Thursday, January 26, 2012

Rodrigo and His Three Mothers

Find Mother and Child on Video

Rodrigo and His Three Mothers

(from 5/3/10)

motherandchildrodgrigo.jpg Rodrigo Garcia
Writer-director Rodrigo Garcia is best known for his work on cable powerhouses In Treatment, Big Love, and The Sopranos, but that may change with the release of Mother and Child, a rare film with more than one strong woman's role. In fact, the three major roles in the film are females, and they are so skillfully written that Garcia was able to corral Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, and Kerry Washington for the leads (with Jimmy Smits and Samuel Jackson willing to take supporting roles). I don't want to give away the plot, so I'll just quote from the production notes: "Three women's lives share a common core: they have all been profoundly affected by adoption. Karen (Bening) placed a baby for adoption at age 14 and has been haunted ever since by the daughter she never knew. Elizabeth (Watts) grew up as an adopted child; she's a bright and ambitious lawyer, but a flinty loner in her personal life. Lucy (Washington) is just embarking with her husband on the adoption odyssey, hoping for the opportunity to become parents." I can say that all the women are difficult, very difficult--"I like difficult women," contends Garcia--and go through dramatic transformations. In anticipation of Friday's release, I participated in a press day with Garcia and his three super actresses and was able to pose a few questions.
Danny Peary: Annette, when you were reading your script the first time were you surprised where your character went from the beginning to the end of the movie?
Annette Bening: I was surprised and I hope that we kind of captured that in the movie. I love the way Rodrigo constructed the script and was able to establish these characters and where they end up going. Where they end up going is surprising and I did think that about my character. One of the things I love about the movie is the unexpected. You sort of feel that you know these people but what they end up doing is surprising.
DP: Did you peek at the last page of the script?
AB (laughing): No! I didn't peek--that's an indication of a good script, right? You don't have the tendency to jump to the end to see how the people end up, but let that be revealed when it's time.
Danny Peary: Rodrigo, did you write the script chronologically or did you write the stories of the women separately and then interweave them?
Rodrigo Garcia: When I began working on the script about ten years ago, I was interested not in adoption but people who are obsessed with an absent person--whether that person broke up with you and married someone else; or moved elsewhere; or died; or went to war or prison. How do they live while being obsessed with someone who isn't there? I decided to go back to the most primary situation I could think of, which is a mother and child separated at the baby's birth, and to work from there. I made Karen fourteen because I wanted it to be clear that she hadn't made an informed decision to give up her baby. It was thrust upon her. So I started writing Karen's and Elizabeth's storylines simultaneously, bouncing back and forth between them. Interweaving them. After a while it became a little monotonous and confining so I decided I needed a third storyline to help me get away from these women and vent. By then the theme of adoption was in the air so I invented the character of Lucy, the women looking to adopt a baby. From then on I kept braiding the three stories into one.
DP: In the production notes, you're interviewed about women and you say, "I don't really know what they're thinking but it's fun to imagine it." Was there a fear in writing women in that you had a burden to get it right?
RG: I had a filter, which was the actresses. I have written scripts that no actress would touch. There's one script that I was very fond of and no actress liked the character and no actress wanted to play her. That was a miss. I think there's enough in this script that Annette, Naomi, and Kerry responded to it. They felt they could relate to these characters. I write it as it comes and I think a lot about how my wife would respond to a character. And what would Glenn Close, Annette Bening, or Holly Hunter think? What would these actresses who dissect characters think?
DP: The opening scene when Karen is a young girl is completely innocent by intention, right?
RG: What I like about the subject matter is that it needs no explanation because it's primal. If I say to you that she had a baby at fourteen and it was taken away from her and she never recuperated, you're not going to ask me why. It's clear. So the past could be explained in a sentence but I thought it would be good to see Karen so we could see what a fourteen-year-old looks like when she's pregnant. I thought if we saw her pregnant, we'd have a connection to her that would help us forgive or at least understand her later behavior.
DP: Even before that we see the two teenagers making out and she takes off her blouse and it seems so innocent. Then she's pregnant and there is all this pain.
RG: Yeah, that was one of the tragedies of the story for me. You make an almost childish mistake and you carry it for the next thirty-six years. That's the story of the world, when you go just a little bit too far.
SPOILER ALERTDP: Was there ever a time Naomi Watts' character lived in your script?
RG: There was a time when Elizabeth lived but she was never going to meet Karen. I always thought I didn't want the Hollywood ending where Karen and Elizabeth meet or where Karen inherits the baby, not because I wanted to be perverse but because so many of these things turn out in completely unexpected ways.
END SPOILER ALERTmotherandchildnaomi.jpg
RG (cont'd): In doing research about adoption, I didn't read books by specialists, only memoirs and accounts of people who had gone through this. I don't mean adoptions in general but adoptions thirty, forty, or fifty years ago. There were these closed adoptions, where the pregnancy and the adoption were cloaked in shame. It was secret and shameful for the girl so that in itself did damage. Because the adoptions were closed neither the mother nor the child had a chance to find out what happened to the other. In these stories I read, people were haunted by the silence and the mystery. The idea of fate having played with their lives was important. Often mother and child would search for each other and not find each other or find each other after one of them had died. Or they'd find each other and not connect or the connection would fizzle out. Neither finding the person nor connecting to the person was guaranteed. So the interesting story for me was one of acceptance. That meant that no matter what happens I wanted to take Karen to a place where she accepts what she can't change. She has moved on. She was repressed when we first see her but has somehow found the peace to be able to say, "This is the way it is and now I can live."
Danny Peary: Naomi, Annette Bening's character Karen says, "I'm not a weirdo but I'm difficult." Is her daughter Elizabeth difficult and a weirdo?
Naomi Watts (laughing): Yes. Though I'm not sure her character isn't weird, too. I didn't really have many ways to relate to Elizabeth. She's quite a complicated woman and [laughing] we're not really that much alike. I was kind of afraid of her. Elizabeth is definitely weird. But she thinks her new next door neighbors, the newlyweds with the pregnant wife, are the weirdos. They're the people who really don't know what they're doing. In her mind, they have no conscious life. [Using a high voice] "Hi, we're from next door and let's all be friends." She's thinking, "Who are you two? What planet did you come from?" In all the things I tried to work out with Elizabeth, the one issue I had a problem with was her secretly putting her underwear in his wife's underwear drawer so she'd find it. I was asking, "Oh, wait a second, is she truly evil?" Rodrigo said, "No." I just think she is trying to get a spark out of people, trying to get them to see who they are rather than the people they behave like. "You think your husband is really that special? Well, guess what, honey, he was looking at me on the balcony the other day and he wants me." I think she has such a low opinion of not just men but of human beings in general--because she's been so hurt--that she wants to expose their flaws. In her own kind of weird way, she feels that she is giving her neighbors a gift.
DP: She is helping the young married woman learn about her husband.
MW: Yes. To see what a lie she is living.
SPOILER ALERT Danny Peary: Kerry, and indication of Lucy becoming a good, secure mother is that she allows Karen, her adopted baby's grandmother, into the life of the child. What was her process in making that decision?
Kerry Washington: I think she's going to be a great mother and you see that at the end of the film. By then she is willing to live on life's terms and is accepting things as they are. She's already doing a great job as a mother when she meets Karen. She looks very comfortable in her motherhood at that point. I think the choice to say yes is really symbolic of how open she has become. In the beginning of the film Lucy is really closed off and anxious, and at the end she takes this risk to open up her home to Karen despite what she's been through, all that drama. I think when she's clear about the legality of letting Karen meet the child and knows there's no danger that she will lose full custody of the baby, she's open.
END SPOILER ALERTKerry Washington (cont'd): I think the film is about the more inclusive ways that we as a society are beginning to define family--because of all the ways families happen now. If you look at the families in the film, you see so many shapes and configurations, ethnically, religiously, age-wise. It's a beautiful part of the film.

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