Despite the fact that show business is mostly a lot of make-believe, acting and directing in films is still a tough job, because it's not merely about a person pretending, but making an audience believe in some fictional, fantastical reality. Peter Jackson has excelled at that since his earliest days, and his aptitude for creating believable fantasy has only appreciated in recent years. In his latest film, an adaptation of Alice Sebold's acclaimed novel The Lovely Bones, he takes us on a journey with a girl who's stuck between this life and the next one, and convinces us that her efforts to escape and move on are compelling, even if they're not stricken from concrete reality.
Part of the film's success in doing this must be attributed to the actors in the film, including Saoirse Ronan, who plays Susie Salmon, as well as a supporting cast that includes Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg, Susan Sarandon, Stanley Tucci, and Rose McIver. Cinematical recently spoke with the cast at the film's Los Angeles press day, where they discussed the challenges of bringing the film's transcendent but often tough subject matter to life.
Saoirse, did you read the book beforehand, and what was your reaction to it?
Saoirse Ronan: I waited to read the book. I hadn't heard about the book before I heard about the film because when it came out I was quite young anyway. But when I did get the role, I waited to read the book after I'd made the film because, well, I was just a bit too young to read it. I heard it was a tough read, especially the first chapter, and after reading it now I realize that it is quite tough. But I eventually did read it and it was beautiful and I thought that Pete and Fran [Walsh] and Philippa [Boyens] did a great job adapting it.
Mark, why did you want to do this, and where do you have to go to be able to play every parent's worst nightmare?
Mark Wahlberg: Well, my biggest reason for wanting to be a part of this was Peter Jackson. I'm a huge fan of Peter's. Because of the way I approach work, I wasn't all that thrilled about the subject matter because I have a beautiful little girl and two beautiful boys. I don't have the God-given talent that Rachel has to just snap into it and have these floods of emotion coming out and then turn it all off. So I basically had to live in that headspace for the entire time. I just thought it would be a beautiful movie and it was too good to pass up the opportunity to be a part of it.
Susan, your character is a drunk and kind of irresponsible, but she brings some life into the film, almost as comic relief. Did you see her behavior as part of her coping with her own grief?
Susan Sarandon: Well, obviously she's been self medicating for years and in anticipation of something bad (laughs). But yeah, I think she's the one, maybe she mourns in another movie but not in this movie, because that's not my job. My job is to keep things moving forward. It's a really great choice to have somebody that's completely inept be the one that tries to keep the house going, because if I was a really seemingly solid knitting granny who you would expect to come forward, it would be really boring. But the fact that she's throwing ashes simultaneously everywhere she's cleaning, I think that it allows the audience to life in an appropriate place as opposed to having some release in some place that wouldn't be welcome. I just love the fact that that's the way life is. When something horrible happens, you do find yourself laughing in weird places in the midst of grief and crying in the supermarket when you see a cereal that somebody used to eat. There's just no way of guarding yourself one way or another. Everybody grieves differently and there's no right or wrong way.
My function within the bigger picture was to be hilarious. It was great not having to do what this poor gal had to do or Mark had to do. I've been there and lost many a child on celluloid, so I was happy that I was once removed, that my job was much more fun. I guess the big challenge, and I relied on Pete for this, is to make sure it's not too over the top and to throw things away. But the lines were so funny, you didn't really have to hit them too hard. If you believe the audience isn't stupid, you can just keep going and do it, so I was counting on them to really make just sure that I wasn't doing a caricature and that she seemed real. That would be the trap on this character.
Saoirse and Stanley, could you give us a little insight into the acting process for the murder scene? What kind of conversations did you have with one another?
Stanley Tucci: I have no recollection of it, so...
Ronan: We didn't talk about it that much, really, before hand. I don't think Stanley would have wanted to. It was quite a few months into shooting before we did the scene, and so I don't know about the crew, but both Stanley and I were quite anxious to get the scene out of the way and so we went in on the day and as I've said before, everything I needed was already written for me, and Pete was there so I felt very safe. Luckily Stanley and I were very comfortable with each other and we get on well and I think that was essential to get that intensity on screen. That we were comfortable with each other, that we could bounce off each other and sort of freak each other out, in a way. Especially him.
Tucci: Yeah, I couldn't wait to finish the scene, I'll be honest with you. You know, you are concerned, certainly as a parent or just as a person you are concerned when you are working with a younger person with this subject matter. You know that you have to behave a certain way in order to get what you need or get what you need across to fulfill the needs of the screenplay. But after every take, I would say to Saoirse, are you okay, because you know – it just made me uncomfortable (laughs). But Saoirse would also ask me if I'm okay, and it turns out that she's the one who really I think in some ways made us all feel comfortable. Because she's so mature. I did ask Pete, can we just get this done in one day? And he said "I'll try," and we weren't able to; we shot another half day the next day, and then it was over. I kind of breathed a sigh of relief. It was one of the last things I did in the movie, and I was very happy when it was over. But you also in between takes, you joke around, you have to.
Ronan: I know I wouldn't have been able to stay in that place foe the whole time, because when the cameras started to roll, it was extremely intense. It was interesting to see, I think Rose mentioned this earlier, first of all Stanley is such a great guy and to see how he changes is frightening. And for someone who certainly gets on well with him, it feeds whatever performance you need to get out. But I enjoyed it. I enjoyed doing the scene (laughs).
Stanley, was this part hard and hard to drop at the end of the day?
Tucci: It was hard in every respect. I was very reticent to take the part at first for reasons that Mark just explained. I have kids and I can't really read anything or watch anything with kids getting harmed. I don't like things about serial killers. There's so much serial killer information out there in documentaries constantly. A lot of it's just sort of gratuitous or it's almost like pornographic really. There's no reason for it being shown. This was not that. This was a beautiful story about an exploration of loss. Pete and Fran and Philippa, in the long conversations we had before we started working together, I felt very safe with them. I felt that there would be nothing here that would be gratuitous and that we were going to create a person together in Mr. Harvey that was a real person. The more real he was, the more subtle he is, the more terrifying he is. The more banal he is, the more terrifying he is. At the very beginning, it was very hard to leave it at the end of the day, to drop it, particularly when you're fresh off your research and the research was repulsive. But eventually, once you understand who he is and you find him, for me, then I could drop him at the end of the day. But there's no doubt, I will say without question it was the most difficult thing I've ever done as an actor. I'd look forward to going into the makeup trailer, taking everything off and having a martini at the end of every day. And the beginning of every day too, as a matter of fact (laughs).
Rose, what attracted you to this role, and how did you handle that difficult scene at the end? Was it tough to tap into those emotions?
Rose McIver: I didn't know it was going to be as easy as it was because when I met Stanley, I thought, 'This man's too nice. He's not going to be Mr. Harvey, and how am I even going to be scared of him?' But when we were shooting that, it was in New Zealand and it was very contained fear, like it was all on set it was fine and whenever we cut, it would go back to normal. But I certainly was actually terrified, I think - the idea of Lindsey putting herself in that position and having already lost her sister, putting herself at stake and being so vulnerable; I mean, it's brave but it's dangerous. I think the nature of that, the nature of the script made it a very easy kind of emotion to tap into.
Rachel, what was it like for you – especially as a mother - to deal with or explore this subject matter?
Rachel Weisz: Uh, well, as an actor you have to imagine all sorts of things. I imagined I was a young woman in the 1970s, I imagined I was an American, uh, neither of those are bad things. You know, you imagine beautiful things, you imagine lovely things, that's my job, and I don't know – I don't think in that way that something's too dark or problematic to go to; I don't know why, but I just don't think that way. I mean, I immerse myself in something, but I've learned to come out of it. I'm a mother in real life so I can't go home to my kids in a state of despair and tears. So it's a skill you learn, like one might learn to juggle, but you learn to turn things on and off, and I sort of have to do that. So yeah, I mean, stories since the beginning of time, bad things happened in stories. I mean, Oedipus kills his dad and has sex with his mom; bad stuff has happened in stories since the beginning of time, and I think it's [not] a new thing to be a storyteller and be in a story where there are bad things.
Also, there are very beautiful, uplifting things about this film and the book, and I knew that going into it, so I didn't have a hesitation of the sort that you mean. You know what? I guess the uplifting theme of the book and the film which is to me that life is a treasure and precious and a miracle, and I guess the thing that made me feel as if I wanted to go hug my son tighter when I got home, you know, it's hard to remember that life is a miracle. We're just living it and we forget that, so it gave me a kind of positive feeling rather than a depressed one.