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PopEntertainment.com > Oscar Nominees > Feature Interviews - Directors and Screenwriters > Feature Interviews A to E > Lisa Cholodenko

 

Lisa Cholodenko at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York for 'The Kids Are All Right' press day 6/30/10.

Lisa Cholodenko

Making It All Right

by Jay S. Jacobs

 
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: July 9, 2010.  

Lisa Cholodenko has been turning heads in Hollywood since her 1998 film High Art featuring Radha Mitchell and Ally Sheedy.  One of those heads which was turned belonged to actress Julianne Moore, who made a point of talking to Cholodenko at a Women in Film celebration years ago and told her that she wanted to work together.

Cholodenko followed that cult favorite film with another acclaimed indie in 2002, Laurel Canyon with Frances McDormand and Kate Beckinsale.  However, other than a film made for Showtime cable network called Cavedweller, Cholodenko has been missing in action for several years.

She wasn't just relaxing, though.  She was actually working on the film which she pictured Moore in, a smart and funny look at the changing face of family values called The Kids Are All Right.  The film was a labor of love six years in the making - a time in which Cholodenko became a mother herself - however Moore championed the project and stuck around for as long as it took to be made. 

The story of Jules (Moore) and Nic (Annette Bening), a longtime lesbian couple raising teen children (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) who become curious to meet their sperm donor father (Mark Ruffalo), the movie takes a nuanced and apolitical look at the complications of a family unit.

The film became a critical darling when shown at this year's Sundance Film Festival.  Soon before The Kids Are All Right received its wide release in theaters, Cholodenko flew in to the famous Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York and spoke with a select group of journalists - myself included - about the odyssey which led to the movie's release.  

Lisa Cholodenko - co-screenwriter and director of "The Kids Are All Right."Are you happy with the finished product?  Does it live up to your ideals five years in the making? 

It is.  Yeah.  I really am quite happy.  Yes. 

Are you happy with the initial response from viewers? 

Yes.  Itís really beyond what I ever imagined Ė in that hope that it could be a wider movie, potentially a mainstream movie in that it would be affecting and whatnot to a wide audience of ages and sexual identities, sexual preferences and genders and whatnot.  Itís great.  And itís surprising. 

Julianne [Moore] was just telling us earlier how she had been wanting to work with you ever since she saw High Art and you have been talking about working together for a while.  How important was it to have her attached to the idea of a movie for all these years? 

It was great.  In times where I thought weíre never going to crack it, itís not where I want it to be, itís not this, itís not that, knowing that she was checking in with me periodically and holding her ground was very, very motivating and inspiring.  Obviously, itís flattering.  And itís stressful, too.  Youíre like, ďOh, I donít know if Iím ever going to get there.Ē  But I think it gave me some fire to keep pressing and some confidence that there was a way to actualize this film in the way that I wanted it to be. 

How do you work with actors?  What kind of director are you? 

I am mean.  I come in with a stick, a cattle prodÖ I humiliate. (laughs)  No, I'm kind of the opposite.  We worked on the script for a very long time, so I felt like the material was really there, and they got it.  I knew that they got it, even [younger actors] Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson.  I just could feel it.  That made my job as a director a lot easier, and I know that's always the case.  When you have the written material in a certain shape, your chances of fucking up when youíre on set directing are much smaller.  That said, I had also spent a lot of time casting.  Not just Julianne, courting that for all those years, but being really, really careful who was going to be her counterpart.  It took me a long time.  I thought I was losing my mind.  I was in my bedroom mixing and matching cards and faces.  It was unpleasant.  Anyway, once that cast was pulled together and I felt like I'd cast the right people and the script was in the right spot and I had pulled together the right people to technically work on the film, I really hung back.  I felt very confident.  Weíd just have to nudge people here and there.  There was not a lot of time to walk off the set and have a big analysis, or rethink things, or scrap a location or whatever.  We just had 23 days, so we had to really dig in. 

Lisa Cholodenko - co-screenwriter and director of "The Kids Are All Right."They said you were really preparedÖ 

Well, you know what?  I didnít have a choice.  Itís like having a serious fire under your butt. 

Itís been six years since your last film was released.  Why did it take a long time to get this project off the ground?  Was it the subject matter? 

No, it was really largely just my own personal odyssey.  I canít remember the year Laurel Canyon came outÖ 

2002. 

Yeah, and then I made a film for Showtime and that was I guess 2004.  I had done some television, some commercial stuff and then began writing this.  But, the impetus to write this was my own domesticating.  My girlfriend and I were trying to figure out how to have a family, how to have a kid, and we decided to go with an anonymous sperm donor.  That was a big project, figuring that out, selecting a person.  Then I did get pregnant.  I had a kid, and all the while we kept coming back to this script and developing it.  But there would be serious down time.  So that was going on in my personal life.  [Co-writer] Stuart [Blumberg] was writing studio stuff Ė a lot of time in New York.  By the time we got the script to a place that I felt like it was right and it was doing what it should be doing, it was later. 

You sounded just like Annette Bening there. 

I know.  (laughs)  I donít know what that is.  Maybe itís the glasses.  They make me sound like her.  Itís weird.  We both are from Southern California.  She is from San Diego, I think, and Iím from Los Angeles.  So that could have something to do with it. 

Lisa Cholodenko - co-screenwriter and director of "The Kids Are All Right" with stars Mia Wasikowska and Julianne Moore.Which character is more like you in your relationship? 

You know, I think as in all relationships, people switch hats.  Itís more one minute to the next.  I hope I communicated that between these two.  They are so entwined that they are kind of bouncing off each other. 

What did you learn from making this that you can take to the next movie? 

What did I learn?  Something that I learned is that it makes a better film and itís worth it if youíre going to write an original script to keep working on it until you feel like itís arrived.  Itís a weird thing to say, because I was being supported by my partner and it was grueling and I felt very insecure a lot of the time.  I thought what am I doing?  Iím heading nowhere fast and all this nonsense.  But in the end, had I not done that, I donít think the film would resonate nearly as well as it seems to have been resonating with people.  So itís something that I knew from other experiences, but it has proven itself again. 

You started the script before you had your baby.  When you were making it later after having the baby were all family things resonating for you even more? 

Yeah, I think that all the tensions that come up between the Moms Ė that in some way are inflected or have to do with the children Ė I could really identify with that.  I think for anybody who has kids or a family, a lot of the tensions that happen in a marriage are because of this kind of over-involvement, and love and concern and whatever, about the kids.  Itís a complicated dance.  How to preserve your marriage, and let your kids do their thing, but be involved in helping them grow.  It was tricky.  It was good that I had the kid in there, because it definitely informed how I could understand these moms. 

Annette Bening (left) and Julianne Moore (right) star as Nic and Jules in Lisa Cholodenko's THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, a Focus Features release.Was the affair between Jules [Julianne Mooreís character] and Paul [Mark Ruffaloís character] always there?  Did that come up in rewrites? 

It was always there.  Those five characters were always there.  Those two moms, the boy, the girl thatís going to college, and this manÖ  I think in the earlier drafts, the daughter was more fixated on Paul and it had more of a kind of Oedipal thing.  That felt like I was heading down the Roman Polanski road or something.   I donít think this is mainstream, letís pull this back.  It was too heightened.

Have there been any controversial reactions around Jules and Paul getting together? 

I donít think there has been a lot of judgment, per se, but thereís been a lot of questioning.  I just come back to the same thing Ė which is thatís that character, and she happens to be in that space in time, where sheís kind of weak and vulnerable, and is having an affair.  And it happens to be that person who comes into the mix, and they have kind of a chemistry because, well, they have a child together, and heís kind of cute, and on the Kinsey scale sheís somewhere in the middle, and sheís obviously kind of curious about men, soÖ.  It all makes sense to me; it feels organic. Itís probably going to bug people who have a political agenda for the film, but it resonates as truthful, and as emotionally grounded to me as anything else would. 

Did you from the beginning see Paul as a hippyish, carefree sort? 

He wasnít as scruffy.  He was a little more like an LA restaurateur.  A little more groomed.  I think once we stumbled into the organic garden and got on that whole track and grew him the beard, I sort of did that number to him, he felt more lovable to me.  I could understand him better. 

Did you face any major obstacles in making this film? 

The obstacles were the obvious ones: it doesnít matter what shape your script is in if itís something thatís outside the box, or it hasnít had a predecessor in the marketplace that they can crunch the numbers and say, ďWe know that this film did this, so we can bet that this film will do thatĒ Ė itís going to be hard to get money.  It just is.  It was harder than I thought; having a track record, having a script that I thought was in really good shape, having really excellent actresses, etc., etc.  Itís disappointing, but thatís the truth of it. 

(l-r) Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Josh Hutcherson, Mia Wasikowska and Mark Ruffalo star in Lisa Cholodenko's THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, a Focus Features release.What message would you like for mainstream audiences to take away from the film? 

I feel like we really tried hard to make a movie that was about the value of family.  Not just in a kind of soapboxy, stick with it no matter whatÖ but, like, you know what?  Itís messy, and it gets broken, and you have to glue it back together.  If thereís a will and thereís a commitment, then thereís a way to muscle through difficult times Ė in longtime marriages and between family members. 

Your dialogue is so character-specific.  Do you feel them in your head?  How do they come to you? 

Yeah.  Itís very late in the game, you know?  I think that it takes a long time to get to that place where they are coming off the page and I can go into a room and start tweaking dialogue and saying, ďShe wouldnít say that.  That just doesnít sound like her.Ē  Or, ďThat doesnít move that scene along.  That just seems contrived.Ē  Or whatever.  And know with some confidence that would be coming out of her mouth.  To me, there is kind of a lot of misery in screenwriting.  I donít really love it because itís very lonely and itís very painful trying to crack it.  But the pleasure and the real treat is at the end when that exact thing happens and you can go in a quiet room and spend time with them and you know where theyíre going to go or not go.

Whatís next? 

I thought Iíd go take a nap and maybe freshen up for tonight. 

Not in the next 15 minutes, letís say in the next few monthsÖ 

Iím going back to California, where Iím living, and try to figure out a couple of things.  I might actually develop something for television. 

There was a massive bidding war for The Kids Are All Right at Sundance.  What was it like to be embroiled in something like that?  Were you involved in it at all? 

Massive bidding wars arenít what they used to be.  They used to throw many, many millions of dollars around, and it was like, ďWoo hoo!Ē maybe 10-15 years ago.  Our film sold for under $5 million.  And that was great.  That was the only film at Sundance this year that did that, but it didnít put any money in my pocket.  What I was involved with, and I work with people that I really love and respect and have worked with for a long time, everybody consulted with me along the way and said, ďLook, so and so wants it.Ē  And ďthere are companies like this and theyíre going to pay this.Ē  At the end of the day, I said Focus might not be the biggest bidder, but they are going to do the most with this film, and thatís the right home for it.  We all agreed, and Iím feeling really, really happy to be with them.

CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT STAR JULIANNE MOORE HAD TO SAY TO US!

CLICK HERE TO SEE WHAT THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT STAR MARK RUFFALO HAD TO SAY TO US!

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Photo Credits:
#1 © 2010 Jay S. Jacobs. All rights reserved.
#2 © 2010 Suzanne Tenner. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.
#3 © 2010 Suzanne Tenner. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.
#4 © 2010 Suzanne Tenner. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.
#5 © 2010 Suzanne Tenner. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.
#6 © 2010 Suzanne Tenner. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: July 9, 2010.  

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Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.  All rights reserved.  Posted: July 9, 2010.