Free-ads - Forum News and columns Features & Interviews Film links Calendar dates for festivals Contact details Statistical Info Funding Info
site web
About Netribution Contact Netribution Search Netribution


interviews / reviews / how to / short shout / carnal cinema / film theory / whining & dining

netribution > features > interview with joan allen > page two
    << continued    

What did she tell you about being a woman in that environment?
A couple of things. First of all she said she felt treated very fairly. I asked her if it was like a boys' club and she said no, because she really felt the Constitution levelled the playing field for everybody. She was also the youngest female Senator, she's only like 37, and she said she felt treated very fairly. She also said that when she was campaigning, in Arkansas, she had to deal with things that men don't even have to think about. Lots of times you're standing on a platform and she always had to stand because they would be able to see up her skirt. So the men would always be seated on stools and she would always have to stand. She said, 'Also if you're a woman, you can bet if you have a run in your stocking, nobody will hear a word that you say'. So there's a different standard, I think, that women are held to. Just wearing dresses as opposed to wearing pants, the discomfort of that, those were things that she talked about.

If it is not a boys' club as the film suggests it is, should we therefore view it as a microcosm of America, and the way that women are perceived generally in society? Jeff Bridges does say in the film that women are not given an equal crack at the American Dream; is there any truth in that?
I think the movie's more about principle than politics. It could have been set in a variety of different arenas, and Rod Lurie happens to be a political junkie and absolutely love politics. That's the world that fascinates him and that's the world he chose to set the film in. But it could have been corporate America or it could have been any number of places.

As the film went on, it did remind me a little of In the Company of Men, in as much as here was a woman who was being used almost as a pawn in a game between two men.
Yeah, I like the complexity of it because there's that element that's going on; she has her own agenda about what she's sticking to. They're trying to one-up each other. Jeff believes in her but is also trying to make a legacy for himself. There's all these different agendas going on and I think that's one of the really strong points about the film, that it's not completely black and white.

Going back to this idea of the film being a microcosm, has there ever been a point in your life where you feel your progress has been blocked because of your gender?
Um...[Thinks], no I haven't. It hasn't been an issue because it's so hard to be an actor period. You can certainly argue that there are more men's parts out there, more interesting men's parts, and they let men age more gracefully, etc. But, you know, at any given time there's like a 95% unemployment rate in the acting community, so it's hard for everybody. I sometimes think as a result of this that the gender thing has not really been an issue. I know a lot of wonderful male actors who have a very difficult time getting hired and it's kind of the nature of the business.

You mentioned that men are allowed to age more gracefully. Isn't that bias against women a veiled kind of sexism?
Yeah, yeah, I don't know ... um ... that's like a big, world issue. You certainly hear stories and see older men all over the world that are wealthy and have dumped their first wife and have the young second wife. That's kind of everywhere, I think.

Do you share Rod Lurie's enthusiasm for politics?
No. I've become more enthusiastic subsequently but I wasn't raised in a family that paid that much attention to politics, or certainly talked about it. I was raised in the mid-West and first of all you were taught not to talk about politics, to keep politics and religion to yourself. It's difficult for me to even tell somebody who I voted for at this point, though I manage to do that, because of my upbringing. I was taught that this is private and should be private to yourself. Rod grew up in a very political family. His father is the most syndicated political cartoonist in the world and so it was like sporting events to Rod, the political world. He said he used to watch it like he used to watch football, the World Series, or something like that. So I think that has a big bearing on it. It was one of things I was fascinated by: can I pull off playing a politician because I am not by nature very much that way? When people ask me if I would run for office, I'm like, 'Oh God, absolutely not'. Pretend to be in office, yeah.

Are you a Democrat or a Republican?
I'm much more liberal. A lot of the things that Laine Hanson believes in and she enumerates in her speech - pro Choice and so on. I tend to have a much more liberal sort of bent to my political beliefs.

So are you as shocked by the behaviour of George Bush since he has been in office as the rest of us?
No, I think we expected it, to be honest. It was expected. I think so. It hasn't really surprised me all that much. He's sort of like this rigid father figure or something like that.

Do you see any parallels between being an actor and a politician?
Yeah, I think that there is a certain cross-over. With a politician it's really about how you present yourself, whether the camera likes you or not. There's that old thing that's said that during the Kennedy-Nixon debates, people who listened to it on the radio thought Nixon won, but people who saw it on television thought that Kennedy won. Nixon wouldn't let them put any make-up on him and he was sweating profusely; his television presence wasn't to people's liking so those images are very powerful.

While both actors and politicians can be said to be performers, it seems to me that an actor's job is to reveal the truth while politicians spend most of their time concealing it.
Trying to cover it up. Yeah, you might have a point there. [Laughs]

What is your opinion about the issue at the heart of the film, which is whether a politician's suitability for office should be judged in terms of their private conduct?
I share Laine Hanson's opinion that private life is private life, and people should be allowed to have their private life whether you're a politician or a rock star or whatever. I value my private life enormously. There's just so much technology and information travels so fast that it's very difficult to maintain that centre of privacy which I think we always really need.

Is there any occasion, though, when you think there might be a case for transparency. We had a politician who supported illiberal legislation against homosexuals, and then it was revealed that he had a homosexual experience at college. Should that kind of hypocrisy in the political sphere be exposed?
Oh, I don't know. I've kind of come down on the way that if they haven't done anything illegal ... you know, if they've done something illegal then the public has a right to know that. But I just believe if they're effective at what they do ... we all have skeletons in our closets, you can't avoid that.

It will surely become increasingly difficult to maintain, because as your celebrity increases and your profile rises, people will become more interested in your private life.
Yes, I suppose they might. You know, I take the subway in New York and I ride buses and I walk around, and New Yorkers will come up to me and say, you know, 'I liked you in this movie or congratulations on your Oscar nomination' but it's really on a pretty small scale. I am recognised to a small degree.

Is it to a degree that you would not wish to go beyond? Are you happy at the level of recognisability that you are at?
Yeah, I kind of like it. I enjoy being able to circulate around and having the majority of people not know who I am, where I might get recognised. It depends, you go through bursts. Frances McDormand was saying that after something she's in opens, she goes through a period where she's been visible a lot and people recognise her a lot, and then as soon as that dies down it slopes off again. I kind of feel like that."

Studios, though, want people to star in their films who are recognised and who people do know. By keeping a low profile, aren't you perhaps blocking your own progress in a way?
Exactly. Yeah, I'm hoping to be able to create a balance. I've been much more visible because The Contender opened in October in the States, and it was at the Toronto film festival in September so, you know, I've kind of been getting attention through the awards season much more, and there is a certain value to that in a business sense. So I am just hoping that I can keep it delicately balanced."

You still live in New York. Do you find it more grounding there than in LA?
Yeah, I've always lived there. In the early 90's, my husband's also an actor and he was doing a television series so we were spending six months in LA and six months in New York - we never gave up our apartment - and once the series was cancelled we moved back to New York permanently. I spend a lot of time in LA, I have friends there and I work there, but I like the energy of New York, I like that the city's about lots of other things, I like that it's a walking city, I like that you have to mix with all kinds of people.

Mark Rufallo, who also lives in New York, said that he thought the artistic community was much stronger in New York.
I wonder. It's just that the geography of Los Angeles is so spread out, there's much more isolation -- you're in your cars, you're separate. I think there are pockets of it, though you maybe have to drive 40 miles to hook up with somebody. I don't think it's bereft of creative energy, I just think it's more concentrated in New York and more readily available. I don't quite subscribe to LA's the big bad, horrible, shallow place, completely. I think there are a lot of talented, artistic people there.

Isn't New York more conducive to someone like you who has a theatre background?

Perhaps. There is a lot more theatre in New York than there is in Los Angeles. Theatre has never done terribly well in Los Angeles. It exists there. New York and Chicago has an incredible amount of theatre there.

Tell me about when you were at college and John Malkovich came up to you and said he had to act in a scene with you. How did it come about, and were you similar people?
We were very different. He was like this exotic, foreign bird or creature or something; I was a very shy and normal and regular kind of girl-next-door type. John was extremely exotic with long hair, platform shoes, big pants. He lived off campus in this hippy house, with three or four other people of varying sexual proclivities. So I was like, 'Woah! What is this? This is amazing. Why is he talking to me?' I was just like this good naive little girl. But it wasn't a very big acting class, I'll tell you that. But he wanted to do an acting scene with me, so he must have seen something."

And then he introduced you to the Steppenwolf Theatre company.
Yeah, well he's a couple of years older than I am so he transferred to a different school. People that were starting Steppenwolf, they all graduated, I visited John, I met the other people briefly and then John asked me to do a play, and then I joined the company. So John was kind of my conduit into it."

What attracted you to acting, because I've read that you monumentally shy at school?
I certainly was very, very shy with boys. Not so much with girls. But I think a lot of people who are actors and comedians and things like that are shy. Basically it gives them a venue in which to sort of give out creativity and emotional feelings that they maybe don't feel quite comfortable doing in real life. It's a safe sort of venue for that. I think a lot actors are very shy people, and acting is a great opportunity to express things in a safe way.

You haven't done any theatre in about 10 years. Did you always see movies as your ultimate goal?
No, it wasn't always. I did so much theatre though for so many years. Once I started understanding better how to work in film, because it's very technically different - the style and how you execute the character. It took me a while to figure out how to do it because I had done so much theatre, but once I'd figured it out I really, really loved doing it. I haven't had the desire to go back to the theatre yet, and I wouldn't do it until I feel that way.

I always liked the audience response to theatre, but I think what I liked even more than that was what happened between the actors. That moment of discovery, the spontaneity, I think that's something I get more excited about and you can do that also in front of the camera. The audience response is more of a by-product of that. People act for different reasons, but I think some people like that part of it more. What excites me more is that creation with another actor and the director.

Apparently in The Contender you told Rod Lurie why a particular scene wasn't working. You had identified the fact that the actors weren't listening to each other.
That was a scene that was trying to be improvised and sometimes there's a danger with improvisation that it can feel, you know, people talk too much and it doesn't feel real. It feels like they're not really listening to each other. It may feel like life but it doesn't actually end up sounding like it.

Do you have any ambitions to direct?
No, not to direct. But I am in the infancy stage of producing something, so I am very excited about that.

What's that?
It's a lovely script that a friend of mine wrote who was in When the Sky Falls, this lovely Irish actor/director/writer named Jimmy Smallhorn. He's written a lovely script and we're in the early stages of trying to assemble a cast. It just sort of happened, it wasn't anything that I'd planned to do. I was sort of helping Jimmy out as a friend and a few weeks late he said, 'You should produce this'. I didn't think I could do it, and it's been like an evolutionary process. I've been really enjoying the idea of putting something together. Knock wood it will eventually happen."

The fact that you are so highly regarded among your peers must count for something here.
Yeah, it really does. I can write a note to somebody that I admire and respect and they will get back to me. So that works very well.

Jeff Bridges and Gary Oldman both refused to sign on to star in The Contender until they were assured you were onboard. That must be very gratifying.
Yeah. It's very nice. I think it's hard for me to conceive sometimes. It's hard for me to really take that in but I'm very grateful. I do feel a lot of respect from the acting community, I must say, and I get a lot of incredible feedback. People are very generous. My agent gets a lot of feedback.

What's your next acting role?
Well hopefully this thing that I'm producing, I will be in it as well."

Can you tell me anything about it?
It's a very funny, poignant story about four working-class Irish women, and their husbands and children, who take a trip to Lourdes and have a holiday there. In tone it feels like Billy Elliot or The Full Monty, it's that human, funny interaction of working class people who are trying to do something with their lives, and their journey of self-discovery.

Was the religious aspect something you responded to?
Um, it plays a role in the film, they're Catholic and they decide to make this pilgrimage."

Are you religious at all? Your Laine Hanson in The Contender is an atheist.
No, I wouldn't say I am religious in the sense of organised religion but I would say that spirituality is part of my life.

And how does that express itself?
Um, I think it probably expresses itself most in my interactions with people, trying to be open to people and helping people.

Do you come from a religious home?
Not really. Not in an organised sense. I was raised Presbyterian but, you know, we didn't go to Church all that much. My mother really felt that you can talk to God, Jesus or whatever, wherever you want. So there is a Christian belief but I don't go to Church every Sunday.

Copyright © Netribution Ltd 1999-2002
searchhomeabout usprivacy policy