Two time Emmy winner Jon Cryer is one of the funniest men on TV, with Two and a Half Men still enjoying success in its tenth season. But we’ve also enjoyed his quite memorable film work for years. No child of the 1980s can forget his “Duckie Dance” in Pretty in Pink, Hot Shots! still makes us laugh, and some of us fondly recall him as a punk rocker in the Penelope Spheeris film Dudes. Now, after a DVD release of his stage performance in Stephen Sondheim’s Company and the upcoming Sundance debut of Ass Backwards with Casey Wilson, June Raphael, Alicia Silverstone and Vincent D’Onofrio, this terrific talent was gracious enough to take some time out and discuss his Five Favorite Films.
Jon, like all of us, had difficulty pinpointing just five. During the discussion, he thought to switch in one of his runners up: Toy Story, The Iron Giant, Brazil, The Terminator, Broadway Danny Rose, Annie Hall and the original Rollerball: “Come on,” he says, “the original Rollerball holds up f—king great and it’s such a shame that the remake was so terrible, and it’s weird that nobody watches the original Rollerball anymore. I don’t see it playing and it holds up great.” Instead, here are the Five that he ultimately settled on:
Goodfellas (Martin Scorsese, 1990; 97% Tomatometer)
It is one of the most effective and, in my mind, realistic gangster movies ever made in that it shows you what the allure of that criminal life is, but it also shows how petty and dangerous and stupid it is. But all the time you’re dragged along. It has this incredible compelling force that drags you along whether you want to go or not. And, I think, a beautiful and brutal use of comedy along with absolute horror and fear and moments of sort of operatic beauty, like when they open up the back of the truck with the Eric Clapton song, and the camera goes in to find one of the dead gang members. That mixed with these incredible moments of subtlety like when Ray Liotta realizes that Robert De Niro may well be setting him up. It’s just this tiny little moment. It’s great because it’s incredibly small, mixed with these incredibly big things. And they shoot Michael Imperioli in the foot. You know, come on, that’s wonderful.
A great, great movie that was unjustly robbed of a lot of the recognition it would have gotten, but it came out in the year of amazing other movies, you know, like Apocalypse Now and a lot of other great stuff. To this date it is the most accurate portrayal of theater folk and what it’s like to produce and be part of theater. As a theater geek all my life, I was hoping that Smash would be like that, and boy it’s not. All That Jazz nailed it, just in terms of the reality of it. But again, it would go off into those fantasies that still totally worked, and worked as incredible dance numbers, but you know, were clearly fantasy numbers inside one of the most realistic portrayals of that subculture that had never been put on screen. It’s f—ing perfect. It’s just f—ing perfect. It’s great because it’s funny, it’s cynical about the theater but also clearly loves the subject matter. You know, I grew up backstage — my parents were actors — and it just captures that world absolutely incredibly accurately. Plus, it’s just a really ballsy, artistic movie from Bob Fosse in that it incorporates a lot of strange stuff, but all of it works.
Not Alien, which is great, but doesn’t quite hold up, partially because there is a couple of special effects issues. The chest-burster, as originally conceived, just doesn’t work anymore. But Aliens is, in my mind, the perfectly constructed thriller. People forget that it starts off real slow. I mean, there’s like 40 minutes of quiet. And then all of a sudden you can’t leave your seat. It’s beautifully constructed in terms of, every time you think that they’re gonna get some respite, they get a moment to get their stuff together and maybe get out of this, things get worse and yet they somehow keep going. It was one of the most pure moviegoing experiences I’ve ever had. I loved every minute of it and it made me feel lucky to be an audience member. You can’t get around an experience like that.
A beautifully done movie that now, unfortunately, tragically, as a parent you watch and has a very troubling ending. But I have to say as a kid when I saw it and I was unburdened with having my own children, it was absolutely transporting and, again, an incredibly subtle piece of work. Richard Dreyfuss and Teri Garr’s relationship falling apart, and Melinda Dillon’s journey… It’s full of wonderful, subtle acting in a movie that a lot of people thought was about spectacle, and it’s so not. And you can see the enormous influence that that movie had on all the big sci-fi movies after it. Nobody has quite duplicated the amazing sound design on it. People have tried — I mean that movie Twister, there were moments in it I looked around and was going “They’re totally doing Close Encounters.” People can try it, and try to mix that reality with the more spectacular stuff, but people have a very hard time achieving it. It’s really a very simple story. He believes something that his wife doesn’t believe. But it’s done so kitchen-sink and perfect and so influenced by the films of the ’70s with the overlapping dialogue and a very vérité sort of style to it. Also, when Spielberg wants to put on a show, he really can.
Apocalypse Now is sort of a fever dream of a movie. When you watch the documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, you suddenly understand what everybody went through while they were making that thing, and what a huge, unruly beast they got involved with, not even knowing what the movie was going to be. Everybody just decided to be a part of it even though it was just this evolving daily disaster. That being said, it is an amazing tribute to the film, that the beautiful cohesive piece that it is, is what emerged from that craziness. So many scenes that are just so memorable, the amazing lines, and how it just totally transformed war movies because it would have those incredibly realistic moments but also, you know, the huge “Ride of the Valkyries” helicopter attack. And it’s amazing that it worked at all, you know, besides the fact that it actually managed to work beautifully.
Did the film become more powerful to you after you saw the documentary?
Yes. And I’ve never seen the re-cut version that’s floating around that is an even longer version, which I don’t particularly need to see. But yes, it definitely seems… I loved the movie before that, and always thought it was an amazing piece of work, just in terms that it captured war in this incredibly realistic way, but also in this incredibly metaphorical way that was great. But yes, definitely seeing the documentary increased my fascination with it. To know that Martin Sheen was going through horrible health problems through all of it, to know that they didn’t know where the ending was going, to understand that Brando was just such a nutbag during the course of it that they had to feed him his lines with an earwig. And yet, you can watch those scenes and, even though you know they’re feeding it to him for each sentence because the man cannot be bothered to remember a sentence of his lines, it still works and it’s so surreal. It’s just an amazing piece of work.
Next, Cryer talks about Company and Ass Backwards.
RT: So Company came out on DVD not too long ago.
Jon Cryer: Oh yeah, that was a show we did with the New York Philharmonic. A couple of things about that that were a little odd: When I signed on to do the thing, it was my understanding it was a one performance charity show that we were going to do with scripts in hand. It was all going to be very lighthearted and fun. And then I was informed by the director, “Oh no, this is a fully staged performance with costumes and choreography and the whole nine yards that we’re going to perform four times with the New York Philharmonic, and by the way, it’s going to be shot for a release.” And I thought, “Oh wow, okay. This is a lot of information for me to drink in!”
But it was one of my favorite work experiences ever, because we had two weeks to throw together a show that people had huge expectations for, and we didn’t have the cast. I mean, Neil Patrick Harris was still shooting How I Met Your Mother — I, thankfully, had a little bit of free time because my costar had freaked out [laughs] and they had shut the show down — but we didn’t have Neil, the star of the show, for a whole week of the two-week rehearsal period. So we rehearsed with a bunch of Pace University students doubling us; we called them our avatars, because all the days that we missed, they would step in for us. So we had to rehearse it, they sent me MP3s of my parts, and I filmed the choreographer going through the steps so I could practice them by myself, and we basically had to do the show virtually for weeks before we got to get together to assemble it. Actually, the first time the entire cast was together on stage was opening night. [laughs] This wouldn’t have been that frightening if it wasn’t the hottest ticket in New York City at that time.
And being immortalized on DVD.
JC: Yes, exactly. [laughs] A bunch of us, like me, did not know that this was going to be the big deal that it was, and basically had a choice to either buy out or step up, and everybody chose to step up, and it was a great thing to do. It’s fun. If you’re a theater person, and you like the show, Neil Patrick Harris is amazing. I think, revelatory casting in that part. He made the show work in a way that I’ve not seen the show work before. He’s a terrific performer; in this particular case, it’s just a great matchup of performer and part. And Martha Plimpton, also, just an amazing standout. And Christina Hendricks, holy s—. Yeah, two words: holy s—. She’s really funny, really wonderful.
And you worked on a film with Alicia Silverstone and Vincent D’Onofrio?
JC: Oh, yeah, but unfortunately I didn’t shoot anything with them. Yeah, it’s with Casey Wilson and June Raphael, it’s called Ass Backwards, and it’s at Sundance. And sadly, I never got to work with Vincent D?Onofrio or Alicia Silverstone or Bob Odenkirk or any of the other people in the movie, but it was super fun. I haven’t seen the final movie; it’s not going to get seen until it makes its debut at Sundance, so I’m excited to see it.
One thing I’m thrilled about is, the original script I got was called Ass Backwards, which I thought was a great title and it makes sense in the context of the movie, but then when we were actually shooting, I was informed that the new title was going to be Sister Spirit because some of the investors had come in and said they would not put money into a movie called Ass Backwards. In the last week of shooting, those investors fell out, and the movie had to stop production, and Casey and June had to go on Kickstarter to get the funding for the rest of the movie. The great thing about that was, not only did they get the funding, but they were able to call the movie Ass Backwards, which is what it should have been called from day one.