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In the Family

In the Family
One of the most heralded films of the year, "The Kids Are All Right" has been maintaining its buzz since it premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival. Co-written (with Stuart Blumberg) and directed by Lisa Cholodenko ("High Art," "Laurel Canyon"), it tells the story of long-term same-sex couple Nic and Jules (Annette Bening and Julianne Moore) and their children Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and Laser (Josh Hutcherson). As Joni prepares to leave for college, she tracks down their sperm-donor father, Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who becomes increasingly involved with his instant family. Back Stage spoke with Cholodenko—along with actors Bening, Moore, and Ruffalo— about the making of and subsequent impact of the movie.

Back Stage: How did you become involved in this project and what drew you to your respective roles?

Julianne Moore: I met Lisa at a Women in Film luncheon, and I approached her to tell her what a big fan I was and ask her why I hadn't seen the script for "High Art."

Lisa Cholodenko:
I looked at her like, "What?"

Moore: Anyway, we hit it off and we kept in touch. I very much wanted to work with her, and about a year after that, she sent me one of the earliest, earliest drafts of "Kids." So that was my introduction to it, and then there was a long, long, kind of gestation process. And five years after that, that's when we sort of ended up doing it. But right away, it was a beautiful piece of writing, and I was such a huge fan of her movies, and I really wanted to be in one of her movies.

Mark Ruffalo: I saw Lisa at a restaurant and said hello and said I was a big fan of her and how come I didn't see the script for "High Art." [Laughs.] I said, "I'd really like to work with you." And she said, "Yeah, that'd be good. I'd like to work with you too." And then we left and that never happened. In Hollywood, you have those kind of meetings all the time and nothing ever comes of them, but this time I got a call when she was making this, saying that she was interested in me for this part, that she had me in mind.

Back Stage: Annette, what restaurant did you approach her at?

Annette Bening:
We actually did meet at a restaurant, but we were kind of talking about other stuff—

Cholodenko: We were talking about kids, though. You were telling us about how you were like a super-babysitter.

Bening: When I was a kid. Anyway, I was also an admirer of Lisa's already, and certainly of Julianne's, so I got lucky when they asked me to join them to make the picture. And I loved the movie. I was very moved by it when I read it, and I thought it was beautifully written and crafted and that there was a classic family story that was being told in a different way. I'm just lucky that they asked me to join them.

: We're making it seem like it was easy-breezy. Like, "Hey, I'd love to work with you, man." "Hey, give me a call, and here's the script." I mean, everybody's got a life and a schedule and issues and other things they're committed to, so it was a lot of juggling and a lot of by hook or by crook and phone calls and not knowing, from second to second, if everybody was going to come together in the right way, in the right time, at the right place.

Back Stage: Annette and Julianne, you guys have very natural chemistry in the film. Did that come naturally or was it something that developed during rehearsal?

Moore: It did come very naturally. I mean, we had no time to prepare. We had a couple of days where we sat around and talked about things, but mostly we just did it. And when you're in that kind of situation, you're grateful for any kind of immediacy, and because Annette and I didn't know each other and we kind of jumped right into it, I think it was a nice, a really pleasant and wonderful surprise, and a great partnership really.

We had never worked together, but we had met, so we knew each other, and so that felt very natural to me. I enjoyed that part of it. I've been married almost 20 years, and Julianne's been married a long time too, so we get the whole long-term relationship. We were all, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know all about that." And, you know, it's very easy to be attracted to Julianne Moore—she's very beautiful. My only regret is that I didn't also get to kiss Mark Ruffalo.

Stay tuned for the sequel.

Back Stage: You joke, but in a recent interview, Annette said she would be up for a sequel. Any chance of that happening?

Bening: I loved playing this character, it's true, and I think the reason that I said that is because I've played characters that I've really wanted to play, but then once I was done playing them, I was done. But with Nic, I just felt, "Oh yeah, I'd like to continue playing this character." And I still feel that way.

Back Stage: You mentioned the fast shooting schedule and it was done for a small budget. Was it a difficult shoot, or was it fun?

Ruffalo: I think I was there for six days; that was my whole schedule. You know, you walk on certain sets and it's very tense and everyone's freaked out and people are getting fired, and it's not fun. And then you walk on other sets where there's a lot of trust and a lot of camaraderie and a lot of support, and those are fun. Lisa creates a space for actors, I think, to be free and to feel embraced, so you feel like you can fly without a net, so to speak.

Back Stage: What was the most difficult scene to shoot?

Cholodenko: There was a scene that I did with the kids, Mia and her two friends, and there was something wrong with the writing. And we kept trying to do it, and when you're at this kind of pace with this kind of schedule, you don't really have time to futz around with, "Well, let's try it this way, and let's try that," and "I don't know, maybe I'm not giving you the right direction." You have to decode it really fast. Is it something wrong with the actors, is it something wrong with what I'm saying to them, is it something wrong with I don't know what? And finally, I just had to make one of those very stressed-out executive decisions and say, "Okay, we gotta stop the work, I gotta walk away and edit this scene, I gotta rewrite this scene really fast. Something's not working."

Moore: You know, I don't know if I would pick something out in particular, but I would say that one thing we talked a lot about, that we talked about as actors and with Lisa, is what the tone was. So if you're doing a straight-up drama, you kind of know what you're doing, you just want to make it reality-based and emotional. But this is not that. We were trying to make something that was also comedic, so you have to get the tone exactly right because you have to be careful not to be maudlin. That's the thing that we were trying to strike every single day that made it exciting and challenging, and you're never entirely sure if you've captured it. I think that the excitement for me, in seeing the first screening at Sundance, was that it played as a comedy. It was incredibly moving, but the people were very, very entertained, and really, really laughed, and that was what we were all after, right?

Back Stage: Were you surprised by the warm critical and audience reception to the film?

Moore: We were delighted. You know, somebody asked at a Q&A, "Were you aware of what you were making and all of the ramifications, and blah blah blah.…" You don't even know if you're going to get distribution these days. Honestly, that was our biggest concern: It's like you make a movie for four million dollars, you go out there, there are very few places that are still offering distribution, and so, is it going happen? The fact that we got the distribution, and we got the response and the movie is still alive in this way, I think is tremendously exciting and very, very gratifying. There are lots of avenues out there for entertainment; there are a tremendous amount of options. So, when you feel like you have penetrated somehow, yeah, you feel great. And that's a huge debt that we owe to Lisa. This is her film, this is her achievement and her baby, and she fostered the whole thing. So, it's very, very exciting.   

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