider your big break?

MW: I think it comes done to a lot of little breaks. I did a second unit on a Blues Traveler video when I was 23, and I was like, it cost 10K to make, and I was going to make Titanic, it was the biggest deal to me just to be hired professionally to direct something. Then I didn't work for a year and a half but I was editing then I got little jobs, and then little videos and some of them got attention and other different and then I just got more and more work and then built a career around that. Then I got the script to 500 Days of Summer and I went all out to convince them I wanted to make that movie and that was a big deal. I think I still benefit from the people's reaction to that film.

JW: I know you did a lot of video's and still do.

MW: I did a video this week and hadn't done a video for six years. I did probably more than a hundred way back and it was a great learning process.  But to was also just fun in and of itself I had a great time making music videos.

JW: So you have a combination of special effects and live action films. An almost even split, figuring in 500 Days, so you prefer one or the other?

MW: You know I prefer . . there all stories. You know what I mean, there all about characters who go through extraordinary circumstances are changed deeply by their experiences and their efforts and that the truth to all them they all happening on a different scale. They require different skill sets but they are rewarding in very different ways. I like them both. I like them all.

The Icons

JW: Well, in this film, you mention Jeff was integral to for you to do it: I mean you're dealing with an icon, well two icons with Pierce and Jeff.

MW: And Kate too, she's an incredible force. And bounces off each other in a really magnificent way. Kate is an extraordinary talent, complete intellectual, incredibly thoughtful, very insightful about the character she was a really valuable asset and creative partner in the movie.

And Jeff and Pierce are these iconic figures but with very different energies. They knew each other before they had a made a movie together, "The Mirror has Two Faces." And um they had different energies but were perfectly suited for their roles, I thought.

JW: I always asked about the table read – so tell me about the table read, everyone is sitting around and how are you feeling and describe that.

MW: Nerve racking is always the way it is. People are sort of casual in table reads they don't want to let it go but I remember Pierce, there is a scene at the end of the movie, that, sort of an explosive scene, he just, everyone just sat up in their seats, he just slammed his fist on the table and oh boy, everybody woke up after that happened.

And Jeff's character is much more laid back causal, and you're like . . oh . . he is a very soothing character but that real depth and explosiveness was pretty surprising. You think of Pierce as this cool character and he is but he has a lot of muscle there and it was fun to experience that and a little terrifying frankly.


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Making and Casting the Film

JW: So how long was the shoot?

MW: Six weeks.

JW: All on location in New York?

MW: All on location in New York. We shot on a stage for a couple of days but it was primarily on location on sets or location we found not that we built.

JW: What were some of your biggest challenges?

MW: Casting was tricky. Finding Thomas Cullum's character was really difficult. You know lining up all these big actor's schedules was a kind of nightmare. It is a very small movie, nobody is making any money off of it. But to get Pierce and Jeff and Kate and Cynthia and all in line with each other was really difficult. And I can't imagine making the movie with anyone other than those people. And that was tricky. It's not a superhero movie. It is a small intimate drama  and with a complex buy in and to get these movies made you need a lot of muscle behind it and that was a tricky thing.

JW: So when was it shot?

MW: Last fall [2016]. We just finished it in June. It's coming out very, very quickly.

JW: What were some of your most memorable moments?

MW: I loved shooting the wedding. Bill Camp who played Uncle Buster I thought really did a wonderful job with that sequence, that speech. We only had a few takes to do it and I knew him from he was in The Crucible and he was in The Night of, which hadn't come out yet. I knew him from that and also the Death of a Salesman with Andrew Garfield, who was in my Spiderman movies, and I thought who was this, there was just something very powerful about that actor. And it was a moment in the movie when all these different storylines were coming together, and I love this montage and the feeling of that and it was really tricky to shoot  but fun to shoot.

JW: So when you're casting, first you talk you saw him in these movies and in these movies, do you have a movie watching schedule?

I watch movie all the time every night before I go to bed. I fall asleep to whatever movie I'm watching. I think of terms of auditioning being aware of whose out there is important but it's never that simple. Particularly in a movie like this. The lines of chemistry are very important to find how people interact with each other and how people's chemistry whether it is a romantic chemistry or a chemistry between mother and son or father and son requires a texture and a realism and a buy in for both the actors that is . . You can have two great actors and if they don't act well together is a thing that is dysfunctional about it and the audience will feel it.

JW: For casting for this movie: You said Thomas character was difficult to . .

MW: Yes. It's tricky because you need body who is boyish enough to be put on his heels by Mimi, who is smart but very young, sassy, and that kind of relationship that everyone experiences in their early twenties. But also have the nascent budding masculinity wherein you're rooting your interest in having a relationship with somebody a little bit older than he. That's a tricky dynamic if he is too boyish it becomes gross so finding that was tricky and fortunately Callum is supple enough to make that work.

JW: Did you see him in a film?

MW: I saw him in Tramps. I saw his audition first and thought he a kind of energy and it was deliberate a little bit neurotic that I really liked. Then I saw him in Tramps and I thought there was a looseness and a attitude that I kind of liked and then I saw him in Green Room, where intense interesting movie, things don't end well for him in that. But I enjoyed that I thought, "This guy's got something. I like the way he is leading. He looks kind of strange, interesting and beautiful and also awkward. Interesting character for us.

Bucket List

JW: So, um, tell me your bucket list. If you had a bucket list as far as filmmaking. Something maybe you haven't voiced?

MW: I would love to make a thriller. I would love to make a limited Television series, like nine episodes, like something really fantastic, where there are just really interesting opportunities. I'd like to make an Edith Wharton adaptation.

The Only Living Boy in New York in playing in theaters everywhere. See it.

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