At a recent press conference in New York preceding its
premiere, the essential members of the Revolutionary Road
cast (Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet, Michael Shannon and Kathy
Bates) and director Sam Mendes answered questions before a small
room of journalists. Of course, the big news – that the film
re-unites actors DiCaprio and Winslet, who first made their mark in
Titanic as a couple madly in love – drove the interest in
this film about the disquieting side of the 1950s corporate society.
It also drove the nomination of the film and some of its cast for
the 2009 Golden Globes (Winslet won for Best Actress) foreshadowing
the upcoming Oscar nominations.
In Titanic, these two come together against the odds
of diverging social backgrounds and relationships and with the
backdrop of the tragedy about to occur. Audiences were stirred by
the burgeoning love affair between them.
In Revolutionary Road, the opposite happens.
Audiences see the destruction of a relationship never really fated
to be, sort of thrown together by expectations they have for each
other but are never realized. In fact the two don't really share
much or see eye-to-eye about their goals and life in general.
Based on the late Richard Yates '60s novel which described
the unfulfilled life about the alienation of the '50s (and led to
the rebellion of the '60s), Winslet plays actress wanna-be April who
meets the diffident but charming Frank Wheeler at a party; they
share their dreams of an individualistic life. Ultimately though,
unrequited dreams and emotional frustration beset their relationship
as they start to have a family. Wheeler sets aside his vague goals
and falls into the same man-in-the-grey-flannel-suit salesman's life
his father had had. April feels the anomie of life lacking personal
accomplishment and they became further estranged leading to a tragic
ending and damaged lives.
This is obviously
a movie about a troubled marriage. Would you say it's because of a
failure to communicate?
It's a combination of different things, it's an inability to
communicate, or certainly more to do with the fact that they have
forgotten to communicate with each other for some time, and it's
only when April turns around to him and says, "We can't go on
pretending that this is the life we wanted," that they are both then
truly forced to question exactly that.
For April, it's very clear that this isn't the life she
expected for herself, and Frank is then forced to question that too.
And it's at that point that they realize maybe they aren't the
people they were when they first met, they want different things
from life. And April, ultimately, is so determined to find
happiness; to feel something again other than what she has, that
she's prepared to risk anything in order to get that, which to me is
a very heroic act, and not a cowardly one.
And my character, on the other hand, is very un-heroic and cowardly
[laughs] which is the truth. Ultimately, he's a product of his
environment, he doesn't have the courage to manifest any tangible
change in his life. On the one hand, April is wanting to risk
everything for a new opportunity, or to pursue the dreams that she
once had of what she wanted her life to be, and ultimately my
character is my father's son–I want to conform to my environment. Is
it about two people that don't communicate enough? I don't think
that's the truth.
It's about two people that are being forced apart, but are
desperately trying to salvage their marriage and stay together. I
think their trains on different courses. Ultimately, the façade of
what Paris represented, the ideals of what Paris was to them, it was
an opportunity that could or could not have resulted in something
positive or tangible. But, I think they were people that were being
forced apart by different intentions for what they wanted their
lives to be.
Also, I think [abandoning the suburban life of Connecticut and
moving to] Paris represents, for April, possibility, hope, and
change. The notion that she might be forced to live a life without
possibility is ultimately, just the kiss of death.
together before on
Titanic, were there any surprises was this time around?
Well, Kate and I have remained close friends for many years. Since
Titanic, I think we've been both actively looking for the right
project to do. The fact that Sam was attached to this, the fact that
this was a great piece of material and such a departure from what
we'd done before – this wasn't at all treading on similar territory,
and we knew that that is a complete set-up for disaster, having done
Titanic. We knew we needed to try something completely
unique, it was just about finding that project.
And this was something that Kate was shepherding for many
years, and putting the pieces together, and I felt very fortunate to
be chosen for it. As far as how Kate's changed or not changed, I
think that she's always had that pursuit of excellence within the
characters she plays – she's got an unbelievable work ethic that
she's retained ever since I knew her in her early 20's. She cares
about the movie being great, and the other actors involved, and
everything – that's all still there.
What has changed, since that movie, she's done quite a bit
of work, as have I, and we don't approach the filmmaking experience
quite the way we did in our early 20's. We don't look at the
director or the producers involved as parental figures, which I feel
is what we did in our teenage years – we were constantly looking for
that guidance. We come into movies now as kind of equal pieces to
the puzzle, and bring our own ideas for what the movie should be
and, for lack of a better term, we're more like "adults," whatever
that word means.
Any major surprises? I think he's nicer than he was (even if that's
possible); he's funnier than he was (even if that's possible); and
he's a better actor than he was (even if that's possible). And quite
honestly, playing Frank and April Wheeler, there was a surprise
I just loved so much playing some of the difficult scenes
with Leo, knowing that because of the trust we have as two people
having known each other for so long, that there were no boundaries;
that was a real gift to have as two actors playing these parts. And
to be able to do off-camera dialogue for him, and to have to stop
myself from crying because I was seeing someone for whom I have so
much respect doing things as an actor that I've never seen him do
before, and morphing his face into positions that I've never seen
him morph his face into before, as an actor or as a person. There
were moments like that pretty much every single day.
Was there one scene that stood out as the most exciting or most
rewarding for the two of you?
The most rewarding? What was interesting about the way Sam set this
whole film in motion was he [that] really attacked it like he would
a theater production. He realized it was an ensemble piece that
depended so much on the actors, and listened to all of our different
ideas endlessly in the rehearsal process.
Then what we got to do was sort of live this tiny microcosm
of a life in a four-month period in almost real time. It was bizarre
because we shot the beginning sequences at the beginning, and there
was so much unsaid throughout the first two-thirds of the film, so
much pent-up within these characters, that when the kettle sort of
explodes at the end of the movie, all that stuff felt
ultra-realistic because we were confined to this tiny suburban house
for months at a time. And there was so much that our characters had
wanted desperately to say to each other.
When those scenes finally happen, that was something I was
really looking forward to, because I just felt, certainly doing it
with Kate as well since there's such a comfort level we have just
being friends and knowing, that we have the best intentions for each
other, like she said. So we can be brutally honest and savage to
each other onscreen and we trust each other in that regard, so that
was the stuff I was looking most forward to, and I think it was
For me, one of the most memorable scenes that we shot together was
the breakfast scene at the end of the film, because I remember
reading it on the page and thinking, "How the hell are we gonna get
through this? How on earth are we gonna do this?" And everything
about that scene took me by surprise, from the way that it was lit
in that incredibly stark, beautiful, naked way; from the way that
Sam really steered us through the very difficult emotions.
Rhythmically, the scene is very delicate; and I remember feeling
very strongly that Leo and I were very much in Sam's hands when we
were shooting that scene, because it was so difficult for us to have
a kind of sixth sense of what we needed it to be. All we knew was
that we had to be very honest about every word we were saying, and
we just had to trust in Sam so completely, because emotionally it
was just very difficult to get through.
Was your character a heroic figure?
I feel that April is a heroine. I didn't feel she was a coward,
neither did I feel she was suicidal, and I certainly didn't think
she was bipolar. But I do believe that this was a woman that was
taken to an emotional brink in her pursuit of happiness, and I think
it literally sent her mad, I really do. And in giving herself an
abortion, I don't think that she was intending to kill herself, but
she knew that it was a very big risk, and there's something
incredibly courageous and stoic about that. And it's a fine line,
you know? It's very difficult to translate those two things
And Leo, your character is such a tragic figure. Do you think he
Where do I begin? I think what's interesting about the novel and the
way Yates writes all these characters is that the sympathy shifts
constantly throughout the course of the book. Where you think Frank
is sort of despicable for cheating on his wife at the beginning of
the film, at the end of the film you realize that he's the one
trying to salvage the relationship. I just loved playing a character
that just slightly fell short of his ambitions. I thought it was
just a compelling thing to do. He just did not have the courage at
the end of the day to follow through with the life he wanted. He
would be happier conforming to his existence.
Do you think the '50s were as much a character in this
At first, having read the novel and read the script, I thought the
'50s was a huge component. This was the era of prescription
medication, and we're moving to Levittown and the suburbs, and
trying to have that symbolic American family existence drove a lot
of people nuts. But I thought as much as that was a product of the
movie, once we did the film a lot of that stripped away, and a lot
of that became a backdrop to the emotional drama of these characters
What did you think about the plight of oppressed women
in the days of Revolutionary Road?
We should also share this question with Kathy. But, one of the
things that was so touching to me and moving to me about April
Wheeler was that this was a woman who seemed to me, like so many
women of that time, whose interior world was so much bigger than her
exterior world. I'm very different to her, and I had to find a way
of understanding her and loving her, which I did and which I do, but
it was not always easy. She's a very complex and complicated women,
who has no emotional outlets.
I'm lucky, I get to express my passions and the spirited
side of myself, and the strong-willed side of myself through the
jobs that I do. I was so moved by April's lack of emotional outlet,
and it was just crushing to me, and it was very difficult to play.
Frank and April, they do see themselves as being slightly more
glamorous than everybody around them, and in many ways I think that
that's the one thing, actually, that's kept April going, living this
life that she's really unhappy living. She's somehow managed
convinced herself that everything's okay because they're not like
the Campbells [their friends], they're not like the Givings [their
neighbors], they're just a little bit better than everybody else.
She goes to Frank, "We can't go on pretending that this was
the life we wanted," and in many ways she's incredibly brave, even
to be able to admit that to herself. So many women were coasting
along and living this lie because they simply had no other option,
and as Leo said, prescription medication and sneaking beverages
midday all began during that time.
With this and The Reader, you are competing
against yourself in various awards races – especially since the
Oscar noms are upcoming. How do you feel about that?
I'll answer the last part of your question first. I feel very proud
of both of these films, and proud to be a part of them, and quite
honestly, I don't know how categorizing of actors even happens. I
really truly don't. It certainly has nothing to do with me, it's
incredible to be talked about in that way, and I can only hope that
I can live up the expectation. I hope the work speaks for itself,
and it's my job to make myself available to support both these films
Leo, you've done a lot of big movies with many famous directors,
including Martin Scorsese four times. What did Sam Mendes bring to
the table as a director?
He knows how to work with actors, that's simply it. He's kind of
masterful at that. And he realized very early on that we'd all have
questions about our characters, and the true intent of our
characters, and he let us unleash a lot of that.
We got to express all our doubts and disbeliefs of what our
characters intentions were, and what we felt, and he listened to a
lot of that, and asked us these very penetrating questions.
Sometimes it's jarring, when you're in the middle of doing a scene
and he says, "What do you think your character's really doing this
You have to stop and say, "Actually, I didn't think of
that. I have to admit you're right… I should have an answer for
that, but I don't. Let me think of that answer." That ability to
question his actors in a very gentle way, it gives you all that
subtext that you need. I could go on and on about it, but I think
you get the picture.