When filmmaker Rodrigo García began to write his most recent film “Mother and Child” 10 years ago, he knew he had a lot to say but wasn’t sure if he had enough experience to say it.
“It took me a long time to finish because I don’t think I had enough writing chops to do what I was trying to do,” García, 50, told me during an interview. “But the story never left me. I never lost interest in it.”
A decade later, “Mother and Child” is the film García knew he always had in him. The story follows the lives of three women (Annette Bening, Naomi Watts, and Kerry Washington) and their personal encounters with the adoption process.
During our interview, García, who is the son of Colombian writer and Nobel Prize for Literature recipient Gabriel García Márquez (“Love in the Time of Cholera”), talked about the type of research he did for the film and why he enjoys writing female characters more than male characters.
How much about the adoption process did you know before writing the story?
I had read up on it but not the kind of adoption that we live with today. Adoption now has many shapes and it depends a lot on the culture and the laws. What captured my imagination originally wasn’t even adoption. It was this idea of people being forcefully separated and having to live their lives in each other absence. It made me think of the old adoption system: closed adoption. The whole process was cloaked in secrecy. Much of it was based on shame. There was an embarrassment when an unwed girl got pregnant. But as the years went by, the babies were haunted by not being able to know what their biological roots were. They wanted to know where they came from. I thought it was a good setting for a story about separation.
Over the last 10 years you have been working on this story, how much did it evolve?
It didn’t change essentially that much. It took me a long time to finish because I don’t think I had enough writing chops to do what I was trying to do. I hadn’t written that much and the structure of this movie was difficult. Although I knew what I wanted to say and I knew where the major milestones in the story went I just didn’t have enough experience writing to put it together. But the story never left me. I never lost interest in it.
Were you able to talk to any women who placed their children for adoption?
I didn’t talk to too many, but I read a lot of accounts, memoirs, and interviews. A lot of women wrote about their experiences in books and magazines. Again, the situations are varied. The movie does not cover all angles on adoption. I did read about some women placing their babies for adoption who were very young and had no choice. Some of them never recuperated from that decision.
Ultimately then, this is more of a story about loss. Where did you find the inspiration to write about this type of tragedy?
Thankfully, it’s from nothing personal. I think if you’re a parent, you’re always very moved by events where other parents are separated from their children. It might not be something as tragic as this, but it could be something like divorce or exile or serving in the military. When I started looking at adoption what interested me was how we accept the things in our lives that we cannot control and how we make our peace with that.
During your research, did you find the idea of adoption to be different in the Latino culture because of how family-orientated it is?
The research that I did was mostly on Anglo women in the U.S. in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. But growing up in Mexico City, yes, I see that it’s not uncommon – even in the case of unwanted pregnancies – that the family keeps the baby. I think that is a cultural thing. I think in Latino cultures it’s probably just as likely that the family will keep the baby even if the mom is very young.
Most of your films are centered on female characters. Is it just as easy for you to write male characters?
I’m getting better at writing male characters. First of all I’m more attracted to female characters. They’re different for me. It’s more exotic. I find [male characters] a little harder to write because they all feel too close to me. But I think I’m getting better at it and I’m enjoying it more. I think I’ll probably have more and more men in my movies in the future.
So, how are Samuel L. Jackson and Jimmy Smits’ characters in “Mother and Child” different from male characters you’ve written in the past?
Well, I thought the women in the film were already complicated enough. They have wants and are grieving over things that have marked their lives and have shaped their personalities and behavior. I thought it would be interesting to put two good men in their way. Very often in movies with female-central characters the men are the antagonists or the romantic interests/antagonists. The men are obstacles. The men are problematic. But I wanted the women to be their own problem. I thought it would be interesting to put them against two men who are different. They are both men of maturity who are sensitive and sensible who accept the women as they are.
Why do you think Hollywood isn’t producing more strong female characters for film?
I think to some extend the market is driven by the box office. The box office favors movies for younger males who want to see the action movie or the R-rated comedy or the superhero movie. Certainly, there is a market for tweeners and teenage women. Everything from “Hannah Montana” to the “Twilight” series confirms that. I think it when you’re making movies for adults it gets more difficult.
Do you ever feel pressure as a writer because of who your father is?
When I started writing I didn’t want the writing to be bad. But it’s been a while, so people know what my world is and what things I’ve done so I don’t think I’m necessarily measured by that yardstick anymore.