Thursday, April 30, 2009

Taylor Kitsch, interview one

My interview with Taylor Kitsch appears in this week's WE.

Taylor Kitsch plays comic-book hero Gambit opposite Hugh Jackman in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

Taylor Kitsch plays comic-book hero Gambit opposite Hugh Jackman in X-Men Origins: Wolverine.

By Andrea Warner

Taylor Kitsch calls from a cellphone while sitting in the passenger seat of a car speeding through Los Angeles, on his way to look at motorcycles. The 28-year-old Kelowna-born actor is an easy conversationalist; his words come tumbling out in a steady stream that reflects his myriad influences: 19 years spent growing up in B.C., and 10 years trying to launch his acting career in the U.S., which finally paid off three years ago when he landed the role of bad-boy quarterback Tim Riggins on the cult TV drama Friday Night Lights. Kitsch’s voice is a hybrid of elongated Canadian vowels and a smattering of Americanisms — a warm, friendly lilt often punctuated by a flurry of F-bombs.

It’s this delicious combination that has solidified Kitsch’s sexy-rebel vibe, and made him the prime contender to go shoulder-to-shoulder with Hugh Jackman in the summer’s first potential blockbuster, the highly anticipated X-Men Origins: Wolverine (opening Friday, May 1).

Kitsch admits that a starring role in a big-budget film was the last thing on his mind when he was younger. He calls his upbringing “stereotypically Canadian,” with years spent playing hockey and chasing girls. But a passing interest in acting gave way to strangely geeky passion. “I fuckin’ loved public speaking — a lot,” Kitsch admits. “I went to the divisional and to the regionals, like, three years in a row for these speeches — basically just stories I made up.”

Kitsch played semi-professional hockey for the Langley Hornets in the Canadian BCHL until he was 19, when a wrecked knee sidelined him permanently. His love for performance — and his pretty face — pushed him toward pursuing modelling in New York, where he was holed up in an agency-sanctioned apartment with nine other guys, all of them hoping for their big break. In between assignments for the likes of Diesel and Abercrombie & Fitch, he studied acting and surfed the poverty line.

“I remember for my birthday my mum sent me, like, $200 so I could buy a futon, and that was, like, glorious,” Kitsch recalls, laughing. “I think a lot of people come here and wanna wake up and be an actor. But paying your dues puts so much into being a success, because you have an understanding, for the most part, of what it’s about. Living day-to-day on three dollars, or living in an apartment with no electricity for well over a couple of months — those kinds of things shape a lot of who you are. It was a great experience, in retrospect. But I tell ya, I wouldn’t do it again. Fuck.”

Those years in squalour, and a streak of stubbornness, helped keep him focused on his acting goals.

“I definitely knew what I didn’t want,” he says. “To this day, I think if I was on a soap, I’d fuckin’ last an hour. That’s just a different type of acting, it’s a different art. I don’t think I’d be very good at that one bit.”

Kitsch landed a bit part in the heavily hyped (and ultimately unsuccessful) Samuel L. Jackson thriller Snakes on a Plane and a few other feature films before joining Friday Night Lights. If there were five viewers for every critic who has hailed FNL’s brilliance, Kitsch would already be a household name. Instead, he’s been marked as the show’s breakout star and an actor on the verge of being Hollywood’s newest ‘It’ boy — something the boy himself can’t help but laugh about. “Ummm, yeah. I’m on my way to buy three Lexuses, a mansion, a boat, and four other houses on an island,” he jokes. “That’s flattering, but you take it for what it is. It’s nice to have people — especially in this fuckin’ business — who are rooting for you.”

Even fanboys — a notoriously finicky group — were blogging with happy-face emoticons when Kitsch landed the role of Gambit in Wolverine, and he does seem (pardon the pun) tailor-made for the part: a charming Cajun thief and ladies’ man who can throw a mean playing card and manipulate kinetic energy.

“I knew X-Men and I knew of Gambit, but the more I learned about him, the more I wanted to play him,” Kitsch says. “He’s definitely a cool cat. And there’s so much room to take him and discover so many things that are a part of him, too. I’m really excited about it, and hopefully we can do a few of these.”

Kitsch describes the film as “pretty fuckin’ bad-ass,” and confesses that he’d “murder to play Gambit for the next 10 years, like Hugh did [with Wolverine].”

X-Men Origins: Wolverine pulls in plenty of characters from the X-Men universe to detail Wolverine’s evolution from man to mutant. Jackman has played the tortured title character since the first X-Men movie in 2000, and Kitsch brings up the Aussie actor’s name frequently and enthusiastically during the course of our conversation. He’s clearly smitten (professionally speaking) with his colleague.

“Working with Hugh, working off of him, is just a pleasure. We have really good chemistry on screen, and we have a lot of fun and give each other a hard time,” Kitsch says, laughingly recalling the good-natured ribbing he and the other actors would give Jackman about being a triple threat with his Broadway career, his action-hero roles, and his leading-man status. “It’s so ridiculous. His toolbox — mine’s, like, lunchbox big, and his is like a fucking shed with a padlock. He’s just kind of an enigma, a rare breed.”

One can’t help but hear how Jackman’s influence has already made its mark: Kitsch boasts a slight Australian affectation as he gushes about his friend, and his own good fortune.

“I can tell you, I wouldn’t want to be in this position five, seven years ago,” Kitsch admits. “I’m glad it’s happening now, and hopefully into my early thirties and stuff, you know? I didn’t have this kind of mindset eight years ago. And I think Hugh — when you look at how he stays the person he is, and that he had such a great sense of self when he started, and he knew what he wanted. According to the X-Men crew, he’s even more genuine than he was before, which is incredible.” 

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

John Tesh

My brief piece on John Tesh appears in this week's Charleston City Paper.

John Tesh

Who’s got three gold records, six Emmys, and a syndicated radio show with eight million listeners? The same man who’s got an Associated Press award for investigative journalism, spent time announcing the Tour de France and Olympics, and has appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation: John Tesh.

John freakin’ Tesh? The tall, blond grandfather of celebrity obsession who co-anchored Entertainment Tonight throughout the ’80s, penning its ubiquitous electronic orchestra-infused theme? The composer and keyboardist who got his start moonlighting in a handful of Yanni shows? Yep, that’s Tesh.

His brand of grandiose arrangements alternately burst with bombast and then retreat into hushed whispers — a style that may not find favour with critics, but keeps legions of fans clamoring for Tesh’s tour bus to roll through their town. With more than 20 album sales to his credit, spanning everything from New Age to gospel, and a regular perch atop the Christian and Billboard instrumental charts, Tesh might not be cool, but he’s got success on his side.

—Andrea Warner

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Invention of Love

My review of The Invention of Love appears online at


By Andrea Warner

Tom Stoppard knows a thing or two about love. The celebrated playwright turned the Bard’s soft-side intothe Oscar winner, Shakespeare in Love. More recently his relationship dramedy, The Real Thing, had a three-week stint at the Arts Club’s Granville Island Stage.

Unfortunately, United Players’ Canadian premiere of The Invention of Love is one of Stoppard’s driest, most academic offerings, boasting more $5 words than the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica. Putting the playwright’s mind over what really matters, Love means to show us just how big Stoppard’s reading glasses are.

The play tackles — in varying flashes forwards and back through time — the life and death of poet and scholar A.E. Houseman. Stellar Tariq Leslie, as the young Houseman, silently lusts after his best friend, dreamy jock Moses Jackson (Andrew Halliwell). It’s all talk, no action, the actors left drowning in a sea of lengthy monologues. As a result, the first act stalls repeatedly, and often feels like a tired university liberal arts lecture.

While young Houseman’s life is precariously hooked to his unrealistic dreams, the older Houseman (Graham Bullen) is caught in a strange afterlife with a variety of scholarly types, each of whom alternately waxes on about their chosen academic fields, its merits, its lows, and the politics of the time, including the controversy-baiting shenanigans of flamboyant writer Oscar Wilde (James Gill, who has a gay old time, literally).

The second act picks up steam, when Houseman’s finally ‘outed,’ and it’s here that Stoppard’s genius with wordplay finally allows the actors to shine. Stoppard invents love: the all-consuming, paralyzing aspects love that moves men into epic soliloquies about the meaning of words, the beauty of poetry, and the fallibility of scholarship.

Unfortunately, Stoppard’s genius is ultimately tempered by overwhelming intellectual indulgences marring what otherwise might have been a consistently compelling narrative.

Age of Arousal

My preview of Age of Arousal appears online at Xtra West.


In 2007, at the Alberta Playwrights Festival, six Vancouver theatre companies vied for the rights to produce Linda Griffith’s new play, Age of Arousal, a remarkable feat for any script, let alone one that tackles pioneering lesbian feminists in the Victorian era.

Katrina Dunn, artistic director of Touchstone Theatre, had heard about Arousal months earlier and was one of the bidders.

“I got a call when it was still in the very early stages of development from someone who runs a play development company,” Dunn recalls. “She called me because the play had feminist subject matter and I used to run a feminist theatre company. It’s the way [Arousal] portrays women, and the women’s issues it talks about in an interesting and provocative way.”

Dunn recalls the fervour around Arousal from the beginning of the festival.

“There was a lot of excitement,” she says. “[To be] one of six companies eager to produce it in Vancouver —that’s not a common occurrence. That happens very rarely.”

The Arts Club ended up winning the rights, and invited Touchstone to co-produce, with Dunn ultimately taking the reins as director.

A mad scramble to launch a witty drama with queer women characters at its core signifies three things: a need for great writing, a dearth of material representing strong women, and an even bigger black hole for gay female characters on the stage.

Set in 1885, Arousal seems to fill this void. The play centres on Mary, a 60-year-old ex-suffragette who runs a secretarial school for women with her young lover, Rhoda. When three sisters join the school and Mary’s charming cousin Everard, the cad-like playboy, crashes into their lives, Rhoda’s forced to face her political and sexual identity, all under the watchful eye of Victorian-era mores.

On the phone from her home in Toronto, Griffiths acknowledges that it was actually an old copy of George Gissing’s The Odd Women that inspired her to write Arousal. When she set about creating a cast of female characters, she felt drawn to exploring the tangled web of sexuality.

“Everyone in the play is very different sexually, and that was interesting to me,” Griffiths says. “On one-hand, in the play, you have a highly sexed heterosexual woman, and a woman who does not see sexuality as central to who she is. Then you have a bisexual, or somebody who’d had an affair when she was younger, but in our world would have gotten married and had kids and not done it again. There’s a character who’s gay, and a character who is ambiguous. She doesn’t know and will never know, and that is one of the choices she makes in the play. There are many different kinds of sexuality.”

Mary and Rhoda’s sexual relationship is heavily disguised to outsiders as that of mentor and protégé, a typically heterosexual paradigm that Griffiths wanted to turn on its head.

“I was always interested in that relationship anyways,” Griffiths says. “I think there’s always an element of sexuality in that. The buzz often includes a sexual attraction, whether it’s acted on or not. You think of those powerful, intelligent and charismatic men having lovers many years younger than them, but to make this work with women is a harder thing [for some people].”

Laara Sadiq plays Rhoda, perhaps Arousal’s most complicated character, a woman struggling for equality, both with men and in her relationship with Mary.

“Rhoda is conflicted,” Sadiq says. “She has a lot of commitment to her political ideals, and commitment to this woman, Mary, who has been her lover and mentor in many ways, and sort-of business partner. And she wants more, she’s yearning for something. What’s appealing about her is she doesn’t know what that ‘more’ is, what those pieces are that are missing.”

Mary isn’t in any position to reach out and help Rhoda figure it out. Burned by the suffragette movement, she’s determined to make her own way in the world and create financial independence for herself and the women who attend her school.

Susan Hogan, who plays Mary, was encouraged to pursue the role when the play was still in its infancy. Griffiths’ decision to liberally use thought-speak throughout, a device where the characters voice their inner thoughts verbally, caught Hogan’s attention.

Arousal is “not an easy read,” Hogan says. “It’s cluttered and it’s dirty, but that’s the way we are as human beings. We’re not clean and straight-forward and obvious in our choices.”

The feminist theme that originally attracted Dunn engaged Hogan as well, who was struck by the curious echoes that continue to surface now, more than 120 years after the play is set.

“I have a daughter and a granddaughter,” Hogan says. “These issues [feminism, gay rights, equality] continue to be so vitally important, and must continue to be — whether it’s the abortion issue or the right to vote or the right to marry.”

Arousal’s timeliness may be the driving force behind its success, but its Vancouver debut signifies something greater: lesbian stories, women’s stories, are finally being welcomed out of the closet.

“Touchstone has been producing work by a number of gay playwrights over the years,” Dunn says. “Usually that’s male content, and that’s great, there’s a huge audience for that and it’s great to tell those stories. But the lesbian stories come up way less often, so I was very excited to look into that subject matter and try to reach that audience.

“I don’t think they see their stories told hardly at all. This is a large production in a very established theatre, which isn’t how we’ve presented this subject matter in the past, but it’s great to bring the gay audience into that fold and show them their stories are being told on the big stage now.”

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Straigten Up!

My article on refreshing your home through a thorough reorganization appears in this week's WE.

Straighten Up!

By Andrea Warner

Most urban Vancouverites know the day-to-day reality of living in a small space that quickly becomes cramped with “prized” possessions. Looking at closets full of clothes or a living room that has slowly lapsed into a second storage locker can be downright debilitating. To help you embark on a spring de-cluttering makeover that’s affordable and effective, we reached out to a triumvirate of home-organization experts who make their livelihoods from creating order out of chaos.


There are plenty of reasons why people allow their personal possessions to take over their homes and their lives. According to Shelley Davies of Details Modern Order (604-868-2112,, getting to the bottom of that mystery is key. “I find out the story of the ‘whys’ of how their space has become disorganized,” she says. “What just isn’t working: too much stuff? Too little space? Need for organizational tools? No systems in place? Boyfriend just moved in?”

Letting clutter pile up adds unnecessary stress to your life, says Susan Broax of Good Riddance (604-421-5952, “People are overwhelmed and often feel defeated by the clutter around them, resulting in loss of energy and self-esteem,” she says. “And clutter is the source of a good deal of the conflict between spouses, parents and children, and roommates.”

Paul Talbot (604-684-5059, has been leading Clear Your Clutter workshops for the past 15 years, and has even written several books on the subject. He believes in asking the tough questions to assess clutter conundrums, using four key words to help people evaluate their mess: love (Do I really love this?); value (sentimental/emotional/financial); purpose (What purpose does this item serve me?); and ruthless (which you should be prepared to be when determining the true usefulness of an item).


Davies, Broax and Talbot all agree that the key to a successful de-cluttering is to start small, no matter how large the end goal. “Start on one area at a time,” Talbot says. “Work on the visible clutter first — not the stuff that’s in the closets or under the bed — so you actually can see the benefits.”

Broax suggests starting with storage areas. “There are fewer attachment issues [there], as household items located in these areas are often not a feature of daily life,” she says. “It will go more quickly.”

Davies advises people to pick a space — drawer, closet, or a whole room. “Make sure you are realistic about the time required to do the task,” she says. “A drawer can take anywhere from 15 to 45 minutes, depending on its contents. A clothes closet, four hours plus. A room, sometimes all weekend.”


Broax’s strategy is twofold. First, have an objective and a deadline. (Are you expecting guests or doing a renovation? Each requires a different strategy and level of commitment.) Secondly, you can’t organize for anyone but yourself. If you share your space with others, their belongings are their responsibility.

Davies’s advice comes down to that “space” word again, offering that by first defining the space and deciding what you want it to accomplish, you can better decide how to organize. Next, minimize the space and stay focused. Touch everything once and make a decision. Get some bins and mark them: ‘Toss,’ ‘Donate/Consign/Sell,’ ‘Repair,’ and ‘Relocate.’ Finally, organize and maximize your space: Group like items with like, then decide if you need to introduce any organizational tools (like baskets, hooks, etc.) that will maximize your space. Be creative — go up, go under, look for great ways to multi-purpose furniture and space. During this step, it’s also important to introduce systems that will keep the ‘flow.’ Love magazines? When a new issue comes in the door, go through last month’s and tear out anything you want to keep and file, then recycle the remainder.


Broax says paper is one of the biggest villains in the daily battle against mess. “Less stuff means less time,” she says. “Taking control over paper must be practiced on a daily basis. It means being vigilant about what we bring into the home in the form of advertising, mail and periodicals, and what we generate ourselves through our printers and faxes.”

For Davies, time is the primary factor in maintaining a clutter-free home. “Set aside 15 to 30 minutes that you must schedule into your day, just like you do a business appointment, personal trainer, or hair cut,” she says. “It can be with a coffee in the morning or a glass of wine at night. Commit to that time and walk through your home, picking everything up and putting it all back where it belongs. Deal with the mail and paperwork, do the dishes. Make a rule that you won’t go to bed until you’ve done your daily ‘walkabout’,’ Waking up to an uncluttered home is the best and freshest way to start the day.”

Paul Talbot hosts a free springtime Clean Your Clutter workshop on Thursday, April 23, at Kitsilano Library (2425 Macdonald Street), 7 p.m. Registration required: 604-665-3976.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Mates of State

My interview with Kori from Mates of State appears online at

Two heads, eight eyes, one vision: Mates of State's Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner.

Two heads, eight eyes, one vision: Mates of State's Jason Hammel and Kori Gardner.

One’s husband might make for a great bandmate, but he doesn’t always pass on pertinent information — such as, say, that a journalist will be calling for an interview. And yet, Kori Gardner, one half of the aptly titled indie-rock duo Mates of State, laughs off the intrusion of an unexpected call, playfully blaming her partner, Jason Hammel, for the mix-up. She’s currently playing with her and Hammel’s blonde moppets, four-year-old Magnolia and one-year-old June, and within a few minutes of launching into the interview, it’s apparent that her self-deprecating demeanour has helped forge Mates of State’s cheerful and quirky organ-laden indie-pop sound, up to and including their 2008 album, Rearrange Us.

Despite the fact that the couple are packing up the kids and leaving for their North American tour in just a few hours, Gardner gamely answers questions with as much humour and graciousness as if an old friend was calling to catch up. It’s called rolling with the punches, and is just part and parcel of being a rock ’n’ roll mom.

You’re touring with Black Kids, an indie-dance band in their early twenties. Is there any concern about them being kids who want to party, and you may want to party as well, but you’ll have real kids of your own on tour with you?

Gardner: Yeah, on tour we definitely go to bed earlier than most bands. [Laughs] Mostly me, I guess. Jason will stay out. We’ve toured with people that are 18, and toured with people in their forties. The only difference is we have to get up at 6 a.m.

You blog a lot about your kids and your life with Jason. Do you worry about providing too much access to your life?

Like, “I can’t believe you put that picture of me online!” I get that from Jason. We were supposed to do [the blog] together in the beginning, and he was like, I don’t really want to share that stuff. And, I’m not gonna share everything, you know; I’m not going to write about every second of the day. Just the main points. And every now and then he’s like, “Take down the picture you put up of me. I’m wearing my robe” [Laughs]

Some of the reviews of Rearrange Us were really positive, and the album ended up on some critics’ year-end lists, whereas others came down really hard on it, partly for the lack of organ.

Even if it seems on the outside that everybody loves a certain record we put out, we’ll read reviews and see the one negative line, like, “It didn’t live up to my expectations.” And we’re like, What does that mean? What were your expectations? We want to exceed them! But, that is not what we’re making music for — for what people write in their reviews — so I think I’ve gotten a lot better about that. But, at the same time, how can it connect so well with some people and just make some people so angry? I don’t understand that, but it’s just about taste. Ideally, we write a record that everyone in the world loves, because it would be this great thing to connect everybody and it would be great for our band, but that’s not the reason we’re doing this anymore. I don’t wanna analyze it anymore. And I think this is the first time where we went in and were like, let’s just make the record we want to make and not even think about it.

Stuff that’s charting on Billboard now seems to be breaking down the barrier between mainstream and indie. Neko Case debuted really strongly, as did the Decemberists. Do you feel Mates of State fits into that “independent” world still?

I don’t know. I don’t feel we’re mainstream, but I don’t feel like we’re always making indie-rock anymore. I feel like I don’t ever want to write the same record, and I hope our sound evolves. We never wanted to fit into one category, and I hope that kind of continues.

Do you have that mentor relationship with anyone currently?

It’s funny. You’re the second person to point out, like, Black Kids are in their twenties, and you guys are in your thirties. [Laughs] I guess we’re totally delusional and still think we’re in our twenties. I don’t think of myself as a musician that could be thought of as a mentor at all. Actually, I have to say, one thing we do give advice on, and maybe too much advice on — we sort of feel like we’re experts at touring. We’ve been in every sort of touring situation. I could definitely be a mentor in that realm. I would love for someone to think of me as a mentor, musically, but I just don’t feel that role. [Laughs] I have all these insecurities, like, I’m not really that good, but don’t tell anybody!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Virginia Madsen

A few weeks late, but I'm finally posting my interview with Virginia Madsen. Who knew Haunting in Connecticut would still be around?
Virginia Madsen's love of horror films and belief in the paranormal pushed her to star in The Haunting in Connecticut.

Virginia Madsen's love of horror films and belief in the paranormal pushed her to star in The Haunting in Connecticut.

By Andrea Warner

She’s played the ingenue (Electric Dreams), the sexpot (Third Degree Burn) and the scream queen (Candyman). But it wasn’t until her Oscar-nominated turn in 2004’s Sideways, as wine-loving waitress Maya, that Virginia Madsen finally proved herself a major player in Hollywood.

Now, the honey-blonde starlet is indulging her love of horror and the paranormal with The Haunting in Connecticut (opening March 27), based on the alleged true story of a family terrorized by ghosts.

What attracted you to this movie? Do you like horror films?
Madsen: I do. I’m a huge fan. And I’ve been looking for a good horror script for years! Literally for years. Sometimes they’ll have a good idea or an okay story, but not a good ending, and a lot of times the horror films being made right now aren’t character-driven; they’re just the gore-fest thing, and that’s okay — they’re lucrative, fun, campy. But [with Haunting], I knew by page three that I really cared about this mother and child, and I was intrigued by that, and I found that the story was about the whole family, and I really loved that.

Candyman scared the pants off of me when I was younger.
(Laughs) What I liked about Candyman, and what I like about this movie, is that they play on our most basic childhood fears: what’s behind that mirror; what’s down that hall; what’s under the bed; is someone watching me while I’m in the shower. It’s all the stuff that naturally frightens us around the house. Even as grown-ups, there’s that half a second between where you hear a noise outside the window and you know that it’s just the wind — there’s a half second there where I think, “Monster.” (laughs) You know, it makes no sense at all, but you still do it because you have that basic instinct of fight or flight. You know that’s probably your cat under the bed, but you look and (in a scary voice), “THERE’S THE CAT UNDER THE BED! OH MY GOD!”

So you like being scared?
I love being scared in movies, and I’m a great fan of the genre, but I’m also a great fan of the whole hunt for the proof of the paranormal. There’s just such cool stuff on YouTube — like, really, really great-bad ghost footage. But there are some things on there that you can’t explain. And, I mean, just as when we look into space, we know that it’s naïve at best, arrogant at worst, that we think we’re the only living things in the universe, because of all that we know that we can’t see, much is the same as our life on Earth. There’s so much about our perceived existence that we don’t even know about. So, how are we to just discount all of these experiences as “fake” or “just their imagination.” I’m fascinated by all the different experiences people have had. It’s a scientific fact that there’s cell memory, but what if there’s DNA memory?

Like past-life flashbacks?
Our basic DNA connected to our great, great, great grandmother, and when we see a “ghost,” what if something just goes ‘flash’ in our brain from that ancient DNA memory, and what if we’re actually seeing what our great-grandmother saw when we see a ghost? It’s fascinating stuff, and there’s some investigation about that. Because you can’t just say that millions and millions of people that have experienced something paranormal are just lying or just imagining. But then, how much can we manifest with the power of our own fear?


My review of Gomorrah's online at

Starring Gianfelice Imperato, Salvatore Abruzzese
Directed by Matteo Garrone
4 stars (out of 5

By Andrea Warner
A crumbling concrete ghetto, toxic landfill, and a brothel are just three of the sometimes sinful settings at the centre of Gomorrah, a fantastic crime drama about the Camorra, the notorious Italian mafia family that rules present-day Naples.

Adapted from Italian journalist Robert Saviano’s blistering 2006 exposé of the same name (for which the author is still under 24-hour police security), the film successfully, albeit a tad confusingly, interweaves the stories of five separate people whose lives are inextricably linked to organized crime. The full extent of the mafia’s reach is both fascinating and horrifying to discover, from its involvement in the hard drug trade and government-level toxic waste disposal, to less obvious rackets like couture fashion.

Writer-director Matteo Garrone uses both famous and unknown Italian actors, wringing achingly true performances from all of them, from the wannabe teenage gang-bangers who quote Scarface, to Don Ciro (the quietly devastating Gianfelice Imparato), the mild-mannered money carrier who pays off the relatives of jailed mafia members. Watching the senior mafia members (old men who are nothing but bronzed, fat gods of their own making) play cat-and-mouse with gangly teens who ape the stylized violence they so idolize would seem almost comical if it weren’t so disturbingly sad and painfully real.

Garonne, also operating as the primary cinematographer, uses a hand-held camera to escalate the tension to an almost unbearable level, further entrenching the audience inside Gomorrah’s corrosive, corrupt world. It’s in capturing the horrific reality of the Naples underworld that the film does its best work, sucking the glamour out of the mafia lifestyle with each beautifully shot frame.

Ting Tings

My interview with Katie White from the Ting Tings appears in this week's WE.
The Ting Tings’ Jules De Martino and  Katie White: “We’re still completely  normal, but our lives aren’t normal,” says  White.

The Ting Tings’ Jules De Martino and Katie White: “We’re still completely normal, but our lives aren’t normal,” says White.

MUSIC: The Ting Tings — from nowhere to everywhere

By Andrea Warner

They’re the U.K.’s prettiest, most perfectly packaged dance-pop duo since... well, ever. But what makes the Ting Tings’ success that much sweeter for Katie White and Jules De Martino, who share vocal and drum duties in the band, is that they’ve done the whole damn thing themselves, shunning label interference by taking charge of everything from aesthetics to sound. They may have the silliest-sounding name on the music scene, but the duo’s debut album, 2008’s We Started Nothing, boasts some of the catchiest, bounce-worthy tunes of recent times.

Their debut single, “That’s Not My Name,” took the top spot on the U.K. singles chart, making them unexpected overnight sensations. The band’s buzz then caught the attention of Apple’s head honchos, who chose “Shut Up and Let Me Go” to anchor last summer’s iPod/iTunes ad campaign. Nowadays, their audience knows no bounds: Whether toddlers or nostalgic Gen-Xers, straight or gay, everyone seems to love the Ting Tings.

Despite a whiplash-inducing year in which they went from unknowns to rock stars, White, calling from the road on the band’s current tour, insists she and De Martino are “completely normal.” Sure, De Martino has to wear sunglasses 24/7, à la Bono, after suffering seizures under the onslaught of flashbulbs on the red carpets. It’s also true that they can’t grocery shop in their home base of Manchester without being mobbed. And, yes, they’ve been on the road almost non-stop, crisscrossing the globe for the better part of the last 16 months. What could be more normal than that?

How did you and Jules come onto each other’s radars?
Katie White: We were in London about five years ago, and he was in a band and I was in a band. Actually, I don’t even know that he was in a band, but he was hanging out with them, and he recognized my accent being from the North of England. We started to write some songs together over the next few months, and we both liked a band called Portishead, and we eventually formed a band [Dear Eskiimo] with another member and that went completely wrong. (Laughs)

What did you want to do differently with the Ting Tings?
We didn’t want to do anything, to be honest. We’d been signed by a major label and dropped, and nobody wanted to work with us. If you’ve been in a band that’s been dropped, you’re not the hottest people around. We had loads of people we thought were our friends, and they just didn’t call us back the next day, and we haven’t spoken with them since. So, it was really weird and we were really down. But we still had three months’ rent on the space we were working with Dear Eskiimo — this space in Manchester that had 40 artist spaces, an art gallery — and we were just hanging out there, seeing what all the artists were doing and watching bands. And we’d honestly given up on thinking were were gonna be successful, that our chance was over, and so we just thought we’d stay until the rent runs out and then worry about what we’re gonna do. So, we were just playing some house parties for our friends — we had two songs, and I’d never played the guitar in my life, I’d just picked it up and started playing it. We didn’t really try, and then suddenly it actually worked! It was like, What the hell, couldn’t we have figured this out five years earlier?

It sounds downright magical.
We have had this year and a half where you constantly pinch yourself, to the point where I start to feel ill because I was so excited. You know, good news after good news, where two months prior to that we had bailiffs come knocking at our door. It was such a contrast: Just like, what the fuck, you know? If anything, what we learned, in retrospect, was to just not listen to anybody, because what we learned is that nobody has a clue what they’re doing, and everybody just bullshits their way through life. In the last band, we took a lot of shit from record labels, like you should wear this and you should write songs like this, and we were really quite naïve. This time, when left to our own devices, it worked, so we just walk around constantly ignoring people now.

The last year’s been incredibly intense for you. Do you feel out of your element, or are you getting used to the attention finally?
We’re used to it now, but it’s — you kind of go a bit weird with it all. You don’t live a normal life. We’re constantly on the go. You can’t really go to the supermarket, because you get constantly stopped by people. We’re stuck in this big bubble of the tour bus that goes around the world and on airplanes and stuff. I think we’ve finally got our heads wrapped around it, but I think if it all ended tomorrow it would take a good year to get back to being a normal person in society... We’re still completely normal, but our lives aren’t normal.

Do you remember playing your first sold-out show?
It’s weird, because we started playing house parties and then we did this festival. We did four house parties in our home and then the BBC in England found us and put us on the [new-band] stage at Glastonbury, which is this huge festival. That was kind of weird, because it was such a big jump. And you know, I can’t even remember the performance, frankly, ’cause we were just shitting ourselves. I’d been playing guitar for about six weeks, and I couldn’t believe I was playing in front of all these people, and I don’t even know what my B chord is — I’m just playing it. That was completely mind-blowing, and then the next day they played our performance on TV, out of, like, 30 bands, and it went out on late-night, but the response from that was huge. And then [producer and label exec] Rick Rubin sent us messages. It just went crazy, crazy, crazy. I’m still kind of scarred from our last band, though. You have to convince all your family members to turn up for gigs.