Heaven DVD cover
Heaven DVD backcover
Robert & Jennifer
Richard Schiff site
Richard Schiff site
Sean & Robert
Images were taken from various sources, and are the copyright of their respective owners.
Links for Heaven:
- Entertainment Today
- ET Online
- Review – eFilmCritic
- * Review – Urban Cinefile
- DVD – Amazon
- VHS -Amazon
Days of Heaven By Stephen Lemons
Actor Martin Donovan leads moviegoers on a spiritual journey through hell and back in writer-director Scott Reynold’s Heaven.
In Paradise Lost, Milton’s Satan, having been cast out of heaven as a result of his rebellion against the Almighty, remarks, “Which way I fly is Hell; myself am Hell;/ And in the lowest deep a lower deep/ Still threatening to devour me opens wide.” Though there is nothing particularly Satanic about actor Martin Donovan or the roles he chooses to inhabit, the characters he portrays tend to carry their hell within them, and the dramatic arc of their stories often mirrors their redemption from an inferno of their own making. From the lonely, defiant genius at the center of Hal Hartley’s “Trust” to the consumptive, Byronesque would-be-suitor in Jane Campion’s “Portrait of a Lady”, Donovan’s known for embodying tormented, long-suffering souls seeking to escape from the predicaments they’ve created for themselves.
“I was raised Catholic, and that informs a lot of what I do,” explains Donovan from his room at the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills. “I’m not a practicing Catholic now, but the whole notion of forgiveness and redemption has influenced me. I don’t think of it in terms of morality – but rather how does this character live with himself? You know, how does this character sleep at night? Or does he sleep at night? How does he justify himself? I suppose in some way that’s a moral issue, but I’m wary of the term morality because it has so much baggage attached to it – of other people’s morality and what’s being imposed by society.”
Donovan’s in town to promote his latest film, “Heaven”, a psychological thriller written and directed by New Zealand wunderkind Scott Reynolds, whose first feature “The Ugly” was such a critical success. In “Heaven”, Donovan plays Robert Marling, an architect by trade who’s allowed his addiction to gambling and alcohol to drag him into a dark urban underworld where petty thieves, small-time hoods and strippers vie for money and power. Marling is a good man with good intentions, but he’s allowed his inner demons to ruin his marriage to his beautiful wife Jennifer (played by Joanna Going). As a result, he’s both on the edge of poverty and losing any claim he might be able to make upon the couple’s young son Sean.
Poised for self-destruction, Marling finds refuge in a seedy gentlemen’s club called The Paradise. Owned by his friend, a likable bully by the name of Stanner (the amusingly scummy Richard Schiff), The Paradise is where Marling goes to gamble and drink his troubles away. Although a sinister locale, it’s where Marling meets Heaven (Danny Edwards), a transvestite stripteaser whose ability as a clairvoyant makes her extremely valuable to the ever-wagering, ever-menacing Stanner. Foreseeing Marling’s future attempts to save her from rape and murder at the hands of some young thugs, Heaven starts to aid Marling in his card-playing (to Stanner’s detriment). The result is a downward spiral that sends Marling racing through a Stygian nightmare of deceit and betrayal and leaves none of the film’s characters untouched.
An avowed fan of Donovan’s work, Reynolds wrote Marling’s character with him in mind, and Donovan admits that Marling does bear some resemblance to his previous efforts. “I think the thing that sort of sets him apart from other roles I’ve played is that he’s on the verge of being consumed by bitterness,” Donovan says. “I think that’s a very dangerous trap for people who are frustrated with their lives and are having gambling problems, drinking problems or whatever. The bitterness and the problems sort of fuel each other. But one has to have a handle on the rage and figure out where it’s coming from before you can make any progress. If you don’t, it can consume and destroy you. That’s what’s on the verge of happening to Marling. That’s what sets him apart from the others.”
It’s the intervention of Heaven (to invoke the film’s obvious metaphor) that sets Marling straight, but not before Marling risks his own life to save Heaven from the holocaust of destruction which eventually engulfs The Paradise and everyone connected to it. By the end of the film, one feels that Marling has been purged of his demons. But Donovan is skeptical of the concept that suffering is somehow ennobling for Marling or for anyone. “It’s a very common, romantic idea that suffering is beautiful or whatever, but I think that’s not the case,” he maintains. “A different spin on it is that you can’t escape suffering, so by acknowledging that you’re a lot better off. I think by being given something outside of his control – namely this information from Heaven about his fate or destiny – Marling is transformed. It’s an active thing he does, but it’s also a selfless thing. It sort of takes him out of his own crap that he’s been stewing in. He’s been pretty self-indulgen t up until that point, wallowing in his own misery.”
Does Donovan find it difficult to portray such angst-ridden characters? Does he have to dredge up a lot of personal darkness in doing so? “I don’t know that I think about it too much,” he answers. “I really work on the script and try to find a truth in the scenes. When I was a younger actor, I felt that I had to prepare in some way, but I wasn’t sure exactly how. I did all kinds of things that you’re taught in acting class which I think are sort of beside the point. After you’ve broken down the script, talked to the director and done all the basic work, it’s really about preparing yourself at the moment of when the camera rolls to be in a state of awareness. It’s just about listening and not trying to impose anything, which is an extremely hard thing to do. You don’t always succeed. You’re gonna come in some days and be distracted or in a bad mood, scared or whatever. And it sort of all comes down to concentration and relaxation. Sounds boring, but it’s a hard thing to maintain.”
A Valley Boy who grew up mostly in Reseda, Donovan now makes his home in Manhattan with his wife and two small children. Although he sidesteps questions of age with a chuckle or two, saying only, “Oh, I’m up there,” he’s quick to share why he became an actor in the first place: “It was just something I knew I had to do. It was exhilarating, and I instinctively knew I could do it well. It was also terrifying, something I was really afraid of at the same time… When I’m faced with that kind of challenge, I respond to it. There are a lot of fears and anxieties, but as you do it more, you can jettison some of that stuff.” Donovan describes himself as “constantly humbled” by his profession, and by “how difficult it is to do it again and again.” No wonder he says that “it’s extremely satisfying when I think I’ve gotten it right.”
Getting it right is what Donovan has been doing of late. His oft-praised performances in “Portrait of a Lady” and in the scathing indie comedy hit “The Opposite of Sex” have gotten him recognized by an audience larger than those devoted to Hal Hartley’s offbeat, screwball narratives. Now with several projects in the can, including an ABC pilot with the working title of “Bellevue” in which he plays a psychiatrist, Donovan would seem to be in an enviable position. But he doesn’t like to dwell on it. “That’s the quickest way to go insane,” he says. “So I’m really trying to get off the ‘analyzing where I’m at’ sort of thing. I’m just trying to take it as it goes. But I can’t complain. I’m making a living at what I love to do, and I’ve had the opportunity to work with a lot of extremely talented and smart people. I feel very fortunate.”
Though Donovan’s forte is playing characters for whom self-laceration and anguish are second nature, he seems quite well-adjusted by comparison. As if for proof, he says his favorite activity is hanging out with his family – watching videos with his kids or taking them to parks. He admits that he does share some traits in common with the fictional beings he invests with life but doesn’t go into specifics. “You’re cast for who you are, not for who you are not,” Donovan declares. “And when it doesn’t work, it’s miscasting. Within that, I believe all of us individuals have a full range. We’re multifaceted creatures, and there’s a lot of stuff to draw on if you’re willing to look at it. That’s sort of the other aspect to this thing – really looking at yourself and seeing what you’re capable of doing. It requires imagination and pretend, but I believe you have to make it yours no matter what role you’re playing. That’s the only way you’re going to look or feel truthful.”
Martin Donovan in Heaven
April 27, 1999
In the new film ‘Heaven’ MARTIN DONOVAN plays a strung-out and enraged architect. We talked with him about how he prepared for such a heavy role!
Entertainment Tonight Online: What drew you to ‘Heaven?’
Martin Donovan: SCOTT REYNOLDS came to me and said basically that they had thought of me for this from the very beginning. The script was really intriguing. It was a great and multi-dimensional role. It was pretty much a no-brainer.
ETO: What was your feeling on the changes between the script and the final product? Was it what you thought it would be?
Martin: This script was so incredibly complicated. It was written in the way we sort of see it cut together. In shooting it, everybody realized that it was sort of next to impossible for even make-up artists and actors to remember what day we were on. It was so complicated that Scott took out each day’s events scenes. He took them out and put them all together so we knew that day what we were doing. There was a whole evolution to it. He kept trimming it and cutting it and getting it down to the essentials. It was a long way from the script to the final version. Needless to say, I’m very happy with the result. I think it really succeeds. I think Scott achieved what he wanted to do in a really compelling way.
ETO: There were a lot of serious themes in the movie. What was the mood like on the set?
Martin: I remember sort of having to access all of this anger and bitterness in a kind of strung out way. I was in that world kind of wrapped up in my own stuff. I would say the set in general was a very pleasant experience. It was a beautiful place to be and work. The crew was great. There wasn’t an unusual amount of spillover from the content to the proceedings.
ETO: You’re playing a character that is strung out and enraged. How does that effect you?
Martin: I’m still trying to figure that out. It’s one of the things that I’m fascinated by. I wonder how much a role affects me personally. For many years I thought that it didn’t, but I’m actually starting to think that it does. I don’t go home and treat my family with rage or anything, but there’s subconscious stuff that you pull out that I think is going to affect you somehow. It’s very strange how it manifests itself. But it’s not an obvious thing. It’s not like I’m playing an alcoholic so I’ll drink a lot. It’s not like that. It just sort of sneaks up on you.
ETO: You have sort of a stoic quality in this film. I’ve noticed this quality in ‘The Opposite of Sex’ as well. Is that something that comes from you?
Martin: I’m sure everything comes from me. I would say that the character in ‘The Opposite of Sex’ is more relaxed than this character. I would say that the character in ‘Heaven’ is much more tense. The guy in ‘The Opposite of Sex’ is more resigned. Those films were made kind of back to back.
ETO: As you know, ‘Heaven’ had dealt with ESP. Do you believe in that kind of stuff?
Martin: I don’t reject any possibilities. Have I seen it? Do I think it actually exists? I don’t know. Is it possible? Sure. There are a lot of things about humans and our awareness. We haven’t got a clue about the possibilities of consciousness in our brains.
ETO: If you could have the ability, would you? Would you choose to see the future?
Martin: No, I don’t think so.
ETO: It’s a scary thing. How do you think the film is reflective of our society today?
Martin: Well, I don’t know if it’s anything specific to today. I think the stuff about forces of fates and destinies people have been sort of forever been enslaved by this sort of knowledge. Knowing that we’re going to die. When you get into this idea of seeing the future and knowing that something’s going to happen and there’s nothing you can do about it, just like dying. That’s the underlying theme in this movie that makes it very troublesome, yet fascinating. It’s the question about whether we have power over our futures, our fates. Do we have a choice? Those are very fundamental issues of human existence.
ETO: Do you believe in karma?
Martin: Yes, I do. I don’t know if I would necessarily say that it was karma. But I think that the concept of karma is based on a reality. I do believe that you reap what you sow.