Off Camera is a podcast hosted by photographer/director Sam Jones, who created the show out of his passion for the long form conversational interview, and as a way to share his conversations with a myriad of artists, actors, musicians, directors, skateboarders, photographers, and writers that pique his interest. Because the best conversations happen Off Camera.
Ep 52.5. Sam Jones 1
Producer Chris Moore puts Sam Jones in the hot seat!
Ep 5. Robert Downey Jr - 1
“Moral certainty is always a sign of cultural inferiority. The more uncivilized the man, the surer he is that he knows precisely what is right and what is wrong. The truly civilized man is always skeptical and tolerant, in this field as in all others. His culture is based on ‘I am not too sure.’” -H.L. Mencken
Henry Louis Mencken and Robert Downey Jr. did not cross paths in life (though it’s fun to imagine that conversation), but the essayist’s quote is an apt description of the actor’s approach to life. Downey’s restless intelligence is reflected in his ability to express several contradictory points of view simultaneously, making sense all the while. He can be direct one moment and elusive the next, often spinning off on seemingly unrelated tangents. But like watching a juggler on a wire, being in Downey’s presence is a riveting experience.
For someone who almost from the outset was deemed “the greatest actor of his generation”, the majority of Robert Downey, Jr.’s career has been filled with big commercial flops, “critically acclaimed” flops, very public struggles with drugs and more than a little jail time – all of which have landed him squarely in some of the biggest blockbuster films in recent history. It’s an unlikely hero story, but then Robert Downey Jr. is an unlikely hero.
With the release of the final film in the Iron Man trilogy, it’s ironic to contemplate that the studios also didn’t see him as a hero, least of all an action hero. Downey disagreed. At once supremely convinced of his own talent and extremely humble, he fought hard for the role of Tony Stark when the studio flatly refused to even let him audition. He prepped intensely, though for other roles he admits he’s just as likely to wing it.
Downey is an enviably comfortable resident of the gray area we all inhabit. He is (somewhat) remorseful about his jail time but without resentment towards the upbringing that arguably introduced him to the lifestyle that led him there (“I choose to see it in a positive light.”) His years in the industry have left him clear-eyed and cynical about the business; yet he remains full of enthusiasm and curiosity about his art, and he’s deadly serious about bringing the best of himself to the set every day. He’s an obsessive analytic who’s inclined to let his gut make most of his decisions. On any multiple-choice personality test, Robert Downey Jr. is ‘all of the above.’ Maybe that’s what keeps us watching.
Ep 133. Danai Gurira
The talented and worldly Danai Gurira has been bridging the gap between disparate worlds ever since her family moved from Grinnell, IA to Africa when she was a toddler. In school, the self-described Zimerican (Zimbabwean-American) was the “African kid with a twangy American accent” who got along with everybody regardless of race and class.
That ability to cross borders both artistic and geographic has defined Danai’s career. On the blockbuster side, Danai inhabits the character of Okoye in the highly anticipated Marvel film Black Panther and the character of Michonne, the butt-kicking zombie killer in AMC’s hit series The Walking Dead. On the literary side, she’s a playwright with Broadway success who mingles with the high-brow theatre crowd.
But don’t get caught up in Western delineations between actor and writer because at her core, Danai is a storyteller—a woman who uses her unique perspective and artistic talent to reveal the shared humanity between seemingly different worlds of Africa and America. Danai points out that talent must be nurtured and distractions must be set aside because “the whole goal of storytelling is to became a worthy enough vessel for the story to come through you.”
Danai joins Sam Jones to discuss the nuanced world of Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, auditioning for The Walking Dead, overcoming grad school breakdowns, and discovering her artistic mandate.
Ep 7. Dave Grohl
Being a bona fide badass is the price of entry for a career in rock and roll; and if you ask Dave Grohl, it’s the key ingredient for just about anything worth doing. His approach to life has fueled the Foo Fighters’ 20 year,11 album career and garnered him a following of very stoked rock fans, many of who gathered at this year’s SXSW music conference to hear Grohl’s keynote address.
The hipsters, rockers, start-uppers and next-big-thing developers packing the room were no doubt curious to hear how one goes about dropping out of high school, rising to fame as the drummer in Nirvana (a small Northwest act you may have heard of), and then go on to lead one today’s few remaining true rock bands? For Grohl, the answer’s pretty simple: figure out who you are and what inspires you and don’t look back – develop that individuality by working as hard as you can at what you love.
That clarity of approach drove not only his Nirvana/Foo Fighters trajectory, but numerous musical side projects like Queens of the Stone Age, and Them Crooked Vultures. And most recently, a new artistic title: documentarian. He didn’t know anything about the film making process except what he needed to know most: Passion for your subject is sine qua non; and not one to do anything without it, Grohl didn’t question himself. Nor apparently did Rick Springfield, Neil Young, Stevie Nicks, Paul McCartney, and Tom Petty, all subjects of Sound City, his fascinating documentary about the people behind the studio that launched an amazing roster of legendary music acts.
For a guy who admits to still feeling like a 13 year old and dressing like a 17 year old, Grohl has something to teach all of us…and shares it with Off Camera in one of our most inspiring interviews to date.
Ep 156. Awkwafina
Awkwafina (also known as Nora Lum) is having quite a moment. She’s a part of the impressive cast of female icons (Sandra Bullock, Rihanna, Cate Blanchett, and more) in Ocean’s 8, and she’s so hilarious in Crazy Rich Asians that you’ll barely hear her next line over the sound of your own laughter. What does this moment in the spotlight feel like? Awkwafina likens it to this: “I compare it to a wall opening up and transporting you to an alternate dimension where there is no gravity, and everything is weird.”
Her initial shock isn’t so strange when you consider the fact that she never allowed herself to dream of a career in the arts, and there weren’t exactly any female Asian-American actress/rapper hybrids to pave the road to possibility. Awkwafina tried to follow the path that her friends took after college, but living the buttoned-up office life of a publicity assistant in Manhattan wasn’t really her thing. When her boss made her choose between her music and her unfulfilling job, it wasn’t much of a contest—not only because she got fired, but especially because her identity was at stake. As she explains, “If I didn’t have my music, then I didn’t have an identity.”
With nothing to lose, she decided to post her “My Vag” music video on Youtube, in which she hilariously raps about the superiority of her genitalia. After the push of a “Publish” button, Awkwafina became a viral success—and the rest is herstory.
As the first Asian-American actress/rapper of any consequence, Awkwafina acknowledges, “Being the first sucks, but I found what I love. I found what I always dreamt of as a kid that would connect with adulthood. It’s so powerful for me. I finally feel like I can walk and know what I’m doing. I know why I’m there.”
Awkwafina joins Off Camera to talk about embracing the responsibility that comes with being an Asian-American actor in Hollywood, discovering her comedic talents post personal tragedy, and why Margaret Cho is her spirit animal.
Ep 140. John Goodman
John Goodman wasn’t always the imposing presence he is today, but he’s always had his charisma. As an eighth grader in Missouri, John charmed the “hard guys” in school with a spot-on Gomer Pyle impression so they would protect him. As he explains, “I was a little fat kid. I had the glasses with the tape in the middle. I was nerdy, man.”
Heavily influenced by Marlon Brando and captivated by the language of Shakespeare, John discovered his dream to become an actor and left the Midwest to make it happen. After a stint as Thomas Jefferson in a dinner theater rendition of 1776, John found commercial success in New York City, but his career really took off when Roseanne came along in the late ‘80s. He’s also been a fixture in Coen brothers’ movies (Raising Arizona, Barton Fink, The Big Lebowski, and more), bringing his characteristic physicality to roles that simmer with an explosive energy. Exhibit A—screaming obscenities and beating the bejesus out of a Corvette with a crow bar in The Big Lebowski.
That on-screen volatility was also present in John’s off-screen life. Decades of heavy drinking forced John to confront his demons, and as a self-described “egomaniac with an inferiority complex,” he has come out the other side with humility, grace, and an endearingly self-deprecating sense of humor. His perspective on his life and career is downright fascinating.
John brings candor and wit to our Off Camera conversation. We discuss why “everything is on the page” with the Coen brothers, how Roseanne came back after a 21-year hiatus, why John looked for trouble in Central Park, and how the movie Animal House was a terrible influence on him.