BREAKING AN ENTERING
PRESS CONFERENCE WITH JULIETTE BINOCHE, ROBIN WRIGHT PENN, VERA FARMIGA, AND DIRECTOR ANTHONY MINGHELLA
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BREAKING AN ENTERING
While in New York to promote his latest film, Director Anthony Minghella, along with his female stars of the film, Juliette Binoche, Robin Wright Penn, and Vera Farmiga sat down at a press conference to discuss “Breaking and Entering”. In the film, Penn’s character is married to Jude Law, while Law is having an affair with the mother (Binoche) of the boy who steals from the company he works at. Farmiga plays the prostitute who tries to get Law to come over to the “dark side”.
Q: The film is heavily reminiscent of last year's terrorist attack on London. Did that incident affect the shooting or the outcome of the film? To what extent does the film reflect that reality?
AM: I think it's the case that I started thinking about the text of this film immediately after 9/11, and after having had a decade of making movies which were adaptations of novels, I think inevitably when you come to make a movie that is an original film, it can't do anything other than reflect the world that's going on around you. It's almost as if I was downloading the interim period into a movie of the things that we were talking and thinking about as human beings away from filmmaking, and it was interesting that the movie was then punctuated itself by the bomb attacks in London just around the corner from where Robin's character was living. I think the only thing I would say is that movies are not documentaries, and the only editorial implication of what happened was that we removed a shot where Juliette and Jude are in a taxi on their way to their friend's apartment, and we went past a tribute to the bombs of 7/7. People had been leaving flowers right were we were shooting, literally just around the corner. And it felt to me, I just couldn't live with that in the movie, because it felt like we were trying to have more significance or more documentarian characteristics than we had, so we removed that moment. The movie is of course a fiction and an idea, and I think you have to be very careful about what you use to create a fiction. But it would be strange if the movie wasn't about the difficulties we have in this period in time in big cities, or the beauty of big cities. It's full of people with different ideas and different values and different cultures and different languages, and the difficulties of a city is that it's full of migrants and we don't necessarily share the same values or privileges or same opportunities. That seemed like a good thing to talk about in a film right now.
Q: You have two stories that stream together with the autistic element and the subtext of immigrants. What was involved in terms of how you interwove and constructed these two storylines?
A: When I was making "Cold Mountain" I had a very vivid memory of standing on a hill one day and thinking, I need to go home, and make a movie which has no research, which is simply about the world I live in and the places that I live in. I already two pages of the A to Zed, and I wanted to make a movie about that. And it'll be very fresh and very quick and very rough and ready, and I've never done as much research as I did for this movie. Every line that we had, some expert disagreed with and quarreled with, we had analysts, teachers, psychiatrists, our free running experts, Bosnians, Serbs, I went to Romania, I went to Sarijevo, it was extraordinary how little I knew and how little I got right about the world I inhabited, so it was quite a party sometimes. In the early days of rehearsal, we had people from the UN talking to us about the Bosnian situation. We had a psychiatrist come in and talk to us, we met with police people. It's hard to get these things right. I was having a conversation at lunch with someone who's got a special child, and they were saying that the problem with that special child is getting the proper diagnosis, and one of the things that the studio kept asking and one thing that the previewers kept saying was "What was wrong with this girl?" and I started saying that if you knew what was wrong with her we'd start to be able to fix things, but actually the problem with some of these wiring issues in people's minds is they're not easy to diagnose, and one of the things that Liv, Robin [Wright Penn]'s character, says is that we've been to so many people, we've asked for so many diagnoses, we've never had a proper diagnosis. And you keep looking for relief from the diagnosis, and one of the things that Liv says is that "We've been to so many people, we've asked for so many diagnoses we've never had a proper diagnosis." Because the diagnosis is like a relief. So I'm not even sure if this is a child on the autism spectrum. That's the conjecture. But the idea simply was that there would be two special mothers with two special children, and to see the extent that mothers will go to to defend and protect their turf and their child.
Q: How did you research and establish the cultures that you were representing?
JB: My first instinct was to go to Sarajevo and meet with women, so to understand what they were doing during the war, before the war and after the war. And I have to say that meeting mothers that have been through with the whole going out experience was very traumatic most of the time, because being inside was hard enough, but going out was even worse. And then arriving to the city, whether it was Paris or London, it's still a struggle. So it's like they're kind of sacrificing their lives for their children. Like it'll be better in maybe two or three generations. As an actor it's always a transformation journey because first you have to come without knowing and you have to empty yourself so you can see. And because I had been through the South African experience somehow, trying to understand what they went through. And there was another one, it was almost so similar, and yet different. And I had to understand the differences. I started from there, of course there was the accent issue, but that became more of a tool thing, and it was not a big issue, it just happened because I was in contact with a Bosnian woman all the time in London, and she made my life much easier. We would sing together, and we would reach the rhythm and the love of the language. And then after it was just asking questions and they would resist the pain of talking about it. There would be little details like preparing a cigarette, or scratching, or avoiding, because the pain, you don't want to go back to it. So for me, it was not a documentary as Anthony was saying, but you have to have some kind of reality that was so truthful and intimate, so that was my search. Of course, the simplicity of the life, that it meant nothing, that there were no glamorous outside things. It was about "How do I survive in this world," and getting this amazing love and then destroying it. That was how I made my journey, and it was difficult, but it was worth it.
RWP: I asked Anthony in the beginning, I said, "Surely you know some Scadinavian women", or "Where'd you get this character?" And he said, "You know what, just go to Stockholm." So I said, "Okay," and I went for 48 hours, and this is basically what I got. I would interview a couple of people, and they would say "Well, you know, most of us are suicidal," so basically that was all I needed. I asked, why, is it because they don't have a lot of light throughout the year? And what do they do with that tendency, to become alcoholic? And she said, nobody talks about it. And that's all I needed, I didn't want to investigate further, the dynamic between those people and try to isolate that culture. I felt like that was a culture in and of itself. To have that feeling of doom every day you wake up, and then be able to transpose it into the challenge of having that child. That takes all of your focus and all of your energy and all of your efforts go to there and what do you have to spare for your mate. And then maybe that was her excuse, "I can't deal, I have too much to do." But it was very (?) when I was there, that most of the women said that about each other, like "Oh, we all feel this way, but we don't share it."
VF: I come from a long line of Slavic immigrants who have been looking to build a better life for themselves. This one was Romanian, I'm Ukranian, but I think those countries have had similar politics and desires and have been shackled. For me the prostitution, she could have just as easily been a cashier, in my mind she was more of a philosopher. And so I didn't feel the need to turn a few tricks to understand that. But the reason I was so drawn to the character, and often times you're drawn to the qualities in certain characters that you admire, and for me it was the opposite of myself. I think she's got a bluntness and a frankness that I really admired. So I think that for myself that was something to work on that I really admired.
Q: That line about the thongs , did you come up with it or was it in the screenplay?
VF: No, that's his poetry.
AM: I'm afraid that's my fault. One of the things I remember about the film preview we had which was so interesting, when you make a movie that's set in New York, and you live in New York, everyone goes, "Well you can't make a left on that," or whatever, the first preview we had in London, the first thing that someone said was, "They didn't research this movie." And there's always a "they" and I'm sitting here thinking "I'm 'they'". I said,, "Well, in what way?" And they said, "There are absolutely no Eastern European prostitutes in that street corner. In King's Cross. There used to be, there aren't anymore. And everyone in the audience just looked at this guy who was questioning me with authenticity of the Romanian prostitute. But I think one of the things that's interesting about this movie is that I think there's a version of this movie in which everybody plays a different part. I think that Robin could easily played Julliette's part, and vice versa, and Vera could have played any of these parts. I think that for me it was wonderful to be sitting with actors who've never met each other until today. It's just very interesting, that Vera just met Robin and Julliette for the first time, which I didn't know. Is that the movie in some ways, I think this is true of a lot of the films that I've made, celebrate women. They're incredible women, and incredible actresses, and there's so few times when women get to control a film. It's very disappointing for us that Jude is filming today, but it's quite interesting, because it just reminds you how much of this movie is taken up by strong women.
Do you feel that you've sort of returned to the beginning of your career by deviating from the epic adaptations that you've been known for over the last decade? (And then he asks something about an organization, I can't understand what he's saying)
AM: Well I loved the fact of making this movie that there weren't many more people than are in this room right now on a daily basis. When I was making Cold Mountain there was one day when there were more than 2,000 people on the set. It's very difficult to keep your focus, and you want to tell stories about individuals, and it's hard to keep your eye on that. I'd never intended to do any adaptations, it just sort of happened to me, and I felt it was very urgent that I just sort of try to make a postcard of where I was, go back to something that I thought was where I belong on some level. I think one of the tensions for me is the difference between what my pen does and what my camera does. I have very small handwriting and it's illegible, and I think this movies like that, and my camera is interested in wider landscapes. It was very good for me personally, and it was very good to be surrounded by people who were very committed to something contemporary, and something modest in every sense. Lower budget, people did the movie for very little money, they showed up because they wanted to be in the movie. It was a very different experience, and one that I liked a lot. There is no company like Will and Sandy's company in the movie, but I did write a manifesto for the company and someone wanted to use that manifesto for their company. I've just been asked to forfeit some convention on the basis of this manifesto but it's very interesting for a filmmaker to make our movies and stories in places of change, and architectures preoccupied with change, especially with planning involving a region or a city and trying to change it into something that might be more agreeable but less human. All forms of progress carry over a blessing and a curse, it's great that King's Cross is being made frou-frou, and the British Library's there and all these different galleries and cafes and terminals are all arriving there. It's going to be a much more healthy, interesting place architecturally and in terms of economic development, but it's going to lose a lot of people in the process who live there right now and won't be living there when it's too expensive and it will lose a lot of its history. That's the very nature of progress. I think it's interesting to lay a movie a cross that compulsion in some way.
Q: One thing that the film does is show people from different social backgrounds crossing into different worlds. What do you think draws Jude Law's character into the world of Julliette's character?
JB: After I think he's caught by the wallet thing, he came to catch the burglar, and all of a sudden he it's this woman, the mother's the burglar, and it's the most astonishing event. I think that's capturing the honesty of strugglers. And others of course when she has this world of herself, like this piano, this imagination piano playing. It's like he's discovering, my god, these people have their lives. It's not like a seamstress with no life and struggling the whole day, they have their world, and they come from a very specific place. So we're discovering their world as he's discovering it.
AM: One of the things we tried to do was create a world in which these three people, Robin and Jude and their daughter, were living where all the blood had sort of drained out of everything. It was designed to death, there wasn't any sort of color anywhere, this woman is waking up in the morning and needing to put in an artificial light. Everything has lost its blood.
RWP: He's looking for another source.
AM: Yeah, and he arrives in this place that's sort of so full-on and real and simple, and I think he oddly feels more comfortable room that Amira lives in than that very special gorgeous place he's made for himself in Primrose Hill, which if you know London you know is extremely high-end, gorgeous neighborhood. One thing that is true of all cities but particularly true of London is that you can go a hundred yards and you can come across such extremes and polarized experiences that people have. One house is a five million dollar house, and then there's a project, and it's bizarre. I think it's responsible for this sort of strange difficulty that we have that we sort of learn to live with each other. Because we're experiencing exactly the same geography with an entirely different set of values. So I didn't find it odd that he was attracted to Juliette, I think it's a moment where that window smashes at the beginning of the movie, and everyone's looking at each other as opposed to not looking at each other. They can see out of the window, and also see inside. One of the things that happened to me when I first came to London that I'll never forget because it was a life lesson, I was a young playwright, and I couldn't afford to be in London, so I slept on somebody's couch for a year, and once a week a cleaner would come. I'd been writing at the desk, and the cleaner came in, and after two or three weeks of living there I said hello to her, and she would say "hello," shyly, she was a very shy cleaner. And I said, "Where do you come from?" and she said, "Buenos Aires", and I said "That's interesting. Why did you come?" and she said "I'm a psychiatrist, and I came here because I was exiled." And I suddenly I felt so humiliated because I would think, "Oh, there's the cleaner coming in." And I know it would seem obvious, but to me as I came from a very monochrome culture where everyone was what they appeared to be, and suddenly I realized I knew nothing about anybody, and that anybody arrives with a story, and that you think that person's a refugee, and that's more than they are. But once you go an inch further you realize that people are extraordinary, and they leave, particularly in Britain, and maybe in America right now, there's a lot of suspicion. I come from a migrant family, and there's obviously a great empathy with migrants, that we think that they come to take something from us, but mostly they've come because they have to. Nobody wants to leave their homes, they come for a reason. They come with stories. And part of the movie is saying, before you make a judgment on anybody, find out what their story is. Part of what happens with Jude's character is he thinks he's demonized this burglar, and then he finds out that this burglar is the most innocent person in the entire story. And that was an idea I had, I remember when I started researching this that there were these people who did these conciliation meetings. And I remember the first time this woman said, "We do conciliation between the culprits and the victims of crime." I thought it was the stupidest idea I've ever heard in my life, it was so wet and liberal. And the more I thought about it, the more I thought, of course that's important, because what happens is we both demonize each other. You steal from a rich guy's house, you think "Well, that lucky bastard deserves what he gets. They can afford at least to get another computer." And if you are the person who's been stolen from, you think, "How dare they, they're terrible people." And when you sit down and realize that everybody's human, and I'm not excusing anything, but part of what fiction does is it forces you for a minute to look at something more than one perspective. I watched this documentary the other day, "Paradise Lost." It's one of the most extraordinary film documents, because it goes through all the spectrums of emotion because you're forced to look at an event starting with clear judgment, and inch by inch your judgment is unraveled. It's the perfect reason to sit in front of something in the dark, and be forced to be provoked and think and feel.
Q: There's a strong theme of infidelity and what that means in the shift in values right now in this movie. How did this idea of infidelity figure into your individual characters?
RWP: I don't think the word actually lives up to its definition, or the cliché of what this definition is, so within this movie, are you an infidel? It's running to a different source, and I think we're all playing a part in infidelity in some way, it's not just sexual. You're running away from yourself, unfaithful to you, I think that theme plays in this movie in many different colors. It's not just the cliché of him fucking another woman. It's so much more layered than that. That's why she can understand who this woman is separate and apart from the event that happened.
JB: I think that when she meets the prostitute in the car, he's not looking for sexual things, it's something else. He's searching, and he doesn't know for what exactly. And I think Amira, and any kind of woman wouldn't like her anymore. But you want to live your life and your hopes, so it's very complex. From an outsider point of view you can see it's bad, but when you're on the inside you have a different perspective. You see that it's about knowing the other, that's why they're facing one another. And that's why it's so powerful, they're saying "I hurt you, I didn't want to, I destroyed it for other reasons than trying to be good." And sometimes love survives versus moral ideas we have. And we're taken by love, and we don't know why, but it feels like if we don't live love, we're not being human. So it's very complex, and that's what I love about this film is that it shows the complexity of our souls, our going back and forth, our search, and sometimes the way we destroy things because it's unbearable.
Q: Can you talk about how you select your roles?
VF: I pinch myself that I'm sitting at this table with this king and these two queens, for me it's a dream. These are two actresses that I've always looked up to and been inspired by, and I've aspired to have a career like theirs. And I've always wanted to work with this man. I'd like to think that you draw certain roles, like mine did. I just want to tell stories about what it means to be human. It's that simple. When you work with risktakers and people who are passionate, that's my only criteria.
AM: I told this story today when I was writing, I go away to write because it's hard in my life right now to just find a space to just think and work. And I went away to a cottage, and I tend to write through the day and the night, and I have this sort of odd rhythm. So I was making this cup of tea at about 4:00 in the morning before I went back to write again, and I put the TV on and there was an American cop show, and I was just going to drink my tea and go back and I just found myself getting more and more glued to this show, and then when it finished I went back online to find out who Vera Farmiga was, who was in this cop show, and that's how filmmakers are. They're all film fans, I remember vividly the first time I saw Robin working as an actress, the first time I saw Julliette, and how it's like the greediness of filmmakers, they go, "I need that thing. I need that Robin Wright Penn-ness." It's very quite parasitical on some level, it's just a desire to get people who thrill you as a watcher to do the things that you're making, and it's great to be able to. Actors dignify the work that you do in such a extraordinary way, and it was such a pleasure to have actresses like this in your move. And Juliet Stevenson, who is someone else I would walk a long way to work with again.
Q: Are you jumping into the Ninth Life right after this?
AM: Then I'm going to go on into this movie "Ninth Life of Louis Drax", and I'm going to take a little detour and direct a pilot for a TV show of the number one ladies detective agency, which is a detective story, set in Botswana.
Q: Who is distributing the show?
AM: I think it will probably be for the BBC and an American broadcaster.
Q: Did the child who played Julliette's son know how to do all of the moves for the character? Was that a prerequisite?
AM: I had an idea very early on. I stole some placemats from the Mercer Hotel. In the end I fessed up and they sent me a whole box of them. They're made of this fantastic Japanese paper they use. I used to write on them, I love to write on tables, that's when I write best. The other day I wrote on a table cloth and I didn't realize it wasn't paper, and I had to try and hide my writing. But I wrote this idea in the Mercer about these two mothers who were special with these two children who were special. And I thought that they would both be special in a similar way, but with different consequences. And I thought that they would both be very physical. I read about some children who are on the autism spectrum and had to move all the time and I came across a website of someone who had to do three hundred backflips before they could go to bed and all these strange obsessive gymnastic goals, and I thought it would be interesting if the boy is also a gymnast, and that's how he can get in and out of the buildings, and perhaps he likes being on top of buildings rather than on the ground because it's free air. And someone said, "Oh, like free runners?" and I said, "What's a free runner?" and they showed me a documentary about this sport in France that came to England, Parkour it's called, where they jump about, and I thought that's great. So we tried to find some young boys who could do it, and the interesting thing in terms of casting was that the girl in the film whom I loved, Poppy Rogers, I met her for the part, and I offered her the part and she went away and did the part, and I think that they had maybe 6,000 boys that they gradually whittled down. I saw about a hundred who could move, who could be Julliette's son, who had a sort of story. It was so complicated, and what happened was this boy sent us this video of him doing the moves, and he ended up being the actor. So he's doing all that stuff.
Q: How did you go about casting these women?
JB: When I read the script, I was of course amazed because there's a mystery for a character, why do you belong to a story, why do you belong to a movie? There's always some kind of recognition or fate, a known need. And of course when I read this script and the role, my grandmother was polish and she left the second world war when my mother was one year old, and she was a seamstress in Paris, and I know the struggle. She's been so courageous, so for me it was a dedication.
AM: I don't really know where the characters come from. I always think when you answers you're lying immediately. I've never met a Romanian prostitute called Oana, but I knew who she was in the sense that-
RWP: (whispers) Liar.
AM: Robin's calling me a liar.
JB: This is really what I feel when I work with you is that your lie is not knowing, which is so refreshing because you allow us to be and to give something of ourselves that we don't know. It's like not knowing space on the set and then it becomes creative and a real collaboration because of that way of being. Of listening, of looking, it's very specific of you, and it doesn't happen very often.
AM: I think what I would say is that this is the only truth I can tell you which is when I started working on this film, I made an absolute declaration of intent that I would cast a Swedish woman to play the Swedish role, a Bosnian woman to play the Bosnian role, and a Romanian woman to play the Romanian prostitute. I went to Romania, I went to Scandinavia, I went to Bosnia, I met loads of Balkan actresses, I loved many of them, and I kept thinking, they need that thing that Juliette has got, to be very direct. And at a certain point it became clear that it was crazy not to go to the source of that in some way. And it's a reminder to me to that actors pretend. That they give the truth, they're so naked, but they're also creating characters. They don't need to show their passport at the stage door or the studio door, and the authenticity is an emotional authenticity and not an issue of nationality. In terms of not knowng, if you had a dream last night, people would say, "Where did that dream come from." I would say that these four four-eyed monsters ate me. "Really? Well, why are you dreaming about monsters?" Well, you don't know. And when you start to write, and you think, "Well, why am I creating a Bosnian boy breaking into-" Well, if you went to enough therapists they would probably tell you why that intrigues you, but the reality is you're on a journey yourself. So the actors come in and they teach you too. It always sounds ridiculous when you say this in public, but you're learning about what you were trying to make, and the actors challenge you. I remember rewriting, having met Robin, because we went through the whole part, and I just thought that I could do this better. She engaged with me and I wanted to go back not only just to readdress the issue to not only make the character half American, which is a sort of literal retailoring, but also the real tailoring, which is, "Have I got this completely correct? And what does this person do?" Because you're not going to do the movie again with a different group. So you're going to do it with the people who are going to be Amira, going to be Oana, going to be Liv. And they're going to take care of it at that point. You've had your say, in some ways, and then it's time to listen.
Q: How has your own ancestry shaped you?
VF: Perseverance, a great pride of heritage. I was a professional folk dancer before I did this. I'm sure that has a lot to do with why I'm here, there was lots of singing and dancing. I didn't even speak English until I was 6, and my parents made sure that I was a Ukranian American. Just pride, and perseverance. I wish my grandmother was here, because I kind of want to speak in Ukranian to tell you, but in certain ways it was just a perseverance that they've come through a lot to give me this wonderful life. A lot of sacrifice to give me this privileged life that I have, and for me it's just gratitude mostly and a great pride.
RWP: I'm just a Southern girl from Texas. (laughs) I ain't got no roots. I'm not kidding. Other than I'm sorry I'm from Texas.
Q: Doesn't it inform your skills in some way as an actor?
RWP: Being able to impersonate them? No. Maybe so. You know what, that is true, they sort of enforce with the belt. The belt would come out, if you were not a good person. That was very much instilled in you. "That's just not right." And you would get whipped if you weren't a good person to other people. That's just southern. If you're not nice to somebody, you fake it.
AM: You see how well cast she is in this part. That's what I think every time I hear her talk is that she's just so perfectly cast. There is no straight answer to any question.
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