Last week's Manhattan junket for A Mighty Heart was fairly routine -- not at all a paparazzi circus, despite the fact that that press had known days in advance that Angelina Jolie was making the Waldorf Astoria her home base while in town to do publicity for the film. For those who are interested, I was never asked to sign any kind of agreement or contract whatsoever, and none of the other journalists doing roundtable interviews were, either. I think that kind of thing was restricted to journalists doing one on one interviews. The only out-of-the-ordinary thing that happened during the entire day was that the studio publicists made a big show of setting up their own tape recorder to record our conversation with Jolie, for what purpose I have no idea. Anyway, here is a sampling of some of the questions and answers batted back and forth during the roundtables. Some of the questions are mine, some are from the rest of the table. Enjoy.
Playing a character who is not only real but also very involved -- what pressure does that put on you as an actress?
Huge pressure. So much so that I didn't sleep the night before and I questioned myself through the entire process of making this film. I respected her before I met her, when I saw how she handled the situation, just as a viewer watching CNN, and when I met her I discovered what a lovely woman, what a gracious person she is, what a great mom she is, and she's the last person I'd want to disappoint in any way. It was a huge responsibility to not just try to be her in the film, but to be her during the most difficult time of her life and to try to interpret her pain or her love for her husband. She had faith in me, that I would be the right person to do it, and I think without that I would never have taken the role.
What was your first meeting with her like?
Our initial meeting was before the film. We just had a play date. [laughs] The film was very much a second thought in our relationship. She was somebody who I liked as a woman and still think ... we have different things that in common that we want to work on internationally and domestically, and our kids like each other. So that's the most important reason for our friendship -- we get the kids together. It's strange for that to have evolved and for me to sit with her one day and to realize that we were going to do this and I was going to play her. It was strange -- it was very strange. She was wonderful. There's no vanity, and just believed that if everybody understood the book and understood the intention and why she lived her life the way she did, and what she and Danny represented, that if we understood that, then we would do our best and try. And as long as everybody tried their best, that was all she could ask. So she was the nicest person to work with, but because she had faith in us, it also made us that much more nervous.
Talk about accent work -- does it come naturally to you?
Some are easier than others. Some I slide into well. This one was a really hard one for me, because there was nothing to kind of hold onto. I kept going too French or then too Cuban, and then too ... just too much of an accent. She has such a direct voice, and she's such an honest speaker, that to find a way to not let an accent get in the way ... I had a dialect coach and I studied technically, for a long time.
Talk about the pivotal scene where Mariane finds out Daniel has been killed.
It was hard to shoot. We'd been living in that house together for about five weeks, all of the actors and the crew, and we'd been going kind of in continuity through the story. And we'd all spent time with the people we were playing, we all felt very connected to this real story. On that night, we did all become very sad at the thought that there was a night like this, and that this real man did die in this horrible way and this little boy doesn't have his dad right now. So we were emotional and there was no plan on how we'd respond ... Michael just said 'if you don't want me to come in the room, just close the door. If it's okay for us to come in with the camera, leave the door open.' That was the extent of it. We could run wherever we wanted in the house and we could all react however we felt like reacting. But everybody was emotional. A lot of that's not in the film. The other actors were very emotional as well.
Do you think this is your best work since Girl, Interrupted?
I don't really think about it in those terms. I think I'm happy to have something that I'm proud of, that says something that I support, that I think is important to do, and not just entertaining and silly. It's nice to be a part of something that means so much to me, but there's no thought ... everything I do, like all of us, I try to do the best we can and I've not been focused so much on my career these days anyway, so I'm happy to have something that I think has turned out well.
Michael Winterbottom doesn't rehearse -- does that challenge you? Make you braver?
It challenges you and makes you braver. It's great, and there was a joke on set where, on everybody's first day, they would come in and every actor would quietly pull me into a room and go 'Is that's how it's gonna go?' Every time. It was really unusual. My first scene, I was getting dressed up in this room in a chateau to come down for the wedding and I just heard from somebody 'Michael just wants you to come down when you're ready and just go get married.' And we did. Dan Futterman and I were first face to face on camera during the wedding. It's great. The best thing about it was that it caught us all in very raw, honest moments and that's what this film needed and why it works and why Michael helped us all to be much better. The hard thing was improvising facts about a case. You have to be so accurate and so technical. There were days when we'd look at the Captain and we'd say 'What's going on with Gilani?' and he'd be like 'Umm ... we found him?' [laughs] So that was tough. But kind of fun.
Does this movie affect what choices you'll be making in the future?
No. I'll do things for my kids, I'll do things for fun. The next thing I'm doing -- the next thing I was scheduled to do was something, there's a film Clint Eastwood is doing, it's about a kidnapping of a child in 1928 and a cover-up by the LAPD. I realized that I could not go from this to that. It wouldn't be good for me, emotionally, so I'm doing kind of a fun one for two months, in between. So that kind of leads me, sometimes. There are all different reasons.
Talk about filming the flashback scenes with Dan Futterman. What was that like?
It was lovely. It was nice because we'd been doing heavy things, and it was a very happy part of the film. At the same time, there was this pressure of 'My God, we have to represent these two people, and they're so in love.' They're just such that couple. And how do we do it, because we don't want them to be perfect. Nobody's perfect. But it was hard to find anything negative about their relationship -- we tried. But it was lovely. With Michael too, the way he shoots, we just took one camera and Danny and I ran around India. We went on the trains and we went in a shop and we went and got a haircut, and we just hung out, and it was lovely.
How closely did you follow the Daniel Pearl story when it was actually happening?
I think as much as anyone, I had been in Pakistan a few weeks before September 11, and I was following the refugee situation and the war in Afghanistan, and I think like most people I wasn't stuck to the television and it wasn't the center of everything I was focusing on, but I was aware of it. I was, like everyone ... I was anticipating that he was going to come back. I think most of us thought that. I think I was as connected as all of us were.
Do you think there will ever be a point when acting is something you used to do?
[Nods yes] I think I'll not want to be so public at some point in my life. At least not in this way.
Talk about shooting the video, Daniel's last moments.
I think that was the hard part. We're aware that it's an incredible painful document for people who knew and loved him, and we're trying to do it with as little editorializing as possible, as simply as possible, as accurately as possible, so that's where our focus was, in trying to be true to what seemed to be happening.
Were any of your scenes edited out of the final cut?
Oh yeah, probably 80 percent of what I shot, and probably 80 percent of what everyone shot. Michael shoots and shoots and shoots, and he shoots on DV, so there's no rollout issues. You have 30 minutes or whatever it is, to tape. So I don't know what he ended up with, probably 200 hours worth footage or something, for a 100 minute movie. We shot a lot of stuff all over of town, particularly in Bombay. There was a whole sequence one evening where they had these festivals and music and incense and saffron powder flying around and dancing, and we shot a whole thing where they're kind of winding through the crowd and dancing, and that's not in the film. There's a lot of stuff like that. I don't know that he had a complete sense of what he was gonna use and what he wasn't gonna use or how much would be appropriate, but he wanted to get as much as he could and then be able to play with it.
Did you spend a lot of time with the other actors, seeing as how you're playing someone who is missing?
I didn't get to spend a lot of time with Arif Khan, I did get to spend a day with Denis O'Hare and his boyfriend when they were in Bombay. We had a great day walking when we weren't working. But yeah, I was in different stuff. I was largely segregated from that main action. Most of what I was doing was with Angie and Michael, separate from everyone else.
Michael Winterbottom doesn't do traditional rehearsal?
You don't rehearse at all. You're rehearsing on camera. I think he feels like 'what if you get some great human moment that happens in rehearsal ... why wouldn't I be shooting that?' So there is no rehearsal. You talk about things, and he'll say 'this information is important, these couple of lines are good and important,' and so you play around. You kind of circle back. Often, what ends up in the film are the scripted lines anyway, but you've kind of acted all around them, and so they feel as if they're coming out of an organic conversation. We were also working with an incredibly powerful, smart foundation, John Orloff's script. It's a great script, and so you could always return to it and you were always returning to it, but it was always a great jumping off point. I did have a feeling a little bit, having written, that John Orloff wrote the script and Michael did a little bit of work to get it ready to shoot. This was over a number of years that this was developed, and I thought 'Now you want us to make up dialogue? Are you kidding me?' But you do end up using many, many of the lines and getting to play on top of that. It's very freeing as an actor, it's pretty great. But you have to trust the director that he's going to choose the right moments to put in the film.
Were you hesitant to use Mariane Pearl as a resource?
Well, I certainly didn't want to increase her pain in any way, and yeah, I think I was probably trying to gauge how open she wanted to be with me, how personal she would get. In the first moments of meeting her, she took it upon herself to be reassuring to me that I could ask her whatever I wanted to, and she'll tell me if she doesn't want to answer it, but she never did say that. I think it was important that the actor playing her husband understand him as much as she could impart and understand their connection.
Do you feel that he was reckless in any way, or was he a reporter who just got ambushed by people who were more prepared?
That's a question I've gotten asked, and I had that specific conversation with Steve Levine, and he said 'Look, it's important that people realize that Danny was an extremely careful journalist. He was someone who had, a year before, written a long memo to the Wall Street Journal about reporter safety, extra training that he felt foreign correspondents needed in this day and age, mechanisms that they would fall back on if one of them did get abducted, and he said 'as a foreign correspondent, by definition you're in a country or a city you don't know that well. You're always meeting a friend of a friend of a friend and that's the way you do your work. You have to make snap judgments about people. You're often getting into a car and going somewhere that you're not exactly sure where you're going. 99 times out of a 100 it turns out fine, but in this case, it could have been any one of us, and it tragically didn't turn out fine.
What did you think of Angelina's performance?
I was astonished by this performance. A couple of years ago I got to watch a friend of mine give this kind of transformational performance -- Capote, Phil Hoffman -- and I felt like I was seeing the same kind of thing again. That felt like kind of a blessed project, where things just came together, and this felt very similar to that. I never thought we'd get to repeat that, and I got to do it as an actor, and she's given that same kind of transformational, deeply emotionally grounded, incredibly smart performance. I really think she's one of my generation's great, great actors. She's very open and easy and fun to play with.