It can't be easy bringing your first film to Sundance as the son and brother of famous film people, but Jake Paltrow -- the son of the late Bruce Paltrow and actress Blythe Danner, and brother of Oscar-winning actress Gwyneth Paltrow -- seems to be handling the pressure well. Jake Paltrow's feature writing and directing debut, The Good Night, starring Martin Freeman, Danny DeVito, Penelope Cruz, and Gwyneth Paltrow made its premiere here at Sundance 2007. Jake very kindly took time out of his busy Sundance schedule to sit down with Cinematical to chat about his film.
Cinematical: What inspired you to make and write this film?
Jake Paltrow: I woke up one day and had the majority of the story in my head, and not so much because I had a dream about the story but because I felt that kind of emotion that everyone's experienced where it's like, if I could just have had five more minutes in that dream ...
Cinematical: Sure, I have that happen all the time where I wake up and just want to go back in and find out how the dream ends.
JP: Right, that's the thing, a lot of people do, and I felt we hadn't seen that. And so I worked on the outline and after a few days I felt I had a story and it that it worked.
More after the jump ...
Cinematical: So after you had the basic outline, did you talk it through with anyone, with family or friends, to say, this is the story idea I have, what do you think?
JP: No, no. I never talk about them. I write them and I don't talk about them because sometimes I don't finish them and there's nothing worse than telling someone you have this great idea, and then six months down the road they're asking, where's that script you were working on?
Cinematical: Watching the film, I felt like one of the themes you were working with was that line between reality and dream life, and that his dream life became more real to him than his real life. Can you talk about that?
JP: I think it was a way of trying to explore these ideals of perceived perfection, or the want for perfection, and just how kind of lost people can get in that pursuit. It's expanding on the "grass is always greener" ideal of things. And not so much with the moral of what you need is right there in front of you, but just that I think that perfection is not something that can really be achieved. You can't have perfect relationships, almost at all. And I liked the idea of this guy searching for perfection, and in this dream state, that's the only place he could find it.
Cinematical: Do you think that's become a part of our American culture, that search for perfection – the perfect job, the perfect car, the perfect wife or girlfriend or partner?
JP: Well, I think it's not just American. Myself and most people I know deal with those issues.
Cinematical: A lot of people in their 20s and 30s seem to really be searching and seeking and never satisfied, especially in their relationships, and it felt like the film tried to address that through the relationship with Gary and Dora.
JP: Well, the idea is that they'd been together seven years, eight years, and they were kind of past that point were they should have gotten married, and they haven't. And so it's become a very inert relationship, and they're at that point of, are we going to make a significant lifestyle change? You can see it in the design of their apartment – it's just not cared for. There are books everywhere, it's a very stagnant relationship, and their home reflects that.
Cinematical: So the apartment design was intended to visually represent the way in which their relationship was stuck.
JP: Exactly, and the way they interact , that as they move through the apartment, they're always separated by spaces, by doorways, by the distance between them. The perception is "what's wrong here?"
Cinematical: Gary has this dream relationship -- this unattainable but yet very fulfilling romance of sorts with the Penelope Cruz character, Anna. Can you talk about how you envisioned that character?
JP: I think I like the idea of this kind of iconic character who can kind of facilitate these feelings of fulfillment artistically and sexually and everything. I think a lot of people, if given the opportunity to live in that state, even for a limited period of time, would want to take the opportunity to kind of explore that idea of actualized perfection. The thing about Anna is that in a very human way she represents all that stuff, in a very loving way, to Gary.
Cinematical: She's this perfect woman who bolsters him in every way -- to her he's perfect and brilliant and funny -- which is what we'd all like from our relationships, right? For our partner to always lift us up and support us, and never say anything we don't want to hear.
JP: Right, exactly, and that's what she is to him.
Cinematical: So can you talk about the casting a bit, then? As you were writing the script did you envision Gwyneth in the part of Dora?
JP: No, that came later. I was really writing for Martin Freeman, I'd seen him in The Office and I just thought he was so great. I just hadn't seen a guy like that, kind of broken, charming, human -- such a special kind of guy. And so I found myself kind of writing it with him in mind as I went along.
Cinematical: But you hadn't talked to him yet?
JP: No, not at that point. And then Simon Pegg, he and Martin are best friends in real life, and they have that kind of chemistry. And Simon of course, he's really a much better person than his character in the movie. But their interactions, they are both extremely bright, and so that bit of casting was a bit of a no-brainer. And then Penelope and Danny, I didn't even know them, but I'm the biggest Danny DeVito fan. He's so versatile, but I wanted to see him like this, as this guy who is tied up by his own limitations.
Cinematical: But he has these visions of himself doing much bigger things.
JP: Yeah, in his dream life. And you see that toward the end, that his perversions have gone ... he's dreaming up rabbit girls nibbling at his toes. They're pretty out there. Where Mark is like, I just want to have a nice relationship, Danny, having done this lucid dreaming for 40 years, he wants more than that, he's bored with it. And his apartment, the idea that there's all this stuff, a lifetime of materials he's read about, images he's seen, and he's kind of lived all that out through the lucid dreaming.
Cinematical: How did Penelope get involved?
JP: She read the script and she liked it. She read it, and we talked on the phone, and she liked my take on it, what I wanted to do with it. And then she signed on.
Cinematical: I was glad to see you use her in a way that wasn't gratuitous. When she first came onscreen, I was concerned you were making that character just eye candy, and I was glad to see as the film progressed to see that wasn't where you were going with it.
JP: Right, she wasn't intended to be just purely sexual at all. And the big thing I wanted to do with the Melody character is that it isn't about her, it's about him, about Martin's kind of craziness and having whipped himself into this state. And there's that scene where he's trying to change her, telling her she'd look great in a white tuxedo, and that it's not about her at all, it's about him and his neuroses.
Cinematical: Did you pull bits and pieces from your life and your friends lives into the script?
JP: Sure, I pulled parts of fights you have, fights you hear, I do that all the time. Pull in the parts that make you laugh.
Cinematical: Does it bring more truth to your scripts?
JP: I don't know about that, but it does make it easier, you know – if it works in real life, it works on the page, right?
Cinematical: When did you get your sister involved?
JP: This was something we'd wanted to do for a long time. She was in a short film I made a long time ago. But after the script was finished, we just sort of talked about it. The movie was set up, it wasn't a financial consideration, we had everybody. My biggest concern was would her involvement, and the idea of us doing this together, kind of eclipse what we were doing? It's a smaller film, and I didn't want that to be the main attraction. If her being in the film is what brings people to the theater to see it, then that's great, but I also don't want it to be a deterrent.
Cinematical: She's been taking darker roles lately, like her roles in The Royal Tennebaums, Running with Scissors, and now this one.
JP: I think the majority of films she's done, certainly Flesh and Bone, her breakout film, and a lot of her earlier roles, were more complicated characters. And then Shakespeare in Love.
Cinematical: I love it when she plays these darker roles, because I think she does that dark side very well. I felt like with the character of Dora, that she had both light and darkness, she wasn't a bad person, she was just frustrated by the relationship and the wall they'd hit. That they were just two people who were stuck in this place, and how do they move past it?
JP: I'm so glad you saw it that way, I didn't want it to be a situation where, the girlfriend is a jerk and so of course he wants to retreat. I didn't want it to be that easy. They're just two people trying to sort it all out, which is what real people do in real relationships.