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Thursday, October 20, 2005
Very interesting Danes/Steve interview
IGN » Entertainment » FilmForce » Features
Interview: Steve Martin and Claire Danes
Shopgirl writer/star and his shopgirl.
by Jeff Otto
October 19, 2005
Based on Steve Martin's novel of the same title, Shopgirl stars Claire Danes as the titular character, Mirabelle, and Martin as the older man she embarks on a sexual affair with, Ray. Jason Schwartzman is the quirky Jeremy, who is closer to Mirabelle in age and interesting to say the least, but a bit to strange to capture Mirabelle's attention fully. The story follows the empty life of Mirabelle as she desperately searches for happiness in a lonely Los Angeles. Shopgirl is directed by Anand Tucker (Hilary and Jackie) from a script and story by Martin.
IGN FilmForce got to talk to a paired Martin and Danes at a Shopgirl press day held at Toronto's Four Seasons during last month's Film Festival.
Q: Can you comment on the idea of romantic love versus simply finding a compatible partner?
MARTIN: Well, I know people who work both ways... The question is, how many lovers do you have before you settle in? [he pauses] Four? (Laughs) One night we were going around the table and [the conversation], it was not about romantic love, it was about sex. But someone [at] the table suggested we share how many lovers we've had. And it came to one girl and she said four. And then another, I should say woman, said six and then another said fifty. (Danes laughs) And she said, I was in college and we were just, you know? So it's everybody's story, whether it's one, two, three, ten, twenty or Magic Johnson. This story is about one of those episodes that gets a little out of control. I was re-reading the book, because I had to read something from it, I'd forgotten half of it. And it says that Ray was about to enter into an addiction that he couldn't break, meaning sex with Mirabelle, because he found something in her that was beautiful. So this is a slice of somebody's life. It's some of us, none of us and all of us.
Q: Why is Ray's backstory so vague?
MARTIN: I cringe at backstory. Because it never quite explains or gets into some psychological thing that is never quite right and never quite the truth and who knows why someone is someway. You just can't say (mocking tone) 'And Ray's dad never loved him.' It doesn't explain it. And yet we all know there are people like that. We meet them and deal with them and are them. And it's never quite explained. You never say, 'How come that person exists?'
Q: Can you talk about adapting the narration using the sparse voice over?
MARTIN: Well, I secretly wanted to (include all the narration) but I also know how things work. You can't do that… I did want some of that language in the movie because it creates a tone. That's why it's there. I don't want to be redundant, but if you notice, all of those voice-overs are placed not as exposition but as almost like musical moments. It's always at the end of a scene, over silence, over a static shot or at least a very still shot. When you got action going on, voice going on, music going on, its all lost. You really have to go, 'Listen!'
DANES: Yeah, I think the voice over actually enhances the various moments instead of compensating for something that's lacking. Voice over can be tricky. It can be dangerous because its over-used or inapropietly used. I think in this case it informs the story.
Q: How much did you work on the physicality of Mirabelle?
DANES: Yeah, all of that was intentional, actually. I can say that and mean it this time (laughs) Anand was very careful to plot those moments. In the beginning he really wanted to emphasize my stillness. Which was scary because you know, its hard to trust that that's going to be enough – that the audience is going to remain engaged with her when she seems to be giving very little. I always want to tap dance (mocking) in some way, in some way. But I think it was important to show that she starts to find joy and that's physically articulated at some point.
Q: Why is it hard for Hollywood to make truthful love stories?
MARTIN: It's a very, very good question, but it all goes back to the 'meet cute.' I always feel that there's the person with the inspiration and then there's the person who's going, no, no. This other movie had this and we got to have this. Then it starts getting wrenched out its own heart. Our movie didn't get wrenched. Because basically the book is about small moments and the movie is about small moments, which are obviously the biggest [in life].
DANES: It just seems like the most successful, iconic love stories are not so easy or escapist. I think the ones that stay with us and resonate are full of conflict, discord and misunderstandings 'cause that's what makes drama happens or tension even if it's a comedy. I think people who make movies and have invested a lot of money in them, get frightened that if they challenge an audience they are going to repel them. And I think the opposite, it's really true. It takes confidence and courage to know that and then commit to it.
Q: Have you had a Ray in your life?
DANES: I've never met anyone like him. Did I ever encounter this sort of relationship? Personally no, but its easy to extrapolate. Its my job to find the cornel of truth and then exaggerate, exaggerate, exaggerate until its of an appropiate scale. Again, I said this earlier, but it's well-written so its easily relatable. I mean for everybody. These are not alien creatures. I think these are pretty common [characters] and ironically that's what makes them striking. This story is pretty ordinary.
Q: Steve, how work out the relationship with the director?
MARTIN: We just did. He's a very gentle guy and he understood the script and the movie. There was never a contention when we were shooting, so it was fine.
Q: Did you ever consider directing?
MARTIN: No, not really.
Q: You've gone from broader comedies to smaller personal films?
MARTIN: You're implying that the choice is some kind of choice or that it's deliberate. It's not. It's what comes along, it's where your head is. Is the project ready to go? Do I like it? Who's in it? It's a million different things. There is no starboard where there is someone deciding or a star chamber where we go to figure out the next move. I'm sure that works in certain cases but it doesn't work for me.
Q: How do you approach your writing and how do you decide which stories work better as a novel rather than a script?
MARTIN: Well, if you have an idea it usually comes in a framework in your brain. You know if it's sentence oriented or if it's visual.
Q: Did you expect to play Ray Porter once it was being adapted?
MARTIN: I suspected it. Actually, the first person I asked was Tom Hanks because I thought he was the perfect guy to play it.
Q: How much of the story is autobiographical?
MARTIN: The question implies how much of Mirabelle is autobiographical because I wrote her too. So you know what the say, everything is culled from every source. My own life, other lifes. I'm sixty and I've had sex since I was 18, you know. There's been a lot of stuff going on.
Q: Have you had sex every week?
MARTIN: No, not every week. There's been long dry spells. But the story is from a lot of experience, whether its my own or from conversations and that's where it all comes from. I subsequently wrote a book about a guy who was neurotic in some way and it doesn't apply to me at all but I can imagine it.
Q: Do you find more satisfaction from the films you help create than the ones you're hired for?
MARTIN: I would say the three stages of making a film are the initial 'Are we gonna do this? How much will I be paid? Where is it going to be? Is there a lot of nights ? Who's it going to be with?' The second stage of doing a film is how much fun your going to have doing it. The other things are 'By the way, there are these great comic scenes, they're fun to play, blah, blah blah, blah' The third stage is, 'Was the film a hit?' Whether I'm involved in creating something or [just acting]… A personal issue like, do I respect it, comes later. But you can only know that five or ten years later…
Q: Claire, talk about the general reaction to the getting the part of Mirabelle?
DANES: Well I was thrilled when the opportunity arose. I had read the book and was really affected by it. I know a lot of people who were, so I'm not very special by having been moved by it. But I was. And I couldn't have been in more exquisite company (for this movie) I loved Hilary and Jackie, so I felt confident that Anand would render the story with subtlety and depth and smarts. And Steve has really been a hero of mine forever. So anyway, it was a total joy. I felt capable of playing her. Sometimes I am more nervous than others about inhabiting a character. Sometimes they seem a little more inaccessible , but this one was there. I think it was because she was so well-written and also because I draw too. It wasn't very effortful. I mean it was an intense experience and I had to remain focused to be able to do it. But it was pretty easy (playing her). All the signifiers were in place, I just had to be open and receptive and something good was going to happen.
Q: Why was Claire the perfect Mirabelle for you, Steve?
MARTIN: Well we had lunch and Claire didn't even have to speak before we knew she was exactly right for her because she's naturally beautiful as opposed to unnaturally beautiful in Hollywood. I always think in twenty years, where are the old actors going to come from, because they're all going to look like this (pull the skin on his face back). There isn't going to be anyone to play 80. Or you're doing a period film and there's people with fake breasts.
DANES: These are fake. (Laughs)
MARTIN: Claire just fit in her simplicity into this role. There is a quiet solitude to her performance, which we've seen before. But she could also play a glamour girl. It she had to be a buxom dancer she could.
DANES: Chicken cutlets.
MARTIN: But she's quite stunning in this movie. I was always amazed. How does she know that emotion?
Q: How was it doing the romantic scenes with the guy who wrote the romance?
DANES: Steve was incredibly generous. Immediately he made it very clear that if Jason and I needed to rework a scene we had license to. He was great that way. I never felt confined or pressured to do something because it was not intuitive. I never had to do that, because the material was incredibly fertile. Also, I'm kind of methodical, so once I commit to something I'd rather just do it than change it. So that was good, it made me feel more relaxed. It became our story and Steve made that possible. He shared it. He's been doing this for a long time. Anybody who knows how to make a good movie, knows that it's a collaborative undertaking. To deny that its really dangerous. I was very impressed by that, cause he could have been possessive or territorial or stingy. He was the antithesis of that.
um... does it again.