Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mother and Child's writer/director RODRIGO GARCIA: an interview

The chance to chat, even briefly, with one of TrustMovies' favorite writer/
directors, Rodrigo Garcia, at left, who has made three memorable movies about the lives of women in America, was just too good to pass up. On the basis of the three full-
length films he has written and directed: the new MOTHER & CHILD, Nine Lives and Things You Can Tell Just by Looking at Her (plus lots of cable TV work: check out his resume by clicking his "name link" above), this fellow is the real deal and, at only fifty years of age, may have a few decades of great movie-making left in him.  (You can find my original review of Mother and Child here.)

The son of one of Latin America's most beloved and popular writers, Gabriel García Márquez  (One Hundred Years of Solitude, Love in the Time of Cholera), Rodrigo appears not to have embraced one of his father's favorite stylistic choices -- magic realism.  Instead he has chosen to work in the vein of acute, astute realism that connects character to psychology, sociology, economics -- offering us life as we (all the different classes and colors of "we") know it.

In the conversation below, TrustMovies is in bold, and Rodrigo in standard  type:

Your connection to women and your ability to create and then enter them so fully seems to me different from that of any other male movie-makers I have seen: unlike Minnelli’s or Cukor’s, or anyone’s work I can think of. Where does this amazing connection to women come from?

Honestly, I have no idea. When I started writing scripts, I realized quickly that my females were the stronger and more complicated characters. I just enjoyed spending time with them more. It was a combination of -- right off the bat -- that they were stronger and more complicated. I didn’t set out to do this; that’s the way it panned out.

I think there have been a lot of directors who have done wonderful movies about women: Godard, Truffaut, Kieslowski, Antonioni, Bergman — but those guys are getting fewer and further between.

I also enjoy a lot the characters created by female directors, too: Holofcener, Campion, Breillat, Cholodenko

What usually comes first as you create your work, the situation or the character?

The situation comes first, if not the full story: the situation here is the idea that two women, mother and child, are separated at birth and I want to take up this subject. Then I discover the character.

So you are not one of those writers who must make long lists of all the characteristic and history that his characters possess?

I don’t make those lists at all. I try to.... I know what some of my characters’ objectives are, and the obstacles to these, and I unfold the behavior, as the story moves along, and the behavior tells me who these people are.

You don’t really have villains in your films, which is another thing I like so much about your work. Though I noticed in the review in The NY Times, the reviewer mentions that the mother-in-law of Lucy comes closest to this kind of caricature. But I did not see it that way.

No. She is simply being direct, in her own passive-aggressive way.

And that’s what we need to see in that scene.  What did this movie cost to make?

Around $5,000,000.

Wow: that seems... not that much, considering what we got!

It’s very hard to make this kind of movie for any more money. The studios don’t really make that many adult dramas anymore – because adult dramas have been relegated to art-house and the specialty markets.

To get a cast like this and then make a movie like this is really an accomplishment.

Well, it is hard to get this kind of movie made unless you have great actors in it -- who are also stars.

For me this is the film of the year so far. If Crash could win Best Picture, surely M&C has a chance? And it is so much more “positive ” -- in fact, more "real" in what it has to say.

I try not to hear stuff like this: awards. The road to the Academy Award nominations is long and full of curves. Saying that, however, I would not be surprised if some of the performances get nominations. The three gals, of course: I would not be surprised if they were nominated

Naomi Watts (shown at left), for instance. I think she makes good here on what she showed us in Mulholand Dr. She’s has always been OK since then, but has not had a great role to sink her teeth into until now.

Her role is very intensely played, and she is very committed. She was not scared to show us Elizabeth -- 100 per cent!

That underwear in-the-drawer scene is so shocking.

Well, that little idyllic, perfect, picket-fence family scene she sees living next door….  She wants to show them that that this is a lie.

But yet she herself plays the biggest part in destroying that picket-fence life that the wife imagines, and so helps make it a lie. Self-fulfilling prophecy.

Yes, she is part of that destruction.

The sex scene in your film is quite amazing, too. It so firmly establishes Elizabeth’s need for control.

A sex scene that doesn’t reveal character, for me, is just pointless. I mean, unless you are interested in something soft-core. I don’t have that many sex scenes in my films because they are usually not necessary. But this one told me who Elizabeth was, in even more detail.

How did Alejandro González Iñárritu, who is credited as executive producer, get involved in this film?

It is the Mexican connection. We are all friends. Though I was born in Columbia, I grew up in Mexico for my whole life. I am also friends with Del Toro and Cuarón. And various cameramen, too. We are all part of the same crowd. Alejandro was always supportive of the script, because we read each other’s work. It was he who first sent the script to Naomi and encouraged her to do it. And that is what got the whole process going. She was great to work with -- she makes it look so easy. I am ecstatic that she did the film – and did such a beautiful job.

Annette Bening (above, right) also does such an amazing job here. I have always liked her work, ever since seeing her off- and on Broadway decades ago. And she just seems to grow better and stronger.

Annette was also very easy to work with, very devoted, and came to the set each day with a stunning level of preparation. She knew the whole script, not just her own story, had a great understanding of it, and spoke so well about every part of it.

As a director, you want your movie to have strong performances, right down to those actors who have only one line. It is not just the leading characters who must get it right.

Have you heard anything about the Academy extending its awards to cover the category of Best Acting Ensemble?

No, and I don’t think this is likely to happen because the Academy is always fighting the length of that show, and the ratings of the show. So it is unlikely that they will add new categories or make changes that would add to the awards and to their length.

True, but they should think about this change. I mean, change is going to come inevitably, in any case. Of course, it can be bad change, as well as good.

Yes: Change is not always what we expect, is it?

Anything else you’d like to say – something you’d always wished an interviewer would ask you, but we never do? Your chance to soapbox...

Well (he thinks a moment) I wish movies that are made for adults would still get to live in movie theaters. It is becoming harder to make these kind of films. And much harder to distribute them. This year I thought movies like A Prophet or The White Ribbon or Bright Star -- these seemed to show some life at the theatrical box-office, so I hope this trend will continue.

It seems to me that your film should do pretty well.

Reviews of my films have been mostly positive. But my audience has been small. I hope that Mother and Child extends this audience.

Oh, just one more question, please, and then I’ll let you go:

I have read in other interviews, where people ask you, right off the bat, if your title Mother and Child has religious connotations. Yet one of the scenes that most impressed me was the scene in which Kerry Washington’s character, Lucy, is forced to reveal her idea of god. I thought, right after I had seen the movie, that perhaps her vision of the world -- of life and god -- might match your own.

It is true that in the film both Lucy and Paco (the character played by Jimmy Smits) do not believe in god. I am myself not a religious person. Yet I chose to include a Catholic charity because this type of religious charitable organization was likely to have been involved in adoptions back then, in the 1960s and 70s. So while I am, ultimately, not a religious person, I am not afraid to include that point of view in my stories. And if the nun played a role in giving a baby to one person instead of to another, then she probably did this because it was her own choice. I have found that religious people are often quite practical in their daily life. I like the idea that someone we think is all about the “spiritual” side, can also be a practical person.

I am not religious, and I am pro choice. And I’m fine with this. But I don’t want to lead off any discussion of Mother and Child with this subject --because the movie is not about this for me. It is not even really about adoption. It is about separation: Two people who came to be separated and had to learn to live their lives without each other.


In addition my own interview, above, you might also be interested in the short one, below, that appears in the press materials for the film and which I am offering here, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.  Only in the last paragraph, below, and in my first paragraph, above, is there much overlap. (That's David Morse, below, who has a small but telling role in Mother and Child.)

Q: You both wrote and directed this film. Which process do you enjoy more?
Writing is harder for me. More riddled with insecurity. Is this good enough, differ-
ent enough, suspen-
seful enough, human enough, real enough? Do I even like it? Will good actors be inter-
ested? The many versions of the real monster, who cares? Of course when it’s going well, there’s nothing like it. It makes me feel refin-
ed and good. Most of the time it’s a slog fueling self-contempt.

Directing is more physically demanding. My problem then is not isolation, but the opposite, constant interaction. Overdosing on people. Having to pretend that you’re the director. But to see what you imagined in the loneliness of your desk late at night live and breathe in front of you is intoxicating.

Q: How did the film get off the ground? What was the process in getting the film made?
It was a many-pronged approach. (Or is that a many-prayer approach?) Alejandro González Iñárritu sent the script to Naomi Watts and encouraged her to do it while Julie Lynn began the search for funding, other cast members and a first rate crew. An initial offer to Annette Bening did not pan out because of other commitments and that was a big disappointment. We had flirtations with studios, but the threats of strikes compromised that. We got Kerry Washington on board at this point, but then Naomi became pregnant and we decided to postpone and wait for her. (That we postponed because she was pregnant we all thought would bring us good luck, given the nature of the material). Waiting for her contributed to Annette becoming available again, and then Sam and Jimmy signed on. That was a great high, the cast that lined up. Cherry Jones! Finally, when we had everything in the world but financing, Lisa Maria Falcone and Tom Heller of Everest Entertainment stepped in and made it possible. WestEnd in London also was very supportive with foreign pre-sales.

Q: What was the most difficult scene to shoot?
I went into most of them scared and was at ease right after the first rehearsal. So all of them, then none. I suppose the scene with young Karen and young Tom filled me with apprehension more than others. Fourteen-year-olds making out. Really? I have to direct that? Their seriousness and professionalism saved my behind.

Q: What is your favorite scene in the film?
I’ve never worked on anything that has so many scenes that I’m happy with. Here are three:
-- When Karen finds out what her mother really thought about her.
-- When Paul offers the world to Elizabeth.
-- When Lucy introduces herself and her husband and their dreams to Sister Joanne at the adoption agency.

Q: Where did you shoot the film and how long was the shoot?
We shot in locations in and around Los Angeles for 29 days.

Q: Many of your films are centered on women, with men playing second fiddle. What is it about women that you find so fascinating?
Ever since I began to write, my women characters have been more complex than the men, but I don’t know why. Since my movies are not essentially about women but about subjects that interest me, the sex of the characters is not always that important to me. Like any filmmaker I use the strongest tools that I have, and female characters are it. Jason Isaacs said to me that I write about women because it frees me to write about emotional subjects more emotionally. I like women and feminine things. Anything from the gregarious nature of women to pregnancy to a woman’s face trying to pick out clothing or seeing a handsome man. How they love their loved ones and how they drive each other crazy. The ways they pursue the things they want. Of course I don’t really know what they’re thinking—but what fun to imagine it.

No comments: