Kelly Macdonald & Marc Turtletaub – Puzzle

August 24, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

Late last month, I spoke to Scottish actress Kelly Macdonald (“Trainspotting,” TV’s “Boardwalk Empire”) and director and Oscar-nominated producer Marc Turtletaub (“Little Miss Sunshine”) about their new independent drama “Puzzle.” The film tells the story of an unfulfilled Connecticut wife (Macdonald) who seeks out happiness away from her mundane life. She finds it through the art of putting together jigsaw puzzles with Robert (Irrfan Khan), a puzzle aficionado from New York City.

What resonated with you about this story and what did you hope to reveal about Agnes on screen?

Kelly Macdonald: I was very interested in [Agnes] when I started reading [the script]. I found it quite emotional. It was pretty much all there in the writing. What I hadn’t realized was how much of a joy it would be to play Agnes on this journey on her own. Even if she’s in a room full of people, she’s alone. It’s heartbreaking.

Marc Turtletaub: I was drawn to the writing and to the subject matter. It’s about a woman over the age of 40, which we don’t see very often. As I watched this character, a woman who dotes on her husband and her two teenage sons in suburban Connecticut, it reminded me very much of my own experience growing up and my own mother, a woman who doted on my father. As I read the script, I thought, “I know that woman. I know this story.”

Do you consider what she is going through a sort of mid-life crisis or would you define it as something else?

KM: I think it’s a coming-of-age story rather than a mid-life crisis. Her mid-life crisis will come much later in life. (Laughs) I think she’s looking to grow up. She hasn’t been given the space to do that.

MT: I see it as her finding who she is more authentically and finding a passion for this most unlikely of things. I never thought jigsaw puzzles would interest me as a moviemaker, but once I read it, I realized it really wasn’t about jigsaw puzzles. It’s about a woman and the relationships she has with other people. Once I realized what that was about, that’s what became really interesting to me.

Did it have to be puzzles? I mean, wouldn’t it be the same film if she took up basket weaving instead?

MT: She could’ve been doing anything. If she followed her passion and it was needlepoint or field hockey, then through that, she would begin to find who she is. And then she’d begin to find her voice, just later in life.

KM: Absolutely. It could be anything. I think that’s the good thing about the film. Puzzles are the thing that opened her life up in a way that she didn’t know before. It’s not about winning a puzzle competition. It’s about people being given room to change. She’s been sort of stuck in time.

Kelly, how important is it to build chemistry with your leading man prior to shooting the film and what was your experience like working with Irrfan?

KM: I think it’s pretty important. You can never tell if something is going to work on the screen or not. He’s an amazing actor and he arrived with such energy and enthusiasm. He’s a very physical actor. His body language is great when he’s in character.

MT: I think their chemistry was there immediately. That’s what happens when you cast great actors. I chose not to rehearse with any of the actors because I wanted what came on the screen to feel fresh. What you see is the first time it’s actually being conveyed. It makes it feel real because in the movie they’re really meeting for the first time.

Marc, was it a conscious decision when casting to choose actors who would create a biracial relationship? If so, how do you think that dynamic enhances the story?

MT: I think it enhances it. It wasn’t conscious. I just wanted great actors and I got them. I think it adds in a sense that Agnes is entering this whole new world in New York City. The environment has to be different. The fact that Robert is Indian and speaks with an accent only makes the world that much more exotic and different from her upbringing. So, without consciously thinking that, I think intuitively I knew that. Having the opportunity to work with someone as special as Irrfan added tremendously to the project.

Kelly, I heard there was a team of people on set whose job it was to build all the puzzles. Did you feel bad when the script called for you to break one to pieces?

KM: (Laughs) I felt bad for the prop department, I have to say. They had some late nights preparing these puzzles. It was a lot of work for someone.

MT: As you’re prepping the movie, you’re thinking about the puzzles. In one scene, you might have to have five or six or seven versions of that same puzzle. The prop people are the unsung heroes of the movie.

Kelly, I saw that you’re reprising your role as Merida from “Brave” in the “Wreck-It Ralph” sequel later this year. Does this have anything to do with the fact that “Brave” beat “Wreck-It Ralph” for the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature in 2013?

KM: (Laughs) I don’t think John C. Reilly is trying to get me back or anything. (Laughs) I’m so happy they called me. I never thought that would happen. [In the sequel], she’s more Merida than she’s ever been.

Marc, your next film as a producer is “You Are My Friend,” the Mr. Rogers’ biopic starring Tom Hanks as Fred Rogers. Besides being one of the greatest living actors today, what led you to him to play this iconic role?

MT: Tom is an iconic actor – maybe the iconic actor of our generation. To have the opportunity to work with him in a role, which is also iconic, is such a special thing. The pairing of the two felt almost inevitable. We’re really happy that Tom wanted to make the movie.

Brave

June 22, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Kelly MacDonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson
Directed by: Mark Andrews (debut), Brenda Chapman (“The Prince of  Egypt”), Steve Purcell (debut)
Written by: Mark Andrews (“John Carter”), Brenda Chapman (“Cars”), Steve Purcell (debut), and Irene Mecchi (“The Lion King”)

As refreshing and empowering as it is to see an animated film where the main female princess protagonist isn’t waiting around for Prince Charming to whisk her off her feet and ride into the sunset, “Brave,” Pixar’s newest addition to their immensely impressive catalog (with the exception of the “Cars” franchise), isn’t what you’d expect from a studio whose focus has always been great storytelling. In fact, “Brave” borrows so much from past Disney contributions, it’s really difficult to refer to it as an original screenplay.

Nevertheless, when it comes to the technical animated aspects of “Brave,” you still can’t get any better than Pixar animators. The detailed scenery in Scotland where the story takes place is breathtaking as is the creation of the lovely, red-headed Merida (Kelly MacDonald), a young, rebellious princess who refuses to marry a suitor (Princess Jasmine, anyone?) based on tradition and her mother’s wishes. Merida sees herself as a strong-minded warrior who can stand up for herself.

Instead, Merida, whose hair color was obviously chosen because of her fiery spirit, runs off only to complicate things when she meets a witch who casts a spell on her family. It’s at this point of the story where “Brave” veers off ineffectively. The twist is so silly and has no real bearing on the overall mother/daughter relationship narrative at the forefront. Merida is a vibrant character and MacDonald’s voice work brings her to life and offers little girls an opportunity to see themselves in the role of the hero. The last time Pixar got close to this was the mother and daughter characters in 2004’s superhero feature “The Incredibles.” Disney did the last really successful job with the female hero in 2010’s “Tangled.”

While “Brave” has its scene-stealers (Merida’s trio of trouble-making little brothers will cause the most laughter), the script is lacking in imagination and conflict. Give Pixar credit for trying something they hadn’t before in their 17-year history, but “Brave” feels more like a miniscule speck floating around in a grand Pixar universe.

Choke

September 10, 2008 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Kelly MacDonald, Anjelica Huston
Directed by: Clark Gregg (debut)
Written by: Clark Gregg (“What Lies Beneath”)

Think of the more racy scenes and dialogue in David Fincher’s “Fight Club,” (i.e. Helena Bonham Carter pronouncing that she hasn’t “been fucked like that since grade school”) and you’ll get an idea of where “Choke” is coming from.

Adapted from the warped psyche of Chuck Palahnuik, the same author who introduced us to Tyler Duran and “Jack’s smirking revenge,” “Choke” tells the story of medical school dropout and sex addict Victor Mancini (Sam Rockwell), a historic interpreter at a Colonial theme park, who has far more problems in his life than imagining every female topless that he sees (including nuns).

His mother Ida (Anjelica Huston), is not winning her battle with Alzheimer’s and doesn’t know who Victor is when he sporadically visits her at the expensive mental hospital he has arranged for her to stay. Now, don’t be fooled into thinking that by tossing on a coat and cravat and pretending to be from the 18th century he can afford mommy’s private health care. Instead, Victor, who spends most of his free time with fellow sex addict Denny (Brad William Henke), performs an elaborate scheme to earn extra money to pay for his mother’s fancy living arrangements.

His scam: While dining in upscale restaurants, he makes himself choke by lodging a piece of food toward the back of his throat. He then proceeds to stumble around looking for a well-to-do sucker who will save him. By doing this, Victor creates a lifelong bond with his “savior” and later dupes the do-gooder out of cash by creating a sob story about his depressing life.

Yes, Victor is an asshole and he knows it. He also doesn’t apologize for it, even when he seems to want to change for the better. When he meets Paige Marshall (Kelly MacDonald), a lovely young nurse working at his mother’s rest home, there is a sign that Victor could kill us with kindness. You shouldn’t hold your breath, however.

While “Choke” plays out like a perverse fantasy from almost every angle, the comedic exchanges and dialogue are so well-crafted that a human element actually rears its head from its darkest corners. It starts with Rockwell’s performance as the potential son of Christ (his mother’s diary explains the whole insane story), a twist in the script that pushes “Choke” from distasteful to blasphemous. Rockwell, however vulgar he can get, manages to make us sympathize with his whorish character, which isn’t an easy task.

If you are easily offended, a compassionate reaction probably won’t happen and “Choke” definitely isn’t something you’d enjoy. But if you can find sweetness in even the sourest of fruits, you should let Palahnuik corrupt your mind for at least a couple of dysfunctional hours.