MiserableBy Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First off, the interview, which, to go even by local reaction, was quite miserable. Friends drew my attention to it last week saying, it had become the talk of the town, or of blogosphere, it had appeared in YouTube and gone viral. That was Ricky Lo’s interview with Anne Hathaway.
I watched it, and had pretty much the same reaction as most Filipino viewers. As pretty much everyone knows by now, that interview didn’t go very well, Hathaway sounding a little putoff down the road. Though to her credit, she remained polite and smiling throughout while answering some of the questions with bite. My heart went out to Lo who looked completely lost at one point wondering what had gone wrong.
It’s not hard to see, and even appreciate, what he was trying to do, which was to relate his interview to a Filipino audience. But there are ways of doing it without sounding intrusive, or superficial, or “Pinoy show biz.” Some of Lo’s questions could have elicited less than zinger responses if they had been phrased in a different way, or given better contexts.
For example, the question about weight loss. You put it in terms of, “How did you lose the 25 lb and how did you get it back?” you’ll get the answer, “I’d rather not talk about weight loss please.” But you put it in the context of American actors going to extremes to lose or add weight to do a role—Robert de Niro putting on all those pounds in “Raging Bull” and Christian Bale and recently Matthew McConaughey becoming emaciated to act out a sleep-deprived and AIDS-ravaged person respectively—you’ll get a different answer. Same concern, but the second is a question about professionalism, the first only about vanity.
Again, you ask the question, “Have you ever experienced (what it is) to be hungry, to be poor?” you’ll get the answer, “That’s very personal.” A bit earlier, Hathaway was just talking about the lengths she went to to learn about her character, researching what it meant to be poor in early 19th-century France, and indeed what it meant to be a sex slave at the time. You want to pursue the idea you can always suggest that surely research only goes so far, does the subject have any personal experience to draw from to identify with her character? The second is a question about acting process, the first is, well, just personal.
Still again, you ask, “Do you have any special message for Lea?” you’ll get the answer, “We’ve already talked about that.” Because indeed they already had. The first time Lo brought it up, Hathaway enthused over Lea suggesting there was no comparison. Lea was the real singer, she had one of the best voices in the world, while she (Hathaway) was just an actress trying to sing. You bring that up a second time, you’re wearing your hospitality thin. You want Lea, you interview Lea. There’s really no other way you can rephrase the question or contextualize it without sounding like you were rubbing in the comparison.
I thoroughly loved Lea’s own take on things, writing from the perspective of the interviewee. She has great advice for interviewers, which is for them to do their homework. The advice takes on special urgency when the interviewee is someone of note and if the interview is being videoed. Part of the homework, or preparation, I would imagine, is learning about differences in cultures, differences in sensibilities, differences in ways of thinking.
Or else you’ll end up miserable.
* * *
I enjoyed the movie thoroughly and am amused by the snobbery of comparing it to the stage versions and finding it wanting. I’ve seen “Les Miz” a couple of times abroad, and I have both the 10th anniversary and 25th anniversary performances, and I can say with much conviction that this is as best as they come. I guess you can always make comparisons between stage and movie if you want to, but you should also be aware of the differences in medium.
Nothing shows it more than Hathaway’s version of “I Dreamed A Dream”—Lo is right to praise Hathaway for it, it’s brilliant. That is a despairing song, and Hathaway sings it profoundly despairingly. Hers is easily one of its best interpretations. But it wouldn’t have been so if it had been sung that way on the stage. Not least because it wouldn’t have been heard—all those emotional nuances wouldn’t have gotten through. That’s where you appreciate Hathaway’s statement that she’s just an actress trying to sing. That’s not naturally a disadvantage—in a movie, that can be a perfect advantage.
I’ll leave the rest to the potential viewer. I’ll just say here that I’ve always wondered why “Les Miz” has not been translated into Filipino. I’ve suggested it to some people actually, that story is a melodrama (like opera by the way) which could be dear to a Filipino’s heart. Not quite incidentally, you should watch the movie with a couple of handkerchiefs or a box of napkins as you’d be hard-hearted not to be tearful at many moments there. Additionally, the story line does have humongous parallels with our own situation, with our vast divide between rich and poor, with the utter miserableness of our poor, with our student activists/revolutionaries filled with high ideals who once tried to do something about it and perished in the effort. I myself shed a tear or two at “Empty Chairs and Empty Tables.”
The theater was fairly full when I watched it, a bit surprising for a musical. Star power might have done the trick. But not being blessed with a sunny disposition, I left wondering if the wet-faced crowd recognized what they saw in film with what they see in real life. I remembered specifically Tolstoy’s story about an aristocratic lady who wept as she felt for the character in a tragedy while her coachman waited outside freezing in the cold.
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