Annette Kellerman From SXSW 2013: A Chat With MALADIES Director Carter And Stars Catherine Keener and Fallon Goodson!!
This is the last of the round of interviews I had the opportunity to do during SXSW '13. This time, I sat down with Carter, the director of the film MALADIES, as well as stars Fallon Goodson and Catherine Keener. The interview is kind of informal. I start with Carter, and then Fallon and Catherine join us near the end. I hope you enjoy!
Annette Kellerman: Did anything in particular inform the style you chose?
Carter: I think it's probably the influence of films that influenced me. Primarily from the 60' and 70's, before CGI and all the fanciness. Just storytelling on film with actors.
AK: Talk about your choice to do a period piece and set the story in the early 60's.
Carter: It was important for me to do something in the early 60's, particularly for the David Strathairn and Catherine Keener characters being closeted individuals at that time. I'm always interested in how that's depicted in film, and how that was lived by actual people. More quietly in the film by David and more loudly by Catherine as a transvestite, especially in the diner scene with Alan Cumming. Whereas David is just a guy. So that's one reason it took place in the time frame that it did. Also because of the...I hate talking about mental illness, because the film is not all about mental illness, but it's a byproduct of many things in the film. But that is part of it. It's interesting to me the way people were diagnosed or not diagnosed or treated or mistreated fifty years ago with different ailments they might have had. That's totally changed now.
AK: You're also an artist. How much did you work with production designer on the amazing mid-century modern aesthetic?
Carter: Our production designer Casey Smith did an amazing job. It was the 60's and I did a lot of work with them choosing the furniture I wanted, the curtains I wanted. I probably gave them a real hassle because they probably would've done a great job if I wasn't meddling in their business. I'm a visual artist, so I needed things to be a very certain way. The color of the walls, the clothing- all of it added up to being that time frame, the early 60's.
AK: A mid-century modern look evokes a certain kind of innocence in society.
Carter: Right. When you're sitting down watching a movie and you realized that it's not contemporary times, your brain clicks to somewhere else, automatically. As a director, you use that, and a lot of things can happen more loosely than if it was a contemporary picture.
AK: Did you guys rehearse at all, or did everyone pretty much show up and do their thing?
Carter: No, we didn't rehearse. It's funny you ask that because I haven't thought about this in a long time since it's been so long since we shot it. From what I remember, we certainly didn't have the time to rehearse, that's primarily the reason, but also to me that's great. You just roll the camera. These people memorize their lines, we talk about the story, and then you just shoot it. If you have time to shoot it a couple times, great, but with this film we just shot most of it once. You just go with it because you know it's going to be good. I'm very forgiving when it comes to scenes. I mean, it can't not be good. It's always gonna be good.
AK: Especially with this talent.
Carter: Yeah. So you just roll the camera and put that shit together!
AK: You did employ some improvisation. In the Q and A after the film, you even said that there were some scenes where the actors had ear pieces and you fed them lines or direction. Again, as an artist, that must be so satisfying.
Carter: So satisfying! Because there's a certain point of a movie where it's all mapped out and you have to get the work done. There's very little wiggle room for creativity towards the end. There's some, of course, but I'm an artist in a studio. I need to spill something, then clean it up and that leads to something else, ya know? In film, you don't have that kind of space. So my way of finding that space was to do the ear piece and give lines to the actors as the camera was rolling so it's fresh to them and fresh for me.
AK: You wrote the script with actors in mind.
Carter: I would always have their face in mind. I'm working on another script and it's the same thing. It's hard for me to write without some fantasy actor in mind. Like I have this fantasy of using Adele, who's not even an actor, but I had this idea like wouldn't it be great if Adele was doing X,Y, and Z and I can't help thinking of her as I write it. Who knows if she would ever do it or even be available at that point, but I have to have a base.
AK: A muse.
AK: And if you didn't get your fantasy actor, would it crush your vision?
Carter: I mean, yeah, sometimes. As with any project, though, you have to work around access and just make it work. Figure it out.
AK: And in this instance it totally worked out for and you were able to work with James Franco, Catherine Keener, and Fallon Goodson. Was there any special orchestrating that had to be done to make this happen, or were they all like, "Clear my schedule!"
Carter: Oh my God, are you insane? There is nothing in the world that's more complex than shooting a movie. Primarily for things like that, schedules. Because people are busy, and not only do you have to have the actors there, but you have to have the set ready, everything lined up. It's a minor miracle to get anything on film. If it's a half way decent movie, it's an act of God.
AK: There's a voice in James' head that is very soothing and rational. Was this always your choice or did you ever plan to have the voice a more manic one?
Carter: That stems from instructional films from the 50's and 60's. That voice is THAT voice. It's very paternal and matter of fact, sort of emotionless. That was always what I wanted for the film.
AK: It does actually become almost instructional not only for James, but for the audience as well.
Carter: That comes from an instructional film from 1958, I think, that was to teach law enforcement how to deal the mentally ill when they apprehend someone. A lot of the lines come from that with my writing within that. I'm really fascinated and inspired by those early instructional films because they're so stuck in time, particularly this film that drew upon.
AK: Early in the film, you feature news footage from when the Jonestown massacre occurred. Talk about your choice to include this.
Carter: News, up until- I don't know when, maybe the late 70's early 80's- was shot on film. When you watch that Jim Jones it's film, not video. So there's something about film in general, but also when it comes to news there's just something about watching it on film. There's almost like a distance with film as opposed to video. It's so haunting, seeing these bodies lined up, and the feel, and the preaching of Jim Jones in these churches in San Francisco. It's all fascinating because it's film. How that pertains to Maladies, I don't have a reason, but I'm sure someone can find one. It's something that really affected me as a kid, and at the beginning of the movie it just sort of smacks you in the face. It's also one of the few times in the movie when you're taken out of the story, the fiction, and put into something that really happened.
AK: Why did you choose to have James' character as a former soap opera actor as opposed to film, and is it true that this was what inspired James Franco's turn on General Hospital?
Carter: Yes, the fact that he was on General Hospital was directly related to Maladies.
AK: That is so meta I love it.
Carter: It's so meta I can't even speak about it. It speaks for itself, what can I say? It's so meta, it's like high poetry. And it's not like I created it, the world created it. He was on this real soap opera, and pieces of that are in my film which is set in the early 60's with a real actor who was on a real soap opera who is now in this film. You can't really put it into a box, it's just something that's beautiful.
AK: As a conceptual artist, that must be so satisfying.
Carter: Oh my God, it's like bricks of gold! And in General Hospital he plays an artist and some of my work is in the scenes, so the whole thing flips back and forth.
(At this point, actress Fallon Goodson joins us, and Carter takes a break)
AK: Fallion, you acted in as well as produced the film. How did you get involved?
Fallon Goodson: I was working on another movie at the time. I produced the first few movies I was in because it was the only way I could figure out how to get an acting reel! I was filming a Christmas movie and one of the producers brought a couple scripts to me and one of them was Maladies. It was just such a unique, interesting script. I'm always up for the challenge of bringing something to the table that isn't safe or the norm. The cast attached to it was wonderful, and I wasn't originally supposed to play Patricia. At that point I was only supposed to get a few lines with James and that would have still been a big deal in my career to have that. Claire Danes was supposed to play my role, but she got Homeland, YAY! So last minute, I asked if I could audition for Patricia and they went with it and it changed my life. Suddenly I'm a lead with Academy Award nominated actors. So, that's how that all came about. Originally, it was just another small role to add to my reel, I had no idea it would turn into something so huge.
AK: This is a kind of random, but talk about the wig your character wears and what it means to your character who is a little off.
FG: She wore a wig and didn't really know how to groom it, and yes Carter meant for blonde wisps of my real hair to hang out at some points. There was a lot about the character's beauty and physique that she messed with a lot, and you can see little glimpses of that come out.
AK: Sometimes the lipstick is a little off...
FG: Right. She really tried, she just didn't know what she was doing. She like to get really dressed up in her own way, and you can follow the wig throughout the movie. You can notice that gradually the wig gets more and more groomed at the end it's extremely groomed because it's kind of the calm after the storm. She eventually becomes more tamed and we see her smile for the first time in the film.
AK: Was that your choice or Carter's choice?
FG: Carter's choice. Carter kept hold of that wig throughout the whole movie. The wig was a big deal for him. That wig went through a lot!
AK: Your character is introduced while watching a newscast about the Jonestown massacre. How did you choose your character's reaction as an introduction.
FG: My character kind of sees everything like she's under water wearing a scuba mask. It's like she sees everything , but there's a distance, something missing. She has a problem with communication, and there's something between her and the real world.
AK: How much input did you have? Did you collaborate or just go with what was on the page?
FG: We pretty much just went with the script, there wasn't really a lot of improv. I always prepare as much as I can- who is this character, why are they there, what brought to this place. I do as much as I can separately. Then when you get to set, the fun part is working with the director and helping their vision come to life. There were a few things that I came up with for my character and Carter was very open to that, so there was some collaboration in that regard. With Carter, he wasn't the norm, so you kind of didn't know what you were going to get with him. It was really fun.
AK: Do you think that Patricia has a voice in her head like her brother James?
FG: Yes, I think there is definitely a little voice going on in her head all the time. I don't think she battles with the dialogue as much as James does, I think she embraces it. Everyone has voices in their head to a certain extent, right?
AK: Like an internal dialogue?
FG: Right. I just think Patricia is more accepting that its there.
(At this point, Catherine Keener joins us)
Catherine Keener: It's so nice to meet you, thank you for waiting for me.
AK: How did you get involved in this film?
CK: I don't really remember! James and I knew each other because we had worked together on a very dark movie called An American Crime, and he told me about this project and Carter. So, I looked into it a little bit, Then I met Carter and he is wonderful. He is so cool. You got to talk to him, right?
AK: Yes, he is super cool.
CK: He is beautiful. And I just wanted to do it. I wanted to work with him. Fallon I didn't know, but I fell in love with Fallon and her Patricia. I couldn't believe it. It was one of those things.
AK: So it was a group of artists coming together instead of your typical negotiations and signing on the dotted line.
CK: Actually, that's not normal for me. The way this went is normal for me.
FG: Which is great.
AK: Your character dresses in drag. How did that affect your performance?
CK: Any costume helps, it helps so much. (to Fallon) Right? I mean you put on your wig and you're there.
CK: Wearing a suit and tie isn't really dressing in drag for me. Penciling the mustache is. But, the way that it felt then when I was doing it was very serious for me, so that's what really affected me. Even if it seemed comical, I didn't feel that way about it at all.
AK: The time period in which the story takes place made it feel more subversive.
CK: Subversive, yeah. I didn't really know any of this going in, I just thought, that's who these people are. I know people like that. They're my friends. I wasn't really aware of any context in the film, I was just thinking of it as us.
(publicist gives us the one minute warning, just as Carter joins us again)
CK: (to publicist) No, no that's okay. We're good. I love Ain't It Cool News.
AK: Thanks! How much did you collaborate with Carter about your character?
CK: I obey. (everyone laughs) I don't know, did I?
Carter: Yes! You gave a lot of input.
CK: I'm serious, I don't remember! (more laughs)
Carter: Your input is your body and your body language. I can't control that.
CK: No, I didn't do that much on my own though. I liked what he had written.
AK: You shot the film primarily in one location, a big old house. How did working so closely affect your work?
CK: It was a beautiful house! We love that house.
FG: It was haunted too. There was a sink in a back room where there used to be an old dentist office, and the sink would just randomly turn on. And there was a coo coo clock that wasn't timed or anything, it would just go off whenever.
Carter: The house was awesome.
CK: The house is gone now because of the hurricane.
Carter: Hurricane Sandy.
AK: What?! No!
CK: It was Rockaway Beach.
AK: So it's gone?
CK: Done! Leveled the whole thing.
Carter: The house was great because a couple had bought it and were about to remodel it, so it was stuck in that time period. It was perfect.
AK: Well, on that note, I'm afraid that my time is way up guys! Thank you so much for sitting down and talking with me about your film.
Thanks for reading my interview with the MALADIES crew. There's no word on distribution for the film yet, but hopefully you will all get a chance to see this fascinating film sometime soon.
- Rebecca Elliott
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