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Mark Ruffalo, Peter Krause, Laura Dern and John Curran
ruffalo, peter krause, laura dern and john curran
by jay s. jacobs
All rights reserved. Posted: August 21, 2004.
We Don't Live Here Anymore is a
haunting, sometimes even devastating, look at modern marriage. Based
on two short stories by Andre Dubus ("We Don't Live Here Anymore" and "Adultery"), the movie focuses on two couples. The film
chronicles the casually cruel
things that people can inflict upon each other in the name of love.
It is rare for marriage, divorce, affairs and
arguments to be so intimately captured on screen.
(Mark Ruffalo) and Hank (Peter Krause) are English professors in a small New
England college. They are also best buddies, jogging partners and
highly competitive. Both of their wives are stay-at-home moms, and
also close friends.
Jack's relationship with his wife Terry (Laura Dern) is like a war front.
They are constantly arguing about money, sex, housekeeping and
drinking. Hank's marriage with Edith (Naomi Watts) is cooler.
They live in a perfectly orderly house. They are very civil.
They don't fight much. They don't talk much, actually. However,
a chasm is growing between them just as gaping as their friends' split.
Things come to a head when Jack and Edith embark on an affair. Terry
suspects the relationship and confronts Jack. He passive-aggressively
turns it back on her and practically goads her into fooling around with
Hank. None of the four even seem to enjoy the flings that they are
having. They are just going through the motions to fill some need like safety or danger,
intimacy or revenge. However, the ripples spread
quickly, putting all four relationships on the course to peril.
may sound like uncomfortable viewing. However, the film is put together with a
spare, personal quality that makes you feel like you are eavesdropping on
these couples. The script, which was written by Larry Gross (48
Hrs., Prozac Nation) twenty-five years ago, is quietly devastating.
(The film won the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award at the 2004 Sundance Film
Festival.) The acting is superb. It carries the characters
through all the rough spots. They may do unlikable things, but with
this accomplished cast, they are hard to dislike.
breakthrough role in You Can Count On Me,
Mark Ruffalo has done a dizzying variety of roles and characters on film.
In just three years heís done such stimulating films as Collateral
with Tom Cruise, Eternal Sunshine
of the Spotless Mind with Jim Carrey,
In the Cut with Meg Ryan
and The Last Castle
with Robert Redford. His role in the recent hit comedy 13 Going
has made him a hot commodity.
Undoubtedly an upcoming
film with Jennifer Aniston, which is a loose update
of the classic film The
will only make him bigger.
star of the celebrated HBO series Six Feet
Under. He also starred in the
critically acclaimed series Sports Night.
At the time of this interview, he is on Broadway doing a revival
of Arthur Millerís After the Fall
with Carla Gugino.
Laura Dern has been a
respected actress since she was a teenager. A few of her best known films
include David Lynchís Blue Velvet, Steven Spielbergís blockbuster Jurassic Park
and her debut performance in Mask
with Cher and Eric Stoltz. She is returning to film with the role of Terry,
after taking time off to have her first baby. She
plans on continuing working on several projects. She will take a
little more time off soon, though, because she mentioned
during the interview that she is pregnant again.
Australian actress Naomi
Watts has also been on a hot streak.
She captured peopleís attention in
David Lynchís Mulholland Dr.
since done a series of quirky films like The Ring,
(with Kate Hudson)
and 21 Grams (with Sean Penn and Benecio Del Toro). She has been tapped to star in
Lord of the Rings director
Peter Jacksonís new remake of King Kong.
director John Curran and three of the stars, Mark Ruffalo, Peter Krause and
Laura Dern all sat down with us at the Regency Hotel in New York a few days
before the filmís debut.
How did you go about getting the four main stars?
was first. I read the script then went to Sydney, Australia and bumped into
Jane Campion. She had just done a film with Mark [In the Cut
with Meg Ryan]. To make a long story short she called.
By the time I got
back to America, he had read it and seen my other film [Praise,
released in 1998]. He said he wanted to do it, which started the momentum
that made other actors want to get onboard. At the same time I was trying
to convince Naomi to do it. Iíve known her for years from Sydney. She was
sort of on the fence because she was doing 21 Grams
and exhausted. When I met Laura it was instantaneous. Peter was the last
one cast and by the time we had settled on that it was only a few weeks
before shooting so we didnít have a lot of rehearsal time. We just jumped
ďIt was a combination
between John and [screenwriter] Larry Gross. I read the script. Although I
thought it was outstanding, it really scared me. I couldnít think of any
directors that could handle it in a really mature, sort of balanced way.
This movieís impossible! Then I find out itís been around since the
70ís. It seemed appropriate. It was at the cusp of a lot of these types of
films that were coming out in the 70ís. I met with John and started talking
to him about where he was coming from. I saw his first picture, Praise,
and I thought yes, absolutely yes. This guy can do something really
special with this film.Ē
Of the four
characters, I think that Laura Dernís character of Terry gets to be the most
emotional. Did you enjoy that? While
these people where being very reserved and Laura gets to just let go?
ďItís interesting, because youíre only the
experience of your character, in a way. Having worked
now for 24 years or something, it was the first time I took time off, to
have a baby and be with my child.
Then I went back to work to do this. So, I had this voracious appetite
for a character that would just let me go and hopefully try to be brave
emotionally, in terms of going places I havenít gone. I love playing
flawed people and morally ambiguous characters. That interests me.
Because itís human nature that weíre all things, so Iím interested in seeing
movies about that. Iíve played some extreme people. But I had
never played someone who, specifically, had this much rage to explore and
expose. That had been built up, probably for a long time.
That really interested me. So that was really fun.Ē
ďThose scenes were crazy. The fight scenes, as an actor, those are really
fun scenes to do. They have a lot of dramatic material in them. I never
want to be mean to Laura Dern. I love Laura Dern. If you were a racecar
driver and you get to drive the best Lamborghini in the world or if youíre a
violinist and get to play a Stradivarius, thatís what itís like to work with
Laura Dern. Sheís the best. Sheís so present, giving, and committed. Itís
so much fun. All those people are really great actors. It was very
satisfying to do those scenes.Ē
are a lot of sexually charged scenes in the movie, but theyíre not
titillating or provocative. Itís a release that they do to get over their
angst. As an actor, you have this activity all around you. How can you do
those scenes take after take?
ďYou hope thereís not a lot of takes of it. Itís always awkward. Naomi
[Watts] doesnít want to be there. Itís not as enjoyable as it may look,
especially if the girlís not into it. There are laws against that. The
sex, like you said, comes out of this release. Thereís a lot of guilt and
shame involved with the sex scenes. Itís not the kind of sex that comes out
of loving, fantastic relationships. Itís sex that they use to cover up the
shabbiness of their lives. Those scenes carry that kind of ickiness in a
way. That also makes them even more difficult to play.Ē
Theyíre very effective, but that part out in the woods. Youíre surrounded
by thirty crewmen...
ďThat was a particularly horrible day. Both Naomi and I, before we did the
movie, didnít feel that the movie needed explicit sex scenes. Neither of us
wanted to get nude in any of the sex scenes. John was like; weíre going to
shoot it where you only see the sides of you. What am I going to wear? You
mean you need to see the sides of us naked. Thatís pretty much our whole
bodies. Heís like, we wonít see it. Whoís we? You wonít see it? The
camera wonít see it, but everybody else will.Ē
Which of the four actors had
the most questions about their characters?
John Curran: ĒAll of them want to know what
youíre thinking and all of them have a different process. Some do a lot of
prep work and have many ideas. Mark is very intuitive. He just kind of
reacts to the moment. Naomi, because of her [Australian] dialect is a little
more prepped. Laura very much goes into a state, which is amazing.
could still communicate. All of them enjoy getting to a place where they
feel a little off balance and because we didnít have rehearsals I had to
rely on their talent and craft to draw ideas from.Ē
ďNaomi was more embracing. In some ways, as you reflect back
on their affair, there was a coldness to her in a lot of ways in their
affair. A lack of warmth and love. Because of her hidden agenda of why she
was doing it in the first place, which was her grief of her marriage. I
loved the complexities of the choices and of all the characters.Ē
seemed like the really tough scenes were when Mark was hanging out with
Peterís character? Did you guys have discussions about them?
ďThey were hard and difficult scenes to work your way through, because you
have to play it on the edge. Does he know? Peter has to play it in an
ambiguous way. We donít know if he knows, but heís sort of pretending. He
makes a comment. Finding those moments are difficult. The night before we
shot that scene, [we] worked on it for hours. We rewrote it and reworked it and
pulled stuff from the book and then cut stuff. A piece of that scene was
cut in editing too. Those were difficult scenes.Ē
ďSome people want to fight against the way things are. I
think Hank accepts the way things are. His way of fighting is, Ďwell, weíll
have an affair.í Heís dispassionate, in a way. He is struggling to have an
authentic life. For him to have an authentic life is to witness his life
and otherís lives honestly. Weíre not newlyweds anymore. Weíve been
married for years and have kids. The relationship has grown kind of cold.
If you live in New York for a long time, you may want to take a trip to
Jamaica or something. Not that Iím using that analogy, but I think thatís
the kind of analogy that Hank would use. I need a vacation. Iím going to
take a vacation from my life. Thatís okay, as long as nobody gets hurt by
it. Of course, what ends up happening is people do get hurt by it.
ends up getting hurt by it. For years he hasnít been honest with
Edith. They donít have good communication. They donít have much of a
relationship at all. They just keep the household functioning. For their
daughter and themselves, itís a place to sleep, eat and take a shower.Ē
The character of Hank seems
to be the most selfish of the four. The other three all seem to be torn by
everything that is going on, but he we never know for sure how much Hank
knows. He seems okay with everything staying as it
ďI donít think it makes him a bad guy. When I think about
Hank, in terms of flaws, I would say that his greatest flaw is that as
authentic as he tries to be, he skips over the rough stuff. Maybe
thatís an okay way to go through life.
To say, ĎIím after my
satisfaction. I donít mean to hurt you. I have my own sense of morality.
My wife is my home. Once in a while I take a vacation.í Jack, my best
friend, sees me getting my satisfaction elsewhere. Why shouldnít he have
some satisfaction? He kind of digs [Edith]. He ends up falling in love with
her. They have an affair. Hank, because of the way he has been living his
life, and because he really doesnít want a lot of conflict in his life,
doesnít address the fact that he knows they are having an affair. How can I
call them out if Iím doing the same thing?Ē
ďI think itís more that heís blindsided
since heís so self-absorbed that he didnít see it coming. I think Jack,
Edith and Terry sense something looming, which Hank doesnít see. He thinks
that heís got everything under control,
even though he is suffering anxiety
about his work. Thatís all he cares about anyway.Ē
ďTotally, [Jackís] tormented
by it. You sense that heís really reticent about going forward with the
relationship through three-quarters of the film. When he finally says, I
love Edith; it has no passion in it. I just think heís unconscious until
that moment, when he realizes what heís going to lose. All of this meanness
that heís displaying with his wife is a perfect manifestation of the way
heís feeling about himself, the hateful feeling that he has and this guilt.
Itís eating him alive. The only way he can deal with it is either push her
off into a relationship or attack her in a way thatís destructive to their
relationship. I think this guy is at the darkest time of his being. And
you see it. He has a morality. Whatís amazing is that he does have a deep
moral compass. Because of that heís deeply affected.
Hank, itís so easy for
him. I had a woman say to me; Ďyour character is such an asshole.í What
about Hank? ĎHeís fine, he doesnít know better!íĒ
This film seems to speak a
lot about the difficulty of monogamy. It almost seems to suggest that
monogamy isnít naturalÖ
John Curran: ďI donít
think the film is about infidelity. I think itís about marriage and the
compromises you make trying to keep it together. Itís also a study about the
time after youíve had kids. The passion is worn out and youíre getting a bit
older. Then the choices you make.
I think monogamy is as natural as
infidelity. There is a duality to it.
If you didnít have that pull towards
something outside your marriage you wouldnít value what you had as much.Ē
ďWhatís interesting about this movie is that I feel like the
affair is sort of a character in the story, more than an event itself. When
there is a long-term relationship, if people arenít communicating, if people
are in fear of all of themselves being revealed and reflected back to them
by a partner... because the ugly stuff gets looked at just like the pretty
stuffÖ then it is likely that a betrayal may reveal itself.
A betrayal can be your partner shutting down and not talking to you for
months at a time, and youíre feeling like youíre in the room with a
stranger. Or a drug or alcohol addiction. Itís not just having sex with
another person. There are all kinds of ways to betray a partnership. So, I
love that the movie doesnít look at sex with another person, infidelity, as
the topic as much as it looks at how do we stay together in terms
of being in our truth. Thatís so interesting to me.Ē
ď[Hank] ends up sleeping with Jackís wife Terry, which I
think on some subtle level is revenge. Itís like leveling the playing
field. If you can sleep with my wife, then I can sleep with yours.
So there is something that bothers him about his best friend sleeping with
his wife. The one thing, arguably, that Hank has not done is brought
an affair close to home. Maybe heís been with some of his students,
but heís kept it away from the home. He hasnít made it so incestuous.
Granted, itís a small college town, so itís not like having an affair in a
big city like New York or wherever where you can kind of get lost in the
multitudes. He fails in not being communicative with Edith. He
ends up not really talking to her. There are two types of warfare
going on in the movie. The Jack and Terry relationship is an all out
ballistic war. On the other side is a cold war. Theyíre
not really talking to each other, Hank and Edith. It sounds so trite
about relationships, but you have to communicate. They are both
communicating ineffectively. One couple is just yelling and screaming
at each other, making each other feel bad. The other couple is not
talking at all. Theyíre not having an actual progressive conversation,
asking questions like, Ďwhy are we married, if weíre going to do this?
Letís have a conversation.í So thatís something thatís akin to a Road
Runner cartoons with the audienceís frustration. Why donít you just
communicate??? But they donít.Ē
ďThese are people that had a relationship that has
been working for ten years. Thereís never been this sort of thing
going on between them. Whatís different, and this is a phenomenon that
actually happens in relationships, is this thing called ĎThe Gray Itch.í
His perception of his youth has passed him. His dreams will never be
realized. Heís financially no better now than when he started.
The children have come between him and his wife. Theyíve neglected their
relationship. Heís been out of communication.
He hasnít said the things to her that he needs to say. The
horrible things that you never want to say to another human being, but you
have to for a healthy relationship. This guy is not a jerk-off.
This is a decent man who's gone way off. Heís in deep misery.
They both are. Dreams havenít been realized. Sheís really,
in the book, the smart one. Sheís the smart one of the whole group.
Sheís subverted her intelligence to be a mother. Sheís sold herself
short. She has a lot of resentment. Sheís not a housewife. They
should have a housecleaner. She should be teaching school. They
didnít honor each other and this is where theyíve ended up.Ē
No matter what her
husband did to her, or how he pushed her away, Terry stuck with him. Mark said she was actually
the smart one. How did you feel about playing a role that was so
loved her. A lot of it is attributed to the writing that offers a female
character with that kind of strength. And a filmmaker who sees what in many
movies would be the victim part. Her choices would even be perceived with
judgment by an audience, but I think he wanted my strength. Whereas another
filmmaker might cut away from that, make it more his point of view. She was
the victimized sort of ogre wife. There were a lot of ways to play out the
story. It was really good for me, because itís very easy, particularly for
women, to be in judgment of other women in a specific circumstance.
Certainly in the press, it was interesting to read many points of view, for
example, of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Somehow this sort of ĎStand by your
maní mentality was perceived as weakness or denial.
Exploring this character
made me realize that there is incredible strength in a woman who wants to
look beyond the weaknesses of her partner.Ē
ďHopefully the movie is
not judgmental towards any of the characters. I donít think itís about
black and white but gray. It can be good people dealing with dumb things.
They know it and are trying to deal with it. I have great affection, pity
and understanding for these characters. We all think of ourselves as
fairly good people then you make a few decisions and it can be over.Ē
I thought the
film was to a
certain extent a little ambiguous.
At the end, I was sitting
there trying to decide whether I think that Hank and Edith or Jack and Terry
were the lucky couple. Maybe it was time for a certain amount of breaking
up of that dynamic. I was wondering if Jack and Terry are going to go back
together and six months down the line itís going to be the same exact thing.
ďIt is difficult to let go of that which is familiar. You become familiar
with this combative relationship. When push comes to shove and
you think about leaving it, because its familiar Jack and Terry donít want
to leave. Of course Hank, who has masterfully for years had his cake and
been eating it too, is finally backed into a corner by Edith. When that
happens, he panics and says some disingenuous things.Ē
ďI think weíre jumping
into four people in a crisis. I wasnít interested in the backstory
and overstating how happy they once were. Hopefully
there are touches of that. But,
I kind of like how muscular the script was. We jump into a crisis and weíre
waiting to see what the follow-up is going to be. The
one step beyond their comfort zone. Thatís
what weíre watching, everyone trying to keep it together but little by
little itís falling apart.Ē
Getting back to Jackís crisis, it seemed to me that he hit bottom on the
cliff with his two children.
ďI think heís so depressed and at a loss. He sees that roiling water
and all these thoughts come into his head. What do I do? When he picks up those kids, he picked
them up out of utter love for them. This is my life. Thatís what I was
playing, but you canít see that. All you see are their feet.
[John] plays it
that way [so that you worry he may try to kill himself
and his kids]. I was playing it like, how do I get out of this? I look in the
water like I could throw myself [in]. Iím a wretched wretch. What do I do, dear
lord? Then he looks at the beautiful girl. That innocence and sweetness
looks up at him. This is my life. Thatís how I played it.Ē
The movie ends kind of
vaguely. You see Edith in the middle of a snowstorm, parked on a
railroad crossing and hear the sound of an oncoming locomotive. Then you
cut to Jack bicycling through the town. What do the last two shots of the film
John Curran: ďI used
the sound of the train to reflect on the epiphany that Jack has on the
river. A lot of people have asked about the train, but itís not that heavy.
It just signifies a dangerous intersection that all the characters are at.
For me the last shot is a time jump. Itís snowing and then itís
Early on Mark and I decided we didnít want him driving around town. We
wanted something else like a horse riding off into the sunset. So he has
the bicycle. I had the idea that instead of him riding off into
the sunset, he rides back into the suburbs.Ē
The actors have this great screen chemistry.
Can you tell us what you did the night before to really flesh that out?
What are the nuts and bolts of that?
ďWhere should we eat tonight? Do you want Chinese? You sort of tend to
counter what youíre going to be doing the next day. Thereís a real
gentleness and sort of familial vibe, a lot of joking around. Itís sort of
staged really light. Thatís the best way to deal with those scenes. The
best thing you could do for your fellow actor is learn your lines. Thereís
not a lot of aggressive emotional stuff going on between us. That set
needed lightness in order to play those scenes. I always find that actors
that are walking around in their angst-filled characters are just fucking
boring. They tend to be shut down. They donít have a sense of play, so the
scenes lose a spontaneity that I think you need. I always find it to be
ďI know people say, ĎOh, God, was this so heavy to work on?í Then youíve
probably talked to everybody else and realize we had such a good time.
Maybe you need to, when youíre working on a movie like this. Also, Mark and
John are such nice people. Itís easy to have a good time with lovely
ďCasting is so much of
it. Beyond their talent, I just got lucky with the fact that as a group of
people we all got on really well. There wasnít an ego out of place.
just jumped into it. I canít
imagine what it would have been like if some
people werenít getting along.Ē
does it feel for things to be going so well in your career? You work with Tom Cruise and Jim Carrey and do all these
interesting films. Are you waiting for the other shoe to drop? Or are you
just enjoying it?
ďIím always waiting for the piano to fall out of the sky. Itís a
blue-collar, struggling actor holdover. Iíve been working a lot. Iím
always afraid itís going to come crashing down. This world is so fickle.
It eats people up and spits them out every day. I feel that you have to
establish yourself as an actor, as someone who is able to do character
work. Those are the careers that I really love. Those actors that have
been pushed into movie stardom, but theyíre just actors.Ē
Peter, whatís it like being
able to work with such amazing talents as Aaron Sorkin
(Sports Night) and Alan Ball
(Six Feet Under)?
Now, you're doing a play with one of the most celebrated playwrights of the
20th Century, Arthur Miller.
ďAt this point Iím spoiled. From the time I
started Sports Night. The writers, Aaron Sorkin, Alan Ball, Andre
Dubus, who Larry Gross wrote the script based on his short stories.
Iíve gotten to spend hours with Arthur Miller. Yeah, Aaron Sorkin I knew, I bartended with him. Alan Ball
worked on Cybill [in
which Krause played Cybill's son-in-law]. So I knew these guys from different contexts and
then I work with them. These guys are really great writers.
writers working in TV. And now Iím sort of like, wait a minute. Thatís all
great fun. But itís Arthur Miller in my dressing room. This is the third
night heís been here. And he sits in here for an hour after each show and
talks to me about the play and about my performance. So, Iím pretty spoiled
right now. Working with Arthur Miller. Thatís great.Ē
Laura, one thing Iíve always found interesting
about your career is you have tended to make sort
of left of center but intimate, thoughtful films.
Ruth, or my personal favorite of yours is one that many people havenít
seen, Smooth Talk.
something you look for in choosing a project?
ďItís something that found me by good fortune. I was up for
all kinds of movies when I was a teenager. I got Smooth Talk and
Mask and Blue Velvet. David Lynch wanted me in his movie, not
the John Hughes movie Iíd screen-tested for the week before. So, itís how
your career finds you. It also happens to be a career that feels like what
inspired me about my parentsí [actors Bruce Dern and Diane Ladd] careers.
They, particularly my father, were never afraid to play morally ambivalent
men. The films of that era were very much about that. The women of that
period were very much embracing of all kinds of flaws and humanity. I think
we really are coming back to that. Thatís really exciting to me. I do seek
it out. I also seek out working with great filmmakers. Thatís why I was in
Jurassic Park. Itís not an intimate movie, by any stretch of the
imagination. But I got to work with Steven Spielberg on the kind of film
Iíd never done before. So Iím equally looking for things to make me braver
and educate me and work with filmmakers that just explore
acting in a different way. All of those things kind of come into play.
But, certainly, there is a kind of movie that I love seeing, so of course
thatís what I want to be in.Ē
established a core of great dramatic and romantic comedy work.
Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx) thatís the first time youíve been seen as an action
star. Would you be in a big budget action film?
ďIím not drawn to that particular material. It was Michael Mann and I
hadnít played a guy quite like that. Michael subverts the genre a little
bit. Thatís a character movie in the confines of a thriller. If itís smart
enough. I tend to have a disdain to the gratuitously violent movie. Who
knows? Probably yes at some point.
If it was smart, seemed cool to me, and
if there was good people in it. Itís not where my heart first tells me to
ďIím interested in thoughtful films. Iím proud, as an actor,
to be part of movies that like in the 70s, really investigate human
relationships. We havenít had movies like that. Weíre desperate for them.
As Fahrenheit 9/11, thank God, has beautifully proven recently, there
is an audience that wants to be thoughtful. That wants change. That wants
to ask questions. That wants to question authority. A huge audience.
Thatís great news for filmmakers. It just opens up the playing field.
to a time where artists got to explore hopefully changing things.
Stirring it up, either within the self or within the White House.Ē
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