Sitting Down with the Cast & Crew of “Big Stone Gap”
By Shari K. Green
Meeting Adriana Trigiani, Jenna Elfman and Paul Wilson was really interesting. They were thoughtful, nice… I could tell they were having fun… even asked me if I needed anything. I feel totally at ease and welcome. As I prepared, they sat across from me and discussed the time change differences, trying to remember when flights were coming in the next day and when to attend their events the following evening. I joined in on the conversation of citrus trees in back yards here in AZ. I was proud to say I have a few. The fruit is lovely. They were comfortable and calm… which set the tone for a good day for me and a good chat.
After a few moments we started…
SG/ TRC: Adriana, since this was filmed in your hometown and it’s about your hometown, did anyone come up to you say, ‘I was in that story’ or ‘you wrote about me!’?
Adriana: Everyone has done that since I wrote the books. (laughs) You know how every town has a historical backdrop? Mine is that Elizabeth Taylor came to town and choked on a chicken bone. The novel has a disclaimer and the film has a disclaimer that everything in here is not true except that because that happens to be true. But John Warner told me that he carried his wife out of that restaurant. He said at the time that was no small feat. I thought, ‘oh good… a fat joke.’ (everyone laughs) So, that was the backdrop. Anyway, everybody has a story about that and everything thinks they’re in it because everyone was in the restaurant that night. We had the plate that she ate the chicken off of in the scene. We had eyewitness accounts. We had copies of her admission papers at the hospital that people made copies of and sold for 5 cents a copy… its illegal what people did. (chuckles) So, people thought they were in it. It’s fascinating.
SG/TRC: The movie is very pretty. You had a great cinematographer.
Adriana: I had Reynaldo Villalobos and when he came, I took him to the outdoor drama and said, ‘now that’s your palette… you know, the midnight blues and the ruby reds and those jewels tones because that’s what I think of when I think of home… is those colors. And so, that was really the template and once you have that, you really have a point of view of what is the saturation of the movie? And he did not make a movie that was slight or for lack of a better word, creamy or… (thinks) I don’t like to use any of the words they use in reviews because I don’t think that’s fair because I’m not reviewing my movie but to give it a genre; this is a theatrical release, major motion picture because he shot it like one. You can reduce any great script to anything but this movie is big because he had a sense of that.
Jenna: The characters are well defined. He didn’t have to flood the movie with light because of lack of performance or the lack of writing. He could light it and capture it with the nuance that was presented in the script.
Adriana: And if there were challenges… I could always write through them. I could write another scene to counter a scene… that happened sometimes.
Paul: What a luxury to have the creator, to be able to see quickly, and I’ve known her a long time, but she was very honest and very objective about her own work and what she was seeing and that’s a tough thing, to then go, ‘now I gotta be thinking what we’re doing in three days and I gotta fix that scene or… you were rewriting scenes and adding scenes…
Adriana: And some of my favorite scenes. I cherish every scene, but I think the scene between Patrick Wilson and Judith Ivy is profound. He has a great speech about how his life’s past him by. His life’s over… which is the whole theme of this movie. The audience gets it, but to have his dramatized in a comedy… you don’t see that all the time. You don’t see it.
SG/ TRC: This is a great movie for anyone to have made, let alone a first time feature film director! How’d you do it?
Adriana: If the script is there, the actors are there, it’s well produced and you put the team together… you can make a movie in twenty days that’s spectacular. IF you’re a good director and you play with the team… and you give them the material that THEY need, you can make a great movie. And you don’t die in the process… this shouldn’t happen once every hundred years. We should be producing these American movies. Women should be writing and directing them because we’re the people that needs this kind of entertainment because we’re exhausted. We need to go to the movies and be uplifted. I need romantic comedies to go to, to lift my spirits. (She gets very excited) I don’t like all the noise and crashed… (Pounds her fists on her leg to accentuate the point she’s making) I want to see people in movies… interacting… telling stories. That’s why people think I have a problem… I watch too much TCM… I like stories told.
Paul: (laughs) She’s a shut in.
Adriana: (Not missing a beat) I’m a little bit of a shut in. Maybe I do have a problem. My point is, this should not be such a rarity. It can be done. It can be done by all artists, it’s a matter of having a system in place that supports that.
SG/ TRC: Jenna… when are you going to direct a film and pass on your comedy wisdom to others?
Jenna: Never. I have no interest in directing.
SG/ TRC: That’s disappointing to hear.
Jenna: I like to produce and then be on set; perhaps give guidance that way. I don’t know. I might change my mind one day but right now I love performing. I’m interested in producing so I can bring fun stories into the world but I just love performing. Directing is intimidating to me. I have such admiration for those who are masters at it, but I’d like to stick to what I do well and continue to do it well.
SG/ TRC: Paul, how long have you known Adriana?
Paul: We’ve known her for about ten years.
SG/ TRC: How important is Independent film to you… instead of these big action films that get all of the attention?
Paul: Well, action movies have their place. I love Tom Cruise and “The Mission Impossible” series is an incredible product. But I think you’re seeing, because of digital filmmaking, the ability to tell a good story is sometimes lost. The techniques of filmmaking are a little bit more available to people now… certainly the ability to make movies for what is a fraction of what they used to be made, although I’m a fan of film… the actual celluloid itself. (Thinks a moment) I think you’re seeing a vacuum… but I think that independent films, independent story telling is going to be a much more important force that it already is. Patrick (his brother) and I are working on a couple right now. They’ll be independent in the truest sense because we’re going to do them… and we have the ability, I think, and the talent and the fans, you know, it takes a village… and I think NOW we can do that. It’s not so… unattainable. It still requires technique, it still requires amazing talent and it still requires a good script. Actors just want to act, are you kidding?! Nobody made any money on this movie, by the way but this is a shining example of being able to tell a really good story, attract some amazing talent, with some unbelievable crew, work together in a camp environment and work toward a common goal. That’s where independent movies have the upper hand. They don’t move like studio films.
SG/ TRC: Did you improv on set?
Paul: Yes. Absolutely. I think because it was such a wonderful team and energy… it was all I could do to keep my pants on. (laughs)
SG/ TRC: Is that actually your dog in the movie, Ashley?
Ashley: Yes. Like Easter eggs if you look for buttermilk in my films, you’ll see him. He knows when they’re rolling.
SG/ TRC: How did you get to wear that Kentucky shirt in the film?!
Ashley: It just worked. It was the correct vintage design… and that was a national championship year.
SG/ TRC: How do you select your films… why this one?
Ashley: I was so lucky that Adriana selected me. And I enjoyed… I love to act, I love that process so much. And… they all just kind of come in their unique ways. I don’t work a great deal; my life is very rich and diverse, I have a variety of pursuits about which I’m passionate and a lot of different spaces in the world have been opened to me for a while now so it’s wonderful when a movie comes along that I really want to do. I could have acted on “Big Stone Gap” for a year. It was a limited budget and hard with my schedule but it was such a joy.
‘Such a joy.’ Well, it’s a joy to watch too, so get to the theater and check it out… I think you’ll agree! *photos by Laura Benedict