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Demetri Martin on Taking Woodstock

Published September 2, 2009 in Movie Interviews
By Fred Topel | Image property of respective holders
Taking WoodstockTaking Woodstock
Demetri Martin traded in his sketch pad for some dramatic clout in Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock. He plays Elliot Tiber, the man who helped give Woodstock a venue to shape a generation. Martin brushed up on Tiber’s memoir on which the film would be based. Since Woodstock represented a sexual awakening for Tiber, Martin got nervous.

Martin Taking Woodstock

“The memoir that Elliot wrote, it’s pretty graphic about his coming of age sexually and all this stuff,” Martin said. “So knowing that Ang did Brokeback and stuff, I was like, 'You know, I'm not gay or a trained actor and I really haven't been in many things.' I was like, 'I think you guys might have the wrong guy here because I don't know if I really can do that.”

Lee trusted Martin, so the comedian just hopes he did well enough. He can’t judge himself. “I don't particularly like watching myself, and I don't think that's a weird thing to say because I don't know anybody who really does want to see themselves do too much. Somebody could say like, 'All right, what can you watch yourself do? Do you have to watch yourself?' My list goes something probably like: If I did a cool stunt of some kind. If I jumped like a motorcycle over a pit of fire or something, then I would want to watch that if I landed it, you know? I’d want to show people, like, 'Check this out! I did this!' Below that, I think it would be cool to watch myself like walking through Penn Station or something and I don't know somebody’s filming me, but then somebody just drops a DVD off at my door and they're like, 'We filmed you the last two weeks. Check this out. This is what you look like.' I’d be like, 'Oh my God, that's what I look like as a stranger, that was me buying that bagel. I remember this.' It would be creepy, but it would be interesting because when I'm not cognizant of trying to be something, it would be interesting to see myself. After that, I'm not interested in seeing anything I can think of. I like standup but I'm used to watching myself do that but I don't particularly like it because like anybody, you're self-critical. Below that would be crying probably. And below that would be any sexual thing of any nature with any gender, really. Like I love women and everything, but I don't want to see myself making out with anybody. I don't need to see that.”

Clearly that’s a list that Martin prepared like one of his routines. “I absolutely thought of it, yes. I was, I think, going into the screening or it was after that I told my friend. 'Don't you want to see it? Aren’t your curious?' And I was like, 'Yes, but put yourself in that situation.' Again, nobody made me do the movie, I’m psyched that I got to do it. But when I saw it I was just distracted by myself for most of the movie. I was like, 'Can't I just maybe wait and see this in my house, or if I want to take a break and go eat something or meter it out?' And we were at Cannes and my publicist said, 'You know you have to see the movie now and you have to go in there and sit and watch it.' And so not only did I have to watch the movie but there were seats with name tags on them in the theatre. It was like a two-tiered theatre and there was like a seat with Ang’s name tag on it, and then mine was right next to Ang’s. I was like, 'Oh man, I've got to watch this right next to Ang.' And then the movie was over and there was a camera crew that nobody told me about. The credits are done and as soon as the lights come up, there's a camera crew that I didn’t even see like hiding. They come up and put the camera right on me and Ang and then that's on the big screen. So now you're like in another movie and you didn't even know they were like there. 'What? What are we doing here? Geez, I've got to like have a reaction.' So I kept trying to get out of the shot and they were just kind of like moving slightly. The camera would follow me and it was just kind of weird, you know? But yes, I think I did okay. I didn’t seem like myself. When I saw it, that didn’t feel like me. So that felt like acting. Yes, I think that worked, yes, sure.”

At least being on a film set provided more fuel for Demetri Martin’s comedy. “What I did was, I like to draw a lot, so the first part of the film I was just so worried about doing what Ang needed and what they were asking me to do, that I was just like trying to focus on it. Whereas I usually daydream and write down stuff and draw. Then once I got a little more comfortable, actually I think it was like two weeks into the film where somebody was like, 'You know you get a chair?' I was like, 'Oh yes, can I have a chair?' Because they weren’t putting a chair out for me, like I was just standing for all my lighting because there was no stand-in or anything. So I’d just go to the set and somebody would just like have my bag somewhere and have my backpack. Once I got a chair I had like a notebook on it, so between takes sometimes I would just like draw or like write down a joke or anything. But I didn't have any jokes specifically about like movies or anything, but just like daydreaming.”

Taking Woodstock is now playing.

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