Todd Haynes, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara talk ‘Carol’

From the New York Film Festival premiere

On Oct. 9, was on the red carpet for the New York Festival premiere of “Carol” at Alice Tully Hall. Director Todd Haynes, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara, writer Phyllis Nagy, producers Christine Vachon and Elizabeth Karlsen, and composer Carter Burwell were all in attendance. Blanchett and Mara give stellar performances in the film, which is already getting Oscar buzz. Mara won best actress at Cannes for her work in “Carol” earlier this year. The film follows a wealthy suburban wife and mother (Blanchett) and an aspiring photographer (Mara) who fall in love and risk everything to be together. The film is an adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s early novel “The Price of Salt” about closeted desire in the early 1950s. The Weinstein Company release hits theaters on Nov. 20.

Blanchett had been attached to the project for many years and serves an executive producer. She said it was made without compromise and it didn’t become a film until Todd and Rooney came aboard. Todd shot the film on Super 16 film. He first used it when he made “Mildred Pierce” for HBO. To Blanchett, the film is about the process of falling in love and maturity through heartbreak. Todd, Cate and Rooney discussed each scene during their two week rehearsal period and were very aware of whose perspective each frame was shot. Todd said in his research of the period it was a tenuous time in the country and the effect of WWII was evident. New York looked like a distressed, war torn place.

When asked about bringing the relationship to life, Mara commented that chemistry isn’t something you can work on or create. You either have it or you don’t and it was easy for her to pretend to be in awe of Blanchett’s character because she really admires her in real life. For most of the film, there is a tension between the characters. To prepare Rooney and Cate worked with dialect coaches. Rooney added that the clothes helped inform her performance. Cate said that she loved Judy Becker’s production design. It was austere and minimalist. Producer Elizabeth Karlsen and Cate said the reason why the film looks so perfect is Todd’s attention to detail.

On the red carpet, Cate wore an edgy Aouadi Paris dress. Cate spoke about the team who worked on the film. She said, “Todd makes it seamless. He provides a musical landscape, he provides a play track for the atmosphere you’re going to be existing in. You’re also working with Sandy Powell so you get a sense very early on how the character can move within the constraints of what they’re wearing, how fast you can run, so to speak. In working with Ed Lachman again, he’s incredibly generous with the visual landscape and Judy Becker created such an austere world which I found surprising … By day one you’ve already imbibed three quarters of the atmosphere and then you get to work with Sarah Paulson and Rooney Mara and Kyle, who I had worked briefly with before in a Terrence Malick film.”

When asked about going from “Carol” to “Truth,” she said, “How lucky and I? You step off one set, that is so medically sealed like a snow globe, that’s what it felt like being in ‘Carol,’ it was a complete universe and then you’re thrust into the brutal world of television journalism and ‘Truth’ read like a freight train so you just have to step on that conveyer belt and not get off … I skyped a lot with Mary and we met several times. I was on stage in New York, fortunately, and she came to meet me, so it was great. I just picked her brains mercilessly and she generously let me do so.”

SM: What do you admire about Todd?

Cate Blanchett: Todd has incredible critical facility, but he is one of the least judgmental people I’ve ever met and you can tell him anything. He sees through things to a place which, you think you think quite creatively … or outside of the box and then you work with Todd and often his suggestions are very left of field. He’s incredibly fluid and he has the facility and the mastery of an auteur, but yet he still has the hunger of a student filmmaker. So you feel like anything’s possible and it’s quite dangerous on set which is a really really exciting way to work.

SM: How was working with Rooney?

CB: Rooney’s fearless. She’s got incredibly good taste, but she’s able to park that at the door and go to places which kind of even surprise her. She laughs at the most random, left of field things, and I found her very generous and I’ve really admired the choices she’s made as an actress, not only the external choices, she’s made in terms of who she’s chosen to work with and the material she’s chosen to work on, but the choices within a moment, like the film she made with Soderbergh “Side Effects.” I had no idea that she could turn a character inside out like a leech on barbed wire. She’s really exciting to watch, but exciting to work with.

SM: What attracted you to the project?

Todd Haynes: It was just something as simple as this incredibly compelling novel that describes falling in love in a way that made it feel so universal and just tapped into these shocking revelations that are very small and very human. Even before it’s about two women, it’s how you feel about inventing love when it first hits you and you’re completely thrust out in the world and into your own mental chamber and that was so well described in the novel and it was really cool and something I haven’t done before.

SM: Speak about working with Cate.

TH: She is both this actor who has an amazing range, can work on stage, can work in film, can be so strong and powerful but then also the smallest details and elements of communication matter. She can navigate in ways that I can’t quite get my head around, that whole expanse, and knows what those two mediums require and has done just amazing and consistently good work.

SM: Can you speak about collaborating with Todd and what you admire about him?

Rooney Mara: There are so many things that I admire about him. I don’t think I can just pick one. I love how sensitive Todd is, and how he is a gentle, warmhearted person. He made it very easy for me to feel like I was working in a place where it was safe to be vulnerable, which I had to be in order to play this character. He is an incredible storyteller and he is incredible at telling stories about females and he has a great ability to do that.

SM: And can you speak about the highlight of working with Cate and what that experience was like?

RM: Working with Cate was a dream come true. I’ve loved her since I was thirteen years old and looked up to her. It was incredible and made my job very easy to sort of, run around being in awe of her as the character is.

SM: What attracted you to produce the project?

Elizabeth Karlsen: I have always been a fan of Patricia Highsmith and it was just a very spectacular book that was written in typical Highsmith style and yet it is about two women and it is the most extraordinary love story and it is an exploration of the pathology of love for women who are circumscribed and confined at that time, in 1950’s America. Yeah, wonderful, female-centric love story, and I just was so passionate about it the first time that I read it.

SM: And how long ago did you read it?

EK: I commissioned the writer, Phyllis Nagy, to write a script called “Mrs. Harris,” which I then hired her to direct, which we did for HBO with Annette Bening. And she mentioned to me at the time that she wanted to do it but the rights were tied up and so I read it twelve years ago because my youngest daughter was six and she is now eighteen. And then I managed to get the rights and we were filming with Todd and Christine Vachon two and a half years later.

SM: So speak about working with Todd.

EK: Todd is a consummate professional, he is an artist. He has this rigor and intellectual application and collaborative spirit that I just think is second to none; it was an absolute pleasure. And at my ripe age as a producer, I felt that I learned so much from him and his method of working was absolutely inspiring and I think he is one of the most important contemporary filmmakers that we have, so it was a dream come true to work with him.

SM: And speak about working with Cate.

EK: Cate, she is in a class of her own. And again, the shoot was a real challenge to make for many, many reasons on the production level and she was just extraordinary. She worked with such intensity and such focus, she brought so much to the part, such depth of understanding, and I think the way that she plays the role of Carol is just mesmerizing. And I think this is one of her absolute finest performances. And again, me as a producer with Stephen Woolley and Christina Vachon, to get to work with a caliber of actress like Cate, it just doesn’t get any better than that.

SM: And speak about working with Rooney.

EK: Rooney came on board just after Cate, and again, she was just an absolute pleasure to work with. I think her performance, people are just absolutely amazed by what she produces on screen, and to hold your own against an actress at the caliber of Cate is not easy, and Rooney does that. It was beautiful.

SM: Tell me how you first got involved to write the screenplay.

Phyllis Nagy: It was a long time ago, when I was young… And there was another producer involved and she went to my agent and she said, “who could write this?” And my agent suggested me and that was my first screenwriting job way back when. So a lot of water under that bridge now.

SM: So how exciting is it for you to be here in a place where people are finally going to see it?

PN: It is pretty great. I can’t wait for it to open. I grew up in New York so I love being here.

SM: Speak about your adaption process.

PN: Well, I had to decide what the structure of the screenplay would be like and what to keep from the book and what to eliminate and once those decisions are made it is pretty easy, for me anyway, and I think about something a long time before I write it, to not waste time.

SM: Did you get to work with Todd?

PN: Yeah, we talked and I was on the set and it was great.

SM: And what was one of your favorite scenes to write?

PN: I would have to say the scene in the lawyer’s office with Cate and Kyle Chandler.

SM: And what is coming up next for you?

PN: I am working to direct my next movie and we are in early days in financing.

via Examiner