Director Lisa Cholodenko on The Kids Are All Right, Gay Porn, and That Ending
In The Kids are All Right, lesbian moms Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) and their teenage children (Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson) have to withstand a lot upheaval when the kids' feckless sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo) comes back into their lives. For director Lisa Cholodenko, making the movie was just as complicated.
Cholodenko had tried to mount a version of the film (cowritten with Stuart Blumberg) almost five years ago, but the financing only came together when Cholodenko herself got pregnant, scuttling the production. The Laurel Canyon director then took a brief break from features before revising and remounting Kids last year, and she says that extra time was all for the better -- and after its levitational Sundance screening, Oscar buzz, and tremendous limited opening last weekend, who's to argue?
I talked to Cholodenko about how being a new mom affected the film, how nervous she was about that Sundance screening, and how she'd defend one of the few quibbles detractors have for her film -- the ending.
Julianne Moore was attached to the 2005 version of this film, but how different would that version have been if it had been made then?
You know, I think the spirit was there, the plot was there, the setup and all that were the same, but I just don't think the characters were as deep and well-drawn as they became. It's a little bit of what you know and always dread when you start a new draft, but you've just got to keep at it and sculpt away until you get at the fine essence of what the movie is.
Did the fact that you became a mom along the way impact the way you looked at those characters?
Yeah, in a way. I could really identify with the Annette Bening character and the kind of mama-bear quality of her. Are you a parent?
No, I'm not. An involved uncle, though.
Yeah, if you're around kids you just know that there's a...not a "possessiveness," but a protectiveness that happens because they're so vulnerable. I think I could really identify what that experience must have been like for both characters, but in particular, Nic is really going through it. She's about to say goodbye to her first kid, who's going off to college. [Parenthood] brought me closer to that experience, which before, had just been fiction in my mind. It became more grounded.
Does it change the way you might interact with younger actors like Josh and Mia?
Yeah! I feel sensitive to their vulnerabilities. Those guys are amazing, though. They're so pro and they've been on big sets before. They're very self-possessed people, so I didn't feel like I had to do a whole lot of coddling, which was great. They're tender, though.
You wrote this role with Julianne in mind and had been developing it with her for years. Once you got on set, was there still room for her to surprise you with what she did with it?
A lot. It's a character that was fully drawn in our imagination, and then you bring this actor in and there has to be room for this newness. It's who she is as a personality, and then her interpretation of what this role is going to be and what my vision originally was. We have to bang it out together for a few days or a few minutes, and then we go.
One of my favorite details is when Jules and Nic are watching gay male porn. I know quite a few lesbians who do that, but it's a detail I'd never expect to find in a big mainstream movie. Can you tell me about the decision to include that?
It's probably like the conversations you've had with your lesbian friends. I felt like, here's this couple who's been together for a long time. They're doing their thing! That's what they like to do, and I'm not going to be shy about showing that. Everybody's got their thing. [Laughs] On top of that, it seemed funny. It's odd, and it's kind of arresting and seems truthful -- at least for some people. And now it's hooking into the plot? That's good. It sort of went from there.
I know you rushed the film to get it ready for its big Sundance debut in January--
It was hard.
Yeah. I wasn't horribly insecure because enough people had seen it and been positive about it, but I knew there was a lot riding on that screening. We were there to sell it, you know? There had been a lot of buildup, and I had literally just jammed through a pass. There was some fine cutting to do and we hadn't finished the score -- we actually ended up rescoring it. There were tweaks, timing, sound work, music to work on...I felt vulnerable. That said, I knew the performances were great and the structure was what it was going to be. Maybe the timing wasn't impeccable, but it was really close.
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