January 5, 2009

Written by Steve ‘Frosty’ Weintraub

Already playing in wide release is director David Fincher’s latest movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”. By now most of you have heard of the movie as it features Brad Pitt as a man who ages backwards. Also, the film has been really well received with both critics and audiences alike, so I’d imagine this intro can be brief…

Anyway, a few weeks ago I managed to participate in roundtable interviews with a lot of the cast and I finally have the time to post the Julia Ormond interview. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, Julia plays Cate Blanchett daughter and she’s the one who helps us get into the story.

As usual, you can either read the transcript below or listen to the audio by clicking here. And if you’d like to see a few clips from the movie, you can watch them here.

Question: Was this movie shot out of sequence, like most are?

Julia Ormond: Not for my section. I was really, really lucky. David actually filmed it as the last sections. So, he filmed everything else and then I actually got to see a cut of the movie, just without the Caroline and Daisy bits in it, so that we could have some sense of what the juxtaposition of the scenes would be, coming out of and going into. And then, our bit was shot over two weeks in L.A., and we were able to do it sequentially, which was a really remarkable experience, in terms of filming. Normally, you’re juggling it and trying to hold a sense of the arc, in a different way. So, that was really quite a luxury.

And that was actually Cate Blanchett that you worked with?

Julia: Yeah. She had hours of make-up and delivered a performance that just filled the whole room with this elderly lady dying. You could feel the sort of atmosphere when you walk into a room that was very much like a hospital. She was very funny about it because she said she was really looking forward to having two weeks in bed, but then she said it was exhausting to play that your body is failing you and that it’s hard to breathe. She found it way more physically demanding than just playing the age. There were very funny moments where she would get hot under the lights and the blankets, so she’d kick off the blankets and you’d have this 80-year-old-plus woman at one end, and then these perfect legs. It was an optical illusion. It was very funny.

Did you do some research into what it was like sitting with someone and feeling that claustrophobia?

Julia: Yeah. I was aware of the fact that the nature of it actually fed into the experience, and what we were feeling while we were filming was actually what people would be feeling in that circumstance. I love the way that it’s such a rich movie with amazing sets and a big, epic scale, but when it comes down to it and it’s your time to die, it’s just you and that person and your relationship, and the other stuff drops away. All of it felt like it fed into the right circumstance. It wasn’t like you were trying to forget about that, as a circumstance.

Have you kept in touch with Brad Pitt, over the last 15 years, since you made Legends of the Fall with him?

Julia: We’ve bumped into each other at various stuff. The mega-stardom that he’s hit must have changed him, in some way, but he always just seems to be the very sweet guy that he was when we were doing Legends.

How do you think you would react, in real life, if you found out that your father wasn’t your father? Would you have reacted like your character does?

Julia: The way that I talk about it is to say that I’m Daisy’s daughter, so that I don’t give that aspect of it away. But, we talked about it and tried to build into the relationship a tension because, to me, that was a more modern relationship. Our generation deals with stuff in a way that is somewhat more potentially provocative. They want to talk through stuff. I felt like it was a more honest reaction to have her be angry. You can’t take in that news without passing through that. But, she can’t hold it against her mother because she can see why did it. Ultimately, it was the honest act to tell her.

As a representative of someone who is losing a parent, was there a sense of responsibility to get that relationship right, knowing that it is very relatable to a lot of people?

Julia: It’s got to be about the most painful moment. The only other thing that would be more painful would be losing your child. Losing a parent must be one of the most painful things you can go through, even if it is at the very end of a very full life. You cannot help but feel that that person has been taken from you. So, there is a challenge in how you deliver a performance that speaks to the magnitude of that moment. But, it’s great to be given a role where you’re given a shot at that.

This daughter is concerned that she hasn’t lived enough for her mother’s liking. What was that like? As someone who has been as successful as you have, how did that feel for you?

Julia: When Daisy talks about Caroline in her youth, I took that and felt that, if you were the daughter of this very dynamic, poised, beautiful woman, the impact of the secret that she holds back affects her. Caroline is a little dwarfed by her mother and is struggling to find her identity because Daisy is so complete, and that leads her to be somewhat insecure and vulnerable with her mother. As anybody’s death is approaching, you hope that you have lived up to your parents’ hopes and expectations of you. And, in a very short amount of text, in good writing, it conveys a wealth about their relationship.

David Fincher is known for doing many takes. What was he like to work with?

Julia: People have talked a lot about that, and I’ve heard actors say that he’ll do 45 takes. We didn’t do that. I didn’t experience him like that. What I experienced was a director who was very specific about what he wanted and knew when he had it and knew when he wanted to keep going. What was nice was to be given that luxury, in terms of time to prep your character and time to have with him to talk about it and the time to do the number of takes that was needed to get what he wanted. I loved the fact that he was always very, very specific. Sometimes he would get what he wanted, and then we would move on to playing it a different way, so that, at the end of the day, he had choices in the editing room. When you put a film together, you can’t actually tell, until you’re in the room, putting the pieces together, which take is going to work best. For instance, there were certain moments where we shot a number of different lines that just gave him editing options.

This film was shot digitally. Was that your first time working with those kind of cameras?

Julia: With David, it always feels like there’s some heightened level. I’ll be really honest, as an actor, I know there was special effects stuff, like the make-up that Cate was dealing with, and things in terms of making the windows rumble because of the wind. But, in terms of cameras and that, I just let that stuff go. I don’t want to feel too obsessed by the fact that, if you use this footage versus that camera, one is very stark and will show every pimple, and the other will make you look better. When people aren’t working on film, it’s great to know that there isn’t a consciousness, on behalf of the director, of how much stock he’s using. It allows you to go again and again and again.

You haven’t been seen in many films for awhile. Have you gone through a lot of auditions in the last few years?

Julia: I had a period of time where I felt really creatively wiped and somewhat confused, and felt like, as an actor, I’d gotten myself into a rut, in terms of how I was being cast and seen. To continue, at that point, along the same vein, would just have had diminishing returns. And so, I consciously took time off, aware that, if I wanted to come back in, I would be starting again, and that was what I decided to do. So, I’ve been doing a lot of different stuff and a lot of philanthropic work, and focusing on having a kid, and looking for work that would be more challenging for me, and that would ring the changes. I feel as if, in the last two years, I’ve been given the opportunity to do a wacky character in Inland Empire, and do Lisa Howard in Che, which is completely different, and be in Kit Kittredge. For me, that feels like much more of a fulfillment of what I would like the acting experience to be. It doesn’t really matter to me that they’re not leads because I love the process of creating the character. It’s the challenge of it. What I love about playing a supporting role is that everybody seems much happier for you to completely go out on a limb. With Che, Lisa Howard is documented in questions and answers, and she’s white-blonde, and I turned up for a week’s work and Steven [Soderbergh] was like, “What about the wig?,” and I said, “I just don’t buy it. Let’s dye it!” I couldn’t do that in a lead because everybody would go, “No! You’re hair’s going to fall out.” They would stop youand say, “It doesn’t matter. We’ll just make her brunette.” I’ve just found that the risks that producers and directors will let you take in a supporting role are that much greater, and that’s much more fun to play.

Do you remember where you were during Katrina?

Julia: I think I was at home in L.A.

Had you spent much time in New Orleans?

Julia: I’d been down for the Jazz Festival, and then I did a trip down there after Katrina, some months after. It was just so staggering that America couldn’t deal with that in a better way. It was tragic.

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