Izumi Hasegawa: What reached out to you when you read the script about this film?
Tim Robbins: I was really moved by the script. I thought it was funny. It had a real level of humanity in it. It told a story about something that should be relevant to all of us — what it is to come home after serving one’s country and the obstacles that our veterans face — and it told it in a way that was accessible and amusing at times, and so it’s the kind of story I wanted to be involved in. I’ve gotten a lot of scripts, the last few years — scripts about Iraq, and they’re good scripts; it’s just I feel like the time right now is a time for healing and a time for illuminating the challenges that face so many of our fellow citizens.
IH: Can you talk about working with Michael (Peña) and Rachel (McAdams), and how you built camaraderie up?
TR: It was real easy. These are two really great actors and I felt, from the start, all three of us were open to each other and generous with each other. We had to be because we were going to be stuck in a car for seven weeks. So we went out to dinner a lot, and I became kind of this social director of these two youngsters. [Laughs] I was surprised how much time they wanted to spend in their hotel rooms. I had to get them out and about. We were in Chicago and St. Louis — two great places to go hear music, and so we did a lot of that.
IH: What kind of music did you go see?
TR: Well, the blues mostly, in Chicago and St. Louis, but we also saw Arcade Fire and we saw Elvis Costello.
IH: How was it for you shooting — six-foot-four-and-a-half, crammed in a car for seven weeks –how difficult was that?
TR: I’m alright in cars. I’ve got a Zen thing going. I don’t get uncomfortable, but I did tell them, way before we shot, “Make sure the car you get is [laughs] capable of a six-foot-five frame.”
IH: Do not get a Mini Cooper.
IH: I understand that, obviously, for the sound reasons, you can’t have air conditioning on when you’re driving and things like that — and going cross country, trekking…
TR: It was hot too.
IH: It was?
TR: Yeah, but I don’t sweat in those circumstances.
IH: You certainly weren’t sweating on screen.
TR: Well, I sweat when I play sports, but I don’t sweat when I act. [Laughs]
IH: These coming home movies and Iraq war movies have been tricky to sell to audiences — people just see it up on the news and they just tune out on that kind of thing.
TR: Well, this is the kind of thing we need your help with, because if it’s perceived as an Iraq war movie, I can see why people wouldn’t go see it, but I don’t think that’s what it is. It’s certainly not a war movie; it’s a road movie about three complete strangers that find their way towards each other in the course of five days. For me, that’s a very human story and it’s the kind of story that I think is a helpful kind of story, at this point, particularly to veterans. And so, if the lead on your articles is, “Will The Lucky Ones overcome the obstacles in its path?” chances are in reading that, I’ll think “No, I’m not going to go see that movie,” but it’s where you guys come in.
IH: Do you feel that this is sort of a war movie?
TR: I don’t know; that’s up for you to decide. That wasn’t my intention going in. I wanted to tell a story about some of the people that I’ve been talking to the last five years — what their stories are — and I was really impressed, when I read the script, that it reflected the personal experiences of veterans and family members of veterans that I’ve come to know over the past few years.
IH: Your character has been going back to the beginning. Did you speak to the veterans and talk about how they’re feeling about going back there?
TR: Well, I think you’ll find, when you talk to them, that there’s a certain percentage that won’t have anything to do with it, once they get home, and there’s a certain percentage that feel compelled to. One thing I heard quite a bit was a feeling that they wanted to be there for their brothers and sisters that they were serving with. They felt the need to be there for their fellow soldiers.
IH: You spent time with a reserve unit, right?
TR: Actually, the active Army.
IH: Oh, okay. What was that like?
TR: It was interesting. I observed some training exercises and sat in on some classes. I always find those kinds of experiences to be illuminating.
IH: What does your character find about himself during this journey?
TR: Probably some inner strength. I could relate to it as a parent. I think we all want to create a better set of circumstances for our children than we had. We all know that certain level of sacrifice in that, and one of the first things you learn as a parent is how the priorities change. You can’t really stress too much on yourself when you have the responsibility of raising children. So for me, when I read the end of the script, I was really moved by what he does. It’s quite a noble gesture and it is self-sacrifice. It is risking a lot to provide a better future for his child, and I just thought it was the kind of thing that so many people do, and it’s reflective of the nature of what it is to be a father.
IH: The character’s a little older than the other two, and I’m just wondering — it’s one thing for young people to sign up again or re-enlist, I guess. What do you think your character’s motivation is re-enlisting and having gone through continuing to re-enlist like that? I mean, is it just that has become his way of life?
TR: No, I just said it’s for his child. He’s doing it for his child.
IH: But I mean, before the college thing comes up, why is he in there to begin with?
TR: He’s a reservist in the National Guard. Like hundreds of thousands of working class people, part of his journey was involvement with the Army. And most probably, in the kind of situation he came from, it was to step in, to a certain extent, a level of commitment to his country and service of his country, but also probably provided him a leg up economically, where he had none, and the commitment with the reservist is that they’re in for a long period of time.
IH: ‘Cause he’s a little bit more established, well-to-do — he lives in a nice house and everything, so your character’s journey was actually very interesting to me.
TR: Well, it’s a pretty common journey. I mean, there are people that do serve their country and then go on to successful careers. I think it’s an accessible movie; it’s a movie that, when we were screening it, the people are loving it and laughing. Did you see it with an audience?
IH: No, just with press.
TR: See, I wish you could sit in on some of the responses because they’re pretty great. You know, rolling laughter through the whole thing...
IH: Well, I know — I’ve already talked to several people at various bases around the country — editors who are going to be running pieces of my interview with you later today, and a lot of them are looking forward to it. Military people are looking forward to seeing this.
TR: Good. Well, they love it. So far, the military people we’ve shown it to have been all over the moon about it.
IH: Your character’s wife divorced when he just survived and came back from the field.
TR: That’s pretty common. I mean, would you say so? That’s unfortunately very common. And that’s another thing, when I was reading the script, that really rang true for me.
IH: Why do things happen? It’s so shocking for me.
TR: It varies from individual to individual. Sometimes the relationships weren’t quite working before they left and it’s just exacerbated the problems. Sometimes the woman is not capable of the strength that one needs to not have that presence around. Sometimes the guy might be. I don’t know, it’s all kinds of different stories, like why does anybody break up? Well, this kind of situation is so much more tragic than if the people are actually there.
IH: But Cheever’s case is more that the wife loses her affection toward her husband…
TR: I think it’s probably that they were at a stage in their lives, being middle-aged, where something was gone in the relationship. And the fact that he was gone for two years made her realize something that she had been lacking in herself.
IH: What do you think Rachel and Mike have brought to their characters?
TR: Well, Rachel, from my perspective — that’s a really difficult role to play, and I thought she did it so brilliantly. It’s tough to be optimistic and possess that kind of positive energy. I know people like her character and they’re intoxicating, but it’s a tough role to play. There are so many pitfalls in it, and I just felt she did a great job of it. And Michael’s a really strong actor and I thought he brought a real level of that kind of stubborn cockiness — a guy that thinks he’s figured it all out.
IH: What’s next for you?
TR: I’m casting a pilot right now for Showtime and we shoot in December. I’ve got a movie called City of Ember coming out in a couple of weeks.
IH: Your character in City of Ember?
TR: I play the father of one of the kids that are the leads.
IH: Nice character?
TR: I think so. [Laughs] I’m just playing a lot of fathers now [laughs], and I’m working producing a couple of shows at the Actor’s Gang here in Los Angeles, a project on racism and an adaptation of A Christmas Carol, and doing some music.
IH: Do you have any opening dates for the Actor’s Gang projects yet?
TR: Yeah, I Am Not A Racist But is one of the ellipsis. It opens in three weeks, and Scrooge Must Die is the name [laughs) of the adaptation. Scrooge Must Die opens in the beginning of November.
IH: You've been outspoken on issues of what's been going on in the last few years with the war and so forth, and I'm just wondering where do you see us now? Do you feel optimistic as we're running the election period, or is it hard to be optimistic with what's going on with the economy right now? What have you been up to and what are your thoughts about the upcoming election?
TR: I just don't even understand why it's close. I just...I can't fathom.
IH: I do.
TR: Well, you think its racism?
IH: I do think it is. Part of it, not all.
TR: That would be a terrible shame -- that we would be so blind to elect another four years of Republican rule, like the disasters of this presidency. I just hope there's not one more, you know? We've had failure of intelligence in 9/11, ignoring a warning that resulted in 9/11, massive failure, no accountability for that, the manipulation of intelligence that led to a war that was not necessary, Katrina, and now this economic disaster. How can anyone think about electing a Republican? It's just...it's insane to me.
IH: What are your thoughts about this new movie about George Bush that's coming out?
TR: I have no thoughts about it. I haven't read it.
IH: Susan Sarandon said that she would move to Italy if the Republicans win this election. What will you do?
TR: She didn't say that. It's interesting how quick that kind of stuff spreads around. I would say that, personally, I would question the health of a representative democracy that could not right the problem in such dire circumstances. It seems so obvious to me. So if this election goes the other way, if they re-elect Bush [laughs], it, for me, points to a tremendously effective propaganda machine, and I don’t know how we can keep people from losing faith after that point.
IH: Don’t you think that that ties in also with a lot of what you talked about at your keynote address at NAB? You were talking about the great abyss and the responsibility of journalism, and you brought the house down. You had guys that had been going there for 50 years cheering for you.
TR: Thanks. Well, I think it was something that needed to be said. I was told not to say it [laughs], but when someone stood up in the audience and yelled “freedom of speech,” I felt compelled to say it. So I think a large responsibility lies with the press at this point, and I would say the thing that’s troubling right now is when someone lies. I think it’s the responsibility of the press to say, “I’m sorry, that’s not true,” and then to have enough information to say what the truth is. I saw Mitt Romney on television last night, and he just kept lying and David Gregory wasn’t calling him on his lies. I know it’s a lie, he knows it’s a lie, why do we allow people to just go on and flat-out lie? It’s demeaning to us and it’s demeaning to our democracy to allow that to happen. A guy that has spent his entire Senate career arguing for deregulation of Wall Street can’t now go up in front of crowds and say, “I’m for regulation.” It’s disingenuous, it’s misleading, and quite frankly, whenever that’s on television, someone should be there to say, “Wait a second, he did this, he did this, he did this.” There’s nothing irresponsible in that, there’s nothing partisan in that even — that’s just the truth. We have a responsibility to the truth, and so why shouldn’t that be the modus operandi for the next couple of months? I’m sorry, folks, we’re going to tell the truth here.
IH: Forty-three days.
TR: Good luck to everybody. God bless.