Andrew Jarecki - Interview
You need to see this movie.
I know, the din from all the Oscar bait is much too loud to ignore but, I implore you, do what you can to see an emotionally evocative film that takes the “ripped from the headlines” to a whole new level. At the center of a very real murder mystery is Ryan Gosling who plays David Marks, a man who may or may not have killed his wife. Whether he did or not is where this film departs from so many procedurals where the outcome is the one thing that’s needed by an audience who has to know, unequivocally, whether the accused did it or not. You will not get that satisfaction here as the real pleasure comes in the form of Gosling who is downright riveting in an Oscar worthy performance portraying a man who is beset on all sides by ambition, by love, by raw passion.
The brilliance comes in, you understand, by Jarecki who never once wants to make this man seem like a monster who is obviously capable of murder, capable of making his wife vanish. Jarecki, who directed one of the greatest documentaries of the 21st century, Capturing the Friedmans, brings that same sensibility here as we focus on what is in front of us and not what we can infer. It’s the attention to detail, of making this period piece actually feel like the time in which we’re experiencing these events, that elevates this from a simple drama to a dynamic entry into an already congested list of films that need to be looked at when it comes time to handing out little gold statues. From Frank Langella, Kirsten Dunst, even Kristen Wiig the performances are uniformly spectacular.
Jarecki spoke with me recently about the film and its production. All Good Things is out today.
CHRISTOPHER STIPP: Thank you for talking with me. I just got a chance to see the movie over the weekend and loved it. It was a great film and one that, just reading the synopsis it seems like I’ve seen this movie a dozen times before but this one really felt fresh.
JARECKI: It’s hard to come up with a one liner to describe this movie, I have to say.
CS: What made you think that there was a movie to be made out of this story?
JARECKI: I’ve always been fascinated by monster stories.
Often because when you see someone who has been described in awful ways and in the past has been painted as a one dimensional figure, when you get more deeply into it you find that that person is much more complex and human than you originally thought. That was certainly the case here and as I started to research the original story, the story about Robert Durst, I found so much depth to it that it was clear to me that this was something that had never been told – even though there’s been thousands of pages of newsprint written about the story and there had been hours and hours of tabloid television shows about it over the last 30 years - nobody had a picture of what might have happened, particularly early on in this relationship. In the early stages this was a couple that was in love and who had great hopes and plans for the future and nobody ever sets out to have this path in their lives but it happens that they go on different journeys than what they had expected.
CS: I know we spend a lot of time following Ryan Gosling through this. He actually provided some depth to this man but you position it to where we actually like him on some level, to listen to what he is saying. Was it tough for you to break that shell and to make him more of a – you might not feel great sympathy towards him - sympathetic character?
JARECKI: Yes, I think you have to feel his sense of humanity. And I also think that, in terms of characters in film or drama or literature that are not instantly appealing to us, there is always that feeling that even if we don’t actually love this person as long as somebody that we love loves that person. So once you know that Kirsten Dunst’s character is in love with this man, which she clearly is, we have stakes in that relationship – that we care what happens.
CS: Did you have any influence with Marcus Hinche and Marc Smerling who helped co-write the story? Were they the ones who crafted this script by themselves and came to you with it or did you help shepherd it in any way?
JARECKI: We all started the movie together and then we all went out – the very first step was that we all went out researching the story and getting into the relationships and discussions with people who had known the families and done business with the family and were friendly with the couple and had been part of the investigation. We really met over 100 people who had something to do with the story, the case and the couple. In the course of that we began to develop an idea of what the movie would be, which we worked on together. So we started developing a script together. The director, certainly in this case because I had initiated the contact with my partner Marc, and then we put Marcus into it, it was pretty democratic and free flowing process.
CS: I didn’t realize that your last full length film, Capturing the Friedmans, had come out over a half decade ago. Were you just waiting for a movie like this to come along?
JARECKI: It’s probably taken me a long time to observe the story and try to get a take on it because this is a story that had never been made into a movie and, in fact, even when it’s been explained in one way or another on television they always take a piece of the story because it’s very hard to convey 30 years of history and these three presumed murders over 30 years of this very large block of someone’s life. It’s just a difficult thing to do and a lot of the time is compressing the history. You can say, well it Andrew it took you 5 years to make this movie, which it really did. It took about 2 years to write the screenplay and then it took about 3 years to get the movie made. Aren’t you glad I didn’t make you sit through the whole 30 years?
For me, I’m not in a hurry that’s for sure. I know it would be fun to work on a movie very quickly. I think I might have that in me but historically I’ve wanted to do all this homework first. So as a kid, maybe it was ingrained into me by my father who has a lot in common with Sanford Marks.
CS: It’s funny that you bring that point up. I am reminded of a great film I saw this year which was The Red Riding Trilogy. It spans years and years and years but it’s broken up into 3 films. Was it ever a thing to you that if it wasn’t a movie this maybe a mini-series for HBO? They might like something like that, or did it ever come to a point where you thought that maybe this could be longer than just 90 minutes?
JARECKI: I remember when we made Capturing the Friedmans. We had a 5 ½ hour version of the movie. And I have to say it was extremely logical. I was living in Rome at the time and we showed it to groups of people and people never said I’m done after 2 hours. They said, can I get a glass of water and sit back down. So, I think there is always a much fuller version of the story that you can tell but at the same time I think the challenge here was to try, in a relatively short period of time, convey a lot of emotional history and so it felt to me that we could ultimately get it to the length of a feature film and that was probably the right way to do it.
CS: Obviously, it worked. Talking to Frank, Kirsten, and Ryan, did you convey that to them or did you lean on them as actors, let them read the material and act the way they saw fit?
JARECKI: I direct a lot of theater and I’m a big believer that the actors bring a huge amount of the work we put into the character and it’s very much a collaborative process and if you cast the actors right you are lucky to be working with actors who have the capabilities like Ryan and Kirsten and Frank and some of the other people. We took some big risks in this movie like we cast the part of Deborah Lehrman who is in her 20’s when we meet and her and then later is in her 50’s. We cast this 25 year old girl, Lily Rabe, because we thought she could do it – play the character and play the same character 30 years later and I think she did. She transformed herself. Physically, her body becomes decrepit. She’s fundamentally different. She has a bad hip and she walks funny and a lot of these things happen in a way that I think is true to the way people age and how people evolve. So we were really lucky to have this group and I think lucky that they all took their jobs very seriously. Then we also did something unusual. Somebody said “I guess you’ll be wanting some rehearsal time” and I said, “Yes, about 2 months.”
Everybody really laughed at that and they said, “This is not a play. These actors are very busy and they have other jobs that they’re doing and it’s going to be crazy and to even consider the possibility that you would have them in New York for 2 months before you start shooting a movie.” So I said, “Alright.” Then I called Ryan and I called Kirsten and they said “When do you want us there?” and I said, “How about a few weeks – that would give us 2 months to rehearse?” They said OK. So I realize that was fortunate because they were in a position to do it – they could have been in the middle of some other movie but they weren’t. They were excited about that idea – about giving the movie the rehearsal period that it needed.
CS: How did production on the film translate? I know documentary filmmaking obviously would lend something as to how you shot this film. Did you find it was a smooth transition?
JARECKI: For me I was comfortable working with the actors. I like actors a lot. I knew what they would bring. I thought a lot visually about how we wanted the film to look. We joined forces with the cinematographer that had lots of experience because if I had an idea for how I wanted to say something I wanted someone that had the chops to say that’s not going to work or I have an even better idea.
Michael Seresin shot Angela’s Ashes, Midnight Express, a Harry Potter movie, he is an extraordinary talent and someone that helped us visualize the story so that everything was speaking the same direction so that the style of the movie was visually was properly married to the subject.
CS: Yes, it’s gorgeous. It literally is like walking into another decade.
JARECKI: Yes, thanks. The period was so important – just getting the period right without getting hokey. Michael Clancy who is the costume designer – not only did he go way beyond the regular costume – he had a huge collection of his own vintage 40’s, 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, were original pieces – he said the problem of early 70’s is that things can get pretty clownish. People tend to overdue 70’s. The 70’s was a clownish period – like what John Travolta wore. So that period that was properly done but was reserved enough without looking ridiculous.
CS: It was very subtle. That comes across.
JARECKI: And in Kirsten’s case – the early 70’s – she’s very knowledgeable herself and she knows that it’s a big part of the character that here’s a girl that comes from this modest background in Long Island and comes to New York City and meets this incredibly wealthy, young man from this huge real estate family and when we first meet her she is in this very simple sundress and clearly nothing appropriate to wear to dinner at Gracie Mansion and within a few years she has become much more sophisticated and see her style evolve as she gets more confidence in herself. And that was an important part of the evolution. Even Ryan’s character. He rebels in some way but at the same time he becomes more strapped into the jacket and tie that his father wants him to wear. In the beginning we see him as a much more free spirit.
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