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Q&A With Writer/Director Matthew Weiner
Q: What was the genesis of this project?
A: I had reached a point in my life where I was happily married but had lost
most of my male friendships. My wife was my best friend and is my best friend
but a whole part of my life had disappeared. I started thinking about what holds
people together and what that role is of friendship.
I realized when I started writing the story, I was writing about a character
who was unable to feel. Feelings are part of real life and Steve Dallas (played
by Owen Wilson) has all of this behavior - whether it's womanizing, taking
drugs, partying, spending too much money - they are all ways to avoid actually
dealing with the feelings of life and avoiding the experience of life. The only
thing that he has going for him is that he has this friend (played by Zach
Galifianakis). These two are so comfortable together that they don't even need
to talk about why they are friends.
The other theme that went into the story was inspired by my then six-year-old
son. I had taken a bite of a chicken leg that was on a platter, and found it was
raw so I threw it in the garbage. He looked up at me and said, "Daddy, that was
a chicken's whole leg." I started to realize that my whole sense of the world
has been separated by technology, by adulthood, by dependence on all of these
forces that have nothing to do with what I should be able to experience.
Q: Can you tell us a little about the casting process and how you ended up
working with Owen, Zach, Amy and Laura?
A: I have to admit that the person I wanted to play Steve Dallas from the
beginning was Owen Wilson when I first started the script twelve years ago. I've
always thought he had a lot of depth and a great light comic sensibility. Even
when he's glib, I feel like there's a person under there.
As for Zach, I did not know about him when I started writing the script. He
wasn't on the scene. It was actually Jon Hamm, who told me about Zach really
early on in the process probably about six years ago and said, "You have to see
this guy, he's a great actor." And I met Zach and he was so warm and deep.
Amy was just like a dream. I wanted to find someone I would believe as Zach's
sister - who was going to have the comic ability and the dramatic weight to be
the adult in the story. I never write characters that are good or bad, villains
or protagonists - I don't really think in those terms. I knew Amy was going to
give real pathos to someone who has to be the adult, which is an unpleasant job.
I had worked with Laura on Mad Men. My casting directors, Laura Schiff
and Carrie Audino, who also worked with me on the movie, brought her to meet
with me because they thought she had this ethereal quality. I liked the idea
that she has no baggage from previous roles, because the character Angela is
someone who is very mysterious. To write in a script that someone is beautiful
and unknowable is an easy thing to be but it helps if you don't know them that
well and they are really beautiful. It was a really lucky thing and a
great casting moment as far as I'm concerned because they found the person who
can really carry the part and would not disappear in these scenes.
Q: Can you speak to any of the themes in this film?
A: I always write from a place of theme, and I think the audience appreciates
it. I wanted it to be a thoughtful movie.
For me, the most important topic is friendship. The first line I had in the
script is that line that Owen has where he says, "That's the thing about
friendship; you see it on TV, people go to the doctor, no one eats alone, but
they are alone. Friendship is a lot rarer than love because there's nothing in
it for anyone." That was the place I started when I said, "What is the value of
friendship? What is holding people together?" Because it is so rare. I wanted to
show that they were there for each other and had been there for each other the
whole time. At the same time I wanted to talk about the hard choices in life,
which is: at what point do you have to accept responsibility for yourself?
The other thing I was interested in is our relationship with nature. It's a
really big theme but I feel as the city encroaches more and more on the country
and as the whole idea of a farm disappears, we have become more and more removed
from our natural state. But that's a necessity of the modern world and it's a
cliche to say that that's good and the city is bad but I believe that a lot of our inability to experience our life is because we are
overwhelmed with the pace and the technology and the sound of the city.
Along with that comes the deepest part of the movie which is: what is it that
we are feeling in our everyday life? Is it our ability to be in touch with
nature enough to know what the weather is going to be like or in touch enough to
acknowledge that the food that we are eating is natural on some level and has
life in it?
Q: Can you tell us a little about Zach and Owen's characters?
A: What's charming about Owen's character is that he is selfish, but at least
he is admitting that he's selfish. He's in a state that he is doing anything he
can, not to feel. But he cares about his friend, and his love for his friend and
the way that his life is at the beginning of the movie is the part he has to
Owen is so extraordinary in the film, and you know I hope the
unexpected story of the film is - not that people don't expect the actors to be
this good - but that they really deliver very deep performances.
Zach's character is very virtuous, intelligent, an honest person who is
filled with a sense of outrage about the way the world is and he wants to change
it. He's a total idealist and you've got to love him for that. One of the
amazing things that Zach does in this movie is that he is so funny and has so
many great comic moments, and then you realize there is something wrong with his
character. As you grow to see that, the character realizes that as well and he
tries to make a change.
It was really satisfying to tell a story where the characters start off in
one place and really end up in a different place. They literally switch places
and I think it feels completely earned. I'm always trying to make entertainment
that I want to watch and I think the film's unpredictability and inevitability
is the thing that makes it entertaining.
Q: Can you tell us a little about Amy and Laura's characters?
A: Amy's character - Everyone has that sister or brother who is responsible.
She has the ambition to make something of herself. The thing that's great about
Amy's character is that you feel the genuine love she has for her brother. It
was amazing to see, and I think both Amy and Zach felt this way, that they
could've been brother and sister. They have similar voices, they look a bit like
Which brings me to Laura's character, I felt that Angela has a lot in common
with Ben in that they are both environmentalists. She is a person who is really
smart and has made some interesting choices in her life. She's taken a certain
path. And her unconventional path is somehow suspicious for us because we want
to know what she wants.
Q: You worked with many of your regular Mad Men collaborators on the film.
How did that come about and what did that bring to doing the film?
A: One of the great things about this experience moving into feature
filmmaking like this is that I was able to bring artists with me that I
have been working with on Mad Men. My cinematographer Chris Manley,
production designer Dan Bishop, my editor Chris Gay, and of course Scott
Hornbacher, who is a producer of Mad Men, as well as other people on the
creative team. We all have such a shorthand with each other. It was really funny
- we were on the set shooting a scene with Amy and she says to me, referring to
myself and Chris Manley, the cinematographer, "You guys have been working
together for a long time?" I said "Yeah I guess so -why?" And she said, "because
you are walking around here talking and he's not saying anything, and everything
is getting done."
I know and trust this team who is at the top of their field. Having David
Carbonara from the show do the music, having Ellen Freund come to North Carolina
and do the props - this is stuff that is really important to the texture of my
work and their work. The story was very meaningful to everybody - that's a lot
of why they were there.
Q: You've done a lot of directing on Mad Men, how did your experience
directing this film compare to directing for television?
In terms of writing, to me it's like the difference between a novel or short
story or a poem or play - there are different kinds of writing, you're telling
the story in a different format. But what was really interesting about the
directing experience was that it was a whole new group of actors and it was
shooting in a new location.
It reminded me of the pilot of Mad Men in a sense that there was a
real sense of discovery and it was a challenge. It was really a thrill to try
and create this completely new world with these actors. I think the biggest
difference between TV and film is probably that on TV, at least on Mad Men,
we've been doing it long enough that there's a system. We shot 99% of this
movie in places that we had to alter and drive to and create, with actors
with whom I had a very short rehearsal process.
The movie is so personal and meaningful for me. I had to open myself up to
the unexpected in a way I never have before.
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