Synopsis : The Tender Bar tells the story of J.R. (Tye Sheridan), a fatherless boy growing up in the glow of a bar where the bartender, his Uncle Charlie (Ben Affleck), is the sharpest and most colorful of an assortment of quirky and demonstrative father figures. As the boy’s determined mother (Lily Rabe) struggles to provide her son with opportunities denied to her — and leave the dilapidated home of her outrageous if begrudgingly supportive father (Christopher Lloyd) — J.R. begins to gamely, if not always gracefully, pursue his romantic and professional dreams — with one foot persistently placed in Uncle Charlie’s bar. The Tender Bar is.
Press Conference with Actors Ben Affleck, Lily Rabe, Tye Sheridan, Christopher Lloyd, Daniel Ranieri, Briana Middleton, Screenwriter William Monahan, and producer Grant Heslov
Q: Please help me welcome the producer of the film, Grant Heslov, and screenwriter, William Monahan. Hi, guys. From the cast, please welcome Ben Affleck and Daniel Ranieri, Lily Rabe and Christopher Lloyd. Also joining us, Tye Sheridan and Briana Middleton.
I’m going to kick it off with a couple quick questions. Grant, I’m going to start with you, because it was my understanding that you’re the one that first read this book, and then pitched it to your production company partner, George Clooney, and that’s how all this started. I’m curious to know how you found the book, and how did you sell it to George? What did you tell him that made him instantly want to be on board as well?
Grant Heslov : I read the book when it came out about fifteen years ago, and I loved it. I called George and I said, “Let’s go after this book” and we went after it – and we didn’t get it. Then it went into development in various places. hen cut to fifteen years later: I got a call from Ted Hope, who was then running Amazon, and said “Hey, we’ve got this script, nobody’s seen it. Literally, we just got it last night. We want to send it to you guys, see if you’re interested in doing it.” So they sent it, we read it, and that was it. It came back to us somehow. But it was because of the screenplay that this guy [points to Monahan] wrote.
Q: So William, from your point of view, how did it enter your life and why did you determine it was a good fit for you?
William Monahan : Well, I’d read the book when it came out and I thought it was remarkable in many ways. Most first books by first-time authors, they tend to throw their backgrounds and families under the bus, use them for material — sort of mythologize themselves. Yeah, you can go to Hemingway, Fitzgerald, any of them in the 20th century.
But this book by J.R. [Moehringer], it was about a guy who loved his family and whose family loved him, and I thought this was great. When it came around and Amazon asked me to do it, I said yes immediately. It was just really good fortune that Grant and George were in a state of readiness. It was a very happy circumstance.
Q: It’s just so cool for me to see all of you on this train, this very impressive cast. Ben, I know Christopher Lloyd is someone you’ve idolized for a long time. And you’re also working with really exciting younger actors as well. What was it like for you to finally get a chance to work with Chris, and then what was your experience like working with all these other exciting people in the cast?
Ben Affleck : Well, it was a tremendous experience just as an actor to be – it’s a collaborative medium, and no matter what anybody tells you, you can only be as good and do as good as the material, as the director, as the other actors. In that sense, it’s so profoundly lucky for me. It was one of those cases where it was hard for me to understand. I read the script and thought, “Well, nobody’s passed on this, so I must be the first person, and I can’t quite believe it.” I was really, really grateful. And then the cast got populated around me, and I met this guy [indicates Daniel] and we worked together and he was so fabulous. I knew George and Grant well, and really liked them and love working with them.
Every once in awhile, something really great happens in your life and you just hope that you’re ready and able to capitalize on that. It showed up to work with Lily, where if you’re lost or confused — as I frequently am, it seems – it’s like, I wonder what I should do next. She’s sort of like the life raft as you’re flailing around in the ocean, and you go “Okay, I’ll just follow her.”
And Chris, yes. “Back to the Future” came out – well, that ends the debate about the best picture ever made, and that’s it. And then I saw him. He’s the first celebrity I ever saw in real life, walking around the streets of Boston – I assume, or I think, doing a play there, although I’ve been too shy to really follow up with Chris and ask him that, because I’m still too starstruck and intimidated.
But yes, in all senses, across the board, and ending with George, who as a director is just, everything comes down from the top. He created this enormously welcoming, safe, beautiful atmosphere, where you felt you can succeed and you felt like you knew you could take chances, and you felt as though people were working collectively and rooting for one another.
One of his many, many gifts is his deep understanding of actors and what it is that will help us be successful, and his tremendous affinity for, fondness and passion for actors, and it shows. His formative years, I get the sense where he still sees himself as that guy showing up in L.A. and sleeping on Grant’s couch or Grant sleeping on his couch or them both sleeping on the couch together, or whatever it was. Trying to make it in this business.
He has a lot of compassion for how hard that is, how much rejection there is, how much self-doubt can be involved in that, and how when you get a chance to do something, you really want to be afforded the best opportunity to succeed. He’s very generous in that, he gives that to everyone else. And in particular to me, I felt. My performance benefitted so much from his experience and wisdom and talent and his generosity. He’d say, like, “Try this” and “try that” and inevitably – invariably, for me, the scene is better.
Usually you get on these things, these interviews and you sort of bullshit and say, like, “I liked everybody and it was great”. It’s really nice to actually be able to tell the truth.
Q: Daniel, it’s such a cool kind of 21st century story of your mom shooting a video which went viral on Instagram, and then you’re on Jimmy Kimmel. George and Grant see it and go “Who is this kid?” and here you are in your first movie.
I’m curious to know, when you got the part and thought about what this experience would be like. Was doing this movie and acting for the first time easier or harder than you thought it would be?
Daniel Ranier : To be honest, it was easier than I thought. But the first scene, I was kind of nervous, but then after it, I said “All right, no reason to be nervous, because it’s easy.” So the rest of the scenes, I wasn’t nervous. We just filmed them, I had a good time and I loved the experience. It was so good. When my mom actually told me I got the part, I was so happy, and I was running all around the house because I was so happy.
Ben Affleck : And what did George say to make you not nervous? What did he tell you not to do?
Daniel Ranier : Not to look directly into the camera ‘cause then you get nervous.
Ben Affleck : Grant, if you learned that lesson, things could have been very different today.
Grant Heslov : I know. I’m looking in the camera right now, and look.
Ben Affleck : There you go. Can’t stop.
William Monahan : I got my glasses off. I don’t even know where the camera is.
Q: Lily, I really like how Ben just described you as a life raft. And when I met you a couple weeks ago, I said I want a whole movie on Mom. I still do. I think for an audience you feel like that, too. That can’t be something you’re trying for, but I am sure it’s something that you strive for on the set. What do you like to project on set to your other actors?
Lily Rabe : I think that something that was so remarkable about this group of people – sometimes you walk onto a set and you’ll be with other actors or a director or someone in the group where you feel there’s a kind of defensive posturing, that people come in and they’re there to give their performance that they’ve made these choices about, and you can be there with them.
But this was the opposite experience in every single way. It was like every person – every actor, George, Grant – arrived to the set with these wide-open hearts and this incredible curiosity, and this incredible trust. There was no second guessing, there was just an openness that was really palpable and remarkable to experience across the board.
I think in the telling of a story like this, which is so heart-forward, it was such a generous experience. George is such a generous director to his actors. I think he’s also a generous director to his audience. He doesn’t try to control what their experience is going to be and he’s never trying to control you as an actor.
So my hope is to always be able to come in from that place to a set. But it’s a lot easier when you’re surrounded by that kind of energy and genuine collaboration. And also I think, we all felt very privileged to be telling such a quiet story, and such a delicate story.
Q: Christopher, I’m curious to know: when you’re in a movie like this where the family dynamic is so important, is there something that you as an actor like to do with your castmates in order to foster a family dynamic that will then transfer to the screen?
Christopher Lloyd : I feel, ideal situation that this was, there’s an innate trust in each other because we’re all trying to achieve the same thing for the same people. So it’s a collaboration just by its nature. Which is great when you have that going on. Do your thing and not have to apologize for it.
Q: Brianna, this is your first feature film. What was the most exciting aspect of working on this project, and what did George Clooney teach you that you might bring to future projects?
Briana Middleton : Everything was exciting. I loved the script, and after getting the part, I loved reading the book. I didn’t work with most of the people here. I mainly worked with Tye, but getting to be a part of a cast like this was really exciting. Getting to bring this particular character to life in the body that I’m in, as a black woman, I think was really exciting.
I think the most important thing that George taught me — that I’ve taken on other projects already — was just that I can trust myself. Lily was saying that he’s such a kind, generous person and that comes out in the way that he directs his actors. I felt, especially being very new and very trusted, and thought, okay, if he’s not worried about me then I don’t need to worry about myself.
Q: Tye, in playing the same character at different ages, how closely did you two work together to be able to do that and make the performances consistent?”
Tye Sheridan : Well, we didn’t really get to work too closely together. There was a lot of overlap, we were shooting on the same days, and we would often have lunch together, so we got to know each other a little bit off camera. The scene that you’re referring to wasn’t actually originally – it wasn’t in the screenplay that I read when it first came my way. It was more of an idea, I think, that George had been playing around with this idea of the clash of these two characters, really a confrontation [with] his younger self, to confront his direction in life. He told me three or four weeks into production, “Hey, I ‘m working on this really cool scene between you and Daniel.” I’m like “Really?”” He’s like “Yeah, a dream scene. I think it’s going to be really cool.” So he sent it to me and I read it, it was great.
So I’m glad we got one scene. But I think that maybe Daniel can speak to this a little bit. Like I said, we were shooting simultaneously so it was almost like we were building the character together at the same time, and George was just at the helm of that and made sure we were both growing in the right way through the performance and the life of the shoot. What do you think, Daniel?
Daniel Ranier : Yeah, the same thing. Me and you, like, had lunch together in your trailer sometimes, and off set, and it was just great. And me and Tye actually have a relation now, and I love him so much like my big brother.
Tye Sheridan : Love you too, buddy.
Daniel Ranier : Yeah. And the scene that we got together was just great, and the way George made it up was just impeccable and it was great.
Ben Affleck : He got to swear a lot.
Tye Sheridan : That’s what he was most excited about. That, and he liked to slap me in the head. That’s the best scene in the movie:
Q: Ben, in the film, JR looks up to Charlie not only as a father figure but also as a guy who he admires. When you were growing up, who in your life did you most look up to?
Ben Affleck : I had a number of people in my life that I was lucky enough to have really support me, in particular as regards my ambitions. My father, interestingly, was also a guy who was a self-taught guy, he didn’t go to college, and was kind of a similar sort of reverse class snob, but was very, very interested in language and writing and storytelling. He imbued in me at a young age an appreciation for that, and that you didn’t have to be a fancy person or a rich person, or have gone to a cool school, to use language well and to understand it. The power of storytelling is available to everybody in a very democratic way.
My godfather Jack McNeice has been an extremely important figure in my life my whole life in so many ways. Ultimately, I had a drama teacher who was extraordinarily inspiring and influential, and without whose genuine belief – at least I believe he believed in me, I don’t know whether he really did – but he seemed very authentic when he gave me a sense of confidence about going out and being able to do this.
So I didn’t seem reckless and crazy and absurd to just go out to L.A. and decide that I could be in movies. And despite the fact that nobody wanted me in their movies or television shows or as an extra or anything, I though, well, Jerry thinks I’m good, so I probably am, I guess. And that’s an incredibly powerful thing that people are able to provide young people as mentors. It’s an undervalued role in society. but it makes a huge difference, I think.
Q: William, What were the main assets of J.R.’s memoir for you, and what were the main challenges of translating it into cinematic language?
William Monahan : Well, the main problem always is you’re looking at a four hundred, five hundred page book, and you have to bring it in at about one fifty, one twenty pages. If you had done a straight adaptation of the book, you would have had to have the kid, a teenager, and the young man. So one of those had to go. It had to be the teenager, I guess, and try to have the young boy work with the college-age kid. [That’s] the way you had to go with it.
As far as assets are concerned, the book itself is a mine of riches. I grew up at the same time — I think J.R.’s three or four years younger than I am – so we did the same thing. We were journalists in New York at the same time, I come from the same sort of background. You know, less farting and septic. But same sort of background with very tough, literate Irish uncles. It suited me. It suited me to the ground to do it, but it was a great challenge because a lot of people loved the book and you don’t want to screw up. So, many assets.
Q: Grant, the music in the film is almost its own character and really helps set the overall tone. Is that a deliberate choice? And how involved were you and George in the song selection process?
Grant Heslov : Yeah, before we started shooting, we decided that we weren’t going to have a lot of traditional score for the film. We normally work with Alexandre Desplat, who we love and we love to work with him. But we felt like this one, we wanted – as soon as the film started, we wanted to put people in the period.
So when we were shooting, even when we were shooting, George and I would just walk around with our phones and just play each other songs and say “How about this one? How about that one?” That’s basically how we did it. And then when we started to see cut scenes, we would take our iPhone and put it up to listen to it with the scene on.
And then we got a great music supervisor who – once they told us, ”Well, you can’t afford all those songs”, then we said okay, this is kind of the songs we want, the big ticket ones, the ones we couldn’t live without – the Paul Simon, the Jackson Brown, and some of those – that’s where we spent our money. And the rest, we had to do a little wheeling and dealing.
Q: Lily, “What were your biggest sources of inspiration in coming up with your characterization of Dorothy,” besides, obviously, the script?
Lily Rabe : The script, and the memoir like he said, was a “mine of riches”. It’s dedicated to his mother, and there were so many beautiful things to sort of fill my suitcase with before showing up to start shooting.
I had a very wonderful mother, and something that she had – she’s very different from Dorothy. But my mother was someone who really, from the beginning of my life, these periods of time that we have where we feel like we are “in waiting” for the good things to start happening to figure out who we are, to figure out what we love, to figure out what we’re going to do next, between breakups or between jobs, or at the age that J.R.is in the film, trying to figure out what that is.
My mother was so brilliant at pointing me in the direction of realizing that there is so much life to be had in those moments in between. There is so much opportunity for joy in the down moments and those moments of stillness. And that feeling of waiting, which you feel so much as a young person, and then throughout your life. So that was such a remarkable quality in my mother that I hope I was able to carry through in my playing of this person.
Grant Heslov : Wasn’t a bad actress, either. Just wanted to say that.
Q: Christopher, When it comes to accepting roles, what is it that you’re looking for in a project?
Christopher Lloyd : When I read a part for the first time, I want to feel that I can connect with something about the person that everybody else can connect with, if I do it right. Otherwise, what’s the point?
Q: Brianna, Sidney is a very complex character in that it’s very tough to side with or against her, depending on the situation. Is this something that you felt while playing her?
Briana Middleton : Yes and no. I mean, I hope people feel conflicted about how they feel about her throughout the film. I, as the person playing her, was just an advocate for her and totally on her side. I think I’m glad that we get to see her family. There’s a scene with her family and we get to see the world that she comes from. I hope that that adds an element to her, other than being the crazy girlfriend that breaks this guy’s [indicates Tye] heart.
She’s very complex. I think she’s someone who knows what her trajectory is, but is maybe conflicted about what that is as still a young person, but understands the world that she’s in and where she comes from, and the expectations that she has. I think we’re just seeing her figure that out, too, and she just happens to get caught in the wake of it.
Ben Affleck : Can I say something, Dave, one second? I just want to say this for purely selfish reasons, because I like to be right about things and validate it later on. George is so good at casting. But it’s no secret that Lily’s great, and Chris is great, and Tye, Bill – all these. He assembled all these amazing people. I hope that people remember this movie and like it for a lot of reasons. But I can promise you – I can promise you – that this movie will be remembered, for sure, as Brianna’s first movie.
I watched the performance last night on the big screen, which I hadn’t seen it on. But what is true is that the bigger screen is bigger, and watching the nuances of her performance – the delicacy, the honesty, the elegance, the degree to which she didn’t judge the character and didn’t allow the audience to judge the character – the extraordinary presence that she had.
But I don’t know. We didn’t get to work together, and I’m really sorry now because you’re a spectacular actor. And I think you’re going to have a really long, successful career. And this will be “Do you remember what her first movie was? There’s a little movie – you remember that actor Ben Affleck in the 70s? anyway, George Clooney was the director? That was her first movie.”
I think all of us will go down as footnotes as being in your first movie. Because you really, really – I mean, I have not seen an actor come out in their first performance and be that sophisticated and as intelligent and as delicate. I thought you were fabulous.
I just wanted to say that.
Briana Middleton : Thank you, Ben.
Q: And by the way, this is being recorded, so you are going to have that, Brianna. [laughter]
Ben Affleck : And I want you to tell me if I was right.
Q: Tye, What is something that you learned from your character or from this film experience that you can adapt and use in your everyday life?
Tye Sheridan : Well, I think that’s super-important about every project that you take on, right? You want to make sure it’s challenging you and you’re growing through it. I think this movie felt that. I felt a personal connection to it in so many ways. One, in the relationship that J.R. has with his mother. I spent a lot of time, just me and my mom, when I was younger and I think it really made me reflect back on those times.
And also, a lot of times you find yourself stuck in life, you find yourself in a rut. You find yourself in a desperate need of advice – or desperate need for someone to tell you, “Hey, dude” – they call you out on your crap, you know? I think Uncle Charlie does that in multiple ways in this film. And just as we were talking about last night, how important role models are in your life, how they can make or break you. If you don’t have those people in your life. I think that’s one thing that I learned through playing this character.
But also I think J.R. spent so much time longing for someone or something that he feels is absent in his life, and he comes to a realization that maybe he’s been looking in the wrong places, that what he actually needs, the purely necessary, has been there all along. And I think we all have that moment in our lives and it’s amazing to get to explore that through a character, and specifically in this story.
Q: Well, I congratulate you all on a beautiful film. I thank you all for your time this morning.
Here’s the trailer of the film.