Tag Archives: interviews

Whit Stillman ‘Damsels’ interviews

Stillman has been doing more interviews around the launch of Damsels in Distress.

Whit Stillman
Damsels in Distress: Whit Stillman on set

First of this batch is a brief one with Stephanie Merry at the Washinton Post. In my previous roundup of reviews I questioned J.Hoberman’s comparison with Woody Allen, but Stillman seems to go for it here:

“It’s fantastic, the reference to Woody Allen,” Stillman said. “But I thought it was a little illegitimate before, because he is very funny and breaks all the rules in order to have the comedy the best it can be. So he’s not naturalistic and realistic in a lot of his films. And this is the first film where I think the Woody Allen comparison is more relevant, because I think we’re taking liberties with naturalism in this film.”

At Gothamist John Del Signore has a much more substantial interview with Stillman, which is well worth a read. He talks about the film’s low budget, the locations, the casting, and the dancing, but regular fans will be most interested in the discussion of favourites from previous movies:

Gothamist: I was wondering about was Chris Eigeman. That’s probably the only problem I had with the film, that he wasn’t in it.

Stillman: Yeah, I’m still pissed off at the guy. I wanted him to play Professor Ryan. I would have made it a bigger deal. He would have been great in that.

What happened?

He wouldn’t do it.

Why not?

You’ve gotta ask him.

Maybe I haven’t been paying close enough attention but I don’t remember seeing him in anything recently.

Well that’s one of the things he told me, that he was feeling really bad about acting, he was really down on acting. He’s been trying to get a film off the ground. But then I see that the other person who no-showed on my production was that Lena Dunham girl. She then cast him in her TV show so the two people who no-showed to our film are collaborating together, acting. What ingrates and traitors.

Said, one assumes, with his tongue in his cheek. And then there’s this, which is also interesting:

Do you ever entertain fantasies of where those Metropolitan characters are now? What they might be doing?

Yeah, we have a tentative joke thing where Taylor Nichols cast as Charlie Black in this film, so that’s kind of an afterthought and I’m not too sure how serious that is. I liked what we did with Last Days of Disco, that was more seriously thought out, that he appears there with Audrey Rouget. That really seemed to make sense to me. I’m not really interested in those characters later in life. I think there are other things. We could continue this film, the guys from the fraternity. I think they could be a funny TV show.

Ella Taylor has a shortish interview with Stilman at NPR:

“I do find something touching about a sincerely scholarly idiot,” he says – “these people who are wound up and have aspirations, but they’re not intelligent at all, and their sensory apparatus is limited, but they’re determined to prove themselves in this way. To be an intelligent barbarian is kind of awful. But someone who is unintelligent, and aspiring to scholarly achievement, it’s really touching and encouraging. It’s a utopian thing, I think.”

Matthew Perpetua at Rolling Stone does things a bit differently, interviewing both Stillman and novelist Mark Leyner (who’s releasing his first book in 15 years) at once. It’s quite a nice conversation, arguing over who’s had the longest hiatus, and discussing problematic past projects. Here’s Stillman:

It’s terrible to write what are essentially comedies for people with no sense of humor. Everyone thinks they have a sense of humor, but observably not. I think I wrote the funniest scene I have ever written in my life for Little Green Men, and the person who is the development person at the company I was trying to do it for is foreign and very pretentious and very serious and very dramatic. Very dramatic, everything is dramatic. When he was explaining why he didn’t like my draft, it was just such a hilarious conversation; this person was sort of struggling to say, “This is weird, this is strange.”

Todd Gilchrist on the Wall Street Journal blog confronts Stillman a little about only writing films with rich people in:

WSJ: How then do you think about this movie in terms of it potentially being interpreted as sort of a “one percent” kind of movie because it does exist in a financial or an economic strata that some people can’t relate to?

Stillman: Well, that would be a very mistaken impression, because these protagonists of this film are not rich at all. I strongly think the whole concept of 99 percent more percent is totally ridiculous and detestable, but Violet and Rose, who dominate the film, are not affluent people. Violet’s parents were penniless writers and they died and she’s probably been brought up by some grandparents, and maybe you would see her and say she’s sort of this opinionated, dominant stylish person, but that has nothing to do with her or her economics. I mean, I think people are getting misdirected because I made Metropolitan, but there’s no relationship economically between these girls and the Metropolitan characters.

WSJ: Sure. But throughout your career, fairly or unfairly, you’ve been associated sort of upper-crust characterizations. Have you thought consciously about trying to do something that people might see as different?

Stillman: Of course. The two projects I was working on that didn’t get made were people on a collective farm in China during the Cultural Revolution, although they were people from an educated background who were forced on to a collective farm. And then, [the other one was about] people from a church in Kingston, Jamaica. So we have been trying to do different things but you know, God didn’t want me to do them.

At IFC Stillman is joined by Adam Brody and Hugo Becker. On Brody:

By embodying many of Stillman’s recurring themes – as Chris Eigeman used to – Brody becomes a bit of the writer/director’s surrogate. In fact, Stillman hopes to pair the two actors in his next project. “I don’t know why he’s taken such a liking to me,” Brody said. “I’m flattered, but I don’t feel nearly as sharp as Chris Eigeman. I’m not worthy!”

And that’s all the Stillman interviews for now.

More ‘Damsels’ interviews

A few more interviews with Whit Stillman and the Damsels in Distress cast have appeared. In no particular order:

Greta Gerwig is interviewed by Fred Topel at Crave Online:

Did this way of speaking change everything else, down to your posture and the way you walk?

Yes, it did. I thought Violet was a very contained character. I felt that she wouldn’t be sloppy or excessive in her body movements. I had this way of running in the movie, with very small steps and my arms by my sides. I had a thing with her that she, when she’d speak she’d turn to the person she was talking to full on facing them and addressing them directly. Just the way she was, the way he wrote the dialogue, informed the physicality of the character.

Gerwig is also interviewed by Keith Phipps at the A.V. Club

AVC: How do you find the humanity of your character in a world that’s on the cartoonish side?

GG: I think the big thing is, for Whit, this is naturalism. Everything Violet says and thinks about is something he’s thinking about and he thinks is right. The ideas she espouses about good dressing and learning clichés and using tap-dancing and perfume to fight depression, those are all things he really believes in. That’s not fake for him. So for him, it’s totally legitimate points to be making. I mean, he knows it’s funny, but it’s completely sincere. I think the boy characters are the most broad and farcical elements. And I think that’s because Whit has some disdain for frat boys. He’s not crazy about them, so he makes fun of them.

Phipps has also interviewed Stillman himself:

[Stillman:] The inception of the project was actually a tiny assignment I had back in 2000, when suddenly they said, “You can’t do this project we wanted you to write. Write this, write something else.” And I said, “Well, what about this idea?” And they said, “Oh, good idea, but you only have six weeks to write it.” It’s one of these things where they only got paid if they turned it in in six weeks. I don’t know what it was.

But I tried this thing, and I can’t possibly write a script in six weeks, and from that, I think I only took the idea of the four girls with floral names trying to improve things with good sense, etc. And also the Roman letter fraternity system. So even that first stab was more in the world of comedy, and less in the world of naturalism. And then, over the years, I think my love for frat comedy grew. I like the film Old School very much, I like Will Ferrell in Elf, I like Will Ferrell’s sense of humor very much. I think the DU world, the fraternity world, is more that sort of territory. The director of the Dublin Film Festival, where Greta won the acting award, said it was Jane Austen meets Animal House.

I Am Rogue claims to have an “exclusive interview with director Whit Stillman, Greta Gerwig, Adam Brody, Analeigh Tipton, Magalyn Echikunwoke, Carrie MacLemire, and Hugo Becker” but the video isn’t available when I try. Maybe it only works in the US? Grrrrrr.

However, HitFix has a video that works for me, an interview with the four main actresses:

The male actors are also interviewed, this time in text, at Buzzine, although it’s a bit showbiz (“What’s the nicest or most exciting thing you’ve done to impress someone?”) rather than probing the inner workings of Stillman’s movies.

Stillman himself is interviewed on video at Collider.com (and also handily lists a timed-index of topics covered during the ten minutes):

Collider.com also have an interview with Analeigh Tipton and Hugo Becker:

Finally, for now, the Daily Beast has a fairly long discussion between the four female leads:

Echikunwoke: When I got to the end of the script [the big dance finale] I was like, “I have to be in this!” It was just the most exciting script I’d read in a long time. Just the way he incorporates the dancing is so whimsical, it’s like dreamy.

Tipton: How often do you find that? You don’t ever. To be in these big ridiculous dresses.

Gerwig: One of my favorite scenes [is when] we’re doing a walk and talk in those dresses with no explanation. I just remembered something … It really was like we were all really supportive. I remember the first week I was having a doubty moment like, “I don’t know, does it seem like I’m bad?” and [Megalyn] said “Now I can’t imagine another person doing it.” It made me feel like I owned it. I think we all kind of helped each other, had each other’s backs.

UPDATE: And just one more for today… Mark Olsen at the LA Times has a brief interview with Stillman, Tipton and Gerwig:

“When I first read it I had the ideas of the characters that Whit writes in my head,” Gerwig said. “I kept trying to place the words into a more conventional world. And I realized that was wrong-headed. He’s doing something totally different. It’s not in the same world as Last Days of Disco or Metropolitan or Barcelona. It’s in this heightened, fever-dream ecstatic, comic, almost mental breakdown world.”

Plenty of interviews

Ahead of the US release of Damsels in Distress, Stillman has been doing the rounds of interviews and three have now popped up.

LA Weekly and The Village Voice have the same interview (are they the same entity?) by Karina Longworth. Apparently Stillman has continued to tweak the movie, at least up until a couple of weeks or so ago; there have been “huge changes” since it was screened at the Venice Film Festival:

Stillman seems particularly proud of the cuts made regarding one subplot involving a character’s sexual proclivities in order to secure a PG-13 rating. “There’s less anal sex in this cut. Did you notice that?” he asks. “I like that people could have their eight-year-old child walk in.” He calls it “our Lubitsch moment.”

And, there are hints as to what’s next, which many of you will be please to hear may include Chris Eigeman:

There are a number of films he says he’s excited to make. Dancing Mood will happen, though not next. There’s a “dream project” starring Gerwig, Brody, Chloë Sevigny, and original Stillman muse Chris Eigeman, as well as something he describes as “sort of Oscar Wildean, based on material in the public domain by someone else. … Escapism for the college-graduate set.”

The second interview is by John Lopez at Grantland, although there’s nothing much new in it.

…he’s less interested in themes or influences than in knowing if people laughed at the press screenings, which he hates attending. “I only went to one because I needed to check the sound … I don’t like to introduce a film before the screening, and I don’t really like seeing films at premieres, ‘cause they’re kind of fake. I had so many people tell me afterward, ‘when I saw Disco at the premiere I really didn’t like it but later I went out and saw it in the movie theater or on TV and really liked it.’”

The final Stillman interview for the moment is by Malcolm Jones in Newsweek. Stillman talks about the genesis of the film’s idea:

“The idea came from a group of girls I’d heard about who were at Harvard after I was there,” says Stillman, a boyish 60 who looks like he still buys his clothes at some campus men’s shop (boat shoes, wrinkled white cotton shirt under a broken-in houndstooth sportcoat that could use a mend in the right elbow). “I went back and heard about these girls who sought to revolutionize social life in their set. Everyone thought they were cool. It was very, very grungy when I was there, very political, very depressing. These girls dressed up, wore strong French perfumes, had parties. Everyone had a good time.”

And he compares this to his three earlier films:

“I think the films are all a little utopian,” he says. “They’re all social utopias of one kind or another, and I think this is the most utopian of the four.”

We also have a review of Damsels in New York magazine:

Whit Stillman’s comeback comedy Damsels in Distress is wobbly and borderline twee, but it deepens as it goes along and becomes rich.

Finally, New York magazine also has an interview with Analeigh Tipton, with this paragraph about her role:

But of her characters, Tipton most resembles Lily, the one she plays in Damsels. That’s partly because Stillman liked Tipton’s naturalism and kept most of her awkward mannerisms in the film. “She has a cute way of walking where, to punctuate a point, she goes up on her tippy-toes,” he says. Lily was supposed to be the movie’s villain, a transfer student to a third-tier East Coast college who is constantly undercutting Greta Gerwig’s Violet, a delusional optimist who believes that tap dancing can cure depression. But Tipton’s likability was undeniable. “The problem with Analeigh was that she brought such charm to the part I think she confused a lot of people about who the true heroine was,” says Stillman. “Some people feel very frustrated that Lily doesn’t win in the end.”

New York Times on Stillman and ‘Damsels’

If you only read one article on Whit Stillman and Damsels in Distress, this one by Chip Brown at the New York Times is, so far, the one to go for.

It discusses Stillman’s childhood and college life, and reports from both the set of Damsels and its editing room. Lots of fascinating background information there which is probably new to many (or all) of us.

After graduation Stillman went to work for the book publisher Doubleday. He saw his father four times a year for lunch at the Harvard Club. When he was 27, further tensions with his stepmother curtailed even that limited contact. In 1990, the rift widened when Metropolitan had its premiere with its barbed allusions to stepmothers and poignant tropes of paternal abandonment – notably the box of his toys that the protagonist Tom Townsend finds outside his father’s apartment (a scene based on Stillman discovering that his father and stepmother had thrown away his toys at the house in Cornwall).

“I think Dad was very upset by Metropolitan and the scene where the toys are put out on the street,” [Stillman’s sister] Linda Stillman said. “But it was the perfect metaphor for how we felt.”

There’s also a page called ‘Whit Stillman’s Family Album’ which has some great black and white photos from Stillman’s early life with recordings of Stillman talking about them. Well worth a look.

If all that wasn’t enough, there’s also an “exclusive preview” clip from the new movie.

A couple of other, briefer, Damsels articles appeared this week: A review at DailyCaller.com, annoyingly split over two pages; and Guy Lodge at Hitfix.com who muses on the different reactions to the film between audiences at Venice and London film festivals.