What can cinema-goers expect when they come to see RABBIT HOLE on the 4th February?
I think they can expect to laugh. I think they can expect to be moved. And I think they can expect to, I would hope, glimpse a period of time in a couple’s life who they feel they love and know, and that it is a little voyeuristic. And, because of that, I think we realise we’re not alone, and hopefully that takes away some fear of the worst things that can happen to us. You can survive, and I hope that’s what this film says.
What attracted you to RABBIT HOLE?
I’m always interested in films that are about extreme subject matters. The theme underlying most of the films I make is love in all its different forms. So I’m interested in people when they’re yearning for love, when they’re losing love, and the loss of a child is the most terrifying place for me to go. That’s where I tend to go creatively, places that terrify me.
Tell us more about the story of the film…
It’s 8 months after they’ve lost their child, a six year old boy, and it’s dealing with “how do you live?”. How do you continue your life when you’ve been given this blow that sort of, I think, takes away your desire to live. On one level it’s about marriage and it’s about family, and then it’s about survival. And hope ultimately. I think that’s what’s very beautiful about this story, its’ delicacy and the way in which the dialogue is so sharp but at the same time you’re incredibly aware of everybody’s pain. It’s almost like a minefield, you’re walking through a minefield, but through it shines moments of the future and the reason we are all together, and I think a lot of times we fuse through pain as people.
Aaron is fast establishing himself as one of Hollywood’s finest leading men. What was it like starring alongside Aaron?
Aaron Eckhart was always our choice to play Howie, I mean he was the Number One choice, and when he read the script and we heard that he liked it, we were (excited panting) “Oh god, maybe he’ll say yes”. I called him. I’m not great on the phone, I’m quite shy as a person and I’m not someone who can sell something to someone so I was hesitant whether it was a good idea to call him? But I’ve met him a few times and I just wanted to let him know that he would be so appreciated and that I felt he would be an amazing man to play opposite and a wonderful, wonderful husband on screen. So...he said yes (laughs).
Dianne Wiest is a screen icon, having already won two Oscars. How did she become involved?
I’ve worked with Dianne before. She’s one of the greatest actresses that we have and it was a dream to get her to play this role. I think, the thing for her is that she gets to deliver probably the finest speech in the film, the soliloquy about “How do you live with grief, with loss?” How do you do it, how do you actually do it? And it’s where my character is asking my mother “How?” Does it ever get any better than this? And she is just sublime in her response, and I think that probably, you know...I could see Diane saying it and it was beautiful that she could see herself saying it and we were very lucky to get her cast.
This is quite a departure for director John Cameron Mitchell, following his self-scripted first two movies ‘Shortbus’ and ‘Hedwig & The Angry Inch’. Why do you feel John fitted so well with the film?
John believed in it. I spoke to him on the phone at first. He also has things in his personal life which I’m sure he’s talked about which put him in this place of knowing this material, and knowing these emotions [John’s brother died when he was young]. He’s a raw man, he’s very open, and that’s a great thing for an actor to work with a director who is incredibly open. He’s also an actor, so he understands what it takes to give a performance and, as much as he is open, he’s also got some restraint, if that makes sense? Which this film needed to have, a lid kept on a lot of it’s emotions, because the subject matter is so ripe and raw anyway, and to have a director that would have manipulated that wouldn’t have been good. He was very much about keeping it in check so that it wasn’t histrionic.
Oscar and BAFTA Award winning Costume Designer Ann Roth is something of a movie legend in her own right in the industry. Tell us about her involvement…
In a movie like this, you have to dress people so there is no attention on any wardrobe, on any item of clothing and it all just becomes something that doesn’t draw the eye...that’s very hard. That’s the hardest thing, and especially for someone like me, Ann would say, “you’re a 5 foot 10 blonde movie star and we’ve got to make you look, suburban”...and I would reply, “But I do, I do” and she’s like (shakes head) “No, no you don’t!” And I just thought she was great for that.
RABBIT HOLE is an intensely emotional film, but it’s also incredibly funny in places. What is your take on the movie as a whole?
When you’re hurting or something seems absurd, or surreal, or whatever it is, you can have some sort of emotional complexity. There are different degrees of laughter. You know, maybe it just feels good inside, it gives you a sigh of relief or a feeling of happiness – and I think there are a lot of moments like that in Rabbit Hole because they’re family moments. This movie’s about family and families are nuts. And this one qualifies!
Tell us about the central relationship in the movie between your character Howie and Becca, played by Nicole Kidman…
I think Howie and Becca have a lot of pain and are hurting deeply inside, and they’re trying to salvage a relationship that was once very playful and fun and very loving and no longer is. So they’re trying to recover the normalcy that they had.
Nicole Kidman is one of the most successful screen actresses of her generation. What was it like to star alongside her?
Nicole (smiles)… I don’t think I could have passed up the opportunity to work with her on such a piece of material as this. Because I knew that she was going to be so good and the material is so rich, and John Cameron Mitchell is so good, I’m a huge fan of his so I just knew or I had the feeling it would be brilliant. And I’m being proven correct every single day that Nicole is just such a wonderful actress and is really nailing this part, and it’s a pleasure to watch her and be around her and experience this with her.
What will be your lasting impressions of starring alongside Nicole Kidman?
She is an actor who knows her craft, who is passionate about acting, passionate about material, directors, who she surrounds herself with. She’s dedicated, and she’s very close to the material all the time.
What do you hope the audience take from the movie when it opens in the UK on the 4th February?
I hope that they feel like they felt our struggle, or felt the story’s struggle and they could identify with that. I hope that they feel like John is a master craftsman director. I hope that they enjoy the acting, and I hope that we entertain them.
Tell is about your character in RABBIT HOLE…
The character of Gabby is not in the play, Rabbit Hole, and she’s really there to assist Aaron Eckhart’s character because they meet and she is a path that he could go down. And, you know, he makes his choice...so, that’s kind of what her function is. And she’s also further along in the journey of grief. That’s actually what I found very interesting, is that, here she meets someone, they meet at a meeting with parents, bereaved parents who have lost their child and my character has lost her child, but she is further along in the process and I feel like the way she understands where he is was one of the more interesting aspects to the character.
Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart deliver exceptional performances. What was it like to work with them?
Well I primarily worked with Aaron and I had a couple of scenes with Nicole. It’s just really interesting to see people who I respect so much and who are at such a wonderfully high level. I love watching what their process is, and they both have very distinctive, very deep processes.
What do you think cinema-goers will take from the movie?
You know I think that with all films, I hope that they will feel a little less alone. Because everyone at a point in their life will go through grief and loss, and I think for it to be depicted with as much humanity as I know that every single person brought to it, it will be a rich experience for anyone who watches it.
What does RABBIT HOLE mean to you?
Rabbit Hole for me is a whole set of tools for how to live, and how to live with the huge changes that can happen in life. With loss, with loss of communication that results from loss, and it, to me, it’s almost like a guide book on how to move on in the face of the forces that can buffet you throughout your life.
Your last two movies ‘Hedwig and the Angry Inch’ and ‘Shortbus’ were very different from RABBIT HOLE. What attracted you to this project?
I was just knocked out of my course of my own projects and I felt that I had to be a part of it. In my growing up, we experienced the kind of things that happen in the script where a family member has been lost and I just found myself weeping throughout the whole thing, laughing throughout the whole thing and truly comfortable in my own skin while reading it. I wasn’t thinking about how you would shoot it, not thinking about how this really has to go, that really has to stay – I just was completely in the story and I immediately felt that I had something to add to it. I had something, a channel through which to tell this story. It was instantaneous.
Tell us about your experiences working with this exceptional cast of actors…
Nicole plays Becca Corbett who’s really our protagonist, dealing with the loss of her child and she has encased herself in a structure of life to allow her to go on, to move on. But at the beginning of the film she’s decided to make some changes in her life, which is the beginning of the film, in letting go of what happened. She makes some strong decisions which fly in the face of what her husband, played by Aaron Eckhart, wants. His way of dealing with the world, Howie Corbett’s way, is to keep Danny in his life however he can, in terms of Danny’s things, the memories of Danny, the videos of Danny... The presence of Danny. And both of the characters are right, both of them are right and wrong, and they eventually come into conflict: how do you deal with something like this, and still live?
The supporting cast is also hugely impressive, including the two-time Oscar winner Dianne Wiest of course. Tell us more about how you worked with the supporting cast…
Two of the other main characters use even more humour which you wouldn’t call comic relief, because they’re extremely important emotional characters, but Dianne Weist playing mom Nat, and Tammy Blanchard playing Izzy the sister who’s always making the wrong decision, are quite in opposition to Becca and Howie whose lives are perfect except for this one event. I mean Howie and Becca are tasteful, they’re relaxed, they’re happy. Whereas Nat and Izzy, the mother and sister, have had their share of mistakes in their lives, problems in their lives. In some ways, they have more tools to deal with the problems than Becca and Howie, and Dianne and Tabby are brilliant in their roles.
Miles Teller is a newcomer, yet he has achieved widespread critical acclaim for his scenes with Nicole Kidman. How did you approach directing a less experienced actor in such a rich ensemble cast?
Miles’ character is a teenager who is dealing with a gigantic event, life-changing event, and Becca and he haven’t had any contact since the event. There are some chance encounters in the film that bring them together in a way that is unexpected, and both of them...the only thing they share is this event, you know, and it strangely becomes the most compelling relationship in the film. For me, it’s the most unexpected and it’s the one that is a catalyst for everything that happens to her, at a certain point in the film, and Miles embodies it beautifully. He’s very young but, somehow in his eyes, you can see that he’s lived and that, you know, there hasn’t been the perfect event-free life that many teenagers have dealt with.
Tell us about working with Costume Designer Ann Roth…
Ann Roth brought a pedigree, a sense of humour, an inspiration. Whenever I would see her on set, actually my Director of Photography and me, whenever we saw her it was like: “Ann Roth ladies and gentlemen, all rise.” Because she is a legend but she doesn’t take herself seriously so, I’m just excited to be involved with all kinds of legends and she’s one of them.
You wrote the play a while back, which won the Pulitzer Prize, and have adapted itself for the screen. Tell us about RABBIT HOLE…
Even in the saddest of times, you’re still who you are and there’s a gallows humour that often happens, at least in my family, and people don’t lose their sense of humour. This is a group of very wry, funny people who happen to be dealing with an incredibly sad loss, so for me what was important was that the story remained buoyant and funny, and that these people are struggling against something really horrible, but dealing with it as the people that they are, who are funny, spirited, emotional, engaged people.
John Cameron Mitchell has done a fantastic job of delivering the screenplay to the screen. Were you pleased when he was chosen to direct?
When John Cameron Mitchell was brought up, I could not have been more excited. Obviously, he’s a man of New York theatre like myself and he had adapted his own theatre piece into what I thought was an incredibly successful film Hedwig and the Angry Itch, and so, I loved that about him and love that his work is so emotionally driven and honest whilst also being whimsical and funny. He does a lot of the things that I try and do as a writer and I felt like there was a kinship between what John does and what I do and I was very excited by the match of it.
Tell us about Nicole Kidman’s character, Becca Corbett…
Becca for me is a character who is desperately trying to hold her life together – she’s gone through her life in a very controlled way and in a very organised way. She has built a life very deliberately for herself, but she’s incredibly smart and funny, and Nicole always brings this quality to characters that there’s something going on under the surface and underneath it there’s something very complicated and deep. She’s able to show what’s going on underneath with just her face, with just her eyes, there’s something magical that happens that you can’t put into words. It makes my job a lot easier because she doesn’t often need words to do it. And so in terms of Becca and Nicole, it’s a perfect match to me... She brought that character to life in such a magical way, I could not be happier about it.
How did you find the process of adapted your highly successful play for the screen? Did you have any concerns?
For the film, I thought: Oh, all those things that are spoken about in the play, all those scenes that are alluded to or hinted at, I can take this opportunity to dramatise them and expand their world and meet the people at the support group. In the play it’s hinted that Howie may or may not be having an affair, and in the film I had the luxury of meeting that woman and exploring that possibility and illuminating Howie’s character a lot more in that way. One of the best scenes in the play is a scene that is described which is Becca going to the supermarket and having this encounter with this mother and child and, it’s now one of the best scenes in the movie I think, because you actually get to see it happen rather than hearing about it happen.