Suburban life has always
fascinated filmmakers. Close-knit, middle-class residential
nirvanas made up of similar houses, swimming pools, mini-vans and
girl scout cookies have always seemed a microcosm of all that is
comfortable and at the same time plastic about the American dream.
Suburbia has inspired many diverse film classics over the years,
including The Graduate, ET: The Extra Terrestrial and
It is onto just this kind of
cul de sac in West Orange, New Jersey, that British director
Julian Farino (who is best known for chronicling another type of
American dream while directing many episodes of HBO's Entourage)
sets his sights in his new film.
The Oranges is the story of
the Wallings and the Ostroffs, two neighboring couples who are best
friends. David and Paige Walling (Hugh Laurie of House,
M.D. and Catherine Keener of The 40 Year-Old Virgin) and
Terry and Cathy Ostroff (Allison Janney and Oliver Platt, both of
The West Wing) are as close as next door neighbors can be,
spending all their time together eating, drinking, talking and
running. The younger generation of Wallings and Ostroffs are
not so close. Walling daughter Vanessa (Alia Shawkat of
Arrested Development) and Ostroff daughter Nina (Leighton
Meester of Gossip Girl) had been friends years earlier, but
the beautiful and wild Nina left the plain and more-reserved Vanessa
behind for a cooler crowd years before. Meanwhile Walling son
Toby (Adam Brody of The OC) has been nursing an unrequited
crush on Nina for years, a crush that both pairs of parents
fantasize will take root, but one that Nina seems to have no real
interest in pursuing.
The Oranges takes place
between Thanksgiving and New Years one year, when Nina dejectedly
returns home from traveling the world, freshly broken up with her
cheating fiancé. The families see this as a chance to fix up
Nina and Adam, but instead Nina seems drawn to his dad David.
The younger woman and older man slip into an affair which explodes
this tight-knit group.
Just about the entire huge ensemble cast and the
director of The Oranges recently met with us and some other
media outlets for a press conference at the Crosby Street Hotel in the SoHo section of New
York. (Co-star Leighton Meester was called away to do some filming
on a different project at the last minute.) They had a lively,
funny discussion about their movie and their
What drew each of
you to the film?
Initially, I think the script spoke to me. I thought, wow, what a
crazy thing to happen to two families. How would I deal with
something like that? An extraordinary, awful thing that happens. I
loved the character's development through dealing with it,
navigating the event. Then, the cast falling into place and meeting
with Julian, it was a no-brainer for me. I wanted to play with
these people. They are all willing to be silly and playful. So,
that's my story.
Maybe Hugh should answer that, because you have an interesting
character in the piece and you took the part on.
Yeah, I've got an interesting character. Well, I think we all
shared the same response. I read the script and I thought it was
beautifully done. I thought it was very funny, but I also thought
it took people's lives seriously. It took people's feelings
seriously. It did it in a way that wasn't condescending or
judgmental in any way. It was very humane, I thought. It's a very
delicate line to tread. I think Julian has trod it with elegance
and grace. It is a tricky one, it could either be sort of hahaha
and yet not really be a believable or respectful portrayal of real
relationships and real consequences to things. But I just thought
it was beautifully done. And then when you hear the other actors'
names, you begin to salivate in a slightly unseemly fashion. It's
an enormous thrill to be part of it. (to Oliver) Go!
Oliver, you're on. Go!
(to Hugh) Umm... Nice talk. Everybody has
talked and we all sort of agree about this, but for me there is
just this wonderful tension in the movie. In the narrative between
how people would think that they should respond to an event like
this and then how they actually do. As Hugh said, it's done in a
very mysterious, yet believable way. It's constructed... they chose
to set the story at the time of year when there is so much pressure
on everybody to be humane and loving and civil with each other,
because it's the holidays. What better environment to lob this
grenade of an event into and then watch the consequences? Unquestionably, morally, this is a taboo
thing in our culture, and I would imagine a lot of different
cultures. So there is how you think you should respond and then
there is how you actually do respond. To me, the brilliance of the
script is that the event happens on page 30 instead of on page 90,
because it's really about the consequences. It's about what happens
to this little community that is created by these two families and
how these mysterious things occur in their lives. Which are not
necessarily named, they are shown. That's definitely part of it.
All the others everybody else said.
I can't say more than that. I had a beautiful meeting with
Julian and I'll always remember it. Everything else was
fantastic, so I don't know. We had a great, really, really fine
time together. I care a lot about everyone here and I know they do
for me. (to Julian) Where's Leighton? I'm just curious.
Filming. They couldn't release her.
Oh, she's filming. No, I just... because we miss her. She was
awesome. Great. It was really kind of ideal. You probably can
gather how warm everyone is from seeing the film, because you can't
hide that. I think that was all in the casting, Julian, I really
do. I know you were very careful about that, so... I don't know.
Did any of you
draw from any past experiences or someone you knew for your
Thankfully, no, I didn't have this kind of experience at all.
(laughs) I'm so glad. But it was fun to just imagine if
something like that happened. For my character, Cathy, who was so
controlling, to have something like this happen has just made her
apoplectic. It was fun to live through that in an imaginary
Well, I've certainly been in a situation... I think we all have...
where we felt caught in something. What do you do about that when
the truth comes crashing in and you have to face it? That's the
feeling that I had a lot on this movie. You learn that you'll come
up again. You'll be all right. No matter what, there's another day
that is going to happen and yesterday will pass and it will be
okay. In terms of that, I've had that experience kind of everyday.
The only thing I have to say
and this is your exclusive –
I'm not from New Jersey, but the whole reason for the thing for me
was I thought this subject matter in the States today may be a
tricky concept for an American audience. As an outsider coming to
America and experiencing – I've lived here seven years now –
different sets of moral values to Europeans and so on. I thought
that story may rub people the wrong way, but what I was prompting
Hugh with earlier was the beauty of the story was that it's really
about forgiveness and human frailty and weaknesses and the ability
that we can all transcend those things. That was the heart of the
movie. The people that may object to the movie or the concept of
the movie are actually the ones that you want to hit in a funny
way. It is the most generous sort of view. That was a universal
thing. It wasn't very, very specific. So I had no experience of
family cut among the pigeons like this, but that was what made sense
It sounds like
nobody was scared off by the difficult subject matter of the film.
There seems to be a six-degrees separation among this cast where
people have worked together in the past. Hugh, having worked with
House, did it
make it easier for you to attack this?
It was a terrific help. I think undeniably it was a terrific help.
Apart from everything else, I knew that we could do it. That we
could work together and we could play scenes together and I knew I
liked Leighton a lot. She's an absolute hoot. We had a very good
time doing it. And no, I don't think... you made the early
reference to being scared away... it's not Lolita. It's kind of weird that we're having to explain or
nervously frame a set of circumstances that are actually
considerably less difficult to digest than a film from 50-60 years
ago. It's a strange thing that we have reached that point.
Particularly in a story which is so palpably humane and
compassionate, in which nobody is acting malevolently. Nobody is
seeking to dominate or exploit or make mischief. It is just the
great foaming waters of the human heart. After all, to tell
stories about endless human perfection is both A) dull and B) impossible, actually, because there is no such thing that I know of. If
anything it's the other way around. We are drawn to the
imperfection and drawn to the mistakes that human beings make.
Particularly mistakes that are made out of good intentions, or at
least kind intentions. It's not to say that this is of no
consequence, absolutely it is. Like I said, one of the
things that attracted us all to the script is the fact that the
consequences are taken very seriously and respectfully. I think the
characters are treated with respect. But, yes, I would absolutely
agree that having known... Leighton did two episodes of House,
so for a few weeks we were acting together. That was an
enormous help. I'm sure if we hadn't known each other, we would
probably have jumped in and somehow found our way, but I was
personally very relieved. I can't speak for her because she isn't.
You know, just to put it a slightly different way, the filmmakers,
the writers, very artfully if you notice, they don't editorialize.
They don't ask you to root for one character or another. They don't
approve or disapprove of any behavior. They are laying it out there
and showing us. Like I said, they are lobbing this grenade into
this little happy community. They are watching what happens. And
unless I saw a different movie, there isn't any
sort of happy ending. The movie ends in my favorite kind of way,
which is suspended and ambiguous, but somehow satisfying, which I
think is very artful. It's also very truthful, too. This is not a
movie that advocates or doesn't advocate for anything, except for,
as Hugh said, humanity.
think that the lack of comfort in the subject matter is more about
the closeness of the characters than the social mores around it.
There's sort of a contradiction in the sense that you guys all sort
of knew each other before and I'm wondering if that made it easier
to play people who were conflicted.
Oliver Platt: I think it always does. In my experience
Catherine Keener: I think yes. I agree with you that it's
more that than the other, definitely. Because really when you look
at the other that's not really that farfetched, it happens all the
time. What's unique about this situation, which is also quite
possible, is that our families are so tight and the crossover is
Julian Farino: I didn't know who knew who beforehand. I'd
seen the episode of Leighton and Hugh together and I had a feeling
that they could be chemically great, which is obviously crucial for
the movie. I didn't know there was history for everyone else. But
it became the job of the cast and the spirit in which the thing was
made. That was the quality of actor thing that everybody jumped
into that and tried to engineer a situation where you felt that
there was closeness and there was history and chemistry. It's the
great unknown when you go in, especially in an ensemble, and even
more so when you've got families involved. That's the credit of the
cast that they made those relationships believable. I don't think
it relied on all them all being mates beforehand did it.
Catherine Keener: You do that on a hunch and sometimes
hunches are good and sometimes they don't work out. But this one the
hunches worked out I think.
Why wasn't the movie shot in New Jersey? Did you want to shoot it
there at any point?
Julian Farino: It was shot in New Rochelle [New York] actually, so for
me that's production money and budget. What you can allow, where
you can be and New York tax breaks and fairly tedious stuff. How
far out of New York we were actually able to go. For me the main
thing was to create somewhere that visually was believable to be a
New Jersey story. Beyond that the only thing I was concerned about,
I didn't want the houses to be so big that it looked like a story
about rich people, which it wasn't. I just wanted to be comfortable
and welcoming and warm and so on, and to find a real spot where that
relationship with the two houses was practically possible. Of
course the first thing I did when we started was go to West Orange,
and where we ended up shooting to me seemed like it was believable.
Certainly no one in London won't know that we weren't in West
Orange; that was my way of thinking.
Allison Janney: I don't
think anybody knows where West Orange is.
Julian Farino: Probably
Catherine Keener: It was perfect proximity. I mean it
was kind of perfectly laid out. It made such sense. You could see
when we were coming home. It just supported the story so much, just
the logistics of the location.
Julian Farino: It was great to have two complete houses that
we took over and that all the rooms were the rooms that we shot in.
We always tried to shoot out with windows in the back where you
would see the other house just to bed in that these two families are
completely locked together.
This for Allison and Oliver. I was wondering, having worked
together on The West Wing if it was easier coming into this
to play a married couple.
Allison Janney: When I
heard that Oliver was going to do this, we just had fun together. I
think we even knew each other before West Wing. I just know
that he has a sense of playfulness that makes it really easy. He's
very easy to be around and easy to have fun with. This relationship
with the two of them, I just knew that he was going to make it more
exciting to do. So yeah it helped and it definitely gave us a
common ground that we came in on, just our mutual love and respect
for each other. That made it easy to jump off and be a married
couple that was ignoring each other.
Oliver Platt: It always helps when you know each other. If
it's Allison Janney that you have to be married to then... When you
like a person and you respect them tremendously as an actor that's
two big boxes checked, especially when you need to create the
illusion that you've been living together all this time. I also
give a tremendous amount of credit to Julian for creating an
environment on the set. I don't think this is really something that
you can teach a director, creating an environment on the set that
brings out the best in people. That is sort of playful, but
constructive and fluid, but charged. It was just a really
delightful day at work every day. They did another very enlightened
thing which is that they, driven by economics, but instead of having
trailers they put us in this house down the street. The doors were
always open and Hugh had his piano and there was always
extraordinary jazz wafting down. We took our clothes off and really
lived a utopian existence.
Catherine Keener: I shopped at Target to put rugs in the
rooms. It was really fun.
Julian, can you talk about the inclusion of the Heifer
International Charity in this because I thought that was really
Julian Farino: The
barnyard thing. It was a feature of the script. If anything I had
just encouraged [screenwriters] Jay [Reiss] and Ian [Helfer] to
write a little bit more of it because I liked it because it was a
little eccentric. It was that part for Keener's character where you
don't really know what's happening to you. Making a movie I didn't
have to give too many notes. This was a very easy cast to direct
and embrace, but I do remember saying things. The main thing for me
was a lot happens in the present tense, it's not introspective, it's
not dark, it's not brooding. You don't always know what's happening
to you and that was a way of trying to keep it alive and support the
story. The barnyard thing is a typical, Keener's character is in
the absolute depths of despair and sees this thing. It doesn't
really mean anything at that moment, it's just a hunch. In terms of
the characters traveling through the course of the story, I love the
idea that the worst possible thing, the breakup of a household,
could happen, and yet her character ends up in Africa achieving
peace of mind and a greatness that wouldn't have happened otherwise,
which is many of the characters' evolutions and encompasses the
message of the movie. You don't know where you're going to travel.
Apparent disaster can lead to progress and improvement and
redemption and all those things.
Adam, can you
talk about your upcoming films? You were making three this year?
deal, guys. Umm, I don't know. I did a few things this year that
I'm excited about. However, this has been a long time
coming. Julian? (to Julian Farino) Was I the first cast
Oh no, I'm sorry to tell you that you were not. (both laugh)
Well, you were the only person ever in my mind for your part. I
know you were there super-early, because I remember talking to your
agent and you were always there to be had and we had everything else
to sort out. You were pretty out there, too.
Good save, Julian. Good save.
You were pretty front and center.
Yeah, I know, I just feel like I've been on this in one way or
another for like three years now.
It was your destiny.
... so, this is finally bearing fruit.
And, I don't know, I'm just excited to be here with these guys.
Other movies, another time, I don't know. But thank you.
Was there any
thought of casting Alia as Oliver Platt's daughter, since there is
more of a resemblance? Also, many of the cast members have interest
in music and photography. Did that seep over to how you were on
I've not had that question before. I actually quite like playing
music on set where appropriate, but I wouldn't say in this case
there are any big party scenes or anything that was led by the
music, apart from the carol singers, frankly. In terms of the
casting process and putting together two families, really you have
to go for the essence of part and character and everything else.
Alia was always Vanessa for me, because she had that individuality
and intelligence, that sort of point of view. Oliver, as he told
me, was comedy gold, so I felt obliged to take advantage. I did
have maps and pictures of where everybody fits, in terms of
likenesses and this, that and the other. But, really, I went with
energies more. Once we had all the correct characters in place,
then the cast went to work to make the relationships feel like they
had history and were plausible and the friendships needed to feel
like they dated back twenty-five years. Which, when you have a half
a day's rehearsal, is not that easy. But that's what the cast
brought. And I have no problem with Alia as daughter of Hugh.
As two musicians,
Hugh and Adam, what did you think of the film's soundtrack?
do I think of the soundtrack? I... (to Adam) What do
you think of it?
I'm not up to date on it, to be perfectly honest.
Thank you for being honest on my behalf, too. We are seeing it
What do you think of the soundtrack?
I thought the
songs were really well placed.
Well placed? Like they were chosen...
really has great taste in music. He does.
The hardest song and the most controversial, in terms of debate,
discussion, creative process for producers, etc., was the Atlantic
City montage song. It had a sort of editorial job to do, as well.
It was supposed to be both celebratory of Hugh and Leighton, and at
the same time just to have some bigger picture sort of shadow.
We had an enormous amount of variety of opinions on that.
Ultimately, that song was written for the movie by Ian Bennett from
a band called The Grand Nationals. For me, that was a big moment.
In fact, in Toronto (Film Festival screening) we did not have that
music, and we had a very, very last minute debate. We put in a
song, a song I like, but it wasn't correct on an emotional level.
Def Leppard, yeah. And that was driving the whole movie at that
point, because all the actors were so slow, I felt I had a need for
this. (Catherine laughs) That became the signature. The end
title song is also written by Ian. He wrote two songs and they are
both in the movie, I'm glad to say. It's a delicate thing, music.
It sounds like you know. But that Atlantic City montage right at
the center of the story, that was a key one.
Do you think that this comedy could have taken place in England or
Europe? What would have been the adjustment to the script?
Julian Farino: We do comedy in England as well. You can ask
Hugh about that.
About this topic I mean.
Julian Farino: I think so. For me personally it was always
meant to be suburbia anywhere. The point of the story was to be as
universal as possible. I thought the relationships in it were very universal. We all know of a friend that we grew up with because our
parents were best friends. You spend many years and then something
happens that takes you apart. Mother-daughter relationships with
the slightly smothering mother, that's recognizable. Dads as best
friends. The dynamics were absolutely universal to me, and to try
to describe suburbia in New Jersey as the story was set was only
really suburbia anywhere. For me it was suburban because the values
were not urban. I never wanted a pastiche suburbia or anything like
that. The film's not a dark film, nor is it edgy, and for that it's
more an urban story, and this became suburban where there was a sort
of lightness of spirit and a little less darkness maybe. So in
answer to your question yeah, I would like to think anywhere
families make human mistakes.
I think one of the things that intrigued me about the film most
was Vanessa's reaction to her father. Can you talk a little bit
about the thought and preparation that went into those scenes?
Alia Shawkat: I thought it was interesting that she's the
narrator. That's a weird choice I think. Someone who's not
necessarily at peace of mind, naturally anyways. I found that
interesting. She's just reacting, as you said, as we all
are in the film, but she separates herself from everybody. I didn't
really prepare too much, I was just trying to make her real and
funny I guess. Funny and real. Real funny.
Julian Farino: It had to have love between the two of
you in the general terms of everything being positive about human
behavior. The script always had that generosity about human beings.
A terribly fractured moment between Alia and Hugh's characters had
to come out of somewhere loving to really count. I love the
fact that the script had an apparent outsider, or perhaps the one
that had the least immediate sense of consequence, to be the
narrator. The idea by the end of the movie that you understand this
was a critical moment in Vanessa's life as well was, for me,
Allison, we actually spoke on the phone recently about
Liberal Arts, but we did talk about this movie too and you said
that this script gave you, I don't remember if you said it was
either your best or your craziest line. You said when I heard it
I would know it and I definitely knew what it was. So I was
wondering if you've gotten any reactions from people who have seen
the film about that line? And if any of the other cast members want
to jump off of that just talking about maybe some fun memories
you've had of reactions from people who are close to you to
something that you've done in your work.
Allison Janney: I had some friends who for some reason saw it
in Minnesota. Why was it playing in Minnesota?
Julian Farino: It was a festival I think.
Allison Janney: I didn't know that they were seeing it and
they called me up afterwards and just sang the line into my phone.
They loved it; they said it was their favorite moment to get to see
me say that line. I'm going to screw it up if I try to say it
because I don't remember exactly how it goes, but it's something
about balls... old balls. It was very satisfying to say. It was
hard because as an actor you know something's going to have comic
value and yet you don't want to play it for the laugh. I have to
play Cathy is just completely undone. She is so angry and she's
trying to be mature about the situation and it just comes flying out
of her mouth. It was extremely rewarding to do right.
Catherine Keener: What's the line?
Allison Janney: How does
Julian Farino: ... feel
sucking David's old balls?
Allison Janney: "How are you going to feel with David's old
balls in your mouth," or something like that. (They all laugh.)
Oliver Platt: Old hairy
Hugh Laurie: It should be
my hairy balls.
Catherine Keener: That is a funny line.
Allison Janney: I couldn't wait to say it.
Hugh Laurie: I do
remember though, I do remember... obviously you're right, a line
like that takes some fine judgment. But, I do remember you doing it
about 85 different ways. And every single one of them was
brilliant. (They all laugh again.) That was a great day for
us getting to see you [curse]. Oh, great, it's Allison's old balls
day. That was a good day.
Oliver Platt: She totally
did get it on the first take, but we were like...
Hugh Laurie: Yeah, do it
Oliver Platt: Do you
think you can do it some more?
seen you win lots of awards on the stage for serious roles, and here
you were almost like Lucille Ball with the comic moves. Was this
different for you?
You know, it's all the same for me. There must be some subtle
differences I do, but I approach everything whether it is Arthur
Miller, or The Arches, or whatever I'm doing, I approach it
from the same place of grounding it in reality. I've never
considered myself particularly a funny person off camera, just
myself. But I know what makes people funny is their behavior and
their reality of why they are behaving that way. Basically it's my
mother. The things my mother does are hilarious to me. She thinks
things are so important to her. I'm like, why do you care if there
is a hot towel rack in the bathroom or not? The things that she
thinks are so important and she invests herself in are hysterical
for me. I try to invest any character I play with whatever passion
of their reality, what's important to them, and it comes across as
It was funny
when you were trying to hide behind the bushes.
Whatever, I'm going to invest it. If I have to hide behind a
lamppost, I'm going to hide behind that lamppost. You are not
going to see me, no matter how large I am. I'm going to do the
same for whatever. Comedy, tragedy, whatever. It's going to have
my stamp on it.
One of the
themes of the movie is what happiness really means. What did you
learn from each other living in those homes – your interests,
What was the question?
(everyone laughs) I don't recall talking about it with
anybody. But, that said, just speaking for myself, I really enjoy
company and I really enjoy making movies, so this was – not to keep
it too on point – but this was actually a really, really fun time.
I enjoyed the hell out of it. But in terms of extracurricular,
there was a lot. It was fun.
I think for me, I know that being attached to this movie, thinking
about it there is a truthfulness that is valued.
I very much value
it and try and see it for what it is worth and how credibility is
important. Knowing that it's going to pass. Whatever it is, it's
going to pass. The moments will be remembered and treasured, but
you can't freeze time. That feeling is very comforting to me. I'm
happy that I understand that, as much as I can, anyway. And
continue to try.
I want to refine my answer. Collaboration was the word I was
Hugh Laurie: We should
have helped you with that word.
We're collaborating now.
TO SEE WHAT ALLISON JANNEY HAD TO SAY TO US IN 2009!