Film Interview: John Wells – The Company Men (The Weinstein Company)

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by Lucas Pops

The Company Men's Chris Cooper, Tommy Lee Jones, writer/director John Wells, Ben Affleck and Rosemarie DeWitt

After a long career in television, John Wells makes his directorial debut with the sign of the times film The Company Men, for which he was also the screenwriter. His producing credentials include such hit shows as ER, The West Wing, Third Watch, Southland, and the newest sensation, Shameless. He has also produced the critically acclaimed films One Hour Photo, White Oleander, Party Monster, Camp and The Notorious Betty Page.

Kevin Costner and Ben Affleck star in The Company Men

Read Lucas Pops’ review of The Company Men HERE

Lucas Pops: You’ve done a lot in both television and film. Is there one in particular form you like better?

John Wells: There’s different things about them and a lot of things that are similar about doing television and film. I’ve produced a lot of smaller films and obviously I’ve produced a lot of television. The biggest difference between them is, in television, things happen much faster. This film (The Company Men) we made a year and a half ago and took it to Sundance a year ago and now it’s being released. Where as I have, during the time that we worked on an individual screenplay; I have sold a television show, written the television show, produced the pilot, done the series, and had it canceled, and we’re still doing notes on the screenplay so there’s very much a different pace in the television world.

Kevin Costner, writer/director John Wells and Craig T. Nelson of The Company Men

I noticed in the film how you showed the differences between white collar and blue collar workers. Do you have a personal relationship with that?

John Wells: Yeah. I mean I came up in a middle class family. My father was a minister and my mother was a school teacher. But we built all the houses we grew up in. We didn’t sweat equities. We didn’t have a lot of money. So I was a carpenter and got into the entertainment business as a carpenter. Somebody asked me in junior high school if I would build some sets for the talent show because I had a hammer. And worked my way through after USC graduate school and then went six years trying to sell my first screenplay and television stuff. And during that time worked as a carpenter. It was a good job to have if you wanted to be able to write in the evening. I’d go to work at six thirty come home by three thirty.

So you definitely identify with Kevin Costner’s character.

John Wells: Yeah, you know Kevin was also a carpenter when he was first pursuing his acting career. Personally I think that good solid manual labor is an excellent training ground particularly for anyone in college because it clarifies why you want to be in college and not spend your life doing that. Although the people that are really good at it, the craftsmen, are people I really greatly admire.

You have several Academy Award winners in the cast.

John Wells: Yeah and some of them (won) as directors too. For some reason it hadn’t occurred to me and then on the second to first day of shooting, Roger Deakins, the wonderful director of photography who shot the film, said ‘You have all these directors in the film’ It hadn’t occurred to me. But they were all great about it. Because they were all like ‘Nah, that’s too much work. They’re not paying me to direct, they’re paying me to act’.

You already anticipated my question with that. They weren’t coming in with any suggestions?

John Wells: You know, working with other actors who are also directors has some tremendous advantages. Because it’s difficult for some actors, but not all actors, to step back from what they’re doing and see what the larger issues are that the director has to deal with. They’re so focused on the emotional experience that they have to bring to the screen, that they cannot be aware of all the other things, the world around them, in the production. When you have someone who’s also directed, they’re very conscious of what your problems are. And that’s a good thing.

George Clooney in ER

I have to ask. What was it like during the casting of ER?

John Wells: In the very beginning?

Yeah.

John Wells: Yeah, I cast everybody.

What was that like?

John Wells: It was like every other casting, where you’re just seeing lots and lots of actors and you’re looking for the best possible actors for the role. The only person who kind of ended up being vaguely pre-cast was George Clooney. And I knew him from around the lot. He’d been at Warner Bros. for awhile, doing a lot of pilots. He got a hold of the script and called me up and said ‘I wanna do this part’. And it ended up being a real problem because they had built a show at CBS that they wanted to make around him.  It was sort of a two detectives on motorcycles or something. That was the thing they were going to make it and he was sort of central to getting it made. And the Ross character was sort of a smaller character. So Warner really wanted him to do the other one, because it was a more likely and lucrative piece. But George insisted on coming in and reading for this and for ER. And he was terrific in the room and we said we want to hire him. And then he fought the fight to get himself out of the other one so he would be able to do ER.

Official The Company Men Website

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