One More Time, Robert Edwards Talks About His Two Stars, Christopher Walken and Amber Heard
(from Sag Harbor Express Online 4/7/16)
By Danny Peary
“One More Time” fits my category Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor. Indeed, Robert Edwards’ smart, witty, tender-with-an-edge ensemble piece, which on Friday opens in theaters nationwide, including the AMC Empire 25 in New York City, is a natural to play here because it was shot in the Hamptons. Actually it begins with Jude (Amber Heard) fleeing New York City for her childhood home in Southampton, where her father, one-time-star Paul Lombard (one of Christopher Walken’s best roles in years), lives with his unlikable new wife, Lucille (Ann Magnusen).
Jude is a talented singer-songwriter but since her punk band broke up she has been reduced to singing commercial jingles and can’t afford her rent. Paul and Jude’s kindly business manager, Alan (Oliver), one of many older men with whom the promiscuous thirty-year-old has had one-nighter’s, tries to get her work but she is too irresponsible to follow through. She blames her misfortune on her equally irresponsible father, an oft-married, egocentric crooner who is trying to make a comeback. Once home, she and Paul, although they love each other, resume their decades-long, ego-damaging verbal sparring. Also she tries to put up with her righteous younger sister, Corinne (Kelli Garner), who has the husband, Jude’s ex-boyfriend Tim (Hamish Linklater), and child that could have been hers. Although she’s back home, Jude is lost, feeling rootless and directionless, with only her music to combat her self-pity and self-destructive streak. Fortunately, music is a powerful force. In anticipation of its Friday’s release in theaters and On-Demand, I had this conversation with writer-director Edwards.
Danny Peary: I learned from the press notes that you “served six and a half years as an infantry and intelligence officer in the US Army,” and as “a captain in a parachute regiment in Iraq during the first Gulf War.” I assume that background came into play when you directed the ambitious political film,Land of the Blind, and wrote several serious screenplays, including The Bomb in the Garden. But what about with One More Time? My guess is that the genesis of the film was simply your saying to yourself, “I love music so I’d like to make a movie about music.”
Robert Edwards: It was definitely a departure from the stuff that I normally write, and especially the stuff that I get hired to write for other people. I had the idea several years ago and wrote the script during a brief window when my wife, Ferne Pearlstein, was out of town on a shoot of her own and I had some rare free time and no writing obligations. I had no commercial expectations for it whatsoever; in fact, I didn’t even show the script to my agent or manager for a few years. It was a real pleasure to write without any concern for anything but the story, and having the luxury of letting it go wherever it wanted to. Which meant having some long, talky scenes, and letting it meander at times the way real life does; and putting several dinner table scenes in the first act—things that are a little bit unconventional and you might avoid if you are worried about following the usual rules.
DP: Joe McGinty did the original music. When did he become part of the project?
RE: The lyrics for the main song, “When I Live My Life Over Again” were in the original script because their content is directly related to the subject matter, but there was no music for it at that point. When we went into pre-production one of our producers, Lucas Joaquin, suggested Joe McGinty to write the music, which I immediately endorsed because I have been a longtime fan of Joe and the Losers Lounge, the bimonthly revue he leads at Joe’s Pub in New York. Joe is an amazing composer, producer, bandleader and performer and just a great guy. (By sheer coincidence, his wife Amy Hobby is one of the producers of my wife Ferne’s new documentary The Last Laugh.)
DP: When Christopher Walken’s over-the-hill crooner, Paul Lombard, sings the song about a third of the way through the movie, telling the family that it’s central to his comeback bid, I expected it to be deliberately trite, indicating Paul’s time has truly past. But it turns out to be a really well written, melodious song, one that should be added to his canon. It turns out that you cowrote it. I know that when One More Time played at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival is was titled When I Live My Life Over Again, the same as the song title, but did you write the song specifically for the movie?
RE: Thanks. Yes, I wrote the lyrics as part of the original script. The sentiment of the song directly relates to Paul’s storyline, and it was meant to be in his idiom as a big band crooner. But I also knew that the song had to do triple duty: the version he debuts for the family; the fully orchestrated big band version that was arranged by Joe and our saxophonist Mike McGinnis; and lastly, the kind of jazzy, melancholy piano version that Jude sings late in the movie, which is a radical re-imagination of the song and reflects her character and her arc.
DP: That song is of course about Paul but it turns out that it also relates to his daughter, Amber Heard’s struggling singer-songwriter Jude. In part your film is about a bunch of characters trapped by the past, so when writing the song, did you think it was about Paul, Paul and Jude, or about everyone?
RE: Initially it was just about Paul, but as the script evolved and I realized I wanted to have Jude singing a fragment of it—in her own, very different way—I naturally began thinking about how it applied to her. Of course, it applies to all of us, really. We all have regrets and would like to have a “do-over.” I think the inspiration came from my mother talking to me about time passing, and this irrational feeling we sometimes have: “Oh, I’ll do it differently next time.”
DP: To me, Paul and Jude are both exasperating characters who keep repeating their mistakes and being, irresponsibly, their own worst enemies. Do you see them as being the same or are there significant differences between them?
RE: I think they are more alike than either wants to admit, especially Jude. I think she is in denial about how much she is like her father, which is a difficult thing for her to face given how much she blames him and his behavior for her problems. She inherited his talent, but also his self-destructiveness. Paul—for all his egotism and adolescent behavior—has the benefit of wisdom that comes with age, and is a lot more self-aware than anyone, including Jude, gives him credit for.
DP: Jude keeps doing things that push us away. In fact, in one scene, I thought that if she did one particular thing I couldn’t forgive her. Do you want us to just observe her or still sympathize with and root for her?
RE: I’d like the audience to be on her side and be sympathetic toward her, even if she does maddening, self-sabotaging things. But even if they don’t feel sympathy for her, I hope they find her and her story interesting enough to stay engaged. My general rule is that characters don’t have to be likable, they just have to be compelling. (See Walter White in Breaking Bad.)
DP: One of the reasons I continued to like Jude is that she is so knowledgeable about music, present and past, including Nina Simone, who was from another generation. Why were you compelled to make this part of her?
RE: I think it’s a valid part of who she is: she’s a genuine fan who is steeped in music history and loves these artists and knows their work inside out. She has plenty of flaws, but being a poseur is not one of them. I also liked the idea that Jude is a devotee of Nina Simone (she even has a Nina tattoo on her shoulder blade), but we don’t hear a Nina song until the end of the movie, and when we do it’s a pretty obscure one.
DP: You have a terrific soundtrack with everyone from Nina Simone to the Flaming Lips to Christopher and Amber singing together. Will it be available to us?
RE: Sadly, no. There has been a lot of clamor for a soundtrack but legal issues prevent it. Maybe down the road.
DP: In the movie, you point out that Frank Sinatra, a crooner and part-time rock star, carried Nancy Sinatra when they did a hit duet, “Something Stupid.” My memory is that everything Nancy touched turned to gold at that time and she was the one who gave him re-entry onto the charts. It wasn’t the same as Amber encouraging her father to make a comeback because Frank Sinatra didn’t need a comeback, but Nancy was actually the bigger star with the younger set at that time. It was like Paul introducing himself to Flaming Lips fans, by being their opening act.
RE: That’s funny. I’m sure you’re right that at the time, 1967, Nancy was having hits and Frank was yesterday’s news, for the moment. But just vocally he always sounded to me like he was overpowering her. Which was part of the inspiration for this script.
DP: Paul keeps telling Jude not to blame his being a lousy father for all her problems. We do blame him to a large degree and understand why she turned out as unsettled as she is, but do you think she’d be better off if, as he argues, she didn’t use his poor fathering as a crutch, or excuse, for her inability to move forward in life?
RE: I think they’re both right, which is something I really wanted. It’s much more interesting to me when both parties in an argument make valid points and the situation isn’t clear cut. I do think we sometimes look for people to blame our troubles on. Ironically, when there is some truth in the assignment of blame it can make it all too easy to use that as a rationalization or an excuse, rather than facing those parts of our problems that are our own fault.
DP: In your talks with your lead actors about their characters, my guess is that Christopher and you were in almost total agreement about Paul, but that Amber knew even more about Jude than you did.
RE: From our very first meeting it was obvious to me that Amber had a very clear understanding of the character, which is what made me absolutely trust her with it. Good actors almost always bring new and interesting things to their parts that are not in the script, or even in the subtext. That’s part of what is valuable about their contribution, and that was certainly true in Amber’s case.
DP: Talk about the tone of this movie. It reminded me a little of the scenes in Five Easy Pieces when Nicholson returns home.
RE: The tone was one of the things that I was most concerned with and was the trickiest to achieve. I didn’t want the movie to be entirely comic or entirely dramatic; we were striving for that balance between the two that approximates real life but which rarely cleaves neatly into one or the other. Likewise, it had to be funny without being overly broad, and poignant without slipping into bathos. All very hard to pull off. I think the dynamic of adult children returning home and how they relate to their parents and their past is something many people can relate to. Five Easy Pieces is a high standard; if we even approached that level, I would be very flattered and pleased indeed. (We did serve nothing but chicken salad sandwiches during the shoot, hold the chicken.)
DP: I see your movie being about characters seeking approval and appreciation and dealing with rejection—and in some cases, assuring rejection. Do you agree or are there other themes more paramount?
RE: I think that’s a very valid way to look at the movie. Paul is almost childlike (or childish) in his need for acclaim and affirmation from audiences and fans and critics. Jude’s need for appreciation is more personal, but she certainly doesn’t get it from her father in the way that she needs. Neither does her sister Corinne. I really liked the idea of a story of two sisters, each of whom thinks the other one is their father’s favorite.
DP: Talk about Corrine, played with a little suppressed heartache by Kelli Garner. She seems to hang around their father just so he’ll finally notice her rather than the high-maintenance Jude. Is she an underrated person?
RE: Corinne presented both a challenge and an opportunity, and she’s one of my favorite parts of the film. She’s a familiar type—the straight arrow, somewhat uptight sister of the main character—so she could easily slip into caricature. My hope was to turn that to our advantage through a kind of jiu jitsu: to present Corinne initially as this two-dimensional stereotype so that the audience would quickly assume they had her pegged. Then, having lulled them into that false presumption, I wanted to surprise them by revealing unexpected layers of vulnerability and hurt in her. Kelli Garner handled that beautifully; she is a super talented actress who really soared with a difficult part. In fact, my editors were both self-described “Corinne types” and such fans of that character and Kelli’s performance that I had to restrain them from tilting the movie too much in Team Corinne’s favor.
DP: And what about Oliver Pratt’s character, Alan, the only character who seems to be truly good and not at all selfish? What is his role in the film?
RE: Yes, it’s funny: I tried my best to make all the characters as three-dimensional and complex as possible and give them all moments when they behave nobly and other moments when they behave badly. Which I think is true of all of them except Alan, who is pretty much a decent fella all the time. (Not counting his long-ago tryst with Jude, but that’s backstory.) That may be because he is technically not a member of the Lombard family—or married into it, like Tim—but rather a trusted outsider tasked with riding herd on this dysfunctional bunch.
DP: There is a lot of subtlety in this film. But what struck me is that your cast seemed to “get it,” and be acting in unison. How much did you talk over with them before and during filming?
RE: We didn’t have a lot of rehearsal time—almost none, in fact. But this was such a strong bunch of professionals that we didn’t need a lot of discussion. They all instinctively understood the family dynamic, and their respective characters’ roles in it.
DP: You assembled a great cast. Talk about casting them—were you writing with Walken, Heard, and the others in mind? Were there auditions?
RE: I almost never write with actors in mind; I just don’t think that way. Once the script is done I start thinking about who could embody the roles. Walken was perfect because on the page Paul can read as pretty harsh, so whoever played him had to bring a certain amount charm and charisma or the audience would turn on the character. But with Chris we had almost the opposite problem. He has so much charm that in early cuts of the film the test audiences were willing to forgive Paul everything, just because people love Christopher Walken. Which was very true to the character, who has coasted through life getting away with a lot more than the average mortal could. So we had to make some surgical adjustments to restore the balance and make it more of a fair fight between Paul and Jude. Of the main cast only the boy, Henry Kelemen, auditioned. Children are very hard to cast and I really wanted someone for the part of David, Tim and Corrine’s son, who felt like a real kid and not a supernaturally precocious, smarter-than-the-adults sitcom kid. In real life, most children are awkward and unsure of themselves and not quip machines, and Henry is a very talented young actor who brought that naturalism in spades.
DP: Which did you like best, the two character scenes or those with everyone gathered together?
RE: Both are near and dear to me. But I am especially fond of the big dinner table scenes, with everyone talking at once and the overlapping dialogue and the family being bored with Paul’s war stories of showbiz and life on the road and hanging out with the Beatles and such. Those scenes were deceptively hard in every way: hard to plan, hard to shoot, hard to edit. So I have a special fondness for them.
DP: I don’t want you to give away the ending, but do you see the film as hopeful or has nothing changed by the end?
RE: I think it is modestly hopeful in the end, at least as far as Jude is concerned. Paul’s ending is a bit more melancholy, with his being in the twilight of his life and looking back on the mistakes he’s made, and trying to help his children avoid repeating them. (Unfortunately for him, he doesn’t have much credibility with them.) That said, I didn’t want to tie everything up in a neat little bow, which to me often feels fake, and not at all the way life is.
DP: Where in the Hamptons did you film your movie?
RE: Most of it—including the main house that served as the Lombardi home, and most of the surrounding scenes—was filmed in Shinnecock, near Southampton. We filmed some other scenes in East Hampton, Amagansett, Riverhead, and Quogue. It was very fitting to be out there in the wintry off-season, which fit the tone of the movie. During shooting all of us in the crew actually lived in the motel where you see Paul having his extramarital affair in the film. It’s called the Bentley but we renamed it the Seabreeze and made our own signs. It’s located about a mile from the house. It’s closed in the off-season, so we took it over for five weeks. It was a real “camp” atmosphere, because all anyone had time to do was work and then go back to the Bentley and drink beer.
DP: Your wife Ferne Pearlstein served as producer on One More Time. She directed the feature documentary, The Last Laugh, which will be playing at the Tribeca Film Festival this April. You cowrote that script with her. Talk about your working relationship over the years, especially when you’re working on different projects at the same time.
RE: Ferne and I both went into the documentary film program at Stanford; we met when I hired her to shoot a documentary I was working on back in 1998. The first thing we really did together was her feature documentary, Sumo East and West (2003), about East-West culture clash viewed through foreigners in the world of sumo. Ever since then we’ve worked on each other’s projects. Usually one of us produces while the other one directs.
The Last Laugh has been a passion project of hers since even before I knew her and has finally come to fruition. It is having its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on April 18th and will be on the festival circuit after that ahead of national and international distribution (we hope). It’s about taboos in humor and what’s on and off limits, proceeding from the premise that the Holocaust would seem to be the ultimate off-limits topic. It features interviews with Mel Brooks, Sarah Silverman, Susie Essman, Larry Charles, Harry Shearer, and many others. I produced it and am very proud of it.
DP: What is next for you?
RE: My new project is an adaptation of The Bomb in My Garden, the memoir of the chief scientist in Saddam Hussein’s uranium enrichment program. It’s with Johnny Depp’s production company, Infinitum Nihil, and we hope to start shooting in the new year.
DP: What are the plans for One More Time?
RE: It comes out theatrically and digitally this Friday April 8th. As they say, please check local listings for a theater near you, or a digital platform anywhere….
Please take a look at the One More Time trailer:https://www.dropbox.com/s/p2vzcl5rb5ooyqk/ONEMORETIME_TRLR_falcoink.mov?dl=0
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