Susan Walter – All I Wish

May 9, 2018 by  
Filed under Interviews

In the romantic comedy “All I Wish,” first-time feature director/writer Susan Walter breaks the usual conventions for a coming-of-age movie to tell the story from the perspective of a middle-aged woman.

The film, which Walter also wrote, stars Oscar-nominated actress Sharon Stone (“Casino”) as Senna Berges, an aspiring fashion designer unlucky in love. When she meets Adam (Tony Goldwyn) on her 46th birthday and things don’t go very well, she assumes they will never see each other again. Fate, however, takes over and the two run into each other the following year – again on her birthday – and the following, and the following. Soon, Senna and Adam realize their serendipitous reunions are more than just coincidence.

During an interview with Walter, we talked about the inspiration she took from her favorite film “When Harry Met Sally…” to make “All I Wish,” working with Stone, who she said saved the film from essentially not being made, and her thoughts on soulmates.

So, where did the idea for a movie like this come from?

One of my all-time favorite movies across any genre is “When Harry Met Sally…” What I love about it is that it’s about a relationship that evolves over many, many years. I knew if I was going to do a romantic comedy, I didn’t want to do one of those movies where the characters meet-cute on Monday and are engaged by Friday. It didn’t feel very deep or realistic or satisfying to me. So, I wanted to construct a film about two characters who first have to find themselves to ultimately find a love relationship with one another.

So, if moviegoers bring up the similarities this movie has with “When Harry Met Sally…,” are you fine with that, or would you rather the film stand on its own?

Anybody can compare me to “When Harry Met Sally…” any day of the week. There is definitely an ode to that [movie], so I have to own that.

Why did you decide to center the narrative on Senna’s birthday each year?

Birthdays are a time for reflection. You sort of take stock of your life and who you are. Sometimes you’re disappointed. Cinematically, you’re bringing the same characters together because you always see the same people on your birthday. It seemed like a good cinematic hook to do it on her birthday, but it was also a way to extend the story over many years, which is what I wanted to do.

Is it still bad manners to ask a woman how old she is?

You know, it is. I don’t know that it should be though. The advice that I always get now that I’ve made my first film and am out there trying to make another one is to not tell people how old I am. I buy into that on one level because we all want to be young and look better and be a part of this youthful movement. But the truth is, you can look at my [film] credits and you’ll know that I’m not 30. So, why is it hard to own that? I do have a hard time owning it and I wish I didn’t. I wish that experience was valued more than youth. But the truth is, in Hollywood, it’s really not.

Talk about casting Sharon Stone in the lead role. What did you see from her that made you want to go that route?

Originally, I offered Sharon the role of the mom because the [main] character was much younger. Sharon read the script and latched onto it. Then, when the younger actress who was going to play Senna fell out, [Sharon] called me and said, “Don’t let this movie fall apart. I’ll be the lead.” At first I was taken aback by that because I hadn’t imagined a coming-of-age movie about a woman that old, to be honest. [Sharon] was in her 50s and you really can’t write a coming-of-age movie about a woman in her 50s. She said, “Susan, if this was a movie starring Bill Murray or Adam Sandler having some sort of Peter Pan syndrome and not wanting to grow up, you would get it immediately. Nobody’s made this movie. Let’s make a movie nobody’s made.” She convinced me. I have to give her full credit for having that vision and being bold.

Beside it not being a “movie nobody’s made,” why else did you want to tell this type of story?

Look, I’m not 20 myself. I’ve been in this business a long time – first as an assistant director and then as a creative director and then as a writer. If I want to believe I can reinvent myself as a filmmaker and director, then maybe it’s pretty cool that I’m making a movie showing a character doing pretty much the same thing. I think that’s a really powerful message. I think Sharon saw it before I did how important it was and how inspiring it could be for people of a certain age.

Are you married yourself?

I am. I have been married for almost 15 years.

What did your husband think about the scene you wrote where Senna and Adam talk about soulmates?

My husband is an engineer and he’s very logical. I actually stole that line from him where Tony’s character goes, “There’s seven billion people in the world. Surely I can make it work with at least five.” I’ve always been like Sharon Stone’s character in that love is like getting struck by lightning and you know you’re in love when you’re in it. So, in some ways, that relationship between Sharon’s character and Tony’s character is modeled loosely on my own.

I’m like your husband, but isn’t it a little unromantic to know that he thinks that way?

(Laughs) Yes, it’s totally unromantic! I almost didn’t marry him because of it! There’s another line in the movie where Tony’s character says to Sharon’s character, “What, is he supposed to know the minute he lays eyes on you?” The answer is yes! But my husband didn’t [know]! He was like, “Yeah, I’ll try her. Does she like the same things I do? Are our compatibility equations favorable? In the end, now that we have kids, having a family is like running a business together, so you’re priorities better be lined or there’s going to be friction. You’re hitting on what the central question of the movie is: do you choose love or does love choose you? Honestly, after 15 years of marriage, I think it’s both.

The Mechanic

January 28, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Jason Statham, Ben Foster, Tony Goldwyn
Directed by: Simon West (“When a Stranger Calls”)
Written by: Richard Wenk (“16 Blocks”) and Lewis John Carlino (“I Never Promised You a Rose Garden”)

There are some big gun barrels to fill if you’re remaking a 40-year-old movie that originally starred Charles Bronson. Things get a bit easier, however, if your name happens to be Jason Statham.

Coming into his own as a viable B-movie action star over the last few years, Statham takes the lead in a new version of “The Mechanic,” a high-energy popcorn flick that feels like it was pulled straight out of the 70s and given a swift kick to the head.

Statham stars as Arthur Bishop, an experienced hit man who begins to train his mentor’s son Steve McKenna (Ben Foster) in the art of assassination after Steve’s father (Donald Sutherland) is caught up in a game of politics within the shadow organization.

“What I do requires a certain mindset,” Arthur tells Steve as the veteran killer teaches the rookie the most effective ways to end someone’s life. While Steve absorbs everything Arthur shows him, he doesn’t always like to take the clean and simple approach to the job.

The different methods in the way Arthur and Steve work make for an extraordinary relationship. Foster, one of the most exciting young actors currently making his rounds through Hollywood, matches up well with Statham’s fever pitch delivery. While both characters are brimming with brutality, it’s Foster’s that is written with more depth and style. You usually know what you’re getting with Statham and he doesn’t disappoint here.

Directed by Simon West (“When a Stranger Calls,” “Con Air”), “The Mechanic” is an unrelenting upgrade with a solid dose ultra violence, sex, and sense of humor. It doesn’t break any new ground, but the action sequences come with a combination of intensity and logic rare to find in movies with high body counts.

Tony Goldwyn – Conviction

October 29, 2010 by  
Filed under Interviews

Director Tony Goldwyn sees a lot of himself in the real-life Betty Anne Waters, the woman portrayed by actress Hilary Swank in his film “Conviction,” who spends 18 years working toward a law degree in hopes of proving her brother Kenny (Sam Rockwell) has been wrongfully imprisoned for murder.

“If you have faith in something and believe in it hard enough it will manifest itself,” Goldwyn told me, relating the sentiment to his own 9-year struggle to find funding for the film. “There is power in passion.”

During our interview, Goldwyn, who is also an actor (best known for getting a chest full of jagged glass in 1990’s “Ghost”), talked about sidestepping sappiness and explained why he decided to exclude a heartbreaking truth of the story.

There are so many emotional aspects to this story. How do you feel you were able to avoid making a film like this become over-sentimental?

You know, the trick really is to keep balance – showing both the darkness and the light of something. There also needs to be some humor about it. You can’t let it get too earnest. Over-sentimentality comes when you lean too hard on the emotional moments and gloss over things. I was always trying to find the contrast with this story. For example, with Sam Rockwell’s character, we have to fall in love with him, but at the same time we have to believe that he’s a murderer. Betty Anne doesn’t always necessarily come off as a do-go crusader. She’s also a woman who, to some degree, is obsessed. There are dark aspects of that. With that contrast we avoid that kind of saccharine-type of treatment this story could have easily had

What did it mean to you to have Betty Anne Waters available during production?

It means everything. We spent hours and hours before we wrote the script hearing her stories and getting to know her. The material we were drawing from was authentic and had so much detail to it. There was no generalizing on anything. It was a real inspiration to everyone involved to have her there as a resource while we were shooting and to talk about the undercurrents and little nuances of what was going on.

Because this is a true story and because Betty was so involved in the process, did that put added pressure on you as a director to do the story justice?

Yes, I felt a lot of emotional responsibility to Betty to a) get it done and b) get it done right and be honest and truthful about it. As I said before, I wasn’t going to shy away from the dark aspects of the story and I was very honest with her about that. I didn’t want it to be a Pollyanna-version of Betty Anne Waters. She wanted that. I knew that being honest would be the most emotionally affecting story to show the relationship she had with her brother.

How much creative liberty did you actually take in the script and how do you justify making decisions that change the real-life narrative?

Well, I compressed time and combined events. Anytime I changed anything it was always in the spirit of the truth and enhancing the deeper truths of what this movie is about. Betty Anne would look at some of the scenes and say, “Well, that’s not exactly how it happened, but that’s exactly how it felt.”

The real-life family of the woman who was murdered in this story (Katharina Brow) has come forward to voice their disappointment that no one consulted them about the making of this film. It’s not mandatory for anyone to actually get permission from the family or even talk to them, but do you think someone should have anyway?

All I can say about the Brow family is that I have tremendous compassion for them. It was a terrible tragedy they suffered. But the film wasn’t about Mrs. Brow or that family, it was about Kenny and Betty Anne and their struggle. We see the aftermath of the heinous crime, but the family wasn’t really involved in the story, so there was really no reason to contact them. But as soon as they raised objection, we set up a screening for them immediately.

The real story of Kenny Waters is a bittersweet one because of what happens to him six months after he is released from prison. What is the reason you end the film with a strong sense of hope instead of including the tragic reality?

I tried really hard to put Kenny’s death in the film, but what I found was it made the movie about something else. The fact is, even in Kenny’s death the love that Kenny and Betty shared and the power of her faith in him was not diminished. But I couldn’t find a way to have that in the story. It was in the script for a number of years and people kept running up against it saying, “Oh my god, I was so moved and affected by the story but then there is this left turn and I couldn’t recover from it.” With some difficultly, I decided to take it out.

You’re credited for being an “actor’s director.” Other than the fact that you are an actor yourself what do you think gives you that distinction?

Being an actor you just have tremendous empathy for other actors. When I directed my first film I asked myself, “What would my dream director be like?” That’s what I tried to be. Part of it is being very collaborative because I know that whatever idea I have can only be made exponentially better by seeking out actors’ thoughts. I always want to make actors feel like they are free to explore and bring in whatever ideas they may have and create an environment where people can feel like they are contributing. As an actor I know what it’s like when a director sits on your head and tries to over-micromanage you. I don’t like to work that way.

A portion of this interview was first published in the San Antonio Current on Oct. 27, 2010.