Friday, August 23, 2013

Joe Swanberg on Drinking Buddies

Playing in Theaters

Joe Swanberg on Drinking Buddies

(from Sag Harbor Online 8/23/13)

Joe Swanberg Photo: DP
Indie favorite Joe Swanberg began his directing career with Kissing on the Mouth in 2006 and since then has been a directorial machine, churning out more than twenty movies, all improvised, all with lots of chatter—which is why he is revered by fans of mumblecore cinema--all personal, all starring unknown amateurs (including himself and, for a time, his discovery Greta Gerwig), all done on miniscule budgets, all about young middle-class people in troubled relationships, and some with graphic sex.  A quote by him (highlighted on his IMDB page) indicates his need to slow down: “I realized that because I'd been producing so much work, I hadn't changed enough as a person between projects. At that point I couldn't make another movie even if I'd wanted to, because I hadn't had a life for so long.”  Swanberg is now thirty-two, with a wife, kid, and new perspective, and though he is still prolific (two more films are heading our way), he has slowed down a bit.  He has also decided that it’s time to make movies for a larger target audience, which means casting actors people have actually heard of.  His new film, Drinking Buddies, which opens in New York City on Friday, is already getting him media attention than he’s never experienced.  And his four leads—Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick, and Ron Livingston—are telling everyone they are thankful they got to play interesting characters unlike anything offered to them in the past—and that they’d be pleased to work with Swanberg again.  Here’s the premise: Best buddies, drinking buddies, Kate (Olivia Wilde) and Luke (Jake Johnson) work at a Chicago brewery.  They flirt endlessly at work and at bars after work.  They deny their mutual attraction because they are in relationships.  But Luke has more fun with Kate than his fiancée of six years, Jill (Anna Kendrick), and Kate seems more comfortable with Luke than her music producer boyfriend Chris (Ron Livingston).  Everything becomes trickier when the two couples go away together and Jill and Chris kiss.  Things go in strange directions and Swanberg even shows up in a cameo to grapple with Luke.  On Monday, I had the following conversation with the director about what may be his breakthrough film.  His photo was taken with his cellphone!     

Danny Peary: Perhaps it’s because of the cast, but people are talking about Drinking Buddies as a semi-mainstream movie, which would be something new for you.
Joe Swamberg: I hope it is.

DP: Your other films were improvised. Was there a script for this?

JS: There was actually about 45 pages of outline. Just no dialogue.

DP: And do you still not hold auditions?

JS: I don’t. I don’t know what I could learn about people when there’s not a script to audition with. It doesn’t seem like a great environment to figure out whether I can work with somebody. It’s always been either writing parts specifically for people or just sort of having a conversation approach to casting.

DP: For your earlier films, were your fans more male than female?
JS: Hard to tell. I think it shifts with each movie, but I’d say that right now, most of my fans are hardcore cinephiles. That tends to be, at least in my mind, more of a male audience. But I think with Drinking Buddies it’s shifting quite a bit to women.
DP: Would people who have seen your earlier movies and don’t know you directed Drinking Buddies, be able to tell you made it?
JS:  I sense that they would. I think that my concerns and the things that I’m fascinated by are still the same. I’m still interested in how we do or don’t communicate with each other, especially in the context of relationships; I’m still interested in the temptations that we deal with when we’re in committed relationships. I think these are things that have been central to all my movies. This one is bigger, and to me, feels bigger, but my wife watched the first cut and said, “Wow, it still feels like just one of your movies.” So I think that I can’t help being myself.
DP: But what about stylistically?
JS: We shot it pretty much the same.
DP: To me, it looks more formal.
JS: Yeah, there’s quite a bit more set-up involved, but I attempted, performance-wise, to keep the actors pretty free and loose. The cinematographer I worked with was very fluid and quick-moving with them.  So it felt like the same process as always, just with some more infrastructure.
DP: I think fans of yours who watched all your films about twentysomethings dealing with relationships can view Drinking Buddies in regard to your aging. You’ve gotten older than the characters in your previous films and I think this film is in a way about that. Does this film reflect that you’ve aged?
JS: Certainly. And I have a kid now.  Those things are really on my mind a lot.  The stakes naturally get higher as the characters in my movies leave their twenties and enter their thirties.  I think by default the conversations that they’re having feel more dramatic, in that sense.
DP: Were you thinking that your characters were too young to make commitments but not anymore?
JS: Here’s how I feel about it.  America allows everybody an extended adolescence now. This country’s not going to force anybody to grow up. If you’re a middle-class white person, you especially don’t have to grow up.  I’ve been married for six years, I have a son who’s almost three, but the characters I’ve been putting in my movies are not at the life place that I’m at.   I want them to be a little more representative of what I’m seeing--which is people waiting until their early thirties to even have the marriage conversation and until their mid-thirties to talk about kids. I feel I’m a couple years ahead of a lot of my friends in terms of that stuff, but I want the movies to still be reflective of what I’m seeing around me.
DP: You could have cast twenty-year-olds in the film but I think it’s telling that you cast older actors on purpose.
JS: On purpose, yes. I’ve always hoped that my movies grow up with me.  If I’m still making movies when I’m 80, knock on wood, I hope that my central cast is also full of 80-year-olds.

DP: For this, four well-known actors, Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston, decided to work with you. Had they all seen your previous films?
JS: I don’t know if they did. I actually don’t know if any of the four had seen one of my movies before I got in touch with them. I know that Ron watched some in the time between my first talking to him and his doing the film. I still don’t know if Jake or Anna have seen any of my movies. Olivia did watch a lot of my stuff in preparation for this.
DP: On television, in New Girl, Jake Johnson’s great at making written dialogue sound improvised. But in this he makes it seem as if it could have been written.
JS: Everything’s improvised that he did, as it was with the others. But he is great. The thing that I took away from my initial meeting with him and then from working with him is that he has such a rich, full personality that he lights up the camera and the room he’s in. He’s a great actor who wasn’t a kid actor. He had a whole life outside of the industry, and he’s in his thirties and is only now coming into his own and getting a lot of attention.  He’s really exciting to me because he wasn’t shaped by Hollywood and taught the right way to perform, or any of that. He’s just himself.
DP: Did the other three turn into your type of actors? 
JS: All of them turned out to be my type of actors. It was a wild guess going in, but now  I hope all four of them will become regular players for me and I can keep putting them in things. I’ve already worked again with Anna Kendrick [on Happy Christmas, due out in 2014].   She is one of the most talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure of working with.
DP: You’re known as one of the pioneers of mumblecore, which signifies that your characters talk a lot. There is a lot of talk in this film, but I noticed that you silence your characters at key times.  
JS: Well, silence is big for me. The most directing I do on set is reminding actors that they don’t have to talk all the time. When a camera and lights are pointed at them, I think that there’s a natural instinct for actors to be on, and fill that space. But in regular conversation, there’s quite a bit of listening that happens, and there’s quite a bit of thinking that happens in between something being said to you and your response to it--at least in my conversations. And so I want that silence in there, and often very dramatically. It’s often much more dramatic to say nothing in movies, unlike on radio, where you talk or it’s dead air.  Film, because it’s a visual medium, can convey a lot when someone’s not saying anything.
DP: Are you talking about silence by the actors themselves or the characters?  Because Jake Johnson just talks and talks and talks, so when he doesn’t talk, as in the last scene, there’s something going on and we pay attention.
JS: There’s weight to the silence, yes.
DP: In addition to making the silence relevant, you use character placement thematically. There is a lot of hugging, handshaking, characters touching, and characters placed in the frame almost on top of each other.
JS: It’s negative space, but it’s all in proportion to the performance. And the spacing is a big one for me, because it’s such a big part of how we work and relate to each other. The physical actions, what they do in the film, take on significance in terms of their proximity. A lot of this is about attempting to capture what I remember experiencing from my own flirtations--eye contact that lingers a little longer than it should, or the strategic placement of a hand on somebody’s shoulder, or any of those complicated signals that at the time feel loaded with meaning. I tried to infuse that into these characters’ body language, rather than it being something that is said aloud.

DP: Again it’s the age thing: You’re older now, so are you wiser when looking back on such things?

JS: I hope so. At this point in my life, those fun flirtations are less fun and less interesting to me than they used to be. There was a period of time, even when I was in a relationship, when that stuff felt very exciting and seemed to me like it needed to be an integral part of everybody’s life.  I felt that it was a shame to be in a relationship with somebody and lose the ability to flirt and play around, and walk up to the edge of the line. But now I sense that everybody reaches a point where they’ve done that enough and knows what happens at that line and that it’s not that interesting.

DP: So many characters touch that when Kate, Olivia Wilde’s character, says to Luke, “Don’t touch me,” it’s meant to be an important line in your movie.

JS: Well, it was improvised.  It’s just how Olivia felt Kate was feeling in that moment. And it’s interesting because right before that, Kate was sitting on the couch next to Luke and when he touches her with his elbow, you can see how uncomfortable she is with contact from him, all of the sudden. But another time, she crawls into bed with him while he sleeps and very deliberately puts her arm around him. There are constantly shifting lines between when it is and isn’t okay to touch, and what the touching means and how emotional it is for both.
DP: Luke says two things to Kate: “you’re crazy” and “you’re fun.” Which are great characteristics for your partner if you’re in your twenties, but once you’re in your thirties that’s not the type of person you want to settle down with.  Is that your perspective?
JS: That’s part of the point.
DP: Kate’s a dream girl, beautiful, fun, a drinking buddy, but she keeps getting rejected.
JS: She certainly is Luke’s dream girl at the beginning of the film. Somebody who is crazy and fun is always going to have a certain appeal to me. I don’t think I’ll ever reach an age where suddenly that’s uninteresting.  But you just have only so much energy for it. Also, Kate’s incredibly selfish.  But so is Luke. That’s more the point of the movie–that these two supremely selfish people aren’t a good match for each other. They actually need less selfish people in their lives to learn from and to balance out their selfishness. They sort of, on a molecular level, agitate each other in a really fun way, that’s exciting for awhile, but as soon as it’s not, they agitate each other in a really un-fun way.
DP: Since Kate and Luke aren’t candidates, is Jill the best of the four characters, or could it even be Ron Livingston?
JS: I feel that both of them are much more self-realized people than the two at the center of the film. Jill is certainly the most mature out of all four of them, in the sense that she at least has a very strong sense of what she wants. The others don’t know what they want. It’s simple: she knows that she loves Luke and wants to be in a relationship with him.  And after she behaves badly, she apologizes for it.
DP: Will Luke then confess to her that he put his hand on Kate’s leg and not as a friend?
JS: I don’t think he will. It was very important to me that she’s actually mature enough to confess--but he confesses nothing in return.  Hopefully the audience feels that he learned some things.
DP: I think we do—that’s why he doesn’t drink as much toward the end. Was that intentional?
JS: Less intentional. I didn’t think so much—at least I can’t remember making those decisions on set.
DP: There’s more moderation in his drinking toward the end, even in that last scene. That’s not intentional?
JS: No.
DP: Why does Chris, Ron Livingston’s character, give Kate a copy of John Updike’s Rabbit, Run? Was that his way of saying he wants break free from their relationship?
JS: No. I think he sort of already recognizes in her the angst of Harry Angstrom and his flight mentality when things get heavy.
DP: Is he thinking the relationship can’t last because she’s going to flee?
JS: I think he’s pretty aware of that. He has several reasons for thinking it’s not going to last.  Specifically, the novel, which I like but don’t love, represents the kind of great American novel and he gives it to her because he sees himself as the mentor in their relationship and the book is part of her education.  He’s saying, “If you’re going to be with me, I’m going to turn you onto these kinds of things.”
DP: It’s like how Woody Allen was with Diane Keaton in Annie Hall.  And, you know, that relationship didn’t last either.


Lowery, Mara, and Foster Make Sense of "Saints"

Ain't Them Bodies Saints Is Playing in Theaters

Lowery, Mara, and Foster Make Sense of Saints

(from Sag Harbor Online 8/22/13)

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints fits my category “Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor.”  Its writer/director David Lowery says he always wanted to make a movie that captured the feeling of the songs of unique singer/songwriter/harpist/pianist Joanna Newsom, who ventures musically from roots/Appalachian to avant-garde. Inspired by and an homage to songs, books, movie westerns, gangster-couple films and his native Texas, Ain’t Them Bodies Saints surely is the lyrical, haunting, authentic yet dreamlike film that he wanted to make.  And he’s probably content that since it opened in New York City last Friday, the reviews have been a mix of raves–by those who consider it “an American original”–and shrugs–usually by those who expected more action.
It takes place in Meridian, Texas in the 1970s. Ruth Guthrie (Rooney Mara) and Bob Muldoon (Casey Affleck) have loved each other since they were kids, which is when they began their life of crime under the auspices of Skerritt (Keith Carradine), the morally-ambiguous man who raised them. Bob takes the rap when Ruth shoots one of the lawmen, Patrick (Ben Foster), who arrest them.  After Bob is sent to prison for a long stretch, Ruth gives birth to their child, Sylvie.  Looked after by Skerritt, the reformed Ruth lives a tame, solitary life with their daughter, feeling guilty she stopped writing to Bob but still hoping he’ll return.  Four years have passed and Patrick, who doesn’t realize Ruth shot him, starts courting her.  Bob escapes from prison and heads home.  Three bad guys–the type who try to do in Warren Beatty in McCabe in Mrs. Miller, an influence on Lowery–come to town and wait for Bob to turn up.  And, you guessed it, it all leads to a big climax that includes gunfire.
I was recently in New York City at the press junket for the film.  Below are my questions to David Lowery, followed by a roundtable with Rooney Mara (who inhabits her character as she did Lisbeth in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) and another with Ben Foster.  I note my questions.

David Lowery Q&A
David Lowery Photo:DP
Danny Peary: Why did you set your film in the 1970s?
David Lowery: I was born in 1980.  This takes place right before then so I felt it was separate from me  I didn’t want it to feel too old-fashioned but to have some degree of currency. At the same time, I didn’t want it to be identifiable as one particular time period.  Especially as we were doing location-scouting in all these small Texas towns, I was thinking that Meridian had changed very little since the town was built, at least what I saw.  Because it’s a rural farming community, everyone has things that are made to last. All the clothes are old, and the trucks, like those in the movie, are from the ‘50s or ‘60s.  It’s timeless, not in the Norman Rockwell sense but more elusive. I felt that if we set the movie in the ‘70s, we could include things that were more modern, and create this weird blend of time periods.
DP: While watching the film,  I was thinking the whole time of  Robert Altman’s Thieves Like Us, with one of your stars, Keith Carradine, and that your subject matter also fit the 1930s,  the Depression-era, and even now during the recession, when characters like Bob Muldoon wouldn’t have many options in life.
DL: That would have tied it to a specific time period when I really I didn’t want to have any reference points, like having a Depression, or a particular war going on, or a movie title on a marquis at a local theater.  I didn’t want any  reference to the real world.

Ruth (Rooney Mara) and Bob (Casey Affleck) are arrested.

DP: Obviously this film was made by somebody who loves movies.  I see Altman, Arthur Penn, Nicholas Ray, Terrence Malick.  The style at the beginning, with all the jump cuts speeding along the story, reminds me of “Breathless” and other French films of the ’60s.
DL: Yeah, exactly. My background is as an editor, so I wanted to shake things up a little bit in the beginning.  Rather than starting with a lot of exposition or having a big preamble, I wanted to rush through a great deal of content. The prologue covers a tremendous amount of ground very quickly and very fluidly, establishing this rhythmic quality. Every cut has a percussive hit, and the film kind of flows from one shot to the next in a very rhythmic fashion. I wanted to just kick the movie off in that way, and get you caught up at that pace, and then just hit the brakes. Then it cuts to four years later, and the whole movie slows to an almost glacial pace. I really wanted that beginning to express the exuberance of youth and for viewers to get caught up in that.  Then all of the sudden, real life hits. Ruth grows up and everything just slows down and we really have to deal with the circumstances at hand, rather than skipping from one circumstance to the next.
DP: Did you have all those jump cuts in the script?
DL: There were even more in the script. There was actually a version of the script which covered twenty years in the same amount of screen time as we cover now in a few months. What we have on the screen now is pretty much what it was in the final script.
DP: In Western-movie tradition, two characters once rode together and one went good and one went bad.  That’s essentially what happens in your modern-day Western with Casey’s Bob and Ben’s Patrick. Were you intentionally following tradition or did this just happen naturally with these two characters?
DL: It was intentional.  I started off just trying to honor these archetypes, trying to do right by them and let them exist in that realm of classic movie-narrative technique. The idea was to start off that way, and at some point Patrick would have to turn the other in or something like that. But I wanted to have that be the point where I subvert things a little bit, so that at the end of the movie the sheriff still faces the outlaw with a gun drawn, but it doesn’t go the way it normally does. He has a chance to catch him, but he doesn’t catch him.
DP: Patrick and Bob respect each other..
DL: Absolutely, especially Patrick towards Bob. Bob isn’t aware of who this guy is, but Patrick is deeply aware of who Bob is and has a great deal of respect for him.
DP: You have said Patrick is a surrogate for you, particularly in the scene in which he leaves Ruth’s house but immediately goes back inside and opens up to her.
DL: All the characters are surrogates for me to a great extent, but Patrick was definitely a version of me that always hoped I could just speak my mind.  I was the guy who’d walk out of the house and then think the next day that I should have gone back in. Patrick is a guy who goes back in and speaks his mind.
DP: I assume your title Ain’t Them Bodies Saints was a hard sell but I like it.  It sounds like something the Coen brothers would write (as does your last line). Is it a title that conveys themes of the movie?
DL: Absolutely. I could break it down to my being raised in the Catholic Church and around the idea of sainthood.  But on a very basic level it just suggests to me that everyone has the potential to do the right thing.  I think every character in this movie is good, aside from the three man who arrive in town and are clearly bad.  Everyone else in the movie is trying to do the right thing.  It’s likely that everyone has a different definition of what the right thing is, but they’re all trying to make the right choice and to do good by ourselves and others. That was something that was really important to me. It’s easiest to have characters make wrong choices, dramatically speaking. It’s easy to make that interesting.  But it’s hard to actually have people being good. I really wanted to have a lot of people who made bad choices but are now trying to fix those mistakes and to do the right thing.

Rooney Mara Roundtable
Ruth (Rooney Mara) comforts her daughter

Ruth receives mail from Bob in prison

Q: From your perspective, does Ruth stay loyal to Bob because he took the fall for her shooting Patrick?
Rooney Mara: Ruth has a lot of loyalty to Bob and to her daughter, and she certainly has a lot of guilt. She feels both things very strongly, but I don’t think that one has to do with the other. I don’t think she’s staying loyal out of guilt.
Q: Ruth has a lot of resolve, which is something we’ve come to expect of your characters.  But are you trying to show more vulnerability than you have before?
RM: I never think of it as, “Oh, what do I want people to see?” I don’t ever think like that when playing a character, but certainly Ruth does have a lot more vulnerability. Maybe when I chose that role, I was feeling more vulnerable and that was what I responded to. I’m not really sure.
Q: Was being vulnerable a challenge for you?
RM: No, it was never a problem that I needed to be more vulnerable. It’s just who the character is. Ruth’s life is very complicated and she is just very vulnerable, physically and emotionally.
Q: What was it about the character and the story in general that you responded to?
RM: David Lowery just has a unique voice, and his script was so beautifully written. Ruth, in the first script that I read, was definitely the most underdeveloped of all the characters. But he  knew that before I’d even read the script, and it was something he was working on. I could still see all the potential there, and I found Ruth’s relationship with Bob to be just so beautiful and interesting. I also really loved the love story between her and her child.  In most scripts, a mother is protective of her child and that’s it. Ruth is protective but much more. I liked how the mother-child relationship is much more complicated than that.
Danny Peary: What would Ruth be like if she never had a baby?
RM: I’ve never thought about that but it’s a very interesting question. I can’t imagine where she would end up. It’s very sad to even think about.
DP: Would she be in jail too? Obviously her baby changed her from being a criminal.
RM: Maybe she’d end up in jail. I think having Sylvie was the best possible scenario of her life.
DP: I think she’s surprised by how much having a child changed her.
RM: Definitely.  I don’t think Ruth is necessarily excited when she finds out she’s going to have a baby. It’s not exactly what she planned on doing. We talked about how up until when she looks at the baby for the first time, she’s kind of fighting it. It’s not something she feels ready for, it’s not something she wants. She wants her life with Bob, she wants back her childhood with Bob until the moment she’s actually holding the baby and sees it for the first time. I think it did change her tremendously.
DP: In a good way.
RM: Yeah.
Q: In the film, Bob says a line about how people don’t know things the way they think they know them. Is there something inaccurate about how the public sees you?
RM: Maybe everything the general public thinks they know about me is not accurate.  There are very few people in your life that you truly know. It’s hard to really know someone because people are very complicated. I think we try to simplify people and put them in these little categories of being this kind of person or that kind of person and it’s just simply not true. I don’t see the world that way. I don’t see people as being this type of person or that type of person, I find people to be incredibly complex and interesting and different. I’m sure that most people who don’t know me think things about me that are not true.  Same goes for me with other people I know only from their interviews with the media. I probably don’t really know anything about them.
DP: Ruth says two things to Patrick, that she doesn’t need anything and she can’t sleep. What could make her sleep?
RM: The think her not sleeping goes back to the guilt. Bob has been writing her letters the entire time he’s been in prison, and I think she started off writing him letters, too. But as soon as she had Sylvie, it was kind of like: How do you write about the first time you look into your child’s eyes?  Or her first birthday?  Or the first time she walked? Or the first time she said Mommy. How do you write about those things in a letter and make someone understand?  So I think as soon as she had Sylvie and she started to feel that way, she stopped writing to him, because there was no way to express those things. She hasn’t slept in four years because she’s been wondering if he’s okay and having all this guilt that she’s not writing to him after he has gone to prison for something that she did.
DP: Is it just a matter of having closure? Will she sleep after the movie is over?
RM: I think it’ll probably take her a lot of time, a lot of healing, but I think she’ll sleep. [Laughing] Then Sylvie will turn into a teenager and she’ll not sleep again.
Q: I found it was when Ruth admits she’s not really able to sleep that I really liked her for the first time.. What did you try to put into your performance that would make her more amenable to the audience?
RM: I think that before the movie begins, Ruth was a very different person. Her relationship with Bob was very passionate and fiery, and there was a lot of fighting and making up. She was this wild, stubborn, feisty young woman, and then she has this child, and it changes who she is. She is walking about with all of this guilt and responsibility, and it’s hard moving on and finding happiness and something great in her life when the person she loves isn’t coming back.  I can imagine that would be very difficult. I really like my character so I never really thought about what I’d have to do to make her more accessible or likable to the audience. I already find her to be a really vulnerable, interesting, likable character.
Q: David says he wanted this whole movie to be like a song.  So did he send you music to listen to?
RM: He sent me a bunch of songs.  I liked and appreciated them, but after I listened to them I just kind of never listened to them again. I had my own songs that made me feel like the character.  God, it was such a long playlist I’d listen to. A few of the songs he sent me were on there, but there was a lot of Loretta Lynn, a lot of sad songs. I constantly am listening to music when I’m working and I have different playlists for each character.  For Lisbeth in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, there was a lot of angry music. There was a lot of Nico Vega on my playlist and a lot of stuff that David and Trish Summerville, the costume designer, sent me.
Q: What’s your perspective about how Ruth feels about the love triangle with Bob and Patrick, who clearly loves her, too.
RM: People ask me about that and I feel terrible because I didn’t see the movie as a love triangle between Ruth, Bob, and Patrick. I see it as a love triangle between Ruth, Bob and Sylvie.  Ruth is never choosing between Bob and Patrick. She is always choosing between Bob and Sylvie. I think Patrick is the guy Ruth wishes she’d want to date but she just doesn’t.  She doesn’t have those kinds of feelings for him but wishes she did because her life would be much easier and better if she wanted him. She thinks Patrick’s is a lovely person and that he is so sweet to her, and she knows they would have a really nice life together. But she’s grown up with Bob and she’s had an amazing life with him. I don’t think she can go from that to a relationship with Patrick because that’s now how they know each other.  It would never work out, I don’t think.
DP: If Bob came back and they could be together, would she want Sylvie to meet him?
RM: Oh, yeah. At least I thought it was like that and played it that way.  For most of the movie, she’s totally planning on going away with him and actually thinks it’s the right thing to do. When you are in love with someone you can be quite delusional and convince yourself that [the wrong thing to do] is the right thing to do.
DP: With Bob bleeding to death, Patrick takes Sylvie outside, denying her the one chance she’ll ever get to talk to her father. Would Ruth agree to that or tell Patrick to bring her back to see Bob?
RM: She probably wanted the three of them to have more of a moment than they have, but I don’t think she’d want Sylvie to stay there for that long because it would be quite scary for a child. Also Ruth probably wants to be alone with Bob in his last moments.

Ben Foster Roundtable
Q: What does Patrick see in Ruth that makes him want to get involved with her.
Ben Foster: I don’t believe they knew each other, but she contacted him with the bullet she shot. I believe that once you’ve been touched by somebody, you think about them. And you have a lot of time to think after there’s been a close call with your life. What he says toward the end of the picture is essentially what love ought to be, which is “absolute forgiveness.”  He essentially tells her, “No matter who you’ve been in the past, I see goodness now.  So please don’t carry this around the rest of your life.”  In terms of a love triangle, he’s very respectful of the complicated situation she’s in.  For all intents and purposes, she’s a single mom. Her man is out of the picture, and then he starts to come back into the picture.  Patrick remains a gentleman throughout. There aren’t many gentlemen, it seems, in films today, so it was nice to explore that.
Danny Peary: So you don’t think he ever saw her when they were growing up and had feelings for her?
BF: It’s left to our imagination. David and I talked about that, but what’s there in the script is what’s there. It’s complicated when you care for somebody and you can’t go after her because of your own ethics or  job restrictions. Love is curious that way, and he’s contemplating what he imagines to be a right action. He’s a good Christian in his mind; and like all these characters, he’s just trying to figure it out.
DP: Patrick tells Ruth that when he sees her with her daughter, all he sees is good. So if she hadn’t had the daughter, would he have fallen for her?
BF: Are you saying he fell for her because she had a daughter?
DP: She became a good person because she had a daughter, I thought that was what Patrick is implying.
BF: I think you’re touching on something that we discussed about his backstory, which is only suggested by Patrick’s wedding ring.
DP: What do you think?
BF: Who’s to say?  I think kids can affect a person’s sense of responsibility, because you have to take care of something bigger than yourself.  With a kid, you can’t live a selfish life, you have to sacrifice yourself for the greater good.  I understand that logic. But I’m not going to say that in an alternate film, had she not had the daughter, he would not have been attracted to her.  Ruth is an attractive lady and she’s spirited.
DP: So it wasn’t just the goodness that drew him.
BF: Who knows why people fall for someone?  He sees goodness in her, and I imagine he too is haunted like we all are by our own ghosts, the things we regret. He’s telling her, “Just let it go, because you’re good now.”
Q:  There’s a lot of chemistry in scenes between you and Rooney.  Did you two have conversations about developing it.
BF: It’s hard to talk about chemistry. It’s a unique balance. My whole goal was to make Rooney smile! She’ll smile, but you need to sneak around to get it.  She’s a wonderful actor with an almost translucent vulnerability and an equal measure of strength.
DP: Did you feel that Bob and Patrick were two sides of the same coin, one who put on a badge and the other who became an outlaw?
BF: I never saw that the two were parallel. I know that in personal circumstances you can’t help but compare yourself to the other guy and see how you’re alike or different. I think what’s important to Patrick is an old-world value, which I saw and experienced while researching the picture and spending time in Midland with the Sheriff’s Department. They’ve got third generation sheriffs there and they respect the people they protect, whether or not they care for them.
DP: You mentioned the wedding ring he wears.  I didn’t notice it but I recognized he’s a lonely character. Does he think Ruth is his only hope for a full life?
BF: Well, the imagination is funny that way. We can’t help but fantasize every day. For years. Whether or not we act on it is up to our own ethics. I think we’re all trying to be saved, during our darker moments, from our miserable lives. We think someone out there is going to fix our life and give it value. Is Ruth the one for Patrick Wheeler? I think he thinks about it.
DP: Ruth says she doesn’t need anything but I think he sees that she does and that he can provide it.
BF (laughing): They’re just a bunch of co-dependents in this movie.
DP: He sees himself as a good influence on her, a positive in her life.
BF: I think he sees a good woman who’s struggling, and is probably conflicted with his own profession, her circumstances, and his male genetics.
DP: Speaking of male genetics, Patrick has a mustache as ostentatious as David Lowery’s!
BF (laughing): We did a lot of handstands to get it that way!
Ben Foster as Patrick Wheeler

Monday, August 19, 2013

What Siegel and McGehee Know About What Maisie Knew

Find on VOD

What Siegel and McGehee Know About What Maisie Knew

(from Sag Harbor Online 8/17/13)

I rarely pay attention when a movie comes out in video, but I’m pleased that Scott McGehee and David Siegel’s What Maisie Knew, which has been overlooked by movie fans who should know better, had its DVD and Blu-ray Combo Pack release on Tuesday.  It’s my favorite film of the year (along with Fruitvale Station), so I’m hoping that all the people who missed it during its theatrical run, including at the Sag Harbor Cinema, will remember its great reviews and make a point to see it now.  In this smart, kindhearted, marvelously-acted modern-day adaptation of Henry James’s 1897 novel, six-year-old Maisie (a heart-capturing performance by Onata Aprile) learns that her loving but selfish, neglectful parents, rock singer Susannah (Julianne Moore) and contemporary art dealer Beale (Steve Coogan) are divorcing.  During their bitter custody battle, Susannah and Beale continue to be inadequate parents, but fortunately Maisie, who never objects as she is shuffled from household and household, receives unexpected care and comfort from her parents’ discarded new partners, bartender Lincoln (Alexander Skarsgard) and her ex-nanny Margo (Joanna Vanderham).  It all leads to the most gratifying movie ending of the year.  McGehee and Siegel were in Manhattan this week and the following is our conversation about their special film.
Directors David Siegel (L) and Scott McGehee Photo: DP
Danny Peary: I'm sure you're glad that your film is getting a new push with the DVD/Bluu-ray release this week.
David Siegel: Yes, we thought, given the reviews, that it would have done better on the first chance.

Scott McGehee: The business has changed that way so much since we made our first film, which still isn’t available on DVD in a lot of regions. It’s just nice that home viewing has been raised to the standard that it has been. People can finally enjoy the movie they missed when it was in theaters. I'm happy for the second chance.

DP: I’m amazed by how prescient Henry James was to what’s going on now with dysfunctional families, neglectful parents, and custody battles that are more about the parents than the child.  The script by Carroll Cartwright and Nancy Doyne has been around for eighteen years, so did you decide to make it because now it is so timely? 

DS: We didn’t know anything about the script until it was sent to us. What we were really attracted to was that it was that we'd be trying to tell the story from a biased point of view and to get into a child's interior place.  We were told they had a lot more money than they actually had, and that Julianne Moore was attached to it, which in fact wasn’t true. [Laughing]  She had read it and expressed interest.

SM: Being interested and being attached are two different things in our business.

DS: So we met with her and she agreed to try to do the film with us, although she was as nervous playing a rock star.  That was great because we’re really big Julianne Moore fans.

DP: I think Steve Coogan was an inspired choice to play Beale because the few American movie fans who know him probably think of him being funny.

SM:. We love him and it was our first idea was to cast him, but he was a tough sell for our producers, actually.  It took a while to bring them around.

DS: They really admired him, but they were just worried about financing. They love his performance. 

DP: In the interview you both did that is included in the film's production notes, you were asked, "How important was it to stay true to Henry James's novel?" Every filmmaker who adapts a famous book is asked that question and they always answer, "It was very important to be faithful to the novel."  Scott, you're the only director who ever answered, "Not very!" 

SM (laughing): Well, I think that if you can just bring that feeling that you get from reading the novel successfully to the screen, you’ve done a great thing. But it's true that fidelity beyond that isn’t a big interest of ours.

DS (laughing): Well, you’d be foolhardy to not be true to certain novels because too many people love them and since movies are a commercial enterprise you'd be shooting yourself in the foot if you didn't do that.  But for most books, it seems like the responsibility is to stay true only to what you’re trying to take from the book. Because you're make a movie from the book, you’re not putting the book up on the screen. "What is it that you’re doing to make a good movie?" That’s the question to ask yourself when you’re adapting a book. You decide what story you are trying to tell and then you stay absolutely true to that.  

DP: You did keep James's title, "What Maisie Knew."  For me, the title refers to when she finally is able to say out loud what she knows is best for her.  I'm not sure if you thought she knew things earlier.

DS: What you’re suggesting comes late in the movie, but we talked about it as a process, an existential thing in the sense that we the audience knows only what Maisie knows [as the story moves along].  That's because she’s in every scene and in all the exposition. We talked a lot about whether to keep the title when releasing the movie, but the title worked for us because what we convey in the movie is what Maisie knows.

DP: You’re talking about our knowing what she knows all the way through the movie?

DS: In the sense that she’s within every scene, all the moments of the movie.  However, as viewers, we’re privileged in the sense that we’re reading lots of emotions on people’s faces, things that Maisies’s not necessarily directly privy to.  

DP:  It is Maisie's story and you place the camera at her eye level, but I'm not sure I agree that the whole film is from her perspective. You probably want us to understand her interior world, and we do to a degree, but I felt I was always on the outside watching and rooting for her, rather than being inside her and looking out.  I watched it from my perspective, as an adult watching this little kid get pushed around until the end, when she does know what she knows.

DS: I kind of like what you’re saying. That's interesting. We can say the movie is only from her point of view, but if we’re really going to talk about film language then that’s not really true and it seems to be an easy, short-hand way to look at it.  You experience this movie differently than you do others because there’s so much less exposition, plot, and story.  The film is highly biased toward Maisie's point of view and the camera does acknowledge some of the awful things happening to her, but you may still look at it from your own perspective or the perspective of another character.

SM: Talking to people after screenings, we've had really different reactions about what their entry point is into the movie. People identify with Maisie or this character or that character and feel very personal about it.

DP: In the book, Maisie grows into a teenager, and the title makes a bit more sense because over the years, she matures as she gradually learns things.  Your Maisie learns everything all at the age of six. What I find interesting is that when she's finally mature enough to make a really brave decision about her situation, she is protecting being a child. She is making an adult decision, which we would have made twenty scenes before for her, but she's wise enough to not want to grow up very fast and have to make adult decisions all the time. She wants to be six and go on boat ride with Lincoln and Margo!  You decided to keep her at that age rather than have her make such a big decision after she has gotten older and had more experiences.

SM: We preferred having it all take place during a short period of time.  That's what is in the script. 

DS: It makes for a better way to tell the story.

SM: Actually, we kind of fell in love with that age during the audition process. The six–year-old thing.  We met a lot of kids that age and there was something really special about them.

DS: We originally thought we were going to use an older child, because she would be easier to work with, but it seemed to us that at the age of six there's sort of this fuzzy line of demarcation.  When kids go beyond six, they started becoming just a little bit more self-conscious. But when six-year-olds make mistakes, it would be very natural. 

DP: Well, your title works for me because of the six-year-old who plays Maisie.  Onata Aprile is so convincing that we believe Maisie does mature enough at her age to "know" what's going on and make a crucial decision about her future.

DS: We thought the title worked too, which is why we eventually decided to keep it.

DP: In the interview you two did, you talk about Onata's "generosity of spirit," and how it affected everyone so positively on the set. I'd say that Maisie has the same effect on those around her, particularly Lincoln and Margo.

SM: We also talked about Maisie's "generosity of spirit." That was a phrase we used a lot. The love that she generously offers to the world creates the environment she needs to survive.  She got a lot of that naturally from Onata.

DS: It’s a funny thing, we searched and searched and searched for the right kid to play Maisie.  We didn’t find Onata until we were less than a month from shooting, which was terrifying and kind of stupid, because what would have happened if we’d gotten even closer to production without casting anyone? A whole train was moving and we didn’t have the lead character.

DP: So were you saying to each other that you wanted to find a girl who has "generosity of spirit?"

DS: No, we were saying to each other that we wanted to find a girl who could communicate her interior life through the subtlety of expressions in her face.  That thinking came from the direct experience of working with Tilda Swinton on "The Deep End."  Because in that movie also, her character is in almost every scene, and there's not a lot of dialogue so Tilda had to convey with subtle expressions a whole world of emotion, a sense of an interior life. But you know, Tilda was forty and a very trained, highly cerebral individual. Onata was a six-year-old child who had the perfect natural instincts that enabled her to do it.  It was breathtakingly inspiring watching her..

DP: Could you tell right away that she could do it?

SM: We knew she was really special and had something we hadn’t seen in the other little kids we’d been auditioning. But she was only six and had never done this kind of thing before, so there’s always that worry, "What if we’re wrong? What if we get her out there with the lights and the cameras and she doesn’t have it any more, or she can’t do it, or she doesn’t enjoy it and doesn’t want to do it?"  There’s always that impending sense of crisis.

DP: You describe Maisie as an observer as people swirl around her and things happen.  How much of Onata's performance was created in the editing room?

SM: I'll say this really sincerely.  We didn’t cut around Onata any more than we cut around any other actor in the movie. You’re always shaping a performance and a character to some degree, but Onata really gave us that performance..

DS: And we used no tricks to get that performance on camera, either. She was very much  in the scene.

SM: There were tricks keeping her from getting distracted because she liked being there so much and liked the crew. She was amazing, it’s really her on the screen.

DP: Did you worry toward that end of shooting that she might wear out or lose her spark and think you'd better finish the film before that happened?

DS: We worried about that early on. Like Scott was saying, you think you have the right kid, but that might be the kid who on day five says, "Mommy, I don’t like this anymore."  What are we going do at that point? So we worried about that, and we also worried about fatigue.  But she never was fatigued.  In fact, if she could have spent six more months shooting the movie, she would have been the happiest kid in the world. She just enjoyed being there so much, and it absolutely infected the set that way. The spirit on the set was really, really lovely.
Maisie and Lincoln bond, as did actors Onata Aprile and Alexander Skarsgard


DP: You said that Alexander Skarsgard really befriended her so that in the scenes with Lincoln and Maisie, the affection we see would be real.

SM: Yeah, they were so sweet together.  And they still are when they see each other.

DS: Alexander's a lovely guy.  He's often cast because he's super handsome and all that, but I think he’s much more interesting when he’s more like himself.

Beale (Steve Coogan) and Margo (Joanna Vanderham)

DP: A moment I love is when Margo (Joanna Vanderham) asks Maisie if she likes Lincoln.  And Maisie replies that she loves him. That’s an early example of Maisie knowing and understanding something.  Maisie actually understands, I think, the difference between liking and loving someone and realizes this man is something special.

DS: It’s a good testimony for Lincoln if little Maisie loves him.

DP: That is his validation, and makes Margo look closely at him. My guess is that it was a very important moment for guys, when she uses the word ‘love’ rather than just say, "Yes, I like him."

SM: Very much so.

DS: You trust Maisie more than any other character in the movie, and I think you’re right to latch on to that moment, because I think that’s the fulcrum that shifts the relationship between Margo and Lincoln.

DP: But here’s another disagreement. Because Maisie loves Margo and Lincoln, they are validated in our eyes, but Scott, you told the interviewer, "Maisie’s ability to love them, the parents, despite their shortcomings, helps the audience find a way to love them, too."  I never loved them!

DS: Did he really say that?

SM (laughing): Did I really say that?

DP: Yes, but you can change your mind. I think--and I believe this more accurately conveys your thoughts--we can accept and understand Maisie loving them because they love her and treat her well on occasion, but we don't have to follow suit because we've seen how selfish and inconsiderate they are regarding her welfare.

Julianne Moore, Onata Aprile, and Alexander Skarsgard.

SM: That’s fair enough. We all talked a lot with Julianne and Steve and amongst ourselves about how to keep Susannah and Beale from being monsters.  They’re really challenging people, and we see them do some terrible things. Maisie's innate love for them is really helpful, I think, in at least humanizing them. Maybe more importantly, seeing that they really do love her is part of that, too.

DP: She has the ability to accept her parents' shortcomings. It makes her kind of a special kid.

SM: It comes back to her generosity of spirit.

DP: Reviewers often said Maisie "forgives" her parents because she loves them unconditionally.  My feeling is that she accepts their shortcomings and all their mistakes in parenting, but "forgiving" is not part of her thinking and never comes into play. 

SM: I agree 100%.

DS: That’s just not part of the framework in her life. . Her expectations get confounded at times, but I don’t think that elicits forgiveness.

DP: She could be disappointed, but it’s not about forgiving them. I think it's really an important part of her that she doesn’t think in those terms.

DS: I guess that she would have to condemn her parents in order to forgive them, and she doesn’t do that.

DP: Actually, in making this movie, were you rooting for her yourselves? For us viewers, to feel so much for her, I think you had to feel a lot for her, too.

SM: Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true.

DS: We’re the first audience for everything. It’s really odd how we have talked about this movie as much as we have and worked on it for as long as we did.  That's because the emotional relevance is so there, as it was when James wrote the book.  It never ceases to surprise us.

DP: I'm not giving away anything when I say that the book ends with the teenage Maisie deciding to stay with Mrs. Wix, who has a very minor role in the film. You movie ends when Maisie's still six.  So your ending doesn't mean that she still won't end up as teenager with Mrs. Wix.

DS: You want to believe, optimistically, the fact that Maisie is now moving forward, that there’s some sort progress in her life. It's not like we know what will happen at any point in time, but she has found her power and allowed herself to break free!



Friday, August 16, 2013

Aida Folch of The Artist and the Model

Playing in Theaters

Aida Folch of The Artist and the Model

(from Sag Harbor Online 8/10/13)

artistandthemodelfolchAida Folch

The Artist and the Model fits my category Movies That Should Play in Sag Harbor.  The good news is that this tender, elegant, provocative film that is set in France during the Occupation, should play in the Sag Harbor Cinema before the summer is over.  It has already opened in New York City.  Its famed Spanish director/writer/producer Fernando Trueba, whose Belle Epoque won a Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, contends that an artist must love his model in order to create a great work.  He freely states that he loves Aida Folch, the female lead of The Artist and the Model, as if she were family, and he filmed her in such a way that we viewers fully understand why the elderly sculptor, Marc Cros, played by Jean Rochefort, would be captivated by Merce, the young Spanish refugee he hires to model for his final masterpiece.  Yes, her nude body keeps our eyes wide open, but it is how she connects to him without uttering a word that makes us better understand the unique relationship between the artist and the model that results in her beauty being transferred to his art.  The following is an excerpt from an interview I did with both the actress and the director, consisting only of my questions to Folch.  Before the film plays in Sag Harbor, the paper will feature the full interview with them both.
ArtistandthemodelphotoAida Folch and Fernando Trueba Photo: DP

Danny Peary: Aida, did you audition for Fernando for The Artist and the Model?
Aida Folch: No. My first film was with Fernando when I was fourteen-years-old.  The Shanghai Spell.  So he’d known me for six years and he calls me and asks, “Aida, do you speak French?” I said, “No, why?” He said, “I think about you for making a film.” I then went to France and learned French.  Six months later I called him and spoke to him in French.                                                    DP: That was risky.
FT: That was risky and  generous.
AF: For me, it was very important, too, because Fernando gave me my first opportunity to work in this world of the cinema about which I’m very passionate.  He discovered me. For me, it was very important to demonstrate that I could learn French for his movie. And he said to me, “Aida, you are crazy, because I don’t have a screenplay or anything.”
DP: Did he even mention to you that you would play a model in 1943?
AF: I didn’t know anything about the film. Then after four years Fernando gave me the screenplay.  I’d changed all of my life to learn the language, and I was very afraid that I wouldn’t like it. He called me every day to ask, “Aida, did you like it, the screenplay?” I was very nervous. And finally I read the screenplay and I saw it was a very special movie with a very beautiful character for me to play.  This is the film of my life and I am very happy.
DP: I won’t give away the ending, but were you surprised by what happens with the artist?
AF: Yes, of course. I had a lot of doubts about the screenplay. I’d tell Fernando, “Why does that happen at the end?  Why?”  And, “Why is it in black-and-white and without music?  And more things.  It was a very different movie than anything I’d done before.  I make other types of movies, I’m very young and it’s not normal to make a movie like this.. And now I understand a lot of things about the movie that I didn’t while asking Fernando.  For example, I understand the character of Jean Rochefort and what he does at the end.  It’s very beautiful.
DP: Your character asks the artist’s wife, “What is a model?” And she’s told, a model is someone who is naked and poses. But that’s not all she is.  Is she a work for hire, a collaborator, a seducer, a muse, or an artist herself?
AF: In the beginning of the film, she understands nothing, and life is very hard. But after that sequence when they discuss Rembrandt’s drawing, she understands a lot of things about life and art. And finally, she says, “I can work with the other artists.”  I don’t think she loves the work, but she has learned a profession and has the opportunity to continue with it.
DP: Because you did a lot of nudity, did Fernando have to keep reassuring you that everything was going to be okay?
AF: No, I was very comfortable, because Fernando and all the people in the film were very respectful.  But sometimes it was very strange to feel the camera on a part of my body that I don’t know, my back.  Otherwise, I was very comfortable.
DP: Trust is a theme of the movie, the model and the artist, and I imagine also Fernando and you.
AF: Yes. I had trust because I knew this was very elegant, gorgeous film.
DP: Aida, from this movie do you, like audience members, better understand a lot more than you did about the relationship between a model and the artist?
AF: Yes, and from working as a model for the artists who were creating the art for the movie.  There is much more intimacy and than in the relationships of people in the world and in the cinema.  It’s different. It’s more present and deeper. It’s not normal!

Talking About Woody as Blue Jasmine Opens on East End

Playing in Theaters

Talking About Woody as Blue Jasmine Opens on East End

(from Sag Harbor Express 8/15/13)


It’s a welcome annual tradition that new Woody Allen movies play in our village, so expect to see the acclaimed Blue Jasmine at the Sag Harbor Cinema following its run in East Hampton. Allen’s merry tragedy, which is populated by an assortment of non-role models who lie, cheat, criticize, deceive themselves and others, and make horrendous life choices, is already generating Best Actress chatter for Cate Blanchett. Confirming her place in the actress pantheon beside Meryl Streep and Kate Winslet, Blanchett gives a tour-de-force performance as Jasmine, a combination of Blanche Dubois and Ruth Madoff, a brittle, selfish, self-delusional New York socialite who loses everything but her knack for pretense after her unfaithful, unscrupulous financier husband (Alec Baldwin) is arrested. Jasmine comes to stay with her down-to-earth sister, Ginger (Sally Hawkins, also on an Oscar track).
Prior to the film’s New York City release, Blanchett took part in the following press conference with Peter Sarsgaard (who plays a rich politician who falls for the dishonest Jasmine), Louis C.K. (Ginger’s suitor), and Andrew Dice Clay (Ginger’s unsophisticated ex-husband). The full press conference will be posted on when Blue Jasmine arrives in Sag Harbor, but here’s a small sampling in which the cast members recall being cast by and acting for Allen.
Q: Cate, Woody Allen says Jasmine is the rare case when he wrote a part with a specific actor in mind.
Cate Blanchett: Is that true? He never told me. I just got a call from my agent saying that Woody had a script he’d like me to read. I read it straight away and it was brilliant. Then Woody and I spoke for about forty-five seconds and I agreed to do the film and met with him in San Francisco.
Cate Blanchett  Photo: Brad Balfour
Peter Sarsgaard: It was a similar experience for me. I got this call saying Woody wants to meet me and there was a sense of urgency. So I went and talked to him for about forty-five seconds. He asked what I was doing over the summer, and I said I my wife [Maggie Gyllenhaal] was about to give birth…
CB: So you wanted to get out of the house?

     Peter Sarsgaard  Photo: Brad Balfour

PS (laughing): Yeah, pretty much. And he said, “Would you like to do a movie?” And I said, sure, without even knowing what the movie was. He sent me my scenes and a formal letter, and I saw him the first day on set. I think Woody picks up on something that’s in you when he casts you for a part. I have no idea what it was with me.
Q: Louis, were you looking to play a dramatic role?
Louis C.K: I never go out for movies anymore, so this came out of nowhere. I got a call saying Woody wanted to meet me. I had very low expectations but I just thought, “I’m going to get to meet Woody! And before he dies!”. So I went to his very nice little office and while I waited I noticed that the hat he wears to work was sitting on a table. I’m looking at Woody’s hat, and thinking that even if he tells me he’s too busy and I don’t meet him, it was worth it! Then I went into another room and there he was, and I remember thinking, “He looks just like Woody Allen!” He was so nice to me. I knew I didn’t get the part of a tough guy I read for, but soon a young woman came to my house, gave me an envelope and said, “I have to take this back with me, so you can have it for only forty minutes.” Inside was a letter from Woody, saying, “You couldn’t do that guy, but here’s another guy you can do.” There were also three scenes and they made me laugh. I thought, “My guy’s a jerk-off and I could totally play him!”
Louis C.K.  Photo: Brad Balfour

Q: Andrew, Woody remembered seeing you do stand-up about twenty years ago and thought that you could play a dramatic role in a movie.
Andrew Dice Clay: Well, originally I went into stand-up in order to act. I didn’t want to go to acting school and figured I’d develop my own method of acting. But not every comic can act like Robin Williams, so when I was offered this part I was no longer trying to get movies. I was just focused on my stand-up. My manager called and said, “Woody Allen wants to meet you tomorrow,” and I was like, “You’re kidding, right?” He obviously liked the bizarre character I play on stage and thought I was right to play Augie after Louis had failed his audition. [Laughter]

Q: What was it like for all of you to work with Allen?
CB: That first day was just awful. For the first week Sally and I cried in our beers together because we thought we were really screwing this up. But it bonded all of us and made us want to do better. Much of Woody’s direction is in the script itself, which allows him to get out of the way on the set—which he likes to do. But I actually found him to be really forthcoming, and when we set up that dialogue it became really enjoyable. Then he felt free to say, “That was awful,” and I felt free to say, “Okay, what are you after?” He might then say, “We will try that.” So he was forced to direct me.
PS: Having only read my own scenes in the script, I wondered, “Why is Jasmine behaving this way?” My lack of information made me play Dwight as if he is not interested in reality. Because the reality is that Jasmine needs medical help. I had to play my character in kind of reverse order for things to start adding up.
LCK: I knew Cate and these guys were making a movie and I was in it. [Laughter] I had a sense of proportion and thought Woody was trying not to have the focus be on me at all. That means that I was basically doing what I was hired to do and trying not to cause any trouble. But it was fun and Woody was really humble and humane. He tried to help us do it right for the audience.
CB: Woody would always say to me, “The audience has already left the theater.”
PS: Or, “You sound like an actor saying his lines.” That was another good one.
ADC: On the set, he was very open to our ideas. He didn’t give a lot of direction, and I think that’s because he gets actors who are close to their parts on the page and then really trusts them. I changed words to fit the way I speak, and he was just great about it. He gave me the opportunity to challenge myself a little and do something I hadn’t done yet. I could do nothing but sit here and thank him.

Andrew Dice Clay Photo: Brad Balfour



Thursday, August 15, 2013

Linda Given Respect at Lovelace Press Conference

Playing in Theaters

Linda Given Respect at Lovelace Press Conference

(from Sag Harbor Online 8/2/13)

Even if that former FBI official (Mark Felt) who informed to the Washington Post about Watergate crimes by the Nixon White House hadn’t used its title for his code name, “Deep Throat” would still be the most famous porno film ever made (and that’s even counting Paris Hilton’s sex tape).  It was a cause célèbre when it came out in 1972, the first XXX film that women unapologetically attended on date night with their husbands and boyfriends.  Everyone could make the excuse that it was, as its sneaky promoters contended, the first porno feature in which it is the female who seeks sexual pleasure. (As if nobody had seen Mona!) A financial blockbuster, it became an instant touchstone for the sexual revolution, a test case for first-amendment rights, and reference point for late-night talk show hosts, and was hailed as the breakthrough film that might allow innovative young directors to the include hardcore sex in movies intended for the mainstream audience (which never happened).
Its star, Linda Lovelace, became a household name and, though she wasn’t particularly pretty, a fantasy girl for both sexes because she seemed to have a healthy disposition in regard to sex and could do one particular act so well that the Kama Sutra needed a new illustration. Surely many women (and men) entered the porn industry because of Lovelace and her graphic but cheery movie.  But how everyone viewed Lovelace and the film changed a few years later, when she contended that had been forced at gunpoint to be in the movie by her abusive ex-husband and manager, Chuck Traynor, and had been exploited by the filmmakers, who didn’t let her share in the profits.  As she revealed all she’d been through in a sleazy autobiography, Ordeal, she was claimed by both feminists and right-wing anti-porn zealots. She even spoke out against the porn industry on college campuses.  Nobody knew what parts of her story were to be believed.  Now there is a movie that gives Lovelace—who died at age 53 in 2002 from complications after a car accident—that gives her a sympathetic voice. 

In anticipation of its release this Friday in New York City, the following press conference was held.  Participants included actors Amanda Seyfried (who will get award consideration for playing Lovelace), Peter Sarsgaard (Traynor), Sharon Stone (unrecognizable as Lovelace’s cold, domineering mother, Dorothy Boreman), Hank Azaria (“Deep Throat” director Gerry Damiano); Chris Noth (fictional porno producer Anthony Romano), Adam Brody (porno actor Harry Reems, who never spoke at the conference); Debi Mazur (porno actress Dolly); and writer-directors Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman.

Q: Amanda, your movie is about a woman who went through hell.  Her autobiography was called “Ordeal.”  But we don’t really know whether to believe her story or not.  Can you talk about that, and what you thought were the biggest challenges in doing the movie?

Amanda Seyfried: I’m a pretty cynical person, so I knew right off the bat, when I entered into this project, that I was going to have to leave that [question of what’s true] at the door. My job was to validate Linda Lovelace in lots of ways. The challenge was the responsibility of playing her, especially because we were in touch with her kids.  I wanted to justify her and reiterate what she was trying to get across. Playing a real person in general is really hard. I’d never done it before. It would have been even harder if she were alive, for sure.  That was the biggest challenge.


Amanda Seyfried answers a question at the press conference as Sharon Stone and Peter Sarsgaard wait their turns Photo: Brad Balfour
Q: Did you have any doubts about taking on this role?

AS: Honestly I didn’t have many doubts. Apparently a lot of people did, which is why I was lucky enough that it to came to me.  Of course there has to be some thought about how you’re going to be perceived afterwards, with a role like this.  But after I met Rob and Jeff, there was barely any hesitation. It just seemed like the perfect challenge for me. I needed an emotional outlet and to lose myself in something--and I really believed in this woman. It really wasn’t that hard a decision to take this part. There’s such a stigma about it among actresses I know, but I just don’t feel like it’s that scary.  We’re all human so that was the least of my worries.
Jeffrey Friedman: From our perspective, Amanda is a fearless actress who can do comedy or such a heartbreaking film.
Rob Epstein: We’re both very privileged that she’s in our movie.

AS: Back at ya.

Q: Jeff and Rob, did you worry that telling such a dark story wouldn’t be appealing to many viewers?
JF: I don’t think we started from that point. We really saw it as a story of a young woman who found herself in a circumstance not of her making at a very young age, and how she had to struggle to find her own power and voice within that. That was always the overriding theme for us. Linda was taken into a very dark place because of the nature of her relationship with Chuck Traynor, the fact that she was the victim of domestic violence.

Q: Peter, there are some scenes in this movie that are really hard to watch. Were they really hard to film? 
Peter Sarsgaard: Well you choreograph scenes like that more than you would choreograph other scenes. With a love scene or a fight scene, you don’t usually just say, “1, 2, 3, Go!”  For this, you figure out who’s on top, who’s on the bottom, who’s strangling whom.  The challenge with scenes like that is to breathe life into what could very easily be stilted and static.  You need to be loose within the situation and be able to trust the person that you’re with.  I had total trust and faith in Amanda. I remember first meeting her.  A lot of people talked about her being brave and I saw that she was really going to put herself into the role completely.  So I thought, “Alright, then I’ll meet her there.” Also when we did the difficult abuse scenes, I felt that we had a safety net of people we were working with.  We felt protected and that’s what made it all possible.
An increasingly controlling Chuck Traynor (Peter Sarsgaard) and Linda Lovelace (Amanda Seyfried)
AS: Yeah, from the beginning we created a foundation where we felt safe and trusted it each other.
PS: It was not gradual but there from the start.

Q:  To the directors: Did you guys sit down with them and say, “Okay, we’re going to do these difficult scenes and it’s going to be fine?”
Rob Epstein: Well, the four of us  had a week of rehearsal, and that was key, I think, for Peter and Amanda to get to get to know each other as people, and to trust one another as actors. We really worked on the characters.  What was hardest for all of us were the violent scenes.  It was particularly difficult for Peter to have to go to that dark a place.  There’s an underlying guilt that informs his character and that’s only one of the many dimensions to him that Peter brings out.

Q: For Amanda and anyone else, I’m wondering if there are any movies in your careers, including this one, that you don’t want your parents to see?
AS: I don’t want my dad to see my naked body.  We’re going together to the premiere and I’ll want to cover up. I don’t have any problems with him seeing me in violent situations and sexual situations are a little tough, but it’s really just the nudity. I think anybody can agree with that.

Debi Mazur: I saw this film because it was part of a press junket and I wanted to see the performances.  But I realized I can’t watch myself having an orgasm on the big screen.  I’m happy that I’ve had the opportunity to play it as an actor and I built myself up going into the scene—and incredibly I got to rehearse at home a lot since the actor playing the role happens to be my husband--and it’s fantastic at the moment, but it’s very   uncomfortable to watch it.  I did another film many years ago, and I was really skinny and I was doing a nude scene. I watched myself be intimate on camera with somebody other than who I was having a relationship with in real life and it was just weird.

Hank Azaria: My parents?  No way I’d let them see me in Godzilla.  [Laughter]

Q: Sharon, I read that you convinced the directors to let you take on this role. Given that there isn’t a lot of footage of Linda Lovelace’s mother available, where did you go to research and create the character you played?
Sharon Stone: I was very fortunate to get this part from these brilliant and thoughtful directors, so first of all I want to say “thank you” to them. The guys came to me with a lot of great material on Linda’s mother, but I did do some deep digging online and found material, found pictures, and found things written about her. But of course, I also grew up in that era. There were a lot of those kinds of ladies where I grew up deep in Pennsylvania.

Q: Amanda, a lot of porn stars say they have been abused as children. Did you meet any of them in preparation for the role? 
AS: I didn’t meet anybody who had been abused when they were in the porn industry, but we met with Linda’s children, who know her story.
JF: Linda’s two grown children, Dominic and Lindsay, came to set one day. I remember them being very moved by Amanda’s performance.  They really felt they were hearing their mother’s voice, which made us all feel very good.

RE: And they were also moved by Sharon’s performance.  They felt it really captured their grandmother. Lindsay said that she and Dominic are each in long-term relationships and neither they nor the people they’re with can bring themselves to read Linda’s book because it’s so graphic and disturbing.  But what was the most moving for both of us was when she said they could show this movie to their partners so they will understand how important their mother was to them. That meant a lot of us.

DP: Sharon, from what you’ve said you seem very protective of your character, I guess.  Let me ask about the reconciliation scene.  Tell me that I’m wrong when I say there’s no way that Linda, when she can finally see clearly, would go to her and forgive her.

JF: That was based on my interpretation of a resolution that we know did happen.  When Linda was on her deathbed, her mother and her father were by her side and they reconciled.  So that was our representation of the way in which they reconciled.

DP: But Sharon, did her mother deserve a reconciliation with Linda?
SS: I had wonderful parents who had four children. Being a parent myself now, I can say that whatever happens with your children, they never stop being your children. We may not always like them or the choices they make, but I don’t think we ever stop loving our children. So when your child does try to find the best of themselves and wants you to help with that journey, the very best thing that you can do is to give them yourself.  Because that’s our job, what we accept when we agree to be a parent. So from my personal point of view, I would say yes, resoundingly, she deserves to be forgiven.

(L-R): Jeffrey Friedman, Rob Epstein, Hank Azaria, Sharon Stone Photo: Brad Balfour
Sharon Stone Photo: Brad Balfour

RE: One of the wonderful things about Sharon’s performance is that you really get the sense that Dorothy Boreman was trying to be what she thinks is a good mother.  The way she goes about is horrifying at times, but it comes from a place where she’s trying to do the right thing and doing what she needs to do to get her daughter on track. It’s partly the result of the times and her own upbringing. You never feel that it’s coming from a place of evil. It’s coming from a place of caring.

SS: A lack of experience. She has had her own difficult journey. You see Linda’s mother in a time when women’s rights were not yet really clear, when information for women was not clear and on the table. And you can see how desperately she needed that information, how much it could have helped her.

JF: Just to add to that: this took place in a time when the culture didn’t have the language for domestic violence. When the mother and daughter have that heartbreaking scene when Linda comes home after leaving Chuck to escape abuse, they don’t have a language with which to talk about it.  So it’s all the unspoken.  Fortunately, we’re at a different place now.

SS: It’s so valuable that Linda demonstrates that it’s not how you fall but how you get up. That theme is one of the reasons I took this part.

Q: Here’s a lighter question.  Something that provides the movie a measure of levity are Linda’s hairstyles over time.
AS: The hair is really insane. I had quite a few transformations, and I loved that. It was super fun.  The Afro was my favorite!
RE: She said, “Can I just wear this one for the whole movie?”  Hank’s character, Gerry Damiano, who directed Deep Throat, had an awful toupee, really the world’s worst.  Hank, you know the story of the toupee, right? It was a low-budget movie and we didn’t have the money for an expensive toupee, so our hair person took an old Afro and made do.

HA: The thing is, Gerry really wore his hair like that. And I think he was a hair dresser! An auteur!  [Laughter].

Q: Chris, did you do any background on your producer character?  I’m from that era, and he’s so realistic.
CN: He’s sort of made up and sort of based on a real character.  I felt that my job was to try to make him a real person, somebody who wasn’t just moving the plot along.   His main motivation, which is the main motivation for many people, is money.  His main focus is on pursuing money, although I think he has a soft spot in his heart, deep down.

RE: Chris’s character, Anthony, was based on the person who actually helped Linda escape from Chuck Traynor. 

(L-R): Sharon Stone, Peter Sarsgaard, Amanda Seyfriend, Chris Noth, Adam Brody, Debi Mazar
Photo: Brad Balfour
Q: Amanda, Linda Lovelace was known for what the title of her movie implies.  Did you practice on a popsicle?
AS: When you’re simulating something, sometimes it’s easie, as an actor, to actually be doing something. Technically, my lips would be red so it would be more realistic. It was a banana popsicle.  It just seemed right at the moment to help me. Simulating that is weird.

PS: It was even weirder to have popsicle juice all over me.

AS (straight-faced): I felt bad about that.

Q: Amanda, did you relate to Linda Lovelace in any way and did you learn anything about yourself from playing her? 
AS: I had heard about her long before this movie came into existence, and then I didn’t really care about her story and thought she was a two-dimensional character. I learned that it’s important to know that everybody has three dimensions and everybody’s a human being. I think a lot of women can relate to her in that she is kind of stuck in her life. She made some bad choices and was escaping one bad situation [with her mother]and entering into another bad situation [with Chuck Traynor]. How could she foresee that or what happened to her after she became famous?  In a lot of ways, she’s always just trying to figure out who she is and trying to find her footing in her life, like we all are. Her circumstances are pretty awful throughout the whole thing, which is why I wanted to play her.  I felt like I could do her some justice. She tried so hard to be heard, and here we are trying to tell her story again, make her a real person.

Q: This movie takes place in a period of evolution in our culture.  Can you talk about the contradictions regarding pornography? On the one hand it contributed to sexual liberation, but it also resulted in the exploitation and abuse of the actresses who took part.
RE: In the context of this film, pornography stands in for the so-called sexual revolution, which is something that we remember. Even at the time it was mythologized, and it was a lot more complex than it seemed. My view is that it was mostly beneficial for heterosexual men, although a lot of women probably had a good time too. But there was a gradual process for women to claim their bodies and for gay people to claim a place in that freedom.

CN: At the time, I think there was a bit of an illusion about sexual freedom, in the same way that there was no language yet for domestic violence.  People jumped into it without thinking of the dangers, and while we celebrated one side of it, saying it was freedom, we didn’t know the damage it could cause when you take it too far. Obviously porn became a bigger and bigger business, but at that time, it seemed to me, there was almost an innocence about it. Like, “Yahoo! Let’s all do it!” And they had all those orgy clubs, and there wasn’t yet the knowledge of what could come from that.

SS: Disease wasn’t around yet, but it was beginning to ramp up.   They weren’t using condoms then, in the ‘70s, and there were tons of drugs.

RE: Nothing’s changed but everything’s changed.  We did visit a porn set as part of our research, but, ultimately, we didn’t see ourselves as making a film about pornography or a commentary on pornography.  It was really a backdrop to telling a story, and we had to recreate the circumstances under which Linda was involved in Deep Throat. Ultimately, as we say in the movie, her career in pornography lasted only 17 days. She did eight loops with her husband and then Deep Throat, and then spent the rest of her life feeling like she had to overcome that.  So, again, it’s about Linda’s story more than a pornography story.  But at the same time she became a sex symbol and the genie that led all of this out of the bottle. We’re obviously in a very different cultural state with regard to pornography. You can get it for free on the Internet; and kids are growing up with it.

Q: It must have been an intense shoot, so what did you guys do to relax when you weren’t shooting?
SS: We were making this film fast and on not such a high budget, so there wasn’t a lot of time for hanging out.  We spent our free time creating a tremendous support system.  That was important for Amanda a me. The wonderful thing about playing moms and having such a wonderful, intelligent, thoughtful, prepared actress playing my daughter is that being a mother I could bring that to the set and support her.

JF: Our second day of shooting, we had to shoot that intense scene with Linda coming home to her mother and asking her to take her in.

SS: It was smart to put it up front. These guys really knew how to pull us into it.

AS: Sharon, I was terrified, terrified. And it really would have been different had it not been you helping me through it, especially with the maternal energy.  It was amazing.

SS: Thank you. And it was wonderful to see you come to work and give it your all and deliver such a complex performance.

Q: Amanda, how did you shake off this role emotionally and physically?
AS: I still haven’t shaken it off entirely, in fact. I’m struggling every day. How did I try? I did Les Miserables three weeks after this wrapped. I jumped into that, in which I play an 18-year-old virgin.  It really couldn’t have been any more different.  [Joking?] I mean there are actually a lot of similarities between Cosette and Linda.  But it was hard to shake this off, really hard. I realize that I actually lost myself in the role, for the first time ever in my career. I feel like a real actor now!

Poster with the real Linda Lovelace