Punch explains her role in Bad Teacher, describes what it was like to work with Woody Allen in You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger and explains why she feels funny doesn’t get old.
Actress Lucy Punch
Tavis: Lucy Punch has established herself as a rising star in Hollywood following her role opposite Anthony Hopkins in the Woody Allen film, “You Will Meet a Tall, Dark Stranger.” Starting June 24th you can catch her in the new comedy “Bad Teacher.” The film also stars Cameron Diaz. Here now, a scene from “Bad Teacher.”
Tavis: (Laughter) Lucy, nice to have you here.
Lucy Punch: Wonderful to be here.
Tavis: You like rocking that red wig?
Punch: It was fun. I was glad it was a wig. I’m glad I didn’t have to dye my hair for the part. Yeah, it was very itchy. (Laughter) A lot of pins in my head all day.
Tavis: This is a very simple and silly comment to make, but I am always amazed and just tickled at how actors, British actors, can just lose the accent like that for a role like this. Like, what’s the trick to just, like, making your accent disappear?
Punch: Well, I don’t think it is a trick. We’re lucky, growing up, we’ve got all, like, American movies and American TV shows, so it’s a familiar sound. (Unintelligible) worked with a dialect coach. I don’t know. I’m glad you think I lost it. Sometimes I’m watching myself back, going, “Oh, no.”
Tavis: No, it’s gone. So tell me about the film. You and Cameron Diaz are in a school together. I’ll let you tell it.
Punch: Yes, and she’s the bad teacher, I’m the good teacher, and it’s a very simple plot. She’s basically trying to get a rich man and to do that she thinks she needs large breasts. (Laughter) So she’s saving up for a boob job. Meanwhile, back story, I’m warring with her for the affections of Justin Timberlake, which was a lot of fun and also kind of faintly ridiculous to me that I’m fighting with Cameron Diaz for Justin Timberlake. When is that ever going to happen? So I enjoyed it, yeah.
Tavis: How are you making choices these days about the stuff that you want to do? I mentioned the Woody Allen piece, which everybody who loves you and knows you from that particular project, how do you decide that you want to do this project with Cameron and Justin?
Punch: Well, it was a wonderful script and Cameron and Justin are in the movie, so it was a pretty easy decision. Also, I always find it funny when I watch actors talking about, “I chose to do this part.” A lot of times it’s you’re lucky to get the job. We’re like, “Thank you so much.”
But certainly I’ve really enjoyed playing these comic parts recently. I do do more serious stuff, but funny doesn’t get old, so I hope to work for a long time and if I can keep creating wacky comic characters, hopefully I can be working for a long time.
Tavis: That’s a great turn of phrase, I’ve never heard that – “Funny doesn’t get old,” but it doesn’t. Funny doesn’t get old.
Tavis: You’re obviously good at it. What’s the challenge for you, how do you dip into the funny bag and then bounce back to the not-so-funny stuff? You don’t feel more comfortable in one space or the other?
Punch: No, I don’t. I don’t feel like I’m particularly a naturally witty person, but certainly I’ve done auditions before and it was something very dramatic and I’ve sort of heard laughing, and I’m like – they were like, “You’re not right, but you were so funny, that was so funny, how you did that. Oh, my God.” (Laughter) And I’m like, “I was trying to be really dramatic. I was trying to move you all.” So I think a lot of the time it’s sort of I’m unwittingly amusing.
Tavis: You’re funnier than you think you are.
Punch: Yeah. Well, someone told me I had funny facial expressions. I don’t know whether I take that as a compliment or not, but.
Tavis: Yeah, but it works.
Punch: It works. It has been working so far, yeah.
Tavis: Yeah. What was the experience like, working with Woody Allen?
Punch: Surreal and incredible. I’d been out of work for a year and I was sitting in my apartment, very depressed, and we’re going to have to go back to London completely broke, and I got this call and I was completely delirious.
A few weeks later I found myself on set with Anthony Hopkins playing my husband and being directed by Woody, and it was scary and unnerving. He doesn’t give an awful lot of direction and he also – there’s a difference, I’ve only learned this recently, I didn’t know it at the time, between the American use of “quite.”
Now, if you say something’s “quite good,” you mean that’s really rather good. If we say something’s quite good, we mean eh, it’s all right. So he kept saying to me, “That was quite good,” and I’d be like, “Wait a second, no, I can do – listen, I’ve got a lot more ideas.” He’d be like, “Relax, it was quite good,” and I’d be like, “Listen, Woody, I’ve got another idea.” (Laughter)
And he finally said to me, “You know, you’re quite good,” and I’m like this. “But you’re so neurotic.” And I was like, “Are you kidding me? I’m being told I’m neurotic by Woody Allen. That’s just really, really special.” (Laughter)
But he was amazing. Because I was always going up to him, because he would (unintelligible) I’m like, “Woody, Woody, is it okay?” and I could see he was getting annoyed one day, and I went, “You know, Woody, I’m so sorry for always coming and pestering you. I’m nervous and I want to make sure I do a good job.”
He looks at me and he goes, “Don’t worry at all,” and I thought he was ignoring me as well. He goes, “I’m not ignoring you, I’m just a little deaf, and I have this hearing aid,” he takes it out of his pocket and he shows it to me, “And every time you’re talking to me I just turn it off.” (Laughter)
Tavis: That was (unintelligible).
Punch: I thought, “That’s nice. I’m pretty (unintelligible) a wise move,” because I’m (makes noise); he’s just like, “Turn her off.”
Tavis: I’m just glad you figured out what the “quite good” thing means. That can drive you crazy.
Punch: But I only figured it out afterwards. I was like, “Oh, my goodness,” and I was so embarrassed as well, because he must have thought I was a complete maniac. He was complimenting me and I’m like, “Wait, wait.” Yeah.
Tavis: What’s even more funny about this story – I shouldn’t say funny, but interesting about the story is that there’s a back story to how you got the role, the whole Nicole Kidman – yeah.
Punch: Yes, I was – I put myself on tape and I got a call from my agent saying, “He wants you to go in to meet him,” and it’s like, low budget, Woody’s movies, so you have to get your own ticket and I was totally broke, and I was like, “Oh, well, I’ve got to go.” Booked this ticket and I got a call. I think I was in London in the middle of the night, going (unintelligible) ticket (unintelligible) I was like, “I can’t, I can’t.”
And when he’s cast it, he’s given the part away, and I was completely devastated, and then I found out that it was Nicole Kidman and I was a bit more understanding – fair enough, Nicole, I get it. But then she pulled out and yeah, I got the chance to – I didn’t ever meet him during this process. I was just putting myself on tape, but yeah, I got another chance.
Tavis: What do you take from the fact, to your earlier point, that before you got that call you’d been trying the acting thing, you’d done some stuff here and there, but it really hadn’t hit for you. You weren’t making a lot of money; you were on the verge of going back to London. What do you make of that moment, turning things around in your life and in your career? I ask that because there’s so many people who are waiting for that moment to come in their own lives where things are really going to start to move for them but they’re having difficulty.
I’ve been there, you’ve been there, we’ve all been there, where you’re struggling, trying to hold on, until that moment actually arrives.
Punch: Well, it was hard and I never had a backup plan, so I don’t – I sort of had a friend of mine who sort of gave me a talking to about a month before I got that job, and she’s like, “You need to change your attitude and you need to live like you’ve got it,” and after I got that part I went home and I got a number of other roles in movies and it helped that I’d done the Woody Allen film, but I also had to go in and really fight for those parts.
The reason I could was because I had so much confidence. Like, well, yeah, I deserve to be here. I think it’s really hard. I don’t know what to say. I think it’s a confidence thing and it’s a – yeah, it’s a tough one. It’s a really tough one, and I don’t think it gets easier.
Tavis: Is the confidence for you connected strictly or uniquely to doing the work, just getting – let me rephrase this. Is the confidence building for you connected to getting the work or doing the work in a certain way? You understand the difference I’m making here?
Punch: Yeah, getting the job and certainly if you do the job and you feel like you’re doing a good job and you’re pleased with the result, but yeah, if you’re doing something that’s hard to get into, acting, and there’s a lot of competition, yeah, it can sort of erode your confidence. But luckily, I got it back.
Tavis: Yeah, so you’re off and running these days. You don’t have confidence issues anymore, obviously.
Punch: Well, you know how it is. (Unintelligible)
Tavis: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You’re off and running now. This last name, Punch, tell me about your last name. What do you know about it?
Punch: Do you know, I know very little about it. I’ve always – I’ve asked my dad, and he’s like, “Oh, I don’t know.” I’m like, “How can you -” Listen, I could have found out about it myself, but it’s an unusual British name. I just met one of your producers; his mother has the same middle name. That’s the first other Punch I’ve ever met. But yeah, people often think I’ve made it up, and I haven’t.
Tavis: It’s a great stage name. When I got in this business I used to hate – when I was a kid – my mom’s watching. I shouldn’t – and so is my father, for that matter – I shouldn’t say I hate my name, but I was never into Tavis Smiley until I got into the business, and it’s one of those names that it’s easy to remember, Tavis Smiley.
Tavis: Writers can play off the last name.
Punch: And it’s fun.
Tavis: It’s fun and all that.
Punch: But imagine if you were going to be a lawyer or I wanted to be a surgeon. Lucy Punch.
Tavis: Yeah, Dr. Punch. (Laughter)
Punch: They’d be like, “Who? Is this, like, some WWF fighter going to perform surgery on me?”
Tavis: Well, I asked about it because it’s a great name in the business that you’re in now. That name, Lucy Punch, is just – it works.
Punch: Yes, it is, it is.
Tavis: So the name works, the movie works. It’s called “Bad Teacher,” starring one Lucy Punch, alongside Cameron Diaz and Justin Timberlake. Good to have you on the program.
Punch: So nice to be here. Thank you.
Tavis: It’s good to see you, my pleasure.
Punch: Thank you very much.
Tavis: My pleasure.
[Walmart - Save money. Live better.]
Announcer: Nationwide Insurance proudly supports Tavis Smiley. Tavis and Nationwide Insurance – working to improve financial literacy and the economic empowerment that comes with it. Nationwide is on your side.
And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.