The dangers of over-acting in a project
By Valerie Milano
Pasadena, CA (Hollywood Today) 1/10/14 – IFC premiered its new comedy min-series Spoils Of Babylon on Thursday night January 9th
Spoils of Babylon is a throwback to the golden-plated age of the bloated mini-series of the late 70’s and early 80’s; a genre that has since evolved into respectability. But, in the days of yore it was neither fish nor fowl. The mini-series was appointment television that failed to scale the heights of epic theatrical filmmaking while at the same time aspiring to the lofty heights of epic theatrical filmmaking. Usually, the source material was the bestselling novels of the day, or fact based melodrama (Roots, The Thorn Birds, Shogun). The epic mini-series was a kissing cousin to the not-so-epic prime time soap operas Dallas and Falcon’s Crest. All the aforementioned food groups are gleefully composted by the creators of Spoils of Babylon to sporadically hilarious effect.
The show opens with an over earnest preamble by a bearded, bloated and boozing Will Ferrell portraying the fictitious author (Eric Jonrosh), creator of the equally fictitious novel Spoils Of Babylon. He pontificates on the brilliance of his masterwork in a manner that suggests Orson Wells channeled by James Lipton. It’s a great set-up and it’s refreshing to see Ferrell dial back the volume of his formidable comedic skills.
Toby Maguire plays Devon Morehouse, the adopted son of oil tycoon Jonas Morehouse (Tim Robbins). Maguire is a nuanced comic actor who seems to relish the chance to act outside the box a bit. Robbins is pitch-perfect as the blustering patriarch of the Morehouse clan, but is barely recognizable for his first ninety seconds of screen time. My… how time has flown since Shawshank Redemption.
The cast is rounded out by Kristen Wiig who plays Robbins’ lusty, dimwitted daughter Cynthia Morehouse. Cynthia is Devon’s adopted sister and forbidden love interest. The plotline is arch and boilerplate by design and only exists to serve the “throw it at the wall and see if it sticks” comedic set pieces that come fast and furious. There is some nuanced writing and dialogue buried in the mix if one cares to take notice. Scenes that fall flat are redeemed by nuggets of comedy gold that unapologetically pilfers ideas from disparate sources ranging from the stop- action satire of Air America to the laugh-a-second acrobatics of Naked Gun and Airplane.
Never has so much tender loving care been lavished on a production for the purpose of making it look so cheesy. Spoils of Babylon skates the thin line between homage and parody admirably. But, one wonders what Maguire’s Spiderman fan base makes of all the ironic lunacy.
If nothing else, Spoils of Babylon has succeeded in its noble mission to enshrine a kitschy and nostalgic era in television history. Spoils of Babylon gives the viewer style over substance with boundless enthusiasm……and the occasional belly laugh.
Hollywood Today and other journalists at the Langham Hotel had an opportunity to speak with cast members this week – Kristen Wiig, Tobey Maguire, Haley Joel Osment, and creators Matt Piedmont and Andrew Steele.
Star Tobey Maguire spoke about the stigma that a successful movie star traditionally faces when they make the decision to work in the television medium: TOBEY MAGUIRE, “I don’t know. The way it actually works for me is, you know, I get a script. I read it. I go, “That looks like it would be fun.” I talk to the guy who is going to talk to me every day and that I gotta collaborate with and see if we get along and I can buy into his vision. You know, how things are delivered to an audience, I think, is it’s certainly an interesting thing for me to watch that evolve, and I’m curious about that, but I don’t really mind the kind of delivery system for something. If it’s something I want to do, I’m excited about the script, the people, that sort of thing, I don’t really consider that that much.”
Creator Andrew Steele shed some light on Will Ferrell’s involvement in the project: ANDREW STEELE, “We wrote specific roles for Will. I mean, yes, I mean, Will’s a friend of ours and probably if he wanted another role, he could have maybe fought for it. He’s first in line, I would say. But, no, we had from the beginning we had the idea that he would play the author and then the author was just so bold enough to pretend that he could act and play a character in it for a second.”
Creator Andrew Steele and Babylon’s villain, actor Haley Joel Osment talked about the dangers of over-acting in a project that is both farce and melodrama: ANDREW STEELE,” We love that line the most. And I love that question because, you know, we’re not sure we did find the line. So we’ll leave that up to the people out there. But we definitely like that. We’ve been in comedy for 20 years, and so I see both Matt and I pulling back further away from more obvious jokes to so, yeah, we played it pretty straight.” HALEY JOEL OSMENT, “I’ve always felt very lucky that the directors that I worked with as a kid never, you know, used tricks or tried to, you know, sort of goose a performance out of, you know, a “young actor” is a strange word to use. But yeah, I think there’s a there’s a thing in film acting particularly where you are cautious of overacting and cautious of going too far over that line. And sometimes that makes you I’ve noticed things that tendencies that I have where you can sort of play it safe. And something like this or doing theater is a great exercise of sort of taking the lid off and not being afraid to cross that line that we’ve been talking about today. It just sort of makes you a more adventurous performer. So these opportunities are good for that.”