Daily Herald
A little bit of job advice, courtesy of two 'Twilight' stars
By Dann Gire | Daily Herald Columnist
Published: 6/24/2010 12:00 AM

'Twilight' job advice?

Attention college grads!

Today's job advice column is just for you, especially if you're worried that you won't find employment in your chosen academic field. I have two cast members from the upcoming movie "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" who have a word of advice for you:

Chill.

First up: Justin Chon, the 29-year-old actor who plays hyperactive human high school student Eric Yorkie. Chon earned a business degree from USC. So what happened?

"I got some internships in business and did some work at companies," Chon said. "I just couldn't handle it. It wasn't my thing, you know?

"When you're part of a huge machine, like, say, Goldman Sachs, there's no artistry that goes into your work. You clock in, do your work, you get your task done, then your life starts outside of work. I want to feel like I'm living life all the time, not just after six o'clock."

While at USC, Chon started acting with a performance group. "Just for fun," he said. "I figured it would be just a hobby." He gave himself until the age of 26 to see if he could make a go of acting.

"It's been hard work all along, but finally, doors opened up for me and things worked out... Now, I enjoy being able to express myself. I get to play 24/7. I pretend to be other people. I act characters younger than I am."

Which brings us to Eric Yorkie. Where did Chon find his character?

"I think he's the kind of guy who drinks two Red Bulls before school, and he's always excited. I made it so he has a lot of energy and wide-eyed naiveté," Chon said. "I just pictured a young little Republican."

Next up: Gil Birmingham, who plays the intimidating Billy Black, father of the hunky teen Jacob Black, one of the werewolves who doesn't get along with vampires.

The 43-year-old native American graduated from the University of California with a degree in education administration, then went into petrochemical engineering.

What happened?

"I was thinking practical as a young man, education as a career," Birmingham said. "Then, I discovered that the arts were the thing that set my soul on fire. I'd been a musician, so I knew how to do that. Then the acting thing came along and I realized it was just a different form of the same expression. I decided engineering and the corporate world weren't my cup of tea."

Birmingham, who also spent several years as a bodybuilder (he played Conan the Barbarian at Universal Studios in California), said his affinity for acting comes from deep within.

"I minored in psychology," he said. "I've always had a great curiosity about the human condition and why we do what we do on our journeys through life. I think acting is a great medium to explore that curiosity. I think that acting touches me in a much more real way than things that are more intellectual or mental. I think that's just the way I was wired."

As for bodybuilding, Birmingham said the practice opened many doors for him in Hollywood. But he doesn't recommend it for everyone.

"It's not for the weak of heart," he said.

Special note: Both Chon and Birmingham will be here in person Tuesday night for the midnight premiere of "Eclipse" at the Pickwick Theater, 5 South Prospect Ave., Park Ridge. An autograph session starts at 8 p.m. followed by a guitar performance by Birmingham at 11 p.m. Other sessions are scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.

Movie tickets cost $7; the live show costs a separate $10. For details, go to flashbackweekend.com.

'Exit' After Hours'

The After Hours Film Society presents "Exit Through the Gift Shop," a strange, rambling documentary by the mysterious, internationally infamous graffiti artist Banksy. A French shop owner tries to make a doc about Banksy, who turns the project around, so the owner becomes the unlikely subject of his own doc. It's at 7:30 p.m. Monday at the Tivoli Theater, 5021 Highland Ave., Downers Grove. Tickets cost $9 for the public. Go to afterhoursfilmsociety.com for details. ★★★½

Reel Life review: 'Sweetgrass'

Lucien Castaing-Taylor's and Llisa Barbash's "Sweetgrass" is exactly the sort of documentary that film critics are supposed to love. It slows the world down and forces viewers to actually observe people and nature instead of quickly leaping from one shallow image to the next.

Without music, effects, narration or script, "Sweetgrass" traces the last massive sheep drive through Montana's Beartooth mountains back in 2003. The camera is kept at a sheep's eye-level most of the time, and the contemplative lens captures the day-to-night experiences of the sheep herders as they struggle to protect the woolly mammals.

Still, the doc takes 10 paragraphs to say what it could in one, and there were times that I thought "Sweetgrass" was one giant B-roll for the sequel to "Brokeback Mountain."

"Sweetgrass" opens today at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago. Not rated; suitable for general audiences. 101 minutes. ★★½

Reel Life review: 'The Killer Inside Me'

Casey Affleck is so good at playing smarmy little weasels that when he breaks into full-bore sadistic sociopath mode in Michael Winterbottom's graphically violent, sexually charged "The Killer Inside Me," the transformation is shocking and utterly convincing.

Based on Jim Thompson's dark novel, "Killer" traces the first-person story of Texas Deputy Sheriff Lou Ford (Affleck), driven by inner demons to savagely kill people without any residue of remorse during the 1950s.

Jessica Alba plays the cutest, most naive prostitute on screen since Julia Roberts in "Pretty Woman." An earthy Kate Hudson plays Lou's high-society main squeeze, oblivious to the killer inside her soft-spoken lover.

Winterbottom has established himself as a jack of all genres, but his neo-noir adaptation of Thompson's brutal story sputters out of control, especially after Lou winds up watching imaginary slide shows in a mental hospital. Then the rest of the movie might just be a figment of the killer's skillful imagination. The hints aren't that subtle. "The Killer Inside Me" opens today at the Music Box Theatre, Chicago. Rated R for graphic violence, sexual situations and nudity. 109 minutes. ★★½

Reel Life review: 'Cyrus'

Once again, the cinderblock-like Jonah Hill proves he's one of the most elastic and surprising actors working in movies now. In "Cyrus," he plays the title character of an odd, 21-year-old man with an unhealthy affinity for his doting mother (can Marisa Tomei be that old?).

When Mom, single and smokin', hooks up with a divorced doofus named John (Chicago's John C. Reilly), Cyrus puts into play one of the most diabolic passive-aggressive plots ever devised to crush his perceived rival for Mom's attention.

Stuffed with unpredictable turns and ace performances, this is the least pretentious and watchable movie so far from Mark and Jay Duplass, who've convinced film critics and the world that amateur camerawork (out-of-focus shots, whiplash zooms and bad framing) is an artistic choice.

"Cyrus" opens today at the Century Centre in Chicago and the Evanston CineArts 6. Rated R for language, sexual references. 92 minutes. ★★★