Sharing Steve :: New Stuff
Saturday, November 12, 2005

Bits and Pieces from each of the Shopgirl actors

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pennsylvania)
November 4, 2005 Friday
Pg. C-1
Barbara Vancheri Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

TORONTO: Claire Danes, it turned out, was the woman of his dreams. Or, at least, his dreamy novella.

Steve Martin, after all, had created Mirabelle Buttersfield in his slender book "Shopgirl" and now was ushering her to the big screen. "We had lunch -- I think it was, right? -- and Claire didn't even have to speak before we knew that she was exactly right for it," Martin said to the actress seated to his left. "Because Claire is naturally beautiful, as opposed to unnaturally beautiful in Hollywood."

And then the 60-year-old actor segued into a sly sidebar about aging in Hollywood. Or, more commonly, not aging.

"I always think, in 20 years, where are the old actors going to come from, because they're all going to look like this," he said, yanking the skin back from his own cheeks and looking like the victim of an extreme makeover. "They need someone who looks 80, there isn't anyone ... and doing a period film and there's people with fake breasts."

Dane turns that into a straight line for a joke at her own expense before Martin compliments the quiet solitude of her shopgirl. "There's something about the simplicity of Claire's performance, which was quite stunning, actually. I'm always amazed, how does she know this emotion? How does she know it?"

On this day, Danes was clad in pale yellow and sported long, streaked blond hair instead of the shoulder-length red tresses of the movie. Martin, of course, looked exactly like the wealthy logician he plays on screen.

In Toronto for a gala showing of "Shopgirl" during the Toronto International Film Festival and Disney-organized interviews, the leads were fielding inquiries together while co-star Jason Schwartzman and director Anand Tucker took questions alone.

If "Shopgirl" doesn't seem like your standard girl-meets-boy romance (TV ads aside), there's a reason.

Martin says, "I always feel like there's the person with the inspiration and then there's the person who's going, 'No, no, no, this other movie had this and we got to have this' and 'This other movie had this and we've got to have this' ... and it just starts getting wrenched out of its own heart, and 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."

People who invest a lot of money in movies fear that they're going to repel moviegoers if they challenge them, Danes chimed in. "I think the opposite is really true; it takes confidence to know that and then commit to it."

Danes, who was still in her teens when nominated for an Emmy for "My So-Called Life," had read Martin's novella about a transplanted Vermonter who works the glove counter at the Beverly Hills Neiman-Marcus (Saks in the movie) and is an aspiring artist. Martin is Ray Porter, a millionaire suitor generous with everything but his deepest emotions.

This is not the physical funnyman of "Bringing Down the House" or "Cheaper by the Dozen" or next year's "The Pink Panther." This is the cerebral Martin who wrote the play "Picasso at the Lapin Agile," who has an extensive modern art collection and whose work frequently appears in The New Yorker. It's the other half of his brain and acting persona.

The natural question is directed Martin's way in the course of a press conference: Is "Shopgirl" autobiographical, since writers typically draw on their own experiences? He lobs the inquiry back, suggesting, "Your argument then applies to what is the autobiographical side to Mirabelle, because I wrote her, too." Not to mention the hapless Jeremy, played by Schwartzman.

Danes had been deeply affected by the book long before the fateful lunch with Martin.

"I knew a lot of people who were, so I'm not very special for having been moved by it, but I was, and I couldn't have been in more exquisite company. I loved 'Hilary and Jackie,' so I felt confident that Anand would render the story with subtlety and depth and smarts. Steve had really been a hero of mine forever."

Tucker, whose "Hilary and Jackie" featured virtuoso performances from Emily Watson and Rachel Griffiths, asked for less, not more, from Danes in the early scenes.

"In the beginning, he really wanted to emphasize my stillness, which was scary because it's 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 in some way." But it's only once Mirabelle finds joy that she physically conveys that.

Schwartzman, who plays a goofball font designer for an amplifier company, was put in a potentially awkward position. "You're going to, hopefully, be the funny person in a Steve Martin movie," in which you will never actually swap dialogue with Martin.

"I never knew him as an actor, I only knew him in this context as a writer, but he does bring with him that precision and that eloquence. ... I don't know how he does it. We just did this interview and I watched him speak and I was like, 'Did he memorize all this stuff?' "

By comparison, Schwarztman was so nervous during the first table read -- when everyone reads the script aloud -- that he mumbled. "He said all that mumbling's really great. Really play that up."

Unlike Schwartzman's smitten 10th-grader in "Rushmore" or his unhappy environmentalist in "I Heart Huckabees," Jeremy isn't immobilized by worry or doubt or overthinking things.

"He's like super in the moment, maybe like the most Zen of them all. ... He just knows what's in front of him, he just feels things, says how he feels, doesn't think about things," much like a child blurting out unedited comments. By the end of the movie, Jeremy isn't so much changed (although there are some obvious, welcome differences) as open to change.

As for dating, Schwartzman sounds a bit like Jeremy when he says, "I don't know the first thing about the dating game or how to talk to anyone and how to connect. I think you just gotta go person by person and do the best you can. ... I don't think anyone really knows. We're all just trying to figure it out."

One relationship with a shopgirl at a time. "Shopgirl"


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