Acclaimed writer/director Lawrence Kasdan was in Boston with his wife, writer Meg Kasdan, to promote their latest film Darling Companion. The film is about a husband and wife (played by Kevin Kline and Diane Keaton) who rescue a dog and while attending their daughter’s wedding in Colorado, the dog goes missing. The film also stars Diane Wiest, Richard Jenkins, Mark Duplass and Mad Men’s Elisabeth Moss. Lawrence, the writer of The Empire Strikes Back, The Return of the Jedi, Raiders of the Lost Ark and many more along with his wife Meg sat down and talked about their latest film.
I asked them what the inspiration was behind the film, Meg Kasdan, “The inspiration was that we rescued a dog from a shelter about 7 years ago. A year and a half after that, we had him in Colorado. We had to leave town briefly to go to a wedding so we left him with a friend of ours. She took him for a hike and a mountain biker came down from behind him and startled him and he bolted. She ran down after him and could not find him. It started a search that took three weeks. He was missing in the woods and mountains in Colorado. We came back, had radio announcements, we looked in the shelters, we put posters up, we did everything we possibly could think of to do to get this dog back, but he didn’t show up. Finally, someone who we know told us that she had a special connection to animals and she knew that he was still alive. We thought, ‘No way, he just couldn’t survive.’ The weather had been terrible with storms and thunder and lightning and this was a city dog who had not ever experienced that kind of environment. So we renewed the search after ten days and kept going and going. We went back to Colorado twice and finally took a weekend just walking the streets calling his name. We went back to LA without him, and that afternoon he showed up on a trail. A woman saw him, she was with her dogs, and now he is back.”
So it is very autobiographical then? Lawrence Kasdan. “A lot of the incidents are from life. We’d like to think that the relationship is not from real life (laughs). I’m sure I would never be so self-absorbed.” Meg, “And Larry did not lose the dog.”
So what’s it like to have a film that begins within your own reality and then create fictitious characters around that? Lawrence, “I think everything sort of is like that, even things that don’t appear that way. When I made Silverado, it was about the movies I loved growing up, but it was also about friendship and having adventures with friends and going out into the wild and making up your rules. Those were things that I had been doing when I was growing up in West Virginia and I loved Westerns. I think this is true with all of the movies I have made – they all come from real life in someway or another. Otherwise you are not driven to make the story work.”
Now when you are writing a script like this, do you have specific actors in mind? Are you writing in their tone of voice? Lawrence, “Not for this movie. Even Kevin [Kline], who I have worked with a lot, we weren’t really thinking about him when writing it. I always wanted to work with Diane Keaton, Diane Wiest, Richard Jenkins…I put him in his first movie 25 years ago. These were people I idolized.” Meg, “We were trying to write parts that people would want to play. That’s how we thought of it. Giving each part some richness so we could get good actors to commit to it. Our dream came true. We got everybody we wanted.”
You sound like you still get excited. Lawrence, “Sam Shepard agreed to be the sheriff and we thought that was the ideal casting for that.” Meg, “We said who we would love to play Penny and we said, ‘Well, Diane Wiest.’ And she said, ‘yes!’ and we just flipped!” Lawrence, “When you admire people and you just want to work with them and then to hear them do your stuff and to have them respond very enthusiastically when they read the script – that’s all you are hoping for.”
How long was it between writing the script to casting and filming? Lawrence, “It’s an odd thing, because the writing took a long time. We kept getting interrupted. I wrote a couple other things in between, we had personal things that we did. For some reason, it just took forever. But once we had the script written, everything started moving very quickly. Then we couldn’t find any money, but we were looking for it very steadily. Then July 4th, two years ago, we meet a woman who said she would put up the money. But we wanted to get the leaves in the Fall. So we wound up having four weeks prep for the entire movie. The movie was shot in thirty days. So it was very fast. From the time we meet this woman till the time we were in production was two months. Because we weren’t sure if the deal would go through or that we would get the casting we needed. The Friday before the Monday we started, it was not absolutely certain that we had Diane Keaton. So if you’ve made student films, it doesn’t change. It’s all up in the air, it’s crazy. It could fall apart at the last minute.”
Someone like Kevin Kline seems like someone who could improvise an entire scene without blinking an eye. Are you someone that is open to improv like that or are you a by-the-script writer/director? Lawrence, “I used to talk about sticking to the script. When I came in and had a lot of success with people in the beginning, I thought it was coming from people sticking to the script. But, my ideas have loosened up a bit over the years. What I really believe and I have always believed this is improvisation is what actors do every single time they open their mouths. They may be speaking my lines, our lines, but what they do is bring life to it. They find the rhythms and new meanings in it. So I consider every single performance an improv.”
Your films have a lot of music in them. The Big Chill and The Bodyguard sold millions of albums combined. Is that something that influences you while you are writing or does that aspect come afterwards? Lawrence, “I love music. On The Big Chill, Meg was actually the music coordinator. That album has sold 7 million copies.“ Meg, “It was a fun job (laughs). Larry has worked with James Newton Howard many times and his contribution to these movies is gigantic. People don’t realize what music can do for a film. The score for Star Wars is almost a character in itself.” Lawrence, “It is everything. If you turn off the music while watching a film, you see it very differently. … I am writing a script right now for a thriller and I often come to a spot and I’ll write-in, whether it will be in the final screenplay I do not know, but for my own benefit, it says, ‘music begins here. Music plays over, plays over, continues to play, music ends,’ because it is so much a part of how I see these things.”
Richard Jenkins to me seems like he is getting better with age. What is it like working with him? Lawrence, “Working with him is one of the greatest experiences in the world. He is hilarious. Always hilarious.” The cast as a whole seems like they would be fun to work with. Lawrence, “Like you said, he (Kline) could improvise for two hours. They had fun together. And Kline is hilarious. He was in a great mood doing this, happy working with Jenkins, Keaton, and Wiest.“ Meg, “He told us that this set was the best time he ever had and we were like, ‘Wow! Do you know who you are?”(laughs) Lawrence, “He just keeps talking a lot, he has that tendency, but somehow this group just brought it out of him and they thought he was hilarious. Diane Keaton and Diane Wiest would come up and say to me, ‘Can’t you shut him up?’ But they loved it. They were laughing. It was fun. Mark Duplass was fun too. They improvise so much on his movies, so normally a script isn’t that big of a deal to him. I like his movies. They have a wonderful looseness to them and he is a wonderful, natural actor. I think he is going to be in more regular movies, although I don’t know how much he really cares. When we would do the dialogue, in the mode of improvisation, he would throw in stuff. If you see a lot of mumblecore, you know the way it goes, and they just keep talking, and that is not how my scripts work. So I would just say to him, ‘OK, now take out all that shit. (laughs) I loved working with him.”
Lawrence Kasdan wrote and produced The Bodyguard which brought another level of superstardom to the late Whitney Houston, I asked him, all of the craziness aside, is there a memory of Whitney Houston you’d like to share? Lawrence, “I had very little to do with her at that time. We were making Grand Canyon which we (him and his wife) had written together. They wanted me to direct The Bodyguard, but I couldn’t do both things so I produced it. It was my original script and they pretty much shot the script I wrote in 1975. I was around somewhat and Whitney was always delightful with me. It was a good period in her life. Kevin (Costner) was very protective of her in a great way. She had no idea what she was doing acting and he helped her a lot. I’m not crazy about the movie, because I wasn’t crazy about the way it was directed, but the rest of the world went crazy for it. It was twice as big overseas as it was here and it was huge here. In adjusted dollars, I saw recently that it made something like seven hundred million dollars. So it was nuts. I am sure if I directed it, it wouldn’t do as well (laughs).”
Anyone that knows me, knows I’m a huge Star Wars geek so it was an absolute honor to talk with Lawrence Kasdan. Him and his wife were a total pleasure and as a writer, speaking to people with the resumes like they have, is one of those days you just don’t mind having.
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