Indie Film Club: 7 Questions With ‘The Kids Are All Right’ Director Lisa Cholodenko

by | January 21, 2011 at 9:54 AM | Indie Film Club, Xfinity On Demand

XFINIITY On Demand Indie Film Club Spotlight: Lisa Cholodenko has made only three films, but they’ve cast her as one of the most compelling filmmakers in the independent landscape. Her work is notable for its richly drawn investigations into the lives of complex women dealing with life’s big issues: sex, love, friendship and family, as is the case with her latest movie, “The Kids Are All Right.” The film stars Julianne Moore and Annette Bening as a lesbian couple whose stable family life is upended when their teenage kids find their mothers’ sperm donor (Mark Ruffalo). Alternately funny and serious, the movie won a Golden Globe last week as Best Motion Picture (Musical or Comedy) and earned Bening a Globe as Best Actress. It also received five Independent Spirit Award nominations. Cholodenko provided XFINITY On Demand with her personal playlist of favorite indie movies (look in the Indie Film Club under the Movies folder) and chatted with xfinityTV.com about “The Kids Are All Right,” which you can still watch On Demand.

Are you surprised at how sort of mainstream the movie has played?
Who the hell knows what people are going to like? But I do feel like, you know, the amount of time Stuart Blumberg and I spent writing it really paid off. I think that if you, you know, take that kind of care with something and really dig deep into characters, you’re in a better position to have it work than not.

Are you one of those filmmakers who keep working on your movie, at leas tin your head, after it’s out? No, this one is a story that I felt we got to where it needed to be, so I’m not plagued with those should have, could have, would have questions. I think it’s a rich story and I think has a kind of open-endedness that keeps me in a place where I think about those characters, about places that they could go. Maybe there is something to do with that setup in the future.
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This movie began for you about six years ago. Will you talk about how it originated? My girlfriend and I were figuring out how to start a family. We both wanted to have a kid and after a bunch of hand-reading, soul-searching and conversations, we decided the best way for us was to go to an anonymous sperm donor. Even though I had resolved to do it and we were actually on our way to doing it, I still had a lot of questions. So when it came time to get back to work, I really didn’t have an agenda. I didn’t know what I was going to be writing about, but I sat down and just said I’ve got to start something again. I was about 25 pages into it and I ran into an old friend from New York, Stuart Blumberg, who was out here (in L.A.) doing some work on a studio film. He asked me what I was doing and I asked him what he was doing, and then we started talking about how much we kind of wanted to tap into what the other was doing: In a way I wanted to push my films into a more commercial realm and he really wanted to do something more personal. And then I said, “Well I’m working on this idea that maybe I should tell you about,” and as it turns out he was pretty interested in it, and as he revealed to me shortly thereafter, he had been a sperm donor in college. So at that point on I thought, well whatever reservations I have about getting together with, you know, a kind of more commercial screenwriter who kind of does something very different than I do, whatever anxieties I have, I think that there’s something kismet about the fact that he’s had this experience from the other side, and so I just kind of took a leap of faith.

Watch previews and free movies at the Indie Film Club

How did you go about casting Julianne Moore? Julianne was somebody I had met maybe three or four years prior. We had always talked kind of in general about wanting to do something together and if I found something, would I think about her. So when Stuart and I got to the end of the first draft of the script, or maybe the second draft, I don’t know what it was, but we looked at each other and asked, “Who do we think can play this?” I said, “Julianne Moore is somebody that I have had conversations with. Do you think she can do either of these roles?” He thought she could do either. So we sent her the script and she chose her role.

How did you get Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo? Some time went by and I really was slaving over the casting and it just felt like the kind of film that unless the casting was just really impeccable, and right, it could very easily not work. It just relied so much on, you know, like an authenticity that I just became kind of insane about it. It just was like, a mission for me to just break the code and figure out who were the right people for this thing. So I finally got like a little bit of a prodding from Julianne, saying, here I have this window this summer. Basically like get on the ball, make this thing already. I went to New York, met with her and told her I was struggling with this casting. I felt like Annette Bening was my top contender, but I wanted to know what Julianne thought. She said, “I love Annette Bening. I think she’s awesome. I don’t know her personally, but I’d love that. Why don’t I write her an email?” And she did that, which was very cool. Annette had already read it, and really liked it, but was kind of being noncommittal because she has a huge family and doesn’t travel much for work and had some plays lined up that she was doing, so she wanted to do it, but it was hard to get to nail her down. And then Julianne got on board and said, you know, I’m in, I really want you to do this with me and blah, blah, blah, and sort of massaged it. And something not dissimilar happened with Mark (Ruffalo). He really wanted to do it, but his schedule was such that he didn’t think he would be able to do it. And Julianne had actually done a film with him, and knew he and his wife fairly well. And he was texting with his wife, and the wife whose name is Sunrise said, hey whatever happened to that film that you were going to do? Mark really loved it. He can’t stop thinking about it. And Julianne said, well she hasn’t cast the part yet. Tell him to get his shit together. Because he’s just giving, you know, giving us a line that he can’t leave, because he’s on vacation or he wants to be with his family. She is like, I don’t care if he’s here. I’m going to tell him to go do it. At the end of the day, it was all about Julianne Moore.
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Despite the two-mom family at the center of the story, this has played like a mainstream picture. Was that your intention? When Stuart and I were writing it, we were very clear at a certain point, and then as Annette came into the fold, she really helped reinforce this feeling that we had to pass muster in a mainstream way, so that it wasn’t a film with a big political agenda. It wasn’t a “gay” film. Like the whole gayness of it was really something we wanted to subvert. Anything that came sort of sanctimonious or too earnest was ditched. I didn’t want to make fun of these people. I really wanted to get into it, in a kind of a complicated comedic-dramatic way. So we were sort of on a mission in that sense, and then I think when Focus bought it at Sundance last year, and the reception was so good at that screening, they saw really what we were trying to do with it. It worked for them, and the whole campaign, the whole theatrical campaign I feel was based around trying to position it and market it that way. They took a lot of care to do that. It wasn’t “Little Miss Sunshine”.

Do you have any favorite scenes you’d recommend to those XFINITY customers watching the movie?
I think a lot of scenes between the moms that are pretty rich. We worked hard to make the scene when they’re in the bedroom watching the porn work so that it set up a tone and set up a plot. I’m proud of it, in that I feel like it kind of just sort of accomplished all those things that were tried to pack in and make feel natural. And I think that the scene between Mark and Julianne when they’re having sex is pretty funny, and all the way through to when she goes outside and gets sort of busted by the gardener. I like that scene quite a lot. What else do I like? I like, you know, I sort of think that one of the centerpiece things is when all the family is together at Paul’s house at the end, and Annette finds the hair in the bathroom and sort of has her revelation, I think, with the Joni Mitchell song, I think that’s powerful.

Lisa Cholodenko’s Indie Watchlist
Cholodenko personally selected these movies for XFINITY On Demand.

1. Boogie Nights
2. Five Easy Pieces
3. Laurel Canyon
4. Lost In Translation
5. Together
6. Y Tu Mama Tambien
7. You Can Count on Me
8. The Kids Are All Right