Friday, December 20, 2013

10 of my favorite celebrity interviews from 2013

While Charlotte isn’t exactly L.A. or New York, we do attract a fair amount of famous folks for one reason or another. And sometimes, they actually take time out of their busy schedules to talk with reporters like me.

Here’s a look back at 10 memorable celebrity interviews I landed in 2013, along with the quotes that stood out most to me.

10. Nick Jonas, who was in the Charlotte area last spring filming the upcoming thriller “Careful What You Wish For.” Quotable: “It’s been tough to venture out too much, just because it gets a little crazy around here. But I have my security guy with me, and he helps me navigate around pretty easily. It’s one of those things. You just have to play it by ear and make sure that everyone’s safe.”

9. Nicholas Sparks, N.C.-based author of “Safe Haven,” which was released in film version in February. Quotable: “I cried at ‘Old Yeller.’ Man, I was so sad when he had to shoot his dog. Still gets me. And ‘Toy Story 3,’ that moved me. … My son was heading off to college, Andy’s heading off to college – can’t help but get a little choked up at that.”

8. N.C. native Kellie Pickler, promoting her new CD “The Woman I Am,” which dropped in November. Quotable: “I haven’t had a chance to go home to Albemarle and do anything musically there – that would be great. Not many places to perform in Albemarle, though. We’ll have to find a field or something and set up a truck bed there. I don’t know. Get some hay bales ...”

Photo by David T. Foster/The Charlotte Observer

7. Kevin James, who did stand-up at Belk Theater in May. Quotable: “Believe me, my movies aren’t (my kids’) favorites. It’s Despicable Me,’ it’s all these other animated movies. They haven’t locked into one of mine. Right now Steve Carell’s winning in my house.”

6. Ke$ha, who performed in concert at Uptown Amphitheatre in August. Quotable: “I in the past have been known to jump off stage and kiss people on the mouth if they’re yawning. ... I feel like it’s an environment where everybody’s there for the same common goal, which is to completely go crazy, sans judgment. And hopefully in the end leave covered with glitter.”

Read more here:

5. Michael Bublé, who performed in concert at Time Warner Cable Arena in October. Quotable: “It’s not just about what I wear, it’s the whole presentation. I’m playing places where there was a hockey game the night before. I want this place to be transformed, and for everything to be dressed up to where it looks like you’re walking into a beautiful place, about to have a beautiful night, and not some cold, stinky hockey arena.”

4. NASCAR driver Danica Patrick, during a break from shooting a GoDaddy ad at a south Charlotte fitness club: “This workout isn’t completely dissimilar to what I do. It’s just about intensity and keeping that heart rate up, and moving, moving, moving – which is what’s going to make us all skinny like we want to be.”

3. Tracy Morgan, who did stand-up at The Fillmore in June. Quotable: “Critics don’t get my show because they are looking for Tracy Jordan. I don’t listen to critics. After every show, I’m getting standing ovations. That’s what matters to me. Not somebody that comes to my show with intent. I don’t care about that. Critics, they ain’t nothing. Let me see you get up and do standup for an hour and a half. If I wasn’t funny, I wouldn’t be invited to Charlotte.”

2. Claire Danes, while walking the red carpet at a “Homeland” premiere event in Washington, D.C., in September. Quotable: “Coming from New York City, (Charlotte’s) got a much more gentle, forgiving pace. People are incredibly kind and welcoming.”

Photo by Théoden Janes/The Charlotte Observer

1. Tom Hanks, during a press event to promote “Captain Phillips” in Atlanta. Quotable: “I had to go full-bore for 12 straight hours. It was uncontrollable. It never stopped. If I didn't put 110 percent of my effort into every single moment we ran the camera, the movie would not have been as good – and that movie was Turner & Hooch. I swear to God. Working with that dog... almost killed me.”

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

2 more movies shooting in Charlotte, and they are...

Hollywood's invasion of Charlotte continues this week -- and into November -- with two film projects currently being produced within the city limits.

The first is "Captive," starring David Oyelowo ("Jack Reacher") and Kate Mara ("House of Cards"). Based on events that occurred in Atlanta in 2005, the thriller centers around an escaped prisoner (Oyelowo) who takes a young woman (Mara) hostage while trying to exact revenge on those who got him locked up.

Casting directors have been regularly posting pleas for extras here.

The other project is "Tusk," a horror movie from "Clerks" writer-director Kevin Smith. The inspiration for his latest story? An online ad Smith stumbled upon that offered free rent to anyone willing to dress up as a walrus for two hours a day. It is said to be a "Human Centipede"-style horror movie, with Quentin Tarantino and Justin Long among the cast.

The same casting agency is handling extras for "Tusk."

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Director talks 'Bad Grandpa' -- and That Penguin Scene

Charlotte was the proving ground for some of the funniest and most outrageous scenes in the new comedy "Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa." You can read about two of them by clicking HERE. Or, you can read on for director Jeff Tremaine's explanation of how two of the most notorious scenes in the trailer were born.

These are excerpts from an interview with Tremaine conducted Monday:

On developing the concept for "Bad Grandpa": "We started loosely talking about this idea ... in 2006. But really, about two years ago we got serious about really figuring out how to crack making a movie just about Irving. And we threw around story ideas, but even before we were committed to story, (Johnny) Knoxville and I started throwing around funny scenarios, like how we do the 'Jackass' stuff, where we just think of funny scenes with Irving, not really worrying about the story. But once we started writing the story, it took the front seat. It really took over the movie. And then we started thinking about pranks. How to tell the story through pranks and stunts, really. Where they weren't just a series of pranks that are strung together with a loose narrative. When you watch it, you'll see. It's a real story. It feels almost like a normal, scripted movie, except for 90 percent of the actors are real people that don't know they're starring in a movie."

Director Jeff Tremaine with Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

On the challenges of making the film: "This movie is, from a production standpoint, a terrible idea. Because one, your star has to go through four hours of makeup before you even start shooting. Or let's say three hours. They got it down to three. But it really is three and a half to four. Two, you have an 8-year-old boy with you that comes with a lot of restrictions on what you can shoot and your time and everything else. And three, all the cameras have to be hidden. We weren't able to come up with a device that let us have a camera out for 99 percent of the movie. So everything had to be hidden. And then you're hoping for reactions. And then you're hoping, on top of that, that after you get those reactions that you were hoping for, that the people will be cool and sign the release. So it's a terrible idea. Most of 'Jackass' was just a bunch of us sitting around kicking each other in the nuts and laughing about it. It was pretty easy to shoot most of that. I mean, there's a danger element for sure, but from a production standpoint, it's pretty easy. We don't do that much stuff out in public anymore. ("Bad Grandpa") was all out in public, and that's just such a wild card. It's stressful."

Johnny Knoxville with director Jeff Tremaine. Photo courtesy of Paramount Pictures.

On comparisons to "Borat": "I think 'Borat' was more of a very loose narrative. It was more his character doing a series of vignettes that had a very loose narrative. This is much more narrative than I think 'Borat' is. And 'Borat' was smarter than we were. They had a device that allowed them to have a camera out the whole time. ... But we're fans. We like 'Borat.' We're fans of what Sacha (Baron Cohen) does, for sure."

On the funeral scene: "Right at the beginning of the movie, Irving's wife dies, and we have a funeral for her. And she never existed, so we had to figure out how to populate a funeral with people willing to sit through a funeral for someone they didn't know. And what they don't know is that she's not even real. ... We shot that scene really early, and that scene has the whole plot of the movie in it. These people have to sit through not just a funeral that goes crazy, but it's where Irving -- who is excited to start the last part of his life free of his wife that he was miserable with -- is handed his grandson that he barely knew. And there's a lot of plot that these people have to sit through, and they don't know what's going on. So when we successfully pulled that off, I knew we could do anything, because that one seemed far-fetched at the time of writing it."

On the corpse used throughout the movie: "It's a mold of Catherine Keener. We shot with Catherine Keener and ended up cutting her out. We shot with Keener and (co-writer) Spike Jonze both in old makeup. Spike was an old lady, and Keener played (Irving's) wife. We were gonna show her through flashbacks. And Spike was the one that got away, his long-lost love interest, the one before he got married. We got really funny stuff, but as we were cutting the movie together, we realized that the thing that was working the most in the movie and the thing that needed more time to develop was Irving and Billy's relationship, and putting stuff in between that muddied it up. So we ended up cutting them out. We'll put it out on DVD later."

On the above scene, shot outside The Penguin Drive-In: "What was funny is WE put the penguin there. We found the restaurant The Penguin that was cool with us shooting, and we just put this big penguin in front of it... The owner of the restaurant was in on it, but none of the employees were, so they thought that this was the new big icon in front of The Penguin... We were just going around shooting a bunch of stuff of Irving being a bad driver. That was one of the sub-themes: Irving can't drive for s---. So we set up a bunch of these scenarios where he was just gonna run over stuff in front of people, and hopefully get reactions. But when we hit the penguin, there was this angry New Yorker there for some reason. (He wasn't an employee.) The guy is like full-on Brooklyn or something -- I mean, he sounds like an actor. And he just got so offended, and (Johnny Knoxville) sensed that. Knoxville's so good at that. When someone does give him a hint that they're on the hook, he will take them for a ride. And he just made this guy really angry, then brought him down. Made him even more angry, brought him down... That ended up being a crazy scene."

On the above scene, shot outside -- and inside -- Value Village: "That's one of probably the most complicated shoots that I've ever been a part of, and it's only about 30 seconds of screen time. But the idea was Irving sits on a little coin-operated ride in front of a shopping center, and it goes haywire and launches him. Originally thought it would be funny to do it at a grocery store or a big store that he sails into. But that seemed too complicated. So we started looking at empty storefronts where we could put this thing and dress the store like it was open, but not have people on the inside, so he could just shoot in there. But then we started scouting, and we found Value Village that had the perfect setup to where he could launch inside. We cordoned it off to where he landed in the bedroom area of Value Village. When we naturally scouted that store, they had it to where there were some beds and things that would block people from being right in front of the window. So it ended up being, Alright, we can actually do this dangerous stunt. The stunt is dangerous for Knoxville, because if he sits up at all, he gets his head taken off. So he had to just keep his head low and hold on tight. And that's what he's best at. That's about the skill level he has. It was a dangerous stunt if he popped up at all ... and then you never know what the landing's gonna be. But we were more concerned -- well, at least on my end -- with other people being close enough to see it, but not being in harm's way. So that was a tricky logistical thing, and we ended up pulling it off."

On putting Knoxville at risk of being punched by someone: "I think his secret goal is TO get beat up. This is what he's really, really good at, and that is walking the line and getting people to a heightened state, without crossing the line. Although I think secretly he'd be very happy if he got punched in the face once in awhile."

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Disney star Zendaya is a Panthers fan! (Basically.)

Zendaya Coleman – star of The Disney Channel sitcom “Shake It Up” and runner-up on ABC’s “Dancing With The Stars” this year – was in Charlotte over the weekend, living a hardcore Carolina Panthers fan’s dream.

She got to hang out with Cam Newton:

Photo courtesy of the Carolina Panthers Twitter account

She got to hang out with the TopCats:

Photo courtesy of the Panthers Gameday Twitter account

She got to sing the National Anthem before Sunday's game:

Photo courtesy of the Panthers Gameday Twitter account

Then, she got to watch the Panthers beat the Rams, 30-15, from a luxury box.

She scored the gig through a family friend, George Hughes of Monroe, whom she refers to as an uncle. "He knew people (with the Panthers), and they were really interested in me doing the National Anthem. I was like, 'Uhh, YEAH! Of course!' I was very excited."

Originally from Oakland, Zendaya says her heart is with the Raiders (she's also performed the anthem before a game at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. But she readily admits she is a fair-weather fan: "Honestly for me, I'm not gonna lie -- it's whoever's the nicest to me when I go there," says the pop star, who has also performed before Atlanta Falcons and Los Angeles Dodgers games. "And everyone was very, very nice in Charlotte. ... So they are now (a favorite)."

Zendaya, 17, spoke to a few members of the media during a private meet-and-greet event Monday evening at the offices of BNR Promotions, on Trade Street in uptown Charlotte.

On her debut album, "Zendaya," out since Sept. 17: "I wanted to create something that wasn't going to be so expected. Of course, you expect me to do bubblegum pop, because that's the world I come from, which is Disney. But I wanted to do something that was more representational of who I am. ... I feel like not a lot of people were doing rhythmic pop, which is pop music but infused with a more urban, R&B or hip-hop feel. I wanted to cross over between urban markets and mainstream ... and still be good for everyone to listen to, and still positive for the kids. The best artists of all-time, their music's clean. You don't have to cuss to make good songs."

On her key musical influences: "Michael Jackson... (He) was a true artist, and he knew his music through and through. He wasn't afraid to be Mike. He's the only person that could make white socks, loafers and sparkly gloves and a sequin shirt he got from his mom's closet a trend. I love Beyonce, performance-wise. Her work ethic -- you can just tell the dedication and passion she has for what she does. And a big inspiration was Aaliyah, because her vocal quality is very soft, so I was able to connect with that. Also I liked her style. She had that tomboy-girly thing going on."

On Disney Channel alum Miley Cyrus: "I think she's trying to reinvent herself and become a new artist. I am just inventing myself. I'm figuring out who I want to be (at a) younger (age) so that I can just grow with my fans and mature with my fans, rather than all of a sudden deciding to switch it up. ... I applaud Miley for being herself, and I think it's beautiful that she's now having the experience to be creative and do her own thing. Just let her do that, and parents be good parents and teach your children what not to do. That's all I have to say about that."

Advice for kids who want to be famous: " 'Famous' is a very bad term, I feel like. It has no meaning behind it. I want them to have a purpose to what they do, and not do it because it's something that looks fun, or something that's gonna get them recognized by people. I encourage them to find some passion in themselves."

Here's the music video for "Replay," the first single off of "Zendaya": 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Dermot Mulroney in film to be shot in Charlotte

Dermot Mulroney will star alongside Nick Jonas and Isabel Lucas in the thriller "Careful What You Wish For," according to Principal photography is scheduled to begin in Charlotte on April 22.

Mulroney, 49, previously has appeared in films including "The Grey," "Zodiac," "About Schmidt," and "My Best Friend's Wedding."

Jonas -- of the boy band The Jonas Brothers -- has mostly done TV work. Lucas was last seen opposite Chris Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson in the recent "Red Dawn" remake.

Elizabeth Allen ("The Vampire Diaries," "Aquamarine") is directing the film, which says is being compared to "Basic Instinct" and "Body Heat."

Friday, March 15, 2013

Take a $295,000 car for a spin at the speedway

I drove a $243,000 Lamborghini this morning -- for about six minutes, maybe a little longer. You can do the same... but are you willing to spend 500 bucks for the privilege?

If so, then you're the target audience for the Exotic Driving Experience. It comes from the makers of the Richard Petty Driving Experience and operates year-round at Walt Disney World Speedway in Orlando, but also brings its fleet of supercars to 10 other speedways, including Atlanta, Daytona, and Charlotte. This weekend marks the first of four times it will set up shop in Concord in 2013.

Cars offered at Charlotte Motor Speedway Saturday and Sunday include a Ferrari 458 Italia, a Ferrari F430, a Lamborghini Gallardo LP570-4 Superleggera, a Lamborghini Gallardo LP560-4, an Audi R8, an Aston Martin Virage, a Porsche 997 S, and a Nissan GT-R. Prices start at $169 to take the $90,000 Nissan for a spin and run up to $419 to flex the muscles of the $295,000 458 Italia. (A $35 "driver release fee" also will be tacked onto the bill.)

EDE had about 25 paying customers on Friday, and already had roughly 110 commitments for the weekend as of Friday morning. (A total of about 100 slots per day are available.) At my 10 a.m. session, I counted eight clients, some of whom had brought spectators. One guy had come up from Georgia to participate; another was given time in three -- three! -- different cars by his wife, as a gift.

It's important to note that you drive on an asphalt "road course" that's part of the infield at the speedway, and not on the actual oval itself. That said, here's how it all works:

Upon arrival, the first thing you face is paperwork. One page just asks for basic personal info, then the next two are all legalese, with 19 blanks that need initialing. It pretty much boils down to "understand that you could be killed or injured" and "you won't sue us."

Then there's a roughly 20-minute instructional class, which starts with a pre-recorded video (starring Christian Fittipaldi) that informs you about driving techniques, warns you not to check mirrors or gauges (in fact, the speedometers in all the cars are concealed to eliminate the urge to obsess about breaking records), and talks about paddle shiffting (all cars have fully and semi-automatic modes; none are stick-shift).

After that, an instructor goes over a map of the .75-mile course for drivers and talks through a first-person video covering every inch of it.

That's all that stands between you and your ride. Throw on a head sock and an audio-capable driving helmet -- which provides protection and also allows you to communicate easily with your driving coach via mics and speakers -- and then jump in. Your co-pilot/coach gives you a few words of advice, and you're off.

Interestingly, the ride is much more about agility than pure speed. Much of the course is made up of several sharp left- and right-hand turns. The longest straightaway is less than a quarter-mile long (the actual track layout is slightly different from what is advertised here -- there's now a cut-in interrupting the long straightaway shown), so my top speed was "just" 69 mph. Still, unless you're a former illegal street racer or have experience driving high-performance cars on short tracks with lots of turns, you will sense plenty of speed. Your coach also will do a great job in terms of providing direction that helps to embolden you. If you listen to him and are aggressive as he suggests, you'll see how incredibly nimble these vehicles really are.

Total drive time is about 5 minutes for six laps, and unfortunately, it takes about that long to start feeling comfortable with the handling, the power under the hood, and -- if you opt to come out of the full-auto mode -- or the paddle shifting. (My run was eight laps; you can pay more for eight instead of six, and yet more still for 10 laps instead of eight.)

Of course, $419 is a lot of money to pay for five minutes in a Ferrari, and after having been a part of this, I feel like 10 minutes would be more fair for that kind of dough. Then again, I'm not a super-fanatical supercar enthusiast, and I also am not the one who has to pay to maintain and service cars that probably cost a fortune to maintain and service.

But it's an undeniable rush to be in control of something that can go from 0-60 mph in 3.2 seconds. The responsiveness of the steering, braking and acceleration is jaw-dropping. Only a tiny fraction of people on the planet will ever get to drive these cars, and most of them have Swiss bank accounts. Even if you've got the financial credentials to test-drive one at a dealership, no salesman who wants to keep their job will let you operate the automobile the way these folks will.

In the end, the type of person who buys the Exotic Driving Experience, says chief marketing officer Mike Bartelli, "is an aspirationalist. ... These are guys who wished they could own these cars (about 80 percent of EDE's clientele is male). But the reality is, they're expensive cars, right? And so this is an opportunity to do something that would typically not be available or accessible, at a reasonable price point, and then it becomes something they can tell everybody about. They can tell their friends about it. 'I drove a Ferrari on a racetrack.' ... That's what this is about."

For reservations or more information about dates and times, call (855) 822-0149 or visit All cars may not be available on all dates.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Brooklyn Decker lands CBS sitcom pilot

Brooklyn Decker has been priming herself for sitcom work over the past few months, with multiple appearances on FX's "The League" in December and a guest spot on Fox's "New Girl" last month.

Now, if things go well, she might get her own series.

Deadline is reporting that the Matthews native is set to star in a CBS comedy pilot that "revolves around six 30-something friends who each think the other has it better." Decker, who turns 26 next month, will play Jules, "a former model who was discovered in a mall when she was 13."

The show is created by former "Friends" producer/writer Dana Klein and Aaron Kaplan, who was an executive producer on Fox's short-lived "Terra Nova"; the pilot will be directed by James Burrows ("Will & Grace," "Taxi," Mike & Molly," "Frazier"). It does sound a bit derivative of "Friends," and even bears the awkward title "Friends With Better Lives"... but Decker has a strong fan base and a decent co-star ("Don't Trust the B's" James Van Der Beek).

One thing's for sure: The role won't be a huge stretch for Decker. She was discovered in a Charlotte shopping mall as a teenager, and -- of course -- went on to become one of the more famous Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue cover girls of all-time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Charlotte native finishes 2nd in 'Jeopardy!' finals

Keith Whitener, 29, of Charlotte, claimed second place and $100,000 in the Jeopardy! Tournament of Champions episode on Tuesday night.

The Myers Park High School and UNC Chapel Hill grad, one of the top 15 winners ever on the show, was runner-up to Colby Burnett, a history teacher from Chicago who won the $250,000 grand prize. Kristin Morgan, a strategic analyst at NASA Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., finished third and took home $50,000.

“I honestly couldn’t believe I had made it [to the final game],” said Whitener, a research chemist, in a press release. “It was really amazing. Just making it to the final was honor enough for me.”

“During the regular season run, there were a few days where I was basically on autopilot, and I wasn’t really worried about how I would perform," he said. "The Tournament of Champions is a completely different animal; the pace was just so demanding.”

Whitener won $147,597 in his initial run on "Jeopardy!"; he hasn’t decided yet what he will do with his winnings.

“It’s a heck of a lot of money. My wife and I may eventually use it toward a house,” Whitener said. “We’re sitting on a little bit of it in case an interesting investment opportunity presents itself, or if I want to strike off on my own after my fellowship at the Naval Research Lab is done.”

Bill Maher slams Trump, Catholics, 'Django Unchained'


Bill Maher has hung onto his job hosting HBO talk show “Real Time” for 10 years now, despite his penchant for politically incorrect comments that would require most public figures to turn their publicists into human shields.

But he knows that at some point, his bosses at HBO could tap him on the shoulder and put him out to pasture.

“They did it to Johnny Carson when he was 67, and he was still the biggest star in television almost … certainly in late-night,” says Maher, 57. “The grim reaper waits for no man, television-wise.”

So he continues to hit the road with his smug, snarky brand of political comedy: This winter, his weekly schedule typically has included the hourlong show aired live on Fridays from a studio in Los Angeles, followed by Saturday and Sunday shows in various U.S. cities. This Sunday night, he performs at Charlotte’s Belk Theater. (Details:

“Stand-up,” Maher says, “you can do till you’re 100. George Burns was booked at the Palladium when he was 100, and he damn almost made it.”

Maher spoke to the Observer recently about Donald Trump, who is suing Maher for $5 million over a joke he made about Trump being descended from an orangutan; President Obama, who Maher calls “Django Unchained”; and the real “Django Unchained” – a movie he found almost as disturbing as Trump.

Q. Is it hard to switch gears like that between doing the TV show and then doing your stand-up act?

No, because they actually feed each other. I love going out into the country because I feel like I take it back to L.A. and have a sense of America that I wouldn’t have otherwise, so I’m not just talking about it from an ivory tower. And I’m very fortunate in the type of material I do, being political, I’m always being given a fresh batch of fun material to work with. I feel sorry for these observational comedians who sit there at a diner looking at the ketchup bottle, thinking, “F---, I’ve gotta come up with a joke about this. What is funny about a ketchup bottle?” And then you finally come up with something and they tell you, “Oh no, George Carlin observed that in 1974.” But … especially with these Republicans, I’ve got funny stuff every week.

Q. And with Trump, right?

Trump! Everywhere I go now, that’s the first thing the crowd yells out. “Trump!”

Q. So have you been really busy fretting about his lawsuit against you?

Oh my God, when this thing goes to the Supreme Court, let me tell you. Ahh, no I don’t know what to tell you about this man. Like I told Conan last week, it’s as if they made Lenny from “Of Mice and Men” a billionaire. … It’s insane. I don’t think he’s even a person. It’s like some sort of ’80s pop reference that I’m having a feud with. It’s like J.R. Ewing and I are fighting.

Q. He was actually in Charlotte earlier this month and was talking up the golf club he bought in Mooresville, which isn’t far from here. Maybe you can check out the course when you’re in town.

I’m not a golfer, but I know that one of his hobbies in life is ruining coastlines, like that thing he had in Scotland, remember that? But yeah, if that keeps him off the streets, fine.

Q. I take you have no interest in ever being on “The Celebrity Apprentice”?

Or any other reality show.

Q. Your thoughts on Obama at the beginning of his second term?

It seems like the ball really is in Obama’s court now. After the State of the Union … and this being his second term, people are wondering what’s he gonna do – I keep calling him “Django Unchained” for the second term – and the Republicans are really … coming across … to the American public as just sulking, just pissed off, reacting out of personal grudge as opposed to what’s best for the country. And we’ll see. I think Obama had a very important lesson to learn in the first term, which is that yeah, it was right to reach out to people … and he certainly did reach out, you cannot blame the guy for not trying. But all he got was the back of their hand and “Go back to Kenya, you f------ Socialist.” So it just seems like he’s taking a different tack now, which is basically to take it to the people and embarrass the Republicans into doing something.

Q. Earlier this month, you made headlines after airing an editorial on “Real Time” that skewered the Pope’s resignation and Catholics in general. There was one story I found that was basically just a transcript of the monologue, and there were 361 comments on it.

Oh really? All positive, I’m guessing?
Q. Absolutely. Why do you think people get so fired up about religion?

Well, because for so many people, it’s what they cling to. Remember what Obama said, “they cling to their guns and their religion”? And with some people, I understand that, I said that in my movie “Religulous,” that if you’re in prison, and you say, “All I got in here is Jesus,” I get that. But for a lot of people, I don’t think it’s really that necessary. It’s yes, frightening when the light goes out at night to think that you may not wake up and if you don’t you’re just worm food, but come on. It’s attached to too much bull----. There’s too big a price to pay for that, and obviously, the point we were trying to make in that editorial, was that … Catholics don’t really follow anything the Pope says anyway. Ninety-eight percent of Catholics use birth control – that’s quite a blowing-off of church doctrine. … They masturbate and they divorce and they have pre-marital sex. OK, so if you’re not really following what the Pope and the Church says anyway, and the Church has been shown to be a safe haven for child molesters, what are you sticking around for. If he quits, you can quit.

Q. Let’s talk about the South. Your views of it?

I play the South so much. I love the South. In the old days, I loved it because it was always more fun to go out after the show. Now that I’m old, I don’t really go out after the show, so that’s out of the question, but yes, it was always more fun to go out in Charlotte or Houston than it was in Boston or even San Francisco is not much of a party town. The South knows how to have fun. But beyond that, I love playing the South. … (Audiences) are pretty much the same all over, people who come to see you and pay money to see you generally are your fans. They generally want you to do well, and then you really want to do well for them. But there is just a little extra bit of love and enthusiasm when I play red states, because first of all I think they expect me not to come there, they expect me to have written off that state as a bunch of rednecks. … What I’ve found is that everywhere, (even in) the reddest of the red states … there are always two or three thousand liberal, progressive, very often Atheistic-thinking people even in places like Alabama. They just are marbled into the woodwork. But they come out when I come out when I come to their town, and so it’s sort of I think a release to be in a room with all people who think like you when you thought maybe you were the only one in town. So there is a really special feeling in places like that. Now, Charlotte is a big, sophisticated city so I’m sure these people are aware that there are people like them. But maybe not so much in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Maybe not so much in Huntsville, Alabama. But … I just think that in general, the feeling in the South is just different. It’s just more laid-back. It’s more friendly. I’m not saying it’s exactly Mayberry if you walk down the street, but there’s more humanity, as opposed to that “don’t look at each other, don’t make eye contact” that you find in Northern, colder cities.

Q. Lastly, since it’s Oscar week, let’s talk about movies. Did you see “Argo” (which won Best Picture Sunday)?

“Argo” – loved it. Great entertainment.

Q. How about “Lincoln”?

Loved “Lincoln.” Loved it, and I saw that and then I saw “Django Unchained” about a week later and I noticed that because they’re up against each other in the same year and they both happen to be talking about similar subject matter, right, it’s about slavery and that whole era … they’re compared to each other. … I had real problems with (“Django”) as far as going from low comedy – like that scene where they can’t see out of their klansmen outfits, it’s right out of “Blazing Saddles” – to go from a scene where Kerry Washington is whipped to that scene, I just couldn’t make that adjustment. I guess some people can, but I couldn’t go back to laughing after I saw her whipped, or the two slaves’ fight to the death in the living room. This I found was very disturbing. And for Steven Spielberg to be able to do a movie about not the dramatic stuff that we think about with Lincoln – (no) battle scenes … just the procedural movement of legislation – and still make over $100 million, I think is an amazing achievement. I just think he is widely perceived as the greatest director, and he’s still underrated.

Q. “Zero Dark Thirty”?

I wasn’t all that entertained. It was OK, but it was a little too documentary-like, and yeah, I didn’t know what all the fuss was about, quite frankly. I liked her other one, “The Hurt Locker,” a lot more. … As far as that whole controversy about the torture, I thought it was bull---- for the movie to present the capture of bin Laden as dependent on that torture because the experts seem to disagree.

Q. And last one – I’m particularly curious, since it has religious themes – did you see “Life of Pi”?

No, I have not seen “Life of Pi.” I have stayed away on purpose. I like Ang Lee a lot and I think he’s a great director, and I’ve really enjoyed a lot of his movies – “The Ice Storm” and “Brokeback Mountain” – but I know people who’ve seen it and they’ve told me, “Bill, you’re probably not gonna want to go see this one.”

Monday, February 25, 2013

Mike Tyson show at Ovens canceled

Tattoo a frown on your face, Iron Mike fans: Mike Tyson’s one-man show, “Undisputed Truth” -- originally scheduled for April 21 at Ovens Auditorium -- has been canceled.

Weak ticket sales seem to be the culprit.

Said producer James L. Nederlander: "I am huge supporter of Mike and this compelling show. Unfortunately tickets sales in certain markets did not support the scope of the tour originally planned, and we've pulled back in a few markets. The tour is still traveling to numerous cities. Mike has been the consummate professional, and I'm proud to bring Mike's talent and story around the country.”

The Champ himself put an even greater spin on the situation:

"Due to circumstances beyond my control," Tyson said, "certain cities on my ‘Undisputed Truth’ tour have been canceled. I am so appreciative of my fans and all of my supporters. I sincerely apologize to anyone that was inconvenienced by these cancelations. I was looking forward to doing a great show for you and hope at a later date that I am still able to do so."

Refunds are available at point-of-purchase locations.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Opera Carolina’s 'Magic Flute' an 'art'-ful classic

Jun Kaneko designed the sets and the costumes for Opera Carolina’s new production of Mozart’s “The Magic Flute,” but the Japanese native is much better known as a sculptor and painter whose works grace art galleries all over the world.

It’s no wonder, then, that the show – which opened Saturday to a sold-out Belk Theater crowd – begins with a video-projected feast for the eyes: shimmery blue lines; followed by a sequence of interconnecting, zagging, crawling lines that play like a giant, colorful Etch-a-Sketch; followed by a montage of pop-art.

Seven minutes later, you’re properly enchanted. And that 32-foot, two-headed serpent hasn’t even begun to hassle our hero Tamino yet.

Mozart’s music and Emanuel Schikaneder’s narrative remain intact in the Charlotte company’s collaboration with Washington National Opera, Opera Omaha, Lyric Opera of Kansas City and San Francisco Opera, where it debuted last summer.

The tale of the earnest young prince who is given a magic flute and goes looking for love and enlightenment still features his goofy bird-catching sidekick Papageno, his fair princess-to-be (hopefully) Pamina, and the mysterious Queen of the Night. Tamino must still undergo trials of wisdom to prove himself a worthy husband. Papageno must still find his way to his Papagena.

But as refreshed by Kaneko (also the man behind last winter’s “Madama Butterfly” reboot for Opera Carolina), the look and feel of this particular “Magic Flute” seems to have borrowed inspiration from a dozen Tim Burton movies, as well as from that drawing app your toddler uses on the iPad.

Every morsel of imagery delights, or stimulates, or seems to give a pop-cultural wink.

There’s something decidedly Spider-Man-like about Papageno’s (Kyle Pfortmiller) bodysuit. If you don’t look at sleazy Monostatos (Julius Ahn) and think Gene Simmons in Kiss makeup, you weren’t a child of the ’70s (or ’80s, or ’90s). And do we detect a little Bride of Frankenstein thing going on there with the Queen (Maria Aleida)?

You might be reminded of different things than I was, but that’s just a testament to how imaginative and evocative Kaneko’s work is.

The fact that “Magic Flute” is 100 percent in English makes this an ideal introduction to opera for all ages, and supertitles help during musical passages (though they did seem to drop out in two or three instances Saturday). However, it’s still nearly three hours long with intermission, so the experience will test younger children’s patience. The staging and costumes may be visually exciting, but the pacing is not exactly zippy.

As for the arias and other vocal arrangements, tenor Shawn Mathey (as Tamino), Korean soprano Yunah Lee (as Pamina), and bass-baritone Tom McNichols (as Sarastro, leader of the temple that’s holding Pamina) all sound strong and confident (though McNichols can be a bit more difficult to understand than the others). Meanwhile, Cuban-American Maria Aleida astonishes as the Queen – as any soprano playing the Queen should; her first and last arias, with their runs and leaps, would leave Mariah Carey stupefied.

The real star, of course, is Papageno. It’s a showy character, the adventure’s comic relief, and Pfortmiller is perfect – bright, quick, flexible, funny. Anyone who gets to slip in a joke about The Clapper in a 222-year-old opera while most of the rest of the cast is always so serious will be an instant fan favorite.

Still, one person got a larger ovation during the curtain call Saturday. That’d be Kaneko. Thanks to him, Opera Carolina’s latest is a true work of art.

There are two more upcoming performances of ‘The Magic Flute’: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 24, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27, at Belk Theater, 130 N. Tryon St. $15-$140. 172 minutes, including a 22-minute intermission. In English, with English subtitles. 704-372-1000;

Monday, January 14, 2013

Charlotte native's ad could be Super Bowl-bound

Providence High School grad Mark Freiburger, now a Hollywood filmmaker, has created a Doritos commercial that could air during the Super Bowl.

According to a press release, Freiburger, 29, has always wanted to make family films and that was the inspiration behind his ad “Fashionista Daddy.” Click here to view the ad.

Selected out of thousands of entrants, Freiburger and the four other finalists will compete for the chance to have their ads air during the Super Bowl XLVII on Feb. 3 on CBS. Two ads will air -- one selected by America’s votes and one by the Doritos brand team. The finalist whose ad scores highest on the USA TODAY Ad Meter rankings will get to work with director Michael Bay on the next installment of the “Transformers” movie franchise, along with a shot at a $1 million bonus.

People can vote for their favorite commercial on the "Doritos Crash the Super Bowl"-branded app on the Doritos Facebook Page ( and/or on the Facebook mobile app through Jan. 29.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

'Banshee' star relishes sexy role

Ivana Miličević has been doing film and TV work for 17 years, but her role on Season 1 of "Banshee" -- which premieres on Cinemax at 10 p.m. Friday -- marks a couple of firsts for the Bosnian-born actress.

It's the first time she's been the female lead on a TV series, and it was her first time in North Carolina, which is where all 10 episodes of the series were shot last year.

In "Banshee," Miličević plays a former thief who has been leading a quietly domestic life in Banshee, Pa., under a false cover for years. Her husband-and-two-kids existence is idyllic ... until her old partner-in-crime/lover (Antony Starr) comes back into her life, having stolen the identity of her small town's new sheriff.

Miličević is hardly a household name, but you've probably seen her on-screen before. She's a former Bond girl ("Casino Royale"), and famously appeared opposite Will Smith in 1998's "Enemy of the State" (as an amused salesgirl in a lingerie shop). She also played an American hottie in the British-based Christmas rom-com "Love Actually."

But she calls Carrie the role of a lifetime for her.

"I just love this part," Miličević says. "It’s very lucky and ... it’s rare for a female character to be written so well, and so emotional, and so in love, and so torn, and so tough, and so sexual."

"I loved the script. ... When I read it, it read very pulpy, and I was like, 'Wow, this is so kind Quentin Tarantino-ey in a way, like Coen Brother-ey, and funny in its heightened reality, but so emotional, because I really can feel this love story. So first and foremost, probably the love story drew me in. Second of all ... look at what I get to play. I get to fight. I get to train. I get to love. I get to be sexy. I mean, if not now, when?"

She also loved North Carolina.

"I’m from Michigan, so some bits of it reminded me of Michigan. Especially in the summer. When I got there, I noticed all the wild blackberry bushes everywhere. So I couldn’t wait for those to ripen. And I was really looking forward to the fireflies."

She also didn't mind that it was one of the hottest years on record.

"I loved the weather. I loved it when it got hot. I was just like, 'Come on, bring it.' ... In L.A., it’s never too cold. It gets a little hot for a little bit. But I’m talkin’ some good old-fashioned humidity. I could handle it. I was like, 'Bring it.' I loved it."

Oh, and "Banshee" marked one other key first for Miličević: It was the first time she'd ever taken her clothes off for a role.

"I've never wanted to. I've never been inspired to. But for this, I was," says Miličević, 38. "I was like, 'Oh, for this, it needs to be done, and it needs to be done well. It needs to not be done with a sheet wrapped around me; it needs to be done like a husband and wife do it. ... I just kind of wanted it to be natural. And I don't really find them gratuitous because ... it's part of the story."

In the series pilot airing Friday night, things get hot and heavy between Miličević and on-screen husband Rus Blackwell -- although her character, Carrie, actually has former flame Lucas (Starr) on the brain.

And yeah, believe it or not, there's character development going on here.

"I was telling my family, they were like, 'Oh, we just won’t watch (the sex scene).' But I said, 'No, you kind of have to, because there’s story points in it. It’s not just there to be there, like, 'Hey, let’s take a moment and get turned on.' "

For more on "Banshee," check out this story.