Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jasmine, Lauren, Judy, Karen & Me

Find Maria, My Love on Video

Jasmine, Lauren, Judy, Karen & Me

(from 5/14/11)

Mariamylovejasmine.jpg Jasmine McGlade Chazelle
I wanted to interview Karen Black. She'd been a huge part of my moviegoing experience when I was in my twenties but I'd never met her. Now she was going to be at the Tribeca Film Festival accompanying a film I knew nothing about titled Maria, My Love. She was my sole interest in seeing it. Then I discovered the star was Judy Marte, "Juicy" in Raising Victor Vargas. Well, of course I wanted to interview her, too. I read the film's synopsis. Ana (Marte) is a young woman who feels angry and alienated from everyone following the death of her mother, Maria. Her father wants to see her but she resents him too much because he cheated when his wife was in the hospital. Her sweet and caring half-sister Grace (Lauren Fales) wants them to bond, but Ana keeps her distance. She finds quick romance with a nice young man, Ben (Brian Rieger), but continually sabotages the relationship. She does find an unlikely companion in another Maria (Black), a reclusive, somewhat off-kilter hoarder. Ana tries to help herself by making an effort to help Maria, but they end up helping each other. It sounded intriguing, so I checked out the name of the first-time writer-director. Jasmine McGlade Chazelle sounded familiar. Ah, I met her two years before at the Tribeca Film Festival when she was the producer of the amiable offbeat dramatic musical Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, which got nice reviews when it was released last year. She was just Jasmine McGlade then and was engaged to the director Damien Chazelle. The nicest couple I'd met in ages got married months later. Well, naturally, I wanted to interview Jasmine, too And when she told me that her movie's inspiration came from Lauren Fales, yeah I wanted to interview her, too. I had the good fortune to interview these four lovely ladies one-at-a-time at the party for the movie at the Festival.                                                                                                                                            
Jasmine McGlade Chazelle Q&A

DP: When I met you two years ago, I thought you were strictly a producer. I didn't know you were a director. But you had done a short, right?

JC: I did a short at Harvard as my thesis. I've always wanted to be a director. I produced because I really believed in Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench and Damien, and because he shot my short. We were just forming our creative collaboration, but my goal was always to be a writer-director.

DP: Are you from Boston?

JC: I grew up in Colorado but went to high school in London. Then I went to Harvard, so that's when I was in Boston.

DP: Were you a film student?

JC: At Harvard. But the thing that inspires me most for movies is looking at modern art in a museum. Photography was my first love. I would always make things as a kid, but photography was how I got into it all.

DP: Why is Maria, My Love your first movie?

JC: I knew that I needed to make something. I had to make something, so it had to be something within the realm of possibility in terms of financing. And then after the premiere of Guy and Madeline, I saw Lauren Fales, who plays Grace. The movie is dedicated to her mother. We went to high school together for one year in London and then she was an actress. She told me she'd lost her mom, and said that she had just met this hoarder, and while she was talking to me, I honestly I saw a little glow around her. I just knew that this was a subject that was really going to speak to me and was something I wanted to explore. It's about losing a parent, but really I see this more as a movie about recovery, and closing yourself off to people, and having to be inspired to open back up. I think that's what happens to Ana in the film. Shes very closed-off. She isolates herself and shuts people out. It's about that, I think.

DP: To me, it comes across as two short stories put together. Is that how it really was, a real story and a fictional story?

JC: Yes, absolutely.

DP: So Ana's story didnt really exist?

JC: The background story with her father and halving a half-sister with a different mother, all of that was constructed. The part that was true was the loss of a mom and meeting a hoarder, and trying to find a way to help other people as a way of getting over the loss.

DP: So did you work with Lauren on the script and then work with Judy Marte?

JC: No, basically at first we were going to shoot it completely improvised, with no script. Then I decided I wanted to write a script and then depart from it. Lauren was involved at the beginning. We just really talked about what kind of movie we'd be making and bounced a lot of ideas off each other. Then I actually went off and holed up in a room and wrote a script. All the things that really were not true to her story was what I was constructing to try to make it work as a narrative.

DP: When I interviewed Damien about Guy and Madeline almost everything we talked about were his influences--this movie and that movie. Your movie doesn't seem to have any influences!

JC: It's funny, I think he's a very different filmmaker. He watches everything. Not that I don't, because I watch a ton of movies, but my true influences, I would say, are Frederick Wiseman and Kieslowski. I dont know whether this comes across in the film but I'm very interested in writing a mix of nonfiction and fiction.

DP: Well, the filmmaking technique at the beginning--Ana and Ben meet on the train platform, then all of the sudden they're sitting together on the train, and in the next scene they're in her apartment. There's some interesting jump cutting you're doing, which is sort of Godardian, actually. Was there a major thought process for you that resulted in your doing it this way?

JC: That choice came about in the editing room, because we shot so much that didn't make it into the film. So that sequence was the result of smashing it together because we wanted to get to Maria faster. I really wanted to juxtapose those things. I shot Ben and Ana walking and talking and meeting, and so much more that ended up on the editing room floor. Ahead of time, I went into it more like a documentary. I wanted to take what was written in the script, and feel it out each day to see what I found that was interesting--coming up with new scenes, walking from place to place. In that way, it was really a mix. I came away one day after we shot only what was scripted, and I was so upset. I went home saying, I wasted a whole day. The next day I went in and got so many improv scenes that are some of my favorite moments of the movie, including Maria talking about the colors.

DP: So the transitions are part of a technique. Is framing in a movie important?

JC: It is with me because I was filming it as if it were a documentary. It's not realistic but natural, not setting up every shot and saying, Okay, lets make sure to capture it all. I guess it was more verite.

DP: Talk a little bit about Ana. Before her mother died, did she like herself?

JC: That's an interesting question. I think that she struggled with that even before, and losing her mother was potentially an opportunity to grow in ways that she never would have. I think that she was closed off, and her loss was an excuse, perhaps, to behave that way. She was perhaps more gregarious, more involved in things, but was still at the core the person you see in the movie.

DP: She sabotages herself all the time.

JC: Yeah, yeah.

DP: I didnt think that part of her is just coming out now for the first time.

JC: No, no. That's too much a part of her.

DP: Does her ethnicity come into play her?

JC: Yeah, definitely. That is definitely something that I was interested in exploring. That's definitely a part of her being closed off.

DP: So did you and Judy Marte, who is Dominican, comfortably talk about that, or did you have to have her explain stuff to you?

JC: You can ask her. She's really close to her mom, but we didn't talk too much about her family. It was there on the page, but we didn't spend a lot of time in which she shared her thoughts with me about it. She kind of knew what she was going to do. I really trusted her. We talked a lot about the script ahead of time. In Raising Victor Vargas, which is where I first saw Judy, she was amazing at improv. I knew I had to work with her one day. It's funny, because I worked for Kimberley Peirce, as her assistant after college. One day, she was screening at the V.A. Hospital or some place like that and this girl comes up to us after the screening and says, "I'm an aspiring filmmaker, I would love to intern for you." A lot of people gave us these kinds of requests, so I went back and looked up this girl, and said, Let's give her a shot. She interned for us,
and it turned out, two years later--when I wasn't working for Kim any more--that she was best friends with Judy. She is the one who introduced me to Judy. That's how I befriended Judy before the project, and I said, "Hey, weve got no money, do you want to do this?" She said Yes.

DP: How much discussion would you two have about the character, or did it just work automatically?

JC: We did a little bit of talking, but not as much as I imagine some movies have. I really wanted her to bring herself into it. I like giving all the actors a lot of room to do it their way. Also I had a vision in mind for what I was going for.

DP: I've never seen a character like Maria. There are parts of her I've seen, but that whole character surprised me a little bit. She was unpredictable. Have you seen anyone like her in the movies?

JC: Well, I think the way Maria got to be that way is: I had a written a character, and I had Karen Black to play her. I combined the two, and that's what I got. I started figuring out who Karen Black was--she is so inherently interesting--and I needed to do that. I would watch Karen between takes and go, "Oh my God, I have to incorporate this!"

DP: While writing the script, did you know the ending?

JC: I wrote an ending in which Ana goes home to her dad. But as soon as I shot the scene that is the ending of the film I knew that was the ending. I knew that while we shot it. I whispered to my DP that that's Anas ending. Then for a while the producers and our editor were fighting to have the ending be Ana going home and knocking on the door, and I said No. I think everyone at the end agreed that we had the right ending.

DP: Is there any way that Ana and Maria are ever going to drift apart from each other now that they found each other?

JC: I think once Ana has some more growth, I think absolutely. I think she appreciates her but--I dont know if you've ever had that someone comes into your life, and they're really important at that moment, and you give to each other, but it doesn't have to be permanent to be special.

DP: But it actually seems that they can help each other. A good mother will raise an independent person who will leave home but will want to come back to visit.

JC: That's beautiful, yeah, I agree.

DP: Maria has line about life getting boring if you push everyone away. Karen says she improvised it.

JC: We had something written, but at that point I really trusted Karen to say something better. My instinct was that if I let her say something from her heart, she's going to say it right. I asked Karen what she would really say to Ana. It was beautiful, it was magic.

DP: I think its the key line in the whole movie.

JC: The best writing that I didn't write. It all came together in that moment, I felt.

DP: Do you think Maria was a hoarder before her husband left her, I asked Karen, what do you think she said?

JC: I don't know, what did she say?

DP: She said yes.

JC: Oh good, that's what I would have guessed, but I didn't want to be wrong.

DP: She says she thinks that's one of the reasons Maria's husband left her.

JC: Good, I think the same way. I think maybe Karen and I talked about that at some point. I see it that way too.

DP: Is it stupid for us as viewers to think about what it's going to be like for these people five years down the road?

JC: No, no. It's funny, a couple of people have been talking to me about that, asking "What do you think will happen? Who's going to stay together?" I think the way I end it without completely wrapping it all up, opens it up for an audience to wonder about what will happen in the future.

DP: See, I think Ana's almost like a 12-Step person.

JC: Yes, yes, absolutely. That's exactly how I see it. But I think it makes sense for the audience to ask questions. My message is hopeful, but it's subtle. Tomorrow, Ana's not going to suddenly be a different person. It's not realistic. But on this day, something profound has happened. She's cried. She still isn't able to open up entirely, but she has finally looked at something that was too difficult to look at before. Now she's going home to her father's house, and she's crying. It's both a subtle step and major step.

DP: She's deciding to reconcile with her father a little bit, but do you think she should be thinking that? Are you pissed at her father, too, for cheating on her mother when she was dying?

JC: Oh no, I believe in forgiveness. I believe that when Maria tells her that she should never forgive her father, that's a big warning sign. Ana's potential worst self would say that one day. But the Ana that can really grow would be able to forgive.

DP: But you made him sin in a way that's not easy to forgive.

JC: I did, but nothing is really black and white. I do believe in forgiveness, even when there are really major things. There's no simple story here.

DP: Does Grace flirt with Ben in that cigarette scene, or is that not a real flirtation?

JC: She's a little angry, so maybe a little bit. It's perceived and a little bit real, because he's flirting with her, too.

DP: I couldnt figure out why Grace was going along with it. Do you think that everyone is angry?

JC: I think so. I think so.

DP: You seem to present Ben as being almost perfect. But is he the perfect match for her?

JC: No, no, I dont think he's right for her. Someone asked me today if they end up together. My answer was, "Definitely not." Having a romance with Ben is what she needs at the time. But I think she hopped into that relationship just as quickly as she hopped into volunteering and other haphazard things she's tried. The credits end, and the next movie is: when going to find what really belongs in her life?

DP: I think what really belongs in her life is her sister, Grace.

JC: Yes. That's one thing, absolutely. I wrapped up Ben and I wrapped up Maria, but I didn't really wrap up the sister. I did it that way to really carry her forward.

DP: You wanted to accomplish something making this movie and you did it, I guess. Did you need validation?

JC: With moviemaking, it's about the writing and the creation. I don't really know what I want from an audience, if anything. I don't know that I actually think of an audience when I'm making a movie.

DP: I think Damien wants people to say, I got that scene from that movie and another of my scenes from another movie.

JC: Right. I told you I have influences because it's not like I never watched a movie, but I did not grow up in the same way as Damien. I didnt research movies to make my movie. I just try to go with what's in my head. Not that Damien doesn't, he does that, but he's also like an encyclopedia. For me, I don't know how to explain it other than that I'm compelled to do something, I have to do something, I have a vision for it. A lot of it is very visual, I'm just kind of obsessive about it. I need to have flowers, vibrant vibrant vibrant. I tell every department--it's got to be vibrant! That's meaningful to me. It's important for a movie to have a life and I really want it to, because I think these performances are really amazing. It's what I'm most proud of, with the film.

DP: Were you comfortable on set? If so, were you surprised that you were?

JC: I wasnt surprised. Now that I've made my first feature I feel like a director, I feel capable and very comfortable. I knew what I wanted, and I feel that I largely achieved that.

DP: So youre happy?

JC: I'm happy. And I'm grateful..
Lauren Fales Q&A

LF: Jasmine and I went to high school together in London. I was only there for my senior year, but I but met her there.

DP: The film is dedicated to Maria, so tell me the story.

LF: Well, Maria was my mother. It's also the name of the hoarder I met. I lost my mom four years ago to cancer. I was in the final semester of my training at the New York Conservatory for Dramatic Art. She passed away in October and I graduated in May. I was able to spend time with her, and I was there when she passed away, and that really meant a lot to me. The main thing--no, I'm not going to cry--for me, is that this was in New York, I've never lived in LA. where the movie is set. Coming back to New York City, I was 21 years old, I'm working at a bar, I just had all this wonderful training, but to be an actor in New York you definitely have to be very confident, and emotionally stable, and I kind of felt like the world had just been ripped away from me.

DP: Was your mother supportive of what you were doing?

LF: Oh, my goodness, yes. She kind of wouldn't even admit that she was dying, she was saying, Stay in New York, do your thing. Obviously I was very close to her and I could not do that. I was happy to spend the time with her, but it was very quick, she had a very aggressive cancer and it was over very quickly. Once it was over, I came back to try to rebuild my life. Sure, it's exciting, I just graduated, and I should be ready to go, but I was anything but ready. I kind of felt myself defining my life through what relationships I formed, and I was very vulnerable and very easily influenced in the sense that I felt my mother was trying to speak to me through other people, and I was interested in what the lesson was with whomever I met.

DP: Whomever you met professional or personally?

LF: Both. I was sort of obsessed with hearing from her, and I was trying to figure out what she was trying to tell me.

DP: Did you write stuff about your mom?

LF: Oh yeah, yeah. I actually visit her every year and I write letters to her and I bury them underground. It's really beautiful, because by the time I come back they've disintegrated. My mother was from upstate New York. She was really amazing.

DP: Is this film therapeutic for you, and like closure for you?

LF: Definitely. When I met with Jasmine, I had decided to go back to school. My credits would only transfer to a certain school, so I just enrolled in community college. Which was great--I loved it after coming from London, and living all over the world, I was thinking that I was scraping my life together, in a way. I came to her film, when she produced Guy and Madeline on a Park Bench, and Jasmine is so beautiful, she was newly engaged, she had that film in TriBeCa, and I was thinking, What am I doing? I dont want to say that I was at rock bottom but I was definitely re-evaluating my life and trying to understand why am I still here? Why did my mother go, and why am I still here? Here's Jasmine, she's so assertive, so eloquent, she knows exactly what she wants and she's so driven. She really inspired something in me that day, and it was a completely fluke that I went to the theater on the opening of the movie. I just happened to go, I hadnt seen her in years. I actually met the hoarder that day. The hoarder's name was Maria, so I was really thinking, What am I supposed to learn from this?

DP: When you met the hoarder, did you find out her name immediately?

LF: We actually met at a doctors office, where 'Id gone because I thought I broke my toe. It was the most random thing. I'd been sitting in this doctor's office for a couple of hours, and this woman walked in, she had this leg that she was dragging. I live in the Polish part of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, and she was a Polish woman, so I was just talking to her--you sit there for an hour, you start talking--and she was saying she had a hard time doing things. I'd just applied to be a big sister. It's interesting, you set out to help someone and you help yourself. I was taking these Buddhism classes, and they call it Ascending the Mountain of Others and Descending the Mountain of Self, but in the sense that I was trying to help someone to help myself, it was really a selfish quest. That's why it really wasnt working out. I was doing it to try to heal myself, not to try to help someone. It took a while for that line to shift and for me to understand that. So it was kind of ironic, all I wanted to do was help and it kept blowing up in my face.

DP: Ana's character--I dont know how much of you is in Ana, but she kind of sabotages herself all the time. Did you relate to that part of it?

LF: Definitely, in the darker moments. I think I had to have those darker moments to figure out who I am, you know.
Everyone has their own history. I'm not embarrassed or anything. I think that there was an amount of sabotage, and defining myself through relationships instead of trying to figure out what it was that my heart was saying. I feel like I've really come full-circle, in the sense that now I really feel that I've gotten my life together.

DP: Did you ever see the hoarder again?

LF: The relationship I had with the hoarder Maria was not as extended as Jasmine developed it in the movie with Ana and her Maria. But I did see her. I think that my Maria was more mentally ill than the character in the movie. I've seen her a few times and she hasn't recognized me. I was kind of happy to let her be.

DP: You went over to her house?

LF: Oh, yeah. It was shocking. She told me that her shelves were broken, and could I bring some boxes. We couldn't open the door, there was so much stuff. She had so many things we were trying to clean out. This woman had a bad leg, and she had nowhere to sit in her home--so my goal that day was to try to make a place for this woman to actually sit down. Her house was really full of stuff.

DP: I asked Jasmine this: do you think she was a hoarder before her husband left her?

LF: No, I think it was after. The real Maria was always referencing a fire, in the short time that I spent with her. So I was asking her, why do you have all this stuff? She was like, They're my friends. She had a very intense relationship with her things.

DP: Do you think Grace, Ana's sister, has friends?

LF: Yeah, yeah. I feel like Grace represents more the mindset that I have now you have to get up and go. Grace has an element of tough love about her, but she's a voice of reason, in a way. At some point, you have to stop being so analytical and just start acting. Beliefs dont initiate actions, actions initiate beliefs, in a way. We moved around a lot, and I'd tell my mother that I missed my friends. She'd say, "You're an actress, act happy." It's the truth though, because then I'd buck up and go.

DP: Grace sort of loses patience with Ana after a while. Is that tough love or is she just mad at her?

LF: I think she can only take so much. Her mother died too, you know, and she's not t being self-destructive.

DP: So does she flirt with Ben and step over the line?

LF: I don't think so. I think she is curious, but I don't think she would ever go after Ana's boyfriend. I can see why Ana would have interpreted that way, but I think Grace is also curious about who he is because he isspending all this time with her sister

DP: Do you have a sister?

LF: No. I imagine a sister.

DP: When Grace didn't have scenes, were you on the set all the time?

LF: Not all the time. I was coming from New York, and there were scenes that I wasn't participating in, but I was there probably about a week; the entire filming probably took place over about a month, so I didn't witness everything.

DP: Was there discussion with Jasmine, and maybe Judy too, about the character?

LF: Oh yeah. We did a series of writing exercises, and I did several journals and letters that I wrote to my mother, and I shared them with Jasmine. She drew me into the psyche of where I was as we were going along. We almost started with an outline. At first we were saying, let's not have any lines at all, lets just have an objective for the scene and see what's going to happen, and then she goes, "No, actually, I should write a script, we have to have a script."

DP: She said she holed up in a room and churned out a script, so at that point, did she still consult you?

LF: We were in touch throughout the beginning of it, but as she was in L.A, I don't know exactly how her writing process evolved. I don't know exactly how long it took her. I do know there were several things she was interested in and then she kind of flew with it and definitely made it more interesting.

DP: What you said before--do you see Ana and Grace as two sides of you, almost?

LF: Personally, I do.

DP: For that to happen, this film is really close to you.

LF: Very much so. I have my tattoo on my wrist that says Maria My Love and that's how the whole conversation with Jasmine started, since I hadn't seen her in years. We went and grabbed something to eat after the screening of the film, and she said, "You got a tattoo," and I said, "Oh my goodness, I have so much to tell you." I got the tattoo a year and a half after my mother died, right about the anniversary. I thought about it a lot. It started with a necklace--I have an M that belongs to her, the M moved around it was Maria, and the password I've had forever is Mariamylove.

DP: I want to take a picture of your tattoo!

Judy Marte Q&A
Danny Peary: I have spoken to Jasmine and Lauren about the Ana character. Since they were so involved with her creation, was it easy or hard for you to also help in her creation?

Judy Marte: Really why I did this film was because my mom. She's a really big presence in my life, to such a degree that it's not even normal and a little scary. We are like best friends. She's struggled with her health, and that's always been present in my life, trying to care for my mom. So when I first read the script, I was like in tears. This was something that would be both hard and easy for me to do. I just chose to go with my feelings and not think about anything.

DP: Well, where Lauren's coming from is that her mother died and she still has things to say to her. Your mom's alive, so when you were making this movie, were you thinking how you wanted your mother to see certain things in it?

JM: No. That's so funny because I've taught my mom to be very communicative about her feelings, because she is not like that. I taught her how to say I love you. Now every time I'm with her, I say, I love you, and she goes, I love you too! I make sure that I always express how I feel, at all times.

DP: Ana has a lot of stuff going on underneath. She never wants to share her pain until she gets drunk, I guess. What's the level of her pain?

JM: I think in this movie, she's coming out of it. I think she already went through the trauma, and she's just trying to find a way out, to quietly put in the time and the effort to help herself. This is not her low point. She's thinking, okay, I already did this, now I need to survive, I need to keep going.

DP: Before her mother died, did she already have problems?

JM: I think that's more of a question for Jasmine, but I don't think she had problems. I think that everything came into the picture when her mom died. Then everything with her father and how she feels about her sister comes out.

DP: Well, she called her sister too perfect and gets mad at her for being perfect. There had to have been some tension between them even before the mother died.

JM: No, I feel like it's a result of their mother dying. And Ana thinks Grace is good and didn't suffer like she did. That's how I see it. I guess you could say they have issues.

DP: Was Ana a together person, a happy person and did she have good relationships before her mother died and her father started cheating?

JM: Yeah, I think she's just angry. She had a really beautiful relationship with her mom, and was one of those people who took things for granted, and then her mother died and things changed.

DP: Okay, then the new Maria comes into her life. Obviously her late mother and this new Maria have the same name, and Ana's smart enough to realize that this Maria can possibly be her surrogate mother--and Ana can possibly be her surrogate daughter. But does Ana need this at this point in her life?

JM: Yeah, she desperately wants to feel better about herself, so she tries to help someone else, who doesn't really want to be helped. It ends up that they help each other give direction to their lives.

DP: Does she expect that this woman can help her too?

JM: That's what she hopes for, but it just didn't work out that way. She ends up being more stressed out than anything else.
She wasn't realizing how she was changing, but she was.

DP: Why do Ana and Maria work so well together? JM (laughing): They both have issues. DP Maria's says the line about being lonely if you cut yourself off from people. How does it apply to Anna?

JM: Well, Ana sees that it's time to move on. Gotta get out there, stop blocking yourself in.

DP: Do you think Anna sabotages herself a lot?

JM: Yeah, absolutely. I think she's been living in a cave for a while. It's a natural process that people go through.

DP: One of the ways she sabotages herself in the movie is she messes up her relationship with Ben several times. But in truth, shes probably better off without Ben.

JM: She doesnt know what she wants. Sometimes you want to have a normal life, so you do things to be normal, but you're not ready for that. I think with Ben that she wants so badly to just go out there and have a relationship. But I don't think shes ready for that. You can tell.

DP: He's presented as this idealistic guy, and he's very patient with Ana. He even goes to the doctor's office, he does everything. Still they're probably never going to be right for each other.

JM: In this movie, everybodys really needy! They all secretly want help, they just can't say it. Maria knows she needs help, but she's in denial. Ana kind of forces her way in there.

DP: Instinctively, Ana knows that Ben's not right for her. She's blowing up something that seems really good for her, but she's right that it's not. The other line Maria says to Ana is: Never forgive our father. Is that good advice or bad advice?

JM: I think its bad advice. Don't tell Ana that. It's not healthy for her.

DP: There are a lot of emotional scenes in this movie. Every scene is almost pivotal.

JM: Way more were cut out.

DP: It's all major stuff, almost every scene. Did you have times when you'd say, I think this should go this way or that way?

JM: Yeah, all the time. Jasmine and I were always talking, communicating about every decision.

DP: When you did more than one take of a scene, would you play it differently each time?

JM: Oh my god, almost always. It's so hard to do the same thing over and over. I'd think I cant do it again! I go with my instincts, the way I feel at the moment, so it's hard to do duplicate takes.

DP: But would you say to do it another way from the original way?

JM: Occasionally, depending on the situation.

DP: Was there one pivotal or unique thing you wanted to get across about her?

JM: The first couple of cuts, I realized that she was bitchy. I was like, This is not going to work. This is such a sensitive subject; its about somebody losing her mother. You shouldn't think about her as being a bitch; you should really sympathize with her. So then we had to re-edit everything to make her make sense.

DP: If you got to ask Ana one question, what would it be?

JM: Why is it taking you this long to forgive your sister? Just let her in. I think everything else pretty much makes sense. But you see the sister and shes so beautiful and so sweet and everything, and she wants to help, so why don't your forgive her?

DP: I think its because Ana is so unhappy with herself because she's so flawed and sees Grace being so perfect that it makes her hate herself more.

JM: There you go, you've answered the question!
Karen Black Q&A
Danny Peary: Its very exciting for me to interview you because you had such impact on my moviegoing since the 1970s. In fact, one of my first assignments was to go on the set of Capricorn One, and though you werent filming that day, you came on the set. Unfortunately I was too shy to walk up to you. Karen Black: Oh, you should have!

DP: So this interview is 35 years in the making. Over the decades, I've written about you in flattering ways, beginning with those early films. You were in some major, breakthrough independent movies in the seventies like Five Easy Pieces, Cisco Pike and Drive, He Said. Obviously, independent films are different today, right?

KB: I think they're very much the same. Human beings are human beings. An independent filmmaker still will be interested in expressing his point of view, how life seems to him, and he's interested in communicating that particular aspect. Art always starts with a point of view, and as you get farther and farther away from that, you get into studio films. If you stay close to the heart and mind of a single person, essentially that's the beginning of everything. Independent features are also always interested in behavior and the private moment. You feel that that the actor doesnt even know he's being shot. There are a lot of shots that look inadvertent. That smacks of '70s independent movies.

DP: For Maria My Love, could you sense the excitement from Jasmine that you felt with someone like Bill Norton on Cisco Pike, which I love?

KB: Oh, he was horrible. I didn't hate him, but we all wished he'd go home because he was so horrible to work with. He said, "When I do this shot, you need to hold your hands stiff by your side, and then tell me seven things you observe in the people watching you." What kind of a direction is that? I'd say that you cant attach excitement to the movie, even when the movie's being made, you have to attach excitement to the spiritual nature of the individual making the movie, Jasmine or Russell Brown.

DP: I liked you very much in his Blue Tooth Virgin. You were very funny as the writer's adviser.

KB: Thank you, that's one of my favorites. Russell is a great writer-director and one of my best friends. I just love him.

DP: In Five Easy Pieces, Cisco Pike, and Drive, He Said, you played women who always gave everything and didn't get it back in return, who kind of got gypped.

KB: I'm sorry, Danny, but if you take a look at Five Easy Pieces, and then take a look at Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, or One Long Night you will see that my characters have nothing in common. In fact, I think they have less in common than any other actor's characters.

DP: Jimmy Dean is totally different character, but 'Im just saying those three films stood out for me Nashville was a different one, too--you have a lot of versatility, but I just wondered if those three characters were thought of like that.

KB: No.

DP: In Five Easy Pieces, your character is such a great person.

KB: That's so sweet, thank you. But he cant really talk to her so that relationship is not going to work.

DP: She's vulnerable and I can see that aspect in the characters in Cisco Pike and Drive, He Said.

KB: I don't remember that aspect particularly. I don't do a character and think, How does she relate to my other characters?. Writers do that.

DP: In Maria My Love, you play a character, Maria, unlike any you've done before and one I havent seen before.

KB: Oh, darling, thank you so much. You really make me very happy to hear that. She just turned up. I didn't plan that she was going to be from New York, and then I think she's Jewish. It all came out from her being defensive.

DP: She continually surprised me.
She's very interesting. Did you know that going into the reading?

KB: I think a good actor on set is interested, not being interesting. In fact, I'm very unselfconscious as an actor, and really all actors are like. "Theres so much to do, so much to think about, to put your attention on, theres so much to create." Some actors and actresses think mostly about what they look like and what they sound like, and I don't respect them or like their work.

DP: Did you instantly like Maria as you were reading the script, or did you get to like her more and more as it progressed?

KB: I get a lot of scripts, and you wouldn't believe how badly theyre written. People dont know how to write a script they havent learned how to do it, and they haven't realized they need to learn before they do it. This was a good script. Before knowing Maria was very defensive, I saw her as an unexamined soul. At the end, she really did know what was going on, but, really, she still cant help being defensive. When you're obsessed like she is, I guess, you really don't know there's something wrong with you. You start lying, as she does about her daughter not visiting her and need will come with that.

DP: She seemed pretty self-aware, though. She understands a lot about Ana and life.

KB: Yeah, but she can't stop doing that one thing that she does.

DP: Do you think she was a hoarder before her husband left her?

KB: Yeah. I think that contributed to it. I think it's one of the reasons he left her. It's certainly why her daughter won't see her.

DP: You don't think they had other problems?

KB: I don't know, but absolutely her daughter doesn't want to come to that house. She's not going to be able to say, Mom, what the hell are you doing? She cant say that.

DP: its interesting how Ana can relate to her, how she gets her, when her own daughter doesn't. It takes her a while, but by the end, I think she does. One of the important lines in the movie is something Maria says to Ana: Life gets boring if you dont let anyone in. Was that line in the script the way it was, or was there discussion?

KB: The whole speech that Maria give on the train, I improvised at the moment. The whole thing, beginning to end. They shot it once.

DP: Did Jasmine say, That's exactly what we wanted!?

KB: She said that she really respected and admired me and thought I had wisdom. She said, "Just tell Ana something she should know about herself, just tell her." So I improvised the whole thing.

DP: When did you film that, at the end of the whole shoot?

KB: Yeah, I think pretty much at the end.

DP: And if Marias own daughter were there, would that be the advice Maria would give her own daughter?

KB: Well, she says that to Ana because it's true about Ana. Maria's daughter is not like her. Ana's very defensive because shes trying not to feel grief.

DP: Did you model Maria after anybody?

KB: I specifically didnt watch any TV shows about hoarding because it was her creation, all that she had. I wanted to get my own specific emotion about that. Really imitation and acting are nothing alike. If you're imitating an image in your mind you're all busy doing that. When you're acting, you're already being the character, and you've got a lot to do, a lot to think about.

DP: Have you taught acting?

KB: No, I never will. I'd probably be good at it, but I don't think you should evaluate or invalidate someone. If I were teaching acting, I'd say, Great. Thats all I'd say.

DP: Finally, moving as far away from Maria, My Love as possible, do you have a lot of fans from that creepy voodoo doll sequence in the infamous 1975 TV-movie, Trilogy of Terror?

KB: Unbelievable. They won't go away, they won't let me go. Just on and on. They sold the body of the doll from the original telecast, for $5,000. Just a body. Why? I don't understand any of it!

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