Ocean’s 8: A love letter to New York

A film franchise successfully reboots with an all-female cast

Ocean’s 8 – the third incarnation of the ‘Ocean’ franchise – after Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack back in 1960, then George Clooney and his posse back in 2001 – is back on the silver screen with an all-star, all-female cast led by Sandra Bullock.

Six of the cast members – Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Sarah Paulson, Mindy Kaling and Awkwafina – made it back to New York, to the scene of the crime to be exact, one fine day a couple of weeks ago.

It was for the film’s press conference and photo call for international and national entertainment journalists so we were mixed with colleagues from across the globe like Japan, Chile and Italy.

The idea of an all-female Ocean’s film came six years ago, after The Hunger Games, said Gary Ross who directed the movie. Ross said he found himself wanting to explore more films starring powerful, female protagonists with complex upbringings and brought his idea to the director of the Ocean’s trilogy, Steven Soderbergh.

The six actresses, along with Ross and his co-screenwriter Olivia Milch, gamely responded to the media’s questions at the presscon held at the Temple of Dendur of the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York, right at the scene of the heist staged during one of New York’s most coveted and covered events, the annual Costume Institute Benefit at The Met or more famously known as The Met Gala.

One of the issues discussed was the diversity of the cast.

“We’re celebrating eight distinct women from eight distinct backgrounds, and this is what the world looks like, not just what Hollywood has made the world look like,” Ross said.

Hathaway added, “You can’t underestimate the power of visual representation. So, to an 8-year-old girl, we’re not trying to say, ‘Go have a life of crime,’ but we’re saying, ‘Go do what you want. Go do what you want [because] there’s space for you. There’s space for you to do it with your friends. And there’s room for all of you.’”

Milch agreed and said that aside from the diversity in the cast, the film also featured all five boroughs of New York City to show a diversity of backgrounds.

Which is why we see beautifully shot scenes of Jackson Heights in Queens, Cartier’s flagship store on 52nd Street, the Red Hood and Bushwick neighborhoods in Brooklyn (the Bushwick United Methodist Church’s annex was transformed into Blanchett’s character’s loft and the gang’s de facto HQ), Vogue’s new HQ at the World Trade Center, Bergdorf Goodman’s department store and the New York Times’ 52-story tower.

The production also had an unprecedented access to The Met and filmed there for 10 days, longer than any other production.

“If we hadn’t shot at The Met, I think it would have been almost impossible to do this. But the fact that we were able to get in there was a huge advantage,” Ross shared.

The gals had to eat too, and restaurants like Veselka in the East Village, Junior’s in Brooklyn, Casa Lever on Park Avenue, among others made it to the final cut.

“If you’re going to shoot a movie about New York City, you have to go to New York City,” Bullock said. “New York has an energy all its own, it ignites something in you and keeps you on your toes.”

Passing the Bechdel Test

“You guys all know about the Bechdel test,” Kaling said. “This passes it with flying colors. I mean, the fact that we’re orchestrating a crime as opposed to fighting over a man. There’s isn’t even a specter of a man.”

The Bechdel-Wallace test asks if a film contains two female characters who talk about something other than a man.

And of course she is exaggerating. Not about the Bechdel test part, but the tere isn’t a specter of a man part, because there are two male characters who make the lives of the eight ladies a little harder and more complicated.

Richard Armitage plays the role of Claude Becker, an artist who is Hathaway’s character’s date at the Met Gala and James Corden as John Frazier, an insurance investigator trying to put the pieces of the story together.

Aside from them, it’s all about the women.

Rihanna and Helena Bonham Carter complete the titular eight and together, they plan and mastermind the biggest jewelry heist they could imagine, one that Bullock’s character Debbie Ocean has been concocting and plotting for ‘five years, eight months, 12 days and counting’. Their main target? It’s called “The Toussaint,” a $150 million dollar necklace created by Cartier, the world-famous Paris-based jeweler.

The eight wonderfully complex, smart and funny women will take the viewers on their own journey, complete with all the twists and turns that follow.

“I wasn’t just casting individual roles; I was putting together a band who all had to sound great together. It was exciting from the beginning,” Ross shared.

The excitement was palpable even after the stars have shot the film and it was felt at the presscon where they would crack jokes and laugh and share memories of them shooting the film.

“I think we managed to connect on a level that we never ever would have been given a chance [to connect on] because we — women, you know, there’s five roles [in Hollywood] and we’re all looking for them, and they’re all lone little islands, and here we were, Hawaii, and all the other islands,” Bullock said

Mindy Kaling shared that she had to learn to speak Hindi, a language she doesn’t speak in real life.

“I think everyone maybe thinks because I’m Indian I was raised speaking an Indian language, but I wasn’t. That part was challenging. But it was fun, because I always play these delusionally overconfident characters, and this character is just like, ‘I get to be involved?!’ So that was very nice, to play someone who is more shy and gets to come out of her shell. No one’s ever accused me of being shy before, so this was a nice character.”

Blanchett interjected and jokingly told her co-star, “Oh, you should have told me, I’m fluent,” eliciting laughter from the reporters in the room.

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