Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Sigourney Weaver & Douglas McGrath
Living in Infamy
by Jay S. Jacobs
Imagine you have spent years of your life and incredible effort to put together a movie script. You finally get it finished, get interest for the sale of the movie and even get an all-star cast including Sandra Bullock, Sigourney Weaver, Gwyneth Paltrow, Daniel Craig, Hope Davis and Isabella Rossellini. You discover a mostly unknown actor named Toby Jones – a Brit who is best known as Dobby the Elf in the Harry Potter movies in the US – who is absolutely perfect for your lead.
Then, just as you’re about to get the movie started, you find out that someone else is doing another film on the exact same subject. It’s not like you are doing a cheesy movie about meteors headed towards Earth or capsized ocean liners – this is an art film about one of the most famous books of the 20th Century and the talented genius who was both made and destroyed by it.
This is what happened to Douglas McGrath. The respected writer/director (Nicholas Nickleby, Emma, Bullets over Broadway) had finally gotten his dream project about 50s literati Truman Capote red-lighted when he found out that writer Dan Futterman had also written a screenplay about the flamboyant author. Not only that, but it was about the same period of Capote’s life, the time when the author left his New York nightlife behind to go the Kansas to write his masterpiece In Cold Blood with his good friend, author Nelle Harper Lee (To Kill A Mockingbird). Then the other movie was released first and won Oscar buzz – including a Best Actor award for star Philip Seymour Hoffman.
All that could be done is wait your turn and hope there is enough interest in the story to support two varied versions of the story. Infamous is based on an oral history of Capote in which George Plimpton – the famed late author (Paper Lion) and editor (The Paris Review) – interviewed the people in Capote’s life, a book with the tongue-twisting title Truman Capote: In Which Various Friends, Enemies, Acquaintances and Detractors Recall His Turbulent Career.
A year later, Infamous is finally ready for release. The studio and director decided to hold it back to try and stem the comparisons. Infamous is significantly different from Capote, an interesting alternate twist on the story that is funnier, more flamboyant and more emotional than the former film.
A few days before the movie’s opening, stars Toby Jones, Sandra Bullock, Sigourney Weaver and writer/director Douglas McGrath sat down with us at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York to talk about Infamous.
When you’re playing real people, how much does it matter that you look and act the way they really did?
Toby Jones: I’ve always thought that our film is as much about biography as it is about one man. It’s based on the Plimpton book, which is so much questioning the form of biography in the way it’s laid out. It’s mis-rememberings and disagreements. It suggests that in some way you get a glimpse of a person in the ellipses between things, rather than people are one thing and one thing only. Somewhere, all personalities are contradictory. As an actor, it’s very useful, because in a way it allows you much more room to interpret. I’ve always thought that a biography is fantastic for an actor, because it allows you many more choices than a sort of straight-forward biography. Anyway, it’s about a guy learning to write a new kind of book. He’s taught by his subject that he’s not writing the book the right way. (chuckles) The version of himself that he tells the world is cracked open by his subject. I’ve always felt it’s so clever – Doug’s script – because I think it’s about biography as well.
Sandra Bullock: [I] have months and months and months to do my job of research in the things that I came up with. You came up with little and you came up with massive jewels. I don’t ever confess to play Nelle Harper Lee. I’m playing a culmination of all that people claimed were facts, [things] that I felt were true compared to what other people had said. If two or more people said something about her that knew her, I went okay, this seems [right]. She had an incredible sense of humor. I heard that once, I’ve heard that several times. Her accent… I know people from Alabama because my dad and his whole side is from Alabama. I have relatives outside of Monroeville, which is very different accent-wise than Birmingham. Very different at the time when she was raised than it was now. How she stood. That she was an incredible golfer. All these things. How she held her cigarette. How she got her hair cut at the barber. You just piece these things together with the help of an incredible person in wardrobe. Lighting, make-up and making your face and body go in a certain way take it right back to what Doug wrote. You have to throw that out of the window and rely on the words. We’re playing the essence of her. Catherine Keener and I were laughing, its taken two of us to play Nelle Harper Lee and we probably still haven’t scratched the surface of who this extraordinary woman is. Two people so far have written extraordinary roles – very different – about this woman who has affected many people’s lives. It all went back to the words. The beauty of it is I kept going back to the script. There is not one word that isn’t supposed to be here… that doesn’t have great meaning later on down the line in the film. How often do you get to be part of a picture like that? Actors, we love to ad lib and go off. There’s no need, you stay right there with what’s said because it affects everyone else in the greater story.
Sigourney Weaver: I think a lot of it is the script. The script is so eloquent about what’s going on outside and inside the character. Even if – as I did – you play a tiny little screen role. Actually, this might be a more interesting question for Toby, because there was so little I could do about Babe. She was so private. I did meet with her daughter and read some books. But, really, I played the person that’s in the script.
Was there something that you read or something you listened to that sort of gave you a window to the character?
Toby Jones: The first thing I remember… I’m shamefully ignorant of Truman Capote. I knew the name. The name is a romantic name that we don’t sort of get in the UK. We don’t get people called Truman. So, I remember him being sort of an exotic figure. I remember footage of him at Studio 54 in his sort of later, bloated years. I remember reading the script thinking, ah this is just great. It’s a fantastic script, sort of a memento of a thriller. And I didn’t know anything about In Cold Blood or anything. Then I remember they sent me the Maysles brothers. There’s a little half-hour Maysles brothers’ documentary (called A Visit with Truman Capote a/k/a With Love from Truman – 1966) which follows Truman on a promotional tour for In Cold Blood. It’s virtually exactly the right period. It’s about the only bit of footage that I’ve seen where you see him walking further than the wings to the chat show chair. You see him walking in the Hamptons. You see him drinking too much in the Hamptons. You see him pulling out of a bag letters from Perry, which seems a foolhardy thing to do in an interview. Suddenly, as an actor, you can project chinks in the Truman mask through his response to these letters. I found this documentary really the most fascinating document. I sort of had it on a continual loop in the trailer because the panic of playing someone so remote in a way, it needs constant sort of gardening. That was the thing I relied on more than anything else.
Sandra Bullock: You want to find all those clues and then you’re grappling for things here and there. Stuff at the New York Public Library… her notes versus his notes – that jewel but that doesn’t give you what you’re talking about. I looked at it as: what choices didn’t she make? Why did she choose to live her life that way? You go all the way back to her father and her upbringing and that environment. What kind of environment did she grow up in to create this extraordinarily? [It] seems she knows exactly who she is, and she rises above. Who doesn’t go towards fame? Who doesn’t go towards the accolades? [Harper Lee] shuns them completely. You have to look at that. You have to then personalize it. You can’t. Each piece was like a golden kernel but in the end it just comes back to the word. How do you make it alive? You have to personalize it. What is it about myself that I can identify with that person? I’ll never be Nelle Harper Lee and I don’t ever profess to playing her completely. But, I am playing a human being that I admire a great, great deal. Who’s very private and would never ever promote or sell anything of value to her including the reason why she and Truman cease to be friends after a while.
Douglas McGrath: I want to say something about that. I love what Sandy was saying. A lot of guided us about Nelle Harper Lee were the choices she didn’t make. When she couldn’t write something that she liked as much as To Kill a Mockingbird, she didn’t publish it. She could have sold her second novel [for] you could only imagine for how much money, at any point. In fact, as the years went on she could have gotten more and more for it. She could have made all kinds of money doing all kinds of things. She didn’t. That told us a lot about her. That told how centered she was. You compare her to Truman, who when he couldn’t write Answered Prayers, he starts publishing excerpts from it. He’s on TV talking about it all the time and making a terrible spectacle of himself. The real guide for us about Nelle… the best guide… is To Kill a Mockingbird. You think, what person could have written that book, with that kind of humanity in it, that kind of wit in it? It’s very funny. I read it several times during the writing of this because I felt it was the best way I could get at her personality and her style of speech. It’s like detective work in a way, because there are some hints in the works and you just have to use your brain. If she wrote that, she must be this way. She wouldn’t do that, she must be this way.
One thing that Sandy did was a really important part of the movie. [It] seems really small, but the effect of it is so strong. The biggest speeches she has in the movie are the testimonials – the interviews that she does to the camera. In a kind of berserk or cruel decision on our part we decided to shoot those first. That was her first day. As you know, having seen the film, if the film works for you its in large part because of what Sandy says at the end of the movie. So it was just like, okay, you’ll be carrying the whole picture on your shoulders. Start day one… let’s get rolling. She came in with this fantastic idea. She said, “I’ve been thinking about it and I don’t think Nelle should be too comfortable in front of the camera.” I felt, oh please, don’t have some wacky idea about having your back to the camera, wear a bag over your head or something. I’m excited to have you in the movie. She said, “The other people look if you’re the lens. They look right at it because Babe Paley and everybody else – they’re pretty confident. They’re used to being photographed and being seen.”
I urge you to watch her performance again and just look at this aspect of it. Most of the time, she just dartingly looks at the camera lens. The rest, she modestly directs to the side. The places where she chooses to look at the camera lenses; it is the exact right place every time, because she’s saying something that is important for her to connect with you with. The one that always gets me is in that first long testimonial, because by the end she gets a little, but not much, better about looking at the camera. When she’s telling about the Christmas pageant and she says, “They said they’d be by the cannon in the courthouse square. We’re walking toward the cannon and then we got to the cannon and I could see him straining to see them.” Then she takes this beautiful pause. She hasn’t looked at the camera in a long time and then she looks in the camera and said, “They have not come.” It’s just awful. It’s awful enough as a story but then to have her look at you like that – it just doubles the effect of what it was.
Sigourney Weaver: Amanda Burdon, Babe’s daughter, was kind enough to have a drink with me. She told me a couple of things, one of which was Babe always completed all of her make-up – put her face on, as they used to say – before she even left her bedroom. Her husband and her children never saw her without make-up. The idea of this, for someone like me, who kind of rolls out… take me as I am… that was a real acting challenge. To imagine playing someone who felt she had to be this – as Truman said, “The problem with Babe is she’s perfect.” That perfection must have had its cost. Especially when your life isn’t as perfect as your image; that was the secret she was trying to keep from the world, if not from Truman. I thought that her daughter was very eloquent about her. That helped me understand the mom.
Toby is rather unknown in the US. How did he become the choice to be Truman Capote?
Toby Jones: It’s quite a long story how Doug heard about me. I think it’s all rooted in – I was in a show that was in London, it was a big hit in London, called The Play What I Wrote, about this double act. I was like the third person. We brought this to Broadway – Mike Nichols brought it to Broadway. We did four months here. For a start, it was lucky that I got (to do it). I’d won an award in London. That, I think, got me the visa. It’s not straight-forward. We did the show here. I was asked by Lewis Allen whether I was interested in reviving Tru, you know the Robert Morse thing (a play about Capote). I watched this show and we talked about it a bit. Lewis’ wife (Jay Preston Allen), who wrote that play, her agent, Sam Cohn, basically recommended me to Doug. I think the recommendations came from a few other places as well. Although, I must say, anyone who ever saw that show would not think from that, “He’d be good as Truman Capote!” Because that show was so vacant and so paper thin. (laughs). It was all about shtick, really, and rhythm. A whole different set of skills, really.
Douglas McGrath: I was advised about Toby. On the day I finished my script and sent it to Sam Cohn, the great agent, and to Ellen Lewis, my casting director, they both called and said, “”Oh it’s too bad you can’t use this guy from The Play What I Wrote.” I remember [thinking], I’m so rarely certain, if there’s anything I know, it’s that we’re certainly not casting the guy from The Play What I Wrote. I’ve since learned that [if] I’m that certain, I’m just completely wrong. It’s never even halfway wrong. It’s completely wrong. Because, a year later – who did we cast?
Toby Jones: Got there, sat down, I met him. We had to do a speech. The great thing about the part is you get to do – there’s amazing darkness at the end of the script and there’s comedy at the beginning. So, one of them was a very comic scene, where he’s at Christmas with the Deweys. The other thing I had to do was the long speech where he explains about his mother. Explains about suicide.
Douglas McGrath: We spent a whole year. I’m not blaming Warner Brothers in the least, because they backed the decision entirely when I found Toby and brought him to them. But in the beginning, they weren’t opposed to the idea of having a person whose name people had heard more than once before that day. There were a number of actors who were attracted to the script who wanted to play the part.
Douglas McGrath: Gary Cooper.
Sandra Bullock: Gary Coleman.
Douglas McGrath: He was willing to do the makeup and everything. (laughs) No, I can’t tell you who they were. It wouldn’t be polite. Because these people who wanted it enough to put themselves on tape and it wouldn’t be nice to say that they did it and didn’t get it.
Matthew Perry as Truman Capote?
Douglas McGrath: (Laughs). We did have agents call with rather wild ideas. I hope I’m not going too far. I’m giddy in the moment. An agent called and said, “What about Aaron Eckhart?” I said, for what? I mean would you think of Aaron Eckhart for Truman?
Sandra Bullock: Well, I would let him audition. I wouldn’t put it past any actor to be brilliant in something we don’t expect.
Douglas McGrath: All I said was; you know its Truman Capote, it’s not Harry Truman. He didn’t seem in the Truman mold to me. Anyway we had a number of very good actors come and put themselves on tape but we would look at the tapes and they just always felt like good actor doing a good impersonation of Truman, but they never completely lost themselves you could always see some part of them.
Which brings up the other film, Capote. Phillip Seymour Hoffman certainly looks nothing like Truman and yet he also did an amazing job of portraying him…
Douglas McGrath: I really can’t comment on Phillip’s performance because I haven’t seen the film yet… for a lot reasons. I know those people and I would like to give that film the best viewing I can. This isn’t the right time to give it the best viewing. When everything’s all done. Also, you might be surprised or might not be surprised but after you put this much of yourself into a movie about someone’s life, you’re really not burning with curiosity to see how another person did it. Nothing against anybody who does it, but I made all these choices. If they made different choices, that doesn’t mean their choices are wrong, but they’re different than mine. I may have chosen not to go that way for a reason, so I wouldn’t necessarily be the best audience for the film.
Toby, as an actor, what is it like to win the role of a lifetime and then when you start shooting you hear that another actor is playing the same role? What goes through your mind?
Toby Jones: It helps that you haven’t played a role like that before. When I read this script; you read as an actor – well, I do, anyway, I think I’m normal – when you read a great role… and this was a fantastic role that was going to ask everything of me. You read it with a sort of protective sense of melancholy. You go, this is just amazing. What a part. I’m definitely not going to get it. (laughs) There’s no way. They’ll never give this to me. So when you finish you go, yeah, I’ll give it my best shot. But, I’m already protecting myself against the likelihood. When I got that part, I just felt this terror, this genuine excitement. The amount of work I was going to have to do. The transformation I was going to have to undergo. The idea, then, of somehow begrudging another actor a go at the same part – a brilliant actor who gets to do it brilliantly – I think it would be distracting. I’d have to be pretty distracted to worry about that. All I could do was the best job I could do.
How did it feel that people will compare it to Capote?
Douglas McGrath: It’s inevitable, that part. There’s no avoiding it. I’d do it if one of them wasn’t my movie. But I had one thing that was important to me which was to tell this story, because I felt that I had my own view of what happened to him. I felt that something terrible had gone wrong in his life. Up until In Cold Blood is success and happiness and everything going his way. In Cold Blood [is] his greatest success and then just down, down, down. I gave a lot of thought to what happened to him. That kiss, for instance, I did not choose that kiss to be provocative or frivolous. I believe there was some brief single moment of intimacy which I thought would unhinge him eventually for the rest of his life. I just knew that was my point of view. It wasn’t a stated point of view in a book. So, I thought that I had my own way of telling it. All that mattered to me is that I get to tell it. If there’s another movie with their point of view – that didn’t matter to me. I didn’t want to keep people from seeing our film. I don’t want to deceive you. The tragedy for me would have been not to make the movie. That would have been an ugly spectacle that I don’t even care to go into. You would have passed me on the street in front of the Waldorf talking to myself.
Toby Jones: I also had the luxury of being about to go back to London. So, I wasn’t involved in – this whole Oscar buzz thing is new to me, the idea that you talk about an award that’s happening six months from now. (laughs) It’s a new phenomenon to me. I really hope our film wins awards. I think it’s a magnificent screenplay. I think Sandra and Daniel do magnificent work. It’s a complex enough life that you can… I’ve already sort of alluded to that I think it’s a mythic thing. I think it’s unsurprising. If you look back to that era, it’s a glamorous era. You have a fish out of water story. You have a very funny man. You have all of this possibility of looking at so many issues. It doesn’t surprise me that two films… that they happened at the same time is funny… but that two films should be written, it doesn’t strike me as odd.
You mentioned Sandra and Daniel [Craig]. This is your first lead role in a major movie. How surreal was it to find out you would be working with stars like Sandra, Daniel, Sigourney, Jeff Daniels, Hope Davis, Gwyneth Paltrow and Isabella Rossellini?
Toby Jones: It’s a very different experience than playing a smaller part. It’s very hard often with a small part, where you join a set – and I’ve done it a lot – where you join a set and it feels like a train you’re jumping on. You don’t quite know everyone. You’re not quite sure what the culture of the set is, or what level of reality everyone’s acting on. What the conventions are. If you’re the lead actor, in every scene, you’re having a very intense relationship with the director – hopefully. You’re both negotiating. You’ve both agreed a path you’re on. Other people don’t have that time or that luxury. So, I was struck by the expertise and the skill of very much more experienced actors and actresses coming on to the set. They have to come in. It was their skill and, again, the script that made that possible.
Sigourney Weaver: I think it’s the costumes.
Toby Jones: Again, I think I’d have to be pretty mad to be distracted… I had too much to think about to be worrying, am I as good as Sandra Bullock? Am I experienced as Sigourney Weaver? Clearly, people could probably debate that against my favor. (laughs) I knew that I had to just concentrate. That’s the thing, isn’t it? Concentrate. Concentrate. There’s lots of things trying to distract you. Your paranoia is the first thing to get to you.
Sandra, lately, you have seemed to balance leading roles – like The Lake House and Miss Congeniality, with strong supporting roles in films like this and Crash. Is that something you enjoy doing, trading off like that?
Sandra Bullock: Sometimes, the smaller roles which I’ve learned are the ones that end up being bigger and richer… in experience or working experience… than some films where you’re six months on the film. You’re the lead and it’s as fulfilling as a half of glass water. There’s no conscious effort on my part. I’m just lucky enough to strive to want to do different things and fortunate enough to get hired to do them.
What was it about this role that attracted you?
Sandra Bullock: Just the writing from beginning to end. That person, literally that person (points to McGrath).
There was an interesting scene in which Nelle and Truman have a debate on his new version of literature – working a non-fiction story as a novel and the potential of changing the truth. I know it’s nearly impossible to make a totally accurate bio pic, and I know you mostly stayed close to the facts, but in some places things are changed a bit. For example, having Perry in a crowded cell block, where as I recall in In Cold Blood he was in a solitary cell in the sheriff’s office. How much did you want to stay true to the story?
Douglas McGrath: I did mostly. I had a lot of sympathy for Truman; you’ll notice I wasn’t entirely condemning of him. There’s certain sympathy in that argument. There was a slight difference between what he was doing and what I’m doing. I’m not presenting mine as a documentary as the truth. He kept bending over backwards to tell people how true his book was and yet he muddied the waters for himself by calling it a non-fiction novel. It took almost a year to write the script. I thought about that phrase a long time. It’s never made sense to me. As Sandy says in the movie when he says I’m going to use the techniques of fiction to tell a non-fiction story; she says “What techniques? The ones where you make stuff up? Those are the techniques of fiction.” She’s the one who sees through him. That’s part of their relationship. They had known each other since they were little and they could speak to each other that way. But I’m guilty of it to; I might get a lesser sentence because I’m not presenting it as a totally factual film.
Is that why the original title was changed?
Douglas McGrath: The title was changed because my friends in the Warner Bros. legal department – a very vigorous and active division of the studio – were genuinely afraid that if we called it Every Word is True, someone could sue the studio. Because every word in it isn’t true, even though it was meant with the utmost irony.
Sandra Bullock: Exactly. Every Word is True. Wink, wink. But how do you convey that in a title?
Douglas McGrath: Irony stops at the door.
Sandra Bullock: Sarcasm stops there too.
In Venice, Sandra mentioned that she never really met you, because you stayed in character. Was that true?
Toby Jones: I think she’s being very flattering about my commitment to the part. I felt very strongly that I had to change my whole… I had a very brilliant voice coach in London and we talked about the voice, long and hard. About anatomically what was happening here. What I would have to do to get my jaw in the right place. We speculated long and hard about why on earth that should be. Why did he become like that? Obviously, the voice became the abiding concern. But, I was very keen that it didn’t become disintegrated from the rest of the performance. I would wander around this room and we’d debate and speculate about why did he always cover his mouth when he’d laugh? Is he ashamed of his teeth? Is he tongue-tied? We’d do that work, but then we’d try and work out what were the effects of his childhood? What forms a voice? It’s fascinating work for an actor. Kind of detective work. (to Sigourney) I hope you didn’t think I was always being Truman Capote.
Sigourney Weaver: Not that. I think that – and I was about to play a part where I had to transform… I was about to play a woman with autism in a movie I had coming out, Snow Cake. I did this movie right before and I was watching Toby, because when we met early on, we were talking about these movies. We were scared. They were challenging. What Toby would do – I don’t know what he was thinking, but we would have these big scenes, these glamorous scenes where he had to be the life of the party. Wherever Toby was, suddenly, this gorgeous imp would be swirling around the room and being Truman. It was like this little dance he would do before he became Truman. It’s not that Toby wasn’t there as well, but Toby was not as noticeable. When you saw this light going on and this other person coming out, I tell you, it really took your breath away. I feel like I did have lunch with Truman a couple of times.
Was that something you tried to do on your own role? Because I thought Snow Cake was the best thing I saw at Tribeca.
Sigourney Weaver: Well thank you. We’re still looking for an American distributor. I was very encouraged just watching Toby go for it. You just have to not look back. But, I think what happened to me was – you know, each part teaches you how to do it. In my case, I did kind of go off and be that person in the corner. Then I would come off the set. You can find a way to be with your character in a very intimate way, even though you are surrounded by people. It’s very sustaining.
With Nelle shunning fame and you being a world famous movie star; how do you tap into that desire to never have the renown and the spotlight?
Sandra Bullock: Admiration of it. Understand why she did it. I could be well known, but guaranteed no one has any idea outside of something I want you to see. I never give away what I don’t mind losing. Anything that I’m sure comprises most of myself; I would never say in a press conference or in a magazine. It’s not something I’m comfortable with. I know its part of the job. The last thing I want to do is a photo shoot or put on makeup. But, its kind of fun I’m going to be here for this day, and enjoy and get something out of it. I understand the inclination to disappear. Again, if I were an eighth of the woman that she was, with talent and insight into something that – I just wish I knew what it was – I would be a happy person. I just have a tremendous amount of respect, admiration and understanding for why she did what she did. I think people need to stop calling her recluse and start calling her someone who is a great artist who chose to live her life, instead of the public’s version of her life.
Douglas McGrath: There must be some times when the press attention if fun and when the press attention is not fun.
Sandra Bullock: I don’t ever find it fun. I’m finding it very easy to do this press junket, because I can sit back and listen to you, or Toby, or questions being asked. You go, I’m glad you asked me about that instead of, “When am I getting knocked up?” which is appropriate for a film that has no substance whatsoever. This film doesn’t warrant that kind of fluff. There is a great sense of relief that there is respect coming your way, or Toby’s way, or the cast’s way or the film’s way. That requires thoughtful questions and answers where you actually have to think. This is easy and you enjoy doing it, because you have a conversation and it’s different.
Dick Cavett said … all these people outside for you well the rewards are great but you work so hard to get there. You sound like you don’t always enjoy the rewards.
Sandra Bullock: You know what I enjoy? When we were in Toronto and there’s a bunch of kids and fans out there, who are just having the best time. You go over and you spend the time taking care of the people that ensure… that allow you to do what you do. That, I have a good time with. It’s a joy and its fun. There’s no expectations. I love working. Press is hard, because I always try to deflect with humor and sarcasm. As we said before, sarcasm stops at the door. It never gets printed the right way. I know no other way of handling it except for that way; where I come out still feeling unsoiled. It’s just a balance. This process has been really lovely.
This seems to be the much “gayer” Truman Capote movie of the two, even though they are both about a gay writer. The whole thing with Daniel Craig and the romance in the prison; how much of this do you think is invented or do you think there is a basis for this kind of intimacy between Perry and Truman in jail?
Toby Jones: That’s an interesting question. There are many answers to it. I’d say that in the Plimpton book, there is straightforward speculation about what happened in the cell. I think it’s sort of far-fetched that they made love in the cell – that Truman paid off someone because he could and they made love. That doesn’t happen in our film. I think something very plausible happened in our film. Obviously, Daniel and I know enough about acting to know that we were very keen to understand the rules of the situation. You’re on death row. What are the rules in operation? What is possible and plausible? Nonetheless, in the Plimpton book, it does say it. I don’t think you need to be very smart.
When did you find out that Daniel Craig was going to be James Bond?
Toby Jones: It was about midway through, because Mark Ruffalo dropped out because of All the King’s Men. It was great, because I know Daniel and it was a bit under cover. I knew the last two weeks of the shoot were going to be in this prison cell. So as much fun as I was having with Sigourney and Sandra and Juliet and all these people, I knew that there was always that dark end of shoot. Daniel came on the set – we did a little European film called Hotel Splendide a few years ago, I played his sous chef, and again he traumatized me on that film…
Why did you choose to dress him in a more flamboyant way than in Capote? Even though you haven’t seen the film, your version of Truman is more flamboyant.
Douglas McGrath: That’s the spirit. In fact, he was that way. He had two styles of dress, we noticed through our research. When he went out with his lady friends… with the Swans… he always dressed down he always sort of wore banker’s suits – grey somber conservative suits – because he was known in those circles already. But, there are times… and I realized it was always when he was going someplace new. where he needed to announce himself. It’s when he goes to Kansas. It’s his way of saying, “Here I am! Get over it.” He wanted to get that out of the way. In fact, that outfit was described in George Plimpton’s book. He’s wearing moccasins, and a sheepskin coat, a scarf that went around his neck… almost to the floor… and something that looked like a pillbox hat. That had to be a psychological thing. A way to announce himself – not that you would miss him, even in a bankers suit, once he starts talking. It’s his way of saying, “look here’s the whole package lets get this over with.”
Was the idea of the different characters discussing Truman always part of the screenplay?
Douglas McGrath: The script is based on George Plimpton’s book, which is an oral history. It’s just a series of interviews, people talking about Truman. It seems the perfect way to make a movie about him and a book about him, because his life was so much about people talking about other people. I thought it made sense thematically. It also did a couple things that I thought made it helpful for the film. It allows you to get direct information to the audience without breaking the structure of your movie – by which I mean I wanted to keep the movie set ‘59-‘65. I didn’t want to have flashbacks to early parts; I wanted to keep that momentum. Because they’re interviews, you don’t actually feel you’re leaving the time. What they can tell you – like in Sandy’s quite amazing first testimonial when she talks about the Christmas pageant – I felt that was important information to get to the audience. Because it makes Truman sympathetic, and it tells a lot about their friendship. It also changes how the audience feels about him at that point. Up to that point in the movie he seems, if you don’t know him, a little odd. It would be very hard to get that information in a normal scene without quite a lot of work and it would have been poor Sandy having to say, “Remember that time your parents abandoned you?”
Sandra Bullock: What actors dread is the expositional scenes. Where they don’t care about you, your job is to get across all the information that’s needed to tie the entire film together.
Douglas McGrath: That’s awful. There’s no way to do it in a normal way. [But] if she does it and tells the camera the story it feels quite natural. The other thing I just wanted to say is I always felt that Truman’s story was an emotional story. He doesn’t strike me as a cold or aloof character. One of the things that I think endeared him to people – even at times when I didn’t always like him – was his emotions were so evident, always. In a way he’s like my son, who’s eight; incapable of conveying anything but exactly what he’s feeling. I felt the film needed to have an emotional quality to it. I felt those testimonials gave it that, because the actors look at the camera which really means they’re looking right at you. So it makes a real connection between the actors and the audience. Thus I felt, or hoped, would close the gap so that you would feel you’re watching something far away but thought you were closer to it.
Why do you feel that this portion of Capote’s life holds such fascination to people?
Toby Jones: You can look at Truman’s life and it’s very clear. Anyone who is going to look at Truman’s life, it doesn’t seem miraculous to me that if you could write about Truman, you’d center on In Cold Blood. In a way – it’s not foreseen in any way. There’s nothing in his early work that says he’s going to write In Cold Blood. There’s nothing afterwards that ever matches up to that. Something happens here, this incredible book, in the middle of his career. There’s nothing after. Why? And why does he fall apart for the rest of his life? Why does that happen? I think Doug’s speculation – and this feels right – is when Truman says if he knew what was going to happen to him in Kansas, he’d have been out of there like a bat out of hell. Something obviously got to him in the making of that book. I think that, possibly… is it too much to say, it’s almost an archetypal situation where you get what you pray for, but you pay for it for the rest of your life. It’s almost mythic. At that time, those great writers, as I understand it – Mailer, Vidal – all these people trying to write this amazing book. Truman is trying to write this amazing book and he comes across the potential to do it. Does it. Knows that to get the best ending for the great book, he has to lose something that matters more to him. He pays for that for the rest of his life. That seems to me to be a pretty good subject. (laughs) Pretty good, or pretty interesting speculation on the way of assessing a life. It’s a good prism to look at a life. It doesn’t answer all the questions, but it’s a way of looking at it that looks backwards and forwards, I think.
What do you think of the line when Nelle says that there were three people who died on the gallows that day?
Toby Jones: I think it’s a way of looking at his life, yeah.
Copyright ©2006 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: October 13, 2006.
#1 © 2006 Deana Newcomb. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.
#2 © 2006 Deana Newcomb. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.
#3 © 2006 Deana Newcomb. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.
#4 © 2006 Deana Newcomb. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.
#5 © 2006 Deana Newcomb. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.
#6 © 2006 Deana Newcomb. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.
#7 © 2006 Deana Newcomb. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.
#8 © 2006 Deana Newcomb. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.
#9 © 2006 Deana Newcomb. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.
#10 © 2006 Deana Newcomb. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.
#11 © 2006 Deana Newcomb. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.
#12 © 2006 Deana Newcomb. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.
#13 © 2006 Deana Newcomb. Courtesy of Warner Independent Pictures. All rights reserved.