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This is the best way to experience Off Camera- When you get the app, you can instantly subscribe to Off Camera, or buy single issues a la carte. The Off Camera app is a beautifully designed hybrid magazine with the entire television version of Off Camera contained within it, available for any tablet or mobile device.

This e-magazine has all the images and extra content available in the physical version of the Off Camera magazine, plus enhanced HD video streaming so you can enjoy Off Camera your way.

After downloading the app, you will find Off Camera in your Apple newsstand folder. You can play steaming HD video straight from the pages of the app, making this experience truly multi-media.

Off Camera subscriptions available:
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It would be easy to commiserate with Zoe Lister-Jones about the difficulty of getting movies made, or the lack of opportunities for women in the industry. But unless you, too, are actually doing something about it, think before you kvetch.

The actress/singer/playwright/screenwriter/film director/songwriter (feeling lazy yet?) is best known for her roles on sitcoms like Whitney, Friends With Better Lives, and her current turn as Life In Pieces’ endearingly kooky Jen Short, where she’s revealed a wonderful bent for physical comedy. Her career’s on steady ground these days, but the interesting part is how she got it there. (Isn’t it always?)

Lister-Jones’ mom enrolled her in acting classes at age 10 to help her overcome shyness, and as a teenager growing up in Brooklyn, she auditioned for musical theater but never made the cut. Her video-artist parents didn’t shield her from the fact that acting could be an insecure life – or discourage her from pursuing what she loved. Lister-Jones wanted a stable future, but she also wanted a creative one. That they rarely go together discourages some (make that most) people; it makes others work really freaking hard. After graduating with honors from the Tisch School of the Arts, she burned CDs of herself playing piano ballad renditions of pop and rap bangers, and used that material in Co-dependence is a Four Letter Word, her one-woman, 10-character show, a project that won her an agent and a manager.

She got some breaks – stage work, supporting movie roles and more than her share of “crying for cash” L&O episodes – but the break that really counted was self-made, literally. In 2009 she and boyfriend (now husband) Daryl Wein wrote Breaking Upwards, a script based on an attempt to save their own struggling relationship through an experiment with non-monogamy. Which seems almost easy compared to the economics of trying to shoot a feature-length film in New York City for $15,000. She and Wein played the lead roles, he directed, she cooked for the cast and Craigslist-recruited crew, with everybody pitching in on tasks like splitting PVC pipes for dolly tracks. Lister-Jones also wrote lyrics for the film’s original soundtrack. The marketing budget allowed for just enough chalk to write the film’s title on sidewalks around the city and some homemade rap and reggae promo videos on Funny Or Die. The film earned comparisons to Annie Hall, and praise for its creators’ mix of humor, raw emotion and scrappiness. Lister-Jones and Wein were the subject of a New York Times article on sweat equity in the independent film industry.

That hard-earned calling card opened doors – and budgets. Lister-Jones got several million to make 2012’s Lola Versus, which she co-wrote with Wein and co-starred in with Greta Gerwig. She found herself confronting less optimistic numbers as she prepped for Band Aid, her directorial debut. The Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University reported in 2016 that gender representation in professions like editing and sound design is still wildly skewed towards men. Their study found that women counted for 17% of all editors working on the top 250 films of 2016 and just 5% of all cinematographers on those same films. Of that same sample, 3% of composers, 8% of supervising sound editors and 4% of sound designers were women.

As a female filmmaker, you’d have good reason to complain…or to hire a 100-percent female crew. “Nothing was changing,” said Lister-Jones in a recent interview. “It felt like in order to effect change, I needed to subvert the paradigm entirely.” The networking and recruiting involved in building an all-female crew from scratch wasn’t easy, but she saw it as a way to break a cycle. Industry execs will tell you it’s too hard to find female filmmakers with enough, or the right kind, of experience. Thus female filmmakers don’t get enough, or the right kind…well, you get it.

Band Aid is the story of a couple who, in a last-ditch effort to save their marriage, decide to turn all their fights into songs and start a band. If it echoes chords of Breaking Upwards, it speaks to Lister Jones’ ear for the universal in relationships and her knack for writing rounded characters that rarely verge into typical male/ female stereotypes. It’s a very funny and sharply observed movie, but also an emotional one, and she found having a crew of women helped her tap into its poignant moments more easily. The proof was in the premiere: Band Aid debuted at Sundance and was snatched up by IFC Films and Sony Pictures.

Band-Aid was released this month to excellent reviews, but Lister-Jones deserves the highest praise for intent alone – her drive to succeed as an artist is helping others do the same. “I think I was raised with a lot of awareness around how painful it is to make art that goes under-recognized, and to have to take other jobs that in turn sacrifice your creative space,” she told Vogue. “I have so many friends who struggle. Making a living from your art is such a rarity; I was there for many years myself, and I continue to struggle in my own ways. I’ve carved out a path, but not without lots of roadblocks.” Roadblocks she’s taken it upon herself to remove – a perfect job for Big Women, the all-female construction business she once invented as part of an elementary school assignment. Its slogan was “There’s no job too big for Big Women.” How better to crack the proverbial celluloid ceiling than cracking us up in the process?

This is the best way to experience Off Camera- When you get the app, you can instantly subscribe to Off Camera, or buy single issues a la carte. The Off Camera app is a beautifully designed hybrid magazine with the entire television version of Off Camera contained within it, available for any tablet or mobile device.

This e-magazine has all the images and extra content available in the physical version of the Off Camera magazine, plus enhanced HD video streaming so you can enjoy Off Camera your way.

After downloading the app, you will find Off Camera in your Apple newsstand folder. You can play steaming HD video straight from the pages of the app, making this experience truly multi-media.

Off Camera subscriptions available:
Single Issue/episode: (non-subscription): $2.99
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1 year subscription: (22 issues/episodes): $49.99

Available in the Apple App Store and on Amazon:

In 2009 The New York Times ran a story about the New York Comedy Festival and the independent standup community that had become a hunting ground for late night shows looking for the next round of potential talent, citing Jenny Slate, Donald Glover, Aziz Ansari and Zach Galifianakis as formerly unknown comics lifted from the cramped rooms of obscure bars in hidden basements to a larger stage. The article’s new reference was a guy named Kumail Nanjiani, who “could be poised to follow… Or not.”

On circumstance alone, “or not,” seemed more likely. Nanjiani grew up in Karachi, Pakistan (“not necessarily a very funny place”), raised Shia Muslim in a predominately Sunni nation. But a lot depends on how you see things. His dad was a psychiatrist (a fact he found inherently funny) with an inexplicable love of designer jeans (just blatantly funny). He got a taste of American comedy through movies his dad occasionally brought from the video store, and TV shows like Beavis and Butt-Head and Picket Fences. When he moved to the U.S. for college – and his own safety – he was most excited about being able to see movies and TV shows right when they came out. One of the first happened to be a Jerry Seinfeld comedy special on HBO. Nanjiani was 18 and had never seen standup before. A shy Computer Science/Philosophy double major, he finally worked up the courage to do a 30-minute set in his senior year. He walked on stage so nervous he could barely move, and walked off feeling ready for Letterman.

Or at least Chicago. He got a day job and started doing standup at night, developing his first one-man show, Unpronounceable, which The Comic’s Comic called “a very personal and quite poignant work, punctuated by powerful punch lines.” It got him an agent and brought him to New York and the attention of the Times. Nanjiani never considered that comedy might not work out. He wrote standup material in the mornings, potential TV material in the afternoons and did open mics every night, twice a night if he could. Steadfastly refusing to look at the big picture, he focused only on each step. “What’s next? Now what’s next?” His wife has said she sometimes worried about paying rent, but never about his work ethic.

The “nexts” started piling up quickly in the form of TV appearances on The Colbert Report, Saturday Night Live, Portlandia, Franklin & Bash, Veep and too many others to mention. Small movie roles (Collider called his scene in 2013’s The Kings of Summer the funniest part of the movie) started as a trickle and became a steady downpour – sixteen from 2013-2016 alone. In the biggest bit of karmic fortune, Mike Judge, whom Nanjiani had idolized since his Beavis and Butt-Head fandom, cast him as one of the stars of his hit series Silicon Valley. “When I was casting, I was looking for actors you could believe were really intelligent programmers but were also able to play the comedy of it all,” Judge told The Washington Post. “I thought he was fantastic.” As Dinesh Chugtai he veers between sarcasm and charm, and a blend of ambition and insecurity you might expect in a Pakistani immigrant programmer trying to be cool – and maybe a Pakistani immigrant comic who actually wasn’t very good at his five-year tech day job. We’re guessing Nanjiani sees the humor in that one, too.

That kind of exposure can be heady stuff, but Nanjiani never let writing and standup take a back seat to his increasingly packed schedule (or his proudly geeky video game and X-Files podcast passion projects). In 2014 he co-founded The Meltdown, a Comedy Central standup series filmed in the back of a comic book store, featuring his loose, unrehearsed banter with co-host Jonah Ray, and guests like Nick Offerman, Marc Maron, Rachel Bloom, Fred Armisen and Reggie Watts. His second special, Beta Male, premiered on Comedy Central in 2013 to raves. From A.V. Club: “Kumail Nanjiani could easily be ‘that guy.’ He could be the Pakistani guy, joking about his otherness in America, his life growing up as a Muslim in Karachi. He could be the videogame guy, playing off his excellent podcast, The Indoor Kids, which caters to the thriving crossover crowd of gaming and alt-comedy nerds. But he’s not. He can weave those themes into his act without it feeling shticky.” Or too narrow.

That praise grazes what he’s called the elephant in the room. His Muslim upbringing does play a role in his work, perhaps more unavoidably now than ever. But as his career progressed, Nanjiani determined not to ignore it, but also not to commoditize it or take roles that exaggerated it. His comedy became wider and his talent more apparent. He is relaxed and observational on any number of topics, and a master of setup, his build to a joke often funnier than the punch line itself. He has a comic’s timing and a storyteller’s ear.

That sense for story finally made him turn to the biggest one in his own life. He penned an account of how his real-life girlfriend’s serious illness jolted him into maturity and coming to terms with his conservative parents. His (now) wife Emily V. Gordon co-wrote the script, Judd Apatow produced, Michael Showalter directed, and Nanjiani went to acting class in order to play a fictionalized version of himself. The Big Sick sent studios scrambling at Sundance this year (Amazon won for $12 million); Variety wrote that he and Gordon “…mine their personal history for laughs, heartache, and hard-earned insight in a film that’s by turns romantic, rueful, and hilarious. It’s a no-brainer to connect with art-house crowds who like their comedies smart and funny, but this one deserves a shot at the multiplex, too. Where most movies might be content to follow the culture-clash comedy through its typical ups and downs, The Big Sick proves to be a far messier affair, and all the more rewarding for it.”

Nanjiani recalls the first joke he ever wrote: “I wrote about how I always wanted to have a unit of measurement named after myself, because all the cool scientists had one. Then I’d do an act-out of a submarine commander telling his crew to turn the torpedoes up to 5 Nanjianis.” If you’re measuring in laughs, better turn it up to 11 Nanjianis.

This is the best way to experience Off Camera- When you get the app, you can instantly subscribe to Off Camera, or buy single issues a la carte. The Off Camera app is a beautifully designed hybrid magazine with the entire television version of Off Camera contained within it, available for any tablet or mobile device.

This e-magazine has all the images and extra content available in the physical version of the Off Camera magazine, plus enhanced HD video streaming so you can enjoy Off Camera your way.

After downloading the app, you will find Off Camera in your Apple newsstand folder. You can play steaming HD video straight from the pages of the app, making this experience truly multi-media.

Off Camera subscriptions available:
Single Issue/episode: (non-subscription): $2.99
6 month subscription: (11 issues/episodes): $27.99
1 year subscription: (22 issues/episodes): $49.99

Available in the Apple App Store and on Amazon:

Sam Elliott is one of the most iconic character actors of our time, and he probably never had a choice in the matter. Before he utters one gravely bass word, the craggy, mustachioed face and lanky frame already conjure a laconic drawl and the scrape of old boots on a dusty, creaking floor – a cowboy/sheriff/tough guy/mysterious loner straight out of Central Casting. Or as Elliott puts it with typical wryness, “I’m not one of those actors anyone’s going to confuse with a chameleon.”

Growing up, his dad didn’t even confuse him with an actor, telling him he had “about a snowball’s chance in hell,” of becoming one. Elliott knew otherwise. More importantly, he knew that acting wasn’t about making money, and that his longevity depended on being careful of the roles he selected. Childhood movie matinees cemented his admiration for men who – in or out of tall hats and tall boots – stood for something. “I’ve turned a lot of stuff down because it’s not the kind of guy that I wanted to represent myself as being,” he told Variety. “I’ve certainly played an asshole from time to time…but there’s enough assholes in the world.”

After doing plays throughout his school years, he moved from Oregon to L.A. to pursue acting. Most peg The Big Lebowski as his big break, but his first one came in 1976, courtesy of a director’s wife who mistook him for another actor. It landed him his first lead in a film called Lifeguard, a film rich in real life parallels, for those who choose to sniff them out. He plays a guy struggling with the decision to do what he loves versus succumbing to pressure to do – and be – something else. You wouldn’t have known that from the movie’s marketing, but we’ll let him tell you that story.

A steady stream of supporting film and TV roles followed: The Shadow Riders, Gone to Texas, The Quick and the Dead, Tombstone, Buffalo Girls, You Know My Name, Mask and Conagher (which he also co-wrote and produced). If they play on his taciturn toughness, they also pay tribute to his instincts as an artist. “I’ve often thought that any actor’s best work is the stuff between the lines.” Nevertheless, he was thrilled when he got the script for The Big Lebowski, figuring it was his chance to do something different. Until he read it. They’d cast him as a cowboy. Well, if even the Coen brothers see you as an inscrutable wrangler, maybe it’s time you just accept it. So he did, playing an ex-Marlboro Man in Thank You for Smoking, and earning money between jobs putting his trademark voice to work in commercials for the American Beef Council, Coors beer and Ram Trucks.

It’s a funny business, though. Two years ago, the industry seemed to notice something that’d been pretty obvious all along. While fans have called him “87 percent testosterone,” his brand of masculinity doesn’t rely on explosions, bulging ego, bulging muscles or roaring soundtracks. It derives from character, confidence, decency, ease, and if need be, friendly menace. In other words, nuance.

In 2015 alone he had three indies at Sundance: Digging for Fire, I’ll See You in My Dreams, and Grandma, for which many demanded he receive Oscar consideration. Variety wrote that in his 10 on-screen minutes, Elliott created “a fuller, richer character than most actors do given two hours,” going from “welcoming host to angry jilted lover to open wound, with devastating effect.” RogerEbert.com’s more succinct verdict: “Elliott gives a performance that sets the movie on emotional fire.” I’ll See You in My Dreams proved he could master comedy without ever departing from his artistic core, The Guardian pointed out, “Elliott’s yacht-owning Bill exudes cool, getting laughs out of the audience with merely a glance.”

This year, he gets a much-deserved lead in The Hero, playing Lee Hayden, a fading western star who tries to mend fences with his family as he faces a medical crisis. You can’t ignore the irony of the role, nor can you imagine anyone else playing it. “Elliott succeeds in pulling you into Lee’s emotional orbit and holding you there,” said The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s a low-key, largely reactive performance, and all the more moving for it: The actor’s most memorable moments don’t come via tantrums or tearful breakdowns, but in scenes where he simply looks and listens — wounded, hopeful, resilient and, yes, heroic.” Variety called it “a love letter to a talent that was until recently widely enjoyed, while remaining strangely under-appreciated.”

Even if this “rediscovery” prompts an eye roll, we’ve got no quarrel with more screen time for Elliott, especially when it shows us more sides of his talent. He took some convincing to try his first multi-cam sitcom (Netflix’s The Ranch), but he’s quickly become the best thing about it. He’s still not completely at ease with the format, but someone who’s still willing to be uncomfortable after nearly five decades in the business is someone who should remain in the business. He’s guest starred on Parks and Recreation, Grace and Frankie and Justified, and recently signed on to 2018’s remake of A Star is Born, in a role co-star Bradley Cooper reportedly wrote specifically for him. Elliott’s a humble straight shooter who’s grateful for every moment of his long career, which thankfully doesn’t appear to be headed anywhere near the sunset.

This is the best way to experience Off Camera- When you get the app, you can instantly subscribe to Off Camera, or buy single issues a la carte. The Off Camera app is a beautifully designed hybrid magazine with the entire television version of Off Camera contained within it, available for any tablet or mobile device.

This e-magazine has all the images and extra content available in the physical version of the Off Camera magazine, plus enhanced HD video streaming so you can enjoy Off Camera your way.

After downloading the app, you will find Off Camera in your Apple newsstand folder. You can play steaming HD video straight from the pages of the app, making this experience truly multi-media.

Off Camera subscriptions available:
Single Issue/episode: (non-subscription): $2.99
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Available in the Apple App Store and on Amazon:

People have feelings about Jim Jefferies, and you won’t find them anywhere near the middle. The standup-pugilist pulls no punch lines and takes gleeful swings at women, religion and politicians, saving the hardest hits for hypocrisy wherever he finds it (almost everywhere). He’s also known for handing out the C-word as liberally as, well, a raucous comedian from Australia. Some people find him hilariously honest; others don’t like having their ears boxed.

Though it’s likely inconceivable to those who know him from his standup specials, his original assault on our ears was supposed to be more mellifluous. He studied musical theater and performed with Opera Australia before vocal chord nodules sidelined his singing ambitions. He pursued another long-held ambition instead, trying open mic nights – not very successfully – as a 17-year-old. But by 23, he’d found a rhythm, a minor following and a spot as an opener for fellow Aussie Gary Who on a tour of Outback mining towns. He made a serious decision: “Fuck it, I’ll just be a comedian!”

Why not? If all you need is confidence, Jefferies had all he needed and then some, once telling a magazine interviewer that if he were gigging in biblical times, Jesus would’ve opened for him. (Thinking about it, that water-to-wine thing wouldn’t have sucked as a warm-up act.) Ironically, his confidence came largely from poking fun at himself; the humor that some perceived as misogyny came from his experiences of being dumped by every woman he ever dated.

And Jefferies has never written jokes for the amusement of any audience but himself. When they didn’t translate as quickly as he’d hoped in his own country, he went to the UK, then the U.S. and eventually almost everywhere else, constantly touring to bigger crowds and venues. His quick, ruthless and yet somehow jovial style found a following, helped by some unexpected (if not surprising) events. When a heckler attacked him on stage in Manchester in 2007, the clip went viral and became a part of his 2008 UK comedy special Contraband. An unintentionally well-timed comparison of gun control policy in Australia versus the U.S. in his 2014 special BARE was another viral sensation. Earlier this year, a profanity-laced outburst at Piers Morgan, a fellow guest on Bill Maher’s Real Time, sent him viral once more. When Morgan denied the president was attempting a Muslim ban, Jefferies shot back, “Oh, f— off. Hitler didn’t kill the Jews on the first day. He worked up to it.” All of it cements Jefferies’ rep as one of our most fearless comic voices, and one of our most intelligent, even if you have to listen around the swearing to hear it.

As Interrobang observed in its review of his 2016 special Freedumb, “His comedy, his stage presence, and his commentary on various political and social issues have all been finely honed like a high-quality blade, and holy shit does it cut deep. That’s because Jefferies’ style isn’t crass for the sake of being crass: it is, in its own way, an ode to free speech and the ability to joke about anything, regardless of whether some might deem it in poor taste. Jefferies is going to straightforwardly and very plainly hit every topic that his heart desires, critics be damned.” Of those critics, Jefferies says, “I do enjoy people who write in letters of hate or storm out of my shows – there’s something about me that thinks that that’s when I’m doing my job right.”

Many people thought he was doing his job right on his two-season FX series Legit, which – if still seeped in debauchery – portrayed (and commendably, employed) disabled actors in a very human way. Not the canonized or pitiable characterizations we often see, they were part of the jokes – not the butt of them. Jefferies wrote and starred in Legit, and would like to do more acting, though as a guy who’s described himself as “just a bit too good looking to be a character actor but not good looking enough to be a leading man,” knows he’ll have the best shot by writing his roles himself.

It’s been a decade since he took that punch on stage in Manchester, and his humor has evolved with his life, which now includes a son and a bit more stability. But only to a certain extent; install a filter between his brain and his mouth, and you don’t have the same product. And that product is in demand, most recently from Comedy Central, which ordered 10 half-hour episodes of The Jim Jefferies Show, a late night series in which Jefferies will travel the world to serve up the week’s top stories and most controversial issues with generous helpings of his own opinion.

Even the only career Jefferies says he’s cut out for doesn’t escape his ridicule (why would it?). In a 2015 interview, he mused, “What I always found weird about standup comedy is that people seem to listen to us sometimes like we’re prophets, like we’re the ones speaking truth about society – we’re a bunch of fucking morons who didn’t go to university and have no real education giving half-baked ideas… Comedians are really the last people you should listen to.” Maybe, if you can’t take a punch. But given our choices – the internet? politicians? dogma? – we’ll take our chances.

This is the best way to experience Off Camera- When you get the app, you can instantly subscribe to Off Camera, or buy single issues a la carte. The Off Camera app is a beautifully designed hybrid magazine with the entire television version of Off Camera contained within it, available for any tablet or mobile device.

This e-magazine has all the images and extra content available in the physical version of the Off Camera magazine, plus enhanced HD video streaming so you can enjoy Off Camera your way.

After downloading the app, you will find Off Camera in your Apple newsstand folder. You can play steaming HD video straight from the pages of the app, making this experience truly multi-media.

Off Camera subscriptions available:
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1 year subscription: (22 issues/episodes): $49.99

Available in the Apple App Store and on Amazon:

Maybe Danny McBride’s success as a comedic writer and actor comes from his failure as a redneck. Born in Georgia and raised in small-town Virginia, he grew up around “alpha-male rednecks and all these dudes with this crazy confidence that didn’t really have anything to back it up.” A quiet kid who shied away from cowboy boots and wanted to go to film school, he found his loudmouthed, narrow-minded peers intimidating. And ultimately, hilarious. He started making movies in his back yard, many of which he didn’t realize until later were uncomfortably dark, explaining in a 2011 interview “I’ve always loved comedy that wasn’t appropriate for my age. I was always into shit that was way dirtier than what I should have been watching, and I loved anything that felt naughty. In fifth grade I had all of Eddie Murphy’s Delirious memorized. It was the funniest shit I had ever seen.”

Even if that’s all you know about Danny McBride, it explains a heck of a lot about some of his most memorable characters, and how we react to them. The first was created out of necessity. He went to North Carolina School of the Arts to become a writer/director, not to act. Then with only a shoestring budget for a film that he realized no studio was going to finance, he did what he had to do. Thus was born Fred Simmons, one arrogant bully of a self-involved strip-mall marshal arts instructor with an adulterous wife and imploding life. No distributors bit on The Foot Fist Way at Sundance in 2006, but DVDs started making the “you gotta see this” circuit of agents and assistants, eventually landing in the hands of the comedy triumvirate of Adam McKay, Will Ferrell and Judd Apatow, who’s first thought was, “How can I get Danny into one of my movies so that people will think that I discovered him?” Hollywood had taken a comedy sucker punch, but came off the ropes fast, casting him in comedies like Hot Rod, Superbad, The Heartbreak Kid, Pineapple Express and Tropical Thunder, to the tune of three or four movies a year. Seth Rogen, a frequent co-star, explained it. “Danny’s fun to write for. He has an epic nature to his speech, something Patton-esque, even though the characters he plays are usually so stupid and reprehensible.”

But McBride is best when he writes his own characters, taking advantage of how well he knows them in all their foul-mouthed, offensive glory. In 2009, he and writing partners Jody Hill and Ben Best created Eastbound & Down, McBride playing Kenny Powers, a washed up, racist former major league baseball pitcher bursting with anger management issues and self-regard. A GQ reviewer wrote, “It didn’t take long – Kenny Powers says, “You’re fuckin’ out!” about twenty-seven seconds into the pilot – before I was certain that Eastbound had clamped a node onto this dark, devolved, otherwise unused hunk of my brain and pumped the funny in. I took the first season in one sitting, straight to the face. I laughed until I made sounds I hadn’t heard before, and by the time I straightened up, I couldn’t get Kenny’s delivery off my tongue.” Despite some objections to its sex and profanity, the show ran for four seasons on HBO, and as with The Foot Fist Way, the star nearly outshone the vehicle. McBride/Kenny Powers received not only raves, but offers to play minor league ball with the Pensacola Pelicans and an endorsement deal with K-Swiss.

There’s a freedom that comes with playing such self-blind louts, and a delightfully naughty glee to watching them. But what’s unique about McBride’s work is its lack of the clichéd sentimental lessons usually served as a side dish in most comedies. His characters don’t ask for sympathy, which lends a startling pathos to their occasional bleak flashes of self-awareness and powerlessness.

Perhaps McBride – as both a writer and an actor – hits us so hard because he knows where we live. There’s hilarity, but also discomfort, in investing small people living small lives with grandiosity. If we’re honest (and if he’d let us stop laughing for just a second) we might acknowledge that to some degree, that’s most of us.

His most recent gift to television was Vice Principals, a dark (what else?) comedy for HBO co-written with Hill. McBride is Neal Gamby, one of two high school administrators in a power struggle for the top job. Their uneasy alliance to unseat the capable black woman who becomes principal has been cited as many times for being racist and political as it has for being funny. “I don’t see it as a story about race,” says McBride. “It’s a story about power and how people think it can fix things that are dysfunctional in their own lives. With a lot of our comedy we don’t approach the writing as if it is a comedy. We approach it as something dramatic then figure out how to put in dick jokes or ridiculous humor to disguise it.” Maybe what some naysayers are really reacting to is the show’s subtle jabs at our own PC stereotypes. Regardless, McBride isn’t apologetic. And apologetic is exactly what comedy can’t be, if it’s really going to work.

This year, he continues leaving dirty comedy footprints on the small screen, while making a couple departures on the big one, first in Alien: Covenant, and then as a scriptwriter for a John Carpenter/ Jason Blum reboot of Halloween, in which he’s promised “Nobody will be laughing.” Well, even if we do find ourselves stifling giggles at scenes that should in no way be funny, so be it. McBride believes that making us question why we like what we like is what art is supposed to do.

This is the best way to experience Off Camera- When you get the app, you can instantly subscribe to Off Camera, or buy single issues a la carte. The Off Camera app is a beautifully designed hybrid magazine with the entire television version of Off Camera contained within it, available for any tablet or mobile device.

This e-magazine has all the images and extra content available in the physical version of the Off Camera magazine, plus enhanced HD video streaming so you can enjoy Off Camera your way.

After downloading the app, you will find Off Camera in your Apple newsstand folder. You can play steaming HD video straight from the pages of the app, making this experience truly multi-media.

Off Camera subscriptions available:
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Talk all you want about methods and prep and training versus instinct and natural talent, but ultimately acting will always remain a bit of a mystery to most of us. Billy Crudup is a good example of why.

His shape-shifting physicality alone is pretty inexplicable. In a 2002 Broadway revival of The Elephant Man, he conveyed John Merrick’s monstrous deformities without makeup or prosthetics, relying on painful contortions of his body so believably that The New York Times’ Ben Brantley found him virtually unrecognizable. In one of his earliest leads, the 1998 biopic Without Limits, his gait so closely matched that of runner Steve Prefontaine that his scenes could be seamlessly intercut with archival film of the Olympian’s races. And then there was shamefully under-seen Stage Beauty, where he played a man playing a woman considered one of 17th-century London’s most ravishing actresses, a role Salon said he understood so well in his bones the performance actually read as a woman playing a man playing a woman.

And then there’s the mystery that transcends the physical, one we suspect is deliberate. Crudup’s characters hold something back, never completely knowable. And when you think about it, what’s more believable than a human who keeps at least some part of themselves hidden? More practically, it keeps us riveted. When an actor can go from charming to menacing to smarmy and back again, virtually without changing expression, we never feel quite safe looking away. The New York Times called it “kinky chameleonism,” and Vulture took note of it in a review of Spotlight. “Billy Crudup nearly stops the show as a super-smooth, super-friendly, 100 percent phony lawyer.” (We won’t argue with the show-stopping part, but read on for the real scoop behind the performance.)

All of which makes him an excellent actor, but a hard-to-place leading man. Hollywood needs a “type” to pin such roles on. But for most of his career, Crudup’s been okay with that. His acting experience was largely in theater at the University of North Carolina and then grad school at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, but within two years of earning his MFA, he was getting film roles in indies like Sleepers and Inventing the Abbotts while turning down opportunities in more commercial projects like Titanic and Hulk. He inadvertently landed in a classic when Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous became an unexpected hit, playing rising rock star Russell Hammond. He needed some guitar lessons for the role, but the unforced charisma he brought to it is beyond teachable.

The downside of becoming a golden god is that it can blind folks to even better work in your archive, such as the aforementioned Stage Beauty. And Jesus’ Son, in which he played the drug-ridden, road-tripping FH. New York Magazine was one of many voices praising his work. “The great thing about FH is that though he’s a woozy drifter, his eyes, his face are always shockingly alive. Crudup has a great physicality, and he gives FH’s gangliness a loose-limbed lyricism.“ The performance almost made one major actress refuse to work with him on a subsequent film – she didn’t want someone she was convinced had to be a drug addict on her set. In 2014’s Rudderless, another under-seen and equally acclaimed performance, his subtlety hits hard. Variety wrote, “Crudup does a lot to keep things watchable, playing with a slightly acidic wryness that suggests the character’s humor has only been heightened by his grieving hopelessness.” A.V. Club and Rolling Stone were just happy to see him strap on a guitar again for the role.

His work in myriad supporting roles (including Big Fish, Jackie, 20th Century Women) is equally remarkable. But we’d venture that even if you’ve followed his work with the same enthusiasm we have, you still haven’t seen the half of it. Few actors at his level go as frequently and consistently between screen and stage. His theater credits number almost as many as his film roles and include a Tony win (among multiple nods). He’s a noted performer of Stoppard’s work, but our favorite pull-quote comes from Ben Brantley’s review of the comedically chilling The Pillowman: “Mr. Crudup’s finely chiseled features turn out to be ideal for registering the seductiveness, defensiveness and pure vanity of an artist.”

Whether or not Crudup would agree there’s mystery to what he does, he’s never been at pains to explain it. In many interviews, he comes across as a guy who just wants to be left alone to understand his characters and tell their stories as best and believably as he can, once telling The New York Times, “The truth is I don’t think actors should have to do anything but come in and act.” For the record, he loves what he does and feels grateful to do it, but you could understand his frustration with the entertainment press and its thirst for transparency. Do we really want to see the levers and pulleys behind a great performance, or would we rather sit back and enjoy being completely hypnotized by it? We’ll next have that pleasure when he shows up in Alien: Covenant, Justice League, and – after years of being pursued by TV casting directors – the new Netflix series Gypsy, opposite Naomi Watts.

Crudup says his hard-to-pin-down quality hasn’t always worked to his advantage in mainstream Hollywood, but then again, that’s never been exactly what he’s aimed for. And if flying below fame’s radar means occasionally having to reintroduce yourself to the business, so be it; he’s joked that his 50s will really be his decade. For the sake of our continued viewing pleasure, we hope he’s serious.

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Guys like Chris Shiflett make you wonder if somehow you just are a musician before you ever pick up a six string and make the decision to become one. In fact, 35 years after getting his first guitar, the Foo Fighters lead guitarist and member/founder of multiple other bands still doesn’t think of music as a career. It’s just his life.

“My earliest memories are of my brothers’ records; all we wanted to do was listen to music and play music,” he told Consequence of Sound. “We never got into sports or really gave a fuck about going to school. My memories are of rock ‘n’ roll bands. I can’t really explain why that is, or what draws me to one sound, it’s just something…a passion.” Or possibly Ace Frehley, who Shiflett aspired to be from the get-go. He got that first guitar at 11 after a failed stab at piano and was in his first band by age 14.

Early brother-sponsored influences were Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Zeppelin, Aerosmith and Nugent, while grade school in the 80s introduced him to Stray Cats, Hanoi Rocks and David Bowie; but as a kid growing up in Santa Barbara, the only concerts he saw were the free ones played by punk bands in the local park. They made an impression. He joined punk outfit Legion of Doom and began opening for bands that came through town. He moved to San Francisco in the late ’90s to work for an independent punk record label and heard about an opening in one of its acts, No Use For a Name. He auditioned on a Thursday and was on tour as their lead guitarist the following Monday. The grit and schlep of life on the road made no impression. In a Metal Hammer interview, he said, “You’re so busy loving it, you don’t care. You’re never sitting there going, ‘I’m paying my dues, one day I’m going to be in a platinum-selling band.’ You’re just stoked that you’re on the road playing gigs.” By that time he was also playing gigs as part of punk cover band Me First and the Gimme Gimmes.

While Shiflett may not have been thinking about platinum selling-bands in 1999, a friend told him Guns N’ Roses were auditioning guitarists and encouraged him to try out. Instead he asked if his friend could get him an audition with another rock outfit also auditioning guitarists. His tryout for the Foo Fighters was nerve wracking, but front man Dave Grohl, who liked Shiflett’s history in the underground punk scene, hired him for their There Is Nothing Left to Lose tour, and he’s been with them ever since. In its review of his first studio album with the Foos, 2004’s Grammy-winning One By One, Rolling Stone wrote, “the band’s latest lead guitarist, Chris Shiflett, has traded distortion for clarity without losing any impact. Potent guitar riffs define every song on One by One.” On each subsequent album, Shiflett’s clean, melodic playing seems a perfect balance with Grohl’s straight rhythm and Pat Smear’s heavier hand.

For a guy who loves playing and touring, you’d think he’d hit the Jackpot of Rock in an outfit that offers more than enough of both. Nah – if you’ve read this far, you know better. In 2004, he got serious about writing his own songs and started what most press called a “side project,” the California power-pop group Jackson United, which put out two albums praised for their straight-up rock sensibility and Shiflett’s knowing way with a hook. Musoscribe wrote, “Jackson United strikes a perfect balance between grit/grime/grunge and spit-and-polish. On close listening, one finds that the multiple guitar lines are always doing something interesting, not merely bashing out the basic chords. There’s enough variety to keep things interesting, enough consistency to keep things cohesive.”

Whether or not he’d appreciate the comparison, Shiflett is like a frenetically curious beagle led around by his ear instead of his snout. When he found himself playing next to the funnel cake booth at Orange County’s 2008 Hootenanny festival, his fond but dormant attraction to Americana, old country, and twangy guitar by the likes of Merle Haggard, Hank Williams and Willie Nelson was sparked. Within two years, he’d formed solo act Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants, releasing two albums of country covers before once again penning his own songs, this time in an effort to inject the genre’s sometimes down-and-out vibe with a bit of Saturday night swing. Early reviews of the eponymous single off his 2017 solo record West Coast Town (produced by the legendary Dave Cobb) indicate he’s succeeded. Rolling Stone wrote, “Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett flawlessly blends blue-collar country punk with a catchy Bakersfield bounce. Borrowing the rowdy swagger of Prison Bound-era Social Distortion and the SoCal sheen of Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakam, Shiflett crafts a sound that is both geographically grounded and wholly his own. ‘West Coast Town’ authentically straddles the line between vintage country cool and the boundary-blurring spirit of modern Americana.”

Call it a side project if you will, but Shiflett’s no dabbler, and in his exploration of country, he invites us along for the ride. In 2013 he launched Walking the Floor, a weekly podcast featuring deep-dive interviews with legendary and current country musicians like Red Simpson, Dwight Yoakam, John Doe, Lucinda Williams, Brad Paisley and Cody Jinks. If the occasional boxer or filmmaker slips in, it’s simply because Shifflet is interested. In writing about the podcast, Pop Matters praised his natural curiosity. “That [Shiflett] comes from what is ostensibly the other side of the musical tracks leads to a fascinating dynamic once the mics are on. He may be a rock guitar hero to countless kids around the globe, but it’s evident that he holds the same admiration and appreciation of the artists he interviews…He allows his guests to tell their stories on their terms. What happens is frequently magical and always illuminating.”

When you’re part of a rock juggernaut like Foo Fighters, maybe it’s inevitable that some of your best and most passionate endeavors get labeled a side project. But if it means getting to do the only thing you’ve ever wanted to do, we’re guessing you’ll do it in small roadside bars or giant stadiums and be pretty happy in either place. Who wouldn’t be, when you’re having such a damned good time?

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Watching Elisabeth Moss as Mad Men’s sec-turned-exec Peggy Olson (as millions did for 88 addictive episodes) and in recent projects like Top of the Lake, High Rise and Queen of Earth, you’d be forgiven for assuming she’s a capital-S Serious or capital-M Method artist. Even director Jane Campion might’ve drawn the same conclusion from Moss’ Top of Lake audition tape. “It was remarkable…I just found myself really interested in watching this gentle, quiet, obviously interior performance. At the end of about six hours, I was still really interested. She’s a little bit like a Mona Lisa. There’s a lot that she’s not showing you.”

It’s an impression Moss sometimes wishes were true, but acknowledges that capital-C Class Clown is more apt. (That was, in fact, the title unanimously bestowed by her Mad Men cast mates). So much for our illusions. As she told The Guardian in 2016, “I wish I was super-serious, anguished. I see those actors and think, God, they are so cool and seem so interesting. I don’t take acting that seriously.” But she does it seriously. Tales from several sets support her seeming ability to perform the acting equivalent of doing zero to 60 for a scene without ever appearing to bear down on the gas. “I was shocked at how quickly she metabolized the material,” Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner once marveled. “She is that kind of actress where we don’t ever intellectually delve into what is going on with her character. It’s almost like it doesn’t pass through Elisabeth’s brain. It’s completely instinctive. She works hard, but I think she also works hard to hide it. Either that, or she’s an alien.” Weiner may deal in alternative facts, but we’re going with the former, which begs the unanswerable question, what is instinct anyway?

That’s probably not something an eight-year-old thinks much about. Moss just liked playing the TV roles she started getting at that age. But she also liked dancing, studying ballet seriously while being homeschooled as she pursued both. She earned her GED at 16 and decided acting offered the more physically enduring career option. She worked steadily in supporting film and TV parts like Girl, Interrupted and Picket Fences before being cast as first daughter Zoey Bartlet on West Wing. That led to Weiner’s casting her in Mad Men, which subsequently led to six Emmy nods and fame as an unintentional feminist icon.

As Peggy Olson grew in confidence and complexity, her character’s storyline grew more compelling, rivaling Don Draper’s for our interest. If making us believe and champion Peggy’s huge personal and professional transformation is an accomplishment, an even bigger one is emerging from a seven-season national TV phenomenon without being forever identified with or pigeonholed by it. But even before the show ended, Moss told The Telegraph UK, “I think it’s up to you as an actor to make choices that are different, to stretch your ability, to not get too comfortable doing something you know you can do. Of course, if you play one character for five years, people are going to think of you as that character. But you can break out of that.”

Can, and did. If viewers weren’t quite ready to move on, Moss was. She’s since chosen a string of largely independent projects that allow her to tell stories as diverse and interesting as the women in them. You’ll find virtually enslaved housewives (High Rise) single-minded detectives (Top Of Lake) and mourning, possibly unhinged vacationers (Queen Of Earth). Harder to find is a bad review. Just one of way too many to list is The New York Times’ take on the latter. “It is Ms. Moss, with her intimate expressivity, who annihilates you from first tear to last crushing laugh.” In addition to landing an emotional punch, she has a talent for landing herself in stories that regardless of time period or milieu are strikingly relevant to current times. None more so, unfortunately, than The Handmaid’s Tail, Hulu’s excellent and much buzzed-about adaptation of the Margaret Atwood novel.

On the off chance you’re not convinced of her versatility – or guts – know that when Moss decided to try the stage for the first time in 18 years of acting, she did it on Broadway, in Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow, no less. And there was The Heidi Chronicles. While you could argue there’s no one better suited to play its evolving, wisecracking proto-feminist lead, taking on an iconic 1989 role and making it resonate in 2015 is a gamble. It paid off with a Tony nod and raves from noted theater critic Charles Isherwood, who called Moss “a superb actor who possesses the unusual ability to project innocence and smarts at the same time.”

High praise, but as far as Moss is concerned, Get Him to the Greek is as valid a choice as the largely improvised indie The One I Love, if it makes her a better actor. Whether that’s possible is debatable, but what’s not is this: More than ever, we need stories about heroic, flawed and completely believable women, and few actors play them better.

This is the best way to experience Off Camera- When you get the app, you can instantly subscribe to Off Camera, or buy single issues a la carte. The Off Camera app is a beautifully designed hybrid magazine with the entire television version of Off Camera contained within it, available for any tablet or mobile device.

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The red carpet has always been a challenging place for Colin Hanks. The blinding white fusillade of incoming camera fire induces watering eyes and vertigo, and he finds the scrum and shouting of press, publicists and onlookers a bit disorienting. He’s not ungrateful to be there; it’s just that by nature, he’s a guy who learns and practices his craft calmly, consistently and without much fanfare. Maybe that’s why he’s kind of snuck up on us in plain sight, doing work that just gets better and more interesting as he goes along.

Hanks has always seen himself as more journeyman than star. “I was just more about [doing] the lunch-pail and-thermos-kind-of-work,” he once told Deadline. Indeed, he’s punched in regularly since grade school when he started doing class plays. He continued in high school and college at Loyola Marymount University, where he decided on an acting career basically by default – it was simply more fun than anything else he was doing at the time. He left college and began auditioning.

His first break was on the 1999 WB teen sci-fi drama Roswell, a role Hollywood lore has it that he landed without producers seeing his headshot or knowing his dad was a guy named Tom. His big break came two years later with the independent feature Orange County in a role that seemed perfect – a good, straight kid whose college dreams are thrown into chaos by the loony adults around him. Even as his perplexity and alarm increases, he remains an anchor for the more frenetic (i.e. Jack Black) actors around him. It was a performance that dismissed any claims of nepotism or entitlement. Roger Ebert’s review ran, “If your father is a famous actor, you may be able to get hired as an intern or an assistant still photographer, or get an acting job in a TV series. If you’re making a feature on your own, it’s because somebody with money thought you were right for the job. In this case, somebody was right.”

Too right, maybe. It begat job offers, but Hanks wasn’t much interested in trivial teen movies, or in repeating himself. As a result, offers slowed. It helps that he seems to possess a genetic immunity to angst. Sean McGinly, who directed Hanks in 2008’s The Great Buck Howard, recalled his sangfroid in the face of the pressures of the business. “He takes it all in stride. Colin is one of the more calm and un-neurotic actors I’ve come across, and he has a lot more reasons to be neurotic than many of my friends who are tortured actors.” Hanks put his head down, worked as often as he could, while carving his own path, which included a 2009 Broadway staging of Moisés Kaufman’s 33 Variations with Jane Fonda. The New York Times and The Washington Post larded reviews of his performance with “winning” and “charming,” and The Observer wrote, “Mr. Hanks quietly shines onstage, with a loose-limbed lanky warmth and comic timing that holds your gaze, even among an impressive cast. He’s clearly having a ball up there, and it is infectious.” How could a lifelong theater geek not be having a ball?

As Hanks once put it, “I’m not Captain America.” Knowing he wasn’t a tent-pole kind of guy, he looked for different, more interesting projects; increasingly, they seemed to be found on television There was his turn as a conflicted priest on Mad Men, and as a (way) against type psychotic killer on Dexter. And most notably, his reluctant policeman-turned-mailman Gus Grimley on FX’s Fargo, which earned high praise from both critics and series creator Noah Hawley. “Colin was born to play this role – it really shows what he is capable of. He’s got that impossible-to-quantify likability, but he’s never been put through his paces like this.” He received an Emmy nod for his trouble, demonstrating in the process a certain still, observational quality not always on display in the comedic panic and energy he’s been praised for in his CBS series Life In Pieces, now in its third season.

But as Hanks continued to evolve as a player in fictional stories, he become more interested in telling real ones. And he’s good at it. In his first documentary, All Things Must Pass: The Rise and Fall of Tower Records, he set out to tell the story of the iconic retailer with all the passion of a music lover and pride of a Sacramento native. Getting financing on the heels of the 2008 financial collapse proved fruitless, so he did it himself through Kickstarter, ultimately the perfect way to make a film for and by the people whose lives the music mecca was such a big part of. Its warm critical reception went beyond the film and music press, Fast Company noting, “Hanks explores not just the cultural impact of Tower (and the record store as a business model), but also the impact that it had on the people involved. What could be a simple documentary retreading the well-told narratives about the cultural shifts that ended days of physical media, in Hanks’s hands, is a character study of people who built and transformed a culture – at least for a little while.”

That film took seven years to make. He had seven months and a skeleton crew to make his second. Eagles of Death Metal: Nos Amis is a chilling but ultimately uplifting account of the group’s return to Paris after the terrorist attack at the Bataclan Theater. Again, his storytelling was astute. Billboard wrote, “Hanks takes a deliberately non-fussy approach, utilizing close-ups to capture his subjects’ emotions; he lets the story unfold with the band’s own words, using no narration.”

If he seems to do his best work by stealth, don’t discount it. It would be pretty easy to bask in the family glow or constantly play the affable good guy; instead, he does what challenges and interests him, and does it his own way. In Hank’s case, it’s proving to be the best way.

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When a 16-year old Ron Howard was hanging out on set with Henry Fonda (as one does), Fonda gave the young actor a bit of advice: If he loved acting, he should focus on theater, but, “If you love movies, become a director.” Ron Howard loved movies.

The Oklahoma-born son of two actors, his earliest memories are of memorizing dialog from his dad’s summer stock plays as a 3-year old. Walking unaware into an MGM kids’ casting call in 1959, Howard senior mentioned he had a son who was a fine actor. They called young Ronny in, had him do a scene, and asked his dad if he could do anything else. “I really don’t know if he can.” Ron Howard entered our living rooms a year later as Opie in The Andy Griffith Show, and didn’t leave for the next 25 years when Happy Days ended in 1984. That’s when we really saw what else he could do.

He started directing in 1977 by convincing producer Roger Corman to let him helm Grand Theft Auto (Howard agreed to act in Corman’s Eat My Dust! in exchange). Next came Night Shift, and then, at a point where most directors are still paying off film school debt, he delivered Splash, Cocoon and Parenthood. They were all charming, funny, well reviewed and commercially successful; and yet we still hadn’t seen the extent of what he could do as a director.

What Howard excels at is telling stories that tell us something about ourselves; real tales of real people – albeit writ large – whose lives and worlds double as themes he wants to explore: family, teamwork, hubris and adversity, to name a few. Another particular genius is his ability to translate those worlds visually, forging a direct connection from our eyeballs to our gut or heart, as the story demands. Consider a tale that takes place largely inside the head of a brilliant but unstable mathematician. In its review of A Beautiful Mind, The New York Times called his technique “as simple as it is inspired,” adding, “Mr. Howard has found an accessible cinematic way to present this insight: Schizophrenia does not announce itself as such to those it afflicts. Mr. Howard leads us into its infernal reality without posting a sign on the door.” The film, an unexpected success, earned him an Academy Award for Best Director.

When he took us into Formula One racing with Rush, a lot of people went along reluctantly, only to be surprised at how one tight shot of a violently vibrating tire could make their heart race as fast as the motor shaking it. That shot signaled danger more effectively than any deadly crash. Variety thought so, too. “To witness this level of storytelling skill (applied to a subject only a fraction of the public inherently finds interesting) is to marvel at not only what cinema can do when image, sound and score are so artfully combined to suggest vicarious experience, but also to realize how far Howard has come since his directorial debut.”

He was able to make equally dramatic cinema from two men sitting across from each other, talking. “You expect something dry, historical and probably contrived. But you get a delicious contest of wits, brilliant acting and a surprisingly gripping narrative,” said the Washington Post about Frost/Nixon. “Howard’s cinematic treatment deftly exploits very conventional narrative techniques without one ever being quite aware of them.”

But of course the film that feels closest to his core as a filmmaker is Apollo 13. It has it all: exploration, heroism, history and the compelling factor of being true. Noting that the subject matter demanded Howard’s reverential treatment, the Los Angeles Times called it his most impressive film to date in a 1995 review. “Howard’s willingness to be straight ahead with his directing, the film’s derring-do aspects have the advantage of showing the men simply being heroic as opposed to acting like heroes.”

If some critics have made cynical dismissals of a perceived gee-whiz, all-American, hero-worshipping aesthetic, Howard makes no apologies. “I’m drawn toward celebratory stories. I feel that they are every bit as valid and useful as the darker, cautionary tales. And my favorite thing is when the celebration is not up front and in your face, but something that evolves. It’s something you can understand, that flawed characters can be a part of moments that are worthy of celebration and respect.” That’s sounding pretty good to us these days.

Howard’s work continues to follow his fascinations, from the depths (In the Heart of the Sea) to music (Made in America, The Beatles: Eight Days a week) to boxing (Cinderella Man). We explore along with him again in National Geographic’s first-ever scripted series Genius. His new anthology drama chronicles the world’s most brilliant innovators, kicking off with the famous physicist Albert Einstein. In it, and all of his work, Howard approaches his subjects with eye of a historian, a fan, a geek, and a loving adherent to detail.

So, how to summarize the life’s work of someone whose 63-year career spans two Golden Ages of Television and some of the most acclaimed and successful movies of every genre? Fortunately we don’t have to; it’s still very much in progress.

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If you’ve watched Veep’s depressing and hilarious press secretary Mike McLintock struggle to keep his administration out of hot water, it’s easy to see why Matt Walsh received an Emmy nod for his work on the show. But if that’s where you came into the picture, you’ve witnessed only the tip of a very funny iceberg.

Walsh is so connected in the comedy world he’s become a virtual Zelig of droll, double-take film and TV appearances; but any footprints he’s left on those projects will remain dwarfed by the crater-like impression he’s made as a founder of the legendary Upright Citizens Brigade. In that regard, he’s not only marked our modern comedy world, he’s literally helped create it.

Not that he had any idea he was doing something so influential when he, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts and Matt Besser founded UCB in 1993. “We had no real plan, we were just doing shows and wanted a clubhouse.” Okay, it was a converted strip club, but never mind that – it became an iconic showcase, school and launch pad for ultra-talented, under-exposed performers like Aziz Ansari, Ellie Kemper, Nick Kroll, Ed Helms, Donald Glover and Kate McKinnon. Most of them have less than six degrees of separation from UCB and Walsh, making him sort of a Kevin Bacon of sketch and improv (or Kevin Beeken, for purveyors of inside jokes).

Though he was bitten by the funny bug in a variety show at his Chicago high school, Walsh graduated college as a psychology major and worked in an adolescent psych ward after graduation. But nights spent studying improv with Del Close convinced him he wasn’t long for the day job. He began making his name (and finding his voice) at the Improv Olympic in 1989, eventually meeting fellow comics that would become the UCB Founding Four. Walsh was so committed to the cause he left a prestigious gig with Second City to continue building the struggling troupe, using money from side jobs to stay afloat.

In 1998 UCB scored a three-year show on Comedy Central. Splitsider called The UCB Show “a show for comedy nerds, people who care about whether and why a sketch works with near-academic intensity.” It opened the floodgates to a parade of TV roles – on The Daily Show, Reno 911!, Party Down, Community, Parks and Recreation, to name a very few – and in movies like Drillbit Taylor, Step Brothers, Cyrus and 2016’s Ghostbusters. He’s also a consistent figure in Todd Phillips movies, where you’ll find him playing characters named Walsh, or ‘Valsh,’ as the situation demands.

Along the way, Walsh (the real one) also managed to write and direct several of his own projects, which are notable for being almost 100 percent improvised, and bold examples of alternative comedy. As an actor and writer on Players, he transformed loosely outlined situations and characters into surprisingly watchable TV, largely due to a cast of improv pros who knew how to lift and level the jokes. In its review of the pilot for his Dog Bites Man, IGN wrote, “If subsequent episodes of the show maintain this level of quality, this is going to be one of the best comedies on television. The chemistry of the cast is amazing, the writing is sharp and witty, and the timing is perfect.” On the big screen, he’s gathered improv cohorts for cult classics like High Road and Martin & Orloff, the latter in which he is Martin Flam, an advertising costume designer who is agonizing over the death of an actor dressed as an egg roll with no eye holes, who stumbled into the river and drowned. Guilt-stricken, he attempts suicide; the movie starts with Flam’s return home from the hospital as he cleans his own dried blood from the bathroom floor. If that intro alone has you sniggering to yourself, maybe you’ll sympathize with tech issues Walsh encounters in turning his friends loose in front of a lens. When the cameras keep shaking and lights start moving around because the crew can’t stop laughing, you’re in for a long day of shooting, but he loves every minute of it. In discussing High Road with Collider, Walsh cited Christopher Guest as inspiration. “He got to make four movies with his buddies. That alone is a huge success to me.”

If Veep is only now bringing him attention he’s more than merited all along, you get the feeling he’ll use it for the same purpose he always has – championing comics. He believes they have a harder job than they’re given credit for in comparison to their dramatic counterparts. “Comedians have to be relatable, so the pedestal gets smaller.” Hopefully not too small to accommodate a guy who truly deserves one.

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Freida Pinto didn’t rise to fame as much as she instantly found herself in its spotlight. It’s a story almost more Hollywood than Hollywood – kind of like the one in the small film that started it all. Set and filmed in India, Slumdog Millionaire emerged as a surprise sleeper, grossing nearly four hundred million dollars on a budget of only $15 million. It was the most successful film of 2008, winning eight of its ten Academy Award nominations. It was also the first film Pinto ever made. She had a mere 20 minutes of screen time (and no formal acting training) to convince viewers she was a girl worth crawling across the earth for. First she had to convince director Danny Boyle, sort of. He saw hundreds of girls on videotape, but “The first time I saw her audition, I remember thinking, ‘Well, that’s her.’” It was.

The ironic part was that it took a British filmmaker and an American studio to launch the career of someone who’d grown up in Mumbai, the capital of Bollywood, which regularly outpaces its U.S. industry counterpart in production spending, ticket sales – and competition for roles. The daughter of a banker and school principal who was never going to become either, Pinto was keen to act from an early age. Seeing her country’s pride in Sushmita Sen’s 1994 Miss Universe win, she wanted to inspire her nation’s admiration as well. She went to college (English literature, psychology, economics), but Charlize Theron put her over the edge. Watching 2003’s Monster, Pinto knew she had to find such transformational opportunities for herself. She modeled to finance auditions, scoring chewing gum and phone commercials and even a travel show for India’s Zee channel – while film rejections piled up.

What audition after audition couldn’t do for her in Bollywood, Slumdog did overnight. She quickly landed roles in films by some of the businesses’ most iconic directors, including Woody Allen, Michael Winterbottom and Terrence Malick. There’s your acting school right there. What seemed to elude them was knowing exactly what to do with her. Pinto’s roles in smaller movies (You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger, Knight of Cups) and larger blockbusters (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Blunt Force Trauma) seemed underwritten and one-dimensional.

The exceptions were small, but revelatory films. In Trishna, the India-set adaptation of Tess of the d’Urbervilles, we saw what Slumdog hinted at. “The movie is dominated by the performances of the beautiful Freida Pinto…and Riz Ahmed,” ran The Guardian’s review. “Both are actors with striking presences playing people uncertain of their identities, discontented with their lots and seething with doubts about their roles in evolving India.” As the lead in Julian Schnabel’s biographical, political Miral, she won praise for her performance as an orphaned Palestinian woman who grew up in a refugee camp in Israel, but its most profound effect on her was personal, as she told Interview in 2011. “There was a lot I had to learn, because all the news channels say is, ‘Israeli soldiers’ and ‘Palestinian terrorists’ — we’ve already compartmentalized them.” In describing the film, she said, “There are people who are trying to make a difference in a very civil manner, not just by picking up a gun. I felt that if I became part of this film and I gave it my all, that’s exactly what I would be doing…I knew the film was not going to be accepted too well, but I did it hoping that somewhere in the future it would be referred to as one of those films that started the conversation.”

She’s determined to continue it, spending half her time advocating for women and children around the globe, working with organizations like We Do It Together and Because I’m A Girl, and being a producer on the devastating and controversial India’s Daughter. “It’s definitely not a career decision. It’s more of a human decision.” That said, the career decisions are holding their own. She’s recently joined Idris Elba and Babou Ceesay in Showtime’s Guerrilla as a woman whose values are tested when she liberates a political prisoner in 1970s London. She’ll also appear in Love Sonia, a tough film about the global sex trafficking trade, and in next year’s Jungle Book: Origins, which is already giving off franchise whiffs.

If the business was unable to figure out her “place,” well, lucky her. When you belong nowhere, you can go anywhere, a feat few “ethnic” actresses manage to accomplish. She’s played women of all nationalities and religions; she’s been eye candy, heroine, muse and badass, all without ever being confined to a type. Perfect, for someone who’s said she rather enjoys being an outsider. “I don’t want to be fitted in somewhere. I fit into the world. I’m a human being before anything else.”

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