Love was in the air this past Sunday (February 9, 2014) as press gathered at a chic hotel in SoHo, New York to chat with the stars and director of the new Warner Brothers fantasy romance film, Winter’s Tale. In attendance were stars Colin Farrell, Jessica Brown Findlay, Jennifer Connelly, Eva Marie Saint, and the film’s writer/director Akiva Goldsman. The conference was a lovely experience, and everyone on the panel seemed excited about the film and their contribution to it. With the highly romantic and magical subject matter of the film, and with Valentine’s Day right around the corner, the passion in the air from the cast was only appropriate. Although the conference was held in a cozy and inviting room, it was nearly impossible to take photos among the hustle and bustle.
“Set in a mythic New York City and spanning more than a century, “Winter’s Tale” is about miracles, crossed destinies, and the age-old battle between good and evil. The film marks the directorial debut of Academy Award®-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (“A Beautiful Mind”), and stars Colin Farrell (“Saving Mr. Banks”), Jessica Brown Findlay (TV’s “Downton Abbey”), and Academy Award® winner Russell Crowe (“Gladiator”).”
What was immediately striking about this panel was the adorable relationship, based on mutual admiration and respect, that has evolved between Colin Farrell and Eva Marie Saint. Although Mr. Farrell proved to be an eloquent and thoughtful panelist, Eva Marie Saint was clearly the “star” of the room as she had everyone laughing on many occasions. I like what Mr. Farrell and Eva Marie Saint had to say about the nature of love, and I also found Mr. Farrell’s thoughts on working with animals and children quite lovely. Jessica Brown Findlay was clearly thrilled to be a part of this whole experience, and as she mentions she felt like she had “won a contest” just to be a part of this, her first major studio film.
It was interesting to discover that both Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly were also shooting Darren Aronofosky’s upcoming epic Noah at the same time as this film in New York City, right as Hurricane Sandy was ravaging the city. I was also particularly impressed with writer/director Akiva Goldsman’s reasonings for his choices on the film, regardless of how I ended up feeling about them. I was particularly fond of his comments on the nature of cynicism, and it is one that I find myself very much in line with. The intentions were clearly pure and good in the making of Winter’s Tale.
What follows is a transcript of that morning’s panel, to the best of my ability. Keep in mind that there are a few minor spoilers mentioned throughout this chat, so if you are wary please see the film before reading…
Q: The story has a lot of elements… fantasy, science fiction, good vs. evil. What about it did you enjoy the most and the least?”
Eva Marie Saint: I enjoyed Colin Farrell! (Laughter.)
Colin Farrell: I was partial to Eva Marie Saint as well.
Akiva Goldsman: I enjoyed Colin Farrell and Eva Marie Saint.
Jessica Brown Findlay: I just felt like I’d won a competition… it was incredible.
Akiva: Winter’s Tale starts off… it always has… [with the] very elusive genre of magical realism, which is very much not something we do typically as Americans in film. It’s the combination of serious dramatic scenes and a flying white horse, and that is either delightful to you or aversive. To me it has always been remarkable. It divided people from the first moment the book was published to this project. For me what it finally became, I think, the movie is kind of a secret message, a decoder ring, a wink and a nod to people who have had loss. The need to believe in magic when you have. And that’s what drew me to it.
Q: Do you think love is sometimes overrated and that’s why we need Valentine’s Day to remind us?
Colin: No. Overrated? No. Possibly underrated, the importance of it and how it’s prevalence in a single person’s life or in a shared community can make peace and harmony within a society or existence. Sings: all you need is love. It has to be the one thing that defines us as human beings: our ability to care for each other, through acts of compassion. Valentine’s Day, I don’t even know what that’s really about. It’s an excuse for… it’s whatever you make it. People put up a Christmas tree and other people don’t. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with flowers and chocolate covered maraschino cherries. I think it would be nice if it didn’t take such a commercially promoted holiday for people to extend themselves in gestures of love. I think love is really what makes it all spin.
Jennifer Connelly: I agree. There’s nothing that I’ve experience that’s more powerful and magical than love. I think in this film love is capable of bending time and materially shaping the physical universe and that’s really special.
Eva Marie: I think love… I’ve been married almost 63 years… (Colin: what do you know about love? NEXT!”) Boy if I don’t know it by now, I never will… and that’s kept me really going in my life. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through this life without someone to really love me and I love him. It’s forgiving. Very forgiving to one another and your friends and it’s a powerful emotion and it’s my favorite emotion in life. Write that down and read it and remember it.
Q: Colin: you jumped back and forth between centuries [in this film]. Was that confusing?
Colin: Tiring! It was all very carefully demarked in the script and in the shooting of the film. The contemporary Peter Lake has a meaningless existence, he wakes up each day with no memory and lives it all again. Kind of like “Groundhog Day.” It’s a life he has no reference point for, has no idea what his origin is; as beings we judge ourselves in our present on our own origin stories… where we were born, our cultural references, our family, etc. – so it was interesting, it was fun. It was a very much more comfortable and grounded Peter in the beginning of the story. He had an internal rub based on his orphan status. He had a disassociation from family until he meets the Beverly and the Penns. But he was comfortable in his uncomfortableness. In the present scenes he was consumed by loss but doesn’t know where it comes from. Profound discomfort.
Q: Akiva: What was the process like to decide what to omit from the novel and what films do you think would make a great double feature with Winter’s Tale?
Akiva: Adaptation is always the same process for me, which is some version of throwing the book at the wall and seeing what pages fall out. It is trying to imagine, remember the story, read it, put it down, and then write an outline without the book in front of you, with some hope that what you liked about it will be filtered and distilled out through your memory and that will be similar to what other people like about it. But you can never tell. So it’s using my own imagination and memory as a template. This one was easier than it appears to be since there are 300 or so pages in the middle of the story that never made it past the first draft. As for a double feature? Downton Abbey marathon. Any residuals are good!
Eva Marie: I believe the love scene between this talented lady, Jessica, and Colin, is one of the most beautifully done and tastefully done… it left something to the imagination and I find in love scenes today they try to show everything, and that’s not the real thing anyway and this one was so beautifully done it brings tears to my eyes. I’ll never forget your profile (to Jessica) with Colin and the kiss and I want to be you! (Jessica quips: that would be a whole different movie.)
Q: Jessica: How was it filming the love scene with Colin?
Jessica: It was a beautiful moment and I think they’re kind of aware of finding the comedy within something and the naïveté and the joy of it and you know a really special moment that is I suppose for the both of them new in the sense that it’s just true love in the highest sense, and for Beverly especially it is something she thought would never, ever happen, to find real true love from a stranger and it’s become something special.
Akiva: Love scenes are the most horrible things you can ever ask an actor to do. They are
the hardest thing in the world. If you enjoy them, that’s wonderful. Nobody making them sits there and goes let’s do that again tomorrow.
Colin: I don’t know that I agree. I really don’t. Maybe that’s awfully sleazy and cheap of me, and it’s not that I get personal kicks and gratification from them, but I do think that the human touch in whatever form it comes in as long as that form is one that is mutually compassionate and respectful is a really gorgeous thing and what it is is an atmosphere of absolute artifice and it’s never going to be sexy but if the two people involved in it care for each other and are on the same page… there are worse days at the office, I find.
Akiva: The cosmology of Mark’s [Helprin, author of Winter’s Tale] book is very complex. I tried to distill it down to some extent. Part of what is really clear in Mark’s book is the notion of light and its grammar as part of magic, as something transformative, that light is operating all the time as something that we can’t see. What we tried to do with the movie is talk about it but also show it. It’s not particularly subtle but quite pretty by using light flares. We made believe that the camera could see magic even when the characters couldn’t. That gave us an organized principle to use light when magic was happening in the film. Digital anamorphic flares. Magic flaring up in the camera.
Colin: The horse that I worked with was beautiful, because horses are people too, and the way that they work with us and the world is so unique. He was a wonderful, wonderful beast. This was the first time I flew on a horse, which wasn’t as scary as it seemed because I was actually in a green screen studio sitting on a barrel, which was actually one of the more mortifying things I’ve experienced and I’d choose doing a love scene any day over this. He [the horse] was gorgeous, I love working with animals. People say you should never work with animals or children. That’s wrong. You must always work witch children because you only work eight hours a day, and you know I love working with animals. Animals have an honesty that human beings reach to find in their lives at the best of times.
Akiva: The casting of this movie is more than anything else in my career a function of unbridled affection. We didn’t have the money to make the movie. Warner Brothers looked at it, budgeted it, and said it’s $80 million on a good day… here’s half of that. And I said thank you and that’s what you do when somebody gives you what you need to make what you love the most. Everyone at this table did it for love or kindness or friendship or belief in some idea of the way the world works and magic inside the world. So the casting process was entirely that, from people that I’ve known well for a long time to people who I’ve known and wanted to work with, to heroes, to unbelievable brand new pieces of talent. Will’s a friend, and he did the devil. I said what do you think, and he said sure. I knew that Russell and Jenny [Connelly] were in fact making a movie and in fact went horrifically from the Noah set to our set, and we were shooting here and Noah was shooting here and Sandy was raging and it was a very complicated time for the city and to have two different actors in two different movies. Friendship and alcohol prevailed.
Q: Winter’s Tale is unabashedly a fairy tale and not one for children. Do you think we get too old for fairy tales? And if not what is the allure?
Akiva: This is a fairy tale for grown ups. Very pointedly. That’s what we set out to do. And it’s an interesting object, because the first 2/3rds is a fairy tale for kids. There has always been in my life in the development of this project… well, can’t it just be over then? The idea is that even though it doesn’t turn out the way the story book promised, there’s a story behind it all that we could find.
Eva Marie: Everybody that was read to please raise your hand. (Everyone raises their hand.) See what I mean? The fairy tale will be there forever. Stars are important. The clouds are beautiful. I was just flying here from Los Angeles and I looked at the clouds. I thought of you, Akiva. I just love thinking about that. I really love the movie and I want to thank Akiva for it.
Q: The film makes the point that every person has a miracle. Has anyone ever experienced a miracle?
Eva Marie: If you meet the right person in life and you fall in love that is a miracle. My husband saw me on the subway… that was a miracle! There’s so many things. Your children! Miracles. Grandchildren! Miracles.
Jennifer: I’ve never seen a flying horse in my real life, but I have seen things akin to what Eva Marie is saying that are miraculous whether or not they would be qualified as bonafide miracles. I know it sounds cliche, but yes I have 3 children, and they’re each miracles to me.
Q: Colin: You have spoke in the past about your love for screen legends. What was it like working with Eva Marie Saint? Eva Marie, what enticed you to this project?
Colin: Working with Eva Marie Saint was a dream. I had one of the most incredible periods in the last 15 years on a film set with her. I’ve been aware of her work since I was a teen. I love working with actors who are just slightly older than me but have a greater depth of history with regards to life on film. Working with Eva Marie Saint, as working with Christopher Plummer, I think were two of my favorite experiences. She’s a wonderful actress but more importantly, always the cart before the horse, as a person… I adore the bones of her. And I was spoiled to just be able to spend time with her.
Eva Marie: Colin and I became lovers. (Much laughter!) I love playing the older woman because I’m old and I’m still working and she’s older than I am in the movie but it was such an interesting idea to me to show an older woman still working, still dressing nicely. I just love the scene where she sees Colin/Peter.
Q: What was the approach to the film’s magical realism in terms of the cynicism that occurs in our real world, and how did the actors approach their characters given the magical realism?
Akiva: I love the novel which is not cynical. I love entertainment that is not cynical. I choose not to be cynical. I’ll go toe to toe with anyone in the room over reasons to be cynical. So it’s a choice. For me a worthwhile one and a worthwhile communication because the other is too easy. There are too many reasons to give up or to not care. I don’t’ say it’s right or wrong, but it’s my choice. To then convey cynical ideas would then be not true for me. It doesn’t mean I don’t watch them or like them or that I can’t be as old and tired and begrudging of the universe as anybody at the end of a long day but I try to practice the belief that there is reasonableness and meaning. Some days it’s a lot harder than others. But I like that message to be in what I do and it kind of always has been. It’s not that life has given me less reasons to be cynical – it gives me more – but I choose to push back.
Colin: One of the cruxes – bedrocks – of this film is that it defies linear time and the eternal existence of something that is felt but can’t be defined by thought and poets are still trying to do it. Love will never be defined in a quotidian or empirical way. Any of the more magical or fantastical elements – that were almost easier to write off than awe inspiring events – the whole depth of the love is the most magical and fantastical element of the whole film and yet beautifully and greatfully much more possible than a flying horse. The whole script/story seemed like this exercise in the defiance of disbelief.
Jennifer: The possibility that magic might exist.
Eva Marie: I think actors, even if it’s kind of a fairy tale, you must be real. You find the things for the character and you’re just always as real as you can be.
Winter’s Tale opens in cinemas on Valentine’s Day, 2014.