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March 29, 2005.
Actress Joan Allen, long of leg and lithe in form, is also in great form
lately having tackled two challenging and divergent characters in The
Upside of Anger and Off the Map. With
each film being released on exactly same day, they illustrate Allen’s
skill a developing two very different people grapple with the challenges
of becoming middle age and losing (or gaining) the men in their lives. In
less than a decade she has garnered three Oscar noms, and played such
diverse characters as Pat Nixon and the wife in The Ice Storm.
These roles and more have proved her remarkable
dexterity as a talent.
What’s it like to have two films come out at the same time?
just hope to get the right name of the movie [laughs]. I can watch myself
and it almost seems it’s not me. It almost seems I’m watching somebody
else so I can be more sort of objective about it.
Which character is most like you?
The Upside of Anger was scarier for me to do because of the comic
element. And the drinking was such a huge part of it. But
I trusted [Upside director/actor] Mike Binder so much; he
wrote the part for me and I just had a great sense of him and his
sensibility. I knew he wasn’t going to let me down; he’d tell me when it
was funny and when it didn’t work. The best thing to do is be brave. I had
to be the bravest I can be and dare to be horrendous. As an actor it was a
lot of fun. A little exhausting but very fulfilling.
How were these two directors [Binder and Off
The Map director Campbell Scott] alike or different?
That’s a hard question. They both were kind of quiet. They would just come
in and say a few words about something, but not be intrusive. In some
ways I found them a lot similar. They both act as well. Mike has done a
lot of acting too.
Being actors, were they more hands on?
was a good balance. I felt it was a good balance of helping me. I felt
like I could go to them. They were helpful when I needed them and not
intrusive when they knew I just needed to try it.
What did Campbell and Mike tell you that made them different from a
director who hasn’t acted before?
thing they understand is not to tell you too much. The best thing to me
that a director can do is making an actor feel safe and loved. I would
never work with a director that would make me feel intimidated scared. I
would never be able to do my work. Cause you’re out there doing all crazy
stuff. And you have to feel loved by the director. Maybe that is a bit
strong of a statement but I do need to feel nurtured. Definitely nurtured
by the director. And I can try anything and it’s really important to me. I
think them both being actors I think they have a better idea when to come
in when to not when to whisper something to you; When to squeeze your arm.
All those things that enable you to be vulnerable, because that’s what our
job is—to go out and be vulnerable.
So they can tell when you’re in the zone?
you tell them, I can’t talk right now. Give me another shot. Don’t say
anything right now and Campbell
is like “Oh,
okay.” The director has to be incredible sensitive to the acting
What motivated you to play this character in Off The Map?
Well initially it took a while to get this movie made. Actually, I turned
Campbell down because, for me, when I was reading it, I wanted to be the
one who was messed up. Here was another character being the caretaker
again. And Campbell was like, “Oh its different” but
took a couple more years when the film came back to me and then I started
to see it more as she was very earthy and I thought that would be a lot of
fun to play. This woman knows how to fix a car for God’s sake. And that
element started to supersede the other part of it.
Even the nude scene?
told Campbell that I didn’t think I’d be able to do that. And he was set
up with the body double and then I told him to be prepared, that I
probably would do it. So I ended up doing it. It was scheduled later into
the shoot and after I had been in New Mexico for about a month I thought,
“Oh I understand naked gardening now.” Then I did in my penthouse in New
York. In New York I was kind of like “I don’t understand naked gardening
with rattlesnakes and tarantulas.” It didn’t seem smart to me. But it was
easier to do because it was not a sexual scene. I wouldn’t be able to do a
nude sex scene. Campbell said it would be very discreet; it’ll be behind
things. But you know you have to do it because the IRS agent gets blown
out of the water seeing this woman just standing there, naked. It was
difficult, but I’m glad that ultimately I did do it.
No naked gardening in your
don’t do it here. I’m from the Midwest. My mom would find out somehow. I’m
from Northern Illinois. In a small town called Rochelle.
What were the challenges of this role?
Well you just have to do what’s on the page. It presented a lot of fun
opportunities to go to the garbage dump, into the garden and carry a big
battery over and slam it down—and I loved the clothes. They were
phenomenal because the costume designer got them from thrift stores. She
was fabulous. It felt authentic. The landscape was beautiful and just
hanging out there. Just all around.
It's great that as an older actress, you are
still getting some great roles. Why is that?
have no idea why it works that way. It’s just what comes out at a certain
time. For instance, if Oliver Stone hadn’t done Nixon at that time,
that was the right role for me at the right time. It just took me to a
level of notice within the industry. I look back and I’ve now done five
films within the last two years—Off the Map, The Notebook, Yes, Upside
of Anger and there’s The Bourne Supremacy. I haven’t worked for
several months now.
There’s a certain energy that you project...
just try and do the best with every role I get to do. Hopefully the
experience in itself is a good experience and people will want to work
Are you signed up for another Bourne film?
they decide to do and they write me in I am signed already yes.
Do you enjoy getting a balls out character like that one?
enjoyed the film. I enjoyed the genre and I loved the director. I loved
the other people working on it like Matt Damon. Really nice, really great
people. It was one of the hardest roles I’ve ever done. The language was
so unemotional it was almost impossible for me to memorize. They kept
changing the script as well. It would be lunch and then it would be like
here are 4 more pages. We’re going to shoot this after lunch. That kind of
dialogue is like memorizing the phone book. When its not overtly emotional
its hard. The lines would just go out of my head! It was like “uplink the
satellite on precinct 3.” It was a good challenge.
you feel any pressure to prove yourself to other actresses?
there is equal footing, Valentina [de Angelis, who plays here daughter in
Off The Map] included. She was so prepared, so smart. Her mother
wasn’t even on the set. Her mother is fabulous. She has a wonderful
family. She was so self possessed she would say “mom can you stay back in
the trailer?” and mom would be like “yeah ok.”
She was there she knew her lines. She had more
lines than any of us in the whole film. She had longer hours. There’s an
unselfish consciousness of younger people too. I think that the older you
get you have to watch that. I think that when you work with the older
actors I look for them to teach me something on how to stay open.
Do you ever want to go back to theatre?
No. I did a lot of theatre in my younger life in my ‘20s and I loved it so
much. But I prefer working in film these days. But part of it is that its
really hard work. Every day you got to go. Everyday. I remember shooting a
really emotional scene in the crucible and I came home and I said thank
god I’m not doing this in a play because you’d have to do it every night.
It’s very demanding.
Are there things you want to do other than acting?
I have been
co-producing for a couple of years that hopefully will get done at some
point. It’s called Pushers Needed.
It’s about a group of working class Irish women who live in Dublin
who get to go to Lords with the church and they push the wheel chairs of
the cripples who go and get cured. It’s a comedy written and directed by a
guy named Jimmy Smallhorn. And I’ve got wonderful actresses who want to do
it if the planets aligned and the money and their schedules. Maggie Smith
and Kathy Bates want to do it and Claire Danes too. But it’s hard to