-- Lisa Rosen
FOR THE RECORD:
Amy Morton: An article about actress Amy Morton in Wednesday's Envelope section gave her "Up in the Air" character name as Diane. Her character was Kara. —
-- Lisa Rosen
'A Serious Man'
In Joel and Ethan Coen's "A Serious Man," Larry Gopnik (Michael Stuhlbarg) is beset on all sides by trouble. Make that almost all sides. When working up on his roof, he spies his lovely neighbor Mrs. Samsky sunbathing in the nude, and the look on his face is wondrous.
In a couple of subsequent scenes with the strange, stoned marvel that is Mrs. Samsky, played by Amy Landecker, the audience becomes as mesmerized and confused as he is.
An accomplished stage actress, first in Chicago and now New York, Landecker is accustomed to analyzing texts and insists that everything she needed was in the Coens' script. "They described her as barely audible, with these really uncomfortable pauses. Those are clues to how she maneuvers herself." Add the '60s, drugs and an absent husband, and Landecker came out swinging.
The Coens clearly love their smaller roles. "I certainly never felt like I was marginal," she explains. "They had me at the read-through; I had rehearsal even. I felt incredibly included." The highest compliment she's received for her performance was a comparison to John Turturro's turn in the brothers' cult classic "The Big Lebowski," another bizarre, indelible character in the Coen canon.
As for Stuhlbarg's rooftop revelation, Landecker laughs. She had been terrified about doing a nude scene, but by the time she was coated in body makeup, "I honestly didn't feel naked, and all of a sudden I had this weird ballsiness about me," she notes. So even though they were shooting Stuhlbarg first, and didn't need her to be naked offscreen, "I was like, 'I'm going to give him the goods so you can get a reaction.' "
Now that's a generous actress.
'Up in the Air'
'Up in the Air" centers on Ryan Bingham and his peripatetic lifestyle. But he lands in uncomfortable territory when he goes home for his younger sister's wedding. His other sister Diane, played by Amy Morton, seethes with a combination of frustration and love for her absentee brother. And in just a few scenes, she holds her own against the ultimate leading man. It wasn't easy. "He's George Clooney, for God's sakes," Morton declares. "And he's just as beautiful in person as on screen." Coupled with the fact that she hadn't acted in a film in years, she says that on her first day on set, "I was so nervous I almost wanted to quit."
Morton, a theater veteran, lives and works in Chicago. She earned a Tony nomination as Barbara in the Steppenwolf Theatre Company's production of "August: Osage County." The performance also earned her a fan in director Jason Reitman, who asked to meet her. "He said, 'I've been stuck writing this character, I was coming up against a brick wall, and then I saw this play and saw you in the role, and I knew how to write her. So would you like to do it?' And I was like, "Well, yes!' Everyone should get a job this way. It was unheard of."
For all her theatrical background, one might expect an extensive preparation for the role. One would be mistaken. Her scenes were set in the Midwest, familiar ground for the actress. "I'm extremely Midwestern, you couldn't get that out of me if you tried," she says. "I knew this family; it was very familiar to me. This woman was very familiar. I didn't do anything other than memorize the lines."
' Inglourious Basterds'
As "Basterds" opens, a farmer chops wood in front of his homestead, when he sees a motorcade come up the road. A Nazi named Col. Hans Landa begins questioning the farmer, with surgical precision, as to the whereabouts of a neighboring Jewish family. As Landa, Christoph Waltz has received numerous well-deserved accolades, but it is this first scene that establishes his terrifying power, and it is his first scene partner, Denis Menochet, who provides a tragic mouse to his cat. Menochet says little, but his eyes convey a mix of emotions that ratchet the scene's tension ever higher: fear, caution, anger and despair. "Quentin told me, 'You got the part because of your silence,' " Menochet says by phone from Paris.