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RABBIT HOLE

Developing The Story
When he began writing RABBIT HOLE, David Lindsay-Abaire was inspired by a piece of advice that had stuck in his mind from his Julliard professor Marsha Norman: "Write about the thing that frightens you most.” The writer confesses that, for a long time, he wasn't exactly sure what she meant by that.

Then, he had a son, and suddenly, it made perfect sense. "When I thought about what it would be like for me to lose my son, I experienced the grip of fear in the most profound way,” Lindsay-Abaire explains. "That became the seed of RABBIT HOLE.”

As he began to explore the roots of his fear, that seed opened up organically into the Corbetts, who came to life in a series of family conversations in their lovely Westchester home, conversations filled with terse, charged dialogue that belied all the emotions boiling under their seemingly placid and beautiful surface.

Faced with translating the tightly-crafted play into a motion picture experience, Lindsay-Abaire had to look at the Corbetts anew and expand their story beyond the play's single on-stage location.

"The play had stayed entirely in the Corbett house but I quickly realized that writing a movie was going to allow me to completely open up Becca and Howie's world,” he explains. "I had the chance to take a lot of the incidents that are just talked about in the play and allow the audience to experience them. For example, I was able to show the Corbett's support group and what goes on there, and to show what really happens when Becca is in the supermarket and sees a mother with her child. All of this in turn gave me a better chance to understand these people because their world was now more expanded and they could move through it in a whole different way.”

Nicole Kidman was impressed at how organically Lindsay-Abaire was able to switch into a broader, cinematic viewpoint. "He's a natural,” she says. "He really knows how to speak a cinematic language, and he has such a great understanding of these characters and what they're going through. I loved working with him.”

In refining the dialogue for the screen, Lindsay-Abaire also made it a priority to bring the wry humor and sense of the absurd that were woven through the play into the film's script.

"I've worked incredibly hard as a writer to push against the possible dourness of this story,” he says. "That matches my experience, which is that people don't lose their sense of humor even in the saddest of times. I think that the Corbetts were always funny people and now that they happen to be going through a tragic loss, that doesn't just go away. It was important to me that moments in the film feel as buoyant, humorous and engaging as the characters themselves.”

To ensure his vision, Lindsay-Abaire knew it would take a director who could bring his own fresh perspective to the story. As he wrote, the producers approached John Cameron Mitchell, whose roots are also in the New York theatre world but broke out into film with the critically-acclaimed indie musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch, based on the off-Broadway play he co-wrote with Stephen Trask. Mitchell followed this with the award-winning sex comedy Shortbus, revealing his diversity as a filmmaker.

RABBIT HOLE would be a major stylistic departure, yet everyone, says Per Saari, could see Mitchell bringing something special to the story.

"Our biggest challenge was finding a filmmaker who could translate this story to film in a way that would fulfill its potential. Part of what makes the play work so well is there isn't a false note in the whole piece. One false note and the spell would be broken,” comments Saari. "What unifies John's work is an unflinching look at the human condition. Right away, Nicole and I were intrigued by the idea of John applying the no-holds-barred approach we saw in Hedwig and Shortbus to the characters in RABBIT HOLE. John, whose own brother died when he was young, had a personal connection to the material, and it was clear from his insights that it was his film to make.”

"I had never met John before,” reflects producer Vanech, "but spent two hours with him over a coffee in the village and was immediately won over. I was particularly excited by his thoughtfulness and specific approach to the balance of sadness, hopefulness and humor that was required to make RABBIT HOLE authentic as well as entertaining.”

Lindsay-Abaire also felt an affinity with Mitchell. "What I love about John is that all of his work is emotion-driven and honest, while also being whimsical and funny,” he says. "Watching John's previous films, I felt like he reaches for all the same things as a director that I do as a writer and there was a very good match between the two of us.”

Mitchell says that RABBIT HOLE actually has a lot in common with his two more comically offbeat films, once you peer under its more naturalistic surface.

"I've always been most attracted to stories about people trying to connect, trying not to be alone, and to characters who are chipping away at their walls,” the director says. "All my films share that. They're all about people looking for that scrap of light at the end of the tunnel. They are each done in completely different styles, but they share that same soul, if you will.”

Upon reading Lindsay-Abaire's script for RABBIT HOLE, Mitchell felt the allure of its themes. "I loved that it's a story not only about loss but about the loss of communication that comes with it. I found myself alternately weeping and laughing my way through it,” he says. "I usually like to develop my own scripts but this felt so deep, so mature, so rich that it knocked me right off that course. My interest was instantaneous and I dropped everything.”

Soon after putting down the script, Mitchell spoke with Nicole Kidman. Whatever happened, he wanted to let her know of his feelings for the material and, to his amazement, an instant communion was struck between them. "I think there was some kind of instinct in her that this was the right match and things started moving very quickly,” recalls Mitchell. "It rarely happens that way, but it was lightning in a bottle.”

Says Kidman of Mitchell: "I don't know if you can say we chose him as a director. I think he found the piece and we found him. That's a far better way of phrasing it because ultimately if the motives are pure, everyone is there because they want to tell this story. So you find each other and you walk the road together.”

"I have always admired John Cameron's Mitchell's work,” added Pritzker, "but I admit I was surprised at first that he was eager to direct this material, as it seems such a departure for him. After a long conversation with John, it was clear to me that not only was he perfectly in sync with Lindsay-Abaire's work, but would also bring his unique sensibility to it.”

As it had been for Lindsay-Abaire, the humor of the piece was essential to Mitchell, providing a way for the audience to connect and a way for him to get to the characters' sense that their world has suddenly flipped from calm and comfortable to implausible and illogical.

"I think whenever there's tragedy, it is accompanied by absurdity,” notes Mitchell. "To me, it wouldn't be realistic to have a story like this without humor. Humor is such an integral part of everyday life and it's one of our tools for navigating relationships and for surviving. I always thought it was vital to David's screenplay and it became vital to the performances.”

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