Monday, March 9, 2009

On 'Rachel Getting Married'

Rachel Getting Married actress Anne Hathaway and screenwriter Jenny Lumet
Jenny Lumet’s first published script, Rachel Getting Married (Sony DVD, release date March 10, 2009), became one of the most acclaimed films of 2008, garnering Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for its star, Anne Hathaway, and winning the Best Screenplay award from the New York Film Critics Circle for Lumet herself. The daughter of veteran director Sidney Lumet recently discussed writing Rachel, watching director Jonathan Demme and actress Anne Hathaway while on the set, and recording her first DVD commentary.

Kevin Filipski: Where did the idea for Rachel Getting Married come from? Was it based on people you know?
Jenny Lumet: I definitely pilfered the girls’ dad from my dad (Sidney Lumet), who was also a dishwasher-focused madman! I think everybody knows somebody in recovery, but that doesn’t really mean anything to anybody. The script is an amalgamation of people I knew and others I made up: I began with an image I had of a girl trying on a wedding dress, followed by her sister breaking into the room and messing things up.

KF: Describe working with director Jonathan Demme.
JL: He was a total dream! I had the hubris and the freedom of the unproduced screenplay, and I had a director in mind—it was Jonathan. I thought, “Oh yeah, Jonathan Demme is sitting around waiting for this script!” I got it to him, he read it and wanted to make it. He made a lot of decisions: the music in the movie is all Demme, as is the fact that it was shot as a documentary. I didn’t write any of those things, but I couldn’t be more thrilled. It’s 115 pages long and a tightly scripted movie. But it’s all there—for better or worse, it all made it onto the screen. The decisions that Jonathan made added layers that I could not even imagine. I realize that I’m very lucky that he returned my call, but there’s also an element of trust in him—he has integrity and he’s an honest filmmaker.

KF: Did Demme allow any improvisations by the actors on the set?
JL: There was no improv at all—it was totally scripted—and the actors did not know where the shot was coming from in each scene. Given that’s how he decided to make the movie, Jonathan would let the camera roll after the end of a scene for another minute, and he sometimes left those moments in.

KF: You participated in the DVD audio commentary with producer Neda Armian. How was that experience?
JL: Neda Armian is an unbelievable producer, and she held my hand through the entire screening of the movie when we recorded the commentary. I also said some stupid stuff which they left in the commentary, but it was also so much fun to comment on everything while the movie unfolded in front of me.

KF: You appeared in a few movies several years ago, including a few by your father (1982’s Deathtrap, 1988’s Running on Empty, 1990’s Q&A). Why did you stop?
JL: Because I wasn’t really a very good actress! Whether or not I was bitten with the bug was moot. Acting is really hard, although it was fun to try—and ultimately demented, because it’s a hard life. Now, I don’t have to be a size 2 or a even a zero to be a writer.

KF: Talk about Anne Hathaway, who gave such a revelatory performance in the lead role, getting an Oscar nomination in the process.
JL: Isn’t she absolutely wonderful? It’s exciting to see that—it’s really a treat to see an artist grow. Of course it was amazing to watch all of these people inhabit these characters. I cannot underestimate or understate what they brought—their compassion and passion and neuroses and fears in front of the camera. I put words on a page, but they do much more. For example, Anna Deavere Smith and Bill Irwin created an entirely unwritten dynamic between them as the stepmother and father that I thought was lovely. You’re lucky when you get to work with smart people who put their impulses and energy into your words.

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