I love Stockwell’s frenetic cameo in The Player. He and Richard Grant play a pair of writers who have a brilliant mind-blowing idea for a film and are desperate to get it made. They buttonhole poor Griffin Mill at a rooftop restaurant – and he says, “Okay, fine, give me your pitch – but do it in 25 words.” Richard Grant begins the pitch (the two have obviously rehearsed the pitch many times – Stockwell, a fussy little New York-ish type guy in the movie, gets himself out of the way – he does “backup”). Richard Grant eventually gets so moved by his own pitch that tears flood his eyes. It’s a very very funny scene. Grant behaves as though THIS – his idea – will make all other movies irrelevant. THIS will be the best. movie. ever. made. And even cynical Griffin Mill is impressed – it certainly gets his attention.
Grant and Stockwell do this tag-team act – and as with most Altman movies, it’s hard to really tell what is scripted, what is not … it FEELS improvised, and yet it doesn’t seem random or un-focused. The event of the scene is clear. It’s one of the scenes everyone remembers from that movie – that and the first tracking shot – because it is so clear, the indictment of the Hollywood decision-making process is so apparent in the scene – yet it is obvious that these two writers, Grant and Stockwell, have the best of intentions. It’s no crime to want to make a buck. But when Grant goes off on how there shall be “NO STARS” in the picture – “I don’t even think this should be a Hollywood picture at all …” and Griffin Mill is like, “Uhm, you don’t? Then why talk to me about it?” – but when Grant goes off on a flight of fancy about how there shall be NO HOLLYWOOD STARS in the film – no “personalities” – nothing like that – Stockwell, across the table, basically mutters at Griffin Mill, hoping no one will notice his sibliminal message, “Bruce Willis …” Like – right there you can see: everyone is willing to compromise. “No Holly wood stars!! But … if Bruce Willis is available … that would be great.” Nobody has integrity. And of course at the end of the film, when we see some of the finished product -the film has now been made and everyone sits in a screening room, congratulating themselves, patting themselves on the back – and the movie within the movie now stars, of course, Julia Roberts and Bruce Willis … It’s just a perfect Altman-esque observation of how things are really done – the system in which he had operated for many years – trying to maintain his independence, etc.
Stockwell, in this part, never stops moving or talking – it’s a very different energy from many of his other parts, where he is normally sort of watchful, detached, with an ironic grin, or a snarky comment. Stockwell, at least as an adult man, is “cool”. In this? He’s desperate, impassioned, a bit fuzzy around the edges (like: his totally un-cool glasses – he’s wearing a big billowy blazer, a turtleneck, jeans, and big white sneakers – like, the guy needs a power suit and SOON) – he gestures like crazy (I love his gestures in this movie – completely unlike his other parts) – he has a definite New York writer thing – maybe a bit of Woody Allen in there. When we first see him, he is shmoozing with poor Andie Macdowall – who looks a little trapped – and he’s all curled up next to her on the couch, legs up, arms hugging his knee. Totally un-cool outfit on display – not letting her get away from him.
And then there’s the symbiotic talking-at-same-time tag-team relationship with Richard Grant – I love watching the two of them in this movie – it’s like they are one being. Stockwell will nudge Grant, and Grant will say his “line” – or Grant will glance at Stockwell, and Stockwell will say his “line” – they are a team of writers, Grant the more passionate and idealistic, Stockwell the personable kind of cuddly guy … Their interplay is freakin’ hilarious – and it comes at the perfect moment in the movie as comic relief. Things are getting pretty damn heavy for Griffin Mill, he’s looking over his shoulder, the murder has already occurred – and we don’t even LIKE Griffin Mill – as far as I’m concerned, the guy deserves all the mental torment he gets … but still – it’s an eerie stressful movie – and then in the middle of it, boom – we’re back in the Hollywood mover-and-shaker game, Griffin Mill is ambushed by the pair of writers – they will NOT let him say “no” to the pitch, they will NOT let him put them off till tomorrow – they must pitch the project NOW. And off they go. Richard Grant’s pitch should be studied by film students. He’s hilarious. And then they go back and forth to shots of Stockwell, eagerly listening and squinting across the table – through his dime-store reading glasses.
Really funny performance.
Meanwhile: I have no idea if Stockwell consciously said to himself, “Okay. Andy is going to always lead with his pointing finger.” but I would imagine not. Stockwell doesn’t work that way, meaning: planning. He’s not a cerebral actor (a la Malkovich, for example – who plans everything meticulously). Stockwell doesn’t plan (he has said as much – his approach is intuitive from when he was a little kid – and has a lot to do with going with his first impressions of a script). He doesn’t do much research, he doesn’t overcomplicate things – (not that cerebral actors like Malkovich overcomplicate – it’s just a different approach). So I see something like this pointing-finger thing in The Player – and it doesn’t seem like a conscious choice. I am not aware of the actor and his wheels turning in his head. I am aware of Andy, the character, trying to get what he needs. Stockwell, as an actor, is interested in the interplay of the scene – and being alive moment to moment to moment.
But the pointing thing. If you see the scene again, just notice him pointing – and it’s hysTERICAL – because sometimes he’s not even in the frame, and all we see is his hand – and there’s always a finger pointing.
Andy (his character) is trying to direct this event. He is trying to force Griffin Mill to sit still and listen to the pitch – even though it’s obvious Mill doesn’t want to. Andy points this way, that way – points at his writing partner – basically saying with the gesture, “Okay – you go now …” And while Grant speaks – Stockwell stands there – listening with every fiber of his being – ready to jump back in to pick up HIS part of the pitch. They are ONE BEING, these two writers – and Stockwell keeps it all up in the air with this frantic finger-pointing. It makes me laugh out loud to see it.
Like: dude!!! What are you POINTING at?? But it’s so perfect, so … unlike anything he’s done before. Stockwell is a lot of things, and he has great versatility as an actor – but geeky and nervous are not usually the words that come up when you think of Stockwell’s persona. In this – he is both – and with the pointing finger, he keeps the action moving, he keeps the pitch up in the air – as long as he is pointing directly at Griffin Mill, or at his writing partner – then all is not lost, and his mind-blowing movie might still be made.
I love the scene. It’s a hoot.
Here are some screenshots. I don’t even have to tell you to look for the pointing finger.
Oh – and it never feels like a “bit” imposed from above. It seems like: this is something that Andy, the character, does. It looks totally real. That’s why it’s so funny.
“Buh-bye, Griffin … let’s do lunch … we’ll do lunch … okay, Griffin? Okay?”
If you ever stop pointing with your fingers, all will be lost! You will lose all momentum! So KEEP. POINTING.
Look at his outfit. hahahahahaha
Uhm, who ya pointing at, Andy?
“My writing partner over here ….”
Griffin is standing up now. All is almost lost. Keep pointing at him! He will not be able to resist!!
I don’t know – it gets funnier every time I look at it.
hahahahahahaha Double point!! And look at Richard Grant’s face! Ha!!
I can’t stand it.
A brief relaxed respite. But then, of course … in the next moment …
… we’re right back on target.
I love this shot because just LOOK at how Grant and Stockwell are focused on Mill. It’s almost terrifying. hahahahahaha They look like they’re about to murder him.
Next scene. Pitch to studio exec complete. Stockwell and Grant go to leave.
Stockwell has a finger-pointing EXTRAVAGANZA on his exit line. “Griffin … you move in mysterious ways … and I like it …” fingers gyrating up and down. Seriously, the performance is hysterical.
Last scene. The screening room. Griffin’s old girlfriend freaks out about how they have sold out – how the ideals are lost – the movie is now a commercial piece of shit. Stockwell (again with his GOOFBALL outfit) stares up at her, blankly. Turns slowly to Griffin … for help. “Griffin … who is .. this … this person?”
“Doesn’t she know anything about working with grown-ups?”