During my adventures, green carpet walking, movie screening we had a few chances to sit down with some of the people behind the movies we got to see. One such person was People Like Us director Alex Kurtzman. His movie moved me to tears and to really get to know a bit behind the inspiration for the movie was just awe-inspiring. Here are a few of the questions and answers for the bloggers interview session with Alex.
Q: Tell us where the story came from?
Alex: I met my sister when I turned 30. My dad had had another family before ours. We knew about them growing up. But, I’d never met them. So I was sitting in my house and in my backyard. I think it was because my wife and I were starting to think about having kids. Tmakes you think about your family and where you come from. I started thinking about my half-sister and half-brother. Wondering who they were and what they were like. And this image came to me. The image was the last image of the movie. I didn’t know who those characters were in the image. But it just struck me very profoundly as the ending. I thought, “Wow, that — that seems like a really interesting story.” I didn’t think much of it. And I went to a party that night. A woman walked up to me and said, “I’m your sister.” So that began the seven years of the odd odyssey of trying to work through it and separate truth from fiction in order to make a movie. So what you see is, I think, in many ways very autobiographical and in other ways there’s a lot of invention in there. I certainly think there’s a lot of emotional truth for a lot of people in my family in there.
Q: Did you know who you wanted to play those roles?
Alex: No, not really. Because it took eight years to write the script, a lot of actors go through, you know. The person who’s right at the beginning isn’t necessarily right at the end. There was also a question to me about how old I wanted Sam to be at certain points. He makes choices that are so incorrect. There’s a part of me that felt like maybe he should be younger. Then there was a part of me that thought, “No, really, it’s about a guy who is sort of in a real delayed state of adolescence.” He’s actually 30 and he hasn’t quite grown to that place yet, you know. Chris was the first person that I asked, having worked with him on “Trek” and having seen him, in theater. He’s an incredible, he’s done amazing stage work.
I just felt like the thing about Chris for me is that he’s first of all he’s a guy. And I really needed Sam to be a guy. And he’s a man. But when you look at him in here he’s ten years old. Every time I saw him on the monitors I saw this boy. What I thought was so beautiful about that is that the only way to forgive this character is to understand that he’s really still a child in a lot of ways. That he’s trying so hard to be a good person. He just doesn’t really know what that means at the beginning of the movie. I loved the idea that, you know, the movie starts and he’s this guy who’s literally selling air. Then the movie ends and he’s the guy who’s just utterly, vulnerable standing there on his sister’s doorstep saying like this is who I am. I don’t know how to be better, but I wanna try. That required a lot of range. I saw a lot of actresses for Frankie and they were all amazing, every one of them. My worry with Frankie was that she would walk into the room and there would be a heaviness about her given her life.
When Elizabeth came in, she did the the A.A. monologue and the Laundromat monologue and she kind of threw it away. I felt like I was watching this person who was trying very hard not to have the words mean what they meant. And because of that they meant so much more. Because she wasn’t living in the drama of it. She was sort of trying to play it off and the more she tried, the less capable she was of playing it off. So, by the time you get to the end of those monologues you realize how raw and real she is. Her armor is coming down. And right when her armor is coming down she’s letting Sam in, you know.
She’s also just a brilliant comedian. You know, she can kind of spin any line a thousand different ways. She’s unbelievably smart. They both are just so smart. There’s a sharpness about her that I think is conveyed in Frankie’s character because I knew that Frankie had to be like. You do not mess with Frankie, you know. She could mow you down but when she did make herself vulnerable, you needed to recognize that it was such an experience and a rare moment for her ‘cause she just didn’t do that. Elizabeth, I think, conveyed all of that to me and in about two seconds when she started reading.
Q: How many kids did you look at for that part?
Alex: Over 500.
Q: You did a good job with the cast.
Alex: Thank you. Yeah, I think he’s incredible. You know, it’s very difficult to cast children, particularly the part of the angry young kid, you know, which could be such a cliché. And it could be so, precious, you know. The thing with kids, child actors, is that they are often coached by their parents. And what they come in to the room with is what their parents have been grinding into their heads the night before. So what you’re really doing is you’re trying to undo all the stuff that the parents did the night before to get to what’s real in that kid.
Michael is actually a phenomenally talented musician. Much more interested in his musical career than acting which makes him a great actor, because he’s totally unself-conscious. He’s not trying to impress anybody. So that boy that you see on screen is very much Michael. But Michael’s a sweet, sweet guy. He was very easy to direct. Which is absolutely not the case with kids a lot of the time. But I also felt that there was a big margin of error if that kid didn’t work in this movie. It could have been a disaster! When you think about the child performances, I think of like Justin Henry in “Kramer vs. Kramer”. I think about Henry Thomas in “E.T.”. There was something so real about those kids and raw about them. They weren’t playing, you know. I felt like the only way this was gonna work was if I had a kid who did that.
So what was scary was the waiting. Beause there were some kids who came before and you’re like, “Maybe we could — maybe.” You know, “Maybe we should just go with that kid.” Then you’re getting closer and closer to production and the clock is ticking and you’re like, “Oh my God, am I gonna find somebody?” Then kind of at the 11th hour Michael walked in the door.
Q: What does it mean to be a father generationally speaking?
Well it’s so funny to me because all of my close friends who are writers and are successful in doing what they are doing, set out to do that when they were little. They always wanted to do it from when they were little kids and they all have daddy issues, which is really interesting. I had the benefit of a father who framed the very first thing I wrote when I was little. And yet there’s this whole other side to my family.
I’m still working through how those two things can be reconciled. But, you know, I think that certainly I would say that it feels like, oddly, a lot of what you see on “Mad Men” based on the people that I’ve spoken to is really true. Like dads like they weren’t around in the delivery room. They didn’t come home until they wanted to come home. That was socially accepted. I cannot imagine that now.
Like it is so far from any reality that I’m aware of or that anyone in my life has. Yet I know that a lot of us did grow up with fathers who kind of straddled that a little bit. Maybe there was a turning point there, you know. Maybe things were changing. It’s funny because so much of the experience of making this movie for me has been a working through of understanding fatherhood. I don’t know. I guess I would say that to me the most important thing is presence. It really is important.
There was so much more to the interview with Alex Kurtzman that I will have to make a point to share some more questions on Red Carpet Mama. It was so interesting to hear that this movie was partly based on his life story. People Like Us opens in theaters Friday June 29, 2012. Don’t forget to keep up on all things People Like Us by liking their facebook, tweeting with them, and getting more information on their website.
Disclosure: Disney/Pixar sponsored my travel, accommodations and activities during the #BraveCarsLandEvent in June. All opinions expressed are 100% honest and my own.