By K.C. Conner

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Last week the Wildcat Arts Desk got another of these strange random calls from press agents every once in awhile asking: "Can you guys get someone to fly out to L.A. next week to interview the stars of the new, coming of age, feel-good, with-a-message kind of collegiate film 'With Honors' ?"

"With Honors" is the story of four Harvard students (Fraser, Moira Kelly, Patrick Dempsey, and Josh Hamilton) who befriend a homeless man (Joe Pesci) and learn from him a lesson about life.

Anyway, whoever answered the phone said "Yes!" and after an impromptu drawing of names this reporter was trying to figure out which dress in her closet would make her look good, but not too dressy as to come off provincial.

But Hollywood, having made its billions on false facades, human and the set design variety, didn't come through. No huge surprise, the trip was canceled, but how can anyone be disappointed when as a consolation prize the Wildcat got exclusive telephone interviews with two of the principal figures in the film, Brendan Fraser ("Encino Man," "School Ties") and Alek Keshishian ("Truth or Dare") the director.

Brendan Fraser: Hi, is this K.C. Conner?

Wildcat: Hi, Brendan Fraser?

BF: How ya doing?

W: Hi, I've seen your movies, actually I saw two of your movies last night.

BF: Which ones did you see?

W: I saw "Encino Man" and "School Ties." I thought that they were pretty good, which brings me to my first question (the press lady had allotted only 10 minutes for the interview), how do you choose the films you make?

BF: Actually, I keep surprising myself, making decisions that are on the opposite end of each spectrum, as far as what actors are capable of or allowed to do. I guess the two extremes are "Encino Man" and "School Ties" which are alike and different, different because of the nature of comedy and drama, and the same because they show off a group effort, an ensemble cast.

W: You were working with an ensemble cast in "With Honors" too, as a group of roommates. How did you recreate that sort of special dynamic with people you hardly knew? It seemed natural in the film.

BF: That's good. I'm glad that came across. We had the luxury of a two-week rehearsal period before filming, which doesn't usually happen. In "With Honors," Moira, Patrick, Josh and I spent a good deal of time getting to know each other.

W: Did you spend a lot of time getting to know Harvard?

BF: We spent about a week there.

W: Where did you go to college?

BF: I went to the Cornish College of the Arts in Seattle., Washington. I went to the Conservatory and trained in acting for four years.

W: Are you from Seattle?

BF: Didn't you get a bio on me?

W: Yes, I did get press material, but it just listed the films you've been in and nothing about your background.

BF: Oh, I'm from all over, but my family lives in the Northwest. I've lived in Toronto. I grew up in Europe, as a kid. I don't know where I'm from. I live in L.A. now.

W: You hear a lot of jaded criticism of L.A. from actors in the press. Do you like living there?

BF: It's OK. If you want to work in film you have to be in L.A. If you want to be on stage you go to New York. That's not to say that there isn't good regional theater, but these are my L.A. years, maybe the New York years come later. I'm comfortable where I am. You find your spots and tell other people about them. Los Angeles is a whole different place. I don't know if you have been here or not. I like it because it winks at itself.

W: A girl in the newsroom shrieked when I told her that I was interviewing you. How do you react to that kind of thing?

BF: I didn't hear her shriek.

W: But surely women have shrieked in front of you, am I right? How do you handle that type of attention?

BF: I hand them a tissue. I ask them if they are all right. It is what it is. I'm the same guy I was 10 years ago. I take it in stride. I have a network of friends who would certainly let me know if I'm not.

W: OK, what were the differences specifically between working with Joe Pesci and Pauly Shore?

BF: (Laughter) First Joe. Joe is a remarkable man. His past is very much a part of his present. He makes sincere choices in his acting which I greatly admire. He utilizes personal experience to breathe life into his characters. I honestly feel privileged to have been privy to have seen his process. For instance, there is a scene in "With Honors" where his character looks into a locket around his neck, and I know for a fact that the people in those black-and-white photographs are actually members of Joe Pesci's family, which elicited a very specific response. I don't know exactly what it meant to him, I don't even know if I am supposed to be telling you this, but I greatly admire those kinds of techniques. He is a very private actor; you never know what he is going to do until he does it. You have to be on your toes. There is no sentimentality, at all, in any of his work. Beyond that, he always takes us to the greatest restaurants. (Laughter)

And Pauly, Pauly is a good guy. I've worked with him twice. He is who he is, and trust me, he is very self-aware.

W: I think I'm out of time. One last question, what would you be doing if you weren't an actor?

BF: Honestly, I wanted to be a painter at one point, but I don't think I was good at it. I don't really know about the actual experience in going out and selling, so maybe I'm talking through my hat. I just admired it so much.

W: Well I guess I'm out of time.

BF: Go on if you have another question.

W: Wouldn't you know I can't think of it right now.

BF: Go over your notes if you want to. Its like waiting for airplanes to take off. We can let them stack up, you were the first.

W: From what I have read you are really busy right now.

BF: I've been busy. I just finished a movie called "The Scout" in New York, and I actually just got off the plane this morning at 12:30 a.m. from Dallas and went straight to the studio to finish up some some voice insert work on it. I've got another movie coming out with Adam Sandler and Chris Farley called "Airheads," about three guys who take over a radio station. I'm a shark; if I stop movin' I die.

W: What was the best question you have been asked in all of your interviews so far?

BF: So far, who is your favorite Muppet?

W: Who is your favorite Muppet?

BF: I said Gonzo. Gonzo's a kick. It would be a toss-up between Gonzo and Animal. Actually I might have said Zoot, the jazz player. He wore those reflective shades.

W: And you know all of their names. (Laughter)

BF: I grew up on "The Muppets."

W: The reporter must have known that from some special bio I didn't get. Thanks a lot for the interview.

BF: Say "hi" to that girl in the newsroom.

W: Janet. OK, thanks.

For the second interview with the principal figures of the film "With Honors" the Wildcat spoke to the director, Alek Keshishian ("Truth or Dare"), close pal of Madonna and a Harvard grad. His newest effort, "With Honors," is set on the campus of his alma mater, and follows the story of four students (Brendan Fraser, Moira Kelly, Patrick Dempsey, and Josh Hamilton) who take in a homeless man (Joe Pesci) from whom they learn a lesson in life.

Wildcat: I was really impressed by the talent taking part in the making of your film: Sven Nykvist (who has worked as director of photography for Ingmar Bergman, Phillip Kaufman and Woody Allen), and (the novelist) Gore Vidal, who has only appeared in a few films. Were these the people you ideally wanted to work with on your first feature film?

Alek Keshishian: They were people I had dreamed about working with, and I was fortunate enough to have my dreams realized.

W: Madonna sang the theme song for your movie, and you made her documentary, "Truth or Dare." Was the theme song a friendship thing or marketing thing, that the studio arranged?

AK: The studio did not arrange that. I arranged that. I got the movie to her while she was touring. She saw the movie, and was really moved by it, which I think surprised her, because as she put it, "I thought, what in the world am I going to have in common with four 'college kids.'" But she found herself swept up in it and moved at the end. She said "You know it takes a lot to get me to cry." At that point I sent her the tape of the music and I asked her if she would be interested in doing the theme song. She didn't hesitate at all, and she was loyal enough and nice enough to fly into Los Angeles two days after the earthquake because she had promised to do it.

W: So you are really good friends.

AK: We're very good friends. I know her on a personal level and her loyalty and decency to her friends is really incredible. And it is a difficult thing sometimes when you have a friend who is so much in the public eye, and so, at times, misunderstood and bashed, because you know a side of them that is so different than what the public sees.

W: I understand that you went to Harvard and you did graduate with honors. What did you study there?

AK: I made my own concentration, called "Film and Literature," and a lot of people ask 'were you like Monty (Brendan Fraser's character, a student heavily on the anal-retentive side of the spectrum)?' but I was kind of the crazy, eccentric type, who didn't go to class much. I was shocked when I graduated with honors. The greatest thing I took away from college was not anything I learned in the classroom, but it was the other experiences, the interaction with my fellow students, with the community. I directed a lot of plays. Those were the things I took with me.

I certainly knew a lot of people like Monty Kessler when I was in school, and a lot of those people are pretty unhappy now. That is why I like this film, because it is about colliding worlds, and I also thought this would be good for my first feature film because it shows that I can deal with both comedy and drama.

W: How much did your personal experience at Harvard change the script as you went along? Did you shift a few things?

AK: When I read the script the first time there were no female characters in the roommate situation, no Courtney (Moira Kelly). So I said "Hey, were living in the 90s," and even when I was in school most off-campus houses were invariably co-ed. And the thing I like about how the Courtney character was handled is that that is not the issue of the movie. We don't spend two hours of the movie talking about what it must be like to be girl living with three guys. I think today's college students can take that for granted. I also added the love interest.

W: What was it like working with an ensemble cast your first time out? Did you worry that you were taking on a lot with so many different personalities?

AK: I didn't feel like I was taking on too much. I was fortunate that we all got along really well, and we continue to. And I guess from stories I have heard from Pesci, and others, that isn't always the case on a movie set. We just went around the country together doing publicity and we had such a great time, we were acting like a bunch of kids on the plane, just being silly.

W: Are you bothered that you don't get asked the goofy, sexy questions in interviews because you aren't the actor? Do people ask you more about equipment and costs, rather than what's your favorite color?

AK: The vast majority of the questions are about my Harvard experience. The irony is that I don't feel all that connected to Harvard. I kind of just used it as a place with a theater and some cool coffee houses, and some interesting people, and that was the extent of my interest in higher education.

W: And now you are the "Harvard Man."

AK: Exactly, and now I'm the spokesman. I certainly don't miss the goofier questions, like "what is your favorite color," which is blue, by the way.

W: I didn't ask. Read Next Article