INSIDE VIEW OF THE OSCARS
MARQUETTE – Billions around the world will watch with great interest the 85th Academy Awards telecast Sunday, Feb. 24.
That includes one area native who has seen up close three of the nominated performances in the acting category as a member of the cast of “The Master.”
Negaunee native Steven Wiig, who now lives in Sausalito, Calif., had a small role in the film, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, and was witness to the performances Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams, all of whom drew Oscar nods for their work on the movie.
For about three weeks, Wiig worked on the film in Vallejo, Calif., on Mare Island, which is about 45 minutes from his home.
“I’d spend each day driving before sunrise to the set (located on the former Naval Shipyard),” Wiig said in an email. “The 45-minute drive, for me, became a sort of time travel back into the 1950s.”
The movie is set in post-World War II America and reflects the hairstyles, clothing and decor from that time.
An online synopsis of “The Master” offers: “A striking portrait of drifters and seekers in post World War II America, Paul Thomas Anderson’s THE MASTER unfolds the journey of a Naval veteran, Freddie Quell (Joaquin Phoenix), who arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader, Lancaster Dodd (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Amy Adams plays Dodd’s wife, Peggy.”
“The Master” was nominated for three Oscars, three Golden Globes and seven Critics Choice Awards, as well as gaining a Screen Actors Guild nod for Hoffman.
Wiig, who had roles in film including “Into the Wild” and “Milk,” met director Anderson (“Boogie Nights,” “There Will Be Blood”) in the course
of his previous film work.
“I first met Paul while he was in the Bay Area working on ‘There Will Be Blood’ at the same time Sean Penn was finishing ‘Into the Wild,'” Wiig said. At the time, both films were in post-production at George Lucas’ Skywalker Ranch.
In his “The Master” part, Wiig’s character was a friend to Laura Dern’s Helen Sullivan, invited to her home along with others to meet Dodd, his wife and his followers, including Quell.
The film has met with controversy for “The Cause’s” similarity to Scientology but also touches on themes like alcoholism and the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder on this country after WWII.
“It’s hard to imagine what it must’ve been like for these young soldiers to attempt to integrate into ‘normal’ life after going through something like that,” Wiig said. “I believe that was a very important piece of the puzzle that Paul wanted to explore with the film.”
Like Phoenix’s character, Anderson’s father, Ernie, was in the U.S. Navy during World War II. And so was Wiig’s grandfather, Leo “Slug” Arbelius, who drove a tank in the Battle of Anzio in Italy during the Second World War.
Wiig was thrilled just being in the room with such renowned actors as Hoffman, Dern, Adams and Phoenix as well as acclaimed filmmaker Anderson.
“Working on the film was like attending a master class in filmmaking,” he said.
When asked to provide an adjective for the on-set presence of the Oscar nominees, Wiig said Hoffman was “scholarly,” Adams “grounding,” and Phoenix “feral.” He described Anderson as “the chemist” who brought everything together.
Since working on “The Master,” Wiig has been a part of several other films as a member of the Screen Actors Guild including “Chasing Mavericks” with Gerard Butler: “The Internship” with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson; and “Blue Jasmine,” director Woody Allen’s latest.
“Experiences like this are all invaluable,” Wiig said, especially applying them to projects of his own.
He’s still hoping to make a movie in the Upper Peninsula and has been circulating Ron Riekki’s script based on the novel “U.P.” and has visions of other projects set in the area as well.
“There are a few different irons in the fire,” Wiig said. “Like I’ve said before, it’s a process and if we’re going to do something like this in the U.P., we want to do it right versus going it right now.”
Up next, Wiig is producing and acting in a short film titled “Loyalton,” which is being shot in the small town of the same name in Sierra County, Calif. It’s also a film about a post-war veteran, one who returns to his hometown to make amends with his estranged sister.
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is email@example.com.