The best thing about getting to interview acting legends Jessica Lange and Joan Allen was watching them make each other laugh. The two recently returned from Phoenix where they attended the world theatrical premiere of their new film Bonneville, and it's apparent that after working together on location in Utah and California during production, the on-screen chemistry is not just a result of their acting talent - they actually like each other.
Bonneville opens this Friday, February 29th, and also stars Kathy Bates, Christine Baranski and Tom Skerritt. Lucky for me, I stole a few minutes with Lange and Allen in between a string of interviews, to hear, in their words, what the film is about.
Anastasia Kousakis: Bonneville tells the story of three lifelong friends on an unexpected road trip - what brings these women together and where are they going?
Joan Allen: Arvilla, Jessica's character, brings us together. She has suffered the loss of her husband unexpectedly on a trip to Borneo and she has come home with his ashes and is deciding what she's going to do with them because she's made a promise to him. [Allen looks at Lange] Am I -
Jessica Lange: Oh, you're doing so great! [Laughs]
Allen: [Laughs] She's made a promise to her husband that she would take care of the ashes by spreading them. But, her stepdaughter has other plans.
Lange: That's the conflict of the story. Is she going to fulfill this promise she's made to her husband or is she going to, under duress, take the ashes to her stepdaughter. She decides she will bring the ashes to California and she convinces her girlfriends to come along. They think they're going to fly and then at the last minute they end up making the drive. And along the way she realizes that she can't do this.
Allen: And it's really [about] the decision. What's she going to do?
AK: One woman who saw Bonneville described it as a movie "with soul and depth that speaks to anyone, male or female, who's ever had or wished for the unconditional support of a few good friends."
Lange: These women have known each other for a very long time. They've grown up and basically stayed in the same town. They have a long history together. My character has traveled more in recent years. But, even though on the surface they seem dissimilar they a have a deep and abiding affection and understanding of one another.
AK: What attracted you to this project?
Allen: I thought the story was lovely. Each character was well-drawn, and Jessica and Kathy were attached when I came on board which was very exciting to me. I liked the idea of doing a road picture with Jessica and Kathy, as well. And I thought we'd see some pretty cool places...which we did.
AK: So many people who see the film comment on the chemistry between you two and Kathy Bates. You look like you're having a lot of fun together in the film - was it as much fun as it seems?
Lange: Yeah. First of all, from the point of view of actors coming together, I think there was a certain kind of grace and ease that we found working with one another. Nothing was discordant. One of us wasn't working in a way that the other two were going "Wow, what's she doing over there!"
Lange: It was just very easy. We come to it with a lot of similar experience and technique. It was graceful in a way that things didn't have to be discussed. There was a certain kind of organic approach that felt natural and easy. On top of that, we enjoyed each other's company a lot.
AK: Jessica, you've talked about the influence of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking in preparing for the role of Arvilla. Why was that book in particular important for creating this character?
Lange: It's interesting because the galleys of that book came to me at about the same time the [Bonneville] script did. I thought it was very serendipitous. She opens the book by saying "Life changes in the instant / You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends." And I thought, that's exactly the starting point for my character. Here she is one moment standing next to this man and the next moment he's dead. Didion's book is so beautifully written, so insightful, so emotional and so subtle; as a resource it was bottomless for me.
Your characters were raised Mormon, and Joan's character is still a devout Mormon in the film. I understand you both, and particularly Joan, spent time in Salt Lake City learning about the LDS Church.
Allen: I did spend about a week there meeting with a few different families which was really enlightening. One couple was an older couple who were assigned by the church to give tours to newcomers. So I had an older couple's perspective and a couple of younger families with several children. It was wonderful to spend time with them talking about the religion itself, but also just being in their presence and seeing how they interact, how are they the dinner table. They were very generous with their time and it helped me understand [Mormonism] a lot better than sitting in my apartment in New York City imagining what it's like.
What would you say sets BONNEVILLE apart from other films?
Allen: I think it's unusual that three women characters are so well realized simultaneously in the same story.
Allen looks at Lange; they both nod.
Lange: Yeah. I think so.
To see the trailer visit www.BonnevilleTheMovie.com.