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Known for his raft of successful left-leaning satires such as “Vice” and “The Big Short,” Director Adam McKay once again tries to find the balance between serious social commentary and an acidic attack on the right wing conservative views especially when it relates to global issues.
In his Oscar-nominated “Don't Look Up”(now on Netflix) two low-level astronomers (played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) attempt to warn mankind via a media tour about an approaching comet that will destroy Earth. As the city-sized object heads to earth, the rightwing American president (Meryl Streep) at first agrees to and then denies the seriousness of its impending impact. This satirical allegory of media, government, and cultural indifference to the crisis of anthropogenic climate change details the chaos that ensues from an Earth-destroying event.
Lawrence became the film's first cast member with DiCaprio signing on after rewriting McKay's script. Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Ron Perlman, Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande, Scott Mescudi, Himesh Patel, Melanie Lynskey, Cate Blanchett, and Meryl Streep round out the ensemble cast. Grande and Mescudi also collaborated on the song "Just Look Up" as part of the film's soundtrack.
Filming was to begin in April 2020 around Massachusetts, but was delayed until November due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The shoot then lasted through February 2021. The result received mixed reviews from critics, who praised the cast but found the 53-year old’s approach heavy-handed.
Despite those reviews, the movie was named one of the top 10 films of 2021 by the National Board of Review and American Film Institute. It also received four nominations at the 79th Golden Globe Awards, including Best Picture - Musical or Comedy, and six at the 27th Critics' Choice Awards, including Best Picture. The film won Best Original Screenplay at the 74th Writers Guild of America Awards. It also set a new record for the most viewing hours in a single week on Netflix, and went on to become the second most-watched movie on Netflix within 28 days of release.
When a flurry of activity kicked up over the movie’s release, IEUSA acquired a transcript of an extensive press conference held recently. It included cast members Mescudi, Perry, Hill, Streep, DiCaprio, Lawrence, and its writer/director/producer.
Moderator/scientist Amy Mainzer (who contributed to the film) tried asking questions but really just managed the verbal jousting between this stellar cast and its creator.
Q: I have had the great pleasure of working with this incredibly talented cast and crew on the movie where, as an astronomer and planetary scientist, I served as the science advisor on the film.
TP: What a lineup here, man.
Q: Leo, now that Dr. Dibiasky [Jen Lawrence] is over here... Oh, sorry, not quite Dr. Dibiasky. Now that she's contributed all this to science, we need to get her defense scheduled. When would you like to schedule her defense? The committee needs at least three months to plan [laughs].
LD: I think three months is a proper amount of time.
Q: Okay, great. Will you be ready for your PhD defense?
MS: I just broke out in a sweat.
JL: I was so afraid she was going to look at me and say something. I was like, don't do it.
TP: They really call it a defense?
Q: Not like Harry Potter Defense Against the Dark Arts, but sort of.
TP: You're a real astronomer?
MS: She discovered a comet.
Q: It's not hitting the Earth, though. Don't worry.
TP: Really? Oh, wow. Okay, good. That's awesome.
AM: She's the real deal.
TP: I'm blown away. I've never met an astronomer.
LD: And she was imperative in the narrative of this movie. Was our advisor and an unbelievable help. So thank you very much.
Q: Thanks for making the movie. The public perception of scientists has really taken a beating in recent times. As people who portrayed scientists in the movie, do you hope that this movie changes the public's perception of science and the people who practice science?
LD: Adam created this film, which was about the climate crisis, but he created a sense of urgency with it by making it about a comet that's going to hit Earth within six months' time and how science has become politicized with “alternative facts. I was just thankful to play a character who is solely based on many of the people I've met from the scientific community, in particular, climate scientists who've been trying to communicate the urgency of this issue and feeling like they're subjected to the last page on the newspaper.
There's too many other things that we're inundated with. I love the way he portrayed these two different characters. One that is incredibly outspoken, like a Greta Thunberg type of character in Jen's, and mine that’s trying to play within the system. I also love the way he was just incredibly truthful about how we're so immensely distracted from the truth nowadays. And then COVID hit and there was a whole new scientific argument going on there. And it's just such an important film to be a part of at this particular time.
Q: Jen, what do you think about that? You portrayed PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky.
JL: I think Leo said it perfectly. It's just so sad and frustrating to watch people who have dedicated their lives to learning the truth, be turned away because people don't like what the truth has to say.
Q: I appreciate that and think that really resonated with me and a lot of my colleagues in the science community. Adam, what is the mindset going into a film that's viewing such a serious, real-life issue through the lens of comedy? How do you pull that off?
AM: We were talking about the idea we wanted to deal with – the climate crisis – which is so overwhelming. It's arguably the greatest threat to life in the history of mankind. We just felt like you can get… It can almost be like an animal attacking you — It can just be overwhelming. But if you're able to laugh, that means you have some distance. I actually think that's really important. You can feel urgency and you can feel sadness and you can feel loss, while also having a sense of humor.
That was really the intention with this movie. After the crazy last five or 10 years we've all had across the planet, wouldn't it be nice to laugh at some of this and feel the other feelings? So that was the approach, 'cause I think we get hit with the thumping doomsday talk quite a bit. Which, by the way, is totally legit when it comes to climate change. But , it was important that people be allowed to laugh and have some distance. It's also a great unifier. You can't really fake laughter. It's not a political thing. They've tried, but it never really works whenever you try and fake that. So, yeah, that was kind of the thinking behind it.
Q: Leo, you've done actions towards protecting biodiversity and climate change. What encouraged you to take part in a movie that tackles these issues through comedy?
LD: I've been looking for a movie that was about this subject for decades now. But it’s like I said earlier, this is an issue where everyone feels ultimately like what kind of difference can we make?
How can we contribute to this cause? Adam really cracked the code with this-with this narrative. There's so many comparisons that we can make to the climate crisis with this storyline. And, you know, as a whole, it's probably the most important issue all of us could be talking about on a regular basis. It takes artists like this to change the narrative, you know? To create conversation and it’s just an honor to be a part of it, really.
Q: They say science brings us the facts, but art is what allows us to process the emotions and the feelings about it. What was the most important aspect or interesting aspect that you all learned from working together on this-on this film?
JL: Jonah, I think you should take it. What have you learned [in playing the President’s son]?
JH: Well, this is the first time we've met, so I haven't learned that much from you yet, except that you're nice, you're charming. Honestly, I've been friends with Leo for a long time. I've always had mad respect for how much he puts his money and time where his mouth is, in regards to this issue. Not only as a friend but as someone who’s not just talking a big game, but actually walks the walk I have really heavy respect for him.
For me, I've learned how everyone was so bummed the past two years. I got in a room with all these people that are geniuses – some of whom are friends of mine, some of whom I didn't know, but all of whom I respect. It was just amazing to laugh and think and create something in a time where everyone's been stuck in their houses. It was really emotionally meaningful to me.
SM: I came into this project very nervous, because if you can imagine, just like the weight of it and who the cast is. So like the first day, the first moment was really nerve-racking. But watching Adam, watching Tyler, watching Cate, watching Ariana, and seeing how everyone was kind of just like in the element, so laid back and so in tune and, like, comfortable, it made me comfortable.
Even though I was there for, what, three days, it felt like a family setting, and everybody embraced me. You know, it was my first time meeting Tyler who I'm a fan of, and it was so cool. I didn't know he was so tall but I just learned that, sometimes you've just got to relax, go with the flow and just be in your space and be comfortable with shit, you know?
I was just ready for… I heard before when I talked to Kathryn Hahn, who's a friend of mine, and she was telling me about Adam. She was like, "Just be ready for him to throw you anything," And I was like, okay, that makes me even more nervous. But no, it was great. It was a great experience.
Q: It's really fun to see it all come together. Adam, what about from your perspective, working with everybody?
JL: What did you learn from me?
AM: Jen taught me that as much as we all think we're a big deal, there's still a beating heart of a child inside each one of us. And Jen also taught me about justice, true justice.
JL: Where are you going with that?
AM: You can't just put on a mask and go out and topple crime at the end of the day. Honestly, the thing that is beautiful about this movie was that it highlighted just how special collaboration is for me, because we're in the middle of a pandemic, there was no vaccine that time. There’s definitely a vaccine now, and everyone should be getting it. But at that time, there was no vaccine. We all had to wear crazy masks and stay away and have zones and everything. But everyone did it and found a way to be creative, in a way that was genuinely moving and touching.
As for me, I feel like the whole time I've been working in movies or theater or TV or whatever, that's the thing that I love the most. And seeing this group do that was one of the more special experiences I've ever had. Should I be looking at that camera when I answer? I should have looked at you. Sorry, I should have looked at them while I was saying it.
JH: Say it to the people that you're talking about.
MS: Otherwise you don't believe it. Yeah.
JH: It just felt like you were performing. Did you actually learn anything through the course of this movie?
AM: They wanted me to talk about Subway, which apparently has a new 5.99 sandwich.
Q: So the comet in the movie is named after your character. How did this make you feel?
JL: I never thought about it. I think at first it's very exciting, until it becomes, you know, a catastrophe, and then you're named after it…
TP: Something that's [terrifying?]
MS: The end of civilization.
JL: Something that people are really not happy about.
Q: Do you think that your character would have been proud of this, or mostly pissed off, or both?
JL: I think there was probably an evolution. I think at first she was very, very proud of this, and then I'm sure resentment started to build up as people started fearing Comet Dibiasky.
MS: Yes. But scientists want to name the achievement after themselves…
AM: Sometimes it's not always a good thing. Fortunately, in real life, with the asteroids, uh, we would not name one that's actually hazardous after a living person. That's not allowed. Who was the inspiration for your character, and did you try to emulate anyone?
MS: My character? [laughs] There were so many places to take things from, because there's so many preposterous people who've put themselves in public places recently. And shamelessly. It was fun to put together this character that was just pure id, just what her appetite wanted. And about amassing power, money, more power, and more money, and that's pretty much- and nice hair and nails to top it off.
TP: And the Birkin [bag].
SM: And amazing suits.
MS: Amazing suits [Laughs]. But no fellow feeling. Unfortunately, that is the cost of being a public servant now, that you really have to make a big sacrifice. Your family makes a sacrifice, and you have to be willing to do that. It's amazing that we get good people to do it [SIGH]. We need them right now more than ever.
Q: For Jonah and Leo, having developed a friendship and now on your third film together, how do you feel your chemistry affects the production? As you can see, the chemistry is clearly affecting this press conference.
LD: That's right, Django two.
JL: Django. I was like, that was going to drive me nuts.
LD: I'll just start right out of the gate and say he is an absolute genius, this young man, this friend of mine. His ability to improvise and take control of a scene and have the narrative be shifted in the most amazing, colorful ways is a sight to witness and something truly remarkable to experience. He's absolutely a genius. I'd love to work with him on a hundred more films.
MS: Amen. Really fun.
JH: Thanks, buddy. Well, my time to answer. I agree with what he said. Real talk like, I've worked with pretty much all the best actors in the world, a lot of whom are up here right now. And there's been no more loyal friend or anything I've ever made in show business Then aside from that, put all those feelings aside. What you see when they yell action and what he does – truly, no disrespect to anyone – nothing I've ever seen like it. That's all I got to say, hands down.
Q: You two had some of the funniest scenes like the scene in the president's office, when there's this sort of ping ponging back and forth about probability. As a scientist, this is the first time I've seen probability so extensively debated in a movie. And you just completely trashed it in the most amazing, funny way which at the same time is horrifying.
JH: Yeah. Look, I don't like nerds, and I have always been harsh on it. [LAUGH] No, dude, he's the best. I mean, I'm sitting up here with a lot of other of the best, and I genuinely feel that way.
But having made a few movies with Leo and lived with him, he’s the best person. Shuffle that all aside, if I didn't know him and I had to be like, “What's it like to work with another actor that's like who's the best actor to me?” I'd choose him every time.
LD: Thank you, Jonah.
Q: This is for Tyler. In 2012, you co-hosted “Live with Kelly” when the show was in between hosts. Did you use that experience in crafting your character, or any other talk show hosts or friends in the process? Who did you model your character after?
TP: Okay, as fun as that was in that moment, I actually made a couple phone calls to a couple of people who are on morning shows right now, that I admire. Joe Scarborough is one, and Michael Strahan is the other. So I asked them, I actually sent them part of the script. I said, "Why don't you read this and send it back to me on your iPhone? Just tape it." And they did, and I was like, okay, I got some bits here, I got some bits there. Those guys are professional journalists. This guy is the guy I played. So they were very helpful in pulling that off and helping me to pull it off. I appreciate that.
AM: Tyler is being very humble, by the way. Because the big trick with him and Cate Blanchett was that they had to have real chemistry. It was so remarkable to see the two of you within five minutes. It was like you guys had been on a show together for 10 years.
TP: That happens when there's sexual chemistry. She wants me.That was obvious from day one, I'd say, "Oh, okay, I just have to flirt. I get it." She's gonna kill me.
Q: Jen, how long did it take you to learn the lyrics to the Wu Tang song at the beginning?
JL: I keep meaning to tell you, I only just recently.... The song came back on my phone and I was like, "All right, it's been enough time, I'll listen to it." It took a while, it took a couple weeks. And then, of course … something happened with Covid where that ended up being my very first scene at work in the movie. And it was horrifying, 'cause I'm in this huge hanger, and it's so quiet. I don't know anybody. And I had to rap for the Wu-Tang Clan. It was just horrendous. What's in the movie is like five seconds. I really wish I had known that. If I could have foreseen what you would have used. It was the worst day of my life.
Q: That had to have been a really strange experience of being in there in the middle of Covid. I can't even imagine.
JL: Yeah, it was. And everybody's behind masks. It was very embarrassing. Hey, I knew my assignment. I did know every word, I still do.
AM: And you did it very casually, like you heard it.
JL: There's no place to hide, Dr. Doom prepares for the boom [laughs].
Q: Speaking of music here... I personally loved the ballad. I loved the song. As a scientist, how often do we get a song from Scott and Ariana Grande about science and the end of the world? There's a killer line in there [laughs].
SM: It doesn't happen often, no.
AM: No, I loved it. So what was it like for you to work with Ariana and to just go through this experience of writing music about the end of the world?
SM: I met up with Nick Britell and he played me the song. I immediately was like, holy shit, Where do I fit? Do you even need me? How do I approach this? And, he had something written for me. We tried, but it just wasn't working, I was just like, "Maybe it would be better if I approached this like doin' my flavor, and kinda taking that approach." Another thing was really like, okay, this is not me writing a song from the Kid Cudi perspective; this is from DJ Chello's perspective. And they just linked back up. So he's pretty much confessing and expressing his love to her. He's forgetting about the importance of the song in general and is like, "Oh I'm just happy to be with my baby. You know?
I just took this approach of you're on the stage with this girl, you're making this love song, Not a love song, but you're making this song with the love of your life, and it's your time to… You guys just had a huge fallout and everyone around the world knew about it.
Now you guys are coming together. So it was this kind of reunion moment for me. It was intense at first because Ariana is such an incredible artist. And you know, her vocal performance is just stellar. It's like her voice is just amazing. I'm sure everybody can agree. I'm just really happy that we were able to figure it out, and it worked man. I'm really proud of it.
AM: All right, can you do a whole album of science songs?
SM: We can figure this out [laughs]. We can figure this out. We can do a NASA mixtape and NASA mixtape Platinum [laughs].
AM: I can play this for all my classes.
SM: Yeah, yeah, yeah, but y'all gotta cut a check though. And y'all gotta talk [laughs].
AM: A science album [laughs].
TP: We were just talking about this, what I find fascinating about this movie and him writing it is, it seems so prophetic to see where we are right now with, uh, NASA sending a rocket to try and knock a comet off of course. I don't know the language, we're astronomers. I thought that was absolutely fascinating it’s happening in real life today, right now as we sit here. Did I dream that? It's really happening, right?
SM: They said it's not life-threatening.
TP: Just to see if we can do it, if we can move one off course.
AM: it was a test to see whether or not an asteroid can have its orbit deliberately changed in a slight way.
TP: And when do we know?
AM: About a year from now, roughly a year. It's pretty fast.
MS: Because it's 2.1 million miles away or something.
AM: Something like that. It's pretty far. But we still have to find the asteroids first, so we like to work on that.
LD: What kind of explosive device are we talking about here?
AM: In this case this thing is just gonna bump into the asteroid. So nothing too complicated. It really is just a bump into the asteroid and trying to slightly push it just a little bit. There's actually an asteroid that's about the size of the comet in our movie named after Amy that's in a harmless orbit. But it's something like nine kilometers wide. But it's about the size of our movie’s comet, right?
Q: Yeah, it's pretty big but perfectly harmless, totally.
JH: Everyone thinks their comet is harmless [laughs]. Look in the mirror for a second. Your comet's a danger call.
Q: Leo, in real life you're active in bringing awareness to environmental problems. Did that make it easier to tap into Dr. Mindy's speech? He's got this really fiery speech in the movie. How did that inform your approach for it?
LD: Very much so. I just have to articulate it again and you know, this climate isn't your field of expertise. But I spoke to you as if you were a climate scientist through the lens of an astronomer. And you were so incredibly helpful in the convergence of these two worlds, which is what Adam was trying to do, in creating this character and the entire movie.
So, we worked on the speech probably 50 times together. And what I really wanted to do was to try to articulate the frustration of the scientific community … how one is sitting there on a pulpit speaking the truth. And Adam wrote so brilliantly, you know, all these other noises sort of drown out the main message.
And so we worked a lot together on, you know, trying to understand the frustration of the scientific community and how one would be in a situation like that of ultimate frustration realizing the world is falling apart. And how do you, you know, take off this sort of professional jacket to cut straight to the chase about the-the truth of this issue. So again, I wanted to thank you for all the great conversations we had. Cause you were really the convergence of those two things for me.
Q: It felt really cathartic watching that speech, uh, especially we had a screening in LA with other scientists, and they were cheering. [laughs] Jen you mentioned that you fan-girled so hard when you saw Ariana Grande. [LAUGH] Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like to meet her?
JL: It was shocking. She's so tiny. I'm a huge fan of her music and Scott's. It's just overwhelming. 'Cause our worlds don't normally collide. I just felt like a radio contest winner. I just didn't know how to talk to her. I just did my best [laughs].
Q: To everybody here, which scenes in the movie felt uncomfortably real to all of you? Tyler I want to start with you. Which were the ones that really made you uncomfortable?
TP: You know, just when they were in the Oval Office and Meryl's character is there with her son and just talking about, eh, just dismissing the facts and science. That to me was just very much ringing true because of what's happening especially at the time, and the country where we were with the pandemic and things just being dismissed. And everybody's saying things counter to what the truth is. So for a narrative while people are dying, that was pretty right down the road scary!
Q: How about you Jonah, what did you feel was uncomfortable?
JH: I agree. I just also wanna say, like, Adam walked the craziest tightrope in this movie, which I think is almost impossible and he pulled off. It’s like taking things that are terrifying and using comedy to maybe make them digestible in some way or palatable in some way or entertaining in some way. So I found the whole movie to just be like the truth, both terrifying and hilarious.
When the pop stars are promoting their projects on the show while someone else is talking about the world ending. The topics are all treated with the same weight, without one being more important than the other, like it's all the same. We're all guilty of it too. It’s not like I'm any better. You know what I'm saying? So I think there's something deeply human that he tapped into. It’s terrifying but also the truth.
Q: That's how we connect. How about for you Meryl?
MS: There are a lot of chilling moments. One just — I don't know why — but it really hit me was the scene in the bar with Tyler and Cate when everything's going to shit outside. And she says, “I just want, you know, to get drunk and talk shit about people.”
I know lots of people like that, that's not an unusual reaction. But it kinda chilled my bones. And then the one where they're in the car and Timothée Chalamet ... I don't want spoilers, but he proposes an idea to Jen and she goes, yeah. And it's so clear, there's just no way it's ever gonna happen. You know, but it's just that glimmer of the human dream where we hope something good is going to happen, even though we know something bad is. And that's sort of the kernel of truth of this is that we push this information away. Smart people, people who don't have a scientific background, everyone pushes it away, because it's just too painful.
I said to Adam when we first talked about promoting it, that you’ve got to give people three things that they can do [LAUGH] so they want to kill themselves at the end. Because it would be great to have three things, if it were only that simple. But one of them is obviously devoted…. For people who believe and understand the imminence of this threat to all our lives __ rich people, poor people, everybody, everything flows from this, every issue of injustice, inequity, everything. If we don't survive, none of it matters.
Q: We gotta make science-based decisions. I think that it's core. That's what this movie is really about. It's important to do that. Science is happening whether we like it or not. Right? [laughs]
That's just what happens. Okay, so let's go to Jovem Nerd from Brazil for the group. And you know, in one scene – continuing on this theme a little bit – Leo's character says that not everything has to be positive all the time. Is this a criticism of our current way of life, the way that we think, our media right now? I mean how do you all feel about that?
AM: I mean he says that line, he says not everything has to be charming or clever ... not necessarily positive. But I do think there's this demand, because there's so much money behind the media with advertising and clicks and apps that there has to be some engagement happening on some level, or people have to have a hot take or be clever. And I love the way ... we must have re-written that speech like 20 times, and it's one of my favorite moments when you say that. Sometimes we just have to be able to say things to each other.
That seems to be the basic line that's been corrupted, that we profitize the very way that we speak to each other through social media, through phones, commercials, shows. Everything is – you know, they know – it's crazy to think about it. I mean they now call it ... they don't call it TV shows or songs, they call it “content.”
It's literally a word from a boardroom. That's how much we've prophesied the way we talk to each other. So yeah, I think sometimes you just have to be able to hear things. There has to be a neutral playing field occasionally that is not brightly lit with sound effects and-and great looking people that have, you know, high focus group test numbers. So that's one of my favorite moments in the movie for sure. And what Leo did with that speech was incredible. You worked so ... he just was tireless with that. We kept going back and back. And your sense of that speech was so spot-on that it was going to be that moment.
MS: And my favorite thing is that you think it's over, and then it regenerates even bigger. It's just-it's just like, he's goin' on way too on this. Way too long.
AM: Do you guys feel like we're so hungry for someone to express real emotion?
MS: Yes, we're mad as hell. And we're not gonna take it anymore [laughs].
AM: Yeah, like, I mean you just see these politicians' speeches in that same cadence every single time. And it's like, will someone be angry or afraid or sad? Like, you're kind of missing it. It's so satisfying when both you guys have your moments. It just feels like, ah, I'm dying for that.
MS: Well, yes, I love Jen's righteous anger. I mean it's just – and her despair.
JL: You don't have to compliment me just 'because you guys complemented Leo [laughs].
MS: Oh, well I don't like Leo, so I'm complimenting you [laughs].
AM: It all really compliments Meryl, so don't worry about it.
JL: I really liked Meryl's incompetence as a President.
MS: And my shoes. but it is a question. How do you make that … how do you make it penetrate? And the thing about music, this song is so great. Because music goes in … it's just in your head. It's not even something that's at a distance now. We have it in here and carry it around. Kids carry it around.
Q: So it's fun to actually have something that speaks to science through music. I mean how many songs are there about geometry?
SM: Well if you consider Cardi B, I mean she's got ... No, I'm kidding.
Q: That's true. It is really powerful. It's a way of communicating that maybe is a different way into the material. Which is sometimes really complicated and dense. And also too, not all that happy, right? How do we take it and process it? As an astronomer working on this subject, there is no comet or asteroid that's heading our way. But hypothetically if there were one, what would be your most immediate action? What would you do if it were the last day on Earth?
SM: I would definitely try to get to my daughter wherever she's at. Now of course, I wanna see my mom, and my sister. But my daughter I gotta get to her, definitely.
TP: What I love is at one point in the movie there's some people sitting around the table, and I think that that is just so powerful. And I think that's exactly what I would do, sit around the table with people that I love and care about, have some wine, and have a great meal. And give everybody cyanide right before it happens.
SM: That's a great plan. I'm comin' to your house [laughs].
JH: I would tweet to make sure that people knew the cool thoughts that I had to say and my opinions on different stuff like movies and stars, how the stars live their lives, what they look like and who they’re dating and stuff.
TP: That's brilliant.
AM: That's so different too, that would be cool to hear about that.
JH: Yeah, I think people in their last moments would wanna read that.
AM: You know, I've always wanted…
JL: He's not wrong. In my last moments I would die commenting on TikTok.
JH: I mean it goes without saying for me – surfing, girlfriend, dog, family, love – all that matters. I also want to give Jen Lawrence props because she's my friend. Sometimes I don't say how amazing and brilliant it was to watch her work. And like, we joke around so much, but Jen, you're a boss.
TP: I agree. Even with that wig you were wearing was amazing.
MS: I loved that wig.
JH: Don't you want to know what Meryl would do if the world was ending? She is Meryl Streep, I'm curious to know what…
Q: Yeah, she is Meryl Streep. So Meryl, what would you do if the world was ending?
MS: I'm sure I would just try to find my grandchildren and be with them. My kids, they've had enough of me [laughs].
The Indie Collaborative Earth Day ConcertVarious ArtistsApril 25th, 2022, 8pmCarnegie HallBox Office: https://www.carnegiehall.org/Events
Indie Collaborative co-founder Eileen Bluestone Sherman likes having her hands full. She’s a playwright, lyricist, young adult novelist, television writer, theater/music producer — and producer of events such as “Celebrating Earth Day in Song.” The Indie Collaborative Earth Day concert returns to the Weill Recital space in Carnegie Hall on April 25th. More than 20 award-winning IC artists perform, featuring a unique blend of musical genres (rock, classical, jazz, Americana, theatrical) at this legendary venue. Not only will each artist offer a unique contribution to the concert, but in the true IC spirit, artists will cross genres furnishing additional musical accompaniment for many of the songs.
And Sherman herself is no stranger to such stages as Carnegie Hall. In one way or another, her music has been heard in such venues as Lincoln Center, The Bitter End, Feinstein’s/54 Below, Symphony Space, and on radio airwaves worldwide.
In writing musical theater, she collaborates with her sister Gail C. Bluestone. The Bluestone Sisters’ music continues to delight audiences of all ages. Eileen (book and lyrics) and Gail (music) began their musical theater collaboration at Hallmark’s Coterie Theatre in Kansas City, which soon led to them contributing scripts to Chicago’s popular musical children’s television series, “The Magic Door.” This ultimately brought their music to the New York stage and Broadway recording studios with a host of Tony Award winners. including such Broadway super stars as Elaine Stritch, Sutton Foster, Hal Linden, Andrea McArdle, Donna McKechnie, Beth Leavel, Lillias White, and Judd Hirsch.
As for her writing, Sherman has published her first two young adult novels including the award-winning titles Monday in Odessa and Independence Avenue. In addition, her new paperback, The Violin Players is also available as an audiobook, read by the author. Perhaps her most popular story is The Odd Potato, originally a picture book, adapted for the stage, television, and a CD, starring 20 Tony Award-winning performers.
Through the years, Sherman’s work received numerous honors, including two Emmy Awards for Chicago Television, the National Jewish Book Award, and The International Reading Association Teachers’ Choice Award.
The storyline for this three-act presentation of music celebrating Earth Day begins with the possibilities and newness of “Beginnings," continues with the “Reality” of the situations, and concludes with "Wisdom" acquired. Originally scheduled for April 2020, the show was put off to April 2021, and then once again to April 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The artists are looking forward to making this dream a reality.
Here is Sherman’s response to a set of questions about the IC and this upcoming event.
Q: How did this whole thing start?
ES: The story of the Indie Collaborative is quite remarkable. But let me tell you a bit about my own background to explain how it all came about.
My career has taken me in many different directions. From New York stages to Chicago television to book tours throughout the USA, it ultimately led me into the recording studio. Honestly, no step along the way was specifically planned. One just seemed to evolve into the next, and that’s a fair description of how I became the co-founder of the Indie Collaborative with one of Billboard's top-charting Americana Roots singers/songwriters, Grant Maloy Smith.
It goes without saying that the worlds of theater and music are, historically, "cutting edge." It's no wonder that both industries immediately recognized the power of social media. To my own amazement, my book and theater fans, as well as independent artists (initially all strangers to me), started to write to me via Facebook. Virtual acquaintances blossomed.
Suddenly, I was getting personal invitations left and right from performers who were appearing in all sorts of venues throughout Manhattan. Of course, I went! I wanted to meet these artists in real life. Without fail, I was blown away by the immense talent. Each and every one was so unique but all were superior musicians.
That's when this idea started brewing in my crazy producer's brain. What if I put together an event where independent artists from all different sectors of the entertainment world could meet one another to share ideas, inspire one another, and who knows, maybe even collaborate on new projects. I even knew where I wanted to hold this event, but I also understood I needed a partner in this endeavor.
Fast forward to December 2014, when I was invited to have cocktails with a couple of gal-pal musicians, I had met via Facebook. While sipping a cosmo, I nonchalantly mentioned my idea. "Oh, you should get in touch with Grant Maloy Smith," I was told. We had never met, but Grant's sterling reputation preceded him. All the musicians on Facebook adored Grant (and his signature cowboy hat). And why not? His daily posts were hilarious, and he had a kind word for everyone.
I messaged Grant and told him I hoped we would get a chance to say "hello" a few weeks later at the Grammy Awards in LA. Before that weekend, our worlds of musical theater and Americana Roots had no reason to intersect but on a fateful Sunday morning in February 2015, everything changed.
Thank goodness for that cowboy hat! Otherwise, I still might be searching for Grant in a sea of sequins, satin, and stilettos. When I finally approached him, I don't think I said more than two sentences, and he responded, "I'm in." What I didn’t know was that Grant was already contemplating a similar idea.
As fate would have it, Grant was scheduled to perform at New York's famed Bitter End in the spring. I promised I would be there to cheer him on, as long as he joined me the next morning at the new headquarters of the Drama League in Tribeca. I wanted him to check out the space and its sound equipment. Once he gave his blessing to my choice of venue, the two of us sat down on the sofa in the reception area, and in about 20 minutes, we outlined what eventually would become The Indie Collaborative.
Our mission was simple and clear-cut. Foster friendship and unique collaborations among professionals from every part of the music world — musicians, vocalists, promoters, publicists, engineers, educators, producers, radio hosts, photographers, lyricists, composers, conductors, arrangers, etc. and from every genre- classical, hip-hop, world music, jazz, children's music, spoken word, Latin, electronic, country, film scores, and so on. We would be a resource and a sounding board for one another.
We had no desire to create yet another glitzy award ceremony, or even, charge dues for that matter. We would leave that to the Big-Boy organizations. On the contrary! We wanted to provide an environment where serious artists, everywhere in the world, young and old, established, or still learning the ropes, could experiment with new ideas and not fear the consequences of coming up short. For us, this new community of independent artists would be solely about camaraderie, exploration, and creation among professional colleagues in the entertainment field.
Grant and I had no idea if anyone else would share our enthusiasm or even show up to our first get-together, but on June 8, 2015, the modest social hall at the Drama League was bulging at the seams with 77 (comfortable at about 60). We sat on metal folding chairs (which we had meticulously set up an hour earlier) and Grant called on folks seat by seat. Some at the keyboard, others with guitar, violin, sax, trumpet, or bass, in hand, performed excerpts of their original music; others just spoke. It was truly fascinating — a show-and-tell in a room of mostly strangers, who just happen to be award-winning musicians.
Honestly, Grant and I were simply relieved that our idea didn't bomb. We never anticipated what happened next. Once more, social media played the role of "Lady Luck." While artists performed, cell phones in the audience kept clicking and suddenly, photos of the event appeared online in real-time.
As Grant hosted, he continued to receive messages from artists around the country, asking when we would be coming to "their city" to produce an Indie Collaborative? Thrilled that our idea (and name) took hold, we organized similar events in Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Nashville, and San Francisco. In no time, our 77 intrigued strangers blossomed into over 2000 caring friends and collaborators worldwide. Thanks to Grant's many talents, an impressive website followed.
It’s no exaggeration to say that every Indie Collaborative event offers the same promise. Independent artists enter as strangers and leave as new collaborators. Lyricists find composers; songwriters find vocalists; music producers find engineers. I am always delighted to see credits for an award-winning song or album that includes a combination of our talented members.
These amazing collaborations have resulted in many of Billboard's top charters, and even a Grammy-nominated project here and there. As Grant and I envisioned, our idea would also promote a natural inclination for members to share resources to help one another.
At that very first Indie Collaborative in June 2015, a very gifted cabaret artist, based in Pennsylvania, was describing her professional conundrum to folks in the audience. She wanted to break into the NY cabaret market. It seemed a New York music critic agreed to review her work if she got herself a gig in Manhattan.
Without any previous New York City press, however, cabaret rooms in town weren't interested. Another fellow overheard her frustration. Impressed with her earlier presentation, he made a call, and shortly thereafter, the Pennsylvania artist got her New York debut (and a fine New York music review).
Likewise, almost a year later, sitting next to me at an IC showcase in LA was a music manager. When he mentioned he lived in Bergamo, Italy, I started gushing about how much I loved visiting his fairytale-like town, outside Milan. We struck up a friendly conversation, and by the end, he said he wanted me to meet a colleague of his in New York.
That introduction led to a fabulous Indie Collaborative partnership with the dynamic host of Italian Radio Fantastica, Daniela Celella. Daniela regularly interviews our IC members on her show. It's a fun-filled two hours about the sights and sounds of New York for her many fans in Italy. She hosts in both English and Italian. In addition, she highlights our music, new releases, and upcoming concerts every week.
I feel very lucky. My work has been honored with prestigious awards. Broadway stars sing my lyrics, and my books keep popping up all over the world! But none of it came easy or without frustration, disappointment, and genuine heartbreak (and it still doesn't). No matter one's circumstance, talent, or measure of luck, a career in the arts is precarious. Everyone gets knocked around with lots of "bruising" along the way. We all have battle scars. Perhaps, that's the universal appeal of our IC mission.
Still, the ongoing evolution of the Indie Collaborative even surprises me. It's been my honor to help create an organization that celebrates the passion and perseverance of independent artists around the world, who cheer, commiserate, and continually guide one another.
Q: What’s the story behind this concert?
ES: In November 2018, the Indie Collaborative made its Carnegie Hall debut when top charting Billboard artist Grant Maloy Smith, Grammy Award winner Wouter Kellerman and I joined forces to share three very distinct styles of song in one evening. Grant and his Nashville Band treated the audience to Americana roots.
I invited my Broadway pals to perform the music from the Bluestone Sisters’ musical theater catalog, while the incomparable Wouter Kellerman of South Africa delighted the audience with his award-winning world music repertoire for flute. We were not quite sure if such an eclectic program would work, but the audience response was a resounding Yes!
We decided to up the ante and create a musical celebration at Carnegie Hall for Earth Day, April 2020. Then, the world shut down. All concerts cancelled, first in April 2020. Then, in April 2021. But we know the virtues of patience and tenacity and now we have our Spring concert coming up in 2022.
Q: How did you select this cast which includes classical, jazz, roots, musical theater, Latin, pop, rap, and more?
The Indie Collaborative not only fosters unique musical collaborations among independent artists but it also creates very supportive friendships.
As our international membership grows, (now 2000+) Grant and I have the good fortune to meet many, many extraordinary musicians from every corner of the globe. The many nationalities and cultures (not to mention musical styles) make each member singularly unique. That individuality guides our wish list when casting a concert.
Of course, who is available and in this case, can be in New York City on a given date, is a determining factor. For example, this particular concert will highlight the incomparable Leti Garza from Austin Texas, with her exciting Latin rhythms and poignant melodies, as well as award winning jazz artist Alan Storeygard from Arkansas, whose signature is reimagining classical piano for the jazz world. Joining them on stage is Broadway veteran, Ryan VanDenBoom (currently a featured performer in Broadway’s MJ), will add a bit of “song and dance” flair. In fact, we shall have over 20 award-winning artists.
Some will make their debut; others will be returning veterans to that beloved concert hall called Carnegie! We have top-notch Jazz and fusion guitarist Noshir Mody, Rapper extraordinaire Benjamin Lerner (the great grandson of Irving Berlin) whose driving spoken word (underscored with his classical contemporary piano) captures the pain and struggle of addiction recovery. For the more traditional music enthusiast, we have the multi-award winning Steinway Artist Sophia Agranovich plus multi-linguist, world-traveled artist David S. Goldman, whose versatility in music (Blues, Latin, Acoustic Rock, Pop/Jazz, World) matches his facility with language.
And of course, so much more! In brief, an evening with The Indie Collaborative offers something special for every musical taste!
Q: Why the themes?
Q: Our "Earth Day Celebration in Music" will be a first for The Indie Collaborative. In 2020, our concert was scheduled on the actual day (April 22, 2020). Two years later, we aren’t able to secure the official date, but our theme is important. We did not want to miss the opportunity to celebrate it in song. Besides, in the best of all worlds, everyday is Earth Day! And yes, we do like theme concerts.
Because our membership and music are so diverse, eclectic, and creative, we love to give a unique musical spin on classic traditions. For our show in April, we will explore the universal experience of all life on Earth… Beginnings (when all things are new, fresh, with endless possibilities) Reality (hardship, hard times, heartbreak) and Wisdom (using life experience to nourish the Earth and each other.)
Q: How do you plan your calendar?
ES: The Indie Collaborative produces both concerts” and showcases. Both are equally exciting and require lots of preparation but are rather different! A concert is curated and publicized to the public.
Grant and I choose a theme, a venue, and we select a cast from our membership. On the other hand, a showcase is about networking and introducing ourselves and our work to one another. If we have more than 20+ requests (which we always do), we use a lottery system.
Grant hosts the evening, and it always plants the seeds for new collaborations. Of course, it also “plants seeds” for Grant and me as to whom we might like to invite to perform in a future concert. When we first saw the exhilarating performance of Ricky Persaud, Jr. at a showcase, we knew we would want Ricky for our Carnegie Hall event.
Of course, artists’ friends and family are always welcome to join us at our showcases, but it really is all about meeting other artists. Our next showcase will be another IC first, when we co-host the evening (across the pond, as they say) with the amazing R&B artist, Trevor Sewell, in his hometown of Newcastle, UK in early summer 2023. Typically, we produce a showcase or a concert once a year.
Q: What collaborations emerged from all this?
ES: Indeed, many, many fabulous collaborations emerge all the time! A magnificent song, “ I See You,” which sheds light on the ugly truth about “ageism” will be performed at our concert. It was written by IC members, Mike Greenly and Grant Maloy Smith. Mike is an incredible lyricist and works with many different artists.
Likewise, Jazz and Cabaret favorite, Alex Otey, will not only perform his own work, “Love Matters More” but will serve as the musical director for the Bluestone Sisters’ Music that evening. Recently, Alex recorded (piano, trumpet, drums) for a new song, “We Talk Without Words,” written by the Bluestones and performed by “Jersey Boys” Tony Winner Christian Hoff and wife Melissa, which will be part of a new children’s album, “Arise Together,” (due for summer release) by two other IC members, Grammy-winning producer Kevin Mackey and international film director and producer Rupam Sarmah.
Sewell recently co-produced a Grammy-nominated song this year, written and recorded by another IC member — two-time Grammy nominee, Linda Chorney. When two-time Grammy winner Lucy Kalantari (recently seen at last season’s Lincoln Center concert) needed a choreographer for a new children’s video, she called on the services of IC member and Broadway and film veteran, Sonya Hensley. That’s just a few examples.
An on-going collaboration began some years ago at a small IC showcase in LA. I was seated next to a very friendly gentleman from Bergamo, Italy. He was a music manager, and his client (living in Hawaii) was performing at our L.A. showcase. We struck up a friendly conversation. By the end of the evening, he said he wanted Grant and me to meet a colleague of his in New York. That introduction resulted in a wonderful collaboration with IC member, Daniela Celella, who hosts Italian Radio Fantastica and features our IC and our music on her shows weekly.
Q: And what’s up for the future?
ES: Just like one of our shows, you never quite know what’s coming next from The Indie Collaborative. We do know our ranks keep growing and our members never cease to amaze (and inspire) with their glorious music.
To keep up with all the news, check out: https://www.indiecollaborative.com/
“CODA”Writer/director: Sian HederCast: Emilia Jones, Troy Kotsur, Daniel Durant, Marlee Matlin, Eugenio Derbez, Ferdia Walsh-Peelo, Amy Forsyth, Kevin Chapman
In a major triumph for deaf representation in cinema, the ensemble of “CODA” (Children of Deaf Adults) clinched the top prize at the 2022 Screen Actors Guild Awards winning the coveted prize for Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture. The acclaimed feature stars newcomer Emilia Jones as a hearing teen raised by a deaf mother (Marlee Matlin), father (Troy Kotsur) and older brother (Daniel Durant).
Taking place in Gloucester, Massachusetts, daughter Ruby Rossi is the only hearing member of her family; parents Frank and Jackie and older brother Leo are all deaf. She assists with the family fishing business and plans to join it full-time after finishing high school. But then she joins the Choir where she discovers she has a beautiful singing voice. This changes her life's trajectory.
Written and directed by Sian Heder, “CODA” is an English-language remake of the French-language film “La Famille Bélier,” which was released in 2014 and was a French box office success. Philippe Rousselet — one of the original film's producers — had the rights to do a remake. He and producer Patrick Wachsberger approached Heder to direct a remake for a United States audience. Heder said, "They were interested in adapting the film, but they wanted someone to make it unique and take the premise from the original and, also, reinvent it.
For playing Sarah Norman in the romantic drama "Children of a Lesser God," Matlin's 1987 Best Actress Oscar win made history as the only deaf performer to win an Academy Award as well as the youngest winner in the Best Actress category.
Additionally, Kotsur made further history on Sunday, February 27th, 2022, as the first deaf actor ever to receive an individual SAG Award for his supporting performance. As tender-hearted fisherman Frank Rossi, prevailing over hearing actors Ben Affleck, Bradley Cooper, Jared Leto and Kodi Smit-McPhee. And on Sunday, March 6th, at the 37th Independent Spirit Awards, Kotsur also won the Best Supporting Male Actor award for "CODA" and is the first deaf actor to win a Spirit Award.
The film has had further wins at BAFTA, Critics Choice Awards, PGA Best Picture and WGA Best Adapted Screenplay. CODA is streaming on Apple TV+.
This Q&A was held after a recent screening of the film just before the SAG Awards night.
Q: Marlee, when you read director Sian Heder’s screenplay, how did Jackie speak to you? What was the sense of her that you got about the character?
MM: When I first read the script, I went “Hel-looo”. This isn’t something that I typically get to read. So I looked at the script. It was as if I had experienced it myself.
My character Jackie, and I … One thing that perhaps we are the same about is that we’re deaf. Other than that, there’s so many things in this script that I found challenging. It really, really, really thrilled me to pieces. I knew that when I read about Frank, I thought of Troy immediately. It really was a script that I knew I wanted to do. And I went after it.
Q: Troy, when you read the script by Sian Heder and saw Frank on the page. What connected you to him and what keys to him did you find in the script?
TK: Well, so many reasons. I had so many connections with Frank. First of all, I told myself that “it’s about f***ing time.” Finally you all get to see Volker ASL (American Sign Language) on the big screen.
I had been waiting for so long. The two of us have already seen all of your movies, where we see the subtitles with all your swear words, and we’re like “Okay. But in sign language? Are you all ready?” Imagine what happened at the MPAA. They decided to give us an “R” rating at first. We were like, “Wow, we have to go back and forth and really fight with them with our whole team to get them to reduce their rating to PG‑13.”
And that’s a part of deaf culture: to us, we feel like that vulgar sign language is just a part of our culture. But are you hearing people ready? That’s why it was so cool. It’s fascinating to see that in the script, first of all.
Secondly, I was thrilled that CODAs, Children of Deaf Adults, have a relation to music. Really, the children of deaf adults do, but it has a double meaning. “Coda” has a meaning in music as a word, and also in deaf culture. I wasn’t aware of the music side but I was aware of the CODA side, and was happy to portray that onscreen.
There’s been a long history, as Marlee mentioned, 35 years. Typically, though, there will just be one deaf character’s appearance in a film. In this film we have an ensemble: there’s three characters, including our son, Leo, played by Daniel Durant. So that was incredible.
So thank you. I wish Daniel was here. He’s always here with us, right? History was made with this film, with three deaf actors authentically carrying the film. And I have to admit, I would not be here today without Marlee. And Sian, our director. I just give them all the credit. For Marlee’s 35 years representing the deaf community, she kept me inspired. Until now.
Q: Troy, you mentioned Daniel [applause]. This is an amazing family. And speaking of family, you guys filmed up in Massachusetts. Obviously, the bond between the actors on a film like this must be extraordinary. What was it like filming the four of you in an actual house the production found that they converted into the house they needed for the film? What were the close-quarters like in terms of bonding an ensemble as you have done here?
MM: Absolutely perfect. The house was ready to fall apart, actually. The furniture was here and there. It was amongst all these beautiful coastal houses, and then the Rossi family house is just sitting there in the middle of it all.
Actually, only a few of the crew and actors were able to be in the house at one time because structurally, it was not able to hold [everybody]. But it really was authentic. the house itself had character, personality. It was in Gloucester. The location manager found it.
The family was one among other hard-working people who did their best to earn a living and mind their own business. They were very supportive of each other. This movie chronicles the levels of all the things that happen in their family throughout the film. The journey that they go through.
There’s so much that this movie that entails changes. Like the fact that we as parents learn about our daughter and her dreams, desires and aspirations, which completely go in a different direction than we had ever anticipated for her in our world. She wants to go into music. We learn as parents to adapt to her dreams, to her desire to be in the music life. I fortunately had no involvement with any of the fishing things. But he can tell you about that.
Q: Troy, you guys on the boat — Daniel and Emilia — in some ways could have become commercial fishermen. You loved being on that boat.
TK: I had never seen a whale before. Where I grew up in Arizona since birth, there are just some lakes. You have very soft, rippling waves — not like out on the ocean bumping up and down in this fishing boat. I was not used to it, so I had to get my sea legs.
We got up at two o’clock in the morning because that’s one of the best times to catch fish. That’s a time of high activity where they’re feeding, and is a great time to get them in your fishing net. You hold them all up when the sun is rising and then you have to divide them. You have the lobsters, the squid, the monkfish with a little light -– they can really snap at you. And you have to sort them out.
It was a bit awkward for me at first, but our two weeks of training out on the fishing boat really helped me to become Frank Rossi as a character. There were a few things out on the boat where we improvised with a signs that would really fit that fishing culture or fishing sign language.
We had to wear really heavy rubber boots and clothing, heavy rubber gloves, and that affected my sign language. I had to adapt to it. It was a bit more like gesturing with the gloves on and that influenced my characterization of Frank Rossi.
Daniel really struggled with tying a fishing knot. It’s like a kid who can’t tie their shoe laces. So imagine untangling this fishing net -- he was really struggling. At home -– we were roommates -– and I watched him practicing these knots over and over again. The next day, he went out and he was still failing to tie these knots.
We learned so much about going through that experience being out on the fishing boat. These actual fishermen were being surrounded by Popeyes. The way that they walked and talked and behaved. So after they would finish work, they’d go to the bar in the morning – it was like 10 o’clock in the morning. That was their nighttime — their drink after work. That was their fisherman culture and it really began to immerse me into the character of Frank. So it was extremely fun for me to go on that journey.
MM: The cast had to learn a whole new set of experiences that they never really had. They weren’t interested in fishing. Or Emilia, who had to sign, she had to learn how to interpret, she had to learn how to be an artist, she had to learn to fish, she had to learn to sing. Daniel had to learn how to fish. Daniel had to learn so much — this is Daniel’s first movie.
There was so much learning going on in this set and we worked so hard as a cast, collaborating with everyone. I don’t think I’ve ever seen any cast work as hard as this one.
TK: We were really passionate and motivated to tell this story. It’s not often deaf actors have the opportunity that we saw in the script, and that’s why we really wanted to grab it, especially with Marlee Matlin there. It was such a blessing. It was just a matter of time. I still have to keep the faith and keep pursuing the craft of acting on my journey.
Of course we had a great director in Sian Heder. She stood up for us, she showed her big heart. In the Rossi family house, which Marlee mentioned earlier, Sian had to set everything up. It was the way that a hearing family would set their furniture up in a house. If you’re hearing, you can just talk back and forth, without looking and making eye contact, and that’s normal for you all.
But for deaf people, we have to make eye contact to communicate. And that is a deaf person’s setup of furniture. Our director realized that and they had to make the set more deaf-friendly — with an environment of sitting opposite each other.
I don’t care about my ears, I care about my eyes. I don’t want to become too exhausted. Right now, I’m sitting opposite the interpreter and I’m comfortable watching her as she’s interpreting, rather than, “Oh, I have to turn my head," “Oh, I didn’t know there’s an interpreter here” — that type of thing.
So they actually had to reframe the entire shoot with all the cameras to fit that cultural sensitivity and Sian’s respect for the culture was beautiful.
MM: When we walked in the house for the first time, we screamed “This isn’t right! This isn’t the way we set up the furniture.” They were like “What did we do wrong?” So we had to school them to set up the house for deaf people. They learned fast, though.
Q: You both bring up the levels of performance seen this year. There’s the scene where you’re out in the truck with Emilia, and Frank asks Ruby to sing for him. there’s so much going on in Frank’s face in his reaction. The acting there is so subtle and beautiful. You’re acting with your hands on her throat and Frank can hear it and then with your face and all the extraordinary reactions going on.
MM: Tell them what happened that night.
TK: Once I read that scene in the script, I knew it was one of the freshest moments that we had between father and daughter. I knew that when the schedule was getting closer and closer, I had that in the back of my mind.
I had to keep in mind that Ruby was singing as the family’s watching her recital. We’re seeing the emotional reactions of hearing audience members to the music. So if I saw someone as Frank Rossi looking at their phone or falling asleep during the recital, it would have meant that Ruby sucked at singing, and I’d have been embarrassed as a father.
But that was not the case. All of these hearing people were overflowing with emotion and joy which impacted Frank and led to the next scene. So as we sit next to each other -- maybe just a foot apart, on the back of the flatbed pickup truck -- Frank asks Ruby to sing. He gets even closer and still couldn’t hear her, even with that proximity. But he saw the emotion in her face.
What Frank saw was different facial expressions than he was used to seeing when Ruby was normally speaking. He was fascinated by the expressions in her face, which led Frank to want to know what her singing feels like. In the vocal cords it was a bit softer, so Frank asks her to increase the volume. He tries to disconnect from everything else and to really understand his daughter’s passion with his eyes closed.
When the vibration stops, he recognizes that has to look at himself and know that he’s missing something. He had forgotten about this part of life. He’d taken something about his daughter for granted, wanting her to help with his business and ignoring her talent. Suddenly that really strikes Frank. He realizes he’s been a bit selfish and now struggles to let go of his daughter.
it’s an extremely tough moment for him. Bit when there was eye contact -- no dialogue and no signs -- I let the energy of the eyes speak for themselves. I can let you as an audience make your own interpretation and feel those emotions. So of course, it was such a beautiful moment.
MM: That night we only had an hour left to shoot the scene and it was really hectic. The director decided to tell the DP to shoot with two cameras at once. The DP wasn’t a fan of shooting that way, at night in particular, without any lights: just to shoot two cameras at one time. They had only an hour to shoot it before needing to pull the plug on the scene. And they did it.
TK: When I read this script, there was a line in there that after Ruby finishes singing, Frank says “Thank you.” My gut feeling was that, deep down in deaf culture, we have emotional strength in our facial expressions. That sign “thank you” is more like spoon-feeding an audience who probably already know that sign.
I wanted to throw that thank you aside and focus on feeling those emotions. Instead, I kiss her on the forehead, which is equal to “thank you” – and I hope you’re smart enough to recognize that. Less is more, is what I believe.
Q: Marlee, the scene where Jackie goes to Ruby’s bedroom and there’s that conversation about what she was hoping for when Ruby was born, a sort of mother-and-daughter connection. Talk to us about what that scene meant to you, and about getting the scene right with Emilia.
MM: That’s probably the scene that, when I first read the script, I had no idea what it was like as Marlee to be able to talk to my daughter about that. For me, it meant that I had to imagine and delve into Jackie’s frame of mind. What was it that she felt? What was it that she was afraid of? What was it in her background that colored who she was and made her so terrified?
You have to understand, all four of my kids are hearing. None of my kids, to my knowledge, have ever asked me if I had wished that they were born deaf. They might have thought of it, but they never actually vocalized it to me.
So I had to jump into Jackie to express what was written on the page. I had to sit and talk with Sian: what was it that Jackie wanted to do? She said, “What do you think Jackie needs to feel?” All the things that actors do when they are getting into a character.
Emilia Jones, blooming as she is as an actress, allowed me to just do it. Any fear I might feel as an actor went out the window because of her: I just went with the scene. It’s easy if you experienced it, but Jackie struggled with that. I just had to trust myself in the end.
The other scene that I should point to is where we’re at breakfast and she says, “I want to be a singer.” And I say, “Oh? A singer? Fame - for selfish reasons.” That’s very early in the script: “for selfish reasons”. She says “Well, if we were blind, would you want to be a painter?” I just cringed when I read that. No, how dare Jackie say that. At the same time, that’s Jackie Rossi’s perception. Clearly, her journey took her to that place. But you could see at the end that she had transformed. Obviously.
TK: I’d like to add that it was fascinating for me to watch Jackie as a mother come in with that red dress to give to her daughter. For me as a deaf person, that red is extremely strong for my eyes. It actually makes me think that Jackie cares for her daughter as a mother. That line about how would you feel if I was born deaf? Or did you want me to be born deaf? The red evaporates that.
The focus of the camera approaches the conversation closer and closer, and it builds in intensity. It’s such a beautiful moment, from my perspective, when I see the angles that the camera is moving in, without words. Actually, that’s one of my favorite scenes, too.
The camera work, also the sound work, is extraordinary. It’s lots of space but the sounds that go along with ASL and how beautiful those are as well. So in that aspect, the film is just extraordinary.
Q: Actors build up backstories for their characters. Did you work on something that Jackie and Frank had -- an aspect of their relationship that we didn’t hear about? We see them fight, we see them in love with each other, in all sorts of parenting situations and all sorts of husband-and-wife situations. As you were building the characters, was there something that you found as connecting points, grace notes, that you had in the performances that maybe never shows?
MM: I envisioned Jackie caring for her family. We know she grew up where she was the only deaf person in her family. Mainly what I tried to do was envision what her parents did with her, and the fact that the only thing they told her was she was pretty. It was something that they attempted to do to make her feel good. You know, “you’re pretty” “you’re pretty” “you’re pretty” – and thinking that was enough, that was love.
TK: She’s still beautiful, by the way.
MM: I used that as an imprint on Jackie, knowing that there was not a lot of communication having to do with her family’s love. So maybe she went to a school for the deaf, and maybe she went home on weekends and lived at the school on weekdays. But her home was the school because that was her world. That’s where she was able to communicate with deaf friends and deaf teachers. It’s where she felt she belonged.
Naturally, she finished school, and then maybe [to TK] we might have met, maybe at a bowling tournament, and fell in love….
TK: And when she bent over to pick up the bowling ball [laughter].
MM: Anyway, that’s why there’s this idea of having hearing children imprinted on Jackie. Because she didn’t want to disappoint the hearing child or the people around her who would judge her as a deaf mom. But again, as you saw in the journey, she finally got rid of that feeling.
Q: How would you answer Troy?
TK: After our director offered me the role, she said, “Don’t shave or cut your hair for five months.” She sent me photos of fishing boats. There was a fishing captain named Paul Lee. I saw how they would chop up the fish and so on. That led to the future.
Sian told me that the character Frank was a dropout who never finished high school. The reason why was because he was running his father’s fishing business, and his father passed away. Frank had to keep it going for quite a while. That’s how he and the business survived, even when they were struggling.
So I looked up to Frank. I thought Frank was a hero. He was a hard-working man who wanted to protect his family, and was frustrated with those ignorant hearing people out there. He had to live with that. So I’m tired of being patient with hearing people. I want to turn the tables. Can you be patient with us?
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