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
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.
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
[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.
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
No, it was really
largely just my own personal odyssey. I canít remember the year
Laurel Canyon came outÖ
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.
(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.
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
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
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.
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
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
Did you face any
major obstacles in making this film?
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
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
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?
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.
HERE TO SEE WHAT THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT STAR JULIANNE
MOORE HAD TO SAY TO US!
HERE TO SEE WHAT THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT STAR MARK RUFFALO HAD TO SAY TO US!
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