Laura Linney and the Dead Body of "Jindabyne"
(from brinkzine.com 4/26/07)
There’s nothing more fun than discovering a great movie, so I urge everyone to pick a few titles that sound intriguing at the Tribeca Film Festival—just as you $2 bettors might choose between several unknown horses at the track—and boldly lay your money down. However, don’t become so focused on Tribeca that you miss a few super festival-type movies that are having theatrical releases: The Host, The Namesake, First Snow, Killer of Sheep, The Hoax, Stephanie Daley, The Lives of Others, The Lookout, Red Road, The Wind That Shakes the Barley, Pan’s Labyrinth, and the upcoming Severance and Sarah Polley’s remarkable Away from Her. And Jindabyne. Featuring extraordinary performance by Laura Linney and Gabriel Byrne, Ray Laurence’s haunting Jindabyne is an Australia-set adaptation of Raymond Carver’s short story, “So Much Water, So Close to Home,” which also was the source of the Huey Lewis-Buck Henry segment of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts.
I am reminded of this silly joke:
Marvin: Sorry I’m late, dear, but George dropped dead on the second hole!
Madge: My goodness! Did you spend a lot of time at the police station?
Marvin: No, we spent a lot of time dragging him to the next sixteen holes!
In Jindabyne, it’s not a golf foursome but a fishing foursome, and the joke’s not funny. For some reason the four men who discover the dead body of a savagely murdered young aborigine woman in the stream where they fish, decide to finish their annual trip before reporting the body to authorities. How could they do such a thing? I spoke to Linney about acting in Jindabyne and why her character, Claire, is so outraged by her husband Stewart’s shocking behavior.
Q: Is getting to travel all over the world one of the reasons you like making movies?
A: Absolutely. I’d never get to Jindabyne, Australia otherwise.
Q: What was the most interesting thing you discovered about the country?
A: Just how remote it feels, and how remote it actually is. I never had understood Australians when they talked about how far away they are. Then you go there, and you really are far away. Far away. This feeling of isolation was used to huge advantage in the movie. The landscape is unbelievably powerful—the light hits things in different ways and it’s not like anything you’ve ever seen before. There is a sense of a ferocious nature there. The wildlife is amazing. It’s odd and exotic. I’d open my door and there would be a kangaroo outside. There were wombats—my favorite creature was the baby wombat. And I saw this huge snake jump into a lake where ducks were swimming, and then it went under the water and came back up with its jaws wide open. And it devoured a duck—it was disgusting! I was on the phone with my boyfriend and said, “I’m going to have to call you back.” You never know what’s around the corner and I think Ray Lawrence really used that idea in the movie.
Q: Australia is famous for deadly insects, so is the one that stings the serial killer lethal?
A: I like to think so.
Q: In your research, did you reference the segment in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts that also was taken from the Raymond Carver short story?
Q: No, I didn’t reference the movie. And I hadn’t read the short story. The film isn’t a strict adaptation of Carver. It has been moved from the American Northwest to Australia so the landscape is different, and the whole issue of race has been introduced. Sometimes it’s terrific to have a source novel or short story because you get information and can become very secure in your choices about your character physically and emotionally. At other times it can lead you in the wrong direction. Because the movie is not the book. It’s a different medium and you have to give yourself the permission to let it take on a life of its own, and that’s hard to do, particularly if you loved the material. You want to nail it to the original source, and a lot of times film doesn’t work that way. What you must rely on is the script. You read a script and you figure out how to interpret it. It’s an interpretation of a blueprint. It’s like when an architect gives you a blueprint and you have to go build a house. What is the script telling you to do, how is it telling you how to work?
I work on every script differently. This is where craft comes into play and you know how to do what you do. With some scripts I see that I have a lot of work to do--a lot of text work, background work…But there are some scripts I hardly touch at all. Beatrix Christian’s script for Jindabyne was very sound. It was dense and thick and there was so much to find because it had a lot going on, so I did all my work and then threw it away. I was as prepared as I could possibly be and then I allowed it to change.
Q: If you were so well prepared why would you allow it to change?
A: You go on a set and everything can change because of the room you film in, the clothes you put on, any number of things. You have to roll with it and be willing to give up the ideas that you thought were so brilliant when you were in your bedroom. It’s called “Shoot the Baby.” You get on the set with an idea and you are determined to get in that one thing you were positive would work—and then you realize it doesn’t work at all. Now you say, “Don’t do it!” You got to let “your baby” go.
Q: Your mother in Jindabyne is much more sympathetic than the religious zealot mother you recently played in Driving Lessons. Did it appeal to you to play a mother different from the first?
A: I don’t think of one film or role relating to the other movie or role. I just do one thing at a time. Journalists point out to me how certain things from different movies are related thematically, but I don’t really think about that. There’s a film I did called The Savages from an amazing script. Everyone said, “You can’t do that because you can’t play a sister again.” I said, “What do you mean I can’t play a sister again? Are you saying that I can play a wife only once? Can I play only one mother? Can I play a lawyer only once because there’s only one way to play a lawyer? What are you talking about?”
Q: Talk about Claire and her being unable to forgive Stewart.
A: Claire is an extreme character, which makes sense if you look at what she’s been through. Years before she ran off after a horrific bout of postpartum depression. Now she is still away from America and isolated in Jindabyne. Everyone in this movie is haunted by something from their pasts that directly affects how they behave and interact with people in the present day. Claire has guilt and shame over abandoning her family and she’s desperately trying to make it all okay. And she won’t tolerate any longer such behavior as the men exhibited. She doesn’t accept such behavior in herself and won’t accept it in other people.
Her judging what Stewart did is in direct correlation to her being judged for her past actions. For a woman to abandon her child years before—and I loved that boy, I loved that boy—there had to be a very good reason. So I had to figure out why she did it. I think it’s not something most people would consider, but my conclusion was that it wasn’t a selfish choice. It wasn’t, “I’ve had it with being a mother, so I’m leaving.” I decided it got to the point that she knew that she was endangering the life of her child if she stayed. So she had to leave. That was the decision I made about her past, from her perspective. It’s very complicated stuff. I really love this movie because it’s like a Rubik’s Cube, it’s so all over the place.
Q: There’s a key line in the short story that’s also in the movie. Claire says to Stewart, “That’s the point. She was dead. But don’t you see? She needed help?” I assume that’s a key line in the movie as well.
A: Absolutely. That is a key line, particularly in our script. I think Claire says that because at one time she was in the throes of mental illness and no one helped her. For her there are things that are sacred and it is unacceptable for anyone to behave in any way other than with respect and care and love. I tied that line she says to her breakdown, which happened way before the movie begins.
Q: Of the four men and their four women, Claire’s the only one to react.
A: She’s the one who takes it to an extreme. Some of it has to do with the particular situation, but it also relates to the stuff she can’t let go of. I think when you have been to the precipice, emotionally and physically, it changes the way you treat everyone. It’s not easy to deny things as easily, if your recognize pain or wrong to such a degree. It’s very, very hard to just ignore it.
I didn’t really make the connection but Claire may relate to the aborigine girl in that she’s an outsider in this country and is surrounded by people who aren’t her people. Even her Irish husband is a foreigner.
Q: You have spoken about how one theme of the movie is that men and women are different.
A: In the movie, there are real differences between how men and women are wired. What I find interesting about the different choices they make is how relationships survive this, whether it’s spouses, or siblings, or best friends, or anyone you’re intimate with. You have faith in who you think they are, in their character, and then they behave in an appalling way that just astounds you. You can’t understand how someone can do that! How could someone do that? And when it’s someone you know, trust and love, how do you survive that? I certainly know people who I was extremely close to, whom I’ve loved, who I witnessed treating someone in a way that I’ve never gotten over. It fractures you.
Q: In the production notes you present the question: What would four women who go fishing do if they found a woman floating in the water? So what is your response?
A: To me, it’s an easy answer. They’d immediately report it. Immediately! I don’t understand that choice at all. It’s completely foreign to me that someone could choose to fish rather than report a rape and murder. I’m very similar in this regard ti Claire—I have no understanding of how they could fish for three days with a body floating in the water by them—especially when the woman clearly has been sexually assaulted and is floating naked, face-down in the water. How could anyone do that?
Q: Stewart comes home from the fishing trip and makes love to Claire without telling her what happened.
A: It’s creepy.
Q: Was it intentional that your body was in the same position as the dead girl’s?
A: I copied it. That was my idea and I didn’t know if anyone would pick up on it, and I’m glad they do. I was there when they filmed the scene with the body in the water. I remembered how she was, and how her arm went up. I thought that something had to unnerve him, pushing him a little further. When you come up with those things it’s really fun because you know you’re helping the other actor and pushing him a little farther.
Q: Talk about working with Gabriel Byrne--again.
A: When you get to work with someone you know well—and I’ve been lucky to work with several people more than once—it really does help. I’ve known Gabriel from the minute I started acting professionally. This is our third troubled marriage on film, and this is the most troubled of the three, and that makes for the best of the worst. He’s such a good actor and particularly good in this. He is not afraid of playing characters who aren’t completely moral.
Q: In the movie, the young, disturbed girl kills a rabbit. I think it’s an important scene because the women conspire to not make a big deal of it. Is that meant to parallel the men conspiring not to tell about the dead girl?
A: Oh! I never thought about that, but maybe. That wasn’t a point of discussion however. Themes aren’t usually points of discussion on sets because you can’t act and think.
Q: But Gabriel Byrne has said that after you did scenes you would talk about them.
A: That happened. But we didn’t talk about themes. Because then you become result-oriented. If you talk about theme and structure, you are talking about result and when you think about results while you are acting, you invariably will skip steps.
Q: The police officer is female, yet when Claire asks if the dead girl was raped, the officer implies she may have been asking for it.
A: There’s prejudice. The girl was aboriginal so there’s a whole other layer added because of the historical subtext of how aboriginal people have been treated in Australia. That police officer is completely unsympathetic toward aboriginal people.
Q: There is a race element in the film, but is it really about that?
A: No, I think it’s about the bigger picture.
Q: Nobody should read your answer to this question until after they see the movie, but: Was there ever a discussion to have a less positive ending, as in the short story? There are some signs of peace with the family of the dead aborigine girl and there is a hint that there will be some kind of reconciliation between Claire and Stewart. In Carver, Claire knows she will never leave Stewart, but she probably won’t forgive him.
A: There’s only a slim chance of any reconciliation in the movie, not a whole lot. We talked about it a lot between us—“What do you think happens?” I can see it going either way. It’s nice to think it will all work out, but I don’t think it does. Viewers may think differently.
Q: What project are you working on now?
A: I’m doing a seven-hour miniseries about John Adams for HBO. I play Abigail. There’s research. I’m relearning American history—or, I should say that I’m learning it for the first time. High school American history is shameful. That and 1776, the movie, which I loved, were my only points of reference—and that’s embarrassing. It’s astounding what they did on the set. It’s based on the David McCullough novel and he’s been there on the set. It’s the biggest thing I’ve ever been involved with. I have never seen sets or costumes like this. It’s being done on a huge scale. I dyed my hair black and wear it up.
Q: So is your Broadway career on hold?
A: No, I’m going to be doing a play. It hasn’t been put together yet so I won’t name it, but I’ll tell you that it’s going to be a revival.