Thanks to success of Lady Gaga, Akon has no money worries these days
recently collaborated with Akon on “Sexy . . .”
Akon says he’s not the only one energized by the merging of Euro house beats with American R&B melodies and hip-hop rhythms.
“ You’ve got some straight hardcore hip-hop guys actually moving into the dance realm,” Akon said. “And that’s shocking. When you’ve got someone like Dr. Dre about to do a dance record . . . that’s crazy.”
Akon wouldn’t comment further on the Dr. Dre effort, except to say: “it actually sounds great. He played it for me. I was shocked. So I was like ‘ Wow, that’s dope. When the world hears this, they might go crazy.’ . . . When you’ve got the two worlds mixed together, clashing, it’s going to be a monster.”
As for his next CD, due out sometime later this year, the sound is even more expansive than his third album, 2008’s Freedom, Akon says.
“It’s on a whole ’nother level,” he said. “ We named it Stadium, because it’s one of those records. We’re going to do straight stadium tours overseas with this record.”
Those shows will be toned down from the sometimes wild performances of years past, according to the singer, whose given name is Aliaune Thiam. TORONTO — Between his role as a monster-slayer in the crowd-pleaser Zombieland and an Oscar nomination for his turn as an anguished army captain in The Messenger, Woody Harrelson is on a career high these days.
This weekend, he hits cinemas playing the unlikeliest of heroes in Defendor, which was shot in Hamilton, Ont.
Toronto-based writer/director Peter Stebbings says he sought out the former Cheers star knowing Harrelson would have the chops to balance the humour and tragic undertones of his debut script, about a mentally ill man who believes he’s a crime-fighting superhero.
“I’d just finished seeing him in No Country for Old Men and he didn’t have a huge part in it but he had this really wonderful role,” Stebbings says of Harrelson’s turn as a bounty hunter on the trail of a menacing psycho-killer, played by Javier Bardem.
“I was just like, ‘Where have you been?’ That was my first reaction. And, ‘ What a fantastic jaw you have! You have this great jaw line and you’ll be perfect as Arthur Poppington/Defendor,”’ gushes the first-time director, better known as a longtime actor with TV credits on Cra$h and Burn, G-Spot, and Across the River to Motor City.
The sweet, but dim-witted Arthur Poppington is not your average avenger. From the get-go, it’s clear his drive for justice is fuelled by delusion.
Poppington spends his evenings assuming the crimefighting persona of Defendor, trolling the back alleys of Hamilton for trouble with a letter “D” ducttaped to his chest. His arsenal consists of homemade weapons including wasps in a jar, lime juice in a squeeze bottle and loose marbles.
But as the story unfolds, the slapstick premise gives way to a surprisingly dark tale about a troubled man haunted by a painful past.
Casting the right Arthur Poppington was key to the movie’s success, says Stebbings, noting that the entire story would dissolve in the hands of an actor unable to keep the sensitive material from veering into maudlin territory, or cruel farce.
“ The whole movie does fall apart if you don’t get it right and I sort of just ended up saying that to Woody. I told everybody in the movie: despite the given circumstances of this movie (their characters) are completely real. Let’s not go chasing laughs. if we get a laugh, great and if we don’t so be it, we’re not trying to be funny here,” Stebbings says recently by phone from L.A., where he’s auditioning for TV roles during pilot season.
“I always felt that if we took his mental health issues seriously and didn’t kind of look at them through the eyes of a bleeding heart kind of thing but actually look at them through his eyes, you know, that we would be OK.”
Grey’s Anatomy actress Sandra Oh, who grew up in Nepean, Ont., plays Poppington’s criminal psychiatrist, while Montreal’s Elias Koteas ( Fallen, Crash) is a crooked cop and Kat Dennings ( Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, ER) plays a crackaddicted prostitute who befriends Arthur.
The gritty side of Hamilton proved to be the ideal backdrop for the tale’s darker moments, Dennings said last fall while promoting Defendor at the Toronto International Film Festival.
“It was exactly what we needed — this industrial, kind of cold-looking city that felt perfect for this world we were in, this kind of weird metropolis,” Dennings says.
“It looks steel and there’s that fire that kind of sporadically goes up,” she adds, referring to a lakeside industrial complex well-known for towering stacks that send regular bursts of flames shooting into the sky.
As a crooked cop targeted by Defendor, Koteas appears in some of the film’s lighter scenes and says he revelled in getting to show his comedic side.
“No one really thinks that I’m ( funny),” says Koteas, often cast as a dark villain. “They all kind of think I’m a Greek tragedy kind of guy, very intense and serious and I think I’m kind of a funny guy. It was nice to be able to be given an opportunity to be a little freer.”
Snagging Harrelson for the title role was a matter of just sending him the script, says Stebbings.
“Woody’s agent was very, very keen on the part for Woody and I think his agent also had a strategy to get Woody back into the kind of mainstream,” he says.
Things almost went awry when the film’s budget fell more than $1 million short of its $5-million target, making the cost of casting Harrelson suddenly beyond their means, he adds. But when Defendor’s producer met with Harrelson’s management, the actor agreed to take a pay cut, Stebbings says.