Monday, February 6, 2012

Talkin' About "Rachel Getting Married"

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Talkin' About "Rachel Getting Married"

(from 10/2/08)

Ann Hathaway

There's already Oscar buzz about Anne Hathaway for her raw, nervy performance as a guilt-ridden young ex-model who leaves rehab to attend her "saintly" sister's nuptials in "Rachel Getting Married." Hathaway, who has chosen roles as judiciously as anyone since "The Princess Diaries," and already deserved a Best Actress nomination along with Meryl Streep for "The Devil Wears Prada," steals scenes, just as her sometimes sympathetic, sometimes selfish Kym dominates settings. But she's not the only one involved with this winning film who should be singled out for praise. Equally award-worthy are Debra Winger (we've missed her!) and secret-treasure Bill Irwin as Kym and Rachel's divorced parents, Abby and Paul; and, in the title role, lovely stage and television actress Rosemarie DeWitt (Midge on AMC's "Mad Men"), who more than holds her own with Hathaway in both volatile and tender scenes. The script was written by Jenny Lumet, whose father, Sidney Lumet, sent it to Jonathan Demme. Apparently Demme loved that for her first screenplay, Lumet didn't know enough to follow the rules. It's good to welcome back Demme to narrative films, after a few years of directing only political and music documentaries. By employing a hand-held camera and refusing to set up shots, eschewing rehearsed scenes, allowing improvisation, casting many nonprofessional actors, and having musicians playing nonstop both in and out of the frame, he has made an anti-Hollywood film that's part documentary, part home movie, part guerilla art. On Monday, Lumet, Hathaway, DeWitt, and Demme were in town promoting their film in anticipation of this Friday's release. I had the chance to ask questions of each.
Danny Peary: Jenny, I think you wrote about a distinctly modern American family. It doesn't have the epic figures of classic tragedy.
Jenny Lumet: I think so, too. They're so familiar not so much with psycho-babble but with the psych vocabulary. That's what's really American to me.
DP: I could see this film as a short story. Did you write this as a script or in another form first?
JL: As a script. I don't know how to write in any other form. I love the short story form. It's interesting that you see the connection because I LOVE that form. I've been working really hard to learn how to write short stories, and I can't write them.
DP: If you have a sister, talk about how that played into writing about sisters Rachel and Kym.
JL: I do have a sister. There's a very romanticized thing that goes on in movies with brothers, even guys who aren't really brothers, but "brothers in blue," "blood brothers," that kind of thing. But I think the sister connection is so interesting and not really explored in movies. If it is explored, it's usually sisters being interested in the same guy. But the real thing is powerful stuff. Sisters, all siblings in fact, have as much impact on each other as their parents do. The relationship between Rachel and Kym is so tight but it's difficult because it's so much about what happened in the past. I was going to write a story and I thought, "What's the worst freaking thing that can happen in a family other than everyone dying of ebola virus?" The baby dies. Who's fault is it? Somebody in the family. How does each person respond to that? I think the sibling stuff is more fraught and weird than parent-child stuff. I'm a parent and I think parents will inevitably forgive and love their children and see them through anything. With siblings, I don't think you necessarily have to; it's a matter of choice. Maybe I'm wrong. Certainly the absence of their mother, Abby, speaks volumes. Look what happens when Abby and Kym are alone for five minutes. They go straight to hell.
DP; In the production notes, Jonathan says one reason he liked your script is that he didn't feel forced to like Kym, Rachel, or the other characters (which led him to cast likeable actors to balance that out). Did you want that kind of reaction from audiences?
JL: Seeing that this is my first produced screenplay, any reaction is totally amazing. I was on every character's side and thought that they all were speaking their own truths, but I didn't necessarily like them. I don't think people are likeable all the time. They are inconsistent and conflicted. In fact, I pilfered from my own friends and family and they all can be nutcases at times. It was just really important to me that nobody would be full of shit. I tried really hard not to write anyone with dishonesty.
DP: Were you on the set?
JL: No, I wasn't allowed. It would have been cool, but I had great trust in the people making the film. It worked out good.

DP: Anne, why do you think Kym became an addict?
Anne Hathaway: I think addiction is a disease and is genetic. So I can't tell you why until the day they figure out why people have this disease. But I can tell you how her problem got exacerbated. Growing up in suburban Connecticut, she was a girl who grew up in a household that was probably permissive. She saw people drinking and smoking, and occasionally smelled weed coming up from downstairs. She probably started drinking and smoking cigarettes at twelve or thirteen, and I'm sure somebody brought some weed over one time and she tried it and liked it; and maybe when she was fourteen someone had gotten some cocaine and she tried that and really liked that and wanted to do more and more and more, and it got worse. And she was modeling at the time, so she had easy access and a lot of time away from her family. She is an extreme person so she always would want to go faster and faster and faster. By the time she was sixteen and babysitting her little brother, it was a full-blown heroin addiction.
DP: Was her family a cause of it?
AH: I don't believe anyone causes addiction; it's a disease.
DP: If not the cause, do you think they impacted on it?
AH (laughing): What do you want me to say?
DP: I think the more we see the mother, the more we can tell that there is something the mother is not providing the daughter.
AH: You see how open and gregarious and loving Kym's father Paul is. I'm sure Abby was always a little held-back, but I think she probably had her wild moments, too. You'd have to ask Debra Winger about Abby, but my take on her is that after her son died, she had to distance herself from being a mother. It was just too painful. She's trying to be a mother the best she can but she's also trying to protect herself. Based on what you see in the movie, we don't know how much impact she had. I don't want to blame Kym's parents. Obviously they were a part of it because she was a kid and they were adults, but it's a complicated issue and blame doesn't do much. So it doesn't really matter to me whether the parents were part of the problem at the beginning. However, I do think it was really difficult for Kym and she blames herself so much for the death of her brother. As she was going through facilities and getting help and going to meetings and talking about it, people started asking her, "Where were your parents back then? Why were they leaving a drug addict alone with their son?" She would say, "No, no, no, you don't understand. I did this and that and this." This time it's different. The reason her coming home from rehab for the wedding is different-and the reason the story takes place at this exact moment in Kym's life-is that for the first time in her life Kym has accepted the view that "I was the one driving the car, but I wasn't the one who put myself in that position. I took the drugs, I shouldn't have taken the drugs, and I wish every day that I had not taken the drugs, but my family does have complicity in this. And I need them at some point to acknowledge that. I need to insist on that." Is that an answer?
DP: That's it.

DP: Rosemarie, when you auditioned for "Rachel Getting Married," did you do sister scenes?
Rosemarie DeWitt: I did. My first audition was on tape. I think Jonathan watched it. Then I had a five-minute meeting with him. Then we went to his apartment and he held a camera and shot Annie and me doing four or five scenes from the movie. She had been cast a year earlier but this was her first real contact with it. She was just trying on the part and was working at an exciting level right from day one. She was right on top of me. It's the best way to audition when the other person is like that.
DP: Was there an instant that day when it clicked and you understood the relationship between Rachel and Kym?
RD: Yeah. There was a moment that wasn't even in the script. We were trying to make it work with whatever we had in Jonathan's apartment. Annie was putting on a necklace and it was just the way our bodies were wrapping around each other and we were intertwined and I thought, "This feels right. This is good." This feels like she could be my sister."
DP: Rachel has a lot of anger toward Kym. But she's a happy bride and Kym is a recovering drug addict, so is she jealous of her anyway?
RD: Oh, yeah.
I guess Rachel and Kym are a great example of what I understand sibling rivalry to be, having had four half-sisters I didn't grow up with. The jealousy and rivalry is so primal, especially in the family dynamic. I'm sure jealousy factored into where she chose to excel and develop herself. "If she's the one with the beauty, I'll be the one with the brains." I was so embarrassed by how I had to tap into her jealousy and I remember really wanting to tell Jonathan that I wasn't like that. She could try to rise above it and say, "Well, it's my wedding day," but there's also the feeling that she wants to be seen. "Everyone's looking over there at Kym, but I'm the one with the white dress on!"
DP: She's jealous of the attention Kym gets, but is she also jealous that Kym seems to get away with things Rachel wouldn't dare do?
RD: Yeah. I think Rachel's jealous of all of it. Jonathan was telling a story earlier today, making fun of me, about how at the wrap party I was drinking beer and really wanted to defend myself to him, "Jonathan, I'm not Rachel!" Kym could do things to excess, but not Rachel. You can cover jealousy better when you go out in the world. Maybe in your job your coworker will get all the accolades for something you contributed to, and you'll say, "Well, I'm an adult" and keep silent. But at home you can't do it. When you walk in you may say, "I'm not going to fight with my sister," and at dinner you are screaming at each other and later nobody's speaking. They're so similar that it's painful to coexist.

DP: Jonathan, I was struck by similar elements in this film and "Ordinary People." Can you compare the mothers played by Debra Winger and Mary Tyler Moore?
Jonathan Demme: I have heard that reference once or twice, but until then it had never occurred to me. I can compare my reaction to the two mothers. I know I was very judgmental about Mary Tyler Moore's character. I think I hated her for her coldness and how oblivious she was to the pain she was causing. Therefore I thought it was an extraordinarily bold acting choice for her and for Robert Redford who cast her. That was cold, that was stark. My reaction to Debra's Abby is that I'm very moved. When she says her goodnights and can't bear to be hugged by her daughters, I feel so bad for her. Rachel has dealt with the tragedy of her brother's death by moving on, Paul has dealt with it by trying endlessly to rekindle the love and somehow make up for the pain and suffering that will never go away. For a time, Kym dealt with it by getting wasted even more than she had beforehand. Abby dealt with it by closing up and creating a simpler, streamlined life. She denies it all and it's devastating how Abby can charmingly not deal with anything. [SPOILER ALERT] It's frustrating to all of us watching the film that there is no closure because we feel we earned a rapprochement between Kym and Abby. And at the end of the movie, there's hope for everyone else--even Kym has the strength to go on-but Abby's the one who is tragic to me. Debra told me, "Jonathan, I know what it's supposed to be, but I just feel so much for Kym now that I want to..." I said, "No, now you mustn't." I think it's perceptible what Debra was dealing with when filming those scenes.[SPOILER OVER]
DP: When Kym walks into the rehab meeting, she knocks over a bunch of chairs. That made me think of Daffy Duck, particularly since I'm sure you watched the old Warner Bros. cartoons in which Bugs Bunny was already stationed within the frame but Daffy always walked into it and things went amok. You repeatedly have Kym in doorways and walking forward, so were you thinking differently in those scenes and the ones where she's already established in a room?
JD (laughing): It wasn't a conscious thing, but I love that you saw that and love that we got that. Kym does have impact whenever she walks into a room. She changes a room, because she's a hand grenade and such a pain in the butt. She IS Daffy Duck!

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