Vera Farmiga, Lewis MacDougall, Peter Fonda and Shana Feste
Breaking Down Boundaries
by Jay S. Jacobs
It’s not often that a movie’s press junket is stolen by a dog, but that is what happened last week at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York.
The movie is Boundaries, a sweet and charming road trip comedy, based on the life of writer/director Shana Feste. It was a particularly personal project for Feste, who had previously written and directed the Gwyneth Paltrow film Country Strong and the remake of Endless Love.
Boundaries is loosely-but-intimately created from the story of her life and her strained relationship with her father. When determining who would be the ideal person to portray herself on screen, Feste thought of Vera Farmiga, who was just coming off an extended run on the TV series Bates Motel.
To her excitement, not only was Farmiga interested in the role, but Feste also got a dream cast which included Christopher Plummer (fresh off of his Oscar nomination for All the Money in the World), Scottish child actor Lewis MacDougall (who starred in A Monster Calls) and even a supporting turn by legendary Easy Rider star Peter Fonda. However, perhaps the biggest stars of all were the rescue dogs and cats who populated the film.
About a week before Boundaries opened, we were one of a few media outlets who got to sit down and speak about the movie with co-stars Vera Farmiga, Peter Fonda and Lewis MacDougall, and writer/director Shana Feste – as well as the real star of the show, Loretta the rescue dog – at the Crosby Street Hotel in New York.
“Shana is Loretta’s comfort person,” Fonda explained to us as they entered. “I’ve watched Loretta speak through Shana’s mouth, without moving Loretta’s lips. It’s amazing.”
Here’s what Loretta and her humans had to say.
What were some of the things you learned about your family and yourself when you were writing the screenplay?
Shana Feste: That’s a good question. I guess I learned how totally out of touch with my own anger I really was. My father was in and out of my life from for most of my life. When he was with me, visiting me and taking care of me, it was the best thing ever. It was Chinese restaurants; order everything on the menu. But when he was gone, it left a huge hole. As a kid, you try and make every visit the best visit. You’re always really positive and really happy when your dad is around. You don’t get to express some of that resentment that you really do feel when you’re doing ordinary kid things. Looking around at other parents that are on the sidelines at AYSO [American Youth Soccer] games and your dad is in Africa, digging for diamonds to smuggle back in the rim of his cowboy hat. Some crazy adventure he’s going on. During the process for me writing, I learned a lot about vocalizing my own anger. And it wasn’t anything to be scared of. I was so frightened of that. It was therapeutic for me.
When did you know that Vera should be the person to play you in the movie?
Shana Feste: This is one of those dream situations where I got to cast my first choices for all of these roles. I had met Vera a few years before, and I always wanted to work with her. I remember meeting her. I met her with… a friend.
Vera Farmiga: Yeah. A friend. (laughs)
Shana Feste: I remember just being so nervous. Oh my God, we’re going to her house for dinner. I was so nervous.
Vera Farmiga: I remember thinking, oh my God, the Country Strong director. What will I cook? (to Shana) What did I cook? Unmemorable.
Shana Feste: We ordered pache.
Vera Farmiga: No, we didn’t. We were at my house in Upstate New York.
Shana Feste: No, we were in Laurel Canyon.
Vera Farmiga: Seriously?
Peter Fonda: Pache works.
Shana Festa and Vera Farmiga: (in unison) Pache.
Shana Feste: I just remember being so taken with Vera and trying to play it so cool. Then cut to: I have this role. I know that she would be the perfect person. I never had seen a lot of comedy from Vera, but I remember her as being so funny and so sharp. That was what was really important to me, the intelligence behind the funny. That was Vera for me.
What was it about the script that spoke to you?
Vera Farmiga: I love chuckling about dark stuff.
Shana Feste: (laughs) You do.
Vera Farmiga: Honestly, I suppose in the same way I felt enlightened by the script. For me, it was a very personal reminder to lower my expectations. I don’t want to go into it. (laughs) But, certainly it read like a really comedic parable. I loved parables as a kid. I loved “Prodigal Son.” This was like “Prodigal Papa,” but a comedy. (laughs again) I love that it also highlighted animal rescue. It’s just a reminder that people often disappoint us, but animals don’t.
What was it like interacting with the animals on set?
Lewis MacDougall: A lot of my scenes were in the back of the car. All of the dogs were in the back of the car with me. Like four dogs on top of me. And like an animal wrangler and stuff.
Shana Feste: Four animal wranglers. Each dog had an animal wrangler.
Lewis MacDougall: It was really enjoyable. You’d think it would be stressful (laughs), but I didn’t find that. On set they were a really calming presence. People can get stressed on a film set, but everybody could just pet a dog and it made everything better.
Shana Feste: The hardest thing with the animals for me is that I wanted all the animals to look natural. Usually when you have animals in the movie they’re like doing backflips or doing some sort of Air Bud tricks.
Vera Farmiga: Or they are perfectly groomed.
Shana Feste: Yeah. Not only was it hard to find the rascally, scruffy ones to cast those, it was really hard to get the animals just to act natural. Like to go to bed was the hardest thing. The animals would come first, they’d get on the bed. They’d all be looking up like “Who’s here? Who’s here? Who’s here?” Then, everybody would have to be very, very, very quiet. We’d bring the actors onto set. They’d get in bed. People were not talking on set. Everybody was very calm. One by one, they would look around and start to nod off, but sometimes this could take up to 20 or 30 minutes. On an indie movie, where you’re shooting ten pages a day, you do not have time to make sure six animals are asleep in a bed. But we did it.
Vera Farmiga: The hardest thing for me was my allergies. (laughs) Getting over that. I would take Benadryl. Then I acclimated to every particular dander, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t hives.
Christopher Plummer is such a great actor and he’s doing some of his best work now. What was he like to work with?
Vera Farmiga: Don’t let the tweed jackets fool you. He’s a clown. So easy to get to know, and so easy to become immediately affectionate with and to giggle with. Most of our time was just spent combing Zillow together. We had a project about how real estate can alter lives together. And eating Cheetos. (laughs)
Peter Fonda: That’s new. That was a knuckleball. Cheetos?
Vera Farmiga: And playing “I spy with my little eye” in countless hours locked up in a car together.
Peter, did you know him before this film?
Peter Fonda: Yes, I did know him before. His first motion picture was with my father [film legend Henry Fonda], Stage Struck. He’s ten years older than I am, so I was 18 then. I saw him from time to time, though he may not remember it. He knew my first step-mother [Susan Blanchard] very well. She was a wonderful woman of theater. When I saw this is my chance to work with him, I thought this is really terrific. The parts that Shana had written, I thought he’s great and I play this character, this is going to be wonderful. Because I’ve known him, I met him first when I was 18, I have that to use. When that scene happens where I’m throwing my arms around him, it’s really hail fellow well met. Good to see you again. That worked for Shana. It worked for me, too. Vera’s right, he is a card. He’s very funny. That’s good. He keeps his energy flowing. He did for us. When that moment came, (to Vera) which I’m sure came for you several times, (back to everyone) where Shana knew she had what she needed for editing, but she’d be, “just take it the way you want to.” Actors who love acting really love that: “Just take it where you want to.” We already know what she wants.
Vera Farmiga: Yes…
Peter Fonda: We know what we’re supposed to be doing. You don’t have to act, you can be, which is a great thing different. We did this thing, we were just riffing. It was all going really well. This wasn’t part of the scene, but I’m up on the wall – Alex in the picture – and the kids are saying, “Where’s the weed and the money?” I said, “I’m fucking stoned, how would I know?” Vera starts laughing. I was like, all right. (to Vera) That was very sweet that you laughed.
What I liked about this movie was that it didn’t follow a lot of stereotypes. The carefree people were older, not young. In that carefree spirit, what inspired you the most looking back on your life? Was the character based on someone real? Did you talk to Shana about it?
Peter Fonda: No, I just read the character that she had written. It was really well written. It was a full character. Knowing what I could bring to it with Christopher was a gas. Realizing we had to get it done – we couldn’t be just goofing off – it turned out we were goofing off while we were getting it done. (laughs) It was hysterical. We were down there, and Christopher and I are vaping. Somebody’s ringing the doorbell. [My character expected] a masseuse. [Plummer’s character] said, “Since when does Joey have to pay for somebody to touch his body?” My line: “Ever since my pubes turned gray.” That was fine, but when I was walking out, I couldn’t walk out. I had to crawl out. I’m trying with a vape pipe in my mouth, like, “I just took a hit. I’ll be right back.” Everybody started cracking up behind the camera. That’s a really great thing, when the definition between in front of the camera and behind the camera melds together. The people behind the camera are as much into the scene and having as good a time as you’re having. That’s a really great feeling. I got to do all that and get paid. And have free food.
What was the best road trip that you have ever been on?
Lewis MacDougall: I’ve never really been on a road trip, to be honest.
Shana Feste: Is that an American thing, a road trip?
Lewis MacDougall: Probably more so, although not necessarily. I live in Scotland, and after you’ve driven for about an hour you’ve reached the other side of the country.
Vera Farmiga: The 1980s. Irvington, New Jersey to Miami Beach, Florida. Every summer. June one way, August the other. Oh yeah.
Who did you go with?
Vera Farmiga: My mom, my dad. It was four of us [kids] back then, seven siblings now. It was four originally, then they took a hiatus for twelve years, and then had three more. Wacky people. It was an uninsulated blue van, so you could feel the heat of the summer. And the stench of the make-shift toilet, which was a five-gallon bucket with mushrooms painted on it. (laughs) My dad tried to not have as many pit stops when you have four kids having to go at all different times. It would be a highlight when we would stop at a Days Inn. My parents would have one king-sized bed. The four of us would cram in another king-sized bed. He would give us coins to toss in the bed-jiggler.
Peter Fonda: Oh yeah, Magic Fingers. (They both laugh)
Vera Farmiga: Good times!
Peter, I’m sure you have some stories…
Peter Fonda: Oh, yeah. (laughs again) Four wheels. Two wheels. Foot. Yeah, the whole life has been this road movie for me. Sometimes, I don’t go further than from one room to the next. Sometimes, I actually go across town. Sometimes, across the country. But, any good story – play, book, movie – generally is a journey. Whether the journey is within, like I say, just a few rooms of a house. Or, like my father’s movie Twelve Angry Men, in one bloody room. There’s a journey that happens. In Twelve Angry Men you can see the journey. Shana writes one that is a journey, actually. Then, within it is a journey – bridging the gap between the daughter and the father. The connecting pin in this sense is the son, who is goofing off with grandpa while she’s trying to get everything straight. And collecting more dogs. This is all a wonderful gift of a trip that I get to be a part of. But in this sense, I’m one of the campfires from Easy Rider. They come in here, they do this little thing, they go away and I’m not part of it anymore, unfortunately. I was having so much fun I could have kept on doing it, but we have to move on to the next campfire.
Henry’s problems were basically that he was a little too sensitive, arty and a just little weird. I mean, yes, the nude drawings were a little offbeat, but honestly, he was a very talented artist for a 12-year-old kid. Do you think it’s just a phase and he’ll be okay in the long run?
Lewis MacDougall: Yeah, I don’t see why not. At the start of the film, he’s very much what you described. He’s having trouble at school. He doesn’t really fit in. Over that road trip, like Peter was talking about, he himself goes on a journey. He meets his grandfather. He suddenly has a father figure, which he’s never really had. That brings out – I wouldn’t say a different side to him, it’s always been there – but Jack really opens his eyes and makes him a bit more confident. I think having had the road trip experience will help him grow up very successful.
Shana Feste: He thinks he’s the next Rodin.
Vera, you seem to be such a good mother in real life, but somehow your children on film and TV always seem to be seen as troubled…
Vera Farmiga: No, to be honest, I don’t think he’s offbeat at all. He’s an artist and I think he’s in the wrong school system for his strengths. I don’t think he has any challenges to be honest with you – as me reading the story, but also playing his mother. What she wants to do is advocate for her child, and she can’t afford that particular school, so that’s what drives her to break down her boundary with daddy, with papa bear.
Peter Fonda: (laughs) You call him papa bear?
Shana, what was it like assembling this cast?
Shana Feste: I was saying earlier, this is something [where] I got to choose who I work with for the first time in my career. I guess I got to do that on my first movie as well – The Greatest – which was my second-favorite experience. But, this was something that I had never experienced before. There was a day when you were on set with Peter Fonda, Christopher Lloyd, Chris Plummer. They were all sitting next to each other on director’s chairs. You guys were just having a conversation. And every single crew member had their cameras out and was secretly taking pictures of them. It was like three unicorns sitting together all at once.
Vera Farmiga: I have that picture up in my office.
Peter Fonda: (laughs) I have it in my office, too.
Shana Feste: It’s just really cool. It’s one of those [things]… I mean, my mother. Oh, my mother. Oh, my gosh, my mother was excited. She has never really been excited about most of my films, but this one she was dying to get on set. Every single day, she’d ask me, “Is Peter Fonda going to be on set?” She still asks me that, even this morning, “Are we going to see Peter Fonda?” So, I knew this was going to be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For a director, working with actors like this is just a gift. It just makes you look stronger.
I really liked Kristen Schaal as your sister. You made her a little offbeat, but basically pretty well-grounded, certainly more understanding of their dad’s foibles than Laura was. Was the way she played it like your real sister?
Shana Feste: She is. That is verbatim my sister. Lines exactly from her mouth. If you went to my sister’s house, you would see a framed picture of a mother pup crossing the stream with her baby pup in her mouth. But, yeah, my sister has always been so wacky, you know? Everybody thinks she’s wacky. She’s followed the Dead her entire life. But, she actually knows so much more than I did. She was able to see my father for who he really was, so much earlier than I ever was. It was so easy for me to be like, “Oh, I have it together,” but my sister actually really did, the whole time.
What was it like watching this cast interact; beginning as near strangers but by the end as a family? What was it like to see that transformation through the process of filming?
Shana Feste: It was really magical. I remember the first time I had met Lewis. We were doing the camera test. I’m thinking: this is one of the closest relationships that I have ever written between a mother and a son. Lewis is just meeting Vera for the very first time and we’re going to have to go on this journey. How do you accomplish something like that? I remember even the physicality of the relationship changing so much. By the end, Vera just was like… he was in her arms. It was such a really beautiful thing to see. I so admire things that I cannot do. I’m so closed as a person I feel like sometimes. Actors are so open. They’re so available. You guys just embraced it. You’re so empathetic that you were able to just love these characters and then find love for each other. That was really beautiful to see.
The only thing that everyone in the car could agree about was that they liked one of the dogs. Do you have any stories, in real life or on set, on how animals can bring people together?
Shana Feste: Anyone with any kind of childhood trauma is attracted to animals. Animals were my safe space growing up. Because, like in the movie, they are the one thing that can never hurt you. They just are love. They represent love. Loyalty. So, I surrounded myself with animals. I still do. I’m a huge rescuer. This film was an opportunity for me to shine a light on something that I really care deeply about. But, what was cool was… I sometimes teach at the American Film Institute and that’s one of the things we always tell our students: Don’t work with animals, don’t work with old cars, don’t shoot multiple locations, don’t shoot with minors. I broke every single rule with this film. But what was really cool to see was the impact that the animals had on the cast. Loretta, my dog…
Vera Farmiga: Where did she go?
Shana Feste: She’s back on the couch. I’m going to pretend to be horrified: Oh my God, she’s on the couch. Get down! (They laugh.) She had the best five weeks of her life, because she was always in someone’s arms. Like Lewis was saying, it’s an incredibly stressful environment being on set. So, you were able to hold a little, sweet animal, and it totally calms you down. (to the others) Did you guys feel that on set?
Lewis MacDougall: Definitely. Talking about forming a special bond with one of the dogs, I think I had a special bond with every single one of them. It was great. Every day when I went home, I couldn’t wait to go back the next day and just say hello to my little dogs. That was really great.
Vera Farmiga: Yeah, I love working with children and dogs. You can anticipate what your fellow actor might do, but you don’t really consider what the animals are going to do. There are really surprising moments in the heated tonality. Oh wait, my character would be afraid of running around so much as to disturb her animal friends. All of that shaped the performance in ways that I didn’t even consider.
Shana Feste: Because they reacted to you. That scene where you and Christopher Plummer are arguing on the side of the road.
Vera Farmiga: Running around, like with the Pampers pile…
Shana Feste: Yes. They were frantic. They would get really red. Loretta would sit in the back of the car in the sunshine and everything. But they would get up.
Vera Farmiga: They would start crying.
Shana Feste: When they heard the pain in her voice, they’d be like (makes a whimpering sound). It was challenging, because then they would get used to it. Oh, they’re just pretending. Now after four or five takes and we need them to do the same thing.
Lewis for you, your character gets bullied and harassed throughout the film. What message do you think this film sends about that?
Lewis MacDougall: You get to see Henry, he’s experiencing bullying at school. He’s not really in the right place at school. But the film gives you an opportunity to see what kind of guy he really is. If a bully is looking out from their side, they just see some weird kid who draws naked people. You really get to see the whole side of him. You can’t judge a book by its cover. I think it really just sends a message that it’s not right, and that Henry just has his special way of going about life.
The relationship with Vera was very realistic. How did you find that chemistry?
Vera Farmiga: We had no rehearsal whatsoever. What we did was we had family picnics. Shana’s family, her kids and husband/producer Brian [Kavanaugh-Jones], with [Lewis’] dad and [Lewis], and my two kids and my husband. They’d just come over and we’d have picnics. (laughs) [Lewis] got very close with my kids. I would send him off to coach [Farmiga’s son] Fynn’s soccer practice. We just bonded naturally, very quickly. It just has to do with openness and willingness. It’s that simple.
On a little more technical aspect, Lewis, you had a really good American accent. Was it difficult to learn to speak in a different dialect?
Lewis MacDougall: Yeah. Every accent produces its own unique challenges. I enjoy doing accents. I’ve only ever done, just recently, one film in my own accent. Every film I’ve ever done has been in another accent. It helps me get into character. It provides another aspect to that character that is different from yourself. It is difficult at first, but I had a good dialect coach who really helped me. I watched American television and just imitated the accents. I really enjoy doing it.
What do each of you hope audiences take away from this film?
Lewis MacDougall: In the film there’s a lot of second chances. Jack in the film, wasn’t really an attentive father to his daughter. So, when Henry comes along, that’s a second chance to be a father. It’s also a second chance for Henry to be a son, in a way, because his father’s been absent. I think the film, among other things, sends the message that people can change and to give them second chances.
Shana Feste: I hope people rescue an animal after watching the film. I mean really, that was really one of the goals. Look at all of these adorable animals! They are so amazing. You really need to go and take one home. Even with a pit bull. Pit bulls get such a bad rap. People just don’t understand pit bulls. They are such loyal, goofy dogs. That’s why I really wanted to include a pit bull at the very end.
Vera Farmiga: Look, it’s a story about dysfunction, but we put the fun in it. We just want people to have a really great laugh.
Peter Fonda: This is how I feel. This is a good laugh. Having had a good time watching the movie. Having had a good time taking the journey, seeing the different campfires.
Vera Farmiga: Yeah, roast us some marshmallows.
Copyright ©2018 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: June 19, 2018.
Photos 1-3 © 2018 Jay S. Jacobs.
Photos 4-9 © 2018 Lindsay Elliott. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.