Capone talks life, love and how new things get old with TAKE THIS WALTZ writer-director Sara Polley!!!
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
For those of you who follow her career, Sarah Polley often chooses roles of a very serious nature, and she has done so since she was fairly young. But I can't think of anyone who could have handled such roles with such maturity and skill. Think of her in THE SWEET HEREAFTER. Is there anything more heartbreaking than her performance in Atom Egoyan's masterpiece? Or Polley's work in THE CLAIM or THE WEIGHT OF WATER? Other efforts include the devastating MY LIFE WITHOUT ME or the Wim Wenders/Sam Shepherd collaboration DON'T COME KNOCKING. She was also featured in a harrowing work opposite Tim Robbins called THE SECRET LIFE OF WORDS, which has been tooling around the festival circuit for a while, and I pray it finds a distributor. All of these films would lead you to believe Polley is an extremely serious, perhaps even intimidating, person. She's had great personal tragedy in her life (which we discuss) and her almost second career as a political activist has gotten her a great deal of attention, particularly in her native Canada.
At the ripe old age of 28, Polley wrote and directed her first feature, AWAY FROM HER, a film about an elderly couple who must come to grips with the realization that the wife has Alzheimer's disease. But leading up to that she had some fun too with roles in films like GO, Hal Hartley's NO SUCH THING, David Cronenberg's eXistenZ, and, of course, the Zack Snyder's DAWN OF THE DEAD remake.
Between directing AWAY FROM HER and her latest film, TAKE THIS WALTZ, Polley's acting credits have been minimal, but they do include playing Nabby Adams in HBO's JOHN ADAMS miniseries and a gene-tampering scientist in the great SPLICE, and it sounds like she's gearing up to work with Wim Wenders again on EVERYTHING WILL BE FINE. Obviously, our time together last week was to briefly discuss the moving TAKE THIS WALTZ, a festival favorite since it premiered at last year's Toronto Film Festival, starring Michelle Williams, Seth Rogen, Luke Kirby, and Sarah Silverman in a relationship drama where there are no real good or bad guys, right or wrong decisions.
The truth is, a lot of the film is open to interpretation depending on your own relationship history. Everyone is going to see different things in this movie depending on your own filters, and that's an extraordinary achievement. This is the second time I've interviewed Polley (the first was for AWAY FROM HER), which technically means I've only ever interviewed her as a director and never as an actor. Please enjoy one of the nicest folks I've ever had the pleasure to chat with, Sarah Polley…
Capone: Hi Sarah. How are you?
Sarah Polley: Hi there, how are you?
Capone: Good. You know, I just looked it up, it’s been more than five years since I last spoke to you.
SP: Oh my God. [Laughs]
Capone: And never as an actor, always as a director.
SP: That’s awesome!
Capone: I realize you’re talking about your own movie in these concentrated bursts in the last, well almost a year now. Do you get tired of it after a while? Just talking about the thought process and the reactions and all of that?
SP: Not at all. I feel like especially with this film, it’s just this constantly evolving thing in my mind, because so many people see it so differently, and it’s created such heated dialog that I feel like I’m learning so much from the process of rolling the film out. Usually I feel like you’re sort of rehashing old ideas and trying not to say the same thing, but it’s impossible. Whereas I feel with this film, every conversation is so different and people are getting such different things from it that I feel like it’s really fun to talk about, which I don’t know if I will ever get to experience again.
Capone: It is definitely a kind of canvas that you’ve provided us, where we can paint parts of our own lives over what you’ve made and somehow things fit, and it’s always different for every person who sees it. Has that been the case as you've seen it?
SP: I think it's great. I definitely feel that, that people are really bringing their own relationships to it; they're bringing their own place in their relationships to it; they're bringing both their current and previous relationships to it. That’s been really fascinating for me, to see how resolutely people tend to identify with one character or another, because I tried to write the film from all of their perspectives, so I love that people feel so closely aligned to different characters and feel so passionately.
Capone: Has Luke been verbally abused the worst at different screenings and events that you have been at with him?
SP: Yeah, a bit. I mean I feel like he’s a contentious character, and in many ways I think the character is written as an archetype. I think any humanity in that character is really Luke’s work, not mine. He really brought a lot of depth to that character, but yeah, he represents for people either a real object of desire or somebody that’s such a threat and so disastrous to their moral sense.
Capone: As much as you might see him as a homewrecker or see Michelle as someone willing to have her home to be wrecked, when you get to that scene of them at that table--that verbal sex scene that they have--I can’t think of anyone who wouldn’t want to be one or both of them in that scenario. Was that a tough scene to get through?
SP: Yeah it was and it was deeply embarrassing for all involved, I think, but I feel like that’s the point of that scene: desire isn’t that rational, desire isn’t always decent or kind or moral, but it can be completely irresistible and overwhelming. So I really wanted to create a sense of that and for us to understand how she could be drawn away from such a good man, because ultimately Seth Rogen’s character is a really good guy, and they are basically happy, but “Is that enough? Is it enough to be familiar and comfortable?” I think in many ways, there’s nothing better than being comfortable and familiar, but does that eliminate the possibility of having ideas and thoughts and conversations like the ones she has with Luke’s character in the bar? I don’t know.
Capone: You make Seth’s character so likable that it really does make it seem like Michelle's choice isn't toward something better; it's just something different, maybe more passionate. It’s not like a huge change in her life she's looking for; it seems more of a slight adjustment.
SP: I know, exactly, and I think it’s almost like I think she is looking for a part of herself as opposed to another person, like “Can she reinvent herself through someone else’s eyes? Can she fall in love with herself again by seeing herself through someone’s eyes who hasn’t gotten to know her too well?" It’s funny, I had this interesting conversation with my sister this morning, about how people keep sort of talking--especially men when they see this film--about how it’s really upsetting to see her leave a schlubby guy for the really hot guy. But both my sister and I were sitting there this morning going, “God, I totally don’t relate to that.”
We find Seth Rogen so hot in the movie and so attractive that in a way [laughs]… Maybe we are in the minority, but certainly the intention was always to have two equally attractive men and to watch her grapple, but in totally different ways. But my sister was saying this morning, "Seth Rogen is so much more my type; I don’t get why she would ever leave someone so sexually attractive for somebody else." So it’s funny to see especially men project an archetype onto those two men that I don’t think women see in the same way.
Capone: Oh no, I definitely see them as closer to equals than I think a lot of people, because you had the benefit of getting Seth right around the time he was getting in shape for GREEN HORNET. So he’s like at the best shape of his life in your movie.
SP: I’ve always found him super sexy, so yeah I’ve never really understood the contrast argument between those two characters.
Capone: But back to your point earlier, we hate feeling incomplete, don’t we?
SP: Yeah, and I feel like that was the original genesis of the film, the idea of making a film about that feeling of emptiness that I think most of us walk around with for a lot of, if not all of, our lives and that feeling that things aren’t quite perfect, but if we make the right move in life, they will be. And I think that’s constantly thwarted, that feeling of things being complete. I think if we are lucky, we get a few great weeks like that in life if we are really lucky if we do. [laughs]
Capone: I wrote down two lines from the film that I think really kind of sum it up in two different ways. One, Sarah said something about “Life has a gap in it,” and I guess that’s to the point we were just talking about, that we're constantly looking to fill that gap and her point is “Don’t, because you’re never going to be able to do that.” Then the other line is spoken by one of the older ladies in the shower who says, “New things get old,” which I think is sort of summed up at the end of the film pretty nicely.
SP: Yeah, I think that life does have a gap. I sort of think Sarah Silverman’s character is the Greek chorus of the film in a lot of ways and I definitely share that feeling. I feel life does have a gap in it and we do feel it in different ways, and some are crazier than others, and it’s a bit irresolvable and we are kind of hamsters on a wheel. I think that’s kind of what life is about too though, so I’m not sure “Should we stop following our desires?” Probably not, but if it’s with some expectation that things have resolved themselves and we'll feel we’ve arrived somewhere, I think it’s going to be a little bit frustrating.
To your other point, for me I really wanted to illustrate that in a visual way as well as in a dramatic way that yeah the passing of time is something we're so in denial about and so uncomfortable with, and I think that in a way is what happens in a long-term relationship is that we're so desperate to get comfortable and then we do get comfortable and we're so shocked we’re not passionate anymore. I think there’s this feeling of constantly, “Well, if I’m not as passionate as I was in the beginning, does that mean I have to start over? Is it okay to live with this?” Or I guess a big question with me is, “Are passion and familiarity compatible, or are they mutually exclusive feelings in life?” I would like to think they are compatible and I have certainly seen relationships that lead me to believe that they are, but I think it’s a question we all have.
Capone: Toronto is so rarely used as Toronto in movies, so it was really beautiful to see it used so beautifully, especially that street, it had so much color and their house looked so gorgeous. Was that house designed, or did you actually find a place that looked that great?
SP: The street is rea,l and I would just say Mathew Davies, the production designer, did an amazing job creating the layers of their lives together and of the remnants of the Portuguese families that would have lived there before them. What’s been really funny is like a lot of the American reviews have said things like, “They live a pretty cushy life for a cookbook writer” and “They have a beautiful house.” I’m like, “I hate to tell you this, but 10 years ago in Toronto, in little Portugal, you could afford a house like that.” I have a friend who lives on that street who makes $17,000 a year; it was possible at one time. It’s not anymore, like it’s totally become gentrified. But it’s funny seeing American critics going like “Nobody could live downtown in a nice house and not be a lawyer,” and it’s like “No, that’s what’s awesome about Toronto, guys.” I mean it’s not anymore, just to be really clear, it is changing and becoming totally unaffordable, but 10 or 15 years ago, you could be someone without a huge income and afford a rundown house on a really beautiful street in Toronto.
What’s so great about that area of Little Portugal is that a lot of the Portuguese families like do use color in a more vibrant and interesting way than the other people living in Toronto. So all of a sudden, you will just see like a pink house or a green and red house. So there are a lot of streets in Toronto you could walk down and see those amazing, vibrant colors. But again Mathew Davies did actually paint the front of that house, but it was based on lots of walks we took around Toronto together. We would just sort of walk the neighborhoods together and chose our favorite things of lawn ornaments and color.
Capone: Does The Scrambler have some sort of special meaning for you, or did you just sort of find that too?
SP: It’s a ride that I’ve been riding obsessively since I was about seven years old, and I’ve always wanted to put it in a movie and it just never fit. I can’t really imagine how it would have fit into AWAY FROM HER [Laughs]. I’m not sure we could have done a field trip form the retirement home to The Scrambler, but this film finally allowed a really beautiful place for it.
Capone: It has like an emotional connection to the characters too. It wasn’t just some little fun scene that you threw in there; things are happening in their heads while they are on that ride.
SP: Yeah, and I kind of wanted to feel like their relationship actually grew a chapter in the course of riding that ride together.
Capone: Sarah thank you so much for talking to us again.
SP: Thank you so much. Nice to talk to you.
-- Steve Prokopy
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July 9, 2012, 12:27 p.m. CST
My Life Without Me is a very good film. I just caught it on HBO recently. Hadn't seen it in years and man does it hold up well. She's strong in it and so is Mark Ruffalo.
July 9, 2012, 12:32 p.m. CST
Other than finding Seth Rogan super sexy
July 9, 2012, 12:55 p.m. CST
by Nasty In The Pasty
July 9, 2012, 1:26 p.m. CST
But her character on "Road to Avonlea" was "Sara".
July 9, 2012, 1:36 p.m. CST
No love for the Baron?
July 9, 2012, 1:58 p.m. CST
Thanks for the laughs Sarah, and you deserve props for your role in the DOTD remake. I usually frown on remakes, but this one ranks among my favorite Zombie films of all time. And Life without Me was some real depressing shit hopefully, Take this Waltz will be more lighthearted. Well, with Silly Seth in the mix, it can't be all too serious yanno.
July 10, 2012, 1:35 a.m. CST
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