John Cameron Mitchell on Rabbit Hole, Nicole Kidman's Face and How to Share Power on the Set


I wanted to ask about that. As someone who's historically super-meticulous about the music in his films, what was it like developing a score for this?

It was different than others. I've had straight scores in both of my films, but there were a lot of songs in those. In this case, I wanted to work with someone who worked with song and kind of a classical pop crossover. That was Owen Pallett. He's from [Toronto] but he had to go off on tour with the Arcade Fire and the schedule just didn't permit. He thought the movie was going to be done in January. And then there was a sudden flurry of people that our music supervisor was presenting. And a lot of scores sound the same, right? There's a lot of...

Tinkling piano and such.

There's just a lot of the usual. And people started aping each other. I was like, "Come on. What happened to the days of Jack Nitzsche? Where someone would go in and you said, "You'll do it. You'll figure it out. Play something on the piano for me." Now it's like everything's samples! And everything has to sound like a string quartet. But I don't believe it; it sounds like synthesizers! So the samples started to affect the style of the films. For example, you can't do guitar samples -- certainly not the classical-guitar, fingerpicking [style]. So people tend not to use that anymore because it doesn't sound good in the samples. They have to record everything, which they don't have time to do or change. Technology in this case has actually changed the instrumentation that people use, which is why you get a certain bit of, "Ah, this all sounds the same."

Now, in our film, what we ended up with was certainly not radical in terms of instrumentation. But the guy we finally found was playing all the guitars, and he was sensitive. He's never had this many shots. The last music cue he had to do like 25 different ways. He said, "I've never in my entire career had to do this many." But the producers were both so anal about getting it exactly right. It drove me f*cking crazy, but in the end, I can feel what they wanted. I'd still do some different things, but it was going where we needed to go. It was strange, but I learned a lot. And I'm always going to be working with other people. And there are times that I am in charge, but it's kind of a lonely place when you have absolute control and you're just making a decision because you're the king. You don't have anyone's ear. Those directors, as we know, can crumble without input. Our great directors start to suck after a certain point if they're kings.

Not to be mean, gossipy or catty, I swear, but this needs to addressed: Nicole Kidman's face. As a filmgoer and a Kidman fan, I can't help but think of how the changing appearance of her face over time affects her characters, her characterizations, and how they're received. Was that a consideration for you as a director, especially shooting close-ups and attempting to capture expressiveness?

I didn't really follow the EW timeline of her face. When I met her, that's who I knew. I sort of remembered some other films. She hasn't been under the knife. I don't know anything about Botox, but she certainly wasn't doing it in our film. In our film, she played the most real person -- looking-wise, acting-wise -- that she has since... Dogville's an amazing performance, though I wouldn't exactly call that quotidian. Sometimes she wears wigs because her hair gets tangly, but we said no -- no wigs. It would save us time, and we'd believe this woman more. And those can sometimes add a layer, no matter how good the wig is.

This was as naked as she can be, especially considering how the character is put together. But shooting on the Red [movie camera] with soft lenses -- we were worried about a hard video look -- was a good match. We didn't glam her up; she's a beautiful woman anyway. But for the first time, she feels like she's her age. She wasn't afraid of the shots where she just doesn't look good -- weeping, this and that. She went all the way. Hopefully this film will kind of reduce all of that, because when you're focusing on something like that, it gets in the way. I mean look: Mickey Rourke did way, much more, and there was a big question about Mickey Rourke's face. So he goes off and does The Wrestler, and now that's his face. Whatever. That's much more extreme. He got past that by playing through it. And yeah -- it's kind of an unfortunate moment in his life that made him feel like he had to do that.

But with her, I think it's higher standards for women; we wouldn't be asking these questions of guys. Unless it's Sylvester Stallone. I feel like there should have been more conversation on that face. But you're right: They bring it on themselves if they're going to go there.

This isn't about gossip, either. I'm talking about in a strictly aesthetic sense. It makes a difference.

I know. People would ask me, "How's her face?" It's just so weird. That was just an augur of the types of films she had made, which weren't of great quality. So what you do focus are things like that: "What is she doing?" And that just says something about her choices in the last few years, maybe.

I liked Margot at the Wedding.

That is good, isn't it? I did my research on asking other directors how to work with her, and heard what I wanted to hear -- that they were very happy with her. That relationship with the son is really interesting and f*cked-up. She managed to make this monster that's kind of reasonable. You know? She's good at doing that. Like, "I'm really crazy, but what I'm saying is in a reasonable fashion."

[Photo of John Cameron Mitchell: Matt Carr/Getty Images]

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  • Borrego says:

    You are really obsessed with Kidman's face, huh? FYI, you're the only reviewer making a big deal of it. 95% of the reviews I've read (about 40 reviews total) absolutely rave her PERFORMANCE, saying she's a big contender for the Best Actress Oscar. MOVIELINE is really losing credibility (well the little remaining credibility it has-Nobody cares about this magazine anymore) with people like you...You sound like Perez Hilton...

  • Corey says:

    Lol, nice try in trying to cover it up by saying it "isn't gossip."
    Yeah. Not gossip at all. Sure.

  • maza says:

    um, you should totally post te rest of this.

  • no, it is a legitimate question and bravo to Cameron for being honest. When an actor PURPOSELY does idiotic things to themselves in the name of vanity to the point where it hurts their performances, then it becomes open for discussion. I have a hard time watching certain actors and performances now because the actors LOOK, and sound ridiculous. Thankfully, the botox phase seems to have peaked, or at least they've improved the technques of this "enhancement".

  • Jcar says:

    This is a really good interview. And it's nice to see a director be so candid for once. I think Mitchell has had a really interesting career, and I loved "Shortbus." Plus, I think Kidman is a great actress. She had a hot streak in the mid to late 1990s and early 2000s (working with Jane Campion, Gus Van Sant, Stanley Kubrick, Lars Von Trier and turning in one great performance after another, and generally having impeccable taste in her choice of projects), but after "Dogville" she kind of fell into a rut of doing one awful coimmercial film after another (except for the excellent "Margot at the Wedding" which she should have been nominated for). So she's in dire need of a comeback which will re-establish her credentials as an actress, even if not as a bankable hollywood star, and I hope this film is it.
    As to her face, I think it's a perfectly legitimate question given the nature of the film. As much as I like her, there have been times over the past decade when she seems to have been abusing botox. A role like "Rabbit proof" requires a completely naturalistic performance, so if she comes in with the frozen owl face that so many hollywood women have nowdays, it would have turned out awfully. But most of the reviews I've read so far have singled out her performance as being very good, so I assume this isn't the case.
    It's a shame, though, that Owen Pallet couldn't do the score. That would have been awesome.

  • jcar says:

    Doy, I'm an idiot. I meant "Rabbit Hole"--Ialways got the title of the play confused with the film "Rabbit proof fence" for some reason as well.

  • Gregory Sawyer says:

    I think it's a good and fair question too. Kim Cattrall's face really pulled me out of "The Ghost Writer;" I can't imagine what the botox issue would do to a movie like "Rabbit Hole."
    As for Kidman, I've always been unusually fond of "The Hours."

  • Little MY says:

    Some people need to get over Kidman’s face, JCM answered your question outright that she hasn’t had any plastic surgery and didn’t use botox during the shoot. What more do you want? Can’t believe you didn’t let it go and went in for seconds.
    Too Bad JCM didn’t appease you concerns before you saw the film, then you would have focused on the film itself rather than wondering if Nicole’s throat has been slashed. Not gossip, of course its not because you’re spreading it you clown.

  • vans says:

    WTF is this? Do you think this is an interview? My God. You're pathetic Mr Vanairsdale, simply pathetic.
    Look at this and keep your mouth shut.
    How dare you? You're so irrespectful and full of yourself to not understand your big mistakes and your unability to recognize and respect the talent of a great actress. You're embarrassing

  • stolidog says:

    f.r.e.a.k.y. friday.

  • sweetbiscuit says:

    Nicole is a great actress and I even think a brave actress in many ways, but you must admit that is not a normal 40-year old forehead (or face, even) in your link's picture. She should just stop with the fillers and immobilizers. That would be brave.

  • vans says:

    What are you talking about? My God...You're not a plastic surgeon so you don't know what she's done and first of all you're not God to call a woman's face "not" normal.
    And if you use fillers and "immobilizers" (please explain what they are because you're a comically talented) I'll doubt you can make something like that:
    She's got wrinkles...isn't this enough?? This is RIDICULOUS.
    The truth is this botox's story went behind every imagination and became too big and too relevant, and it hasn't got a single logic reason why it became relevant. People don't even know what botox is just say "She uses it" because all the other people say it. YOU DON'T THINK WITH YOUR BRAIN, you're using other's people words and this is ridiculous. You've been brainwashed by media and gossip, this is horrible.
    Try to think with your brain and have the courage to express YOUR IDEAS not be influenced by the media.

  • Marsha says:

    Thank God! Somebody had the guts to ask about Nicole's face. It's what everybody has been talking about since 2005. Kidman fans need to be a little less defensive.

  • Dude says:

    The Nicole Kidman fan commenting here needs to calm down. It was absolutely a fair question, and I am glad someone addressed it. This trend for actresses to take their most important instrument - their face - and render it emotionless, to supposedly look younger (it simply doesn't: young skin isn't even that smooth, it isn't puffy looking, and it MOVES) is truly insane. I think it's great someone is openly discussing with a filmmaker that this is a concern for film lovers.
    I like Kidman, and found it very sad to see such a good actress with a self-inflicted paralysed face. The effect with those heavily botoxed faces is both an absence of expression, coupled with strange head movements as they strain to emote. It is incredibly frustrating to watch.
    By the way, the pictures the unreasonably angry fan on here is showing to support his case don't help. Kidman still looks like she's overdone it there. Being able to form a few forehead wrinkles means she's toned it down, but there is plenty of evidence her face is still not 'natural'. Look at her lips - in her youth, they were (at least) half that size, and suited her better. Hope she comes to see she is beautiful naturally and lets those 'improvements' fall away.

  • Steven Timm says:

    We ought to win big to triumph over the cheating we’ve already found out about. It’s not new but what the heck is new is that prohibited vigilant and are learning about this now instead of a couple months from now. are going to exposed for the cheaters they may be, just as their bad campaigning has shown them as liars and devoid of their own ideas. Now is not enough time to slow down but rather to pile the item on. It is time to leave no doubt spend money on where the American men and women stand.

  • josef silva says:

    Come on! I don't think the questions he asked about Nicole Kidmans face were mean or over done. After all it is her face. Her face is her instrument. If she were a doctor and she had her hands numbed it would certainly produced peoples interest. I think it's the same here. Movies are after all a product that people buy ( you , me , and the movie going audience). In this day and age we all want to know what's in the product we're buying. Is it organic, is it toxic, was it produced articalfisically. These are all questions we hear or hear ourselves say on a daily basis. Right. Certainly when we're looking for a doctor we ask those questions about him and his product(instrument). It's no different here.
    The same about the question on the film score. Sampling has been the undoing of the music industry. Nobody or almost nobody reads, writes, or plays mucic anymore. It's all acomplished by sampling poeple who have talent and then mixing it together. There was a time when we spent 10 to 20 percent of our salaries on music. Now most of us spend less than 1 percent on music. Stop hiring poeple who have no talent. I mean stop buying product from people who have used other people's music to make recording products to sell to you and me. The insanity has to end!

  • Rachandroll says:

    It is distracting when the actors look unnatural. Nicole Kidman's lips pulled me out of the story of Rabit Hole. The actor who brought me into the story was Dianne Wiest.

  • LB816NYC says:

    Nicole Kidman looks like a freak in Rabbit Hole! What the hell DID she do to her face? Sad, she has totally destroyed her looks. She has that "cat woman" look and so tragic for somebody so young! Idiot.