Actor Josh Brolin and producer Chris Moore are taking the title of their documentary collaboration The People Speak quite literally.
The duo co-produced the History Channel film, which premieres Dec. 13 and explores history through dramatic readings of emotional real-life accounts of major moments in U.S. history culled from Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States” and “Voices of a People’s History” (co-edited by Anthony Arnove), as performed by an all-star cast of actors and musicians including Brolin, Matt Damon, Marisa Tomei, Danny Glover, Morgan Freeman, Viggo Mortenson, Sean Penn, Rosario Dawson, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen.
But beyond that, Brolin and Moore teamed up to bring a live reading of passages from the film and a preview of footage to UCLA students on Dec. 4, demonstrating the gripping effect of history made and experienced from the ground up. They sat down with ComingSoon.net to discuss The People Speak, as well as some of their upcoming projects.
ComingSoon.net: Tell me a little about how you guys got this going, the spark of inspiration to do it and then how easy or hard it was to bring it all together?
Brolin: I think it all started at the 20th Anniversary of the book, right?
Moore: The one millionth copy.
Brolin: The publishers had said to Howard [Zinn], “Why don’t we have a reading? Why don’t we get a bunch of historians together and have a reading?” Howard said, “I can’t imagine anything more boring than a bunch of historians reading a bunch of the speeches from this book. Why don’t we get a bunch of actors?” Then I guess at the 92nd Street Y they had Marissa Tomei and Danny Glover, and a bunch of amazing actors doing it and it was such a success and it continued on. Then Anthony [Arnove] has been working with Howard and pulled the speeches out of “The People’s History of the United States” and created voices for those histories for all of the full speeches and it just exponentially got bigger and bigger and bigger.
CS: Were you both fans of the original book or was this your introduction to the whole concept?
Moore: I’ve certainly been a fan of it since I read it in 10th grade. It was one of those books that you read that make you go, “Wow. People can actually talk about different things or they can point out different moments in history.” I think that the people that Howard highlighted and the way that he told American history was really interesting to me as opposed to the twelve other textbooks that I read which were not that. So I’d known it for a long time. My involvement came through working with Matt [Damon] and Ben [Affleck] on “Good Will Hunting” and we have a scene in the movie that talks about the book. So we tried from that point on to come up with some sort of visual representation of the book. When we went to these live shows that they were doing it became pretty obvious that that’s the best way to do it, shoot the real, authentic performances.
Brolin: My mom gave me the book and I didn’t read it for five years because it was intimidating which was a part of the reason, I think, we’ve done this, to create another medium for people to experience this book from. But I didn’t read it for a long time and then when I finally read it I was amazed, obviously and very affected and then later when I saw the movie which Chris produced it just rekindled the reality of that book and then I went back and I read it again. Then it was maybe five years after that, or seven years after that, that I met Anthony.
CS: When it came to getting the talent to perform these speeches, was that an easy thing for you guys to accomplish?
Moore: I mean, there are two steps to that process. There’s the getting people who are psyched to do it which Josh was really instrumental in. Matt Damon did some of that. Myself. Anthony. But then there’s the other side of trying to schedule it with all of these people because they’re very busy and everyone is working hard…
Brolin: As he points at me. [Laughs]
Moore: So that part can be more difficult, but Howard’s book has had a great affect on a lot of people. And the people involved are very passionate about it.
Brolin: It was a great thing in the beginning of Bruce [Springsteen] and then just the nature of that kind of success having to go through so many people and then it started to kind of fade away and then through Eddie Vedder who I’m friendly with, we were able to kind of rekindle that whole thing. Then when Bruce did it over in New Jersey which was an incredible event, I guess, a personal event. I got a great card afterwards, a letter from him saying, “Thank you so much for making my childhood dream come true in spending the day with Howard Zinn.” I had it framed and all that. So, obviously, people are extremely, cellularly affected by it.
Moore: I think that was a lot of it, what I tried to do as the organizer was to make it as easy as possible and as fun as possible and Howard was great. Howard came to everything. He would come and be there and a lot of people did it because they were really affected by the book over the years and Bruce was a great example of that.
Brolin: And they wanted to have a personal experience with Howard, too.
CS: Tell me about today and what this is all a part of, where the idea sprang from, and again, putting that together with his schedule?
Moore: This is the most blatant, direct, promotional opportunity we could come up with. What it is is you’re going to see some clips of the movie and you get a famous guy out here and we’re going to talk a little bit about it and hopefully motivate kids out here on campus to tell their friends. We are aiming a lot at this age group and we felt that coming to campuses was the best way to do it but making them sit through the whole movie was not that fun where we could make it a little bit more fun by having people come and talk about it and they’d get a personal relationship with the project.
Brolin: There’s going to be one in New York and they just did one in San Francisco.
Moore: Yeah. I think this is our ninth or tenth.
CS: What are you expecting from the college crowd you’ll be addressing?
Brolin: Interest, I think, ultimately. For a history lesson it’s a new take on it. I think it’s a visceral experience and just interesting. Interesting. It’s different than looking at a nine hundred page book, like I said. It’s more interactive.
Moore: And we hope, in today’s world of digital communications we also hope for some enthusiasm. Like, we hope for people to be like, “Wow, I saw this cool thing. Maybe we should watch this,” or “I can’t wait for that DVD to come out.” It’s like, “I want to see the whole thing and understand the whole thing.” That I think would be the best reaction, and look, in a perfect world we’d love people to say, “I should read that book.” It’d be great if some people were like, “My mom gave it to me. My teacher gave it to me. I’d heard about it, but I never really had to read it and so I never read it.” Then they pick it up.
Brolin: But just given the reaction from “Good Will Hunting,” after “Good Will Hunting” the sales of the book just skyrocketed and so hopefully this will be the same thing and maybe more so.
CS: Josh, you’re doing “Wall Street 2” and working with Oliver Stone again. You’re doing a film that’s commenting on history as it’s happening. Can you talk about what that experience has been like for you?
Brolin: Well, I mean it was great to work with him again. It’s very apropos to what’s going on. It’s in September ’08 and so it’s not too long ago and it’s still happening, and I think of the nine guys that I met, four of them… or no, five of them went to jail after I met with them to do research. So it’s really history in the making, for sure.
CS: Can you talk about the character you’re playing in the film?
Brolin: Kind of the modern Gordon Gekko I would be Gordon Gekko now.
CS: Chris, what’s the next project for you?
Moore: I’m currently producing a Matt Damon movie called “The Adjustment Bureau.”
CS: Is that based on a Phillip K. Dick story?
Moore: It sure is. It took a long time for me to get the job and I finally got it. It is and it’s George Nolfi’s directorial debut. It’s Matt and Emily Blunt. It’s a lot of fun.
CS: George worked on “Bourne” movies?
Moore: He wrote the last “Bourne” movie and “Ocean’s Twelve.” That’s how he knows Matt. It’s a very sort of big Hollywood movie and so we have to deliver on that.