LITTLE CHILDREN - Q&A with Kate Winslet and director Todd Field
Movie Interview by Silvia Felce
Winslet and Field arrive a bit late in the suite at the posh hotel in London reserved to present LITTLE CHILDREN to the press. But this must be a busy day for them. In fact today, after its world premiere at the Toronto Film Festival in September, LITTLE CHILDREN has its UK premiere at the Centrepiece Gala at the Times BFI London Film Festival. LITTLE CHILDREN is based on Tom Perrotta's novel and it is the second film of director Todd Field, who raised to fame in 2001 with the acclaimed IN THE BEDROOM.
Five years ago you did a tremendously acclaimed film, IN THE BEDROOM, which did very well and got a lot of nominations. What have you been doing since? Were you just working on this new film? Five years it's quite a gap for somebody who is obviously ...hot.
KATE WINSLET: (Laughs) That's right!
TODD FIELD: We completed IN THE BEDROOM in 2001 then I started on another project and I worked on it for 1 and a half years and but I had trouble getting funds for it. Then I read Tom Perrotta's novel Little Children in 2003 and I have been working on that since. Maybe on paper it looks like I took longer...
On paper it seems like a dream job for actors, working with Todd Fields, but did it take some persuasion to take the role and when did you get involved?
KATE WINSLET: It didn't actually take much persuasion at all. Todd wanted to meet with me and discuss the possibilities of playing this part. The thing that was so different about this process of committing to playing Sarah was that Todd sat me down and, I have never had this before, but he was very specific about why he thought I could play that part and went into so much detail that I thought, "God, I feel good about myself now" and I thought, "of course I can play this part now!" It was a big decision to make to play somebody like Sarah, because it's such a challenge. She is an American woman, nothing like me essentially, and also there were some parts of me that thought, "My God, can I actually do this? Have I actually got the stuff that is required to play Sarah?" and once Todd convinced me that all was going to be all right I then read the script.
In terms of cast, was Kate first on board?
TODD FIELD: Kate was the first person I asked to come on board.
Before started working on LITTLE CHILDREN you were working on another book, for which you couldn't get the rights for.
TODD FIELD: One of the things I thought of doing after IN THE BEDROOM was another book that had some rights problems so I didn't pursuit it, but when I read LITTLE CHILDREN, there was a theme in that, among many things, that was present in Perrotta's book and probably that was what attracted me to the story.
You said that you and Sarah are very different but you are both parents. I wonder if you had to tune in to the question of parents dynamics which you may have experienced in your life?
KATE WINSLET: To be honest with you, the fact that Sarah and I are both parents was the only similarity, although, I have to be honest, now that I am talking about the film and seeing it myself, you have to bear in mind that I hadn't seen the film either until August, now that I've seen it, I realised that there is a lot of who I thought Sarah was, up to the moment you meet her in the film and the various things that had happened to her. I feel that in creating a back story for her I was actually able to relate to that stuff. But I think that the biggest challenge was to play somebody that wasn't a good mother - that was very, very hard. It's not that she is violent or shouts, it's just that she doesn't know how to be a parent, she doesn't know what to do with this small child. Of course she loves her, but there's something about Sarah, that this little girl is rather inconvenient, she sort of gets in Sarah's way a bit and I think that one of Sarah's great weakness is the fact that when she had this child somehow she felt she was loosing a part of herself. For some people like me, you gain a millions worlds when you have a child and certainly it's the thing that has changed my life and made me unbelievably happy every day, but Sarah somehow resents the presence of this little girl. I think that there is something very remarkable about one of the scenes of the film when Sarah has a moment, almost a punishment, when she gets Lucy back into the car seat, when she realises that she could have lost her and she realises that she has been making a terrible mistake and she is forced to look into herself and what she sees is somebody who is been very neglectful emotionally and is now not going to do that anymore at all and more importantly, she realises that her chances of future happiness entirely depend on looking into the eyes of that little girl and being the parent Lucy needs for her to be now. Sorry I rumbled...
You have four films coming out in the next two months, you have been a workaholic...
KATE WINSLET: No, absolutely not! These are films that I have done over the last 3 years, they are just coming out in this period of time. No, no, I am not a workaholic! I am a ... "homaholic"!
Do you build in periods you are going to stay at home within your work commitments?
KATE WINSLET: I am actually taking a year off at the moment. I usually do one film a year and the rest of the time I am just at home with the kids and even when I am working I am still at home with the kids, I have never left them to go filming. The only time I had to leave them was when we were shooting ALL THE KING'S MEN in New Orleans as we had about 4 days shooting in an area where there were alligators climbing out to bite you while sitting in the garden. I am sorry but I don't know a single parent willing to take their children to a place like that so they were in Los Angeles with Sam. But other than that, we have always managed to go everywhere together. So this notion of bust actresses than swan around leaving their kids for two months while they go pursuing their acting career, I personally think is not actually true and I have certainly never met an actress who has done that.
So basically is just a matter of distribution of these films?
KATE WINSLET: Yes. It is really strange. It is quite odd. I did ROMANCE AND CIGARETTES when Jo was about four months old and that has come and gone, but everything else ....Jo is about three and these are what I have been doing since he was born, with big gaps in between and it's just that all of a sudden everything is coming out now. As an actress you have absolutely no say about that, it's the way it goes sometimes.
Did you and Patrick Wilson "enjoy", not sure if this is the correct word, doing those very energetic sex scenes together? And do the sex scenes get any easier and how do you approach them?
KATE WINSLET: First of all, I wouldn't say I necessarily enjoyed them, I do feel the need to correct you there! (Laughs). It doesn't get any easier, and every time I shoot a love scene I always find myself saying, "Ok that's it now! I 'm not going to do this again," because it's really difficult and really scary and I'm not much sure how much longer I can get away with it anyway! With LITTLE CHILDREN those scenes weren't actually the hardest scenes. The hardest ones were the most emotional ones, the more revealing ones when you are so concerned about being as honest as you can and get it right. Yes, those scenes are tough but we try to kind of laugh about it, cos you sort of have to, because the situation is so completely ridiculous. Also, more importantly, Patrick, Todd and I were very concerned that the performance, the acting and the saying of the lines, that is what I mean by performance, we were very concerned to really get that right, just because these two people are having an affair and yes, they are having sex behind closed doors, but the point is that through the intimacy of those scenes who these people are as people is not only revealed to each other but to themselves as well. Sarah really comes out of herself and changes as a result of being in that position when she is feeling something that she has never felt before and changes who she is and also changes Brat too. I couldn't have imagined turning around to Todd and saying, "About this nudity...." (Pretends to point a script on the table)
Do you think that being an actor yourself you bring a different sensibility to these difficult scenes? How do you approach them as a director?
TODD FIELD: As Kate said, these scenes, yes, people are making love but there is more happening in those scenes than two people shagging. It is about the emotions of these characters, first and foremost. For the actors they know they have to approach those scenes like any other scenes and both Kate and Patrick already experienced having to do something like that. We talked about it like any other scene. Actually as Kate said, they were the easiest scenes to shoot. When we did those scenes there was only the sound man and a camera assistant and the three of us for a couple of days.
KATE WINSLET: Todd operated the camera when we shot those scenes.
TODD FIELD: I did. We were able to work very efficiently and focus about what these scenes were about as supposed to "ok let's do that scene where you guys are climbing the wall"...it was much more about what it has to be accomplished dramatically with the characters.
How important was it for you to portray a sex offender in a kind of sympathetic way in the film?
TODD FIELD: No...for me that character represents a living and breathing expression of the anxiety and the paranoia that comes out of fear from the other characters. In terms of portraying somebody who may have or not have that kind of aberrant behaviour, I am a father of 3 children and I have no desire to explore that uncertainty. This character, intentionally, is mysterious, and the circumstances are mysterious. The only thing we know about it is that he has been accused of exhibiting himself to a minor, that could be a 17 year-old or someone younger, we don't know, and he is accused of a lot of other things by another character and consequently by the media and by the community. He is used to being a conversation topic and a lot of other things. Every other character in this piece is introduced with a third person narration with the exception of Ronnie McGorvey and there's a reason for that. What was important to me about that character is that it would be up for grabs for you to condemn him, part with him, or you think about him in any way you wish to, but as far I'm concerned, he is not a devil and he is not a saint and I don't know what he's done and you can decide that for yourself.