EDtv: About The Ensemble

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Like his previous films, Howard has populated EDtv with an ensemble cast, emphasizing that many, as Hurley notes, have had their unusual brushes with fame. "Whatís interesting is Elizabeth, Ellen, Woody, Matthew, Jenna, all of these people have fairly recently felt the glare of media scrutiny in a way that most people, even people in the entertainment business, have not experienced."

While Grazer acknowledges Howardís remarks, he also points out that, "All of Ronís (films) are ensemble pieces, whether itís Backdraft or Parenthood or Apollo 13, where he gets to address many different characters. Since this is an ensemble piece and itís character driven, television was a really rich, fertile area to go to find these actors."

"Thereís nothing I like better than working with large ensemble casts," says Howard, whose own TV sitcoms each featured a variety of memorable characters. "Thereís no question that having grown up as an actor, I feel a terrific closeness with my cast, always, an empathy for what they go through. I think they are the greatest collaborators, the most valuable tool available to any filmmaker."

Coincidentally, one of the filmís stars with no background in television is McConaughey. In casting the charismatic actor, both Howard and Grazer recalled their first impressions of him from his feature film debut in Richard Linklaterís Dazed and Confused.

"I saw him in Dazed and Confused and thought he was a funny character actor," Grazer recalls. "After that, he went and became this big star in the Grisham movie, then a Spielberg movie and all that. What really got me excited about him was when I met him in my office. He spilled Coca-Cola, and instead of blotting it up with a paper towel, he put his mouth on the table and sucked up the Coke. I thought that was hysterical. This guyís a funny, crazy cat."

"That little thing he did in my office, married to what I saw him do in Dazed and Confused, essentially got him the role, because thatís what this movie is about," Grazer submits. "Itís about real life comedy, not just jokes. Itís all the funny, odd stuff that people do that (they) take for granted, like sucking up Coke off a table when you think no oneís looking."

Howard also thought McConaughey "was great in Dazed and Confused. He played a much different character than Ed, but certainly nothing like the guys we saw in A Time to Kill or Contact or Amistad. And, this is not a performance vehicle for a great comedian. I want people to believe this could happen. Matthew really hasnít had any roles where his natural charm, his sense of humor is displayed."

The director adds, "Matthew is not Ed, but thereís a part of him that grew up with guys like Ed, and heís been able to draw on that. Also, heís experienced that kind of overnight success that is somewhat akin to what Ed goes through. I think he found it an interesting role to play at this time in his life."

"And, he is also a person that very comfortably exists in two worldsñheís comfortable bounciní down the highway in a truck and, likewise, comfortable showing up at a movie premiere in a stretch limo. He brought a lot of spirit to EDtv and the role of Ed. He turned in a very funny performance," Howard proclaims.

For McConaughey, working with Howard was enough to attract him to the project. "Ron allows sort of a playground effect. Heís very specific while at the same time allowing you freedoms. I work well in that. Itís a comedy, and I felt I could run off the script, fill in the blanks much easier."

"I was also ready to do something a bit lighter," he continues. "Iíd done a couple of pretty heavy dramas in the recent past. Here, Iím a normal guy just reacting to situations in his life. Iím not a lawyer where I need to know legal terms. Iím not a theologian who needs to know theological terms. There was a lot of relaxation. I was less exhausted three months into it than I probably would have been on other films."

Not that he didnít have his share of taxing scenes on Howardís set. McConaughey spent days embracing and kissing two of the industryís most attractive performersñJenna Elfman and Elizabeth Hurley. "Ainít it a great job? Ed gets to kiss these beautiful women. It was nice to have this love story in the middle of all this. I could be playing a murderer, killing some people. Iíll choose this, this was a hell of a lot more fun. And, I got paid for it!"

Elfman, also impressed with McConaugheyís "boyish quality from Dazed and Confused," says she grew up with someone like her co-star as a young girl in Southern California. "He reminded me of this little boy, Todd. He was my playmate. We roller skated together. We played Hide and Seek. Thereís a certain playful quality about (Matthew) that I think is really great. And, he brought out that quality in me."

Elfman also confesses that "Matthew is a great kisser. Itís fun. Itís one of those things where you go ëIím getting paid to do this, this is cool.í And, there were different types of kisses. Thereís the ëhe makes me feel better when Iím downí kiss. Thereís the ëoh my God I canít take it anymore, total savageí kiss. Thereís the ëreally sweet and flirty, coyí kiss. There was also the ëboth feeling relief over somethingí kiss. Iím glad heís not a bad kisser."

For Howard, the chemistry between his two stars was a significant formula to the filmís success. In choosing Elfman as his leading lady, Howard remembers "seeing Jenna on magazine covers before I ever saw an episode of her TV show. I then remembered she had done a couple of famous TV commercials. Actually, my daughter Bryce reminded me of that. Then I met Jenna and Matthew and had another meeting where (they) read through some scenes together."

"Two things were apparent immediately," Howard asserts. "First, she was an incredibly gifted actress. She has a great sense of timing. Sheís funny and has a complete grasp of what it is to entertain through a character. I could also see that they were a great match-up. I also joked with them that this was the beginning of a screen relationship. Iíll bet that the two of them are cast in movies again. I just think thereís something unique there."

Howard also saw a unique bonding between McConaughey and Harrelson, both native Texans, who play combative brothers in the story. "They look alike, and Woody was the perfect actor to take a role like this and just run with it, explode with it.

I was in Brian Grazerís office talking about Matthew playing Ed. We started talking about Edís brother Ray, a big personality, funny, a little wild but crucial to the movie. I looked over and there was a picture of Brian and Woody holding surfboards. Woody had this big grin on his face and I said, thereís Edís brother. I was so happy when he sparked to the script, although I had to talk him into it a little bit."

Howard trudged through the mud in New Mexico, where Harrelson was starring in the movie The Hi-Lo Country, to track the Oscar-nominated performer down. "I wasnít inclined to do it at first," Harrelson admits. "From my perspective as an actor, I would think all youíd ever want to do is comedies, which are fun. And Ron has proven what a great director he is. And this set was like a party to everybody, always time to laugh and horse around."

"But I donít know what it was about it, I think Iíve gotten too serious," Harrelson continues. "Then Ron came and visited me on the set of this movie. I put all that together. Working with Matthew, that was really appealing. And the script by Lowell and Babaloo. It was like Iím an idiot for thinking I donít want to do this."

Harrelson and McConaughey, who crew members noted could pass for real brothers, became soul mates during production. McConaughey says "Coming in, we both knew each of us was from Texas, and there was just this free flow between us two hours after we met."

Harrelson said, "I consider him a brother, I think heíd be a great brother." The co-stars spent many weekends together during Harrelsonís five weeks on the production, including "one of the all time great nights. Whiskey and ping-pong. We were up until well after the sun came up. He is a great guy and I feel a real connection with him."

Howardís connection to Ellen DeGeneres came from his actress mother, Jean Howard, who "did a guest shot on Ellenís show and spoke highly of her," the director recalls. "As soon as we started writing names and considering people, her name jumped to the top. Iím glad she said yes, because thereís an irony there. She played a network executive just months after she ended her own show. She had a somewhat tortured relationship with network executives and the irony is not lost on her, either. She in no way satirized the role. She really created a great character, very funny, very smart."

Howardís dream cast also included two other prominent female charactersñJill (played by the beautiful Elizabeth Hurley), the opportunistic actress who dates Ed just because of his celebrity; and Edís eccentric mom, Jeanette (embodied by Sally Kirkland), whose life crumbles when Ed becomes famous.

"Elizabeth certainly understood the underpinnings of the story," Howard relates. "I thought she was great in Austin Powers. She has a terrific comedic touch. And, from the very first rehearsal on, she just understood the character and knew how to make it work on film. She was an absolute joy, and took very little direction."

"This was written by two of my favorite writers, Babaloo and Lowell," Hurley states. "It was very funny, seemed clever without being smug. It wasnít a big part, but every scene she has was quite fun. Thereís even a scene my mother canít see."

"Jill, you could say, hitches a ride on Matthewís star for awhile," she adds in describing her character. "I left it deliberately ambiguous as to whether she is a scheming, manipulative person, or actually a nice girl who quite likes (Ed) and it doesnít work out between them. When he gets catapulted into astronomic fame, a lot of people want to be in his life who ordinarily wouldnít give him the time of day. My interpretation is open to people."

Actress Sally Kirkland was open to Howardís request for an audition for the role of Edís mother, contrary to her feelings a decade ago when the newly Oscar nominated actress (for the 1987 independent drama, Anna) rejected the filmmakerís proposal for a script reading for his comedy, Parenthood.

Howard jump-cuts to the present, adding "So, this time when I asked Sally to audition, the note I got back was ëI wonít make that mistake again. Iím not crazy about auditioning, but where do you want me to meet you?í She came into the office and killed us with her audition. She was amazing. We cast her that day."

The role reunited the flamboyant actress with two old friendsñMartin Landau, who plays her second husband, the wheelchair-bound Al, and screen legend Dennis Hopper, who completed a one-day cameo as her ex-husband, Hank, who surprisingly comes back into the familyís life after Ed becomes a celebrity.

Kirkland co-starred opposite Hopper in the 1982 drama Human Highway, and appeared with Landau in 1989s Paint It Black. She also knows Landau from the renowned Actors Studio West, where both teach their craft to the next generation of stars.

The thrice Oscar-nominated Landau, who debuted on the big screen in Alfred Hitchcockís 1959 classic, North By Northwest, and won his Academy Award" 35 years later for his unforgettable role of Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood, encountered his own brush with fame as the star of one of the great television series of the 1960s, Mission: Impossible.

Howard tapped another veteran TV star, Rob Reiner, to join his eclectic cast as Whitaker, the egomaniacal head of the cable network that creates EDtv. Unlike his filmmaking colleague, Reiner selectively continues his acting career (Sleepless in Seattle, Primary Colors) while also maintaining a profile as one of the industryís most diverse directors. Reinerís efforts behind the camera have garnered three Directors Guild of America nominations for the films When Harry Met Sally, A Few Good Men and Stand By Me.

In between takes on Howardís set "we told war stories, directorial war stories, to amuse ourselves. Iíve known Rob for many years. Heís a good actor as well as being an A-1 director. It was a treat to have him." Reiner adds, "Very rarely do I get to see other directors work, particularly when I work for only a day or two. On EDtv, I worked seven days, and the one thing I noticed with Ron is that we work in a very similar manner."

Reiner, who directed himself for only the second time in his upcoming feature, The Story of Us (as Bruce Willisí best friend), has continued his acting career alongside his work behind the camera because "itís fun. I just show up and do my part. I also do it with people I respect like Nora Ephron, Mike Nichols, Woody Allen and now Ron. I donít even ask to see a script. This character, Whitaker, was fun because I get to be an ass - - . Itís always fun to do that kind of role."

Rounding out Howardís principal cast were three additional key players. Don Most, the loudmouth cut-up Ralph Malph on Happy Days, reunited with the filmmaker for the first time since Howard left the show in 1982. The director cast his old friend as one of Reinerís key executives overseeing the progress of their new cable brainchild.

While collaborating with Most for the first time on the big screen, Howard brought back his younger brother Clint for their tenth show together to portray the networkís satellite truck director. The project marked their first association in four years as the director did not cast his sibling in his last picture, Ransom, much to fansí dismay.

"I got burned on the last film," Howard relates. "I only ever cast Clint if I think heís going to be right for something. Thereís no compromise. Iím always happy whenever he comes on board. But, I didnít feel there were any roles for him in Ransom. When the movie was released, I took so much grief from people whoíve come to expect seeing (him) in my movies. Particularly after he was so good in Apollo 13. So, thank God there was a good part for Clint in EDtv. Itís an interesting character, that sort of classic Clint Howard supporting role."

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