Director Pablo Larrain Talks Jackie‘ and Working With Theatre Actors.
Pablo Larrain’s Jackie premiered on September 7, 2016, at the Venice International Film Festival. Jackie quickly developed a lot of award buzz at Venice and just four days later played at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival. After the first public screening at Toronto, Fox Searchlight stepped in and purchased the film. I heard about all the hype and made it a priority to see the film as I love a good bio-pic with stunning performances. I tried to attend the very next screening only to be shut out by a crazy long line that wrapped around the Scotiabank theater. Needless to say, I didn’t get into that screening but did get into the screening two days later. Natalie Portman owns the screen as first lady Jacqueline Kennedy and is my pick for Best Actress this award season. You can read my entire review for the film here: TIFF 2016 Review: ‘Jackie’
I was hoping to have a chance to talk to various members of the cast about this film, but given Portman’s limited schedule, I never got a chance to actually speak with her. Instead, I did get to have a pretty lengthy conversation with the film’s director Pablo Larraín, who was very excited to talk with me about his film and his festival experience.
Scott Menzel: Hi Pablo, my name’s Scott Menzel, I’m from We Live Entertainment. I just wanted to say congratulations on this film, first and foremost.
Pablo Larrain: Thank you so much, Scott man, I appreciate it.
Scott Menzel: So, I have to tell you I saw the film at the Toronto International Film Festival. I didn’t get into the premiere. I didn’t get into the first press screening because the line was wrapped around the building.
Pablo Larrain: Yeah, I remember, sorry.
Scott Menzel: But I did get to see it at one of the additional screenings, so I have to ask you as a director, what does it feel like to get this kind of response from a film?
Pablo Larrain: Well, it’s very beautiful man, because when you make a movie you work in the dark somehow. You don’t know what’s going to happen, nobody does, and even though I had the most amazing team, we were expecting something that was never what actually happened.
It was way beyond, the response was incredible, so it’s very moving and very beautiful because you work so long and it’s a very quiet, sort of silent process until it comes out to the world and you actually have no idea what’s going to happen, so when it goes like this it’s amazing, you know, what can I tell you.
Scott Menzel: So how does it feel as a director to sit there in the room during that premiere and then you have to do that extended Q&A at Toronto. What does that feel like to you and is there any part that you have to pinch yourself that this is an actual reality now?
Pablo Larrain: Well, one of the things that is fascinating is that you get to talk about your work and that’s always interesting.
At the same time, you face a huge void. You’re on stage but there’s a ton of people there and you’re trying to talk about something, it’s hard because that’s what you make a movie for. You make a movie because that’s how you express yourself. That’s the media that you work with, and all of sudden you’re talking which is amazing and I’m grateful, but it’s not exactly what you’re prepared to do.
But it’s interesting, and it’s beautiful to share people’s reactions, and I work very hard to make movies that would have different lectures and interpretations. So itis good to see those different ways to approach the film.
Scott Menzel: Yeah, I’m so intrigued by this film for so many reasons. I think one of the main reasons is that you were able to capture something with Natalie Portman, that I think will now define her career. I feel like it’s a career defining performance for her.
Was Portman always your first choice? What was it like working with her? How much research did you do on the history of Jackie Kennedy? Tell me a little bit about that.
Pablo Larrain: She was my first idea, and when I was invited by Darren, I asked him for her, and he was like alright, I’ll set up a meeting and then it’s your problem. I met with her, and I said to her, I will only make this movie if you make it with me. She finally accepted which is so wonderful.
And yes, we did a lot of research, but I discovered that the key was in Jackie’s mystery. I think there’s a lot that we know about her, but if you really dig into it, you will realize that we know very little about her. And she is a very mysterious woman. And that’s what I think was the key to Natalie’s performance. Just to keep that mystery. And to bring the fragility, that existence of terror that sort cosmic door in her eyes all the way to the end.
I think that what happens with the film is just relating to someone who’s a woman, and finally just a story of a mother. And that was the story, and it’s so beautiful.
Scott Menzel: I completely agree. Regarding the actual writing of this film, another surprise for me was to go back after you watch a movie and look up writers and all the previous films that writers have done. And Noah, who has written several big budget blockbusters such as Maze Runner and Allegiant, writes this beautiful art house movie that’s character driven. No special effects. Very little special effects except for a few of the historical aspects but you know it’s just totally different film for him.
What was it about the screenplay that made you say, oh I have to do this movie?
Pablo Larrain: Well, I think it’s just the portrait of such a little time. Just trying to capture someone’s essence and life in such a short amount of time. And how he was able to build this labyrinth of emotions and historical facts and the combination of all that’s going on.
We had a great collaboration. I came in with a few ideas that he generously adapted into the screenplay and then we went on make it.
Noah considers himself a political junkie. He has been involved in politics for many years and is someone who always was very attracted to the Kennedys and felt that there was a necessity to make a movie about Jackie. So he wrote the script I think about six years ago. The script was out there until it got made.
Scott Menzel: Yeah. I think that’s fascinating as a writer. You write or read a story and sometimes it just sticks with you. I talked to Eric Heisserer, a few weeks ago, who wrote the screenplay for Arrival and he said the same thing. He had this screenplay for a very long time, and he tried to get it made, and no one wanted to make it and then finally he got it made.
For you, the director, did you ever picture that this movie was going to go on to become a potential Oscar contender this year? That it was going to receive this much praise from audiences?
Pablo Larrain: I don’t think that, and I don’t think anyone who worked on the film thought that. You just put a lot of passion and love in it, and you work very hard, and you don’t know where it’s going to go, and then the movie gets this attention and this sort of award buzz or whatever you call it, and it’s great man.
I never expected it at all. And it’s the kind of thing that if you planned them, they don’t work. If you go out and you make a movie, and you say this is what I want, and this is where I want to go, and I want to get this attention and this award and here and there. I’m not sure it will happen. I think you have to work quietly and not think about it. Just make the best movie that you want to make and try to make something that is universal and deals with humanity. That’s the key I think.
Scott Menzel: That’s an excellent point. There are many movies that I think people go out and they see, and they say, “Oh this is a film that was made to win awards.” And I think a lot of times those are the ones that are criticized the most because they say it was trying so hard to be award worthy, and according to you, it just seems like something that came naturally to you and everyone who had a part in the film.
Another thing about this movie is that everyone is talking about Portman like I said earlier, and while I do think this is her finest role to date, I think there’s a lot to be said about the secondary characters. You know Peter Sarsgaard and Billy Crudup and even Greta Gerwig. You’ve taken these actors and made them do something different that they have never done before.
Were these actors always the ideal choices? What was it like working with the supporting cast? Just give us a little insight to that.
Pablo Larrain: I’m a huge fan of all of them. When I suggest for example Greta for Nancy’s role, it was so different from what she usually does, that some people at the beginning were like, are you sure about this and I was like, yes. And she’s so amazing, and I admire her so much. She’s such an incredible actress and woman.
And same with Billy and Peter. In the case of Billy and Peter, they both come from theater, and that’s something I respect and admire a lot, and that’s also my background. And you can tell that when you’re shooting, those guys really manage their performances and they go deep in what they do, and they take it very seriously. And they’re fine, wonderful intimate actors and they can be very fragile and very strong, and that’s the sophistication I think.
And John Hurt, man, what can I tell you, it’s like one of the first days on the set and he was sitting there, and I couldn’t believe it, man. I actually couldn’t believe that I was making a movie with John Hurt. It’s the moments where you would really have to control yourself and remember you can’t be a fan and that you have to actually make a movie with him.
Yeah, it was an incredible experience. These actors, they go into making a movie knowing that their focus is on somebody else. And the point of view is on Jackie, who is Natalie, so it needs, not just professionalism and talent, but it also needs generosity to do that.
I’m just so grateful for them. This movie would never be what it is without them. Every time we were working together, they were really putting in a lot of effort, especially in the case of Peter Sarsgaard who was playing Bobby Kennedy and at the beginning was like, “Oh Pablo, why are you calling me to do this? It’s hard for me because I really admire Bobby Kennedy. Not just that I like him, that I admire him deeply.”
So for him, it was really hard to do. And I was like okay, just don’t pretend or behave or do anything that makes you think that you will be at any point, Bobby Kennedy. He’s just a person in this circumstance.
And he was like, “alright, let’s do it,” and he just showed up and played it incredibly. So fragile and amazing.
Scott Menzel: You brought up an interesting point. Thinking back on the film now, the movie does almost play like an actual stage play in a lot of ways.
There are certain scenes, of course, where, you can feel that it’s a cinematic tone, but there are many quiet, very intimate scenes where it feels very much like you’re watching someone alone on a stage.
You talked about having a background in theater and also working with theater actors. What do you find to be the biggest difference, between working with actors who have a stage background versus a film background?
Pablo Larrain: Well, I think people who have a stage background are usually more aware of what’s going on around them; In terms of the other actors, in terms of the situation, in terms of the story telling. And that’s always something that I enjoy and respect a lot. And it’s people that usually have a very beautiful control of their voice, for example. And they move and behave in a very particular way. They have more tools I think. All of them have a theater background. Like, John Hurt, Natalie …
Scott Menzel: Yeah, I do remember, almost everyone has done at least one play …
Pablo Larrain: Or more and has done plays for a long time. And when that happens you can tell, man. I’ll smell it on a set when people have that background, and it’s different. They help each other, they’re connected with more people. I guess with people who only make movies, they are more focused on themselves. They’re not as collective as everyone else, and I think that’s an important difference.
Scott Menzel: I think that makes a lot of sense. What do you think you’re going to do next after this? I mean, I’m sure you’re probably already getting tons of phone calls from all different people.
Pablo Larrain: Nothing confirmed yet. I don’t know what it’s going to be. I am here talking to you, so I don’t have time to really dig into it, but I’m reading a lot of stuff and connecting with things, and I’ll see how it goes.
Scott Menzel: What do you think your process is going to be like for the next couple of months knowing where this film stands as it is? How do you prepare yourself mentally to go onto Golden Globes, Oscars, all this stuff?
Pablo Larrain: I don’t know man, it’s a great opportunity to talk about your work. Share what you did, what you do, what you think about the cinema. And also what happens, I don’t know, nobody talks about it, but it’s so important. It’s like all these awards create more attention over the film, and when that happens then, more people get to see it. And that’s amazing because I don’t make movies to keep them in the closet. I want them out, and I want people to see them as much as possible and awards create attention and that’s fantastic.
And like the guys from Searchlight are doing an incredible job, same with the Orchard, with Fabula, so I think we’re in good hands and good shape and I hope that people get to see the films. That’s what I care. And if they also are awards then even better, man. It’s nice.
Scott Menzel: You’ve been making films for about ten years now. You’ve done one short film. You’ve done one episode of a television show.
I love seeing directors, and I love talking to directors who work their way up. You’ve never taken on a big studio project, you’ve never taken on something that you didn’t feel passionate about that you haven’t personally connected with. I think that has a lot to say for you as an individual and I admire that.
Pablo Larrain: Thank you, man. What I try to do is just pick movies or work that would transform you somehow, and if the movie doesn’t do that to you then you’re just staying and standing up in the same square meter, and that’s not very interesting, I think.
Scott Menzel: I completely agree, and I really appreciate you taking the time out. I know you’ve been busy, I know we had to reschedule this. I wish you continued success. I know it’s not as important to you about awards season, but I wish you nothing but the best. Natalie and everyone involved with this. It is definitely one of the best films of the year.
Pablo Larrain: Thank you so much. You’re a very generous man, nice talking to you.
Scott Menzel: All right, you have a great one.
Pablo Larrain: You too.